Literacy Assessment Underway in ORR Schools

            The timing of the wind-down of the local elementary schools’ two-year improvement plans and the Old Rochester Regional School District’s Vision 2023 plan with the emergence of a new, outsourced, literacy-assessment program is music to the ears of the Mattapoisett School Committee.

            Darci Burns, PhD and Executive Director of Hill for Literacy, Inc., attended Monday night’s committee meeting remotely in order to run through a slide presentation of the program that Hill began in the fall with an information-gathering phase.

            In answer to a question from Mattapoisett School Committee Chairperson Carly Lavin, ORR Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Shari Fedorowicz said the program’s timeline is three to five years.

            “We’re actually progressing very well,” said Fedorowicz, having established the fact-finding end of the program with Burns through June so that teachers will have specific direction to enact with the 2023-24 academic year. Thus far, she said, 38 teachers across the district will participate in what was described as working simultaneously but diving deeper into Tiers 2 and 3.

            Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson described Hill as “one of the most incredible consulting groups we’ve worked with,” providing the district with a guiding document that sets the stage for the rest of the school year. “The timing couldn’t be better.”

            ORR’s postpandemic focus has been on instruction at the elementary-school level, especially on literacy.

            After gathering information from the last five years, conducting focus groups and looking over the district’s Acceleration Roadmap survey in which constituents rated their own schools, Hill made classroom visits to see literacy in action.

            Initial findings indicated to Hill that ORR District schools demonstrate the need for a consistent oral language assessment across all grade levels and asserts that the district has more resources for Tier I (core) programming than it does for Tier II (supplemental) and III (intervention.)

            “The real goal is to have everyone working toward the same literacy goals and action steps,” said Burns in her presentation, recommending a “distributed leadership” model in which a team develops and monitors a literacy plan with action steps and timelines (already in process.)

            School-based leadership teams should align to the district-wide plan, which will require the review of master schedules and ensure equitable access to core instruction.

            A review of survey results will determine which practices are evidence-based and work to continue those with clear implementation plans and pacing guides. Burns encourages ORR to use people’s time to maximize intervention.

            The program will cultivate and support a team of teacher leaders to translate research into practice and identify gaps and redundancies.

            The program includes a measurement of effectiveness of instruction five times per year. Family engagement will play a significant role as the program communicates vision, mission and the literacy plan via various methods and creates and defines literacy reports for the interpretation of scores.

            In her Chairperson’s Report, Lavin used the moment to celebrate Hill’s involvement, saying the program will, “accentuate the amazing staff we have here … putting additional tools in their hands. It’s really exciting. To me, it’s a big win.”

            Lavin hinted at another big win potentially forthcoming to the schools, for the first time using the word “exciting” in referring to the imminent draft report due from the UMass Boston Collins Center’s study on Mattapoisett’s town-owned buildings.

            Featuring, but not limited to a study on the town’s potential for school consolidation, Nelson indicated that Collins’ draft report is anticipated this week or next.

            No action from the committee was required, but Lavin asked the membership to attend the March 20 meeting.

            The committee voted to affirm Nelson’s recommendation that in keeping with the legal requirement to respond within 14 days to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Mattapoisett resident Kathleen LeClair, the committee delegate the responsibility of that response to legal counsel as contracted by the superintendent.

            LeClair filed three Open Meeting Law complaints against the Mattapoisett School Committee this month, one of those directed at the committee’s accepting of book donations to the public schools without a vote. Two other complaints were filed in regard to equity policy subcommittees, according to Nelson’s remarks.

            Committee member Amanda Hastings noted that the committee’s library policy was amended on January 19 and asked if the committee’s policies are retroactive to cover prior dates. Nelson said he would share that information with legal counsel and ask counsel to take a position.

            Nelson reported that the School Committee’s Budget Subcommittee has endorsed the FY24 preliminary budget that has been submitted for feedback from Mattapoisett Town Administrator Mike Lorenco and Colby Rottler of the town’s Finance Committee.

            The proposed budget, said Nelson, supports current staffing levels and programming, special and private education and utilities.

            Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howie Barber distributed the preliminary budget to committee members and asked them to reach out to him with any questions.

            The committee’s March 20 public meeting will most likely include a vote on the budget.

            Lavin credited Barber for making the preliminary budget digestible for the membership.

            The committee voted to approve the School Health Unit Application through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the READS Collaborative Agreement Amendment and the following donations: from Cape Cod 5 Educational Mini-Grants $500 to faculty Lisa Lourenco (3D printing supports micro-bit programming); $350 to math interventionist Allison Dunn (Jumping Into Math; 500 to Old Hammondtown Principal Kevin Tavares (safety equipment); $500 to faculty Jocelyn Mare (school podcast); from Free Spirit Publishing books “I Love You All the Time,” “You Wonder All the Time,” “You are Growing All the Time” and “You Have Feelings All the Time” from the USDA and DESE for the School Nutrition Equipment Assistance Grant $5,813 to Center School and $20,000 to Old Hammondtown School.

            The committee also voted to approve revisions to the Student Handbook focused on excused absences due to inclement weather (principal’s discretion) and a change from five or more days out requiring a note to now three days. Tavares said the change will allow the school to more actively engage the family and look after its students.

            In the Administration Report, Director of Student Services Craig Davidson announced March 16 preschool screening and an Early Childhood Council meeting on March 29 at Sippican Elementary School in Marion.

            In her report, Center School Principal Linda Ashley discussed the importance of trusting relationships with adults. “We have such a great school culture here and caring teachers,” she said. She also discussed professional development with math and literacy specialists and the progress young learners are making in Project GROW and how Kindergarten kids are learning to spell words. Grade 1 students made Valentine’s Day cards for hospitals, Grade 2 students are learning to add and subtract and Grade 3 are progressing in written-language skills. A recent blood drive yielded 27 units that can help over 80 people. Ashley thanked the volunteers involved.

            In his Principal’s Report, Tavares was thrilled by a packed gymnasium of students energized by a week’s vacation, saying some knew there were 72 more days of school remaining. A Grade 6 field trip to the Museum of Science, Old Hammondtown’s first such trip since 2019 with the help of the Parent Teacher Association, was also the first opportunity for some of the students to visit Boston.

            The Mattapoisett Historical Commission recently learned about living through the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of a sixth grader – how it impacted them and their families. The commission provided readings of memoirs from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. The New Bedford Ballet will visit Old Hammondtown on Tuesday. On Friday, March 10, the school will hold its annual staff-versus-students basketball game. Tavares is undefeated as coach of the students’ team. March 7 is the Choral Concert and March 14 the Instrumental Concert.

            Tavares concluded his remarks with a shoutout to building supervisor Lou Casi. “Our building has never looked better, functioned better. He is the face of our school. He is engaging, he works with the students from the collaborative,” said Tavares.

            Nelson announced the retirement of Theresa Craig, the READS program’s executive director.

            No one responded to the invitation to participate in Open Comment.

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett School Committee is scheduled for Monday, March 20, at Center School cafeteria, and the next meeting of the Joint School Committee will be held on Thursday, March 30, at ORR Junior High School media room. Both meetings begin at 6:30 pm and are accessible in person or remotely via Zoom.

Mattapoisett School Committee

By Mick Colageo

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