Northampton Public Schools Superintendent Blog

District Highlights April 12, 2012

Posted on: April 19, 2012


Photo: Salvatore Vuono


Everyone was on their best game for the English Language Arts MCAS this month.  For the first time since beginning to administer this assessment, there were several fifth graders who continued on the test until dismissal at3 pm.  It was evident that students were doing a lot of writing and we are encouraged by that since we have been emphasizing how to complete the open response questions.  A third grader on the way to her first test session met me in the hall and I asked her how she felt.  She smiled at me and said that her teacher told her that since she had worked really hard, she was ready to take the test.  She said that she was “kinda excited”.   It was wonderful to see her feeling prepared and not stressed.

We had two very successful math family activities.  There was a math curriculum night for parents of students in grades 3-5.  Parents had the opportunity to work on problems that students have in class and received information and guidance from MaryBeth O’Connor, BSS parent and Math teacher at Ryan Road on how the math curriculum encourages deeper math thinking.  Next year we will make it a little longer since no one was ready to leave when it was over.

Last night we had the second Family Math Fun Night for families and children in grades 3-5.  People really got into it and spent a lot of time playing the games and chatting with the teachers about math instruction at the different grade levels.  It was awesome to see ambitious third graders successfully tackling fifth grade games on fractions and decimals (and winning too).

On the April 6th professional day, Craig Murdock presented information to teachers on a computer-based math skill practice program, Assistments.  We were able to spend some time judging whether it complemented our classroom math instruction.  We decided that it was not useful for regular classroom work but could be useful for math tutorials and homework practice.


Mary Cowhey, the JSS Title I/ELL Math teacher has scheduled meetings with classroom teachers to share her expertise in the new intervention, “Math Recovery”.  Mary has been trained in this approach which similar to the reading intervention called “Reading Recovery”.   It is specific, targeted and measurable and based on assessment.  It is implemented based on a set of goals for individual students.   Mary’s work with students, using this approach as well as small group targeted instruction, has resulted in significant gains in students’ achievement.   The classroom teachers have noted this, as well as the extra math that they are receiving in Morning Math Club and in the After School Math Club in 4th grade (taught by the teachers).   This attention to math as well as our hope for improvement is one of the JSS School Improvement Plan Goals. In addition we have had Family Math Nights for grades K-5, another goal on our plan.  We recognize that a major part of our work in supporting students has to be in conjunction with their families.

The staff and faculty had their final session in the NEF-sponsored Mindfulness Practice course on Wednesday, 4/11. We began the school day with the whole school gathering in the gym for a “Movement Meditation”, a concept introduced to our school by our Grinspoon Award-winning PE teacher, Ms. Janis Totty and Ms. Janet Aalfs, of Valley Women’s Martial Arts Center.  We have Monday Morning Meditation every Monday by Ms. Agna, over the school intercom.  We have introduced parents/families to this – most recently at a talk by Ms. Florence Meleo Meyer who shared other school districts’ work in mindfulness practice.   The next stage of our NEF grant is to introduce and research-based school curriculum in this practice and for coaches to help support teachers in implementing it.  We all recognize how important it is for students and adults to have more tools for self-regulation in order to learn and teach effectively.


1) Third Grade Walk -a-Thon – Students and teachers walked an astounding 200 miles to raise money for Field Trips.
2) Spring Read-A-Thon- The goal is for students to read a combined total of 500,00 minutes.  The proceeds will go towards supporting classroom libraries.
3) Community Meeting- April 12, 2012, The theme is Perseverance and we will have a brief Tribute to slain youth Trayvon Martin.
4) Second Grade  teachers and students are working on their Book Clubs. The training for this reading initiative is through the Reading Workshop Professional Development facilitated by Jenny Bender.

RK Finn Ryan Road School:

Staff members at RK Finn Ryan Road Elementary School have recently completed work on an NEF grant, “Welcoming New People into Our Community.”  Teachers and ESPs met six times after school to share ideas and review our Responsive Classroom resources to develop tips for new staff members, for teachers welcoming new students, and for “guest teachers” (substitutes).  The group created a “Staff Picks” shelf of Responsive Classroom resources on a visible bookshelf in the staff room.  Each favorite book now has a short description of its usefulness and includes names of staff members who especially like the book.  We also put together Guest Teacher folders for each staff member.  The folders are visibly stored near the telephone in each classroom.  The folders include nametags for the students, a list of favorite Morning Meeting activities, a school map and other helpful information to acquaint substitutes with regular routines in the class and school.

The sessions were invaluable in helping us to review and recommit ourselves to Responsive Classroom practices and to remind each other about the language that effectively engages students to be their best.


Vertical team meetings:

On Friday afternoon, April 6th, elementary and middle school teachers collaborated in vertical team meetings to discuss curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, and transition. Three meetings took place: grade 5 and 6 math teachers; JFK English andReading teachers and the Elementary Literacy Specialists; Elementary ETLs, JFK ETL, grade 6 Special Education Teachers, Lesley Wilson and Nathan Ziegler.  Teachers were excited to have the opportunity for professional conversation and work across grade levels, and to begin to develop these vertical teams.

JFK Student of Color Alliance (SOCA) and Civil Rights team combating stereotype initiative:

Students in the JFK Student of Color Alliance (SOCA) and Civil Rights team organized events to honor Trayvon Martin and to discuss how to combat stereotypes in our school and community.

These socially active student leaders developed activities for Forum, our Advisory Program, and organized a hoody day in honor of Trayvon Martin and as an avenue to challenge stereotypes.  The team created a blank picture of a hoody with the words “if you really knew me you would know that…” and had the JFK community fill in their hoodies.  The hoodies are displayed around our building.

The group also encouraged students and staff to wear a hoody on Friday, April 6th, and to think about stereotypes, how can we challenge stereotypes…how can we look past our ideas of people based on stereotypes and really get to know them before passing judgment.

Thank you to the JFK SOCA group, Civil Rights team and advisors Heather Heyes and Dinah Mack for facilitating this powerful school-wide initiative.

NorthamptonHigh School:

Sue Crago, English Teacher, and Sue Biggs a Science teacher were named MMSI Teachers of the year.

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