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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Level 5 Schools Update

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
April 13, 2018

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.

In addition, at the meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) on April 24, Veronica Conforme, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of UP Education Network, will provide an update on UP Academy Holland (UAH), one of the four Level 5 schools. The presentation will focus on progress in the school priority areas including family engagement, growth and development of staff, a culture of high expectations, and effective instruction.

Level 5 Schools Quarter 3 Updates

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


  • Dever has strengthened its school climate. Bus referrals (bus misconduct write-ups) and school suspensions have significantly declined from SY16-17 to SY17-18. By February 2018, bus referrals have been cut by more than half (258 compared to 531) and there are 45 fewer suspensions than last year (19 compared to 64) at this time. This improvement allows students to focus on learning. The Dever leadership team identifies positive student bus behavior incentives and hiring additional bus monitors as key components to this improvement. The decrease in suspensions is attributable to Tier 1 staff training and behavior support.
  • As Dever approaches the 130th day of school, the Instructional Leadership Team's (ILT) growth and future trajectory is one highlight of the embedded professional development provided at the school. As shared in Quarter 2, the ILT meets twice per month, focusing mainly on how to conduct instructional rounds with the ultimate goal of improving instruction across the school. To further develop and practice the skill of examining instruction and school culture, the Instructional Leadership Team has visited two neighboring schools during the winter of 2018. As a result of the positive feedback from ILT members on these learning experiences, two more school visits are scheduled this spring to schools in Boston and Lowell. Further, to deepen the work and build the trust and capacity necessary to conduct instructional rounds at the school, the Dever is partnering with Jill Harrison Berg of Teachers21 in ILT sessions throughout the rest of this school year, during summer 2018, and in fall 2018 to deepen and expand teacher leadership. A summer ILT retreat will share leadership by including teachers in crafting SY18-19 instructional priorities, develop teacher ability to facilitate grade level meetings, and lead to a team-selected problem of practice for instructional rounds.


  • Dever continues to build staff efficacy and sustainability. The Dever staff demographic is significantly younger, less experienced, and more transient than staff at other Boston Public Schools. Of the 37 teachers, 50 percent are under the age of 30, while in the district as a whole 15 percent are under the age of 30. Similarly, 50 percent of Dever teachers are classified as Provisional 1 because they are first-year teachers or are teaching for the first time in Boston, five times greater than the district average (10 percent). About 60 percent of the staff have been retained, while 80 percent are retained on average by other district schools.
  • Since teacher quality is a top predictor of student achievement, it is imperative for the Dever to continue taking steps towards building a more effective teaching staff. During late fall and winter, Dever leadership collected feedback from staff on how to sustain and retain effective teachers. This feedback came through 1-on-1 conversations and a whole-staff reflection meeting. Compensation for the long hours and extended school year came up as a concern. One positive step in February 2018 was the commitment to increase pay for Dever teachers.
  • Staff also shared the need for more student assemblies and incentives for students making positive choices. The Dever has partnered with Young Audiences of Massachusetts, which connects schools to a variety of local performers and activities including dance, music, theater, and anti-bullying. Illstyle performed at the Dever to commemorate Black History Month and Grooversity is scheduled for an April performance. Value Vouchers began in January 2018 to reward students school-wide for demonstrating Dever school values.
  • Dever staff express support for continued professional development and the ILT has particularly enjoyed visiting other schools. The Dever leadership team will aim to collect more detailed feedback from staff in spring 2018 on desired SY18-19 training that aligns with professional and school-wide goals. Planning remains to be done on systems-level steps that may allow for a more balanced staff demographic and for predictable pathways for staff to provide feedback to leadership.

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


  • UP Academy Holland (UAH) has been working to decrease its student exclusions through better meeting student needs. UP Academy Holland has decreased out-of-class referral numbers by almost half since December 2017. The decreased referral rate means that more students are spending more time in classrooms. The school team attributes this decrease to the use of a new data analysis protocol. UP Academy Holland staff regularly look at culture data to pinpoint times during the day that different grade levels and students need additional support, and then use that analysis to better allocate resources and assistance. The team also analyzes the data by "type" of referral to give targeted support. To ensure referral numbers continue to decrease, the team will continue to do this targeted data analysis and allocate resources to meet additional student need, as well as continue to support teachers and build their toolbox to better address students' needs.
  • The fourth-grade team at UAH has increased the percentage of students projected to meet expectations on MCAS between each benchmark assessment data analysis cycle. Fourth grade proficiency has historically been low since the school's first year in receivership, so seeing this increase is a large success. The team has a new manager this year who is focused on goal-setting, data analysis, and strong follow-up. Additionally, the team consistently reviews student work together. The school will continue to focus on analyzing student work as a means for determining progress and next steps.
  • At UP Academy Holland, 70 percent of teachers are working on Group Two outcomes on the Teacher Pathway at this point in the year. When teachers are at this level on the pathway, it is a strong indicator that student learning is happening within their classrooms. At the same point last year, UAH had fewer teachers working on Group Two outcomes, which led to poor student culture and low student proficiency rates. This year, UAH leadership has deliberately planned professional development that is aligned to this section of the Teaching Pathway. Professional development has focused on high quality instruction and engaged culture. This professional development, coupled with targeted instructional walkthroughs and individual coaching sessions, is showing evidence of a greater impact on student learning. The school team will continue to focus professional development on improving these skills in teachers to increase high quality instruction in all of our classrooms.


  • Early literacy has been a focus at UAH this year; however, first grade formative assessment data indicates that the team is not on track to meet their end-of-year goals, and approximately 50 percent of first-grade scholars are reading behind grade level. This is a challenge because students are not yet ready to engage with second grade content due in part to the selected phonics program (Fundations) and a group of teachers that struggle to implement appropriate intervention and remediation. To mitigate this challenge the following steps have been implemented:
    • The Dean of Curriculum and Instruction (DCI) for the early grades is revising teacher lesson plans.
    • Staff conducted a words-their-way spelling inventory for all Kindergarten students and began differentiated word study groups to target student growth areas.
    • The UP Academy Holland reading interventionist is now working with 18 children in first grade for an additional word study intervention.
    • The Dean of Curriculum and Instruction is co-teaching word study with the teacher most in need of support.
    • The principal is working with the six lowest performing students in the first grade three times a week and she is providing them with intervention.

    The school team dug deep into data to uncover gaps and concerns earlier in the year, and analyzed the phonics program to determine its effectiveness. Based on this data analysis, the team is doing a focused intervention plan for first grade teachers that includes data conversations, aggressive progress monitoring, tutoring from leadership team members, and support from the reading interventionist. In addition, significant funds have been allocated in the budget for next year to implement a new phonics program, including funding to train all teachers on this program.

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


  • In response to formative student achievement data and results of regular classroom observations, Morgan leadership has developed an intense focus on the math cohort in grades 3–8. This is aligned to their instructional work on "cognitive sweat," ensuring that students are engaged in rigorous student tasks, and that there is a system in place to support teachers and monitor progress. As a result, Morgan leadership has done the following since January 2018:
    • After-school math tutoring (2 days a week) began in grades 4 and 7–8; grade 6 was added in late February. Approximately 41 Morgan students attend regularly.
    • The Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) conducted a deep data analysis of the STAR mid-year math results to identify areas of need and develop action steps. Math teachers in grades 3–8 created weekly assessments to target the standard or skill being taught. Teachers recorded their results into a weekly tracker to be used for ongoing analysis.
    • Teachers began creating two planning calendars, one for the standards and skills being taught and the second as a review of priority standards by grade.
    • Most recently, Morgan leaders worked with their Building Excellent Schools (BES) coach to analyze student work on weekly math assessments developed by teachers. They developed and modeled a protocol to describe and identify what skills and strategies students had mastered and what needed further instruction/attention. As a result of that work, Morgan leaders began working with teachers during collaborative time to use this same protocol to inform planning and intervention. Additionally, teachers are developing exemplars of student work and problem solving as part of the planning process to provide a model and accelerate progress on grade level tasks.
  • Morgan leadership has identified continued growth in shared leadership and ownership of student outcomes since January. Instructional Leadership Team members are planning and facilitating all weekly cohort (pre-K–2, grade 3–8 Math, and grade 3–8 ELA) planning meetings. Discussion and coordination of these meetings takes place at the formal ILT meetings to inform grade level leaders' next steps for implementation with teams. The Morgan principal and assistant principal monitor progress and provide feedback based on agendas and notes. They no longer regularly lead all cohort meetings.
  • Morgan leaders and teachers are regularly using videotaping as a standard practice to improve delivery of instruction and outcomes for students. This started with the math cohort described above and the ILT led the expansion across the school. All teachers have been videotaped at least three times and teacher teams, cohorts, and pairs use the videos to look critically at levels of student task and engagement, teacher moves, and best practices. This marks a significant shift of mindset on practice and has provided a real- time feedback loop, and a schoolwide shift to improved student discourse and student-led discussions.
  • Morgan students in grades pre-K through 1 made gains on the middle of the year STAR Early Literacy assessment. Since the beginning of the year, the percent of Morgan students scoring at or above the 50th percentile has increased 29 percentage points (from 44 percent to 73 percent). In terms of student growth, 58 percent of the students in these grades scored at or above 50 SGP.


  • Morgan leaders continue to maneuver and strategize around staffing challenges and gaps. 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. Recruitment efforts have begun for SY18-19.

John Avery Parker Elementary School, New Bedford, MA
Prepared by Superintendent Durkin
(Reference April 5, 2018 announcement of new receiver beginning SY18-19)


  • Following the re-set around social emotional learning that occurred in November 2017, an area that was a challenge last quarter has become a success. As part of this re-set, the staff participated in two sessions of professional development around social emotional learning, specifically, a review of Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS), the Zones of Regulation, behavioral interventions, and the use of data. The School Adjustment Counselor (SAC) took the tiered behavior guidelines that staff previously developed as part of PBIS and created a behavior and consequence reference guide. This gave teachers a reference tool that would also reinforce consistency across behaviors and across the building.
  • Several behavioral interventions have been put into place. The school implemented mindfulness within grades 3, 4, and 5, and brought in a consultant to do the initial training for students and staff. The school reorganized the Wellness class to be taught by the SAC, within the regular classroom space, and the teacher is always present. This ensures that the teachers are exposed to the curriculum while the SAC engages the teacher within the lesson and incorporates the Zones of Regulation. Parker also implemented detentions as a consequence and developed a detention protocol guideline as well as a recovery protocol. The SAC holds open consultation time for teachers and staff in order to support them with any challenges they may have in implementing these refreshed protocols. These adjustments through the re-set have resulted in a 64 percent decrease in significant student behavior incidents since the beginning of the school year.
  • Parker continues to spend a significant amount of time on targeted and differentiated professional development as a result of reviewing and analyzing data. Teachers continue the practice of planning for learning by ensuring that their lessons align with the necessary standards. The STAR assessment benchmark and progress monitoring data shows that this shift continues to have 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 middle of year. The expectation, at this point, would be to see at least a 50 point scaled score point increase. Parker students in grades 3–5 demonstrated an average 70 scaled score point increase.
    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 50 point increase, Parker students showed an average increase of 81.5 points.
  • Family engagement has been steadily increasing this year with increased school participation. Five parents are regularly attending the School Council meetings. These parents have taken on the task of ensuring that the turnaround priorities are front and center and that the family engagement activities are tied to learning. Parker has been working to provide opportunities for families during the day as well as outside of school for them to participate in their child's educational success. These opportunities include: Coffee with the Principal, STAR data assembly, bring your parent to Gym class, a Research Fair, a Parent Academic Workshop, and Bingo for Books. In February, 61 families attended a research fair and in March, 67 families attended Bingo for Books.


  • Despite students showing marked gains in both math and ELA, students are struggling to meet proficiency levels, particularly in math. The administration did not see significant change in the six weeks between data meetings with teachers and, as a result, has made some modifications to practice. The Principal and Manager of Educator Quality will continue to tier professional development, coaching, and supervision for staff to ensure that this resource is best meeting the needs of all teachers as well as with individual teachers. They are conducting an audit of math lessons, through observations, during both math core and PRIDE time. Following the observations and during conferencing, they are conducting lesson studies with teachers to see what really worked and what did not. This protocol involves teachers observing an exemplary teacher with an administrator, taking notes during the observation using a template and guided questions, and debriefing together following the observation. The teachers then determine what their "take-aways and best practices" are from the lesson which they will then adapt during their own planning for student learning. Teachers will then co-plan a lesson together before observing each other teaching these lessons and debrief to discuss implementation of best practices, feedback and recommendations. The teacher who had the highest growth has been working with teachers during Teacher Collaboration Time to share her best practices. The teachers have developed a very strong collaboration in which they are working together and sharing and implementing strategies that have been successful in their classrooms.

Last Updated: April 17, 2018
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