Monday, January 30, 2017

Thoughts on Recent Events

As superintendent, I am often hesitant about speaking publicly on matters of larger political discourse beyond Billerica.  Although I hold my own personal views, my professional responsibility is to ensure that I am advocating for all children and families of Billerica, regardless of their political ideologies.

That being said, the events of the past few days leave me no choice but to speak.

It is one of our core fundamental values as a district that we all have a collective responsibility for all of our students - and that all means all.  That is our unwavering belief, and we remain steadfastly committed to ensuring that the Billerica Public Schools are a place where all children are welcome and safe.

This morning, I read a letter from Superintendent Eric Conti to the students of the Burlington Public Schools.  Since I would be unable to write anything more eloquently than he did, I share his words below.  Please know that these words stand for our students in Billerica as well.

January 30, 2017
An Open Letter to Burlington Students:
It is hard not to hear many adult conversations and see news reports around you regarding the recent restrictions on immigration.  Many people are struggling with questions of belonging.  Some question if everyone belongs and whether we can be safe.  Please be assured that all of you belong in the Burlington Schools.  Our commitment to educating all of you has never been more unyielding and important.
In my opinion, adults simply need to look inside our classrooms and learn from you.  I see classrooms where everyone is accepted regardless of faith, culture, ability, economic standing, and other differences.  You all believe in the best of your classmates and their intentions.  What you may not realize is that these lessons have been at the heart of public schools for a long time.
A part of the answer to the question of who belongs in public school can be seen in the Supreme Court’s decision of Plyler v. Doe (1982).  In Plyler, the Supreme Court determined that children belong in our public schools no matter how the children came to live in a community.  In other words, a child’s immigration status is not relevant.  You are all learners first.  If you live in Burlington, you are welcome in school.  You belong in school.  You are safe in school.  You are loved in school.
Moreover, nearly 75 years prior to the Plyler decision, John Dewey, a great American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, said:
“The intermingling in the school of youth of different races, differing religions, and unlike customs creates for all a new and broader environment. Common subject matter accustoms all to a unity of outlook upon a broader horizon than is visible to the members of any group while it is isolated. The assimilative force of the American public school is eloquent testimony to the efficacy of the common and balanced appeal.”
Please know that all of you belong, and together in Burlington, we are creating a broader horizon for everyone.
Thank you, Eric Conti  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Information on Next-Generation MCAS Test

This spring, students across Massachusetts in Grades 3-8 will take the next-generation MCAS test for the first time.  Students in Billerica will participate in the test in a computer-based environment, and the format is different from years past.  To help explain these changes, Assistant Superintendent Dede Galdston made the following presentation at Monday night's School Committee meeting:

Aside from the computer-based environment, the other major changes are as follows:
  • New question types (e.g., 2-point multiple choice, multiple select, technology enhanced, etc.)
  • Writing at all grades within the ELA test
  • Math tool kits, including calculators, imbedded within computer-based environment
  • Technology enhanced math questions (equation editors, point plotting, histogram items, etc.)
  • Universal accessibility features for all students
Please be aware that the Grade 10 MCAS is remaining unchanged at this time, and is not scheduled to move to the next-generation assessment as a graduation requirement until the Class of 2021 (current Grade 8 students).

As a final note about MCAS, please know that although MCAS performance is important, it is only one of many measurements that we use to let us know how well our students are learning, and what we can do to help drive improvement.  Our goal, in every classroom across the district, is to teach to the standards - the expectations of what students should know and be able to do.  Our goal is never to teach to a test.  It is our strong belief that if we focus on helping students meet (and exceed) standards, they will perform well no matter what assessment we place in front of them.  

That being said, students will have opportunities as we approach this spring to practice with the new MCAS, but only to ensure that what MCAS is measuring is students' real abilities and is not influenced by their unfamiliarity with a new testing format.  As more resources become available in the coming months, we will share them with the community.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Two-Hour Delay, Tuesday, January 24

Due to this morning's inclement weather conditions, the Billerica Public Schools will have a two-hour delay today, Tuesday, January 24.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Calendar Changes for 2016-17 School Year

     Recently, there were two changes to the school calendar for the remainder of this year that were approved by the Billerica School Committee.  The changes are as follows:

1. The early release scheduled for all schools that was originally scheduled for Tuesday, April 25 has now been changed to Thursday, April 13.  This new date occurs on the Thursday before April vacation, and as a reminder, there is no school on Friday, April 14 for all students.  This change was made to accommodate the testing schedule released by the state for MCAS.

2.  On Monday, December 12, there was an early release scheduled for elementary school students only that had to be postponed due to a two-hour weather delay.  By policy, this date must be made up before the end of the year.  As a result, the new date for an early release for elementary schools only is on the 179th day of the school year, currently scheduled for Thursday, June 15.  Please be aware in the event we need to cancel school and the year is extended, this early release will be moved accordingly.

     I thank you for your cooperation and understanding regarding these calendar changes, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

BMHS Students Make a Difference at Standing Rock

This article just posted at the Billerica Minuteman website tells the story of Liam Henderson, Class of 2017, and his efforts to raise funds and awareness for the Slippery Rock Reservation in North Dakota,  To quote from the article:

In two short weeks, Henderson collected 800 pounds of firewood, 20 hand-warmers, jackets, blankets, and cans of soup for the people of Standing Rock.

Then came the long haul, approximately 1,700 miles separate Billerica and Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

When we talk about the important of community and how students can be involved in the greater world around them, this is the pinnacle of what we talk about.  Thank you to Liam and this family, and everyone who donated in order to make this happen.