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Update on Level 5 Schools and Districts: FY2018 Quarter 1 Reports, Southbridge Receiver Search, and Schedule for Receiver Presentations

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
October 13, 2017


This month's memo highlights several aspects of our work with Level 5 schools and districts. I am presenting the first of four FY2018 quarterly progress updates to the Board on the four Level 5 schools' implementation of their school turnaround plans, focusing on activities from July-September 2017. Future quarterly updates for FY2018 will be presented in January 2018 and April 2018, and a final annual review in June 2018.

Each school and district receiver will present to the Board at least once this school year. Included in this memo is a schedule for the presentations. The memo also contains an update on the receiver search for Southbridge Public Schools.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and Ventura Rodriguez, Director of the Office of Strategic Transformation, will join us at the October 24 meeting to answer your questions.

Update on Receiver Search for Southbridge Public Schools

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston has been serving as interim receiver in Southbridge since May 31, 2017, working with staff from the school district and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) to carry out the district turnaround plan.

In August 2017, with support from the non-profit organization Chiefs for Change, DESE engaged Matt Brunell, former President of Nativity School of Worcester, former Chief Operating Officer of Building Excellent Schools, and a professional with experience conducting community-informed school leadership searches. Mr. Brunell was asked to facilitate a community engagement process in the town of Southbridge regarding the qualities and values that the next Receiver/Superintendent for Southbridge Public Schools should embody. He developed a comprehensive plan, in close consultation with the leadership team of Southbridge Public Schools, to solicit feedback about the aspirations of the Southbridge community for the next receiver.

Mr. Brunell engaged with a broad and diverse group of Southbridge community stakeholders, through community convenings, focus groups and surveys. These stakeholders included students, parents/families, educators and staff, and the administrators of Southbridge Public Schools. Mr. Brunell also engaged with the Southbridge School Committee, the Southbridge Education Association, and community members at-large. Upon completion of this community engagement process, Mr. Brunell aggregated, synthesized and distilled the feedback. The emerging trends from this process - alongside other important information (i.e., perceptions from interim leadership) and necessary legal conditions (i.e., from statutory/regulatory requirements) - will form the core competencies of the receiver's job posting.

DESE is currently reviewing the results from the community engagement process. We expect to post the job description by mid-October. The application process will include multiple steps, including an initial resume review, in-person interviews, and completion of performance tasks. Our goal is to select a receiver by late November or early December. However, we remain committed to finding the right individual for the role, even if it means pushing back the selection date.

Level 5 Schools

In the fall of 2013, four schools were designated as chronically underperforming (or Level 5) schools in response to their low performance and lack of improvement while Level 4 schools: John P. Holland Elementary School (UP Academy Holland) and Paul A. Dever Elementary School (Dever) in Boston, Morgan Full Service Community School (Morgan) in Holyoke, and John Avery Parker Elementary School (Parker) in New Bedford. This memorandum provides an update on each school.

Paul A. Dever Elementary School, Boston, MA
Prepared by Superintendent Chang, Receiver


  • August 2017 Professional Development: Dever Elementary School provided 10 full days of summer professional development to new staff and 8 full days of summer professional development to returning staff. The sessions supported the Dever priorities of a) rigorous instruction to accelerate student learning and b) establishing a high expectations, culturally competent school environment. Several sessions supported teachers in preparing to deliver rigorous instruction to accelerate student learning including training for new curricula such as Expeditionary Learning, Focus on Kindergarten, and Investigations 3. Likewise, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) training and cultural competency training run by Wheelock College prepared teachers to implement culturally competent classrooms with high expectations for all students. As a result of almost 70 hours of summer professional development, Dever teachers and staff were positioned to deliver rigorous standards-based instruction within a positive and culturally relevant classroom on the very first day of school.
  • Systems & Structures for Embedded Professional Development: During the first 21 days of school, three systems (Common Planning Time, Teacher Coaching, and the Instructional Leadership Team) have actively supported teachers to execute the Dever priorities of a) improve instructional quality and maximize time for core instruction and b) use data to drive instruction:
    • Common Planning: All grade level teachers, special education sub-separate teachers (TLC program) and ESL teachers (approximately 25 teachers) have participated in weekly common planning time for both math and ELA over the last 4 weeks. These 1-hour sessions (2 hours total per week) provide teachers time to analyze the Common Core Standards of units and lessons being taught, discuss pedagogy, and make instructional decisions based on data.
    • Teacher Coaching: Seven administrators (Principal, 2 Assistant Principals, Literacy Coach, Math Coach, Director of Academics & TLC Strand Coordinator) have observed all 21 self-contained homerooms. Close to half of all specialists and interventionists have been observed. To date, approximately 80 observations with follow-up feedback sessions have been conducted in aggregate by administration (approximately 2 per day).
    • Instructional Leadership Team: The 18-member Instructional Leadership Team has convened 4 meetings in the last 5 weeks and will continue to meet 2 times per month. After working together to identify practices that support rigorous standards-based instruction, student engagement, and reflective practice, the team is now developing their ability to conduct instructional rounds in these focus areas.

As a result of these three embedded professional development systems and structures, the Dever staff begins the year with consistent and predictable mechanisms to develop a shared vision of effective instruction to accelerate student learning outcomes.


  • Although there were steps taken to 1) hire staff with the necessary skills, 2) provide rigorous and appropriate professional development, and 3) provide weekly student case conferencing with TLC staff to put systems in place to meet the unique needs of students with emotional impairment, the sub-separate TLC program still requires much work. Addressing the safety and learning of the approximately 30 students enrolled in the Emotionally Impaired (EI) sub-separate TLC program is a challenge at the start of SY2017-2018. As staff are learning to work with each other as a cohesive team to ensure proactive and appropriate responses to the behavioral needs of our students, student behavior can be disruptive to academic learning. To address this challenge, the Dever staff and Boston Public Schools' Special Education Department have developed a Program Wide Support Plan for antecedent management, effective staff responses, and data collection. Weekly 3-hour Wednesday professional development sessions will be used to train staff on the strategies and approaches of this plan. Further, partnerships with a special education provider and a BPS sister TLC program will provide capacity and best practices to the Dever TLC program staff. This will be the primary focus for key members of the Dever and BPS team for the next 90 days.

UP Academy Holland, Boston, MA
Prepared by UP Education Network, Receiver


  • UP Academy Holland reduced suspension rates by more than 10 percent from the SY2015-2016 to the SY2016-2017. UP Academy Holland's decreased suspension rate ensures that students are in class and accessing grade-level content. The adoption of responsive classroom strategies, Dovetail coping tools, and restorative practices has allowed for this reduction in suspensions. Suspension rates for the 2017-2018 school year continue to be low. Currently, the suspension rate of 1.9 percent is the lowest across UP Education Network and the school is working to further decrease the number of suspensions in SY2017-2018.
  • UP Academy Holland increased reading proficiency overall, and most significantly in grade 2.71 percent of second graders made at least one year of reading growth in SY2016-2017, with 54 percent of those second graders making more than 1 year of reading growth. The second-grade team increased their intellectual preparation time to ensure they were more prepared to deliver rigorous content to their scholars. Additionally, the second-grade team focused on targeted interventions for their most struggling readers, collecting and responding to data frequently to ensure the targeted reading support was being given to students who had the highest need. For SY2017-2018, baseline reading levels for all grades were recently collected and will continue to be monitored frequently throughout the year.
  • UP Academy Holland also significantly improved staff retention rates. The staff retention rate between SY2015-2016 and SY2016-2017 was 58 percent, and the staff retention rate between SY2016-2017 and SY2017-2018 was 76 percent. This increase in retention will create more stability for students and families since staff members will have had more time to build relationships with the school community. Moreover, professional development will be able to build on the lessons from previous years instead of having to start over with a brand new team.


  • UP Academy Holland has struggled with transitions in the beginning of the school year. Five staff members left after school began: three teachers, the school nurse, and an office manager. When teachers and other staff members leave unexpectedly, it creates instability for students and puts a strain on the operations of the school. The UP Education Network talent team is working diligently to fill these positions, and the school team has shifted responsibilities between a few associate teachers to ensure that classrooms remain stable and that operations are running smoothly throughout the school. Currently, the only roles that are still vacant are the nurse position and an associate teacher role (as that teacher filled one of the full-time vacancies). A temporary long-term substitute school nurse has been placed by Boston Public Schools until the nurse position is filled.

Morgan K-8 Full Service Community School, Holyoke, MA
Prepared by Superintendent Zrike, Receiver


  • The Morgan School principal and assistant principal attended one full week of focused leadership training (July 30-August 4) with all Holyoke Public School (HPS) district school supervisors and principals led by Building Excellent Schools in Boston. The purpose of the training was to build leaders' capacity to lead without apology, make no excuses, and lead for excellent results. The week focused specifically on reflection and redefinition of a school mission vision and values; permission to lead with full autonomy; stress testing systems to be fail proof and yield desired conditions for learning; and sweating the important details by practicing and improving. The two Morgan leaders know this was impactful and successful as it gave them the skills, time, and motivation to rethink important components of their leadership and preparation for SY2017-2018 to ensure success for all students. They returned to Holyoke and in a very quick turnaround time worked with their Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) to make critical and significant changes to their previously planned August PD for teachers.
  • Morgan School leaders, including the ILT, planned and carried out six full days of professional learning (August 21-28). The purpose of this work was to prepare teachers to provide students with a safe, orderly, and excellent school culture and high quality instruction starting on the first day of school. All of the work during the six days focused on the development and implementation of school wide systems for arrival, dismissal, and transitions, student achievement data analysis, or content learning and planning with a focus on the Morgan School Instructional Focus (that all Morgan students will analyze complex texts and cite text evidence to explain their thinking and reasoning both orally and in writing.) To ensure student success, instructors will implement common protocols in all content areas. Success will be measured by student performance on district and school based formative and summative assessments throughout the academic year and "Powerful Practice" for SY2017-2018. Evidence of impact of the summer professional learning has been seen in teacher response and feedback, as well as in actionable routines and plans that were in place to welcome Morgan students on August 29.
  • The opening of the year at Morgan School has been strong and purposeful. The focused plans and foundational work emerging from August professional development were implemented with fidelity. Teachers stayed committed to the execution of five-star systems and the Morgan Instructional Focus and Powerful Practice while leaders stayed committed to four full weeks of in-the-moment coaching. School leaders know that this has had an impact as evidenced by a learning walk completed on September 21 with the receiver, the successful implementation of five-star systems as evidenced by a calm and focused school culture acknowledged by the receiver and parents, as well as a well attended School-Wide Open House on September 11 with positive feedback from parents and high level student work at all grade levels posted and displayed.


  • Finding and retaining a highly committed staff able to deliver high quality instruction that will result in accelerated growth and achievement for students at Morgan School remains the biggest challenge for Morgan School leaders. In an effort to be proactive and prepare for SY 2017-2018, Morgan leaders started recruiting early for possible and identified staff openings. From March to May 2017, they attended area job fairs and did on-the-spot interviews with 77 applicants. Additionally, from May to present date, they have interviewed 105 candidates for 10 positions. Despite these efforts, Morgan still had to hire two teachers late in the hiring process when two staff members (middle school math and science teachers) resigned during the summer. Both teachers have been replaced, but the late onboarding is challenging. In total, there are 10 new teachers at Morgan School due to resignations or additional staffing allocation. Morgan leadership is very encouraged by additions to the staff teaching students with disabilities and English learners. They have a strategic plan to support all new teachers while also accelerating the professional growth of all staff. Morgan leaders have made teacher recruitment and outreach a full year priority and work closely with HPS leadership and Human Resources Department who also have leadership pipeline, recruitment, and training as a priority.

John Avery Parker Elementary School, New Bedford, MA
Prepared by Superintendent Durkin, Receiver


  • New Bedford implemented a new summer learning opportunity, in partnership with the YMCA, for Parker students which provided five weeks of full day programming that included academics, enrichment opportunities, and educational field trips. The YMCA, in partnership with Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) approached the district with the Power Scholars Academy model a year ago with data that showed learning increases at programs across the country. The purpose of this program was to keep students engaged in learning and to help mitigate summer learning loss. The school administration believes this has had a significant impact on both student engagement and learning. Twenty-one percent of students in grades 2-5 participated in the program and had at least 80 percent attendance. Students completed the STAR assessment in ELA and Math in the beginning of the program as well as at the end. On average, student scores increased by 21 points in ELA and 5 points in Math. Students returned to school with minimal "summer slide" loss and were ready to learn. Parker will continue tracking the STAR scores of these students throughout the year to see if participation in this summer experience is a factor in higher student achievement.
  • Parker has implemented a wellness curriculum which includes social thinking and zones of regulation. The purpose of the wellness curriculum is to help address the myriad of personal challenges that students bring to school by fostering self-regulation and emotional control. Despite being in the early stages with students only having gone through one cycle, the school administration believes this will have a significant impact on student behavior and student learning. This change in practice is allowing for students to understand their own feelings, the feelings of others, and how to deal with them in a positive way that doesn't impede learning. Parker has hired a full time clinician and a full time School Adjustment Counselor (SAC) who are implementing this curriculum. The SAC meets with tier 1 and low tier 2 students while the clinician meets with the high tier 2 and tier 3 students every day for one week within each four-week cycle. The clinician is a licensed therapist from NorthStar, a community partner, and is working not only with students but their teachers and parents as well.
  • Parker continued to provide a significant amount of targeted professional development to staff prior to the start of the school year to support student success. Staff were trained in the use of Lexia, the new assessment STAR system, and how to use the data to inform both core instruction and student intervention time (PRIDE). Both programs provide significant data that will help inform student goal setting, personalized learning, differentiated instruction, and Response to Intervention groupings. Staff also spent a full day learning and preparing to ensure that their classroom environment supports positive student engagement and social-emotional behavior. With a shift in focus from just teaching, PD is relentlessly focused on planning for learning, building relationships for learning, and establishing a strong climate and culture for learning. Teachers are moving from developing lesson plans to creating learning plans, implementing stand and deliver teaching to facilitating learning, and using data, higher order thinking, and formative assessments to ensure that students are learning at high levels.


  • On-boarding new staff has been a challenge. Parker leadership must dedicate time and resources to bring teachers up to speed on the "Parker way" and the school goals to guide decisions, practices, and curriculum, all guided by the following principles:

    1. Scholars are the primary focus of all decisions and foundation of the school plan,
    2. All members of the school community will share knowledge and problem-solve together, and
    3. Create a safe environment that fosters scholars' self-esteem, confidence, and ability to become lifelong learners.

    In order to instill these principles and address this challenge, the Principal, Manager of Educator Quality, and Instructional Coach designed targeted professional development prior to the start of the school year and developed coaching plans with a cycle of observations and feedback included to ensure continued support.

BESE Level 5 Receiver Written Reports and Presentations Schedule

Below is the schedule for presentations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this year by Level 5 school and district receivers.

Board MeetingWritten Report(s)Receiver In-Person Presentation
OctoberLevel 5 Schools (Q1)

NovemberLawrence Public Schools

Jeff Riley
DecemberSpringfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP)

Chris Gabrieli, Colleen Beaudoin, Julie Albino
JanuaryLevel 5 Schools (Q2)

Dever Elementary School

Tommy Chang
FebruaryHolyoke Public Schools & Morgan Full Service Community School

Steve Zrike
MarchParker Elementary School

Pia Durkin
AprilLevel 5 Schools (Q3)

UP Academy Holland

Veronica Conforme
MayLevel 5 DistrictsJeff Riley
Steve Zrike
Russell Johnston (Interim Receiver)

JuneLevel 5 Schools
(End of Year Reports)


Last Updated: October 16, 2017
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