Welcome to the LCCPS Spotlight Blog!
Chief Finance Officer
A Snapshot of Some Capital Improvements for Next School Year
Below are a few major projects we will be working on in FY20!
- Exterior Brickwork- In FY19, the school hired Jacobs Engineering and Building Conservation Associates (BCA) to assess the exterior brick around the entire facility. A comprehensive study was developed which described a series of options for the school and the other building owners to explore. All parties have identified Priority 1 as the most feasible option for FY20. The total cost of the project for all parties is expected to total $364,903. The school’s portion of these costs is projected to total $180,759. We have secured $35,000 in private foundation funding towards the schools portion of the project, the remaining balance will be funded by the facilities reserve fund.
- HVAC Upgrades- In FY20, the school plans to hire a firm to assess the existing HVAC equipment throughout the building. This study will determine the costs to replace and/or upgrade systems with priority in the Primary School where the systems are 30+ years old. Once the study is completed, we will determine a funding plan to address a phased project moving forward. We will continue to explore foundation grant opportunities to support these much needed upgrades.
- Access Control System- As a large facility with many keyed access points, it is a very challenging task to manage access throughout the property. The school has explored access control systems that can be incorporated into our new visitor management system and our existing copy machines. A new system will allow us to issue fobs to employees which we can better track who is in/out of the building. The system will also allow us to eliminate the countless keyed systems we have throughout the building. We will be able to deactivate fobs at the click of a button and eliminate the concern that a key may get into the wrong hands. We will also have the opportunity to incorporate this electronic key system into staff ID’s. This will also allow for quicker access for first responders in the event of an emergency. We expect this system will cost $30K-$35K to be funded by the facilities reserve account.
Food Service Equipment
- Visitor Management System- We will be launching a new visitor management system in the fall to allow for more controlled visitor management for our campus
- Expanding Free Breakfast- In FY19, we implemented a “breakfast after the bell” option for students to have access to breakfast after the official start of the school day. In FY20, we have plans to increase the number of students taking advantage of this program and as a result will need an additional freezer for storage of breakfast and lunch items. The cost for this item is $5,000 and will be paid for out of the food service revolving account.
Other Potential Projects
- Vacant Lot- In FY20 we will explore short-term and long-term uses for the school owned property located on Middlesex Street. In the interim, we will be exploring fencing the property which the cost will not exceed $10,000.
As we near another end to the school year, I reflect on how to really appreciate teachers. Teacher Appreciation Week has come and gone, but my appreciation for teachers is a career. My first priority, of course, is to the students and the best thing you can do for students is to give them the best teacher possible. Even the best of teachers get overwhelmed, overworked, and burned out. How can we support teachers to help them to be at their best so that they are able to do the hardest job you will ever love?
The answer is most often to listen. Being responsive and supportive of teachers is about listening to their concerns and determining what the best action is to take. Sometimes no action is taken and simply listening is what is needed in that moment. As I think about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, I am reminded of the power of Habit 5-Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood. If we do not take the time to understand, our efforts will not be effective. This sentiment is echoed by Ross Green, author of The Explosive Child and founder of Collaborative Problem Solving. Dr. Green stated, “Your explanation guides your intervention.” If you go with your own guess of an explanation instead of taking the time to listen, your intervention is going to be what you think they need, not what they genuinely need. There is yet another barrier in the equation and that is trust.
Teacher evaluations put administrators at a disadvantage in building trust because when a teacher shares a concern then worries that this will show up on his/her evaluation. Opening up and showing your vulnerability to the administrator evaluating you, especially where raises and promotions are tied in, can strain their relationship. This is a delicate balance and evaluating teachers has always been difficult. It becomes even more important to do what Stephen Covey says, “To listen with your heart” and hear some of the messages that are not being directly said. I have been working with teachers for a long time and the teacher needs to be treated first as a person, not just an employee. It reminds me of the connection between teachers and students.
Students learn from and try harder for a teacher that they know cares about them as a person and teachers work better and can be more effective if they have a positive relationship with their administrators. Fostering these healthy supportive relationships has been and will continue to be something to work hard at and to always try to improve. This is not a perfect practice and there are those times when the role of doing what you believe is best for students or the school strains the relationship with teachers who do not share the same viewpoints. This is the work that motivates me to be the best I can be and appreciate these teachers.
John Saphier, the author of The Skillful Teacher, reports that, “The number one factor in student learning is the teacher in the classroom.” He goes on to report that, “The second most important factor in student learning is the administrators.” I am one very lucky administrator to be able to say that I work with some of the most dedicated, hard-working, and most importantly, caring educators you will ever meet. That fact motivates me to do all that I can to learn and grow to be supportive and appreciative of what our teachers do every day for our amazing students.
A Case for Reading
Director of Operations
A Case for Reading
As many of you know, Winter’s Coming is quite the ubiquitous trend these past few years. Many readers across the country if not the world, imbibe the series in both written and digital formats, a phenomenon for the fantasy genre of this generation.
As a young girl growing up, my family always encouraged us to read, especially the classics. I remember asking them what is a classic? To my family and probably Khmer families everywhere, it was Tum Teav a classic romantic tragedy folk tale comparable to Romeo and Juliet. Since my childhood was predominately in the United States, to read Tum Teav was out question if not unparalleled. The title was not accessible in this country and was nowhere to be found. Amazon did not exist back then as well. Additionally, it was a secondary grade reading level in Khmer if not higher. This was quite a bit above my reading level at that time (I was probably seven or eight years old). But nonetheless, my family encouraged reading, especially my sister and brother-in-law. They said books through imagination, have the ability to take you off to faraway places, and they completely and utterly did!
My local library was not too far from my house. My daily trek to the library led to many friends and adventures. Sometimes down the river in the South with Tom (Twain) and sometimes afraid in the dark underground with the fearless Harriet (Tubman) and sometimes leading battles with Ulysses (Grant). To say the least, I was hooked on reading.
As I got older, my taste for adventure lead to many unexpected places, from the shires to Thames and as far as Winterfell and Westeros. While my reading genres tend to transport me to the open plains, conjuring magic, befriending a magi, or battling for the human race, the voice of classic tales whisper to me from Austen to Tolstoy and Hugo. My family was right! Books can take me places! Sometimes you just have read and allow yourself to travel to great adventures.
Below are a few books that I have enjoyed over the years and I hope some made it onto your favorite list too.
- The Mistborn Trilogy-Brandon Sanderson
- The Lords of Ring-J.R.R. Tolkien
- Les Miserables-Victor Hugo
- Pride and Prejudice-Jane Austen
- The Ways of Shadows-Brent Weeks
- Jack Reacher-Lee Childs
- Deception Point-Dan Brown
- Game of Thrones-George R.R. Martin
- Roots-Alex Haley
- A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-Douglas Adams
- The Ghosts of Belfast-Stuart Neville
- Into the Wild-Jon Krakauer
- In the Woods-Tana French
- Hawaii-James Michener
Assume the Best
Assume the Best
Assuming the best in others is something pretty powerful. However, this concept is not something new. I firmly believe if we look for the bad in any situation we will find it. However, I also believe if we look for the good in any situation we will also find the good. Overall, assuming the best in others simply means that you choose to give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than assuming they have poor judgment or intentions. While it may be easy to believe that a person is unkind and has poor intentions. However, we can choose to flip the narrative and start assuming that it’s possible they didn’t know better. This comes back to giving others the benefit of the doubt.
When it comes to education, assuming the best is fundamental for long term learning and establishing positive connections with all stakeholders, which includes; students, colleagues and parents. While creating a safe and positive classroom environment, it is best to assume our students want to learn, want to participate and want to be at their absolute best.
Once we choose to see the best in others, we create the possibility that one day our honesty, sincerity, and your kindness may someday inspire others to do the same. Assuming best intentions builds community and brings us together. At the end of the day, we all choose how we see one another. Why not choose to see their best?
Update of LCCPS Cultural Competency Journey
Director of Student and Parent Engagement
Update of LCCPS Cultural Competency Journey
We have been working on our cultural competency journey a little over three years now. Our first year was about Awareness of who we are as individuals and as a school. The Awareness module really helped us to look at our values, beliefs and biases based on upbringing and other external environmental messaging in relationship to the social construct of race. We learned some valuable information about ourselves and our colleagues in terms of how we see the world through the lense of race and culture in relationship to one another, our students, and the families that we serve.
Our second year was called Knowledge. During this year we learned about complexity of identity which teaches the ages at which we learn and recognize social norms. For example, we
learned 1) age 2 children notice disabilities, skin color and gender 2) age 5 children build groups and individual identity 3) age 7 children learn about culture and race at greater cognitive depth and emotional connection and 4) age 9 children are more aware of attitudes of behaviors of person in positions of authority with institutional settings, such as schools, places of worship and youth agencies according to Roots and Wings: Affirming Culture in Early Childhood Programs, (York, 2003).
We continued to learn about Implicit Bias, Stereotypes & Microaggressions and how we as humans show our opinions about things knowing and sometimes not know how it would impact others.
Our third year was dedication to Knowledge and Skill. We wanted to take what we learned and apply it to our interactions with each other, students and families. One of the activities that was developed out of this work was our “Listening Exercise” which is the first parent and teacher interaction that happens at the beginning of the school year. This exercise is for the teacher to learn about the parents cultural norms and expectations around educating their child. It’s an opportunity to build relationship parent at the start of the school year. New teachers receive training on all three modules during new teacher week in mid August.
We continue to work on engaging our families in cultural responsive ways such as translation of written materials going out to families. Providing linguistic translation for meetings and parent conferences throughout the school year.
Accommodations: Giving Students What They Need
Director of Student Support Services
Accommodations: Giving Students What They Need
Accommodations Plans are used for students in different ways:
- As part of an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
- As part of a 504 Plan
- As part of short-term Response to Intervention Plan
Accommodations plans help teachers meet a student’s learning needs. The students IEP or 504 will explain how a child’s disability affects his or her progress in the general education curriculum. IEP/504 teams typically use formal assessments to determine a student’s performance. The team also uses progress data and input from the classroom teacher.
Accommodation plans are helpful in addressing a multitude of ways in which disabilities affect learning. The broad range of disabilities for which accommodation may be helpful include problems with (for starters):
- Short term memory
- Long Term memory
- Abstract reasoning
- Visual processing
- Auditory processing
- Information processing speed
- Mathematical concepts and calculating
- Problems with written language
- Problems with spoken language
- Time management difficulties
Accommodations are changes to the classroom environment, assignment or assessment without changing the content or expectations. For example a student with dyslexia may be offered an audio copy of the book and a graphic organize to assist the student in comprehending the material as well as complete the writing assignment. Classroom accommodations are put into place so that students are able to benefit from instruction within the inclusion setting. Although there are a number of accommodations that teams can recommend it’s important to consider the following areas:
- Instructional Strategies
- Presentation of Material/Subject:
- General Assignments and Assessments
When we identify accommodations for students our teams like to consider recommendations for the teacher, parent and student. The goal should always be to help students become more independent, to understand their personal learning style and to use the accommodations independently.
Reading to Your Child
Reading to Your Child
Throughout my career as an educator, parents routinely ask me what they can do at home to best support their child’s success in school and in life. My response is simple and plain: read to them.
The Bookings Institution, a non-profit Washington D.C.-based public policy organization mentioned, “language is the currency of education and is associated with reading ability, income, healthcare outcomes, and high school graduation rates. Therefore, children who start out with lower language skills are projected to have lower school readiness scores and will follow a dampened trajectory through school and life.” We all want what is best for our kids, so perhaps we could agree that we would want to our kids to excel in these areas of their lives.
In 1995, education researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley reported that children of highly educated professional parents heard many more words addressed to them than children of less educated parents. Popularly known as the 30 million word gap, Hart and Risley learned through counting the number of words per hour that children in professional, working-class and public assistance households, that by the time children reached age four, advantaged children were exposed to roughly 30 million more words.
Harvard University researchers Roland Fryer and Ronald Ferguson further substantiate that the achievement gap between rich and poor students, especially students of color, begins early. At age 1, white, Asian, black, and Hispanic children score virtually the same in what Ferguson called “skill patterns” that measure cognitive ability among toddlers, including examining objects, exploring purposefully, and “expressive jabbering.” But by age 2, gaps are apparent, with black and Hispanic children scoring lower in expressive vocabulary, listening comprehension, and other indicators of acuity. That suggests educational achievement involves more than just schooling, which typically starts at age 5.
Key factors in the gap, researchers say, include poverty rates (which are three times higher for blacks than for whites), diminished teacher and school quality, unsettled neighborhoods, ineffective parenting, personal trauma, and peer group influence, which only strengthens as children grow older.
One way to begin growing your child’s language skills is to read to them at home. In a February 2017 Washington Post article, Liza Baker, the executive editorial director at Scholastic, expressed the significance of reading to kids. “It’s so important to start reading from Day One,” she says. “The sound of your voice, the lyrical quality of the younger [books] are poetic … It’s magical, even at 8 weeks old they focus momentarily, they’re closer to your heart.” As they begin to grow, families should make sure books are available everywhere in the home, like it’s your “daily bread.”
And students in the older grades need to hear fluent reading at home as well. Baker continues, “As they become independent readers, we tend to let them go, but even kids in older demographics love nothing more than that time with their parents. We’re blown away that kids time and again said the most special time they recall spending with a parent is reading together.”
Reading to your child at home models the proper fluency. Additionally, kids are more likely to think reading is “cool” if mommy and daddy do it for fun as well.
For more information about articles cited in this blog, see:
Building the Parent – Teacher Partnership By Communicating Expectations
Building the Parent – Teacher Partnership By Communicating Expectations
We spend 190 days in the classroom at each grade level .This may seem like a very long time for our students but for parents and teachers this time flies by in a blink of an eye. It is very important to make an effort to begin relationships at the start of the school year with openness, and it’s likely you’ll have strong partnerships throughout the year.
Learning how to communicate well is a key factor for making this relationship work. Parents need to understand what their child is learning and how they are learning. Teachers need to hear important feedback from the parent about their thoughts surrounding the child’s academic and social development. Creating a partnership is very important and by working together sharing information both parents and teachers can improve student learning outcomes. Beginning the year making contact early, or before problems arise, can have a massive impact on how teachers view student potential and partner with parents to best support their child’s education
As with any meaningful and valued relationship we all have expectations, both parents and teachers have them for each other. Parents expect teachers to provide meaningful instruction monitoring closely their child’s learning outcomes. Teachers expect parents to support the overall learning in the classroom, and at home. Most importantly this unique partnership has shared expectations for the learner including the student’s academic performance, attendance, and behavior both in school and out of school. When these expectations are the shared and they are communicated, a synergy will happen, and the parent teacher partnership will thrive and have a powerful effect on the student’s success in the classroom. The key to this success is effective communication. When expectations are explicitly communicated, both parents and teachers will have a better understanding of their responsibilities in the parent-teacher relationship. They will then know how best to be a supportive part of that partnership.
Sometimes, even with the best intentions, conflicts between parents and teachers arise. A common issue can be a parents concern about a teacher’s approach with a student’s behavior in the classroom. Phrases such as “but he or she does not behave this way at home?” “what is going on the in the classroom that is triggering the behavior?’ This in turn leads to the perception that the teacher is not meeting the students’ needs endangering the parent teacher partnership with misunderstandings.
Teachers and parents can take proactive steps to handle conflicts respectfully by planning and explicitly discussing expectations of when problems arise in the beginning of the year. No one likes to anticipate future conflicts but having a plan to address proactively is key to building and maintaining a strong partnership. It’s important for the teacher to communicate their commitment to keeping all children physically, socially and emotionally safe as well as academically thriving. It is also important to let parents know that you understand how disturbing it must be to hear about troubling events. The important thing is to remember to stay positive and to be proactive and to listen closely and to acknowledge each other’s’ concerns demonstrating that they are being heard. This helps create a spirit of collaboration and proves that the partnership continues to unite together when there are bumps in the road in a healthy way.
The overall objective for a successful parent teacher partnership is the collective agreement that the student comes first. It is imperative to approach this partnership with respect, interest and empathy so that it will continue to thrive. When both a student and parent feel supported by the teacher and vice versa, students succeed and everybody wins!
This month we learned that our school experienced an increase in our level of chronic absenteeism and that the state is now using this measure in our accountability report. I’d like to take a little time to comment on this and our approach here at LCCPS. Let’s start with the definition the state uses.
Chronic absenteeism occurs when a student reaches more than 18 days (or 10%) of the school year. The reason for the absence does not matter. In 2016-2017 our school had 32 students in this category. Last year, 2017-2018, we went up to 36. Our goal this year is to reduce this number down closer to 20. The state wants this number to be reduced and to remain close to or below 20. To do this, we are seeking to partner with our parents.
For a number of years, our focus at LCCPS (and I know at many schools across the state) was to simply ensure that all absences were excused by a parent. With the new emphasis on any and all absences, this piece, while still important, is not enough. We need to encourage parents to send their children to school unless they are clearly too sick or have a fever.
The other main category of why students miss school is vacations that families take. We understand that in our community, trips abroad to visit extended family is a part of life for many families, and it is so very important for those trips to occur, to reconnect with home communities and our loved ones. We simply ask that when scheduling trips to take this new information into account to try to limit the number of days students miss school.
Our goal is to keep all students in school as much as possible. When students are absent it impacts their learning, but also the learning of others in the class. When a high number of students are absent, a classroom teacher will often hold off on teaching new lessons, so that students do not fall behind.
Remember that in a 10-month school year, if your child misses just 2 days a month, they will be at 20 and be counted as chronically absent by the state. The days can add up fast. Thanks for working with us to address this topic.
A Deeper Look at EL Support
Carey Reeve Hildebrant
Chief Academic Officer
A Deeper Look at EL Support
Each summer I eagerly await our MCAS scores and pour over the data for hours. How did we perform in the aggregate and against our targets? How did each student perform? Which particular standards were strengths and which did we struggle with? How did each specific subgroup achieve? The list of inquiries is long as I look for trends, patterns and highlights.
One of the pivotal subgroups that is examined is our EL population as it comprises slightly over fifty percent of our student body. In many ways it is this population that writes the school’s MCAS performance narrative. In looking over the past couple years of data, this story speaks volumes to the work that happens within the heart of classrooms across the school. Our ELs have outpaced the performance of other districts, ranking in the 80th and 90th percentiles across both subjects and all grades. This is an accomplishment we are particularly proud of and take tremendous pride in the work we do with this crucial student population.
There are a couple of key shifts in our EL programming that were made several years ago that have led to these successes as measured by MCAS.
- Our school program is designed with the English learner in mind. Our tier one approach involves targeted work on the domains of literacy and a focused methodology on building students’ vocabulary and language skills. Our ELA curriculum is organized into thematic units that are built upon engaging high-interest topics as well as books and resources that reflect the identities and backgrounds of our students. Fundations serves as our tier one approach to systematic phonics instruction to build early literacy skills. Fountas and Pinnell guided reading materials are the cornerstone of our guided reading approach to move students along the continuum of reading. Each curriculum component is part of a larger framework of supports and intentional instructional delivery.
- EL services are determined through a wide examination of data that extends beyond ACCESS scores. We look at the benchmark data for all students including DIBELS, BAS, Galileo, MCAS and Dolch. Using these data points, we make decisions regarding the RTI and ELL services each student needs. It is about matching the student need to the appropriate intervention and then monitoring the student’s progress. There are many of our EL students making effective progress within the classroom through a SEI approach. Others require an additional level of support. It is truly an individualized approach focused on data-determined need.
- We have a robust professional development program to grow the skill set and expertise of our dynamic teaching staff. When designing our professional development program, the particular needs of our student body are kept at the forefront in order to expand teachers’ skill repertoire. Most recently we have been engaged in work with the Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures in order to build student-engagement as well as students’ active participation in the development of core academic skills.
Excerpt of Graduation Speech to 8th Graders
Excerpt of Graduation Speech to 8th Graders
A few weeks ago we marked the 50th year since Robert Kennedy’s assassination, in June, 1968, while he was leading in the polls for the presidency of the United States. In 1966 he visited South Africa, at that time still 20 years from the end of Apartheid, and gave a speech that today is referred to as the “Ripple of Hope” speech. I will share one sentence from that speech.
'Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. "
Every day in our country today, as in the sixties, there are stories that shock and horrify us, and other stories that offer us that ripple of hope. I share this quote because it relates directly to our graduating Class of 2018.
Our 8th graders this year provided our entire school with a memorable and lasting ripple of hope. In the sad and scary days after the Parkland shooting they got together, energized about making an impact at our school and in our city on the issue of gun violence. They were seeing what was going on across our country and they wanted to make change happen, and so they did. Their ideas and conversation was shared with their teachers, and it spread to our leadership and to our entire school, and led to our first ever all-school Peace Walk .
I have to say one of my favorite memories of this entire year was seeing our students during this walk, where many of us were wearing orange and white, which are the colors of the anti-gun violence movement. I was in my white pants and my orange jacket that I’ve actually had for a long time, and this was the perfect occasion to show it off. So I’m standing on the corner of Central and Market Street overseeing our 800 students walking through downtown along with great support from our leadership and teachers and the Lowell Police high fiving kids, helping to keep everyone safe. It’s near the end of the walk and our Class of 2018 are the last group through. At one point I turned around and Jabela caught sight of me in that jacket and gave me a shout and a smile that I’ll never forget. It was a quick small moments, one of many this year, that I will always remember when I think about this class of 2018. I will remember the Peace Walk as this group’s lasting legacy and really, your gift to our school.
Robert Kennedy also used to refer to a Chinese saying back in the sixties, “May you live in interesting times”, as a way to sum up our country in 1968. He would mention it not as a negative, but as a way to say that in such interesting times, there exists great opportunity for change for all of us to make the changes we want for our country, whether it’s gun violence, politics, or gender equality or civil rights. We are living right now in a world of change, but also a time for opportunity to make a lot of ripples.
As you enter your high school years, on the road to adulthood and the promise of a life well lived ahead of you, I want you to continue to show the bravery, the poise, and that confidence in yourself that will help you continue to make those ripples that Robert Kennedy spoke of, and to turn those ripples into a current, to make our world and our nation a better place for everyone. Now is the time for us, for you, to be bold, to make an impact, to make some ripples. I’m looking forward to having you come back and visit with us, and let us know about the work you’re doing, how you’re doing, and the ripples you’re making. Bravo Class of 2018.
All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
Carey Reeve Hildebrant
Chief Academic Officer
All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
This year LCCPS has been engaged in a dissemination grant project with a partner school in Boston. Our work has centered on school turnaround with a focus on early literacy. Throughout the partnership this year, I have found myself returning to a few universal truisms. I am reminded of a poster that hung in my room during my college years, “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “ that listed the basic truths of life from the eyes of a young child. During our collective work this year – the celebrations, the frustrations, the successes and the setbacks – I am once again reminded of a set of core axioms that ground our work and set the stage for this type of turnaround work in a broader context.
Less is more.
It is easy to approach turnaround with the grand “to-do” list that can become quickly overwhelming. One must consider depth and breadth and balance the demands of both. It is often better to do a couple of things really well versus being spread too thin or poorly executing a myriad of items. Choose a focal point. Set goals and measure progress. Once the goal is reached or at least considerable momentum achieved, set a new goal and repeat the cycle.
Count the most important - the most important counts.
During any full-scale turnaround, it is easy to fall into the trap of the “next best idea” or the new “buzz-word” or “hot topic.” The pitfall often lies in putting too much time and energy into actions and initiatives that will not bring about the necessary change. I would suggest that one must start with an honest needs analysis and move from there. It is imperative to look at the goal at hand and align the action steps with the intended target. Each action must count and in the end add up to the change sought.
Do what you love with heart.
Change and turnaround take passion and commitment. It is essential to build a proactive sense of urgency that is born from a desire to deliver upon the goal of excellence. By nature, teachers have a passion for their craft. Tap into this. Define the direction you want to take as a school and then move toward that with deliberate and committed actions. Turnaround is a team approach. It takes the collective heart and pulse of the school to bring effective and lasting change.
If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up someplace else.
Continual assessment and feedback is an integral part of this work. One must know where they are headed and where they have started in order to track progress. Creating a collective vision is only one piece of the puzzle. Intentionally and systematically measuring and assessing growth not only helps to determine further actions but allows the important moments of celebration and/or recalibration.
If it is not broken, don’t fix it.
When approaching an institutional turnaround or transformation, it is important to take stock of what is working and what isn’t. In any school, one will find programs or initiatives that are the heartbeat of the school and are a success. Cherish them. If something is working, build from that success. Schools are full of hidden gems of accomplishment. Focus instead on what needs to be changed while always holding a mirror to reflect the daily progress and “good” that exists.
Be your best self
Be your best self
One of the benefits of being the Principal at Lowell Community Charter Public School is that I see teachers, staff, and students attempting to be their best selves. We have so many wonderful teachers and staff that put in so much time and effort to ensure our students succeed. The relationships matter and building positive collegial relationships allows for teachers and staff to be motivated to be their best selves and be an inspiration to their students.
Our students may be having difficulties when I am called in to intervene, but often their behaviors improve when they have time to reflect and consider multiple perspectives. The interactions at this point are intended to teach students better coping skills and ways of turning a negative situation into a positive one moving forward. One student who struggles to control her anger calms down and immediately begins to problem solve when reminded of her potential and leadership skills. Another student hugs the student she was having a problem with after a conflict resolution meeting in which both students were reminded how nice they both are and how much their friendship matters to them both. I am inspired by our students to work extremely hard to help them be successful in any and all of the challenges and obstacles they may face.
What I have come to find when talking to teachers, staff, and students is that they all learn to become their best self through their education at school and at home with their families and friends. We all learn to be a better friend, a reliable professional, or a hard worker. Important people in our lives often encourage us to strive for excellence. Teachers and staff can often be that person in their students’ lives and provide the motivation to work hard to achieve high levels of success.
Making our parents, a teacher, or that special person proud of our accomplishments allows us to be our best self. I have recently had my dad pass away. He was a man that respected hard work and really valued high moral character. I worked a long time to make him proud and will continue to do so in his memory. Our teachers, staff, and students also push me to strive for excellence because I see them motivating the lives that they touch to be their best. LCCPS is a special place of teachers, staff, and students striving for achievement, leadership, and excellence through so many endeavors to be their best self.
The Choice is Ours
The Choice is Ours
Choice is the act of choosing or the power of choosing. This is something we obviously have control over. Everyday we are faced with choices from the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep. For some, choices become more of a habit out of daily routines, schedules or circumstances. For others, choices are made based on the desired outcome or outcomes we want to achieve. These are the choices I would like to highlight today.
Nearly a year ago I was presented with a new set of circumstances which would lead to some life changing opportunities, if I chose to embrace these new circumstances. I now had the choice to relocate myself and my family to a new state, which meant I would need to search for a new home and new employment opportunities. I had the choice to do all this or remain in an area which provided, structure, comfort, and familiarity. However, do to my desire to achieve goals and positive outcomes for me and my family, I chose to relocate here to the East Coast and partner with LCCPS. Similar to the families that chose LCCPS as the school for their children, a choice was made based on their own unique set of circumstances or desires they wanted for their children and family.
With school of choice, parents now have more freedom to choose a school for their children. Once a school has been chosen, parents have the opportunity to participate in their child’s education and in reality, the level of participation comes down to yet another choice. According to Moroni, Dumont, Trautwein and Baeriswyl, “It is widely believed that parents’ involvement in their children’s academic life has positive effects on children’s academic achievement.” (p 417, 2015). Other studies over the last decade also support the correlation between parental involvement and academic gains. Parents today are no doubt very busy, and routines, schedules, or other factors may play a role in the level of involvement they are able or desire to achieve. However, since studies indicate parental involvement have positive effect on student academic achievement, the choice is made clear. Parental involvement and participation comes in many forms. Below are some examples:
- Homework: is an important part not only of students’ but also of parents’ daily lives, and it can be viewed as the setting in which home and school intersect most closely
- School based involvement: practices involving direct school contact between parents and school.
- Volunteering at your child’s school.
- Communication: Regularly communicate with your child’s teacher or school administrators via phone call, text message, email, or in person. This allows you to stay connected with what is currently happening in the school or classroom.
Throughout our day we make countless choices based on their benefits. From going to sleep early, joining a gym, the route we take to work to save on gas, to the choice to make dinner verse the expense of dining out, we continue to make choices for a desired outcome. What could be more important than preparing our children to compete in today’s challenging world? The key is for parents to get involved and stay involved as often as they can.
“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Moroni, S., Dumont, H., Trautwein, U., Niggli, A., & Baeriswyl, F. (2015). The Need to Distinguish
Between Quantity and Quality in Research on Parental Involvement: The Example of Parental Help with Homework. Journal of Educational Research, 108(5), 417-431. doi:10.1080/00220671.2014.901283
Director of Information Technology
In the last ten years, LCCPS has made many technological improvements. Before that time, our school possessed one or two computer labs and a cart of iPods. Today, each of the students in grades 3 though 8 are provided with a Chromebook. In grades 7th and 8th with Kindle Paper white or Kindle fire. LCCPS has three computer labs and iPad centers for grades K1-3.
Technology is a tool that increases productivity, helps students take ownership of their learning, and if used correctly can make things simpler. The one thing it can’t do (yet!) is lead. The Chromebook has become a terrific tool for learning but still requires great teachers and parents to guide our students forward.
With any tool we need to use it responsibly. Please remember to:
- Keep your personal information safe (especially login information)
- Report cyber bullying
- Be respectful in posting, comments etc
- Remember to adhere to the Lowell Community Charter Public School User Agreement
We have recently taken the following three technological initiatives:
- One-to-one Chromebooks for grades 3 though 8. Each grade level between 3rd and 8th have a one-to-one student:Chromebook ratio.
- One-to-one Kindles for grades 7th and 8th
- We are also in the process of moving to a more paperless system. Changes like these are usually hard to make. To change the way you have done something for years does not come easy. But we are making progress. An example of this initiative includes our lunch menus (Nutrition at LCCPS) which can now be found on the website instead of making hundreds of paper copies each month. We have also been using e-mail a lot more to communicate with parents. Moreover, parents can now view grades online with the Parent Portal (Plus Portal Link). Further, the 8th grade has taken the initiative to be completely paperless (congratulations 8th grade team!).
There has been much progress made in the area of technology. However, we continue to have a lot of work ahead.
A day i will never forget
Director of Human Resources
A Day I Will Never Forget
June 17, 1968—that’s a day I will never forget. The Catholic boarding school that I attended decided to get me a United States Student Visa and send me to New Orleans, Louisiana to learn English and later go to school in Baton Rouge. Here I was just 16 years old, with a Student Visa and a ticket to my future.
I had no time for tears. I left my family when I was just seven years old to go to boarding schools in Santiago, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and then on to Barcelona, Spain; always knowing that my education and scholarships depended on A’s or minimum B’s in every yearly report card. Lacking that, I would be sent back to the tiny town of Guanabano to my parents.
The United States and New Orleans were unknown to me. I had no knowledge of the racial divides in the South at the time. Being neither Black nor White was challenging in many ways, particularly on the streetcars in New Orleans where I found that I was rejected by the Whites up front, and resented by the Blacks who were forced to sit in the back. I had to find my space, my seat somewhere between the two groups. I had no one I could talk to about my feelings in this strange and antagonistic environment, and the many challenges I faced at that time in my life.
While the years and the generations are different, my story is not particularly different from the stories of many of our immigrant LCCPS families and children. Many had to sacrifice greatly to leave their homes and countries for safety and security, some seeking asylum, and others looking for better opportunities. We don’t think about it a lot, but it requires major motivation for a family to pull up its roots and move to another country about which they know little.
But among our families, we see how they have sacrificed to follow their dreams, to seek a better life, and to build a better future for their children. This is what motivates me and makes me very proud of the LCCPS. Our school is very welcoming to our immigrants.
Building a community starts with us, our Leadership, our Faculty, Administration and our Support Staff. We know that there are many ways in which we can make a difference. We are very diverse and therefore mirror the community that we serve. Together, we build bridges and find common ground.
We are aware of the challenges that immigrants face as they adjust to life in an unfamiliar place and culture. We help them navigate school enrollment, and walk alongside them as we learn from them, they learn from us. We work at welcoming and encouraging immigrants (including refugees) from all backgrounds to thrive.
We have an outstanding English Language Learners program and our Special Education Program is second to none! English can be a transition to many families and students. We know that learning English is crucial to the successful education of our students. These programs are either unknown in many countries or available only to privileged social classes.
Our School Parent Alliance meetings are getting high marks from our families. We are providing the families valuable information, building their skills needed to help them with their children’s education at home.
In turn, our LCCPS community is vibrant in part because of the diversity of thought, culture and experiences that immigrants and refugees bring to our school.
LCCPS is very proud of the brave immigrants who made the difficult decision to leave their homes for an uncertain future, and I am very proud of the LCCPS which daily demonstrates its commitment to our immigrants.
Director of Student Support Services
ADHD is a common childhood diagnosis that affects up to 11% of children.
Is this your child?
- Fidgety and squirmy
- Is easily bored
- Listens poorly
- Has a short attention span
- Resists authority
- Frustrates easily
- Thrill seeker
- Highly Impatient.
Not all children with ADHD display the same behaviors and children can have one or a combined type of ADHD:
Inattentive: The child is not hyperactive but instead may appear “spacey” and often fails to pick up on some or part of the information that is shared verbally or in writing.
Hyperactive: The child may have constant fidgeting, moving, and difficulty staying seated in class and finds it hard to stay focused on one tasks.
Impulsive: The student has a tendency to act before thinking about the consequences. The student may engage in physical and socially risky behaviors.
Research suggest that children with ADHD have the best outcomes when there are a combination of strategies implemented: Effective parenting, a correct diagnosis, proper behavioral and educational interventions, counseling and possibly medication managed by a doctor. Students with ADHD tend to have a great deal of energy and curiosity. These students often like to problem solve and are ‘big picture’ thinkers.
What Can Parents Do?
Create a structured home environment
Encourage regular exercise
Provide structured homework time
Set clear rules.
Check in with Health-Care providers
Follow up with the teacher(s)
Provide Incentives and praise
What Can Schools Do?
Provide benchmarks and deadlines
Teach time management skills
Provide motor breaks
Have consistent classroom rules.
Provide alternate seating options
Have a secret signal to remind the student to focus
Praise and reward system.
Use visuals (charts, pictures, color coding)
What can Students Do?
Get enough sleep
Use an agenda
Self-advocate (ask for help)
Study a little bit every day to prepare for a test
Use a binder system
Try new strategies that parent and teachers recommend
Growing Parent Engagement at LCCPS
Director of Student and Parent Engagement
Growing Parent Engagement at LCCPS
What is Parent Engagement?
Parent engagement in schools is defined as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development and health of children and adolescents. Parent engagement in schools is a shared responsibility in which schools are committed to reaching out to engage parents in meaningful ways, and parents are committed to actively supporting their children’s and adolescents’ learning and development (www.apa.org).
As I have been thinking about all of the exciting ways that LCCPS parents have been engaged in our school over the years, I smile. I recall the days of uniform sales, various fundraisers, especially the famous pie sale, the first LCCPS Family BBQ on Jackson Street, the 50/50 raffles sales, movie nights and the Saturday morning Polar Express in December. What great times!
Overtime as our school has turned around, settled and raised our academic scores and became a level one school, parent engagement began to dissipate. Over the last few years or so, it appears that parents become complacent with how the school was been running and didn’t see a need to be as engaged as much as they were during the beginning of our turnaround years. The new buzz phrase became “parent involvement.” Parent involvement is when parents come to meetings and absorb the information that is being given by the school.
Involvement is great, but we need a healthy balance of involvement and engagement. Please continue to come and be involved in learning about the school because we always have amazing things happening here!
As for engagement, we would like more parents to be engaged as we are preparing to embark on building another five year strategic plan for the school. The plan will determine what initiatives and goals the school will be working on over the next five years. We will have a few representatives from our stakeholders in this process such as Board members, Leadership members, teachers and parents which will become our Strategic Plan Committee. If you are not part of the committee, you can still provide some feed back to the school by filling out the survey below. There will be other opportunities to share your thoughts with us as well so stay tuned.
We need parents to be actively engaged at LCCPS. We have revised our Parent Advisory Committee and created the new School Parent Alliance (SPA). We felt the reconstruction of this committee was more befitting to our commitment of building more parent engagement. The idea is to have parents not only come and be involved at LCCPS, which is still quite important, but to engage in activities and/or conversations for the betterment of themselves, the students and the school community.
Please consider attending the monthly School Parent Alliance meetings which are usually held on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. We provide daycare and light refreshments. We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as we continue to grow as a school.
The remaining SPA meeting dates are: January 17th, February 28th, March 14th, April 25th, and May 16th. On June 6th we will have our annual block party on Jackson Street so stay tuned for more information coming in 2018.
We recently emailed a survey requesting parent input about the school. The last day to take the survey is December 20th. This is a great way to engage with LCCPS. The links are as follows:
English Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7L59XKT
Spanish Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9LWWPMT
Khmer Survey: https://goo.gl/forms/3oslfQTxOoFSBEgp1
Portuguese Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/99K9KLZ
Moreover, in our new political climate, charter schools are in need of all of the support they can get. If you believe that your child is receiving an awesome education at LCCPS, then please reach out to your State Representative, Congress Person or Senator to inform them that you support the charter school. Please include a description of what the experience has been for you and your child at LCCPS.
It’s going to take all of us to lift our voices in support of charter schools by engaging in dialogue via phone, letter or email with our political leaders so they recognize that charter schools are important to our children’s education and therefore, should continue to be supported. Please understand that this is not a fight against public schools but, we need to lift our voices for choice.
Kinder to Senior
Director of Operations
Kindergarten to Senior
Every two or three years around this time I have an unofficial duty, to assist those in my family who have children in their senior year of high school with their applications to colleges and universities. I come from a huge family. I am the first one in my family to attend a university and receive a degree. Naturally, I am honored to play this role. Truth be told, I love being a tour guide too.
My blog is to share and draw parallels between getting into a university and a choice school; particularly charter schools. While there are differences due to admission policies, the steps are somewhat the same. It is about planning!
The conversation regarding colleges for my young family members happens very early on. As early as…. well Kindergarten. This may seem early, but has proven successful for my family. We call it “an ongoing talk”. The conversation encompasses college and career choices. In the past, as my family members have progressed through the ranks from Kindergarten to senior year, we have mostly agreed on and sought after four-year institutions, preferably in the New England area. We have encouraged choosing majors that suits the student, balanced with the potential economic payoff. The quality of school along with cost has always been a consideration. Post- graduation plans were discussed too.
This bring me to the admission and enrollment process for the prospective families interested in applying to LCCPS. While there are differences, the process is similar. We encourage parents to learn about our assessment results, school levels, ratings, and our philosophy and mission. Early September through late February, parents are encouraged to apply. To help facilitate the process LCCPS provides information flyers throughout the community in multiple languages. We probably kill a few trees doing it too. We also try hard to get the word out through local newspapers, and media outlets, such as Rumbo, Brazilian times, Bate Papo, church bulletin boards, and the KhmerPost, to name a few.
At LCCPS, the application process is parent friendly. Turn in a completed application, two proofs of address, and a birth certificate if your child is applying for grades K1 or K2. LCCPS’ acceptance policy is based on placement availability rather than prior or future achievements; hence the lottery process. Please see our policy (http://www.lccps.org/Enrollment_Policy).
Here are a few tips for prospective families in grades K1-8 who are interested in applying to LCCPS.
- The deadline for turning in a completed application is Friday, February 16, 2018 at Noon.
- LCCPS application can be picked up at the school, online or print one out at lccps.org.
- Tours are conducted every Tuesday at 9AM starting in mid-November. Come and learn about us!
- The lottery is on Wednesday, March 1, 2018 at 5:30PM
- Learn the profile of charter schools in Massachusetts at http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/search/search.aspx?leftNavId=11238
The same process can be said for senior high school students. Parents and their children need to do due diligence. Dig a little deeper into the planning process. Questions and concerns should be explored. Start the process early by working with your child’s guidance counselors. There is a plethora of websites that can help ease the applying process not to mentioned anxiety.
- Which college/university am I going into next fall?
- What essays?
- How much does it cost? Can we get financial aid, where is the application for financial aid?
- Visit a campus, tour?
- When is the due date?
- What are the requirements for the application?
- Who do I need to get the recommendation from?
- What major?
- https://www.livecareer.com/quintessential/15-college-acceptance-tips from Randall S. Hansen
Brick by Brick
Brick by brick.
During the first six weeks of school, teachers are busy building a positive structure they hope will serve their students well for the entire school year. Getting off on the right foot, creating strong, positive classroom cultures now will pay off in December, March, and June. This is always the work of schools in September. Teachers are building that structure, the way a mason builds a strong building, one brick at a time, carefully and deliberately placed, with mortar keeping it all together.
Our school building was made of such stuff, back in 1873, both Mills 5 and 6. Those bricks have lasted a long time, and like a classroom built on care and dedication, our bricks need repointing and attention consistently. I’ve been working with our team and our board to address our bricks and ensure that all sides of the building are strong and beautiful, the same way teachers want their classroom cultures to be strong and beautiful.
Teachers build classroom cultures by cultivating relationships with kids by showing genuine interest and care, by letting kids know they enjoy them as individuals and will pay them the right kind of attention. Teachers build respect by knowing how to ask kids to do things they can do, to show students they can do things they might not think they can do, expect them to do well in the process, and recognize them when they reach those expectations, and encourage them to give effort along the way. It’s about creating authentic and positive relationships with each of two dozen students. It’s about knowing how to use your eyebrows, mouth, and eyes to send the right message. It’s about carefully gauging what to say, when to say it and who to say it to, every moment from 7:45am to 3:30pm 185 days a year.
Good teaching is about knowing about your subject matter, whether it is Math, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Music, Art, Technology, or PE, to name a few. It’s also about knowing how to talk and relate to kids from a social and emotional standpoint, which in many ways is the first and most important part of the job. They say a teacher makes 1500 decisions in a six hour day. http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/teacher-makes-1500-decisions-a-day/. Here at LCCPS we have nearly an 8-hour day, so it’s close to 2,000. Over the year it is 370,000. Teachers have a challenging and demanding job and they do much of it alone all day, very much like a mason, they are responsible for their structure. When many teachers work in a school, they all contribute to its success the same way a team of masons builds a strong building. They each have their part that they are working on that contributes to the overall strength and beauty of the building as a whole.
Support Services Program
Director of Student Support Services
Lowell Community Charter Public School (LCCPS) has been partnering with the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association since 2014. For the past three years LCCPS has been invited to participate as part of the Model Demonstration School (MDS) initiative. The focus of the Model Demonstration Schools it to provide intensive, embedded, expert coaching for cross functional charter school teams to build school capacity to support students with disabilities and/or English learners. Each year the MDS and LCCPS team meet to identify a goal. For FY17 the MDS Goal was: Create and pilot a modified fourth grade ELA curriculum to support the demonstrated needs of a group of ten fourth grade students who are significantly below grade level in this area. The team discussed how to allocate resources for the students, what tools would be utilized, and what part of the curriculum to focus on. The team also discussed the roles of the teacher, reading intervention staff and paraprofessional. .
- LCCPS now has a template to use when looking at the incoming 4th graders who are struggling learners.
- There was a large focus on Differentiated instruction so that information is presented and accessed through multiple means.
- Scaffolding tools were identified to guide the learning.
- Training was given to the Paraprofessional on how to use: Fountas and Pennell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention. The role for the Paraprofessional was to implement 30 minute lessons, 5 days a week.
- Special Education Teacher worked with Curriculum Director to identify what reading materials would be used. She designed the specialized instruction and lesson plans. The grading of the students was also shifted to the Special Education Teacher as well as the documentation of modifications for grading purposes.
- Special Education Reading Interventionist focused on phonics, fluency and individual plans.
Our students had an opportunity to practice skills on a daily basis, took more classrooms risks as the material was presented at a meaningful pace, and were not dragged through the curriculum but instead had more time to dig deeper into the curriculum. There was an organized approach to the instruction that included common language and daily structure for reading and listening. The special educator was able to provide final benchmark data that highlighted individual student growth. The Current Special Education Teacher who delivered the instruction will Loop to 5th grade with these students
As this group transitions to 5th grade planning, tracking of curriculum, skills and activities will be important data points to review.
The Power of Athletics at the Middle School level
At LCCPS our sports program helps to shape and mold our school’s culture. This year LCCPS had 325, 4th-8th grade students participate in six different sports to include Varsity and Junior Varsity Co-Ed Volleyball, Boys and Girls Soccer and Cross Country, Varsity and Junior Varsity Co-Ed Cheerleading, Boys and Girls Varsity and Junior Varsity Basketball, and Track and Field.
- Boys Soccer Champions for the 2016 Ecumenical Athletic Association (EAA) League. Team went undefeated
- Girls Cross Country Team EAA Champions 2016
- Varsity Cheer Leading won the 2017 EAA Cheer Competition
- Boys Varsity Basketball had a undefeated regular season
- Boys and Girls are the 2017 Track and Field EAA Champions
- Boys Track and Field placed 3rd in the Massachusetts Middle State Championship
- Several Athletes participated in the National Track and Field Junior Olympics
The National Federation of State High School Association estimated that more that 7.6 million high school students (over 55% of all students) played sports during the 2010-2011 academic year. At LCCPS that number is significantly higher for our middle school students.
The benefits of sports participation are well documented. The social, emotional and physical benefits are numerous. Physically it decreases the rate of obesity, lowers body mass, hypertension and diabetes and improves pulmonary function.
Socially, the Journal of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine and The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse state that competitive athletes are less likely to smoke and use illicit drugs which have a significant positive impact on prevention. The Women’s Sports Foundation has stated that female high school athletes are 80% less likely to become pregnant than non-athletes. At LCCPS our student athletes are less likely to have discipline concerns and more likely to encourage others to do the right thing.
The academic benefits show that athletes have higher grade point averages, and standardize test scores, attendance rates, lower dropout rates and better chances to go to college. All of these benefits are demonstrated at LCCPS.
On any given day students demonstrate their Panther pride by wearing a team jersey that is allowed as part of their school uniform. The satisfaction on their faces exudes confidence. Students-athletes are reminded of additional behavior expectations that they must demonstrate as they represent our school.
With all of these benefits and the pride that sports bring to our school, it will not be a surprise if we have more than 325 students participate next in next year’s sports program.
Cultural Proficiency Journey: The Beginning
LCCPS has taken its first steps on the journey of cultural proficiency. Regis Shields of RAS Consultants, Incorporated and Sonya Patton, Director of High School Transition & Externa Programs of LCCPS are the trainers for competency professional development. The training is set up in three modules which all staff will be studying over a three year period. The modules are Awareness, Knowledge and Skill. Awareness of ourselves as individuals and how our biases, values, beliefs and privilege impact our relationships with each other, students, parents and community. Knowledge of the cultural norms of our students and parents so that we are more culturally sensitive in our educational practices and have deeper understanding of how to navigate our relationship with students and parents around education.
We will provide an opportunity of any staff who is interested to work with Regis and Sonya on a cultural research project that will help to discover more information about the various countries that we serve. This project will take place in the school year 2017-2018 in hopes to have a complete body of work by school year 2018-2019. The idea is to be able to use this body of work for new staff members of LCCPS. We are looking for opportunities to disseminate our school’s progress as we move through this journey.
In November 2017, two faculty members and an administrator will be attending the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) International Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah to present The Intersectionality of Diversity & Inclusion: One School’s Journey. One of the faculty members took the lead as the other faculty member and administrator chimed in to complete the NAME grant and the grant proposal was accepted.
The last module will be Skill. During the Skill module we will be looking for ways to apply what we learned over the course of the training. We will be analyzing what we currently do in all areas of LCCPS and how we can do it better based on what we have learned. We will be able to identify best practices in all areas of the school and in our policies. This is where the infusion of the changed mindsets and beliefs will happen. Where the transformation that has been happening throughout the journey comes to life in hearts, our daily practices and interactions with each other, with students in classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways, with parents and family members and with our community.
Currently we are finishing up our first module of Awareness with the teaching staff. It was not an easy module as there were times when our beliefs and values were challenged, but we stayed the course and continued to question, share “I” statements and learn together. Stay tuned for more updates as we move through our journey.
Losing Pounds and Raising Scores
Throughout the past couple of years, I have been asked what our secret to MCAS success is? What specifically led to our students being better prepared to pass the state test? Almost as if it is a set of steps one follows to mastery. I have never had a direct response as it has seemed like a woven web of actions, all building off each other. A couple of months ago, I found myself sitting in my dietician’s office asking her for the secret to weight loss. She smiled and I waited the entire session but there was no secret shared. I have reflected on these similar lines of questioning over the past couple of months. I have come to a conclusion: weight loss and test preparation involve the same set of core actions or beliefs.
First: Both necessitate a shift in thinking.
Weight loss demands a new paradigm in which food is used for fuel not stress relief. Exercise must become a way of life instead of a chore. Test preparation requires a systemic shift in which an organization sees the assessment as part of the daily process. MCAS skills and practice become embedded into the core curriculum such that what is taught, mastered and practiced helps the student succeed. The test becomes just another way students showcase their mastery. Note that it is another way not the only way. The curriculum remains rich in text, writing, exploration and critical thinking. Yet it is further bolstered by intentional test preparation.
Second: Positive attitude required.
The old adage “you are what you believe” rings true. Weight loss is as much conquering the mind, as it is the body. One must visualize him/herself as that healthier individual. Students perform as they believe. Test preparation requires a belief that students will succeed and that by putting in the effort one will see results. If every time one examines a MCAS question or works on an open response, the teacher groans and tells the students it will be over soon, a negative message is sent. At LCCPS, we put a little “rah rah” in to our preparation, motivating our students to take risks and be proud of their successes. We examine what it takes to move from a 2 to a 3 in an extended response and celebrate when we do.
Third: Progress is gained little by little.
One doesn’t lose ten pounds all at once. In fact, at times the progress can seem painstakingly slow. There are even times when one seems to gain a pound in order to lose three. The same is true in regards to student achievement. Our turnaround has been a consistent climb upward but the steps in between have been small. A change in a school’s achievement happens student-by-student and at times standard-by-standard. It is impossible to focus on everything all at once. Set goals. What are we focusing on this month? This year? Where do we expect to see improvements and how will we know when we met our goal? Frequent assessments with students help drive this initiative. Similar to stepping on the scale each week, our students must know when they are improving and mastering content. It isn’t enough for the teacher to see this progress. The buy-in lives with the students.
Fourth: Purposeful planning is key.
I have learned the importance of meal prep. One has to prepare to eat healthy as junk food and carbs are much easier to grab on the go. This involves proactive grocery shopping and meal planning and even the time cutting and preparing food for the week ahead. Test preparation isn’t any different. It can’t all be packed in to the week right before testing. Instead it is spread throughout the months so that students have time to grow and build upon their standard mastery. Unit and lesson planning is a crucial step in this process. It is imperative to know what standards are being addressed in which units and then how test preparation can be embedded. At LCCPS, we have built in test-aligned performance tasks into each unit so that are students are authentically practicing those skills throughout the year.
Fifth: Fads are everywhere. Beware!
Advertisements for the newest workout or slickest machines adorn the web. Ten minutes a day and you will have the body you have always dreamed of. Don’t eat this! Eat this! Use this program and your students will make 1 year’s growth in three months. Buy this new workbook, recently published and aligned to the increased state-testing rigor. There is a magical answer – the teacher and best practices. If you want to have students perform better on the ELA test, have them read and discuss texts across disciplines and genres. Have students write - and write a lot. If you want to have students perform better in math, have them solve complex problems and talk about their answers and reasoning. Classrooms need to be bursting with a joy for learning.
Losing pounds and raising scores take time, effort and heart. The answer lies within the person or organization instead of around it. Each school must find its own path that gets to the soul of its educational culture and rhythm while putting into action the core truths outlined above.
The world in which you were born
Is just one model of reality.
Other cultures are not
Failed attempts at being you;
They are unique manifestations of the human spirit.
-Wade Davis, Anthropologist
At Lowell Community Charter School we are proud of our diverse student body and point this fact out to many of our visitors and prospective families. Yet, if we look deeper, we know that our students deserve more than our pride. They deserve educators who are culturally proficient and bring skills and understanding to all aspects of work and relationships.
We are committed to develop our cultural proficiency. Many ask, what does it mean? Cultural proficiency is an approach to teaching and learning that embraces diversity and responds to it in ways that acknowledge and respect cultural differences. This acknowledgment and respect move beyond the multi-cultural day events, which are still valuable celebrations of a diverse school community, to a mindset and deeply held beliefs that guide all facets of our daily life and work. Ultimately, it is a paradigm shift from viewing cultural differences as issues to learning how to interact and effectively embrace culture to improve school and student achievement.
A culturally proficient faculty, staff and school are essential to truly meeting high expectations for all students. Failure to embrace our students’ cultures as assets gives rise to deficit based thinking and places far too many students in danger of being disengaged from the learning process. Evidence is clear that student engagement is a robust predictor of higher student performance and positive behavior. Engagement means not only appealing to student interests and providing project-based learning but also requires that we acknowledge our students’ cultures in school and classroom norms, pedagogical practices, curriculum and parent and family involvement.
Becoming a culturally proficient school is a journey. A shift in mindsets and beliefs happens only over time, with support, deep personal reflection and real world experiences. If we are intent on transforming our school into a pluralistic and inclusive workplace we must first be willing to look at our own biases as well as the sociopolitical issues that confront culturally different individuals. This is demanding work, often challenging long held beliefs about identity, race, and privilege.
In the coming weeks LCCPS will be taking the first step on this journey. Beginning with instructional staff, LCCPS will begin professional development focused on cultural proficiency. The goals of these sessions is to lay the foundation for understanding Cultural Proficiency and its connection to positive school culture and increased student achievement as well as begin to recognize our own biases, the action steps we can take and the sociopolitical issues that confront culturally different individuals. This is only the first step in our school-wide effort. As our journey unfolds we will be adding additional training session for all staff and looking for other modes of delivery and development to include the entire school community.
Creative Partnerships for ELL success
Once in a while, I stumble across something that I like to call a gem of urban education. Such “gems” are techniques and practices that address one (and sometimes many) of the numerous obstacles that face students and educators in challenging urban environments.
I want to tell you about one such gem developed by an ELL educator at LCCPS. Just for a little context, LCCPS has a student population that is classified as over 50% English language learners. With a language other than English being the primary one spoken in the home, supporting these students brings with it a variety of challenges. We have a robust ESL program with educators that provide small group as well as inclusion support. The classroom teachers are endorsed with Sheltered English Instruction training. Our curriculum has a deeply embedded emphasis on literacy skill-building and we focus closely on developing and reinforcing English skills across all the domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing from kindergarten through grade eight. We are (justly) proud of the work we do in the classroom to support all students.
But we know that what happens outside the classroom matters a great deal. For native English speakers, fluency is developed and supported at home by family members. For English language learners that is not necessarily the case. Therefore, in additional to school, any other resources in the community resources are an enormous asset. The library is a wonderful source for books, newspapers, magazines, movies, and special programs. Many families cannot afford to purchase these materials and are not aware that they can be borrowed for free from the library. Four years ago, one of our ELL educators realized that the families of her first grade students – many of whom were recent immigrants - were not accessing the local city library and that they were unaware that such a resource even existed!
She contacted the city’s Pollard Memorial Library and made arrangements for a librarian to visit the school and educate all first grade students about the myriad of resources available. Some of these programs include arts and crafts, story hour, ESL tutoring, and lectures. The students were motivated to share this information with their parents. Each student was then given a library card application (in English as well as their native language) for the parent to fill out and have the child return to school. The project became a priority and an annual tradition for the first grade. It includes a walking field trip each spring for the library tour and scavenger hunt! It will also grow to include special evening events at the library for LCCPS families. Throughout the duration of this program over 150 Lowell families have been issued library cards. This year alone, nearly half of all first graders(50) at LCCPS applied for their own library card through the partnership program.
The partnership between the school and the library provides enormous benefits for the school, for the library, and most importantly, for our students and families. The library has increased its user base as excited children pull their families by the hand through the library’s doors and toward the children’s section. The school’s work to improve elementary reading skills is supported by an increased wave of excitement about reading from the first grade cohort and access to the library’s treasure trove of books. For our students and families, the library provides not only books, but numerous community resources, educational opportunities and connections to services that many of our immigrant families have struggled to access.
As with anything, this little gem of creative partnership is not a miracle cure-all. We still have reluctant readers in first grade. Our students still struggle with the English language, fluency, and reading comprehension. Unfortunately, many of our families are still missing out on this valuable school/community connection. However, we still get excited when the library’s representative comes to visit and when we send home our students with their brand new library card! That educator proudly reports on the number of library card applications that are received and processed. We feel so rewarded when families tell us that they are now visiting the library and that they found something new there. It’s not everything, but it’s enough for now.