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School improvement plans deemed 'exemplary'

Date: 6/29/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW Superintendent Dr. Edward Costa said that everything the school district does is about improving student learning. That's why he was impressed with the completion of the school improvement plans (SIPs) for the 2008-09 school year, which were presented to him and the School Committee last Monday evening.

"Our administrators create the SIPs ... over each summer," Costa explained. "The goals are part of an inverted pyramid. At the top is the district strategic plan, then come the school improvement goals, then specified goals for each department and then goals for each teacher. The students are the beneficiaries of the goals. That's why they are performance-based."

Each of the five East Longmeadow public schools had three goals for the school year that's come to a close. Principal Richard Freccero and Assistant Principal Michael Knybel presented their data first.

The high school wanted to develop a process to prepare students for the upcoming MCAS tests in social studies, so they created a new course structure, adjusted history courses for this year's freshmen class and had new materials and texts in place by the second semester. Courses will be adjusted for the sophomore class this fall as well, even though the state announced that the social studies MCAS was being delayed for two years.

Freccero reported that the high school wanted to be prepared for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation visit in 2013, so the school conducted a pre-visit self-study. The study found that all areas of the school are currently being thought of as either acceptable or exemplary.

Knybel said the third goal was to focus on a state-mandated educational proficiency plan. Students who scored below 240, or who fell into the "needs improvement" category on their English and math MCAS tests, had their schedules filled with extra courses in each subject to help them achieve proficiency. Knybel said the number of students involved in this plan was "quite minimal."

Kathleen Hill, principal of Birchland Park Middle School, also had a goal for students who didn't fare well on the MCAS tests. Twelve members of the middle school staff developed a pre-referral protocol for the students who didn't achieve proficiency and designed a Student Support Intervention Protocol that would "turn over every stone" to figure out what issues each student had and how they could be resolved. Of the seven students reviewed in the pilot protocol, three were considered for the special education referral process; the other four could receive in-school support. An extra math class was also added to help those who needed improvement.

Assistant Principal Paul Plummer said that the goal of creating common learning experiences for all students at the middle school included updating curriculum maps, setting up common assessments and creating similar homework standards and credit values.

The third goal at Birchland Park was to establish a professional learning community. This was reached by having New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS) training provided on-site, and seven teams were created that met weekly to review work and plan.

The three elementary schools shared some goals, including establishing investigations math units and using diagnostic reading assessments. Staff at Meadow Brook, Mapleshade and Mountain View were all trained this year in the math program, from data analysis to patterns and functions to fractions and decimals to probability. Students will get to experience what the teachers have learned during the 2009-10 school year.

Teachers were also trained in diagnostic reading assessments, which will determine how well a student reads and comprehends literature. Judy Fletcher, principal of Meadow Brook, noted that the assessments are part of her school's pre-referral program.

Meadow Brook also established an interventional model program with a pre-referral team that meets weekly; a pilot program found that four out of eight students looked at were no longer in need of the special education label.

Principal Brenda Houle of Mapleshade said her school's goal of improving the composite education index for ELA (English Language Arts) reading program would focus on non-fiction reading.

Carrie Wallace, principal of Mountain View, noted that her third goal was one of research - to identify characteristics of at-risk students and figure out ways to help them. She said she hopes the school can continue the goal next year and "add more tools to the tool kit" when it comes to helping students who are struggling.

"I thought the presentations were exemplary," Costa told Reminder Publications. "The work on both ends [the students and the teachers] is proof that the goals are working. [That collaboration] is the essence of our schools."

The principals will present their 2009-10 SIPs this autumn.