Education is more than the MCAS scores

If there were an exam dedicated to music, the students of Turkey Hill Middle School in Lunenburg, Massaschusetts would have achieved a perfect score based on their performance this evening. Under the direction of , the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade bands and chorus played together for the very first time this evening.  It was not the  or the , but it was a group of kids and a teacher who clearly enjoyed the evening!.  The packed house at laughed and clapped their way through the evening displaying pride in the children of our small community.

So why was this evening so successful?  What is Mr. A teaching exactly?  Some would say he teaches music.  Based on the results this evening and the stories I hear from my daughter, I believe he is educating our children in areas well beyond the notes and instruments.

Here is what I think the children are getting from Mr. A’s approach:

  • Confidence: the auditorium was completely packed with parents, friends and siblings this evening.  Despite this, Mr. A clearly instilled the confidence in the performers necessary to put themelves out there.
  • An ability to come together to do something special:   Mr. Archambault pointed out the fact that the students had never actually practiced together prior to this evening.  Despite this, the children came together and played their parts with a few little bumps in the road. Think about how this prepares our children for life in the real world!
  • Humor: The conductor took us through the journey the students have been on for the first half of the year starting with day one.  The band played a loud group of notes which resembled nothing but noise….the parents laughed.  Mr. A laughed and the students laughed at themselves.  The kids learned it is ok to make mistakes and have a laugh at yourself once in a while.
  • Technology: Mr. A incorporates technology whenever he can to help the .  This was not as evident during the evening but my daughter will frequently come home to share a new “cool” thing she learned on the MAC.  These “cool” things are always related to the topic.  The students learn about music and how to use technology without ever realizing it!
  • Storytelling:  Mr A took us through a journey of how his students/our children went from making noise to playing ‘s ““.
  • Oh,….yeah…music:  I almost forgot.  The children actually sang and played songs on their instruments!  That was a nice bonus.

As I think about the fact that we removed music from our primary school last year to help with the budget gap, I find myself thinking what a supremely bad idea that was.  As we move into the budget process for next year, we need to find a way to bring back to our primary school not for my last bullet point but rather to provide children the opportunity to grow in ways that will prepare them for life beyond the walls of the Lunenburg Public Schools.

What do you think?

Do parents REALLY care about their kids’ education?

Got your attention?  Good!  Based on my own circle of friends and friends of friends, I believe the overwhelming majority of parents DO care about their childrens’ education.  I do believe, however, that most parents do not know how to influence the policy direction or the operational procedures in their .  In this post, I want to discuss how parents can influence schools to help prepare our children for life after they graduate.

Get Involved:

There are various levels of involvement.  Some choose to run for school committee.  Talk to the committee members. Others choose to get involved with the .  Attend a school committee and/or a meeting to voice your opinions.  Some parents volunteer in the schools.  These are all excellent ways to help our children.

For those of us that are too busy to get actively involved, I recommend sending an email.  An email provides a quick, fool proof way to guarantee your message is received.  I recommend  the following guidelines when emailing:

  • Highlight the issue, question or problem without emotion.  State the facts and just the facts.  I know this is tough.  After all these are our children!
  • Attack the problem not the person.  Do not write anything in the email you would not say to the person directly or want posted in the newspaper.
  • Offer a suggestion or solution. Do not be part of the problem.
  • Use a capability.  This will allow you to know when your email is opened.     To see how visit one of these links (, ).  You can also politely request a response by a certain date.  Do not be afraid to forward your original email if you do not get a response

To whom do I send communications

  • Email a school committee member.  They are all and have public ().  Remember the role of the school committee before you launch this email.  (Note: In the 9 months as a school committee member I have received 5 emails with questions or suggestions!)
  • Email teachers or principals:  Teachers are on the front line and care deeply about  your children.  Contact your principal if something is just not working in your schools (e.g. lunch menus are not posted on time).  Escalate to your principal if you feel you are not making headway with the teacher.
  • Email the superintendent:  This is the CEO of the district who can make things happen district wide.  If you have concerns about policy implementation, this is a great place to start.  (e.g. wellness policies – allergies etc..)
  • Email elected officials: Whether it is the mayor, board of selectmen, alder men etc..These people need to hear your concerns, wants or desires for education in your district.

For those of you with time:

  • Attend school committee meetings:  I have noticed that my town’s school committee frequently addresses an empty room. It would be more beneficial to have parents in the room to receive feedback.
  • Attend board of selectmen meetings:  Same as above.  This group has a major impact (in many but not all districts) on what school districts can and cannot accomplish.
  • Volunteer:  Reach out to your principal if you have something to offer.  My company provides .  Ask your company if they do something similar.

All in all, I do believe parents care.  Many do not know how to get involved.  Some just plain  do not have the time.  I hope these suggestions help identify a few ways to get engaged.


The role of CEO (Chief Education Officer) – district superintendents

Since the post about the role of the last week, I have received several questions about the role of the .  It is important to understand how this critical role impacts the entire district and in the end, all students.

I laid out the areas of responsibility in .  As a reminder, the identifies the following areas of responsibilities: Policy, Finance, Staffing, Collective bargaining, Performance Standards, Professional development, School Councils, Advocacy, Curriculum, Governance, and Communication.

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees defines the roles and responsibilities for school superintendents in their “Charting the Course” offering:

Policy: Develops and informs committee or procedures required to implement committee policies; recommends policy options to school committee when new or ammended policies are required.

Finance: Oversees the operation of the annual budget; Provides updates to the school committee; Provides early notice of potential budget overruns or shortfalls.

Staffing: Appoints, disciplines and discharges administrators principals, and staff not assigned to particular schools. Reviews and approves principal’s hire of all teachers, athletic coaches, and other staff assigned to a particular school.

Collective bargaining: Serves as a resource in collective bargaining.  Assure adherence to all collective bargaining agreements.

Performance Standards: Assures the evaluation of personnel according to district and state standards; Develops performance standards for all staff aligned to school committee policy, contractual agreements and educational goals of the district.

Professional Development: Implements the professional development program adopted by the school committee. Ensures professional development activities are available to all school department employees.

School Councils:  Reviews with principals the role of school councils and relevant activities.

Advocacy:  Engages in advocacy on behalf of students and their schools promoting the benefits of a public school system to the community; Works with local and state officials to gain support for a fair and sound school budget aligned to district goals and objectives.

Curriculum: Recommends major adoptions of courses or text book; Ensures there is a process to develop and refine curriculum.

Governance:  Acts as the school committees chief executive officer and educational advisor in all efforts of the committee; Serves point of contact for schools’ administrative teams; Proposes and initiates a process for long range and strategic planning; Ensures school provides equal opportunity for students and staff.

Communication: Keeps all school committee members informed about school operations and programs; develops and implements a plan for working with media; shares responsibility for open communication with community.

What is the role of the school committee?

Now, isn’t that an interesting question?  What does a  do?

Before you read on, do you actually know a school committee’s responsibilities?

Since being elected to the Lunenburg School Committee, I have been asked a lot of questions which some residents expect I can answer right there and then!

I have received questions about:

  • Staffing in the schools
  • schedules and menus
  • Bus routes including lengths and timing
  • Drop off and pick up times for each of the schools
  • Budget allocations
  • Teacher contracts

So, I began to ask myself:  ”Am I really responsible for knowing all of this as a school committee member?”  As I began to educate myself and ask others their ideas about the school committee’s role, I found a wide variety of opinions and ideas.  I turned to The  for guidance. This organization has defined the following areas of responsibility: Policy, Finance, Staffing, Collective bargaining, Performance Standards, Professional development, School Councils, Advocacy, Curriculum, Governance, and Communication

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees defines the roles and responsibilities in their “Charting the Course” offering:

Policy:  The school committee establishes and periodically reviews educational goals and policies for the schools in the district. consistent with the requirements of law and the statewide goals and standards.  This is the primary role of the school committee.

Finance:   The school committee reviews and approves a budget for education in the district according to a process and timeline developed with the superintendent; works to ensure that necessary funds are appropriated for the district. oversees the operation of the annual school budget.

Staffing: Appoints the superintendent; Hires legal counsel. Sets compensation for the superintendent. Prescribes additional qualifications for educator positions beyond basic certification.; Disciplines or terminates employment of the superintendent in accordance with the terms of the contract of employment.

Collective Bargaining:  Acts as employer of the school employees for collective bargaining; designates negotiator or negotiating team and receives advice about educational consequences of bargaining positions.

Performance Standards: Establishesupon the recommendation of the superintendent, the performance standards for teachers and other employees of the ; evaluates the performance of the superintendent; conducts self-evaluation of the committee’s effectiveness in meeting its stated goals and performing its role in public school governance

Professional Development:  Adopts a professional development plan for all principals, teachers and other professional staff;  provides and encourages resources for school committee professional development programs.

School Councils: Reviews and approves an annual school improvement plan for each school in the district; provides and encourages resources for school council professional development programs.

Advocacy: Engages in advocacy on behalf of students and their schools; works closely with other governmental agencies and bodies.

Curriculum: Approves major adoption or revision of curriculum and textbooks upon recommendation of the superintendent.

Governance: Establishes educational goals and policies for schools in the district; delegates to the superintendent the responsibilities for all administrative functions; acts only as a body as prescribed by law and not as individual members.

Communication: Supports the development and promotion of vision, mission, goals and strategies of the school system; consults and confers with the superintendent of on all matters as they arise that concern the school system and on which the school committee may take action; Maintains open communication between community and the schools by scheduling public meetings on a regular basis; supports the superintendent in all matters that conform to committee policy.

So there you have it.  In a nutshell that is it……Pretty daunting scope.