Improvement plan emphasizes academic unity at all grade levels at HWRSD

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM — Principals, associate principals and vice-principals from the six schools in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HSD) presented the school committee with a unified school improvement plan, rather than the individual plans that each school usually prepares each year. The plan was designed to encompass the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years and will be incorporated into the district’s strategic plan, currently under construction.

Wilbraham Middle School principal John Derosia said administrators used lessons learned from the 2021 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) results when developing the improvement plan.

Serenity Greenwood, Principal of Soule Road School, covered Academic Goals, the first of three parts of the plan. The first goal focused on adopting a “rigorous, evidence-based, vertically connected curriculum across all grade levels,” and gave a deadline of June 2023. To achieve this, administrators have planned to implement the action steps that were identified during the MCAS review. outcomes, developing consistent language and structure when discussing topics so that students can continue their learning from year to year, and providing professional learning to keep teachers on the same page regardless of whatever the school year.

“Regardless of the teachers they have, they will hear the same terms,” said Nicole Smith, associate principal at Minnechaug Regional High School (MRHS).

There will be two programs for the district to choose from. Teachers will have the opportunity to field test them and provide feedback. MRHS Director Steven Hale said the adopted curriculum will be “universal” and provide “elementary learning”. Each course will be reviewed with universal accessibility in mind. Schools will also incorporate more MCAS preparation into daily lessons, from MCAS-style questions to writing on demand.

Hale mentioned that the high school was exploring the idea of ​​restructuring classes so students could have more consistency and traction. He explained that a student can have English in their first semester of ninth grade and not again until the end of the last semester of 10th grade. If the school could organize more consistency in lessons, it could help students prepare for MCAS.

Monique Dangleis spoke about the second objective, socio-emotional competence and resilience. One of the main factors in achieving this goal is hiring the necessary faculty. More counselors will work within a system that enables staff at different school levels to identify patterns of behavior and offer support.

Hale said social-emotional support can include, “cuddling up” and checking in with students daily, as well as rewarding students who are “doing the right thing,” consistently.

Another way to support social-emotional health is to restore the school climate team and provide professional learning about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Students will have a direct role in their own well-being at the secondary level by incorporating the “student voice” and letting students and their families know how they can access help when needed.

The final objective is security. Green Meadows School principal Sharon Moberg explained how much of a focus has been on student safety amid the pandemic, but schools need to refocus on other safety needs. This will include new security audits, more training, and security liaisons, who can do planning, drills, and after-action reviews.

School committee member Lisa Murray asked about the timing of the program’s rollout and expressed concerns that teachers would be expected to teach – and students would need to learn – too much in a short time.

“It’s a lot,” Greenwood admitted. Field trials will begin in late March and early April. Ganem assured Murray the rollout would be done methodically, but said there was a “sense of urgency” with the program. “We’re starting to see those shortcomings in our kids,” he said.

School board vice-chair Maura Ryan asked if there would be any data available for parents to see “how it works, how it doesn’t”. Greenwood told him that there are universal benchmarks that will help schools track progress.

Referring to the administrators’ vision of a vertically aligned district, Ryan asked if there was a program through which parents could track their child’s progress year after year. Moberg said that while there was no scheduled program for this, the district plans to build transparency into all stages of the plan.

School Committee Member Patrick Kiernan asked how to define academic achievement and ensure that schools don’t base it solely on MCAS results.
Ganem replied that there is a “delicate balance between each child learning differently and having a standard way of measuring their growth.”

Superintendent Search

Moving on to the superintendent’s search, school committee chair Michal Boudreau told the committee that because the search will be below a $50,000 threshold, the district does not need to go through the appeals process. of offers. Instead, he could decide among the research companies and vote for them.

Boudreau reviewed information she gathered from three companies that could potentially help the district in its search for the superintendent. Ray & Associates, with offices in Connecticut and Iowa, had a rate of $22,200 including everything but expenses. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) offered its services for $10,500 plus expenses, while the services of the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) can be obtained for $13,560 plus expenses. Because HWRSD is a member of NESDEC, its price comes with a 20% discount.

All three companies had done searches in Massachusetts and all had a similar offer to repeat the search process for free, plus fees, if the chosen superintendent didn’t work out. While MASC offered this within a year, the other two had two-year warranties.

“[MASC] did a good job getting us Superintendent Ganem,” Kennedy said.
Murray, however, said she prefers NESDEC because its reach is broader than MASC, while also including local candidates.

William Bontempi, a member of the school committee, asked Ganem’s opinion as someone who has been on the other side of the search. He said most of the superintendents he is familiar with turn to MASC when looking for a job in the area. Similarly, director of finance, operations and human resources Aaron Osborne, who served as superintendent in the past, said MASC works with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and “knows who the players are.”

Kiernan said MASC was at the bottom of his preference. He noted that NESDEC had worked with better performing districts.

Bontempi reminded the committee that there was no line item in the budget for research and that cost was a factor. He also liked that MASC was “intimately involved” with potential contestants.

School committee member Sherrill Caruana liked the NESDEC discount, but Bontempi likened it to a sweater sale in which the price is raised before the sale, making it a discount in name only.

The committee voted 3 to 4 against the use of MASC. The vote on NESDEC passed 5-2 with school committee clerk Sean Kennedy and Bontempi opposing.

Conflict of interest

Boudreau addressed a recent finding from the Massachusetts Ethics Board, which found that a conflict of interest arose when Ganem approved the hiring of his wife and daughter during the height of the pandemic without d first alert the school committee. While both individuals were qualified educators and Ganem had no direct oversight over either of them, the board pointed out that the superintendent was required to notify the school board 14 days prior to their employment.

Kiernan questioned why Boudreau’s account of the timeline and facts did not match the public letter released by the board. The letter said the family members had been hired before the positions were advertised. Boudreau explained that his information was gathered from the letter itself, the job offer and information from Ganem’s lawyer.

Bontempi believed that the school committee had a role to play in the incident because members had pushed Ganem to fill positions and reduce the size of remote classes. He added that at least three committee members were aware of the hires and time and had not reported it.

“What Al did was in the best interest of our children’s education,” Bontempi said. Kennedy agreed and said there was nothing “nefarious” about Ganem’s actions.
Kiernan said if the letter was inaccurate, Ganem should want it corrected. For his part, Ganem told Kiernan that the problem in the letter was not the hiring process, but his failure to notify the committee beforehand. He said the letter also said there had been no repercussions from the school board, but his review would indicate otherwise.

Ganem apologized for what he told Reminder Publishing was “honestly, a mistake”. He told the committee, “I think our teachers appreciate my intention. It was nothing more than finding teachers for those 125 students.

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