Tuesday, May 27, 2014

All change is not growth...

All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.
- Ellen Glasgow

As the end of another school year approaches I find myself optimistic about the future of our schools. This is the time of year when teachers are tired, trying to squeeze in that last bit of knowledge and keep students engaged as the weather turns nicer and the mercury rises. This has been a challenging year with the implementation of many new regulations and more are on the horizon. My optimism arises from a number of sources. I am proud of the work we have accomplished this year in our schools. I am proud of the work our administrators and teachers have done together to minimize any potential negative impact of all the initiatives and mandates to which we have been forced to respond. I am proud of the fact that our staff has refused to be distracted by external factors and remained focused on our duty of providing a quality education for our students.   

Today I am particularly proud of the action taken by the members of the Ludlow School Committee. The committee members are the elected representatives of our community and thus represent the community's interests and concerns. Today the Ludlow School Committee voted with one voice to support the students of the Ludlow Public Schools. The following is a letter to our legislative representatives which I drafted, and which each of the members have signed, to express their concern about the current educational environment and its effects on our schools. 

May 27, 2014

The Honorable Richard E. Neal     The Honorable Gale D. Candaras       The Honorable Thomas M. Petrolati  
300 State Street, Suite 200            State House, Room 309                      State House, Room 171
Springfield, MA 01105                    Boston, MA 02133                             Boston, MA 02133

Dear Congressman Neal, Senator Candaras and Representative Petrolati:

As school officials whose duty it is to provide for the education of the children in our community, the Ludlow School Committee and the Superintendent of Schools felt compelled to write you this letter to ensure that you are aware of the impact the current educational policy environment is having here in Ludlow.  We would like to thank you for your past and continued support of our schools and hope this information will prove useful in your continued advocacy for the children of Ludlow.  

The current educational policy environment is unlike any we have experienced in the past. To state it quite simply, we are drowning in initiatives, regulations and mandates. Although well intentioned, even if each of them was a good idea, there is no way we could effectively implement them all. This environment is creating a situation where these mandates are getting in the way of each other and working to inhibit necessary change and progress. The number and pace of regulations to which we must respond and comply is increasing at an alarming rate. 

The following information is taken from the testimony of Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, presented to the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Education Committee on June 27, 2013.  An examination of the regulations and documents requiring action by local districts on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website demonstrates that from the years 1996 -2008 (13 years) there were 4,055  (average of 312 each year) documents requiring action of local districts in response to regulations. The same examination conducted on the four year period of 2009-2013 reveals that there were 5,382 (an average of 1077 each year) multiple page documents requiring action by local school districts. How are we effectively supposed to implement local initiatives and meet the needs of our students when we are continually compelled to respond to these excessive bureaucratic requirements?

In addition to the long list of mandates to which schools were already compelled to comply, the past two years have seen the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requiring schools to implement the following:

  • Align our curriculum with the Common Core State Standards
  • Implement the new regulations for educator evaluation
  • Field test the new PARCC exam
  • Develop District Determined Measures (DDM’s) for every subject at every grade in order to assess student progress as part of the new educator evaluation regulations 
  • New English language learner requirements that mandate both intensive teacher training courses and new mode of assessment
  • Implement new Student Discipline Regulations
The deluge of federal and state mandates costs money, takes time to execute, and is working to inhibit effective progress in our schools.  We have no time to implement local initiatives or respond to local concerns. The vast majority of our professional development time is allocated for trainings in order to comply with these mandates. Valuable and necessary professional development important for the growth of our teachers and schools is being pushed aside. Important initiatives such as learning to effectively integrate technology into instructional practices, individualizing instruction to meet the needs of today’s students, and addressing other areas identified by teachers as essential, lack the time necessary for appropriate training. 

Legislative bodies, whether the Congress, the state legislature, or a local School Committee, are responsible to their constituencies, and their decisions reflect the will of the people they represent and to whom they must answer.  We are seeing a disconcerting trend develop, however, where legislators are relinquishing increasing levels of control to bureaucratic agencies that are not responsible to the citizens. These agencies propagate regulations to which local districts must comply with little oversight or constraint. The Ludlow School Committee and Superintendent find this to be unacceptable.  

Concern regarding these issues seems to fall on deaf ears with regard to the Commissioner and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education here in Massachusetts.  Consequently, it is our hope that awareness of these problems will aid you in your advocacy for our children. Rather than continue to propagate top-down mandates compelling compliance, it is time to open a constructive dialogue regarding the direction of public education in the commonwealth. Furthermore, it is time to include educators in the discussion of education reform. They are the ones in the trenches who truly understand the impact these mandates are having on the learning environment in our schools and on our children. 

Thank you for your time and consideration of these important issues. We look forward to hearing your response and hope you will add your voice to the growing concerns about the educational policy environment in this country. 

Very Truly Yours,

Dr. Michael J. Kelliher                                                        Mr. Todd H. Gazda
Chairman, Ludlow School Committee                               Superintendent of Schools

Mrs. Patricia A. Gregoire                                                   Mr. Charles Mullin
Vice-Chairman                                                                   Secretary

Mr. Jacob R. Oliveira                                                        Mr. James "Chip" Harrington
Member                                                                              Member

The groundswell of opposition continues to grow as more people get informed and become engaged with the discussion around education policy and "reform". The voices are getting louder and unifying into a message that our current course of action is not acceptable. I encourage everyone to contact their representatives at the State and Federal levels to let them know of our dissatisfaction and concern. This is not some fringe element and the more people who contact those in charge of making policy the more likely it is that change will happen. For a legislator, one person contacting them is an anomaly, five is a concern, 25 is a protest, and 50+ is a movement. It is time to create a movement to change the future of education for our students. They deserve it.  

Links to contact our Local Representatives

Representative Thomas M. Petrolati

Senator Gale Candaras

U.S. Congressman Richard Neal
Click here to contact Congressman Neal

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
Click here to contact Senator Warren

U.S. Senator Edward Markey
Click here to contact Senator Markey

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

With appreciation to the brilliant teachers...

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.
- Carl Jung

We can all remember that great teacher; the person who inspired our imagination and lit the fire of learning. Who challenged us to question the world around us and nurtured our creative impulses. Who pushed us to excel, to go beyond that which we thought we were capable, and succeed where we didn't think it was possible. Often-times the actual content that these teachers taught us was irrelevant and had little to do with the impact they had in our lives. They were caring professionals who let us know we were valued, particularly at those times when we were uncertain.

Teachers teach much more than math, English, music, computers or any other specific content area. Teachers teach life and work to imbue students with the skills necessary to grow into successful adults. Educational reform today focuses much of its attention on standards, tests and holding people accountable, but often absent from the discussion is the heart, compassion and nurturing aspect of our job. Where is the concern for the struggling child trying to find themselves or their place in this world?  A teacher is often that individual who guides the student through that journey. Who smooths out the bumps, provides support, advice and guidance. A teacher is often the person who is there when students stumble and help them up when they fall. This is an essential part of the teachers’ role not captured by standardized assessments.

This week is teacher appreciation week. At least for this week, policy makers will refrain from telling us how teachers and our schools are failing. They will applaud teachers for their dedication and hard work. They will recognize excellence in the profession and hold up examples of teachers’ who have dramatically impacted students’ lives. My question to you is why do we only do this for a week? For the most part, teachers labor in the obscurity of their classrooms neither seeking nor receiving recognition for their efforts.

Teachers enter this profession for a love of children and learning. By and large they are caring professionals who get up each morning to make a difference in the lives of our children. Teaching is not a job for most, but rather a passion and a calling. The art and practice of teaching is one of the most difficult and challenging of professions. Anyone who doubts this should try and keep the attention and focus of a group of 8th graders on a hot afternoon in May or maybe you would like to try your hand at teaching 3rd graders the Friday before Christmas break. How about trying to grab the attention of seniors this time of year with one foot out the door?  

During the day teachers get little down time and are constantly fielding a barrage of questions on topics ranging from academic content to relationship advice.  They return home at the end of the day exhausted, yet with papers still to grade and lessons still to plan. They do not get to choose the students they teach, but must educate all who come through their doors. Each student is an individual who comes to them with their own set of experiences, strengths and weakness. Some come from affluent socially connected families and others from broken homes. Yet teachers teach and care for them all trying to help them learn, find their passions and engage their imaginations.

So to you teachers, I want to say thank you for all you do. Thank you for your caring and understanding. Thank you for your zeal and excellence. Thank you for igniting passions, instilling a love of learning and working to create young adults ready to participate in our society. I am inspired by your example and count myself blessed to consider you colleagues and friends.