November Superintendent's Newsletter

posted Nov 12, 2017, 5:25 PM by Deanne Galdston   [ updated Nov 12, 2017, 5:34 PM ]

This weekend served as a gentle reminder that we are heading into the wintry months and all the excitement that this holds.  For educators, November marks the completion of the first quarter of the year.  At this point, teachers know their students very well and have settled into the routines that will support student success.   Teachers utilize a wide variety of formative assessments throughout the year to tailor and adjust instruction that responds to the unique needs of their current students. 

While Watertown educators are focused on their current students in their classrooms, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently released the Spring 2017 MCAS results.  For the entire year, our students are immersed in a standards-based learning environment, and the MCAS is a snapshot of how our students and the District are performing in relation to these standards.  Prior to 2014, the MCAS was a consistent and reliable system to see how the District and our individual students were performing after over a decade of comparable assessments being administered across the state.  These past four years, however, have been challenging as Massachusetts vacillated between MCAS, PARCC and now finally landing on the Next-Generation MCAS.  To add to the challenge, districts have had choices as to how to assess students—either online or using paper and pencil.  We are pleased that within the next two years, all students will be taking the Next-Generation MCAS online, even at the high school level which will allow for more reliable data.  More importantly, Watertown educators have become far more reliant on local assessments—both formative and summative—to respond to the students currently in our classrooms. 

That being said, the data that MCAS yields is very useful in the interim both at the individual level and at the system level.  With the instability in the data, parents and guardians may be wondering how best to utilize the results they recently received about their child if he or she was in grades 3-10 last year.    The results this year are considered baseline, as the Next-Generation MCAS is a completely new assessment, bearing little relation to the legacy MCAS.  Parents and guardians will be able to use this data to determine how their child grows and achieves in the coming years as well as learn more about their child’s performance on specific strands within ELA and Math (e.g. Geometry for math, language for ELA).   However, comparisons to achievement in previous years are not feasible given the new performance levels and standards for achievement. 

At the District level, teams of teachers and administrators thoroughly reviewed our results and will use the information that we gathered to continue those practices that are producing strong results and to improve in areas that indicate opportunities for improvement.  The Teaching, Learning and Assessment team will present their findings at the November 13 and the December 4 School Committee meetings.  The team has several strategies for district-wide improvement, with a strong emphasis on standards-based, targeted instruction in our core educational program.  One of the ways that we that we accomplish this is through professional development, which happens during our early releases and full in-service days as well as throughout the year with job-embedded support. 

On November 7, WPS provided professional development to our entire faculty and staff that exemplifies our systemic approach to address the identified opportunities for growth.  Our elementary teachers participated in ongoing professional development in both literacy and math.  The District has formed a relationship with the Teaching and Learning Alliance (TLA) to support a balanced literacy model at the elementary level, focusing on targeted, small group instruction to support students at their appropriate level of need.  New to the District this year are math teacher leaders and a dedicated math coach who support teachers throughout the District to enhance student learning and conceptual understanding of math.  At the secondary level, our educators delved into issues of equity, as the District continues to grapple with a persistent achievement gap.   WPS has formed a partnership with the Harvard Graduate School of Education to systemically support equity in our schools, which was the basis for the training on November 7.  More information about this partnership will be presented at the November 13 School Committee Meeting.

The Building for the Future Initiative is moving right along.  An Owner’s Project Manager has been selected for the elementary project, and we are currently in the process of selecting an architectural firm to complete the evaluation of potential options for the elementary schools and the subsequent schematic designs for the preferred option.  We also anticipate hearing shortly whether will be invited to participate in a building project with the Massachusetts School Building Authority for Watertown High School.  It is a very exciting time for the future of education in Watertown. 

Watertown High School is hosting an Open House next Monday, November 20, 2017 from 6:00 - 8:00 pm. This is an excellent opportunity for Watertown families with students in grades 7 and 8 to visit with High School teachers and students in a variety of content areas.  Families will learn about the variety of exciting programs and opportunities available at Watertown High School. 

I will be holding two superintendent’s coffees, one on Wednesday, November 15 at 9:00 am and again on Thursday, November 16 at 7:00.  Both of the coffees will be held in the Innovation Lab, 3rd Floor, Phillips Administration Building.   I look forward to sharing with you information about the District and to answer any questions that you may have about the exciting work underway here in the Watertown Public Schools. 

Dede Galdston, Superintendent

Watertown Public Schools