Superintendent's Corner (Blog)




Superintendent
Dr. Richard Safier
rsafier@
gloucesterschools.com
(978)281-9800




Comments at the 10th-Anniversary Celebration of the Gloucester Education Foundation

posted May 9, 2017, 11:05 AM by Richard Safier

GEF’s 10th-Anniversary Celebration May 5, 2017

 

For the past ten years, the Gloucester Education Foundation has made an enormous contribution in support of the Gloucester Public Schools.  This support has vastly enriched the learning opportunities that we can now provide for our students.  In the areas of literacy, science, art, technology, professional development, grant acquisition, and even the renovation of facilities, GEF has been a proverbial backbone for the innovation and enhancement of programs for students in all grades and at all levels.

 

Support from the Gloucester Education Foundation has been as consistent as it has been tangible. In 2006-7, GHS supported a number of after school enrichment programs, ballroom dancing, school site councils, after-school World Language, math textbooks, and field studies programs. Since then, GEF’s funds have enabled students to explore engineering, science, and technology through such projects as the building of robots (a continuation of that first level of support), and the design and construction of both suspension bridges and wind-powered vehicles.  In music and art, funding has been provided for kilns, photography, elementary music productions, theater lighting, and for a variety of other special projects.  GEF’s support has enabled our elementary students to learn from real-world theater professionals. Soon, we will have completely refurbished music rooms at the middle school.    And, of course, there is the City Arts Festival and the Mad Hot Ball, to name a couple of favorites.

 

In technology, the District now has 3-D printers at both GHS and at O’Maley.  We have a full-fledged, state-of-the-art Digital Photography Lab and an entire Computer Science Program where there was none three years ago.  GEF has also provided support for online resource materials and equipment for high school Chemistry, and for the expanded and experimental teaching of Biotechnology and Genomics in the high school biology program. The list could go on and on.

 

But, I want to mention another aspect to GEF’s support and to your generous support as well. I have recently been reading a book about a philosophy called phenomenology. This philosophy had something to do with my dissertation years ago, and I thought I would revisit the concept. In a few words, phenomenology does not focus on abstract ideas, or concepts, or “isms” (realism, idealism, etc). Rather, it emphasizes the direct examination of real-world objects and their impact on our thinking, and most importantly, it calls for the description, the quality, and the authenticity of direct, lived experience.

 

It is this notion of direct, lived experience that caught my attention in the context of what GEF does for the Gloucester schools. Because, GEF’s support for our students provides the means for direct, lived experience as far as their education goes. The best learning does not just talk about ideas in art, or science, or history. The best learning enhances those discussions by giving students authentic experiences as artists, and as scientists, and as historians. The resources that enable this to happen, like all resources may be finite, but their potential to impact learning and student growth is invaluable.

 

So, for the past ten years, the Gloucester Education Foundation has collaborated with and supported the District’s efforts to fulfill its mission and to implement strategies for achieving that mission.  And GEF continues to build and grow support for the Gloucester Public Schools.  Through our common goals, GEF and the District, together, are creating a culture of excellence.  We thank them for all of their efforts. The District is, to say the least, grateful.

 

Comments on "13 Reasons Why"

posted May 9, 2017, 10:59 AM by Richard Safier

Gloucester Public Schools

Our mission is for all students to be successful, engaged, lifelong learners

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Richard Safier, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

2 Blackburn Drive

Gloucester, MA  01930

Phone:  (978) 281-9800/Fax:  (978) 281-9899

Email:  rsafier@gloucesterschools.com

 

RE: Comments on 13 Reasons Why


May 5, 2017

 

Dear Gloucester Families,

 

Supporting the social and emotional health of our students is an important aspect of the work of the Gloucester Public Schools. As part of this work, when necessary, we reach out to families to make them aware of issues that may be of concern. We write to you today to make sure that you are aware of the new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, which is raising concerns from suicide prevention experts about the potential risks posed by its sensationalized treatment of youth suicide. 

13 Reasons Why is the story of a high school student who commits suicide, leaving behind thirteen tapes which detail the reasons behind her taking her own life. The series deals with challenging issues including bullying, cyberbullying, depression, and abuse.  The series also contains graphic scenes of sexual assault, rape, and suicide.  

 

I am writing to you today to make sure that you are aware of the show.  Teenage suicide is an extremely difficult topic that both students and adults struggle to understand and process.  We encourage you to consider the following:

 

·      Ask your child if they have watched the show or discussed the show with peers who have watched it;

·      If your child has already watched or discussed the show, we encourage you to discuss the show with them;

·      If your child has not yet watched the show but asks to view it, we encourage you to watch it with them or preview it prior to their watching.  

 

Our service providers—counselors, nurses, social workers, and health and physical education teachers—are aware of the impact of this show and they are prepared to provide any support you may need. We will be discussing the film’s potential silent impact, and will keep that potential in the forefront when working with our students. If you have a concern or question, we encourage you to work closely with the school counseling team at your child’s school.

 

Below are several links which provide additional resources to support conversations with your child about this series.


National Association of School Psychologists (background)

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/preventing-youth-suicide/13-reasons-why-netflix-series-considerations-for-educators

 

Jed Foundation (issues raised)

https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-jed-point-view/

 

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (talking points)

https://www.save.org/13-reasons-why/

 

Sincerely,

Richard Safier

 

A Word About the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College or Career (PARCC)

posted Mar 31, 2015, 6:16 AM by Tylor Marquis   [ updated Mar 31, 2015, 6:16 AM ]

As parents know, we have begun PARCC testing in our elementary schools and in the middle school. High School students are taking the MCAS exam, as that is still the requirement for “competency determination”, i.e., passing the MCAS exam as a graduation requirement.

Recently, some parents have expressed concerns about the new PARCC exam. These concerns include the amount of testing with PARCC, whether PARCC is age or developmentally appropriate for students, the extent of stress placed upon students in testing situations, the imposition of state or even federal requirements upon local districts, and of course, a longstanding question of the effectiveness of standardized testing as a comprehensive measure of the work being done in schools.

These concerns are not unfounded and it remains to be seen what the future will bring regarding standardized testing in Massachusetts. As I expect, everyone understands that such testing is mandated; school districts are required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the State of Massachusetts to administer standardized testing. MCAS, of course, has been the

“standard” since the early 2000’s. With the advent of the Common Core Standards, however, and its pointed emphasis on what are referred to as “cognitively complex skills”, also known as higher order thinking skills, states across the U.S. that have chosen to adopt those standards have implemented a test that is intended to reflect the nature of those standards (PARCC, Smarter Balanced Assessment, e.g.).

One way of viewing the PARCC exam is to see it as a means for aligning our curriculum and instruction with the state-adopted Common Core Standards. It was Stephen Covey in The Seven Traits of Highly Effective People who once wrote about “beginning with the end in mind.” What that means, educationally, is for educators to begin their deliberations about teaching with the type(s) of assessments that indicate what students should know and be able to do. Having the end in mind, the assessment, educators work “backwards” from the assessment, to a review of the Standards, then on to an alignment of our curriculum, and finally toward an ongoing understanding of how instruction will best prepare students to demonstrate that learning. It is like teaching a child to drive. We know that she/he will have to demonstrate how to do a three-point turn, parallel park, etc., so those types of maneuvers are what we teach them.

With this kind of backward design, “teaching to the test” makes sense. With the Common Core Standards, the goals have to do with sophisticated ways of thinking, of problem solving, and of analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information (putting it all together). In this context, ‘teaching to the test” becomes a constructive strategy, not a confining restriction. And, teachers’ capacity to continually create how to teach such thinking skills is reinforced.

I am not writing, however, to either advocate for or to speak against the PARCC exam. Last spring, school districts were given the option of administering MCAS or PARCC this year. In the fall of 2015, the state Board of Education will be voting to determine whether to formally adopt PARCC. On more than one occasion, I have heard the state Commissioner of Education indicate that in the future Massachusetts will either go with PARCC or the MCAS will be revised over the course of two years into an exam that assesses the same skills as the PARCC exam. Faced with those alternatives, and with the understanding that we are mandated to administer one exam or the other, it seemed logical for the district to begin to understand what the new assessment calls for and to consider how to best address those challenges in the classroom. That is why we asked the School Committee to approve the PARCC exam last spring.

Should the public have questions about PARCC, those questions should be directed to the DESE and to our political representatives. The state Board of Education will be holding public hearings across the state between the end of the administration of PARCC and the anticipated vote in the fall. We will certainly be in a position to give our point of view once we have given the exam and will do so. Whether individuals agree with PARCC or disagree with its implementation, I encourage them to let their representatives know, and to let the state Board of Education know as well.

As always, I thank parents, teachers, and staff for their advocacy of our children’s best interests and well-being. We certainly share those concerns.

For more on PARCC go to Superintendent’s Corner, Episode S3EP3.

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