Monday, December 29, 2014

Wrap Up: Bridge, Bowman, and Estabrook Elementary Schools

In 2010, the Town of Lexington Public Facilities took advantage of an indoor air quality test offered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Results revealed that in two schools (Jonas Clarke Middle School and Estabrook Elementary School), concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (known as PCBs) were higher than normal.

Locating the source of PCBs then took considerable sleuthing and further testing. At Clarke, PCBs were found only in window caulking; mitigation was relatively simple to do: remove the caulk, encapsulate the surrounding building masonry, and recaulk windows with non-PCB material.

At Estabrook though, it was an entirely different matter.

Eventually, PCBs were found in all of the floor and ceiling mastic, as well as the window caulk, and in the mastic used to affix both interior and exterior decorative wall panels.

In January of 2012, Lexington voters approved a debt exclusion override to appropriate funds for extraordinary repairs to the Bridge and Bowman Elementary Schools and for replacement of the Estabrook School. Later that spring, at Special Town Meeting on April 2, 2012, Town Meeting voted to appropriate money for those repairs. In August, the School Committee was invited to see the new boiler room - an extended space at one far corner of each school. (Bridge and Bowman are identical buildings.)

I snapped the exciting images of the new boiler room (below), complete with shiny new pipes. The new boilers are much more efficient and slightly larger than a standard kitchen refrigerator. Compare that to the previous boilers, which when removed, provided space for two classrooms! 


The truly exciting moment came when the Estabrook elementary School opened its new doors to students in February 2014. This past October 2014 there was an official ribbon cutting and celebration for the new Estabrook Elementary School. (All photos by yours truly. Read more about the Estabrook Elementary School Project, including beautiful images of the new school on the DiNisco Design Partnership website).

The new Estabrook Elementary School
Estabrook student assembly ...
...a full house!

L-R: Parent Leader Karen Griffiths, Estabrook PTA co-president;
DiNisco Design Partnership Principal Architect Ken DiNisco;
DiNisco Design Partnership Project Lead Donna DiNisco
Estabrook Principal Sandra Trach welcomes
state and local dignitaries
to Ribbon Cutting & Assembly
(L to R: State Treasurer Steve Grossman;
MSBA Executive Director Jack McCarthy;
Lexington School Committee Chair Margaret Coppe;
Selectman Chair Joe Pato;
LPS Superintendent Dr.Paul Ash)
Dr. Paul Ash
Principal Trach with guests

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Remembering Summer Learning

This year, and summer especially, will remain in my memory as one where I explored new methods of learning.

I had already discovered the power of twitter as a personal and professional learning tool, what with various twitter chats in which I began participating in 2011.

Last Spring, I signed up for my first MOOC with coursera. I logged in for the first few days, then, never again. Failure to continue the course was a combination of being somewhat disoriented there, not being as interested in the course as I thought I would be, and a general lack of time.

Undaunted, in July I signed up for an EDx course: The Future of Learning with Professor Richard Elmore. Happily, I found this one to be a topic in which I was not only interested, but engaged in right from the start.

Professor Richard Elmore,
June 2014 (Photo credit: mas)
I had been fortunate to attend an introduction to the MOOC on the Harvard campus with Prof Elmore in June. In the course we explored modes of individual and distributed learning and leading through exploration and understanding of our own theories of learning and leadership. This course provided me with tools to imagine and contribute to the future of learning. More on this to come in future posts!

So, I've experienced two MOOCs to date. Both were designed with participatory interaction occurring primarily through the course website, with expanded conversation happening on discussion platforms within the site (which I found to be extremely chaotic in both cases...), as well as through social media (a facebook page and twitter). Connections to others for both were based on platforms for writing and reading.

Another summer learning experience was reading "Beyond the Bake Sale" as a #PTcamp bookchat with over 100 educators and parents spanning 10 time zones. We used digital tools including Voxer, twitter (#ptcamp), ApprenNet, and blogs to discuss a couple of chapters each week.

Most striking about this experience were the visual (ApprenNet) and aural (Voxer) aspects of connecting and sharing. The group was certainly much smaller than a MOOC but much bigger than a typical book group. The digital tools enabled us to connect and challenge each other through voice and video.

Bake Sale was a stand out experience that continues to have ripples! Out of that bookchat experience came material for an MTA ED Talk to be given at their summer conference in Williamstown last August. Unfortunately, I was unable to give my ED Talk due to illness, but no good work is ever wasted! Themes and examples from my Talk have been used in various ways since, including on this blog. The bookchat had also enabled the ability to establish relationships - connecting through voice and video makes quick colleagues! I maintain a personal and professional learning network with members of the #ptcamp group who inspire me daily.

For those interested: Here's a Harvard Graduate School of Education video of Dr. Karen Mapp (one of the Bake Sale authors) describing her work on the Dual Capacity-Building Framework recently released by the US Department of Education:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Addendum to Post on Prioritizing

Proposed Regulations on Time-Out and Restraint were approved by the Board at its Regular Meeting December 16, 2014.

The next FBRC Public Hearing is scheduled for Western MA on January 10, 2015, 11:00 AM. Location: Northampton High School Auditorium, 380 Elm Street, Northampton MA 01060

Thursday, December 11, 2014


On Tuesday, December 16, 2014 I will attend my fourth regular state Board of Education meeting. Meetings are public, of course, and are recorded, but are not broadcast live, which is different from many School Committee meetings across the Commonwealth.

Following that first regular Board meeting in September, I realized it would be valuable for me to prioritize my time and energy as I become more familiar with this role. I decided to put my energy in three areas:

  1. The Dever School turn-around
  2. Proposed Updates to Regulations on Time-out and Restraint and
  3. FY16 Budget/Chapter 70
1. The Dever School Turn-around.
Paul A. Dever Elementary School,
(photo: Boston Public Schools)
The Dever School is a K-5 elementary school in Boston,
designated as a Level 5 "chronically underperforming school" (Spring, 2014). This being a new development for the Dever School, the Department of ESE, and a turn-around partner (Blueprint Schools Network), and also co-terminous with my Board appointment, I thought it useful to follow the school's progress until it exits Level 5 status...which raises the question: How does that happen? I visited the school with the Commissioner and other ESE staff on Friday, October 31. I learned that all but one (1) staff member are new. Yes - ALL but ONE. I have some questions about what input the Board has had regarding policies being implemented in this turnaround. It is clear that the Board voted the Lawrence Schools into State [Department] Receivership in November 2013, but Level 5 Schools? I think the Board should have much more of a role in that process and determination. More about that in a future post.

2. Proposed Updates to Regulations on Time-out and Restraint.
In September, the Board was introduced to the Proposed Updates to Regulations on Time-out and Restraint. The regulations (603 CMR 46.00 and 603 CMR18.00) haven't been updated since they were approved by the then Board in 2001. The regs impact public education programs, including those that operate under Chapter 766-approved public and private day and residential programs. The Board will vote on them at the next meeting, December 16, 2014. Since the Board's vote in September to open Public Comment on the proposed amendments, I have met and spoken with numerous stakeholders, including staff at the New England Center for Children, the Nashoba Learning Group, and Melmark New England, as well as with individual and groups of parents to discuss the impact the proposed regulations (specifically, those concerning restraint) could have on their programs, staff, and children.

3. FY16 Budget/Chapter 70.

First meeting of FBRC
(photo: mas)
I was pleased to have been appointed to the Board's Budget Sub-committee this September. Two meetings were held (10/17 & 11/10) to review the Commissioner's FY16 budget priorities. On December 1, 2014, the Board voted to approve the priorities and submitted a FY16 Budget request of just over $5 billion to the Executive Office of Education. Chapter 70 of the M.G.L. makes up 87.83% of ESE's $5 billion budget (General Administration is 0.33% of the budget; as of September the Department had 499 FTEs). For a number of years now, advocates and stakeholders, including the Massachusetts PTA, Massachusetts Association of School Committees, and Massachusetts Teachers Association, have submitted public testimony in support of an adequacy study of Chapter 70 aid to Massachusetts cities and Towns.  The General Court authorized the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) as part of its FY15 Budget. An initial meeting was held at the State House on October 9, 2014. Since then, the Commission has been hearing from the Public in regional Public Hearings across the Commonwealth. Dates and locations for Public Hearings are posted in the right-hand sidebar of this site and below:

Foundation Budget Review Commission Public Hearings:
Monday, November 17 | North Shore, Danvers, 4:30 PM
Monday, December 15 | South Coast, Somerset, 4:30 PM
Saturday, January 10 | Western MA, Location TBD, 11:00 AM
Saturday, January 24 | Central MA, Location TBD, 11:00 AM
Saturday, February 7 | Cape, Location TBD, 11:00 AM
Monday, March 9 | Boston, Location TBD, 4:30 PM

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Monks and Ripples

Back in my twenties, after attaining a First Degree Black Belt in Shim Gum Do Korean Zen Martial Arts, I moved into the monastery located on the outskirts of Boston. I lived with other residents and the Founding Master, Zen Master Chang Sik Kim, a Korean Zen Buddhist monk who taught us and other students at Shim Gwang Sa, the Mind Light Temple.

Shim Gwang Sa is a renovated 100+ year-old building, a former church. Students in the Residency Program have professional jobs or attend college classes during the day and maintain a daily morning and evening meditation and martial arts practice and weekly temple work schedule. During the nearly four years I lived there, the number of residents varied between nine and sixteen, and ages ranged from adults in their twenties and thirties, primarily, with a few folks in their forties.

None of us at Shim Gwang Sa aspired to monkshood. We took no vows of celibacy or poverty; we were training for good health and successful living. In ideal terms though, there was a lot we could learn from the monk: a monk always knows what he's supposed to do at any given time of the day and temple-life strove for this ideal.

In college, I had been introduced to the poems and writings of American Trappist monk Thomas Merton and German-language poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Merton's work, The Seven Storey Mountain, written during his first years in the monastery at Gethsemani, redefined contemplative life for many. Rilke had no desire to become a monk, but he was so moved by the monastic life he found when he traveled in Russia - and was particularly inspired by the archetype of the monk that he wrote a series of poems called The Book of Hours, the title coming from the book from which monks chant the canonical hours.
I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it. 
I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I've been circling for thousands of years and I still don't know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song? 
Rainer Maria RilkeBook of Hours (translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)
To the monk, a canonical hour is more a presence in the day rather than our common understanding of a sixty-minute segment of it. We come closer to appreciating the monastic idea when reflecting on the seasons of the year: each season is defined less by exact start and end dates and more on qualitative aspects of time expressed in nature.

Before the calendar marked the beginning of Autumn last week, we already knew something was underway. One sensed a subtle shift in mood: the angle and quality of light and diminishing daylight betrayed the warm summer temperatures. I noted that some of the trees had given way to this shift with changing leaves, in evidence since August. It's the time of year when personal reflection comes more easily and naturally for me, too; I reflect on personal goals, hopes, dreams. It feels easier now that children are back in school than during our active summer.

Even in our busy schedules, we notice that different times of the day have unique qualities, as well. In monastic life, each hour issues a distinct challenge and calls for a response.

Living healthy lives means building in moments of daily vision, then letting our action flow from it. A Japanese proverb warns: 
Vision without action is a daydream.
Action without vision is a nightmare.
The over-arching clarity of our vision and action ultimately builds our days, our weeks, our lives. To the monk, life is about bringing together clarity of vision and action in each moment by moment. Vision alone, meditation alone, is incomplete contemplation. Completing the circle requires a melding of vision and action; all of us (not just monks!) are called to contemplation in this sense.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Journey of a Thousand Meetings

September 12, 2014
Looking back, I will tell you that each step was borne of on-going curiosity, learning, and interest. I'm writing about it because it's important to reflect back. Parent voice is not only important, it is necessary on the issues that have an impact on our children, our schools, and our communities. I have been supported by family, friends, neighbors, community members, the PTA, and the Governor. I sincerely hope my experience and common sense - and curiosity to want to know and do more - will continue to serve our children's best interests and success.

When our eldest entered Kindergarten my husband and I joined the school's parent group - it happened to be a PTA, and we joined to get to know his teacher and school better, connect with students and families in his class, and generally, be engaged from the outset.

Our children, 2012
As the years went by, and two more children entered the school system, I found myself more and more interested in making a difference at this school. Over time, I took on various roles there because I was interested in using some of my business, organizational, and artistic skills. It was fun getting to know other parents and teachers in the process, whether acting as a Room Parent or Field Trip Chaperon, or sharing the organizing of the 5th Grade Moving-On Ceremony, or working on a Collaborative Art fundraising project involving all classrooms in the school.

As our children grew and developed, so did my interests. Not only did I learn and share in the schools and across our Town, I honed my listening and advocacy skills. In the beginning, I advocated for my own children. I took advantage of leadership training by the PTA, the League of Women Voters, the Public Policy Institute (now the MA Leadership Academy), and more. Soon thereafter, I was advocating for all children in the school, for Town residents, then for all children in the school district. I volunteered on communication and leadership teams for local debt-exclusion overrides, School Committee, and Selectman candidate elections; drafted letters and fliers in response to state Ballot Initiatives; and spoke up to participate on a state education task force.

Last Friday, September 12, 2014, I was honored to be sworn-in by Governor Patrick as the Parent Representative of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Massachusetts General Laws required that I step down from my role on the Lexington School Committee. I look forward to advocating for the nearly one million children in our public schools across the Commonwealth.
Handheld shots from the Governor's Office

Other stuff, perhaps of interest:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Community Matters

The link between breakfast and school performance is well documentedEven before the economic downturn of 2008, the face of poverty had changed, though most of America hadn't recognized it (The Rich and the Rest of Us | Tavis Smiley & Cornel West). The income inequality gap (already huge) is growing - homelessness and hunger are symptoms of poverty caused by many factors.

In Lexington, a working group of school and municipal staff (primarily) along with several community leaders, has been convening since late last fall to share information about the growing homelessness issue in our own community. 
  • Working Group conversations led to a convening of the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association (LICA) who hosted a meeting with the community to discuss the issue and consider concrete next steps. More than 50 people came out from at least 10 Lexington faith-based congregations. Breakout sessions focused on addressing steps necessary to aid individuals and families across Town in realistic, concrete ways. Teams focused on:
    • food connection
    • community meals
    • social outings
  • Addressing the lack of public transportation, especially for families housed longer than expected in emergency hotel/motel shelters: the use of church vans and deeply discounted rentals with a private bus company, as well as means available through the Town's Human Services Department, are narrowing that gap.
  • The school department hired a social worker to assist school-age children of families in transition; initially hired half-time, it is now a full-time position. More thinking has gone into the possibility of piloting a summer program so students in transition won't experience academic regression over the summer. 
Working together, staff and faith- and community-based leaders have increased understanding and knowledge of hunger and homelessness on the ground right where we live. With the child at the center, schools, in partnership with families and the community-at-large, are making a substantial difference.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Family-School Partnership Models

In thinking about the type of partnership your school culture embraces, consider how well it engages families and the greater community in:
  • Building Relationships
  • Linking to Learning
  • Addressing Differences
  • Supporting Advocacy and
  • Sharing Power
Bake Sale authors point the way with these four partnership models:

The Partnership School

This school's culture holds that all families and communities have something great to offer and the school will do whatever it takes to work closely with all stakeholders to make sure every single student succeeds. Home visits are common with new families. The building is open to community use and social services are available to families at all times. All family activities connect to student learning and parents and teachers look at student work and test results together. The parent group includes all families and there's a clear, open process for resolving problems. Student-led Parent-Teacher conferences are held three times a year for 30-minutes. In a Partnership School, the PTA is focused on improving student achievement and families are involved in all major decisions.

The Open Door School

Partnership is improving here: families can be involved in many ways and they're working hard to get an even bigger turnout for activities. Teachers explain test scores, if asked, and folders of student work go home occasionally. The school holds curriculum nights three or four times a year and families are knowledgeable of out-of-school classes in the community. Minority families have their own group and multicultural nights are held once a year. Regular progress reports go to parents, but test data can be hard to understand. Parent-Teacher conferences are held twice a year. Parents can raise issues at PTA meetings, as well as set its own agenda and raise money for the school. And, a Community Representative sits on the school-based site council.

The Come-if-We-Call School

The phone is used as a hotline by staff to invite parents in - but only when there are problems, because the school thinks there's only so much families can really offer. The school is the expert here and families are told what students will be learning at the Fall Open House. The school can't address differences when it's overwhelmed with more than twenty different languages, because they think immigrant families don't have time to come in or care to contribute. The principal sets the agenda for parent meetings - and the PTA gets the school's message out! If community groups have concerns, they are more than welcome to take them up ... with the School Committee.

The Fortress School 
By its very nature, a fortress is most difficult to access. There's a whole community up there behind those walls, but unless you work here, or go to school here, you are not welcome - and you will be seldom invited in. The school thinks that if students don't do well here, it's because their families aren't giving them enough support - because the school is already doing all it can. The principal will select a few "cooperative parents" to help out at times. And families are afraid to complain fearing reprisals on their child.

 A key to understanding partnership, is to see it along a continuum. Some schools may be Open Door Schools, yet still have some Fortress classrooms. How will you ensure your school's culture is open to embracing true partnership with families and the community?

As a first step, take a welcoming walk-through of your building with an eye for any unintentional barriers; consider how you will engage your families in that process. And then, once you identify barriers, what's your process for removing them?

In education, what will be effective depends on your goal and how it's measured. Schools cannot do this work alone - it's a shared responsibility of schools, families, and communities to ensure all students succeed. This means looking beyond parent volunteer and fundraising stereotypes to build inclusive and effective partnerships for student success.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Intro to What I Learned at #PTcamp

Sometimes we forget. We don't mean to, but we forget that our children are whole children who come to and from school from families and communities.

But what if we didn't forget? And what if we engaged parents as partners, allies, and advocates in children's education at home and at school?

Because more than 40 years of research shows that when families are engaged in their child's learning, that child does better. And this holds true regardless of a parent's level of education, country of origin, or socio-economic status.

So, why do so many schools struggle to engage families? And does it really matter how family-friendly your schools are?

These were some of the questions I had in mind this summer when I participated in #PTcamp: a free and open, virtual bookchat spanning 10 time zones and involving more than 100 educators and parents. Together we read Beyond the Bake Sale: the essential guide to family-school partnershipsEach week we read a couple of chapters, then using some digital tools (including blogs, Twitter, Voxer, and ApprenNet), we engaged, reflected, challenged, and provoked each other's thinking - for learning.

Bake Sale not only connected all of us globally, it got us thinking about the best ways to authentically engage families for student success. By placing family engagement at the heart of school partnerships, the authors promote these 4 Core Beliefs:
  1. All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them;
  2. All parents have the capacity for supporting their children's learning;
  3. Parents and schools should be equal partners;
  4. Responsibility for building these partnerships rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.
Then, the authors point the way through an analysis of four partnership models, using five essential metrics by which to gauge how well schools:
  • Build Relationships
  • Link to Learning
  • Address Differences
  • Support Advocacy
  • and Share Power
My next blog posts will outline the four partnership models discussed in the book - I am so curious to know what will look familiar to you!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Core Beliefs

Change is easy. You go first. ~ Wisdom of Anonymous
If we are serious about engaging families for student success, and if we do not take our families' involvement for granted, we will want to improve family engagement practice in the most authentic ways. When schools work with and engage families, those families become powerful partners, allies, and advocates. Family engagement matters.

These 4 Core Beliefs are found in Chapter 3 of Beyond the Bake Sale; by placing them at the heart of family-school partnerships, the authors promote and affirm the valuable role of families, so necessary for all students to achieve academic proficiency - and beyond.
Core Belief 1: All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them. When we take the time to hear from parents directly about their hopes and dreams for their children, it deepens the relationship. How often do schools take the time to hear  directly from parents about the dreams for their children? How do teachers adjust their practice to accommodate student/family goals each day? Each week? Month? Year? Schools must be intentional in their approach to building relationships with families. 
Core Belief 2: All parents have the capacity to support their children's learning. Do we believe this? Or do we think families do not have time to come in or care to contribute? If all parents have the capacity to support their children's learning, and we support parents, children's learning will improve.
Core Belief 3: Parents and school staff should be equal partners. When you think about it, schools belong to the community and families. Schools must tap into parents' expertise of their children. True partnership is essential. Achieving student and school success will be impossible unless all stakeholders are valued for their contributions, and schools make themselves available and are willing to commit to that goal.
Core Belief 4: The responsibility for building partnerships between school and home rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders. Of course. Principals set the tone in the school, co-constructing roles based on shared responsibility and understanding of the complementary roles of families and communities.
Family engagement is the third leg of the stool that holds the child in the center and lifts her up (family, school, community). If families do not know what their child is learning and doing in class, and the school is unaware of the family's hopes and dreams for their child, how will they be able to help her achieve her vision of success? Families, communities, and schools must acknowledge their shared responsibility for every child's success—and it is up to the school to lead the way.

Image credit: Ground-breaking workbook for families and school leaders to read together by Anne T. Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


As I have done for the past eight years, I attended Lexington's Democratic Caucus last Saturday, February 8. What was different this year was that there was a push for electing a slate of unpledged progressive delegates to attend this year's Democratic Convention. I ran (and won) as an unpledged progressive (UP).

I am unpledged but not uncommitted! I am committed to identifying the best progressive candidate for Governor and to push all the candidates for Governor to speak up for progressive values and issues.

Read the related post by Peter Enrich to Blue Mass Group.

Our initial effort was a great success in Lexington. Of a total of 23 possible elected delegates, all 11 from our slate were elected, plus one more who joined the slate at the last moment.

And I've heard that we also have a big UP slate from Arlington, with good prospects elsewhere.

Bottom line is that it feels like we may really be onto something here. I'll be rolling up my sleeves for the follow through. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Digital Learning Day

The third annual Digital Learning Day (#DLDay) is this Wednesday, February 5, 2014. DLDay is more than just one day; it's an ongoing campaign to ensure every child gets the best possible education in today's world economy and global society through technology integration and digital citizenship across the school and classroom, as well as at home. It's about giving every child the opportunity to learn in a robust digital environment everyday, with the goal of success in college and career. Each person can make a difference with digital learning in our nation's schools - and support the effective use of technology to improve education for all students.

Join the tweetchat on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM (Eastern) with Lexington's Estabrook Elementary School Principal, Sandra Trach, using the hashtag #digisafety. (For some background in advance, read Principal Trach's article HERE that inspired the chat.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

School Leaders @Social Media

More and more people are using platforms like twitter, facebook, and LinkedIn to engage, inform, educate, and network.
  • I set up my facebook page early in October 2011 in anticipation of my 2012 re-election to the Lexington School Committee (feel free to visit and "Like"...)
  • I joined twitter in February 2011 (tweets at right...). If one thinks of twitter as a microblog, then this blog elaborates on thoughts, ideas, and scenes I have tweeted about.
  • I beefed up my LinkedIn profile after attending a women's leadership conference - I've tried to maintain and build connections ever since.
So, it was with interest that I responded to a query sent to American School Board Journal subscribers last year about using social media - and would I be interested in talking to someone from ASBJ about it?

A small part of my conversation with ASBJ senior editor Lawrence Hardy is featured in the February edition of ASBJ and may be accessed HERE. I was pleased to contribute to the topic and agree that there is a tremendous opportunity to positively promote the work of schools and districts - and to engage with the international community on important education and humanitarian issues of our time.