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North Adams Principals Present Improvement Plans

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Principals Sarah Madden, left, Amy Meehan, Shelley Fachini and Sandra Cote talk with Mayor Richard Alcombright after Tuesday's School Committee meeting.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's principals presented their school improvement plans to the newly formed School Committee on Tuesday night.

All four principals reported progress in integrating the sixth, seventh and eighth grades from Conte Middle School into elementary and high schools and set new goals for ensuring student achievement and classroom learning.

Drury High School Principal Amy Meehan the focus will be reducing the achievement gap while providing the needed support at all levels.

"We're really trying to take a clear, precise focus on classroom instruction," she said. The school is creating teacher learning teams to working with best practices and student data.

With the integration of the eighth grade at Drury, there is now a larger population for pre- and Advanced Placement students, requiring more opportunities, she said. Drury has used Race to the Top funds for the lower grades and will apply for other grant funds for the Grades 11 and 12.

At the same time, a number of programs and safety nets put in place to help lower-achieving and special education students are working well. The school will build on those endeavors to improve student achievement, engagement and college/career readiness.

"We're really trying to take a thoughtful look at the data and say, that these are the directions that we need to fous on and it's really on daily classroom instruction," said Meehan.

Concrete goals are to improve proficiency in reading/writing, math, science and social studies by 15 percent and reduce performance gaps for low-income students and those with disabilities by 25 percent, and improve their graduation rates by 15 and 10 respectively by 2014. Currently, middle and higher income students are graduating at a 94 percent rate while for others the rate is 60 percent or less.

The school has seen a significant drop in incidents, from 1,507 in 2010 to 536 in 2011. Attendance rates are up from 91.4 percent to 94.7.

"You're doing something right because for many kids it's just getting them in the door," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, the committee's chairman.

Meehan said there is concern that the alternative education programming may be limiting pathways to success as students get corralled into particular programs.

Superintendent James Montepare said as the programs matured, "it seemed that these programs started to have a life of their own ... We're trying to regroup."

Rather than distinct elements, the goal is it offer more flexible combinations.

"We need to try to get our reins around them so we don't duplicate services and actually mentor kids so they don't just get lost in a program," Montepare said. "We need to revitalize programs that are working in isolation."

"It's clear we're doing something right ... yet at the same time we're struggling with the low income and the kids who are disabled," said committee member John Hockridge. "It's frustrating to continue to see the large gap between the kids that are struggling and the kids that are doing quite well."

The elementary principals had similar goals in engaging students, reducing achievement gaps and raising scores.

Greylock Principal Sandra Cote said her school is building on previous plans to create a more living document and better track progress. The data is also being used to prioritize teacher's materials requests at budget time.

"We want our decision to be based how we're going to move our school forward," she said. There is concern about the low-income population and how to close that achievement gap but the older grades now at the school have integrated well.

Bullying is down through the constant reinforcement of appropriate behavior. "The kids are really holding each other to a kind of code of conduct," Cote said.

Sullivan Principal Shelley Fachini said the last two years have really concentrated on integrating the sixth and seventh grade. "They really gelled into our school along with the teachers we've adopted," she said.

There is also an effort to get teachers in different grades collaborating and on keeping special education children engaged.

"We're working on keeping kids in classrooms," she said. "Letting them see how things are supposed to be done and work on meeting their needs within that classroom."

Brayton Principal Sarah Madden has had a slightly tougher job, arriving last year as the fifth principal in nine years. "I found a community that desperately needed strong leadership," she said. "I try every day to bring hope and joy to Brayton."

Madden said she's tried to instill a nurturing environment and plenty of celebrations and special events to engage children, parents and teachers. "I'm deeply committed and happy with the changes but worried about the large classes," she said.

In response to questions from the committee, the elementary principals say they try to keep in contact but find it difficult to carve time to meet and coordinate their efforts.

"We really do want to try harder to sit together because we share a lot of the same children all year long," said Fachini, referring to the number of children who cycle through the elementary schools.

In other business:

► The committee adopted an athletic concussion policy in accordance with a new state mandate (Chapter 111, Section 222) that covers all students playing a sport and band activity leaders and directors.

"I think it's pretty good," said Montepare. "Everybody we talked to who has been using it seem to be in agreement."

Acetta was concerned about students who may have a concussion during summer or off school grounds. Montepare said the internal procedures could be tweaked to address that.

► Montepare reported that the Elks Club had donated 110 dictionaries to the third grade and wanted to publicly thank them for all they do.

Tags: academics,   North Adams School Committee,   plans,   

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