Friday, April 19, 2024

With plans for a middle school on hold, Superintendent Jeffrey Young instead has short-term plans for realigning the teaching of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders across a dozen schools and to meet expectations when students enter high school.

The School Committee heard and asked questions about the plans Tuesday, but no vote was taken; Young is free to implement what he calls the “draft plan — our best thinking to date,” with the first step beginning immediately with analysis of data with the Harvard Family Research Project and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Students and families will see few sweeping changes in September when the plans go into effect; most affect instructors and administrators, including the integration of teacher “coaches” in language arts and math in each school, a budget line item of $299,859 (although most of that is reallocated, with only $59,859 reflecting new spending) introduced in the $3.75 million budget adopted Tuesday.

The City Council takes up the budget May 19.


District and school administrators, deans, coordinators and coaches will take part in a Summer Institute in July and into August focused on re-energizing and realigning curriculum. They will use the Harvard-analyzed data to find ways to close the achievement gap through differentiating instruction, Young said — or, put another way, figuring out when a teacher is presented with a high achiever and slower learner, “What am I supposed to do with these kids in the same class?” All too often teachers have had to look to the slower learners, he said, “teach to that kid and hope the others don’t get bored. But that’s not good enough.”

Later in August, administrators, coordinators, teachers and their coaches will get an overview of the initiative and start planning.

They will create a schedule for setting priorities and pinning down teaching strategies and ways to smooth students’ academic transition into ninth grade. Together, the educators will create a middle school “boot camp,” Young said.

“We want them to be ready to go in September with a knowledge of different instructional techniques and data,” he said.


Young, who is in his first year as superintendent, is focused on the middle-school years as a time of emotional, social, physical and therefore academic upheaval for students, “ a delicate and important time of life … programs for kids in this age range need to be very intentionally geared.” He also recognizes that with the city’s K-8 structure, teens that have been in a single small school for nine years can be jarred by enter a crowded, complicated high school.

But some committee members are less convinced of the mission.

“I’m not sure it needs to be realigned. I was quite public about not being convinced we needed a change in structure,” said Marc McGovern, the committee’s vice chairman.

He agrees “it has become glaringly clear children across the district are not getting the skills to be successful in high school,” but endorses districtwide change recognizing the interrelationship of educational issues.

“We need to make sure K-5 is aligned as well. The problem doesn’t start in grade six,” he said Wednesday.

The superintendent is to come back to the committee May 4 with longer-term plans for students of middle-school age. There was to be a vote May 18 on Young’s proposed middle school, which would take about 450 students and leave some 600 in K-8 schools, before the plan was put on hold for more study.

Young’s short-term plans also call for an evaluation of the Intensive-Study Program, which is for the most advanced learners, and more coordination of the district’s Out-of-School-Time partnerships. Among other things, he wants to grow summer transition programs and incorporate anti-bullying education.