Site Meter Josh's Blog: 2007

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.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Math and Science in the 21st Century

We had a good turnout at AITE on Tuesday night for the Community Forum on Math and Science in the 21st Century. If you weren't able to attend and want to see what we talked about, my presentation is on the website at:
I thought the best part of the forum was the demonstrations by our teachers. As I always like to say, I would put Stamford teachers up against any in the country, and Tuesday night proved why. They showed us actual activities and lessons that our children are now doing in elementary math and science, middle school math and high school science. I think I spent the most time in HS science, watching Ms. Dixon-Moore and Dr. Lisy show us DNA testing and a mosquito under a digital microscope. They also talked about how much they like the restored 80 minute double-lab period in Biology, which helps them engage students in deeper understanding of Biology concepts and more hands-on activities. Our kids are lucky to have these teachers and I wish I had taken Biology from them.

As always, I would have liked more families to attend the forum. However, schools will be organizing more opportunitites during the year for families to learn about what we're doing in the classroom in math and science. I also hope that the community understands that we're able to do this work because of the generosity of the GE Foundation. If it weren't for the $15.3 million dollars we're receiving from them as part of the College Bound District Program, we wouldn't be able to make this kind of investment in our children. We're entering into the 2nd year of the 5 year project and we have to start thinking about what we're going to do when the money goes away.

The next community forum is on October 9th at the Yerwood Center. We'll be discussing the implications of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding race-based student assignment. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Some Cool Things I saw Today

I visited two schools today, Rogers and Stark. I saw some great things, but felt compelled to note two of them. At Rogers, in the staff meeting/IB room, there are two pieces of chart paper on the wall regarding Staff Development (among many other things): "Essential Agreements for Staff Development" and "What we Expect from Each Other." What struck me was that the teachers had spent time to articulate exactly what kind of learning they want to be engaged in and what kind of learners they want to be. If you get a chance, talk to someone from Rogers about it.

I also saw some great examples of math instruction this morning. In one K class at Rogers I saw students excited about figuring out how many different ways they could express the number 4 with their fingers. In a 1st grade class at Stark I saw students learning the number line by guessing what number that their classmate was thinking of while two other students "walked the line." In another Stark class the students were creating pictographs of how they got to school - bus, car or walking. What was great about each class was the enthusiasm of the teachers.

Community Forum

Next week on 9/11 we're kicking off our monthly community forums. This one will be held at AITE from 7 to 9. The topic is Math and Science instruction in the 21st Century. The format will be different than previous forums; we're going to have demonstration lessons in math and science so that parents, teachers, community members and administrators can get a more in-depth look at what's happening in our classrooms.

I hope to see you there.

First Days of School

I brought my daughter Eliza to Kindergarten on Tuesday. She attends PS 321 in Brooklyn, a school of 1200 which happens to be the same one my wife attended. She's in a full inclusion class, with 6 students with IEP's and 12 without. My wife and I crowded into the classroom along with the other parents. The teachers were at the door, the room was very organized and ready for learning, and there was a sheet of activities for students to complete to get the students acclimated. I was reminded by this visit of how much time teachers everywhere put in prior to the first day of school.

As of today I've visited about 16 of our schools. I've popped into elementary, middle and high school classrooms. Not surprisingly, most elemntary classes look very similar to my daughter's. In my visits to middle schools I've seen teachers helping 6th grade students open their lockers. I've also seen a lot of review of rules at the middle and high schools. This is, of course, an absolutely necessary part of starting the year - students need to know the structure and the consequences for their behavior. The middle and high school students generally had that well known look of adolescent malaise as they heard the teachers' expectations.

I was also reminded of the maxim that was told to me in the teachers' lounge when I first started teaching - "Don't smile until Christmas." I never understood this saying. As a student I always liked the teachers who smiled and showed their personalities and I worked harder when the teacher mixed interest in me with high expectations. So I disregarded this suggestion and rarely had a discipline problem (I have no idea if the two are connected).

So I'm left with a question - how different are the needs of our elementary, middle and high school students when they come back to school? By the same token, are our needs as adults when we start a new job that different from our needs as kindergartners? We want to enter into a warm environment where we feel supported and we need to know where the bathroom is. I wonder if we explicitly show our middle and high school students our warmth and care for them in the same way we do our elementary students. In my opinion, all our students K-12 need to see it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August 28th PD

I visited a bunch of PD sessions on Tuesday and was very impressed. I started with Steve Linewand (sp?), who was with HS math teachers. His message was powerful and somewhat radical. Essentially, he says that we need to push the limits of what's acceptable in mathematics instruction since the traditional way has only worked for about 30% of students. He noted that those 30% of students have powerful and vocal parents, not all of whom believe that a different approach to math instruction is necessary. I spent almost 2 hours at that session, I wish I could have been there all day.

I then popped in to Mari Muri's "math games" session with 3rd grade teachers. I've seen Mari before and we're very fortunate to have her with us for 50 days this year. The teachers seemed very engaged, and I'm not surprised, having been through one of her workshops at an administrator's meeting back in June.

After that I went to AITE and RIPP, where I had a chance to talk to teachers about the PD. I heard mixed reviews, mostly positive. I told the teachers that if there's something specific that worked or did not work, let us know; email Joanna Nicholson, Mona Hanna or Mary Jennings and give us some feedback. We need to hear whether it's effective. I ended the day at Westover with Janet Allen, who was working with the secondary English teachers, and Nancy Brett, who was with the instructional media specialists. I heard good things, although I know people don't like sitting for that long.

All in all, it seemed like a very worthwhile day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Opening Day

Thank you to everyone who came to opening day. I felt great energy and excitement from those of you who I had a chance to talk to during breakfast. I was also struck by the fact that each of the speakers struck similar themes. Marty, Tom, Lori and Jan each talked about the need to work together in our pursuit of excellence, and everyone brought their own perspective to it. It was also great that so many community members attended to show their support for our work. Thanks to Camille Figulizzi, Reginald Roberts and the WHS team for hosting us.

I don't know about anyone else, but I could listen to Neil DeGrasse Tyson all day. His ideas about the importance of scientific and mathematical literacy are important for all of us to consider - it's not just for the "science and math people." We all must be scientists and mathematicians. Unfortunately, some people left before we announced the raffle winners. Dr. Tyson ended up signing books and chatting with people for another 2 hours after his presentation. I hope we'll have opportunities to interact with him again as we go forward in becoming a district that embraces 21st Century learning.

I'm looking forward to a great year.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Leadership Retreat, Day 2 - PLC's

Today was Day 2 of the Leadership Retreat. We spent most of the day talking about Professional Learning Communities (PLC's), and spent some of the day discussing legal issues regarding labor. We were joined today by two of our partners - Michael Fullan's team to work with us on PLC's, and the Panasonic Foundation and Ct. Center for School Change who are working with us on systemic reform issues.

Winnie Hamilton and Eileen Swerdlick facilitated the session on PLC's. They were amazing. We worked in mixed groups of 8 comprised of elementary, central office, middle and high school, with no one from the same school in a group. We discussed the research on PLC's so that we can have a consistent and common understanding of what they are. We then reflected on and assessed our own school or unit's level of implementation of PLC's. We also watched a wonderful video of a school that has had great success in increasing student achievement through a PLC approach.

What struck me the most about today was how excited and engaged everyone was around this idea of creating communities of learners who have a single-minded focus on student achievement. This year is going to be an incredible experience for us as we learn together about how to improve instruction for each and every child. I also appreciated the fact that everyone realized that we can't do it alone - no one has all the answers. We have to think like scientists who stick to a rigorous process, constantly look at the data, try different approaches and work together until they get it right. I'm thrilled by the committment that the administrators have to making this work. I'm also looking forward to the opportunity we have to work with Michael Fullan on PLC's.

Leadership Retreat, Day 1, Math curriculum

We kicked off our three day leadership retreat on Tuesday, attended by all school and district administrators. The focus of the day was mathematics. Phil Daro, a national expert on mathematics, spoke to us for about 45 minutes, then the Elementary folk worked on Everyday Math while Secondary people worked on America's Choice. The day went well, although we didn't move around enough and the presentations could have been a little more varied. The critical message that I walked away with is that problem-solving is the most important area of development for our children (and us for that matter). Knowing procedures is no longer enough; we need to learn how to use math to solve problems.

The conversation between principals, assistant principals and central office administrators was the most powerful part of the day. There was, of course, tons to talk about. I was left with the following thoughts and questions, many of which we grappled with during the day and will continue to discuss throughout the year:

If any of us educators were told in school that we weren't "math people," how will we prepare to learn the mathematics involved in EM and AC, and how will we not convey that message to any of our children?

What's our theory of intelligence? Do we believe that smart is something you are, or something you become?

How do we create a consistent comprehensive system of supports that intensifies according to student needs? Phil Daro shared a great system with us that we may be able to adapt.

How do we make math a presence across the whole school and infused throughout all curriculum areas?

How do we give up our ideologies and focus on what works?

How do we create consistent and common mathematics across the district?

How do we differentiate between motion and movement, or activity and productivity?

What's the appropriate rate of change?

How do we assess our progress and know when to re-adjust?

These are just some of the questions I have. There are no easy answers. However, I walked away from the day knowing that the leaders in the Stamford Public Schools are fully prepared to begin to address these questions.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Getting Ready for the School Year

I'm back from vacation, we had a great time in the Cape. My kids (Eliza 5, Harrison 4) took swimming lessons and it was wonderful to see their confidence in the water grow every day. This week I've been focused on next week's Administrator's retreat and Opening day. At the Administrator's retreat we'll be talking about PLC's, Mathematics, and leading the Change Process, in addition to dealing with "administrivia." I'm excited about the fact that we have some great partners that will be working with us next year. In addition to GE, Michael Fullan and his team will be helping us with PLC's; the Panasonic Foundation and the Connecticut Center for School Change will be working with us on systemic issues around collaboration and the development of a standards-based K-12 curriculum framework. These partners won't be imposing their models; rather, they'll be serving as critical friends who ask us tough questions to help us improve.

I'm also excited about having an intern from the Harvard Urban Superintendents program with us next year. Rebecca Thessin will be arriving in the district on Monday and will be spending the next 6 months with us. She'll be shadowing me for the first 8 weeks and then working on different projects in the district. I know she'll learn a lot from folks throughout Stamford.

Finally, if you have a chance, be sure to Google our opening day speaker Neil DeGrasse Tyson. You should also check out his Daily Show appearances, which can be found on YouTube. I know you're going to be inspired by what he has to say.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Orlando, day 4

Today was a great day at the GE College Bound District Program conference. We attended different sessions on a variety of subjects, such as PLC's, math standards, leadership practices and coaching. I attended a session on the role of Teacher's Unions in driving instructional reform, facilitated by Pat Dolan. Some of you may have met Pat, as he's been working with Stamford for the past few years. Pat's thoughts were intriguing, and I can't relate all of them in this space, but I was left with a few questions that I'd like to share. One is around data. I'm not referring to state test data. I'm thinking about data that helps us understand what's "really happening" in schools and classrooms, and with individuals. I'm constantly told about something that happened, or something that someone is upset about and I don't always have a way to verify it or understand the full context. So how do we develop a way to get good information about what's "really happening" that we can then act on?

Another question I have is about standards of practice. It seems to me that we'd avoid a lot of conflict if we had explicit standards of practice regarding teaching and learning. We all know good instruction when we see it, but have we all agreed that X,Y and Z equal excellent instruction? I think that's an important area of work for us to collaborate on. Yesterday we heard Mike Rutherford talk ( about 5 things that great teachers do. He described the set of practices that great teachers use to improve student achievement. Most of them are common sense, and I've certainly seen wonderful examples throughout the Stamford Public Schools. I wonder if we can all agree on what excellent teaching is for us in Stamford, and then use that as an anchor for our work.

Tomorrow we'll be meeting as a team to discuss the implications for our work and communication strategies. After that I'm going on vacation with my family for two weeks. I'll be sure to post some more when I return. Please let me know what you think!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


We went to NASA today for a tour arranged specially for the GE CBDP conference. The day started with a talk by Lt. Commander Jerry Carr, who headed Sky Lab in the early 1970's. He gave a great presentation on what it's like to be in space. What I found the most interesting was his response to a question about what in his K-12 experience influenced him to become an astronaut. He said that he always liked Math because he enjoyed solving problems. That statement stuck with me all day. As we toured the launch pad and the area where NASA scientists assemble the shuttle - and marvelled at the scale of the operation - I was struck by how many problems there are to solve. Each one of the physicists, mathematicians, chemists and engineers is solving a complex problem that enables NASA to launch enormous machines into space. Someone has to figure out how to move the shuttle, someone else has to build the machines to manufacture the unique parts, others have to calculate when the weather is right to stand the shuttle upright. Then, when the shuttle or another spacecraft is finally launched, it gathers data to send back so that we can expand our understanding of the universe. I started wondering whether our students see math and science as tools to help them solve problems, or whether they see it as discrete procedures to memorize in order to get a right answer. I was then reminded of a story I recently read about an alleged meteorite that fell in New Jersey. After tons of press and attention from the scientific community, it turned out to be man made. A scientist who was involved said that science is the only profession where it's okay to be wrong and that's how knowledge is created - by building on each other's ideas, most of which turn out to be wrong. So is it better to teach our students that there's one right answer, or should we teach them how to solve problems in teams?

NASA has some wonderful resources for us. Check out for tons of free resources. Everyone from Stamford who's at the conference is bringing back materials to share.

Please let me know what you think of these posts.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday in Orlando

Today was the first full day of the GE College Bound District Program annual conference in Orlando. I arrived late and met everyone at Pat O'Brien's. Folks seemed to be excited about today's presenter and about going to NASA tomorrow. I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to talk at length with SPS educators as well as those from around the country.