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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Level 5 Schools

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
November 14, 2014


This memo provides an update about our work with the four Level 5 schools - Dever Elementary School and Holland Elementary School in Boston; Morgan Full Service Community School in Holyoke; and John Avery Parker Elementary School in New Bedford - since our October meeting. This month I am reporting on:

  • My visits to the four schools;
  • The Professional Learning Community for these schools; and
  • The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (ESE's) infrastructure to support and monitor progress in the Level 5 schools.

Next month, at the December 16 Board meeting, I will provide you with the second Quarterly Report on Level 5 Schools.

My Visits to the Level 5 Schools

In October and early November, I visited each of the four Level 5 Schools, and was joined by Board member Mary Ann Stewart for the Dever visit. At each school, I met with the leadership team to hear about early successes and challenges being addressed. Afterward, we observed classrooms and then met with teachers to discuss a variety of issues related to the turnaround process, including what attracted the teachers to apply for positions at each school. Finally, at each school we met with parents to hear their perspectives on the changes associated with the school being in Level 5 status. Throughout each visit, we kept notes on the improvements and specific issues where we can improve further.

While each school is unique, I saw clear themes across the four visits:

  • I witnessed emerging cultures of high expectations and positive relationships among and between teachers and students. Students were engaged with new, rigorous curriculum materials and I saw many creative teaching strategies and supports tailored to students' learning needs. While many students started the school year behind grade level, only two months into the new school year they were demonstrating real progress.
  • Teachers were excited to join the Level 5 school teams. While they knew the work would be challenging, when asked why they chose to apply for their new positions, they expressed that they wanted a role in creating a new school with rigorous expectations, and they wanted to do this in a team of like-minded colleagues. They also appreciate having autonomy to develop educational strategies for their classrooms, while being supported by their colleagues and the leadership team.
  • Parents have noticed changes in the schools, and especially in their children. On each visit, I heard parents report new student excitement about school and the things they are learning. Parents appreciated communication from each school's family liaison and their children's individual teachers.

I left each visit inspired by the commitment educators have made at the Level 5 schools, and especially by the progress I am seeing so early in the school year. I will be visiting the schools again in the spring to gauge their progress towards the end of the first year in Level 5 status.

Professional Learning Community for Level 5 Schools

Beginning in September 2014, DESE's Center for Accountability, Partnership and Targeted Assistance has been convening a monthly Professional Learning Community (PLC) for the three Level 5 school receivers and Superintendent Durkin. Depending on the topics covered, other staff members from the school teams and network/district offices are invited to participate as well. This PLC forum provides an opportunity for Level 5 school teams to discuss best practices, share tools, and confer over common challenges. DESE also uses these meetings to share information with receivers and the superintendent.

In November we will hold the third Level 5 Schools PLC, covering the topics of Level 5 monitoring and setting new behavioral expectations in a restarted school. Past PLC topics have included educator evaluation, district determined measures (DDMs), legal updates, and emergency protocols. The participants and DESE collaborate in setting the agendas for these meetings. In between PLC meetings and depending on individual school teams' requests, there has also been ad hoc convenings of Level 5 schools on specific topics.

DESE Infrastructure to Support Level 5 Schools

In order to effectively manage and support implementation of the four Level 5 schools' turnaround plans, DESE has assembled a team within the Center for Accountability, Partnership and Targeted Assistance to lead the work. Under the leadership of Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston, six staff members lead various functions of Level 5 school support, including technical assistance, turnaround plan implementation, support, and oversight; data analysis; turnaround operator pipeline development and support; labor relations; direct implementation support to Level 5 school leaders; and progress monitoring.

Senior Associate Russell Johnston and other members of our staff will be at the November 25 Board meeting to answer your questions.

Last Updated: November 19, 2014
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