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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Level 5 District and School Update

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
February 16, 2018


Level 5 Districts

Dr. Jeffrey Villar began his service as receiver of the Southbridge Public Schools on February 12, 2018. Dr. Villar and Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston will provide the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) with an update on progress in the district at the February 27th Board meeting.

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


  • The Dever has made a significant and consistent investment in teachers across the last five months. Since August, teachers received 70 hours of professional development as well as 15 weeks of weekly three-hour professional development. The weekly professional development sessions focus on school priorities to accelerate student learning such as targeted instruction, cultural competency, school climate, data-driven instruction, and student language development. Furthermore, 21 homeroom teachers have received at least one observation and feedback session a week in either ELA or Math. This strategic support of teaching and learning may be a factor in the upward achievement trend demonstrated by students on our first interim assessment (A1) for grades 2–5 in ELA and Math as compared to A1 in SY16. In Math, all four grade levels demonstrated 8–13 percent more proficiency than last year at this time. In ELA, three grade levels demonstrated 8–19 percent more proficiency while one grade level remained the same. We are eager to see the results of our December and January second interim assessment.
  • Dever's 18-member Instructional Leadership Team has continued to meet two times per month with a focus on how to conduct instructional rounds. This will allow Dever teachers to visit each other's classrooms in order to better define an instructional vision and to improve instructional practices through collaboration. Immediately following winter break, the team will conduct an instructional round at a neighboring school to further hone this skill before launching instructional rounds at the Dever in late winter.
  • Noted as a Challenge in October 2017, the Therapeutic Learning Community (TLC) program has taken several steps in the last two months to better serve students. First, Assistant Principal (AP) Reardon was assigned to support the program on a full-time basis. In collaboration with the strand coordinator, AP Reardon developed and began implementation of a TLC Stabilization Plan to define staff protocols to ensure student safety and learning. Boston Public Schools' Special Education Department has devoted a full-time special education academic specialist to partner with the team around instructional best practices and inclusion. During weekly professional development sessions in October, all TLC staff were trained in Safety-Care Behavioral Safety Training to prevent and minimize behavioral challenges through reinforcement, de-escalation strategies and cohesive, program-wide practices. In Week 2 of the stabilization plan, TLC staff started a daily morning meeting before the arrival of students, a safe bus ride incentive plan for students, a "check-in" procedure for each TLC student, and Technology Monday for TLC students. Data collection and analysis focus on the top two program challenges (number of incidents and time out of class) which helps the TLC staff and Wediko Children's Services provide more in depth case conferencing and informed decision making on adjustments that benefit students. Student data reveals the need to continue developing and supporting TLC staff and students but the recent adjustments position the program to continue making improvements and gains.


  • Despite funding for a full-time reading interventionist and additional ESL teacher, no qualified candidates have been hired, even with the support of Boston Public Schools'(BPS) Office of Human Capital. This impacts our ability to provide targeted instruction for our lowest readers and for our approximately 200 English Learners. The funding for the reading interventionist position has now been allocated to a position for a cluster substitute in the hopes of attracting a candidate that our literacy coach (former reading interventionist) can train to provide targeted instruction. We are working with the Office of Human Capital and other area schools to see if there are part-time ESL teachers in BPS who may be interested in a part-time role at the Dever. While we aimed for a full time ESL teacher, even a part-time teacher will improve our ESL services. Further, we are working to determine ways to sustain staff after 50 percent of the instructional staff departed last year and as we notice staff absenteeism on the rise this winter. It may be necessary to rotate dismissal duties or leverage partnerships to creatively maintain the teaching staff that have received significant hours of professional development. By early winter, we will generate a plan of action for possible short- and long- term solutions to address staff sustainability.

UP Academy Holland, Boston, MA

Prepared by UP Education Network, Receiver


  • UP Academy Holland (UAH) has seen success in ensuring that all students are increasing their cognitive load and are doing the vast majority of thinking in each of their academic classes. UAH refers to this practice as "brains on," and evidence of this practice has been seen within academic blocks and throughout the school during classroom observations. UAH has focused on increasing the cognitive load for students by prioritizing high ratio instruction, one of the indicators on the UP Teaching Pathway, during weekly professional development and focused observations and coaching meetings. UAH will continue to improve this practice using observational rounds, and is beginning a professional development cycle on the habits of discussion.
  • UP Academy Holland has successfully engaged teachers and increased the use of teacher voice in school-wide decision making. UAH has effectively implemented an adult culture working group where teachers bring potential challenges to the working group and discuss system improvements with the UAH leadership team. The working group has engaged in problem-solving discussions around evaluations and staff sustainability. Additionally, teacher voice has been elevated through UP Education Network's Dean Fellows teacher leadership program, which is based upon the idea of distributed leadership. It is UAH's belief that the elevation of teacher voice will result in a higher rate of teacher retention for the 2018-2019 school year.
  • UP Academy Holland has successfully navigated staff turnover throughout this school year. UAH recognizes it is always a challenge to have mid-year staff turnover; however, UAH has filled several mid-year vacancies in a timely manner with qualified staff members. The average length of these vacancies is 32 calendar days, which UAH will always look to improve. The leadership team has effectively problem-solved to ensure that each staff transition does not have a detrimental effect on student learning or the overall student climate.


  • In order to improve the phonics program, UAH is currently performing a phonics audit, looking at the quality of content and instruction across grade levels. With this audit information, the UAH team will determine a plan of action for the rest of the school year, starting in early January. In the longer term, the UAH team is looking to research new curriculum to be implemented in the 2018-2019 school year.

Morgan K-8 Full Service Community School, Holyoke, MA

Prepared by Superintendent Zrike


  • Morgan leaders have worked in a very intentional and strategic way to improve math instruction and outcomes. The grades 3–8 Math cohort has engaged in four deliberate and structured rounds of collaborative professional learning focused on planning rigorous grade level tasks, differentiating and scaffolding instruction, and analyzing the completed student tasks to inform next steps. The work has included:
    • planning and modeling lessons in front of colleagues to receive live feedback and make adjustments,
    • videotaping the portion of the lesson when the work is released to the students and receiving collaborative feedback,
    • planning tasks and lessons collaboratively using a Student Need Action Plan (SNAP) to accommodate an English Learner at Level 1, a student with disabilities, a proficient student, and/or an advanced student,
    • looking at the completed student work through the lens of the collaborative planning and the lesson delivery in the videotape.
  • In alignment with their focus on "cognitive sweat" and professional learning with Building Excellent Schools (BES), Morgan leadership lead and implement the practice of "aggressive student monitoring" in all classrooms. It is the practice of letting students know what they are doing well as well as pushing and extending their thinking both orally and in writing. Morgan leaders practiced doing it with other leaders during BES training, then Morgan leaders modeled it for teachers, and then monitored teachers using the practice daily for six weeks providing school-wide and individual feedback. It was a high leverage strategy to advance the professional learning of the teachers aligned to the school focus.
  • Morgan leaders have been intentional about increasing the capacity and impact of coaching and collaborative feedback to improve student outcomes. This has been particularly helpful and timely as the instructional coaches have needed to assume some regular classroom teaching duties to fill staffing gaps. Leaders have paired two experienced teachers who have demonstrated success in improving student outcomes with two teachers who need instructional improvement. Each developing teacher observed the proficient teacher for two days using a tracker and debriefed at the end of the day with the assistant principal. The pairs planned lessons together. The proficient teacher then spent two full days modeling, observing, and supporting the developing teacher in their classrooms. Feedback and debriefing followed. The pairings continue for ongoing support and improvement.


  • Morgan leaders continue to maneuver and strategize around staffing challenges and gaps, especially in the school's middle grades. In each case, Morgan leadership has made the best decision they could to ensure that all students continue to receive high quality instruction daily with as little negative impact as possible. While they recognize that other areas such as coaching and professional learning are impacted, daily student instruction remains the priority while leaders explore hiring new teachers. They have also been creative filling in the gaps in other areas by tapping expertise of teachers other than the coaches.

John Avery Parker Elementary School, New Bedford, MA

Prepared by Superintendent Durkin


  • In October, the principal notified Dr. Durkin that she would be leaving the district at the end of the month. Parker was fortunate to have Sandra Ford, the school's former Manager of Educator Quality, seamlessly assume the role of principal at the end of October. In addition, the school's Teaching & Learning Specialist stepped into the role of Manager of Educator Quality. Their experience and expertise has helped ensure that not only does the teaching and learning continue, but the school has also established a more focused Teacher Collaboration Time (TCT) that is based on teacher observations, writing audits, student work sample evidence, and data. As a result, teachers have a more guided focus on teaching and learning directly grounded in feedback and student data.
  • Parker spent a significant amount of time in Quarter 1 on targeted and differentiated professional development and on-boarding of new staff. A good portion of this professional development, and the subsequent redesign and refocus of TCT, is grounded in reviewing and analyzing data. Knowing that having data is only part of the picture, the teachers also spent time on shifting the focus from just teaching to planning for learning. The STAR assessment benchmark and progress monitoring data shows that this shift has had a positive effect on student learning.
    1. Teachers have seen academic growth in math in all classrooms for grades 2–5 based on the STAR assessment from beginning of year to November progress monitoring. The expectation, at this point, would be to see at least a 25-point scaled score point increase and a Grade Equivalency increase of 3 months. Parker students in grades 3–5 demonstrated an average 35.8 scaled score point increase and an average grade equivalency increase of 4 months.
    2. In English Language Arts, there has been an average scaled score point increase across all classrooms in grades 2–5. While the expectation would be to see at least a 25-point increase, Parker students showed an average increase of 30 points.
  • Following up on the summer learning experience, Parker students who participated in the Power Scholars Academy program over the summer showed a significant increase in STAR assessments. Students participated in five weeks of programming that included ELA and math instruction, enrichments such as swimming, robotics, and rock climbing, and they went on weekly educational field trips to the zoo and several museums. Students took a pre-program assessment and a post-program assessment using STAR. Students were also assessed on STAR in the beginning of the year. Over the five weeks, the expected average score increase would be about 15 points. Using the summer pre-assessment and the Beginning of the Year assessment, these students averaged an increase of 67 points in ELA and 72 points in Math. Not only does this demonstrate growth during the summer program, but students did not lose what they learned when they returned to school.


  • Despite the implementation of a wellness curriculum that included social thinking and zones of regulation, student behavior escalated, resulting in three times the suspensions in October than there were in September. In order to address this, the new leadership held a reset meeting in the beginning of November. Staff analyzed office referral and anecdotal data and determined that behavior seemed to occur during recess and continue back inside the school after recess ended. The staff is looking into implementing a PlayWorks-type model where recess is facilitated and used to develop team building. Additionally, as well as having follow-up training on implementing the zones of regulation, the school is creating a timeout space and a reset room to help better manage student behavior.

Last Updated: February 20, 2018
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