A Culture of Educational Excellence!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Week

This week, National Teachers Appreciation Week, is a time to remember and acknowledge those who undertake one of the most important tasks in our society - educating our youth. If you are like me, some of your most cherished childhood memories involve a teacher, guidance counselor or coach who made a difference.

As the Superintendent of Schools, I join in the chorus of those taking time this week to appreciate our fine teachers. Your commitment does not go unnoticed as evidenced by the wonderful occassion last night honoring the 2012 Pioneer Valley Teachers of Excellence at the Log Cabin Banquet Hall and Meeting House in Easthampton. Though 26 of our teachers were honored, we know the teacher attributes celebrated by that award extends deep into the hallways and classrooms of all of our schools.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Music Teacher Strikes All the Right Chords

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the New England Public Radio 2012 Arts and Humanities Awards Gala recognizing the talents of various artists in Western New England. One of the honorees was our very own Gary Bernice, an outstanding music teacher from the High School of Science and Technology (Sci Tech) who directs the school’s Concert Band, Jazz Band, Symphonic Band, and Stomp Percussion Ensemble.

Under Gary’s leadership, the band program at Sci Tech provides a comprehensive instrumental music curriculum infused with many student leadership opportunities, and is affectionately known as the “The Pride of Springfield.” Since his arrival in January 2007, the Sci Tech Band has grown tenfold to over 300 students.

Further evidence of the band program’s success is seen in the fact that 98 percent of students who join the band for more than one year graduate from high school; far exceeding the school’s, district and statewide averages. As part of the awards program, Gary rocked the house in leading the Sci Tech Band’s performance of “12 Bar Blues,”a piece highlighting improvised instrumental solos based on a standard 12 bar blues chord progression.

 In accepting the award, Gary thanked his students and spoke fondly of his former mentor (UMASS professor, George Parks), who inspired him to make the most of every second and every minute. More importantly, Gary is not only paying it forward but is profoundly touching the lives of his students, many of whom come from distressed backgrounds and have never picked up an instrument before. He also co-founded the Springfield Mentoring Through Music Program that pairs high school students and younger students together for music lessons.

Gary Bernice is but one of the many outstanding educators we have in Springfield Public Schools making a difference everyday in the lives of students. I’d say our music future is in very good hands!

Friday, April 13, 2012

It takes ONE and ALL to make change

The work of the superintendency is filled with challenges and opportunities. Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend some quality time at Bay Path College with Erin Gruwell, the self ascribed “maverick teacher” and famed author of The Freedom Writers Diary, an amazing true story of strength, courage, and achievement in the face of adversity that offers hope for schools in urban centers.

The day began with a small informal luncheon with Erin, Bay Path College officials, business leaders, foundation representatives and our Mayor. More importantly, Erin had the occasion to update us on her work through the Freedom Writers Foundation whose mission is to change the educational system one classroom at a time by providing educators with transformative tools to engage, enlighten and empower at-risk students to help them reach their full potential. The Foundation’s Freedom Writers Institute has trained over 200 teachers to strengthen their capacity in working with at-risk students.

The luncheon was followed by an evening event on campus for a film screening of “Stories from an Undeclared War” chronicling Erin’s work as a new teacher with 150 students at Wilson High School - all of whom graduated in spite of the odds. Her class was diverse in its ethnicity with many students having grown up in the tough neighborhoods of Long Beach, California and impacted by all the challenges of living in an urban center. Their work together in Classroom 203 was transformative through writing, changed lives and is now being paid forward through the Freedom Writers Foundation.

Although I’ve met Erin before, have read some of her work, and fully embrace the power of hope, my time with her yesterday was inspiring. Most importantly, it affirmed my belief that it takes many leaders, community members, parents and teachers working together to help our children realize their full potential and dreams; and yet, one person can make a significant difference.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Health Proposal Aims to Protect Kids

Two years ago, the district adopted a health curriculum that included a more comprehensive reproductive health component. This year, the proposed policy to make condoms available to sexually active middle and high school students who ask for them with their parents’ permission is the next small step towards helping improve the health and welfare of the city’s youth. The goal of the proposed policy is to decrease the amount of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies among our youth (Springfield teens have among the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea compared to their peers across the Commonwealth and the fourth highest teen birth rate in the state).

On March 15th, the School Committee voted 5 to 1 in favor in of a Springfield Public Schools Access to Comprehensive Reproductive Health Policy that would make condoms available to students aged 12 and above who ask the school nurse for one. School nurses would be obligated to advocate for abstinence and thoroughly explain the risks associated with sexual activity before availing a condom to the student. The nurse would also check to see if the student’s parents had directed the school not to make condoms available to their child. Students whose parents “opt-out” of condom availability will not be provided condoms or sexual health counseling.

Though the School Committee voted in favor of the policy earlier this month, a second vote is required per School Committee policy. I fully respect and value the personal opinion that each School Committee member may hold. Certainly, this issue has been controversial. I myself, was hesitant to address it. However, the startling statistics around the sexual health of our youth, for me, was an eye-opener and a call to action. It’s my hope that the Committee will continue to act in the best interest of kids and pass this policy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Technological Advancements for Professional Development

This week the school district begins training for a new web-based system that will allow staff members to better organize, track and participate in strategically designed Professional Development opportunities.

This new addition to our Professional Development repertoire provides: an online catalog and enrollment system; approval routing of all forms and requests; the instructor and participant application and hiring process; and tracking and printing of certificates of hours completed for professional development.

It is a remarkable replacement for the manually processed blue professional development postings that have traditionally been sent out to the schools.

More than that, this new Professional Development Program, called My Learning Plan, exemplifies the critical role that technology can play as a solution to forming effective collaborations geared directly towards improving student achievement.