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Friday, November 16, 2007

Community Forum

Tuesday's community forum was a great opportunity to talk with each other and with the Commissioner, Mark McQuillan, about our achievement data, accountability and the implications of new state legislation. I really appreciate the presence of so many building administrators. Many teachers, parents and community members also showed up. I received an email from one community leader who said that it was eye-opening to be able to sit down with teachers, parents and administrators who he didn't know and hear their ideas about, and commmitment to, quality education in Stamford.

The commissioner publicly endorsed my strategy to engage the State department early to start working proactively on our efforts to close the achievement gap and meet the requirements of the new state legislation. I'm of the firm belief that we're smart and committed enough to be able to meet the demands of NCLB and the State without letting quality and excellence suffer. We can't allow the things that make the Stamford Public Schools great suffer because of arguably short-sighted and mis-guided legislation. We also have to recognize that we need to change some of our practices and learn together about how to make sure that each and every one of our children graduates ready for higher education and the 21st Century. I know we have the ability to be the best urban district in the country, but it's going to take a lot of hard work and deep thinking on all of our parts.

The link to my presentation at the community forum is on the website.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Rogers Wins an Award!!

Congratulations to the International School at Rogers Magnet, which this week won the 1st annual Lone Pine School Award. The award recognizes elementary schools in Fairfield County that achieve the greatest gain for students over a sustained period of time. Finalists included the Renaissance School at Hamilton Avenue in Greenwich, the Booth Hill School in Trumbull, the Morris Street School in Danbury; and the Multicultural Magnet School in Bridgeport.

The Lone Pine Award is about leadership, collaboration, and having high expectations for all children. I’d like to commend Cathy Cummings, along with her staff and families, for embracing the notion that each and every child can achieve at a high level. One of my favorite observations from my visits at Rogers is watching Cathy ask students, “What are you learning?” and hearing their enthusiastic replies. The mere fact that the question is asked reflects a belief system that all children are capable of excellence.

I am pleased that the Lone Pine Foundation recognizes there is high quality instruction taking place in all schools and is making an effort to highlight some of the very best. In accepting the award on Tuesday night, Cathy spoke passionately about her school community and quoted the philosopher Albert Schweitzer. I thought his powerful words would be inspirational to all of us:

“It is not enough merely to exist. It’s not enough to say, “I’m earning enough to support my family. I do my work well. I’m a good father, husband, churchgoer.”

That’s all very well. But you must do something more. Seek always to do some good, somewhere. Every man has to seek in his own way to realize his true worth. You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it’s a little thing, do something for those who need help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. For remember, you don’t live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here too.”

Friday, October 26, 2007


This week the Board of Education, Winnie Hamilton, and I met with a dozen students from the editorial boards at Westhill, Stamford High, and AITE. The students were well-prepared and asked good questions about the recent bomb threats, budget cuts, redistricting, rumor control, and why there are no teachers on the BOE. What particularly impressed me about these teenagers was how finely-tuned their senses are to everything we say and do. During the course of the 90 minute discussion, students from all three schools expressed positive feedback about how administrators deal with their concerns and questions. Students from AITE mentioned Paul Gross’s strong presence and that while they enjoy Cheryl Faga-Milo in her new role as Administrative Intern, they miss her in the classroom. Westhill students said when rumors fly, as they did recently with a false report of a new technology building proposed for the campus, they go directly to Camille Figluizzi because she is always open and accessible. Students from Stamford High mentioned that in his first couple of months as Interim Principal, Rodney Bass has made it a point to be in the hallways and visiting classrooms and because of this, they feel he is looking out for them.

I know that our administrators and teachers are spread pretty thin doing all these things and more each day. My point is that even though we may think no one notices the 150% effort, they indeed do. Students are looking, listening, and learning from us at all times – and in conversations like the one we had this week, they let me know what powerful models we are for them.

A great day

I had a great day on Thursday this week. I started the morning with a breakfast meeting with Kelli Wells, who heads the College Bound District Program for the GE Foundation, and is a Stamford resident. (I highly recommend the City Limits Diner). After breakfast we went to KT Murphy school to see a 1st grade class engaged in Everyday Math. I wanted to show Kelli the great work our teachers are doing in implementing EM. Along with Rebecca Thessin, Barbara Friedman and Joanna Nicholson, we sat in Ms. Cassidy's 1st grade class for an hour. She did a fantastic job of engaging all of her children in the "penny grab game." What I found most intriguing about the lesson is that it taught children multiple concepts - counting by one's, greater than/less than, and money. Additionally, because the children had to play in pairs, they were also developing important SEL skills.

In the afternoon I went to a meeting of high school department heads and administrators. They were in a two hour training on PLC's with Kathy Mason, a former HS principal. Winnie Hamilton arranged for Kathy to provide training on specific PLC protocols that we can use to look at student work together. I was only able to be there for 45 minutes, but it was wonderful to see our HS instructional leaders fully engaged with each other in learning about how to facilitate groups of teachers looking at student work. This is no easy task for any group of teachers and HS teachers typically don't have enough time to collaborate and share. Yesterday our department heads and administrators had an opportunity to learn with and from each other - across schools and departments - while also learning practical skills about how to help teachers look at student work. Their written feedback showed how enthusiastic they are about this wok.

Finally, I had a "conversation with Josh" at Rogers at the end of the day. I love these conversations, as they're a great opportunity to get to know teachers and to hear about what's on their minds. Among other things, the Rogers group asked probiing questions about redistricting and the future of the IB program, and they gave me feedback about Everyday Math. Their committment to the IB program and the success of each and every child was palpable, and it's one of the main reasons why Rogers is having so much success.

Yesterday was another reminder of how committed so many of our teachers are to improving their practice and ensuring that our children have opportunities to be successful in school and life. The support we have from the GE Foundation and the dedication of our administrators and teachers serves to strengthen my conviction that we are soon going to be the highest performing small urban school district in the country. It was a great day.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Community Forum

Last week’s Community Forum at the Yerwood Center had a record turnout of 250 people. In case you missed it, the topic was the Supreme Court’s decision on school integration and its implications for Stamford Public Schools. We watched and discussed a portion of the compelling documentary, The House We Live In. Following that, I gave a presentation on the history of school desegregation in Stamford, offered some legal history, and explained the Board of Education’s proposed revision to the district’s student assignment policy. Please press ctrl + click on the following hyperlink to view the presentation:

Those who attended the forum brought a level of thoughtfulness and intelligence that was truly refreshing. The evening demonstrated to me that people need and want the context, history, and rationale behind the major issues we face as a society and a school system. I also realized how powerful it can be when we take the time to explain the back story. Our discussion about school integration is a building block to all of the issues that confront us, whether it is the budget, redistricting, or the need to respond to federal and state mandates.

Thanks to all of you who attended this forum and many others. I would like to announce that the first Community Forum Perfect Attendance Award goes to Dr. Mary Savage, who has attended every forum since I arrived in Stamford. Linda Darling also deserves top honors!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ramp Up Math

I visited two middle schools today and had the opportunity to see a few Ramp Up classes. Ramp Up is a program from America's Choice that we have begun to implement in all of our middle schools this year. It is designed to give children extra help that will prepare them for Algebra. As we know, access to Algebra is the new civil right of the 21st Century - if students don't master it, their chances of success in college decreases significantly.

I spoke to a few teachers and students about the program and I want to share a little of what I heard and saw. All of the students were fully engaged in learning Algebraic concepts - some were working alone, others in pairs or groups. Teachers were circulating through the class, checking for understanding. I asked students if they liked this way of learning math and whether it was easy or hard. Some said easy, some said hard, but all of them said that they liked learning this way. One student gave me a lengthy explanation of how he approached a problem based on the distributive property. I was struck by his clear grasp of the purpose of each of his steps - he knew the steps to follow and understood why he had to take those steps. Another student told me that he liked math better this year because "now I'm getting the concepts."

The teachers gave me very honest feedback, which I appreciated. They didn't say that everything was great or that the program could never work. One teacher told me that the mini-lesson at the beginning of the day that was supposed to take 5 minutes actually took 20. Another told me that he's been a "traditional" math teacher for more than 20 years and that he's struggling, but that since the kids are "getting it," it's worth it. I also saw the school math coach and the district teacher on special assignment for math at the school, visiting classrooms to understand how we're doing with the program.

It's always very difficult to implement a new instructional approach and Ramp Up is no different. Given the hard work and committment I saw from our teachers today, and the engagement and enthusiasm of our students, I'm more convinced than ever that we're on the right path.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

State Legislation, NCLB, CMT and CAPT

In it's last session, State legislators passed a series of education accountability bills that are aligned with NCLB and have significant implications for Stamford. I have been talking to other superintendents around the state, as well as State Department of Education officials (including the commissioner) about it, in order to understand what it means for us. The bottom line is that if Math and Reading scores don't go up significantly soon, we will have to take comprehensive reform efforts at schools that have persistent low performance. These measures may include instituting after school programs, reconstituting schools and/or implementing new curriculum. Some districts in Connecticut have been designated in Corrective Action, which means that they must follow some prescriptive steps that the State has laid out. Our recent CMT and CAPT scores should have put us in corrective action, however, the State didn't analyze the data quickly enough. Essentially, we got a "bye" year.

My strategy going forward this year is : 1)continue to work with the State Department of Education so that we fully understand the implications of the legislation, 2) begin exploring comprhensive and aggressive measures that can be taken at schools that have had persistently low performance over a number of years, and, 3) fully understanding the successful practices in Stamford and beyond that can be replicated. My belief is that if we develop our own solution that meets the intent of the legislation, the State is less likely to impose their solution on us.

This work will require everyone - teachers, parents, administrators and community - to fully understand the implications of the legislation and to come together to problem-solve. There are some things that I will have to do, some that the Board will have to do, and other things that can be done collaboratively.

Stay tuned.