Dear Southbridge Community:
It’s been a whirlwind first five weeks of school and there is so much to celebrate together. From my visits around the district, it’s evident that students and staff have begun to settle into their routines. Student attendance has improved over past year, which is so encouraging. Open houses have been well attended at all of the schools; at the secondary level extra-curriculars, and sports are in full swing.
September was clearly a busy and exciting month across the District. I’m energized by the focus on teaching and learning, and the work of so many to find new ways to make learning exciting and fun for students. There is a lot happening at the district level, too. This September our English Learners Department began new trainings for district staff that will help us better serve our English Learners. We have also begun implementing our new Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, to ensure we are serving the many social and emotional needs of our students.
Last month, our first professional development half day brought all the elementary schools together to begin the process of improving literacy instruction across the district. The Secondary Schools spent the afternoon focused on specially designed instruction and universal design for learning. The district wide literacy leadership team for grades K-5 has begun developing an action plan to guide the work at each school. Our math curriculum development team continues to build out our new vertically aligned and cohesive curriculum with common assessments for each grade and/or course that will drive our data team work. We gave our first district-wide math common assessments for grades 1-5, which allow us a window into where students are in terms of the mastery of standards taught in the first unit of study this year. I want to give a special shout-out to the staff that has engaged in this work, and to the central office team and building administrators for the successful implementation of these first assessments. I’m not sure if everyone realizes this, but as of next week, we will have rolled out 1300 Chromebooks district-wide, with new access points coming to the Elementary Buildings for improved Wi-Fi. We have fully migrated to Google and Gmail as a district, and are in the midst of the coordinated program review for Special Education and ELL. Our new teacher mentoring program will be starting this month, and we will begin instructional walkthroughs at all buildings, with a focus on Standard’s I-A-IV and I-B-I, in the next week.
I could add so much more to the list, but I’m sure you can see and feel the rapid pace in which we are moving forward with the improvement efforts across the district. I want to take a moment to say “Thank You,” and share with you what a privilege it is to work with a staff so committed to the “Call” of turning around the Southbridge Public Schools. At the opening we talked about the Hero’s Journey, and the work that we were about to embark upon. We are in the midst of the work now, and I want to continue to encourage all of you, no matter what part of the journey you feel yourself on at any given time, always remember the shared goal we have, the STAND we took for children on opening day, and the importance of doing this work as a TEAM. Celebrate even the smallest victories, and hold each other up when you feel overwhelmed, and call upon your central office team when you need support. Never forget you are the central figures in this exciting story, and our children will be the benefactors of your incredible work. I couldn’t imagine a greater legacy to leave.
Finally, a key strategy in our Turnaround Plan is to cultivate shared leadership, collective responsibility, and professional collaboration amongst the staff and community in Southbridge. To this end, we will be forming a Superintendent’s Roundtable that will meet monthly with the charge of identifying shared core values for cultural improvement, and monitoring of the benchmarks within the turnaround plan. This advisory group will also provide feedback on key aspects of the turnaround plan around recruitment and retention of high quality teachers and leaders, review and analyze data quarterly to assist in monitoring the progress of initiatives within the turnaround plan, communicating that information back to their colleagues within the schools and community. This group will have its first meeting on October 20th, and I will make the notes of that meeting public on the district website.
Annual MCAS and PARCC results were also released in September. While there were some areas of progress, it is clear we have work to do to meet the needs of all students. I’m excited by what’s on the horizon for our school district.
I look forward to the great things ahead for our schools, our teachers, staff, but most importantly our children. The greatest gift we can give a child is a high quality education, so thank you for what you do on a daily basis to make that a reality for them.
Dr. Jessica Huizenga