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.
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The sad fact is the elephant in the room that no one wants to see is our huge population of poverty and ignorance. The school administration is taking more and more time off teaching and having more and more feel good meetings and workshops which produce nothing in terms of helping the children. Let the teachers do their job. The educational system should get back to basics. All these boards of education and administration who never step foot in a class room trying to tell the teachers how to teach is a big part of the problem. The other part of the problem is the large population of unfit parents who only care about the free money that there kid brings them and not their child. Stop blaming the teachers for society's failure. Until we as a society make it NOT ok for an emotionally and fiancially unfit person to pop out a baby as a way to live free, it will only get worse. All the feel good meetings and workshops in the world cannot fix the real problem!
How about starting with charter schools. Even in Harlem carter school students do much better. They do not come from wealthy Harlem homes. Kids are picked by lottery. It is about techers that are paid by student performance. It is about rewarding good teachers and getting rid of the bad ones. Back to basics. Sitting around a table and doing nothing but looking to blame someone for a system that is broken helps no one.
So what you are saying is adminstrationa and principals shouldn't be meeting and discussing this? If they didn't you would complain they are in denial. No matter what they do there will be those who complain.
Just a question. Why does the city spend a large amount of money to bus kids to school that live less than a mile away? State law says they do not have to be brought to school on a bus if they live less than one mile away. The Greylock project is a good example. It is a short walk to the Greylock School and being as how most of the parents never seem to work why can't they walk their kids to school?
We have a vocational school that was set up for students who struggle with academics. When these students struggle with academics at the vocational school they get kicked out to the academic school? We have kids who are raising themselves because their parents are not mature enough to be even function on their own let alone be responsible for another human life. We have Boards of Education and Administrators who never step foot in a class room telling teachers how to teach. We have city officials telling teachers to �get the numbers up �. The problems we are facing are so much deeper than just the classroom. Until we start facing the fact that what is going on in the educational system is a reflection of what society has become, things will not change. Stop blaming the teachers for society failing our children. What is happening in the schools is the end result. Because we as a society do not do the right thing and hold unfit parents responsible for their actions, we hold the teachers scapegoats for the failings and expect them to fix all of the problems with society by getting the grades up. 60 % of these students don�t know if there will be supper at home tonight or whether their parents will be home. The last thing on their mind is school work.
Too true-Tom Freidman in NY times recently wrote a piece on getting new parents as the solution to educational problems.
His main message was just asking kids about their school day was equally effective in raising test scores than all the extra spending. So parents get with it and get involved. You made the kids now take care of them and stop whining.
With the population of North Adams continuing to shrink each year, a long term solution could possibly be to find a way to utilize Brayton as a k-5 elementary school. Then use grant money to renovate the current Drury High School into a middle school of 6,7,8. At that point renovate and utilize Conte into a high school again with grades 9 thru 12 attending. An additional upside would be putting the high school kid back into the downtown. Young adults today are a vital piece of todays economy. Placing the young adults downtown may possibly help the struggling business district, and shop on Main St. I would hope this plan would be more affordable to the community than a new 2 school solution proposed by the Mayor. Any with thoughts or comments please respond.
That sounds like a winner. The middle school concept is a good concept and worked well here for nearly forty years. Our city took the fun out of it when they eliminated home economics, graphic arts, woodshop and all the other fun things that made up for the lack of outdoor play space downtown. This age is a tough enough time for kids without having to be picked on by older teens or bothered by little kids. Unfortunately our current administration is hell bent on moving the kids from Sullivan School downtown. Almost seems as though they have an ulterior motive for the Sullivan school Property?
Back to a middle school is a bad idea for North Adams (and has been eliminated in many other areas in Mass and throughout the country). School enviroment (less bullying, more mentoring, academic improvement) is 100% better without the middle school in North Adams. You will not see a middle school back in North Adams (in my life time or yours).