Tag Archives: nbhs

Changing of the Guard

There is a wonderful episode of the Twilight Zone where an aging private school teacher faces his deepest fear: that of being forgotten, without everhaving made a difference in the lives of his students. He eventually convinces himself that it would be better to die by his own hand instead of living with his depression, and so he goes off into a snowy Christmas Eve night with a gun. He eventually wanders to a statue of Horace Mann. The inscription reads, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” But, before he is able to shoot himself, shades of his students visit him to share gratitude and appreciation for all of his work, care, and love of literature.

How many students have sat in each of these chairs? How many papers, homework assignments, essays, projects, ests and quizzes have I graded? When I am alone in the classroom, my classroom, whose voices do I hear? Whose smiles do I see? What angry glances are thrown my way with contempt? How many posters and pictures and projects have hung on the walls, or from the ceiling?

How many students have changed my life?

Around my classroom, right now, I see portrait posters of heroes and leaders, artists and scientists, writers and activists. I see student projects and conceptual art. I see dozens of places from around the world and read the poetry of Rumi. There are many complete sets of objects once called encyclopedias. I have a file cabinet filled with manilla folders, stuffed with lessons and printouts of really cool stuff I created well over ten years ago – long untouched. On the table in front of me is my Macbook Pro, my Dell M1330 laptop, my printer from home, my Dell XPS desktop, my Linksys router, folders, a stapler, a 3 hold punch, lots of unused power cords for laptops that could not be salvaged from obscurity. I have field trip forms for a trip to Boston tomorrow (Adams Historic Park and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University).

The homeroom bell rings… Another day begins.

My time at New Bedford High School has been eventful, to say the least. I have learned much about the nature of school politics as well as the ins and outs classroom  management. In one of the first weeks of teaching there, a student lit another student’s jacket hood on fire. I have seen more triumphs (big and small) than suffering, but both are present in an average day. To a certain extent, guns, gangs, drugs, violence, sexual abuse, police as the enemy, poverty, homelessness and broken families  have all sat in the seats before me as I try to teach the differences between Hamilton and Jefferson. On the other hand, dozens of students have entered the field of history, while hundreds have gone to college for the first time… all sitting in front of me from one class to the next. Many students have found love, purpose, identity, faith, and their potential in my time here at this school.

How does one measure a lifetime?

Is a teacher’s job a career? Is it a life? I keep thinking of how students who saw me in the summer were shocked and awed to see me in shorts. When I was a teenager, I found it hard to see a teacher beyond their job. My experience with them was limited to the give and take, the time from bell to bell. How could they be anything else?

So now, here I am. One lifetime ends. Another begins. I learned a lot about myself. I saw greatness in my colleagues, and more importantly, my students. I made mistake after mistake, sometimes too slowly learning how to improve lessons, pedagogy, and professionalism. In the end, within the pale blue walls with bright orange cabinets and closets that was my classroom, I changed… and nothing was lost.

Goodbye, New Bedford High School.

It was a good life.

Hello, Sandwich High School. A new life begins.

New Bedford Level 4 District Review

The report’s first sentence states, “The New Bedford Public Schools have a history of low student achievement and insufficient progress.”  This sets the tone for a scathing review of the district by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Some of the main findings of the report were posted in a Standard Times article on Friday, May 27th.   Here’s the list printed in that article.

  • The mayor approves the School Committee agenda and, when a member of the public calls the superintendent to request an item be placed on the agenda, she calls the mayor to get his approval.
  • Many principals refrain from taking notes during informal classroom observations, which limits their ability to provide specific feedback, as they believed that was not allowed under the teachers’ contract; however, a review of the contract determined there is no language in it that prevents principals from taking notes.
  • During classroom visits at New Bedford High School, the review team observed one teacher allowing students to sit idly for the last 11 minutes of class and another two teachers left their classrooms for short periods of time without giving an explanation to their students.
  • The district’s English language arts academic director told the review team “students are not assigned reading homework because many do not have the skills to make meaning (of) the text independently.”
  • More than 20 percent of the students in Grades 9 and 11 have been retained every year since 2007-08.
  • In 2010, almost 25 percent of the district’s students were chronically absent — defined as students who are absent for more than 10 percent of the days they are enrolled in the district, or more than 18 days over a 180-day school year — and at the high school, that rate was about 50 percent.
  • For the last three years — 2008-10 — about 50 percent of ninth-graders were suspended from school at least once.
  • Under the teachers’ contract, the district’s business manager has the authority to approve or deny resources requests from teachers, which means principals are unable to deny requests they determine are not priorities or are not in alignment with their schools’ improvement plans.

There have been a few follow up articles from the Standard Times called ‘Few Surprised by Scathing New Bedford School Report‘ and ‘State, City School Officians to discuss report, what’s next‘.  It’s also been covered on Channel 10 News (NBC) here ‘State Report Slams New Bedford Public Schools‘.  There is an editorial in the May 29th edition of the Standard Times that sums the problem right up: “Drastic Remedies needed for school’s stunning failure‘.

Here’s the full report below.

Other quotes from the report highlight either the severity of the problem or its underlying causes.  Here are a few:

  • Without greater gains in proficiency than those made in New Bedford from 2008 to 2010, it seems as though gains at the state level will keep the gap between New Bedford and the state from diminishing.
  • Meetings of the school committee are not sufficiently focused on issues of budget, policy, and student performance. Instead, school committee agendas and minutes demonstrate that the school committee spends time making some decisions that are better made by administrators in accordance with district policy.
  • The reviewers found that the school committee does not have sufficient knowledge of pertinent information concerning student performance such as recent attendance and dropout data and benchmark testing results. In addition, the school committee has not engaged in a process of setting goals and monitoring progress toward them, as a way to focus its work on budget and policy and lay out how its work on both relates to improving student achievement.
  • Principals also said that the elimination last year of the position of assistant superintendent for curriculum leaves the district with little district-level curriculum coordination. In a focus group, the academic directors reported confusion about their roles and about the direction of the district with respect to curriculum and instruction.
  • The principals said that with such a large group, the (monthly principal’s) meeting is used more to deliver announcements than to engage in problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Principals do not have the direction and support they need to do their jobs effectively as educational leaders and drivers of high student achievement.
  • Principals are not held sufficiently accountable for their work; they are not being annually evaluated as required by Massachusetts law.
  • Administrators told the review team that the elementary ELA program is inconsistent from school to school.
  • Central office administrators and principals told the review team that New Bedford does not have a phased cycle for curriculum development and review.
  • In many classrooms observed, the review team found little evidence of multiple characteristics of effective teaching; the quality of instruction was lowest at the high school level.
  • New Bedford does not have a common understanding of what constitutes high quality instruction, and the results were evident in the review team’s observations of district classes.
  • The contract between the New Bedford School Committee and the New Bedford Educators Association, its interpretation, and established past practices inhibit the efforts of principals to improve instructional quality.
  • Principals stated that teachers who transfer to their schools frequently would not be their first choice among candidates for the position, since they had deemed that these teachers would not likely meet the instructional needs of their students in support of the school’s effort to increase student achievement.
  • Principals and the human resources manager indicated that teacher improvement plans are kept only in schools and are not filed in the human resources office. When a teacher is able to transfer from a school without an improvement plan following them, the district’s efforts to enhance the performance of that teacher are thwarted.
  • The district does not have a current district professional development plan, according to the director of professional development and several academic directors interviewed.
  • New Bedford High School’s attendance rate has also fallen every year since 2005, from 90.1 percent to the 2010 rate of 85.2 percent.  In addition, almost one in every four students in the district were chronically absent in 2010—24.3 percent, an increase over 2009 (23.8 percent) and 2008 (22.0 percent), and much higher than the statewide 2010 chronic absence rate of 13.0 percent.  At the high school level, approximately half of the students were chronically absent in 2010.
  • The chronic absence rate is defined as the percentage of students who are absent for more than 10 percent of the days that they are enrolled in the district.

Here’s a link to the New Bedford Public Schools site:

NBHS on Technology

To learn where we are concerning technology, we have to examine where we were.  In March of 2008, the Restructuring Committee of the high school surveyed 2000+ students and 200+ faculty for information on a host of issues.  The full reports can be seen here and here in PDF format.  For the moment, let’s look at technology.  In 2008, these are the responses of teachers at our school to questions concerning access and use of technology.  These responses are from faculty.

Now, the question is what to do with this data?  How will this information drive instructional priorities?  What are those priorities?  What is the capacity for teachers to learn how to effectively use technology in the classroom, like Evernote, Moodle, Twitter, YouTube, Edmodo, Animoto, Creatly, Weebly, etc.?

Let’s plan for the preferred technology rather than the current one.

Learning from NBHS Data

What do we know about New Bedford High School?  A lot can be told through anecdotes and experiences, especially by teachers and students who have been there for years.  In order to learn more, however, we have to look at data.  One of the first is set out by the DESE as, what they call, Conditions for School Effectiveness.  These conditions can be read by clicking on the image below.  It is a rubric for schools to meet when being audited or evaluated – one of many.  When we look at these, we have to ask, if we take the assessment as valid and credible, how many of these conditions does NBHS meet?

New Bedford also gathers its own data. This PowerPoint presentation was made by the current headmaster, Andrew Kulak, for the Professional Development March 21 2011.  There are a few main themes in the PPT.  One is that it is recognized that there is a problem.  Another is that there is some specific data on the scope of the problems identified.  Kulak also introduces the ‘broken window’ theory, which he uses to shape the tone of the end of the presentation.

But there’s more.  In March 2008, the Restructuring Committee surveyed over 2000 students and over 200 faculty to arrive at the following PowerPoint and its statistics.  It did so to create a baseline for analysis in the future.  The questions are very comprehensive and tell us many facts.  How these facts are used creates a sense of context for NBHS.  Part 2 follows.  These are somewhat large PPT slides, so they may take time to download.

NBHS Self Study from March 2008 (Part 2)

NBHS Fiscal Year 2010 Budget.  This is information gathered from the DESE website.  Everything comes down to money.  New Bedford has a lot.  It gets about $40 million in federal aid each year.  It also gets over $100 million from the state.  In total, we have about a little less than $170 million for an operating budget.  Its not having the money that matters, though – it is how it is spent.