It is sometimes said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then the Pittsfield NH School District has much to feel flattered by in recent months. Since the beginning of the school year, the District has been host to visitors from across the country, all of them eager to know more about Pittsfield’s work.
According to Tobi Chassie, Project Manager for the Pittsfield Redesign, the phone calls started coming in before Thanksgiving. The first inquiry came from a group of schools in northern Vermont exploring student ownership of learning, one of the hallmarks of the District’s change work.
The next callers were other Nellie-Mae funded districts in northern New England. In early November, the Pittsfield team had presented to its New England colleagues at the Nellie Mae Cross-Site Learning Summit. The focus was the District’s work in the area of “position analysis,” a methodical and collaborative process for defining the role of each staff position in the organization. The work is based on research from the field of organizational development revealing that position clarity is the number one predictor of job satisfaction and productivity.
Four school districts—Portland and Sanford in Maine, and Burlington and Winooski in Vermont—inquired about coming to see a position analysis session in real-time. Their wish was granted. “We were glad to have them join us,” said Chassie. “They provided us with great food for thought.”
In January 2014, Governor Maggie Hassan visited Pittsfield, just in time to include PMHS in her State of the State as a school that is “innovating and working to find better ways to educate our children.” (more…)
I thought you would be interested in the complimentary comments that Governor Hassan made about our Pittsfield schools in her state-of-the-state address delivered at the State House in Concord on Thursday, February 6, which are excerpted from her speech below. Thank you for your ongoing support of our students and school.
John J. Freeman, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
… New Hampshire’s public schools are often ranked among the nation’s best in graduation rates, in reading pro-ficiency and in math proficiency. And many of our schools are innovating and working to find better ways to edu-cate our students. Pittsfield Middle High School, for example, has brought businesses, parents and the entire community together to develop a student-centered learning program. Educators are working collaboratively with students to identify what they need to learn and what they are having trouble learning. Then together they build plans, including opportunities outside the classroom, that help each student thrive. Pittsfield students are seeing the results in their test scores, with the number of 11th-graders testing proficient in math nearly doubling since the program began. Pittsfield is seeing improvements because they were willing to look at education differently. And that is what we need to do across our state. We may be doing better than most states, but we have heard from our businesses that we still have work to do to ensure that we have a workforce that can compete in the future. That is why, across New Hampshire, local school districts are pursuing college- and career-readiness standards that include the Common Core, an effort that has the support of educators and businesses, of Republicans and Democrats. States came together to develop these robust standards in order to provide a consistent, clear under-standing of what students are expected to learn, so that they can develop the skills they need and the ability to think critically – helping our young people succeed in their careers, in higher education and in life. Local school districts continue to have the flexibility to determine whether and how to implement these standards — and they should be implemented. For our students to succeed, we must work together to ensure that communities are able to implement college- and career-readiness standards effectively, through collaboration with parents, students and educators. These standards are an important step forward, but we must build upon them and make sure that students have access to a strong curriculum in a full range of subjects, from English – to math – to the arts. And to help young people fill the jobs that growing businesses are creating here in New Hampshire, we need to come together as a state to ask tough questions about how we can best educate our young people, especially in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Is it acceptable in today’s economy to only require two years of math from our high school students? Should we be requiring computer science as well as biology? How can we better integrate engineering and technology into our classrooms? For New Hampshire to lead the way in building a workforce that is prepared for the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow, our schools need to provide an even more rigorous STEM education that our businesses believe in, our educators believe in, and our students and families believe in. That is why I will be creating a STEM Education Task Force made up of diverse stake-holders who will make recommendations for modernizing STEM education in our schools. Strengthening educa-tion in the STEM fields is just one part of the equation. New Hampshire’s high-tech and advanced manufacturing companies are struggling to fill job openings, even for jobs with wages over 25 percent higher than average. We need to reach our students at a young age and help them understand that they can stay in New Hampshire, find jobs here that are interesting and exciting, and build careers that will allow them to support their families and climb the ladder of opportunity…
Shifting to Student Centered Learning
It’s a tired cliché: that teachers are so lucky because they have the summers “off.” The notion conjures images of educators lazing away the days and weeks in chaise lounges and hammocks while the rest of us slog through the summer in our cubicles and storefronts.
In Pittsfield, nothing could be further from the truth. Although our educators, like everyone else, take some much needed and much deserved vacation, they spend most of their summers fully engaged in a demanding menu of teaching and learning activities.
We asked several teachers to share with us how they’ve been keeping busy since the end of June.
Derek Hamilton, PMHS 9/10 social studies teacher and Site Council member attended a 3-day workshop facilitated by nationally known teacher educator Arnie Clayton. Titled “Community of Learners;” the workshop reviewed educational protocols and how to utilize these participatory tools in the classroom and with their colleagues. Derek also went with a team of PMHS teachers and administrators to the New Hampshire Summer Statewide Educator Conference, where he learned about Common Core, Web 2.0, and Learning Studios, a concept he is launching at PMHS that you’ll soon hear more about.
At PMHS’s Advisory Planning Workshops, Derek represented the 9/10 Team. The focus of the workshop was the revision of Advisory rubrics (performance criteria) and the development of common assessments—all part of what the traditional workplace would call quality control. The 9/10 Team also spent two days planning an interdisciplinary project for ninth graders. They worked on new rubrics and planned a sequence of instruction and assessment for argumentative writing in ninth and tenth grade. So if you have a child in one of these grades, be prepared for a good argument this year!
Recently, Derek helped lead the Jump START Program for incoming ninth graders, a week-long program that helps students get ready for the big transition to high school. He also helped lead the Student Leadership Summit at which 40 students from various student organizations came together for a three-day workshop on leadership skills. The Summit included a day off-site in a challenging ropes course.
Finally, in addition to working with 22 students who worked on plans during the summer as part of competency recovery, Derek ran six-week summer programs for the PMHS soccer and Belmont basketball teams. It’s hard to imagine Derek having time for anything else this summer!
Christie Dunlavey, PMHS 9/10 science teacher, participated in several of the activities mentioned above, including competency recovery, interdisciplinary lesson planning and the Student Leadership Summit. She also took the time to rewrite her course competencies, indicators, and rubrics, and to develop the “essential questions” that will guide her lessons in the coming school year. She, like many of her colleagues this summer, uploaded all of this information to Atlas, so that parents and other stakeholders can see what students are expected to know and be able to do. (more…)
In his most recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama applauded high school redesign efforts taking place around the country and encouraged districts to look to successful models for inspiration. A few days later, Education Week, the national trade journal for educators, cited Pittsfield Middle High School as one of these models.
Pittsfield is helping to lead a growing national movement to redesign schools for the realities of 21st century life. There is now widespread recognition that in order to prepare our young people for a rapidly changing society, we must “remodel” our educational system.
As with any remodeling project, the goal is to keep what works and change what has outlived its usefulness. For example, a 19th century New England home with “good bones” still requires electricity and plumbing that are up to code and insulation that is more weather-resistant and fuel efficient—in keeping with modern industry standards. Similarly, in our schools, we have a sturdy infrastructure in place, but the delivery system is highly outmoded.
For example, the traditional 6-hour school day and 180-day school year grew out of our nation’s agricultural and industrial economies. First, families needed children to tend the farm during the summer months; later, industry needed workers with basic skills to fill the assembly lines. Today, there are few fields to plow and the low-skilled jobs that paid a family-sustaining wage have given way to middle and high-skilled positions in an economy that is global, knowledge-based and innovation-driven. Simply put, in order to thrive in a much more demanding society, all of our children need more time for learning and a far more sophisticated set of skills and abilities.
New Hampshire has been ahead of the curve in recognizing that our educational system must be better aligned with the new demands of economic and civic life. (more…)
The PMHS cafeteria is usually empty on Saturday mornings, but a good 50 people gathered there from 10 am –12 pm on February 16th for the Good-to-Great Community Forum. The phrase “good-to-great,” made famous by the pioneering management expert Jim Collins, is a way of thinking about how to move an organization from average to exemplary.
The Pittsfield Forum was both a celebration of how the schools have been moving toward excellence and a call to action to keep the momentum going in the community.
“While 2008 may be best known for the economic downturn in this country, in Pittsfield, it’s also known as the beginning of a period of significant change in our schools,” said Superintendent John Freeman in welcoming the diverse crowd of students, educators, parents, and community members. Special outside guests included Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education, newly elected State Senator John Reagan, and Bruce Mallory, Director of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.
The impetus for change in the District came from the Pittsfield School Board, after the last of several nearby towns seceded to form their own single-district or cooperative district administrative units. While it was a blow to Pittsfield, the Board also saw it as an opportunity to break the mold. (more…)
The school corridors had been more crowded than usual at PMHS in mid-November as our Student-Led Conferences (SLCs) have been in full swing. As PMHS parents know, since the beginning of the last school year, PMHS replaced the traditional—and sometimes dreaded—parent-teacher conference with a relatively new model of understanding and appreciating student progress.
Every fall and spring, parents are invited into PMHS not to hear about their children from the teacher, but rather to hear directly from their children, who each take the lead role in a presentation that articulates his or her academic, personal and social development. Each student creates a portfolio that contains a collection of work, reflections, and evidence of their growth over time. The portfolio is shared with the parent and teacher during the Student-Led Conference and essentially becomes a tool for an ongoing conversation during a student’s middle and high school years.
At PMHS, a student portfolio contains five sections, each of which serves as a jumping off point for discussion: (more…)