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