[Editor's note: The following is the State of the Schools speech given by Superintendent Cyndy Taymore Jan. 24 at Memorial Hall.]
Thank you for this opportunity to address the citizens of Melrose regarding the state of our schools in 2013.
Since being appointed last spring, I have been engaged in an entry process during which I have had the opportunity to speak with many members of the community including city officials, members of the business community, and leaders of nonprofit organizations, parents, staff, students, and everyday citizens. If there has been one constant in these conversations, it is the citizens of Melrose love this city and are proud of the quality of life that you have all worked hard to create. Moreover, Melrosians want our schools to be a quality school system that provides our children with the skills and opportunities necessary to become successful, productive members of our community.
Both the citizens of Melrose and our local officials are deeply committed to education and the schools. When I was first being introduced last fall, I was amazed at the number of people who were ready to welcome me and offer me their help. More impressive are the large number of citizens who act on this commitment. The Bridge, our volunteer organization, has over 200 volunteers who provide their expertise, skill, and labor to help out in our schools. Our Parent Teacher Organizations are among the strongest I have ever encountered, raising thousands of dollars to support building based enrichment programs. The sports booster clubs, Bandaiders, drama and musical parents, and many others provide financial and physical support so that our students may participate in a range of extracurricular activities second to none. Lastly, local organizations, such as Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, and the McLaughlin Foundation, stand ready to help whenever we call.
Over the past several years, the Melrose Public Schools has worked hard to create a strong foundation on which we can continue to grow. Our schools are staffed by skilled and talented teachers, specialists, administrators and support personnel who are caring and committed to our students’ growth and well-being.
At Melrose High School, we have a wonderful foreign language program, the unique and forward thinking Global Education in Melrose (GEM) program, our new STEM track, and 15 Advanced Placement courses. All are hidden jewels about which not enough people know. Melrose’s longstanding METCO program and the success of our METCO students are impressive. And, of course, our sports, drama, iRobotics, and academic teams afford us with many opportunities to brag.
At the middle school, we are truly invested in the development of early adolescents. The middle school’s faculty provides our young people with the support and encouragement they need to safely explore their interests and test their (and our) limits. Additionally, the Middle School’s tradition of community service is a source of pride. Our middle school students truly understand the importance of civic engagement, respect, and compassion in a modern society.
Our elementary schools have engaged, devoted parents who support the schools and staff, helping to enhance both academic and social learning and to produce a positive and memorable experience for all children. Because of their relatively small size, our elementary schools are able to provide a closely knit and nurturing learning environment for our students. In addition to our schools, Education Stations is an exceptional program, not just providing after school options for our youngest students, but also reinforcing many of the academic and social emotional skills learned during the school day. Lastly, the Franklin Early Childhood Center is a leader in early childhood education and a valued asset for the city as a whole.
Yet like any organization, we are subject to the changes in the larger society and need to constantly adapt and improve. For public schools, it is not just about the impact of the recent recession and the slow economic recovery. Over the past ten years, numerous changes in policy and regulations at the state and federal level continue to impact the many decisions we make when setting local priorities and creating plans to achieve our district and individual goals. At a recent conference I attended, state and federal officials as well as the leaders of the many educational professional associations discussed that fact that at the local level we have less control than ever over public education.
Among the more recent policies, programs, and regulations impacting local districts are Race to the Top in which we participate; the revised Massachusetts Frameworks incorporating the Common Core Standards; the spring 2013 release of the new Science Common Core Standards; the new state-wide Educator Evaluation System that clearly articulates the high expectations and standards required for teaching and learning; the launching of EDWIN, the state’s teaching and learning platform, that provides and collects information regarding student data, curriculum, and assessment; RETELL, the U.S. Department of Justice requirement that Massachusetts redesign the delivery of English as a Second Language instruction; the Massachusetts Tiered System of Support—MTSS, the state’s best practice model comprised of a multi-tiered system of academic and behavioral supports for meeting the individual needs of all students; new accountability requirements for improving student achievement; and the impending replacement of the MCAS with the PARCC assessments. And that’s the short list.
What this means for our students, staff, and community is a paradigm shift in teaching and learning. Our children’s school experience has little resemblance to our own. As we prepare them for a world that none of us can predict, we need to reexamine all our presumptions about how we teach and how our children learn. The 21st century school emphasizes both content and skills. Students are expected to be able to apply knowledge, solve problems, collaborate, and communicate verbally, in writing, and digitally. And without any doubt, what we develop today will be subject to continuous evaluation and further adaptation in response to future local, national, and global changes.
So what do we need to do? Next week, I will be presenting the full report of my entry plan findings to the School Committee. Following that, the School Committee and I will work together to identify priorities and create an action plan for achieving the goals of a revised strategic plan. Our choices and plans need to focus on improving curriculum and instruction for all our students. That is our number one priority. We need to ensure that our curriculum is rigorous, based in high expectations, and aligned with the state standards. Our instructional practices should be student centered, differentiated, and responsive. And, as practitioners, we should be constantly engaged in self-reflection and professional growth.
Having said that, I am mindful that in order to develop the school system we envision for our children, it will take considerable effort, resources, time, and patience. We will need time for teachers to collaborate around curriculum, instruction, and assessment and to participate in ongoing professional development. If we desire a high performing school system, we must provide our staff with the means and resources to develop the curriculum and skills necessary to provide our students with the level of challenge and instruction required by high expectations and standards. We will need administrators, curriculum directors, and teacher leaders to support and lead us in our efforts to raise rigor, maintain high standards, and continually improve our teaching and learning. And of course, we will need the financial resources to provide the professional development, the curriculum materials, technology, and staffing that will, in turn, enable our students to successfully master challenging content knowledge and to develop the requisite academic and personal skills for success. Most importantly, we will need the steady support of the community as we work together to achieve our goal to provide our children with the school system they deserve.
In closing, I would like to thank the pubic officials and citizens of Melrose for providing our children with a safe and caring community that is clearly invested in their academic and social emotional well being. I know that together we will achieve our goals.