Through the Fog, A Clear Message of Progress
Despite a dense fog that enveloped Pittsfield and surrounding communities on Saturday, January 11, more than 90 people found their way to Pittsfield Middle High School for a memorable evening: a celebration of the ongoing partnership between the schools and the community and their efforts to redesign the educational system for 21st century success. The white tablecloth affair included a festive dinner and dessert, catered by Café Services, and piano accompaniment by PMHS student Christopher Marcotte. Guests included a broad mix of current and former students, teachers, administrators, parents, community members and business leaders.
Superintendent John Freeman welcomed the guests and drew their attention to a set of poster-sized documents containing the “Logic Model,” a blueprint for the District’s Redesign efforts that was developed by more than 200 people in the community. “That’s 5 percent of our population,” Freeman reminded the crowd. As a living document that helps guide the change work in the Pittsfield schools, the Logic Model has sparked many meaningful conversations. “Every time we make adjustments based on input from folks in the community, the District gets stronger because it’s a collaborative process,” said Freeman.
School-community collaboration has not been the norm in the United States since the founding of public schools. Typically, the teacher and the student are the focus of attention, with the parent as an occasional bystander. But research confirms that when all stakeholders are at the table, the students benefit. As Freeman said: “It’s not a duet anymore, but more like an orchestra.”
Freeman also acknowledged and expressed appreciation for the PMHS faculty who are implementing various aspects of the Redesign. “People always ask me how the teachers feel about the ambitious agenda we’re undertaking,” said Freeman. “I tell them that our teachers are at the very center of our efforts. This is the finest faculty I have ever worked with,” said Freeman.
The Superintendent then turned the podium over to the PMHS Site Council, the school’s primary policy and decision-making body. (Students, faculty, and members of the community sit on the Site Council, with students holding the majority vote.) Over the years, the Council has given presentations about the Redesign, both in the local community and at national conferences. This year is no exception. As a dress rehearsal for an upcoming presentation in Dallas, titled “Leveling the Playing Field,” Council members – Students Morgan Corliss, Madison Johnson, Ryan Marquis, and Max Tuttle along with Community Representative Jason Darrah and Teacher Representative Derek Hamilton – took turns describing some of the changes taking place at PMHS, including Restorative Justice, Student-Led Conferences, Alternative Scheduling, and Learning Studios. They also premiered a student-produced video titled “A Day in the Life of a PMHS Student.”
Freeman also welcomed two special guests—State Senator John Reagan and Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education.
Deputy Commissioner Leather called the Pittsfield school district a “bright and shining star in our educational system.” He recalled a meeting with John Freeman eight years earlier, in which Freeman said he wanted to learn everything he could about school transformation. Leather connected Freeman with the Center for Secondary School Redesign (CSSR), a firm specializing in educational change. With CSSR’s Joe DiMartino, Bill Bryan and others, the work commenced in earnest and continues to this day.
“I rarely see a leader and a community dig as deep into transformation as Pittsfield has,” Leather said. He described Harvard education professor Richard Elmore’s concept of the “instructional core,” and how well Pittsfield has adopted the three elements of that core: 1) higher educational standards 2) increased educator capacity and 3) increased student engagement in learning. “Pittsfield is in the lead in New Hampshire, especially when it comes to the selection, preparation and evaluation of its educators,” he said. “And it has learned that in order to engage the students, we must engage the entire community.”
Senator Reagan, a member of the state Senate Education Committee, visits the Pittsfield schools frequently, inspired by a presentation he heard John Freeman give a year ago. He now serves on the Good-to-Great Team. “Public education is the biggest cost driver of local communities—it’s 80 percent of the total budget,” Reagan said. The difference between Pittsfield and other small communities in the area, he said, is that “you have broken a lot of conventions to drive this journey. Thank you for having the foresight to do so. Pittsfield’s student-centered learning will be a model for any educational enterprise.”
At the end of the evening, School Board Chairman Mike Wolfe, now in his sixth year of service, said he was in awe of the transformation taking place in Pittsfield’s schools. Previously, he said, serving on the School Board felt like an obligation. Not anymore. “Our job is easy. It’s enjoyable. People are coming here to see what we’re doing.”
John Freeman concluded by thanking the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, through its generous funding, for enabling Pittsfield to move forward at a quicker pace than would otherwise have been possible. Freeman also acknowledged the tireless work of Redesign Project Directors Tobi Chassie and Susan Bradley, to rousing applause and a standing ovation.
PMHS Faculty Leading Elements of the Redesign:
Ensuring Student Ownership for Learning
Brian Pinto, Sheila Ward, Sarah Carri, Rick Anthony, Warren Billings, Chris Davitt, Christie Dunlavey, Katie Howe, Bill Mitchell, Josh Shawver, Jenny Wellington, and Derek Hamilton
Raising Student Achievement
Rich Anthony, Warren Billings, Chris Davitt, Christie Dunlavey, Katie Howe, Bill Mitchell, Brian Pinto, Josh Shawver, Sheila Ward, Jenny Wellington, Danielle Harvey, Kathy LeMay, and Alissa Heppler
Redefining Adult Roles and Performance
Sarah Carri, Carin Foss, Jen Massey, Kiza Armour, and Susan Bradley
Developing 21st Century Skills
Rick Anthony, Kiza Armour, Katie Howe, Sheila Ward, Carin Foss, Warren Billings, Christie Dunlavey, Jenny Wellington, and Jeff Martel
Engaging the Community
Mollie Messenger, Zach Powers, Jess Bickford, Rick Anthony, Derek Hamilton, Jen Massey, Sheila Ward, Jenny Wellington
Members of the PMHS Site Council