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Saturday, August 31, 2013
Moving forward — Ensuring a new day for New Bedford Public Schools ByPia Durkin
The first day of school is one of limitless hope and optimism. With a mixture of excitement and anticipation, more than 12,000 students will enter their classrooms on Tuesday, looking forward to a year filled with new knowledge, new skills and new friends. Our families, too, anticipate the new school year. Regardless of whether your child is just beginning kindergarten or is a rising high school senior, the hope is the same — that your children will spend the year with teachers who take the time to know not just their name and their culture but, also, your children's strengths, interests and individual needs. All of us working in education are humbled by the trust you place in us, as we recognize the tremendous difference we can make in your families' lives. Over the past few weeks, I have been asked for my assessment of the main issues facing New Bedford. While I do see five considerable long-standing issues, I also see viable solutions. But these solutions cannot be implemented in a vacuum. Rather, they depend upon all of us — administrators, teachers, parents, students and community members — working together in solidarity. Here are the five core areas we must focus on this year:
A rise in achievement through rigorous instruction
School achievement has undeniably been relatively flat and pervasively low. That must change today. A laser-like focus on delivering rigorous and engaging instruction must prevail every day in every classroom in every school. This means supporting and encouraging students to do more, think more and demonstrate more of what they know. Being able to simply read and recall facts is no longer good enough. Our students must learn critical thinking skills, so that they're able to summarize and analyze material, compare and contrast ideas, and write cohesive, persuasive essays. Those same critical thinking skills will allow them not merely to compute mathematical problems but also to solve multi-step problems and to share how they arrived at those solutions.
for staff and students Rigorous instruction is dependent upon high expectations. While there are certainly those who have accepted no excuses for failure, there still exists a defeatist attitude that harms both our children and our adults. We must no longer accept statements such as, "These kids can't do high-level work," or "He's on the road to dropping out, just like his brother." Not only do these negative statements harm our efforts to improve our schools, they also ingrain in our entire community that we deserve no better. Low expectations need to be confronted, discussed and dispelled by everyone who hears them — in and out of our schools.
on key priorities By wasting our energy on a host of too many distracting initiatives, we have been derailed from focusing on our most important priorities. We need to align our teaching to the Massachusetts state standards and adjust instruction accordingly. Students who are not succeeding need support and effective interventions. Those who are excelling need to be stretched to do even more. By taking stock on a regular basis — carefully measuring what our students are learning — we will have the information and data we need to see when we are on track. And, when we're not on track, we'll be able to course-correct and intervene for success before it's too late.
for the work ahead It's too easy to blame others or entities beyond our control. In truth, blaming depletes our energy, making it even more difficult to tackle the hard work to which we must commit. That's simply no longer an option. We will move this district from chronic underperformance to a level of true excellence through a new level of commitment, understanding that the road ahead will require us to address real challenges, make difficult choices, and see ourselves as responsible for bringing about and sustaining the changes we need.
A spirit of optimism
This community and those who work here continue to express hope for the future. We just received a "thumbs up" from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on New Bedford's District Accelerated Improvement Plan, a strong affirmation of hope that endorses the district's road map as the right one, with solid checkpoints along the way. You will be hearing more about this district plan in the months ahead. This will be an exciting year for New Bedford — one that requires a new sense of accountability from all of us. There's no better time than the first day of school to set new goals as we work collaboratively to ensure that all our children graduate as successful, confident learners. It's up to all of us to make a New Day for New Bedford a reality for all our children. Welcome back to school — I look forward to seeing you in the schools!