Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life-long Lessons of Team

Let me throw a few words at you. (P.S.- They're not mine...)

Unbeaten... gritty... solid... smart... hard-nosed... dedicated... aggressive... unheralded... tough... Herculean... stellar... clutch... game-changing... talented... electric... swift... sportsmanship... poise... camaraderie... commitment... and, MIRACULOUS.

These are all words that have been used by the Sun-Chronicle's Mark Farinella in articles, columns, and blog postings during the last six weeks to describe the actions and characteristics of the 2010 edition of the Mansfield High School football team. Mark is a talented guy (and a proud MHS alum) who I consider to be a friend to our school community. Most importantly, he has aptly captured the incredible run of this team which culminated in last Saturday's 29-26 Division II Super Bowl victory over Reading. And what a run it has been!

Over the course of this season I have heard more than once that this Hornet squad was not the biggest- and maybe not the most naturally gifted. However, any shortcomings were always made up with their hard work, heart, and character. Granted, there have been some big time performances by some prime time players on this team... but different students have stepped up at key moments in critical games. You could see this squad's intelligence and confidence build as the season progressed, particularly after that critical North Attleboro game. They had the character to set goals, persevere through practice, and as the motto has been for years, "never surrender"! And that is the very definition of what team is all about, as the whole became greater than the sum of the parts.

I would urge all of these fine students- particularly our seniors- to savor this championship for the coming months, for there is plenty to be proud. Well after you graduate the years will pile up and some of the memories may fade a bit, but never forget the life long lesson of the value of being part of a successful team. Never forget the careful mentoring from this great coaching staff. Never forget the attention to detail that you put into your practices and game preparations. Never forget how you pushed but also supported one another. Never forget the lessons of true sportsmanship that you've learned both on and off the field.

I truly hope you can apply it to other aspects of your lives well after MHS... and there too you will be champions.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Accountability Redux

This past week the New York Times ran two columns by Thomas Friedman dealing with the current state of affairs in American education. I found them filled with insight, particularly as we inch toward the implementation of the reforms of Race to the Top. A major portion of these reforms deal with standards and accountability, as they mandate that principal and teacher effectiveness be in part judged by student assessment results. Furthermore, results of standardized tests such as the MCAS will now be "drilled down" to the teacher level. Therefore, within the next year you will be able to access the aggregate results and Student Growth Percentile median values for a specific teacher. According to Race to the Top guidelines, these figures must be used for a portion of each teacher's formal evaluation. The intent behind this new system is to recognize and reward effective teachers and to weed out ineffective ones. The RTTT Program provides competitive grant money for districts who take it one step further and implement a merit pay system to reward the most effective teachers.

The challenges of implementing such a system will be great, as is always, the devil is in the details (which still have not been unveiled by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). To be sure, all of us working in schools should be held to the highest standards of accountability, as the bottom line is student achievement. If our kids are successful, so are we. In that sense, I applaud RTTT for bringing data and transparency to a new level. However, as Friedman's column, "Teaching for America" points out, is there faulty logic in some of the philosophical underpinnings of RTTT? Some notions worthy of consideration:
  • There are presently 3.2 million active teachers in the U.S. Within the next ten years it is estimated that nearly one half will retire (the baby boomers). There clearly will be teacher shortages. If the premise of RTTT is to get rid of ineffective teachers, where exactly are all of the candidates waiting in the wings to take the place of all of the bad teachers? I know from personal experience that there are presently a dearth of high quality candidates in certain content areas, particularly in the critical STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Friedman makes the case that teacher training programs need to be made more rigorous, and perhaps like nations that outperform us on international tests- such as Singapore, South Korea, and Finland- only the best and brightest should be permitted to enter the teaching profession. In these nations only graduates who finish in the top third of their class are allowed to become teachers. If the U.S. adopted such a system, teacher compensation would have to be much greater than it is today.
  • In today's knowledge economy, all graduates must possess essential skills such as the ability to problem solve, critically think, effectively communicate, and collaborate. This point is consistently driven home in the research and is highlighted in Tony Wagner's recent work, The Global Achievement Gap. However, as rigorous of a state assessment the MCAS may be, does it measure all of these skills in a comprehensive manner? Therefore, should teacher effectiveness be confined to just this assessment? Or should we be using multiple measures of learning, some of which are performance-based in nature (e.g., portfolios, senior projects, exhibitions, etc.)? Wouldn't these better get at the heart of these essential skills?
  • The push for greater teacher effectiveness is only one side of the coin. We should do everything to reform our practices and ensure that all kids reach the highest standards. All of our schools should strive to be creative and do whatever it takes. Anything less is unacceptable. But this will get us only so far.... Part of the accountability dialogue must be around how ready to learn our students come to school. It is hardly a surprise that the annual Boston Globe Listing of District MCAS Performance is usually in the same rank order of the socioeconomic status of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. It has been well documented since the federal Coleman Report of 1966 that home-related factors, such as socioeconomic status, access to health care, stable housing, etc., are the greatest factors in predicting a child's academic success, far outweighing school-related factors. Furthermore, how the parent supports the school and his child's learning, effort, and habits of mind is also paramount. As Friedman concludes his column:
"... If we want better teachers we also need better parents — parents who turn off the TV and video games, make sure homework is completed, encourage reading and elevate learning as the most important life skill. The more we demand from teachers the more we have to demand from students and parents. That’s the Contract for America that will truly ensure our national security."

Where are these ideas in the accountability dialogue?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving.... Mansfield 32, Foxboro 12

Congrats to the Mansfield Hornets, who were 32-12 winners over rival Foxboro in the annual Thanksgiving tilt. The win, which was the fourth consecutive one on Turkey Day, left little doubt who was the Hockomock League champion. Stalwart tailback Jamal Marshall (pictured above) gave a gritty effort with 78 yards rushing on 12 carries while battling bronchitis. However, the Don Currivan MVP Award was presented to junior QB George Busharis (pictured below with his parents) for his outstanding performance (9 for 11, 223 yards, 3 TDs). Congratulations!

The Hornets finish the regular season with a 10-1 record and a perfect 9-0 mark in the Hock. They next face Walpole in the Division 2 playoffs this Tuesday night, 11/30 at 7:45 pm at Weymouth High School.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Strike Up One for the Band!

The MHS Band marching down Fifth Avenue, NYC on St. Patrick's Day, 1957

If you know MHS Band Director Peter Conti, you know he is a talker. Big time. I cherish our nearly everyday chats where he fills me in on the latest on his family, the band, and what's happening in the community. I also value his institutional knowledge, as Peter is a lifelong Mansfield resident and a proud member of the MHS Class of '76. On many occasions he has shared anecdotes about the halcyon days of the band in the 50's, 60's, and 70's when it dominated the social landscape of our school. These were the days when one-third to one-half of the student body was a member of the band, drill team, or colorguard, and there was a very real sense of cache in being part of it. (Mind you, the sports teams weren't exactly championship caliber in those days.) Additionally, when the band performed in competition, from Boston to Disneyworld to Ireland, it always outshined the other schools. To say the least, Peter's descriptions of the band's accomplishments are epic in proportion.

This point came clearer to me with last weekend's MHS Band Reunion, where members of the band from the years 1950 to 1980 gathered in Mansfield not only to reminisce but to also pay tribute to band director Jim Gallo, who served MHS for 29 years during that era. As part of the weekend's events, last Saturday over 200 band alumni marched down Main Street with our current band, led by Jim and Peter. That evening over 300 gathered at the Holiday Inn for a banquet in Jim's honor. Many had traveled great distances to participate, as far as Washington state and Alabama. As I had the pleasure of attending, I was struck by the deep fondness and gratitude that our band alum had for their experiences and their teacher, Jim Gallo.

Like all great programs in any school, the MHS band had great leadership. Along with the late, great Bob Dolan (who served as the drill team and colorguard director), Jim built up the program from the ground. From speaking with the alumni, it is clear that Jim's passion and commitment were the driving force for such success. Jim ate, drank, slept, and breathed MHS Band, Drill Team, and Colorguard. He had the vision of what it could be and then applied 29 years of hard work to see it though.

But perhaps the greatest measure of Jim's greatness as an educator was his ability to connect with all of his students on a personal level. Not only was Jim a teacher but a mentor to thousands of MHS students. He had that perfect blend of being an authoritative role model that demanded excellence and a caring adult who consistently communicates genuine concern. Although I never worked with Jim or even observed him, this fact was clear from hearing from the alumni individually and during the banquet's presentations. He touched so many lives, and this is the essence of his success. This was true 60 years ago when Jim started... and it is true today.

I am happy and proud that Jim's legacy lives on today in so many ways with his outstanding student, Peter Conti. Many thanks to Peter and the Band Reunion Committee (Chaired by Barbara Kudzol, '62) for putting on a great event!

Jim Gallo leads the alumni and band down Main Street, Saturday November 6

The mentor (Jim Gallo) and his student (Peter Conti) on the town common, November 6

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Foreign Language Honor Societies Induction 2010

It was a great night last Thursday as the 24th annual Foreign Language Honor Society Induction Ceremony at Mansfield High School was held in the MHS Auditorium. Seventy-four French and Spanish students were inducted into the Société Honoraire de Français sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French and the Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

These honor societies are national organizations and the criteria for selection is uniform, mandated, and of the highest caliber. Each inductee has maintained at least a 90 average in his or her respective language for two years prior to consideration. In addition, the inductee must have a cumulative scholastic average of 80% or above in all other subjects.

As I am asked to do every year, I gave some opening remarks, striving to even give a few words of wisdom in French (thank you, Mrs. Gildersleeve and Mr. Benoit!). I congratulated the inductees and current members, reminding them that they were well on their way to acquiring a 21st century skill, the ability to speak another language. This is a skill that I believe will soon be a necessity in our global economy, as I have recently read of the emergence of more English speakers in China than in the United States within the next twenty years, underscoring the need for a second or even third language acquisition.

Senior members of each society, David Brown, Matthew Cioe, Bridget Davis and Maura Harwood conducted the ceremonies in the target languages. Walter Xu, Co-President of the Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica, and Jonathan Paz, member of the Société Honoraire de Français, opened and closed the ceremony, marked by the passing of the candle of knowledge and presentations by both societies. French Vice-President Kevin Sankey introduced the French song, “Un p’tit air de 1925”, reminding the students of times where having fun did not need to involve iPods or Playstations. The Spanish song, “El Universo Sobre Mi” ably introduced by Spanish Co-Secretary Kirby Viera, reminded us to be happy to be alive and to enjoy all that life has to offer.

The seniors who participated in 2010 Spanish exchange program with the town of Aranjuez, Spain were the guest speakers. Kristina Ivas, Faye Harwell (SHH), Catherine Hamel (Co-President, SHH) and Kylie Nelson (SHH) shared their personal experiences and photographs with the inductees and the audience. Their presentations all reflected on both hosting the Spanish students here in the United States as well as their experiences in Granada, Madrid and Aranjuez.

A reception in the main lobby of the High School followed the ceremony.

The following students are the 2010 inductees:
Société Honoraire de Français
Krishna Bandi , Lindsay Beise, Medha Biswas, Michael Blackman, Laura Burnham, Lauren Connors, Brent Doherty, Taylor Donnelly, David Elofson, Brett Fortin, Carlos Gómez, Ashley Goverman, Katherine Hogan, Amanda Iandoli , Thomas Joncas, Sowmya Kuruganti, Marielle Lajoie, Andrew Marcaccio, Ennya Monestime, Meghan Parrett, Joseph Presentato, Kristina Rothchild, Michaela St. Jean, and Christopher Walsh

Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (pictured above)
Micaela Allen, Joshua Bayliss, Michaela Bowes, Joshua Buonpane, Brianne Burke, Meghan Carroll, Milena Casamassima, Megan Cole, Anna Craft, Catherine DeBruyn, Richard Erickson, Brian Ferreira, Michelle Flynn, Andrea Gemme, Kevin Giffels, Melissa Godfrey, Anne Claire Grammer, Morgan Grant, Matthew Harris, Katherine Hrach, Michelle Ivanoski, Elijah Karpf, Joshua Lampron, Nicholas Leonard, Patrick Maloney, Aubrey Matthews, Paige MacPherson, Victoria Mello, Nathaniel Michener, Colleen Moore, Hanna Nash, Allison Neenan, Mitchell Negus, Christopher Nugent, Gabriel O’Connor, Terrence O’Mara, Nicole O’Neill, Ariana Pasquantonio, Luke Pastor, Kailee Paulson, Kenneth Ratliff, Colleen Riley, Cori Roach, Nathaniel Somes, Theresa St. James, Andrew Sullivan, Jessica Todesco, Guy Vareewong, Jack Vultaggio, and Laura Whalen

To these fine students, felicidades and bonne chance!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thoughts on "Waiting for Superman"

This past week I had the opportunity to see the documentary Waiting for Superman, a thought-provoking film about the current state of American public education. The work, directed by David Guggenheim (of An Inconvenient Truth fame) has received a considerable amount of press. The title is a metaphor for where we seemingly are: waiting for a powerful solution, a "Superman," to rescue us by improving outcomes in our schools, as by all national and international measures, student achievement has been flat for the past 35 years.

The film portrays the stories of elementary and middle school-aged children from New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC who are in so-so to poor schools. Their prospects are poor at best, as they will be soon transitioning to middle or high schools that Guggenheim terms as "failure factories," schools that are rife with chaos and disengagement. Thus, each of the children's parents enroll their student in a lottery for various charter schools, ones portrayed as remarkable schools where they can beat the odds of failure. Unfortunately there are very few openings versus applications, and as the film climaxes, the viewer knows that very few of these children will actually get into these charter schools.

At least half of the film is dedicated to charter schools that have posted impressive gains in student achievement, most notably the Harlem Promise Academy and the KIPP Academy in New York City. These amazing schools have visionary founders like Geoffrey Canada, a committed educator and reformer who passionately believes that it's great teachers that make all the difference. In fact, the film repeatedly stresses this fact... and eventually segues into an indictment of the systems and structures that impede the removal of ineffective teachers. Here is where the educational bureaucracy and teachers unions take their shots, as Guggenheim shares the most over-the-top stories of adult entitlement and protection of the incompetent.

Being a former charter school director, by no means do I believe that they are a panacea. Trust me, there are plenty of bad charter schools out there. (Guggenheim glosses over very quickly that only 1 in 5 have results superior to traditional public schools.) However, the beauty of their existence is that they offer a new way of doing business- and specifically innovation- for our neediest kids. I have been at charter school lotteries for schools such as Providence's Times2 Academy, where just like the ones in the film, being selected as a student is often a 1 in 50 proposition. When it happens, the students and parents cry tears of joy, as if they have won millions of dollars in an actual state lottery. This is truly bittersweet to observe.

It should be pointed out that successful schools like the Harlem Promise Academy and KIPP are true labors of love, where the staff are deeply committed, going well beyond the parameters of what we typically expect in a school. Students in these schools attend for 8-10 hours per day, and many of their social services needs are tended to. I have personally known teachers at similar schools, and their accessibility to students and their families is great, as contact at home during the evenings and weekends is the norm. In some cases, staff act as parent figures, as they are the most meaningful adults in their students' lives. It is apropos that one of the children featured in Waiting for Superman is attempting to get into Washington DC's The SEED School. The SEED School is a public charter boarding school, as a 24-hour education in academic, life skills, and enrichment is delivered to inner city youth. Like the other schools portrayed in the film, staff at the SEED School are committed to doing what ever it takes so all of their kids may learn at the highest levels.

Am I suggesting that all schools must take such measures? Hardly. However, we must change how we do business- and the film does a great job in driving that point home. So many of our structures in public education are relics of the past, as they were created in the late 1800's or early 1900's, designed to educate children of the industrial age. These children were well-prepared to find jobs in the manufacturing and service industries, with a select few going on to college. This system will no longer work today, where students need to go to college to be competitive in our economy.

Like the featured charter schools, we must always do "whatever it takes." We must be innovative- and use research-based practices that improve student results. We can longer expect that a 180 day, 6 hr. school model will let us be competitive with our global counterparts. We can no longer have a "one size fits all" approach to teaching and learning.

During the film's closing minutes, several tag lines are interspersed with the credits. One reads, "Our education system is broken." Another reads "We know what works in schools."

After a fade to black, it is followed by "We must do it."


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The (Dis)Connected Generation?

"Jumping off the gw bridge sorry"

These disturbing words were the last status update that Tyler Clementi, 18, a Rutgers University freshman, posted to his Facebook page hours before taking his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. As I am sure you have heard of this tragic story recently in the press, Clementi was distraught after being cyberbullied by his roommate and the roommate's friend.

There are also recent reports of four teenage suicides in the past two years, all of the teens being students at Mentor High School in Mentor, OH. According to several accounts, these students experienced extreme cases of bullying where they were hate was constantly spewed at them verbally and online due to their nationality, appearance, dress, likes, and sexual orientation. To same that these students were dehumanized by the bullies would be an understatement.

Therefore, I read an article in this morning's Boston Globe entitled, "The Empathy Deficit" with great interest. The author, Keith O'Brien, makes the point that today's youth are connected to one another more than ever (vis-a-vis cell phones, texting, IM, social networking, etc.), however, recent research from the University of Michigan shows that college students today are 40% less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the sharpest decline occurring in the last 10 years. Additionally they note that more college aged students tend to be narcissistic. The researchers find plenty of ironies here, as student-to-student communication and access to one another has never been better. Nonetheless, many admit that “other people’s misfortunes” usually don’t disturb them. In other words, they might be constantly aware of their friends’ whereabouts, but all that connectedness doesn’t seem to be translating to genuine concern for the world and one another.

Think about the role empathy plays in our lives... and the quality that it brings to all of our social/emotional interactions. Now think of a world where fewer and fewer people understand social norms, etiquette, and downright human decency because empathy was somehow not properly instilled. Is this recent spate of bullying to tragic consequences- where victims are dehumanized- part of the larger trend of lack of empathy?

Like most problems in the world, you probably cannot blame only one factor for this apparent problem. As O'Brien writes in the article:

These students...would have been born in the 1980s, raised in the ’90s on video games, 24-hour cable television, and widespread divorce, and sent off to college with laptops and cellphones — the young pioneers of the digital age. Perhaps, some suggest, technology has connected them in one sense, but pushed them away from each other in another. “It’s very shallow, a lot of these connections,” said Jean Twenge, coauthor of “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” “You don’t really have an emotional connection with someone on Facebook.”

Perhaps, others argue, the problem is the advent of 24-hour cable and Internet news; young people today have been inundated with news to the point that they cannot care anymore. The oil spill in Louisiana this week, the flood in Pakistan next week — the tragedies all run together, making it harder to care in any sort of sustained way. Parenting could also be at fault, Konrath speculated. Perhaps today’s less empathetic children were raised by more narcissistic parents. Or the problem could be a hypercompetitive world in which everyone is trying to get into the best schools, get ahead, get more.

The ideas in the above quote very much resonate with me, as I see it everyday. It didn't surprise to read a recent study by the Pew Research Center that found that today's teens text more than they talk. I can think of many times I have picked up my teenage daughter from a social gathering, and as I see her sitting with her friends, they are all feverishly texting (each other??), often having multiple text conversations simultaneously. Seeing this depresses me.... what ever happened to good ol' conversation??

No one believes in the limitless possibilities of technology to improve teaching and learning more than me. However, I see the dark side of technology as well, as I fear that for some, it has replaced the foundation of what makes us human. Nothing is more important than the ability to engage, to communicate, to relate.... face to face. Without that ability, there can be no empathy.

Today's youth need a world not only with empathy- but one with compassion, wisdom, and patience as well. This comes only from quality relationships with adults who have invested in their lives, not from a "friend" on a social networking site.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Get Spooked, Save a Pooch

It's wonderful to see a new cohort of MHS students pick up the Mansfield Haunted Hollows mantle. This annual event, which features a haunted house adventure in the woods off Oakland Street, has raised over $20,000 for the Mansfield Animal Shelter Building Fund since its inception in 2008. It was originally the brainchild of recent MHS alums Ben Yeransian, Tate Shephard, Tyler Schmidt, and Lauren Pilsbury. Since they all graduated, there was some question as to the fundraiser would continue. Lo' and behold, three Mansfield families, the Colberts, the McLoughlins, and the Roses, stepped up and provided leadership and guidance to the over 50 students who volunteer their time and efforts to tasks such as designing and building the attraction, soliciting local businesses for support, and the actual acting for the haunt. This great event provides a wonderful community service opportunity for our students, many of whom are active in the MHS Performing Arts Department.

More information about this year's Mansfield Haunted Hollows may be found on their website. The spooky event runs the next three Friday and Saturday nights: October 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, and 30 starting at 7:00 pm. Once again, all profits will go to support the Mansfield Animal Shelter. Please come out for a good scare and support a great cause!

Pictured above, From left to right: BJ Chancy, Gregory Rose, Colleen McQue, Marc Thomas, Mary Colbert, Matt Lambert, Mike McLoughlin, Matt Mederos, Sean Lambert, Megan Pilsbury, and Connor McLoughlin.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

If U Txt While U Drv U Dserv A Tckt

True Story:
The year was 1988, and then I was working as a pharmaceutical sales representative for the now defunct Upjohn Company. As my territory was the greater Hartford, CT area, I would spend a great deal of the day in my car, circumnavigating Routes 84 and 91, the two major highways that intersect in the capital city. One morning when the traffic on I-84 was particularly jammed, where cars were crawling along at a 5-10 mph clip for several miles, I glanced over at a car to my right. In the car was a guy who was professionally dressed in a suit and tie. However- no word of a lie- in his lap he had a tv tray that had a plate with his breakfast on it (scrambled eggs, pancakes, etc.). He was eating his breakfast and taking sips of his commuter-mug coffee in between bites. But best of all, with the same hand he was using to steer, he was also holding up a half-unfolded Hartford Courant against the steering wheel, reading its contents! I initially laughed out loud after seeing such a freakish sight, but the more I reflected upon it, I was disturbed. How could someone show such reckless abandon toward attentive driving? Never in my wildest dreams could I ever envision a scenario where such distraction would become commonplace.

Flash forward 22 years to last night. I was in my hometown, picking up some take out food for the family. I was parked on Main Street, and I needed to cross the street to get to the restaurant, thus I made my way to the crosswalk. As I started to cross in the walkway, a car sped by, not appropriately yielding, and it missed me by 5 or 6 feet. I looked at the driver and affixed to this young man's ear were his hand and cell phone as he was deep in conversation, seemingly oblivious to me on the well-lit road.

The sad reality is that this is definitely NOT the first time that this has happened to me, a member of my family, or a friend. The amount of distracted driving that occurs is downright staggering. There is not a single day that while I am heading home on Route 95 that I don't see a scene that looks like this:

It is common to see a driver with the cell phone nestled at the top of the steering wheel, so the driver can attempt to text and steer simultaneously. Others try (unsuccessfully) to be more clandestine, so they text with their phones on their laps, occasionally looking up to survey the road. I've seen this in all walks of life: teenagers, adults, truck drivers- you name it. Sadly, I'm sure all of you reading this posting can attest to the same.

So I believe it is welcoming news that Massachusetts became the 30th state this week to enact a law banning texting while driving. If caught by police texting and driving, the driver will face a fine of $100 for the first offense. If the driver is under 18, the ban is applicable to not only texting but also cell phone usage. For these 16 and 17 year old drivers, the first offense will result in not only a $100 fine, but also loss of license for 60 days and attendance at a mandatory retraining course.

It is a shame that we must legislate what should be common sense. With statistics like nearly 6,000 deaths resulting in the US and 400 crashes in Massachusetts in 2008 due to distracted driving, sometimes some folks need to be saved from themselves....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thoughts for Hockomock Captains

Yesterday marked the Hockomock League Captains Leadership Conference, held at Lake Pearl Luciano's in Wrentham. The annual event is held for the senior captains of all interscholastic sports in the 10-school league. Mansfield's athletic director Joe Russo was responsible for the planning and implementation of the event, and he did an outstanding job, as the workshop for 480 student athletes featured preesentations on such timely topics as bullying and sports-related concussions.

I was asked to give some welcoming remarks to the students. Below is the text of my comments. This was an easy one for me, as I wanted to work in the recent story of Armando Gallaraga, a vignette that to me represents all that is right in sports!

Good morning and welcome! It certainly is a pleasure to be speaking to some of the best and brightest that the Hockomock League has to offer. I am certain that most, if not all of you are not only leaders on the playing field and court, but also in the classroom. Confidently, I speak for all 10 schools’ principals and athletic directors in the Hock when I say we are all very proud of your accomplishments and we wish you nothing but success in this school year! Keep up the outstanding work!

At today’s conference- you’re going to hear a lot of recurring themes: character, leadership, and sportsmanship- to name a few… But I also feel like we all need perspective. Out of curiosity- just by a show of hands- how many of you here plan on playing a sport at the college level? How many of you plan on being drafted to play for a pro team out of college within 4 or 5 years from now? Well, according to the most recent statistics from the NCAA, slightly under 4% of all high school student athletes go on to play at the collegiate level. They also report that 0.015 % of high school athletes- that’s 15 out of every 100,000 are drafted by Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, or MLS. Not such great odds, huh?

I don’t bring up these statistics to be a downer, but rather to make a point. While many of you will here will no doubt be in that 4%... and with a little luck, one or two of you may even be the next Lofa Tatupu, and be in that 0.015%.... for the large majority of all student athletes in the Hock, high school is the highest level of organized sports they’ll reach. That is the reality, but for over 3,000 students who play a sport in our league, it is a very meaningful thing- a real passion in their lives as students. As captains in your respective sports you have the opportunity to positive shape their experiences. You have the opportunity to set the tone, demonstrate character, and lead by example, therefore making a real difference in so many lives. That, in my opinion, is a great responsibility but also a wonderful gift.

I’m sure you caught in the news two recent events in sports that I believe speak to character and sportsmanship (or lack thereof). In July, ESPN aired this ridiculous 2-hour special entitled “The Decision” which broke the news on which NBA team LeBron James would be signing his next contract. After much contrived suspense, LeBron announced that it would be the Miami Heat for a mere $110 million. He followed up the special with a garish press conference in Miami the next day- one complete with screaming fans, dancing cheerleaders, a smoke and laser show, and his two new teammates, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. During the special and press conference LeBron kept repeating that he joined the Heat because he wanted to win championships- win a lot of them- and how there would be a new, dominant “big three.” Did he ever discuss his love and respect for the game? Nope- just winning, and winning now. Did he ever speak about team building and chemistry? Nope- just how this new big three would cement his legacy as an NBA great by winning multiple rings. Now don’t get me wrong…. LeBron James is a great player, but his recent actions have caused many in the media to characterize him as a self-absorbed narcissist. I would have to agree with that assessment.

In contrast, there is the story of Armando Gallaraga. Now you may be sitting in your seat asking yourself, “Who the heck is Armando Gallaraga?” Armando Gallarago is a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who presently has a 4-7 record and a 4.5 ERA. One night in June he electrified Detroit by pitching a perfect game no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Now mind you, a perfect game has been pitched only 18 times in the history of the game! The only problem here is that it wasn’t considered a perfect game due to a colossal blunder by first base umpire Jim Joyce. In the top of the ninth with two men out, Gallaraga pitched to the 27th Cleveland batter, #9 hitter Jason Donald. Donald hit a ground ball between first and second, the first baseman Miguel Cabrera made a nice play and tossed it to a covering Gallaraga. While it was blatantly obvious that the runner was out, the umpire called him safe, thus ruining the perfect game. Despite the protests of the Detroit manager, Joyce and the umpire crew did not change the decision, nor did Gallaraga react negatively. Thus, Gallaraga finished with a one-hit shutout, not making history.

After the game, when Gallaraga was pressed by reporters how he felt by getting so robbed by such a bad call, Gallaraga just smiled and shrugged and said, “Everyone makes mistakes… those things happen in the game.” To his credit, the umpire apologized directly to Gallaraga for the bad call, and even pleaded with Major League Baseball to reverse his decision but to no avail. The very next day, at the start of the game, Gallaraga brought out the Tigers scorecard to Joyce, who was the home plate umpire. The two men talked, shook hands, and embraced. The crowd at Comerica Park gave them an extended standing ovation for the incredible class, grace, and sportsmanship that was displayed.

So what’s my point in sharing these two contrasting stories? In my opinion, the sports world needs more Armando Gallaragas. And the good news is that it can start with all of you! We need to consistently stress sportsmanship- and respecting the game and each other- much more than winning and losing. We need to always conduct ourselves with class and dignity, as things in the game don’t always go as planned. These simple ideas transcend the playing field and will always be applicable to life- well after your high school playing days are over.

Chances are you will never play on as big of a stage as a LeBron James or Armando Gallaraga. However, your impact on your peers can be just as great. The way in which your impact will be realized is leading by example, namely by consistently making good decisions, treating all with respect, and exercising good sportsmanship. This is the true measure of your character as athletes, and most importantly, as leaders. I am confident you will live up to this challenge.

Have a great day, and best of luck in all of your seasons! Thank you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Could the iPad Be a "Game Changer"?

During the tax-free holiday weekend in August, I woke up early and made my way to the Mansfield Best Buy for its 7:00 am opening. I was glad that I did, as I waited for the doors to open along with 50 or so other folks, with at least 48 of them being there for the same reason I was: to purchase an iPad. That day they were selling them like hotcakes!

I got myself one... actually it was for my 10-year old daughter, Molly. My wife and I decided that it would be a nice back to school investment for her, as she was entering the fifth grade and starting a new school. While she has definitely used it a great deal, and has downloaded a plethora of applications and silly games, I have been pleasantly surprised with its value as much more than an electronic game. Last Thursday night in our family room I noticed Molly very quietly and intently studying the iPad screen. When I asked her what she was doing, she informed me that she was reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, a book that her class was assigned to read. On her own she downloaded the work from iBooks and was enjoying reading it. Seeing this with my own child made me think of the larger possibilities....

The iPad is a tablet PC, and there's certainly nothing new about that. However, its slick and intuitive Apple interface make it very appealing. When Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs did the iPad product launch, he heralded it as downright revolutionary, as its superior text/book download and visual capacities would ultimately be the new medium for the fledgling newspaper and newsmagazine industry. While I question this, it is interesting think of the potential once the cost of technology like the iPad decreases even more. Education columnists and bloggers speculate that the iPad could replace the use of textbooks where students would simply download the textbooks they needed from year to year. The textbook content could be much more interactive, incorporating video as well chat, wiki, and blog capacities. Needless to say, this would be greatly beneficial to the environment, cutting down on all of that paper.

As of today, Apple has developed over 5,000 educational applications for use with K-12 students. As an example, here is The Elements: A Visual Exploration that could be used in any physical science or chemistry class. Check it out:
Think of the potential applications or "apps" yet to be developed-ones that could help the Web 2.0 generation process, synthesize, and evaluate new information. This technology has potential that I believe we have not fully tapped.

Most of all, the iPad is mobile- and invites peer interaction (such as discussions and editing), collaboration, productivity, and communication- essential skills for college and career readiness. Like most technologies, it is only as good as the skill of the teacher who is using it to facilitate the learning. In other words, it's only as good as how it's used.

But the possibilities!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Green Roof?? A Great Start!

When students returned to MHS this past week they noticed something new when they used the stairwell on the far end of the building near the modular classrooms. It looked like this:What they noticed was the fruition of the senior project of recent alum Kjirsten Seiler, '10. During last school year Kjirsten researched the topic of the green roof, a roof (or a portion of a roof) that is covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. This type of roof has become more popular in the past 5-10 years, particularly in new urban construction. Its benefits include providing insulation, absorbing rainwater, reducing heat loss and energy consumption, and filtering out pollutants and carbon dioxide of the air.

While the scope of this project was small (only a portion of the roof to the modular wing was done), Kjirsten planned everything and constructed it over the summer with the help of some MHS friends. This includes the frame, the membrane, the drainage system, the medium, and plants. Interestingly enough, Kjirsten used a product known as GaiaSoil as the growing medium. This "soil" is an ultra-light, recycled foam that is enriched with nutrients so vegetation may grow. She also planted very low maintenance, ground cover plants such as sedum album and sedum pachycladus, ones that should flower in the spring.

With an increased emphasis on schools to be "green," this addition certainly is a timely one. More importantly, it was the culmination of one student's project-based learning. This topic is clearly one that Kjirsten is passionate about, so much so that she would like students from successive classes to continue the project, building their own sections. Perhaps that vision may be realized...

Many thanks also to MPS Director of Buildings & Grounds Walter Parker for his help with this project!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

MA Scores $250 M in Race To The Top.... What Does It Mean?

Last week came the monumental news that the Commonwealth was one of the 12 recipients of the federal government's Race to the Top competition. Largely based upon total student population, Massachusetts was awarded $250 million by the US Department of Education. This is certainly great news.... but to be clear, by no means is this extra money for the operating expenses of cash-strapped districts. Rather, it is an infusion of funds for a four-year period to help accelerate the reforms envisioned by the Obama administration.

As the Massachusetts RTTT application indicates, the vision of the use of the funds is clearly aligned with the RTTT Program priorities: improving standards and assessments, improving teacher and principal quality, improving data systems that support instruction, and support to turn around failing schools. While implementing the four "turnaround" strategies is important for schools with chronic failure as measured by poor MCAS scores, poor graduation & attendance rates, etc., I honestly don't believe that aspect of the grant will affect our world that much in Mansfield. Here are the areas in which I believe it will:

1. Along with 34 other states and the District of Columbia, Massachusetts has adopted the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and mathematics. This set of rigorous standards will replace the MA Curriculum Frameworks which have been in place since the early 1990's. While the new standards are very closely aligned with the existing MA standards, some curricular adjustments will need to be made in various grade levels. The grant calls for the provision of numerous curriculum maps and resources to help teachers with this change. Also, we can anticipate that the MCAS in ELA and mathematics will change, as a new state assessment (one that is computer-based) will commence in 2014 or 2015. Needless to say, there has been considerable political debate about this potential move.

2. Massachusetts' already rich education data warehouse will become more user-friendly, providing a wealth of information on student performance for teachers. However, accountability will take a quantum leap forward as the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) will require all districts to provide student schedules and teacher names for the data warehouse database. The intent is to link student performance and growth on MCAS with individual teachers and classrooms. For teachers who do not teach MCAS-tested subjects, the grant calls for the creation and implementation of benchmark assessments to be given at all grade levels. Similar to MCAS results, student performance on these assessments would be tracked back to individual teachers.

3. The RTTT grant also will provide for a new teacher and principal evaluation framework that will help both have clearer standards of performance. A huge change here is the provision that student performance (as measured by MCAS results, benchmark assesssment results, MCAS growth factor, etc.) should be a significant portion of the criteria by which teacher and principal effectiveness is evaluated. Needless to say, the is an enormous shift!!

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out in the coming year. Of the grant, $125 million is staying at DESE to develop these structures. The other half will be dispersed to the districts who signed on to RTTT vis-a-vis Title I eligibility. This money very much will have strings attached, as the expectation will be to have completed targets in the above strategic areas. To see this work through will take a tremendous amount of time and effort, but I believe that it is the next step in the standards and accountability evolution.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

ImPACT Testing- A New Proactive Approach

I've heard some startling statistics recently regarding high school student-athletes and concussions. Roughly 1 in 5 student athletes experience one each sports season. Upwards of 85% of all concussions are never diagnosed. Fifty percent of all high school football players will experience at least one concussion during their playing tenure. The below short video clip from CBS News sheds more light on the topic:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

The Mansfield High School Athletics Department has purchased the ImPACT concussion evaluation software that is shown in the above clip.

ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is the first, most-widely used, and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.

Developed in the early 1990's by Drs. Mark Lovell and Joseph Maroon, ImPACT is an approximately 30-minute test that has become a standard tool used in comprehensive clinical management of concussions for athletes of all ages.

The ImPact program is a computerized neurocognitive test which evaluates verbal and visual memory, reaction time, and impulse control. The test provides baseline information which can be used to help determine the severity of injury when a student hits his/her head and is believed to have a concussion.

Please refer to http://www.impacttest.com/ for more information.

Baseline measurements need to be taken of each student-athlete. The Athletic Deptartment will begin baseline measurements at Mansfield High School on June 21, 2010 for all high school students who are planning to participate in the fall sports of football, boys' and girls' soccer and field hockey. Students will be given schedules of testing times this week.

Thereafter, only new student-athletes receive a baseline measurement while anyone who is suspected of a concussion is closely monitored according to his/her situation.

Please note that if you do not want your child to participate in this program, the Athletic Department needs to be notified by the student’s parent/guardian in writing.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Outliers and Schools... What are the Implications?

I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, a fascinating exploration of what factors truly lead to success. This book studies exactly what creates success for any individual person. Gladwell uses the term “outlier” to describe men and women who do things out of the ordinary. These are folks who are really at the top of their game or the best in their chosen field, hence they enjoy success. Furthermore, he debunks the notions that people are “born into greatness” or there’s such a thing as a “self-made man.” Rather, all of us have an advantage in one particular area, and good old-fashioned effort and hard work make the difference.

Interestingly enough, Gladwell asks the following question in the book: How much practice do you have to have before you’re really great at something? Through fairly detailed research, he comes up with the answer which he calls the “10,000 Hour Rule” which is this: For you to become truly outstanding at any cognitively complex task, you have to commit 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to it. Outliers have lived up to the 10,000 hours and probably then some…

The book gives examples from throughout history of famous outliers. For example, Mozart began playing the keyboard and violin at age 3, and started composing at age 6, easily working on his 10,000 hours by creating over 400 concertos before age 12. The Beatles amassed roughly 10,000 hours of live performances in Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany when they were still honing their craft between 1960 and 1964. Bill Gates, as a geeky, awkward adolescent, had the opportunity to practice computer programming (his passion from age 12 on) for about 10,000 hours in the elite Seattle prep school he attended from 1968 to 1973. When all of these individuals were presented with the opportunity to follow a passion and improve, they put forth the effort and practiced with a vengeance. Gladwell's point about these outliers having sufficient opportunities to meet these 10,000 hours is well-taken. Imagine if all students could have opportunities such as Gates', where a student could follow a passion to the highest degree in a highly personalized learning environment!

A second major area Gladwell delves into is the relationship between achievement and culture as he aims to untangle long-standing puzzles about success and nationality.

"One of the puzzles that educators have thought about for years is why is it that kids from Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and China vastly outperform their American or Western counterparts in math," Gladwell writes. "They score substantially better than American kids do."

Gladwell states that Asian children might be inheriting a particular cultural legacy from their parents and their society that was helping them succeed in math — and he says he found the answer in the agricultural tradition of rice farming.

"Rice farming lays out a cultural pattern that works beautifully when it comes to math," Gladwell hypothesizes. "Rice farming is the most labor-intensive form of agriculture known to man. It is also the most cognitively demanding form of agriculture … There is a direct correlation between effort and reward. You get exactly out of your rice paddy what you put into it."

While American students often say math skills are innate, Asian students more frequently attribute success in math to hard work. This was confirmed in a 2008 study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania who dug deeper when looking at the TIMSS (Trends In Mathematics and Science Study) results for 4th grade students in the US and Singapore. They found that when students were interviewed after taking the TIMSS test, both the American and Singapore kids thought the problems were challenging, but there was a stark difference in attitude. Many of the American fourth graders got frustrated with many of the problems and gave up after a relatively short period of time. In contrast, the kids from Singapore had a “can-do” attitude, where they firmly believed that if they gave it their best effort, they would be successful! From this attitude, they would try numerous approaches to a problem until they had success. The UPenn researchers found that it is in the Singapore culture- and most of Asia on a whole- to instill in children starting as toddlers this mindset of strong, consistent effort.

With findings such as these, it is little wonder that so many of the major whole-school reform initiatives (such as the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Learning or the network of KIPP Academy charter schools) stress organizing for effort as their philosophical underpinnings. I can honestly say that after 20 years as a teacher and principal, effort does determine ability- and everyone can achieve at high levels.

However, do we have systems and structures in place where effort is consistently rewarded? Do our instructional practices recognize that achievement of standards is a process, and effort is a key component? Do assessments that are given to kids reflect this? Food for thought...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Class Day 2010

As is tradition each year, last Thursday was Class Day for the Class of 2010, the 132nd class to graduate from Mansfield High School. It is a special ceremony to recognize individual student and whole class accomplishments. It is a wonderful celebration for our students, their parents, and the community. Below is a copy of my welcoming comments from the ceremony:

Good morning, and welcome to the 2010 edition of Mansfield High School's Class Day! As Principal of Mansfield High School, I wish to welcome our parents, relatives, students, special guests, teachers, and most importantly, our seniors on this special day to recognize and honor the achievements of the Class of 2010. I would also like to acknowledge the presence of some key individuals who have been instrumental in the support and promotion of our students' success: first, the entire Mansfield School Committee, Chair Michael Trowbridge, Assistant Chair Frank Delvecchio, Jean Miller, Lisa Losiewicz, and Jim Perry, our Superintendent of Schools Brenda Hodges, Director of Finance Ed Vozzella, my right hand men and woman, Assistant Principals Dave Farinella, Mike Connolly, and Dawn Stockwell, and the two outstanding class advisors to the Class of 2010, Gail Farrington and Christine Reilly.

When I think of this class, several words come to mind, among them, hard work, perseverance, commitment, and excellence. At 338 strong, not only are you the largest ever to graduate from Mansfield High School, you are one of the finest. Just look at some of the academic indicators- the highest MCAS scores in our region, the highest SATs in our school's history, outstanding AP participation rates and test scores, the number of students that have been inducted into the Spanish, French, and National Honor Societies, and so on... all of these facts can be attributed to this class. Athletically, you were second to none, as you took our school to new levels. Throughout your four-year tenure, the MHS varsity sports teams won 31 Hockomock League championships and 14 state championships in fall, winter, and spring sports, and 38 individual student-athletes achieved all-state or all-region status in their respective sports. You also have been the heart and soul of an outstanding school band, orchestra, and chorus that have won countless regional and national competitions, and might I add, a percussion ensemble that continues to dominate its competition. But most importantly, you are a class filled with young ladies and gentlemen- students who consistently act with class and respect for one another. Your collective character, integrity, and compassion- demonstrated consistently through acts where you gave to others, from tutoring students throughout the district through the ALC, to being a buddy through Project Teammate, to providing community service locally through vehicles such as The Leaf Raking Project and the Great Mansfield Cleanup….to name just a few. This work certainly has defined you as an outstanding class, one of the finest to graduate from MHS.

However, this Sunday afternoon, oh… by 3 o’clock… you will no longer be Mansfield High School seniors, but rather, Mansfield High School alumni. I urge all of you to never forget that you’re Hornets, but also never forget that you are an integral part of the larger community of Mansfield. There certainly is a great deal of pride that resonates in town as being an MHS alum. Please realize that you, Class of 2010, are the 132nd class to graduate from this institution. To be sure, you are a fine class, but you are also one deeply linked with the past, through your family connections and your work throughout the community. Always keep that link with Mansfield alive and strong…. as there will always be many in the community that love and support you, and likewise, the community needs the vitality and creativity that you bring as young adults. Thus the reciprocal cycle begins once again, part of what we are celebrating here at Class Day!

So I offer my most sincere congratulations to all of you! You deserve the many awards and accolades you will hear today. Reflect on your past successes and dream of the excitement of future opportunities. Thank you for serving Mansfield High School so well!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Making Senior Year More Meaningful

When the US Department of Education's National Commission on the High School Senior Year delivered a comprehensive report entitled "Raising Our Sights" in 2001, one of the key recommendations was for schools to "require performance-based assessments such as portfolios for seniors to showcase their best accumulated work... and senior projects where students may demonstrate their capabilities for research, creative thinking, rigorous analysis, and clear written and oral communication." It is with this vision that thousands of high schools nationwide have implemented a senior project program. We too have begun the journey at MHS.

Thirty-eight members of the class of 2010 recently completed this year-long independent project, which culminated on May 14 with oral presentations on their research to panels of faculty members, parents, and community members. During their presentations, each student gave an overview of their study area and also talked about their specific research in the field. Throughout the school year, each student had to identify a mentor who is an expert in their chosen field of study, conduct at least 15 hours of fieldwork, reflect in writing upon their experiences, and submit a research paper on the topics. All experiences are also documented by the students through the use of an online electronic portfolio where artifacts of their learning are uploaded and assessed.

The student topics were diverse and interesting. From topics ranging from the feasibility of starting a ski and snowboard apparel business in light of an economic recession to the influence of intellectual property on the medical field, all projects had one thing in common: they were selected by the students based upon what they have a passion for learning.

Many thanks to MHS Senior Project coordinators Bill Deasy and Ben Caisse for their hard work and facilitation throughout the year. Great work!


Above: Chaelyn Saunders presents on the physics of dance and her work with choreography.

Below: Greg O'Brien presents on his work on creating and patenting an experimental medical device; Ali Dorval presents on her topic of increasing AIDS awareness among teenagers through conducting a charity community event.

Monday, May 17, 2010

MCAS/AYP "Readjustment" In Store?

Over the past decade, the biggest driver of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in American public education has been the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. For better or worse, the act has led to the creation of very complex state assessment and accountability systems that measure how well students are meeting state standards in reading, writing, and mathematics. Most states, like Massachusetts, have gone the route of high-stakes testing, where passing a standardized test like the MCAS is necessary for grade promotion or graduation from high school.

A key element of the act was establishing AYP, or the adequate yearly progress each school must demonstrate by increasing the number of students that score proficient on tests like the MCAS. Baseline proficiency levels were established in 2002 with the target of 100% proficiency by the year 2014. Keep in mind that for a school to attain AYP, improvements in both the aggregate and various student subpopulations (e.g., low income, special education, English language learners, various racial groups, etc.) must show improvement. As we have moved closer to 2014, more and more schools across the Commonwealth (and the nation) have failed to achieve AYP, most often because there is an achievement gap among the subpopulation groups and the aggregate. In fact, based upon the 2009 MCAS results, over half of the state's schools have been identified as failing or in need of improvement due to their repeated failure to attain AYP.

Thus, it is interesting news that the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering a new proposal where the 100% proficiency goal will be readjusted to a target of 85% of students scoring proficient or advanced on all grades' MCAS tests by the year 2020. Proponents say that this new target is simply more realistic than the 100% mark and will give educators more time to design curriculum and instruction to address persistent achievement gaps, particularly for those students who are English language learners and have disabilities. It will also give more time to strengthen elementary literacy programs throughout the state. Because this proposal is contrary to the mandates of NCLB, the state cannot act on it until Congress acts on the Reauthorization of NCLB. It is believed that this may occur sometime later this year.

Where does this leave us in the world of MHS? We have already achieved this new target, at least in the aggregate (2009 MCAS results: 94% proficient/advanced in ELA, 89% proficient/advanced in math). Below are some slides from a presentation that I gave to the MHS School Council last fall, showing exactly how MHS was doing relative to the AYP targets. The system contains somewhat of a complicated metric, known as the Composite Performance Index or CPI. This CPI score is what determines a school's AYP is:

If you look through the above slides, the aggregate CPI for the 10th grade ELA and mathematics tests has been progressively increasing for the past seven years. So have the results for the two significant subpopulation groups, students with disabilities and limited income students. However, you will notice that the CPI scores are much closer to the state target than the aggregate results. If the results for these groups stay static or dip over the next year or two, MHS will not attain AYP and could be labeled as "in need of improvement."

To their credit, our teachers have aptly used the data from previous year's MCAS to make improvements to the ELA and math curriculums and their instructional strategies. When so many students are scoring proficient or higher-say in the 90-95% range- it is that much more challenging to move the last 5 to 10% of students to proficiency. The challenge here is to analyze and use the data at a micro-level. Who are the students who are struggling? What specific standards/content strands do they not understand? What type of interventions and instruction work best with these kids?

While I am not a fan of high-stakes testing and I passionately believe in the use of multiple measures to assess a student's learning, I do think that NCLB has forced us to think in these terms. And that's a good thing...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Life-Changing Trip

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly five years since the Gulf Coast was forever changed by the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina. For the past three years, a special group of students and teachers have been making the trek to the region, pitching in wherever they could to help the ongoing relief efforts. This year's trip certainly was a memorable one.

Led by MHS science teacher Debbie Fournier, the group of 15 students set up camp in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a small, rural, coastal town about an hour and 15 minutes east of New Orleans. The group stayed at the Mission on the Bay Camp, a self-contained camp for relief workers run by the Lutheran Episcopal Services of Mississippi. The group was fortunate to have as a guide Mr. Chris Lagarde, special assistant to Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Mississippi). Mr. Lagarde is also a Bay St. Louis native and has spent considerable time working with high school and college students serving as relief workers.

The students worked hard... very hard, removing debris from homes on Main Street in Bay St. Louis. They also worked in preparing houses for painting, performing the arduous task of scraping the shingles (as pictured above). Many of the homes in this devastated region are still abandoned, as people cannot afford to rebuild or insure their existing properties. As chaperone Leslie Gildersleeve points out, "Most people don't realize that the majority of FEMA funds went into rebuilding roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Many everyday people are so dependent on volunteers to help them recover and restore. As a result, so many of the residents were so appreciative, constantly thanking us."

Mr. Lagarde also connected the MHS group with the University of Mississippi, with a major project to restore the delicate ecosystem by replanting the dune grasses in Biloxi. To be sure, a time-consuming but important task:

The group also had a unique adventure in clearing debris from a house that had been literally blown into the middle of a swamp. Unbelievably, this house was only discovered in March!

As a result, the students cleared pieces of the house crossing a makeshift bridge made literally from planks and plywood that was scattered:
The students had the opportunity to take in New Orleans one day, enjoying such historical features such as the French Quarter. Led by Mr. Lagarde, they also witnessed the areas that still have not recovered, such as the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish. They also noted the many oil, sugar, and coffee refineries that still are not up to speed.

Both the students and adult chaperones were struck by how warm and genuine all of the residents were. The residents of the area were consistently friendly and grateful, demonstrating how much they value the work of the students. While the students gained this new service learning, they also gained something more. As junior Justin Deckert, one of the 15 students, states, "We all gained a new perspective- that our community is so much bigger than just Mansfield. The people there were just like us, only that they have critical needs."

Once again, a job well done!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What Teaching 21st Century Skills Looks Like

A former student of mine, Cara Glew Hetrick, works as an integrated math and science teacher at High Tech High, a public charter school in San Diego, CA. Tonight on her Facebook page she posted the below video and a link to this web article, Is This the Best High School In America?. The school started in 2000 as a single high school dedicated to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics but has expanded in the past 10 years as a conglomerate of nine schools (five high schools, three middle schools, and one elementary school) that serve approximately 3500 students. The mission of the schools is "to develop and support innovative public schools where all students develop the academic, workplace, and citizenship skills for postsecondary success." Watch the below video: there's a lot going on here to successfully meet that mission.

I am struck by the comment at the beginning of the video by Mr. Riordan, the "Emperor of Rigor" of HTH. He states, "There are three axioms of public education in this country, particularly in high schools. They are that you separate students apart from another based upon their perceived academic ability, you separate hands from minds, and you separate school from the world beyond." HTH is all about the antithesis of this, where their curriculum is all about integration: integrating all of the students (regardless of ability level), integrating traditional college prep content with career and technical skills, and integrating student learning with real-life applications.

The premise of this school is amazing: give all students career and employability skills that they need to be successful in the 21st century workforce. In this short clip you can see the 21st century skills- problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration to name just a few- all successfully being delivered in the context of project-based learning. Most importantly, the students know their teachers, and know them well, so there is a strong sense of personalization in the school setting. Much of the school's success can be attributed not only to the curriculum but also the established relationships.

You could argue that HTH is a charter, and yes, the kids and their parents want to be there. The school has also been blessed with many corporate connections that have infused great technology into the school. However, I believe the success is all about the school's structures and commitment to 21st century skills through non-traditional curriculum and instruction. This school is committed to "meeting kids where they are" and is finding the best ways to teach them meaningful content and skills. This school has found one of the new paradigms that all public high schools must adopt if we are truly going to improve student learning.

When Cara posted the link to the above article, she commented how proud she was that High Tech High was the place she worked. She should be!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mansfield Healthy Futures Family Fun Night

Many thanks to the students, parents, and community members that came to last evening's first annual Mansfield Healthy Futures Family Fun Night at MHS. Thank you also to Rep. Jay Barrows, Pat Harrison, and the Hockomock YMCA for putting the evening's events together. As I promised during my presentation, here is the PowerPoint with the Communities that Care Youth Survey data from last spring. Keep in mind that this data collection is only the first step; we must consistently keep the message about good decision-making in the fore throughout our schools and community.