Friday, November 18, 2016

Weekly Roundup (11/18/16)

Weekly Roundup

We have been so busy drafting the district strategy that I apologize that this week's Roundup will need to be brief.  I look forward to sharing the full strategy document soon! I will share it with all staff and many community groups and look forward to sharing the Strategy at our next school committee meeting on November 29th. Thanks to everyone for the amount of energy and time you have taken to meaningfully contribute to this document over the past two and a half years. 

I spent a good portion of my time this week meeting with many administrators to finalize their goals and educator plans.  Administrators need to have four goals.  One student learning goal, one professional practice goal, and two goals that come from the district improvement plan (for central office administrators) or the school improvement plans (for building administrators). They all did a great job in creating SMART goals that will help our district continue to improve. 

This week, I met with the town manager from Groton and the town administrator from Dunstable, along with Michael Knight and Frank Antonelli from our business and office. We are starting to meet once a month in an attempt to continue with collaborative discussions regarding the financing of the regional district and municipal services. Last month, we met in Dunstable Town Hall and this week in Groton Town Hall.  Next up, the district will host!

On Tuesday evening, I held the last session of our Future Search group (photo below). This group provided some vital feedback about our District Strategy document. Based on their feedback, I am adding many pages of background narrative to help explain the plan.  I am so grateful for their guidance in making this a community friendly document that can be understood without lengthy personal explanation. 

On Wednesday morning, I attended a training through the Merrimack Valley Superintendent's Association. We heard from speakers Nancy Parker and Eliza Williamson of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI offers some amazing free support groups. If you are interested in learning more about them, check out their website

This week, I had the pleasure of visiting the high school for a site visit. I apologize that I did not capture any photos but I can assure you that wonderful learning was occurring! I enjoyed going into a Latin class as well as some English and history classes. 

After attending the Valley Collaborative board meeting, I headed into Boston to attend a meeting with Representative Harrington and the office of local mandates at the State House.  We did so to continue to advocate the need for a report to look at the financial impacts regionalization causes and our need for full funding for such things as regional transportation reimbursement

I was very grateful for having the opportunity to learn from Cheney Harper today with our administrative team.  Cheney shared the new state expectations surrounding English Language Learners. Thanks also to Dianna Fulreader for sharing materials she received at a training for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) from the May Institute.  To continue my theme of learning, after the leadership meeting, I headed into Billerica to hear from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education about the new state recertification guidelines. We will share what I learned with staff soon!


Below is a small sample of what you can find if you follow our district Twitter chat (#gdrsdchat). 

Thanking Those (Of Ours) Who Serve

Below is a photo of the care packages being sent to GD alumni who are currently serving our country, another wonderful product of the high school advisory program. 


I happened to witness the signing of these certificates honoring the amazing new members of the GD National Art Honor Society and the Junior Art Honor Society. Congratulations to all inductees. 


Great job!

Below is a photo of the Swallow Union Student Council loading the truck of all the donated food items the school donated to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. 

Representing GD!

Congratulations to our Mid-Wach Volleyball All Stars (Jordan, Alexa, and Brecken) and their fabulous coaches! 

I introduce you all to our 2016 GD Quiz Show team!


Congratulations to our very own Senor Bissonette for being awarded the new teacher commendation at the 2016 Massachusetts Foreign Language Conference.  

Happy weekend to all!

-Dr. Rodriguez

Kristan Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Groton-Dunstable Regional School District

Friday, October 28, 2016

Weekly Roundup (10/28/16)

Weekly Roundup

I had a great visit to Swallow Union this week.  Students were really engaging with texts and applying lessons from our reader's workshop model.  I also saw lessons on nonfiction reading (science notebooks) and in math. See photos below for some great images.

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of working with all members of the MTSS task force to review our draft logic model and gain recommendations and insight on the objectives that relate to the implementation of a multi-tiered system of support. This work will be shared with all staff for feedback and then shared publicly at a school committee meeting.

On Tuesday evening, community participants joined me in the high school library to review and refine our district's draft core values. Thank you to the volunteers. We had staff, school committee, and board of selectmen representation. We will do one additional refinement of these and the finalized version will be brought before the school committee for adoption next month. Later Tuesday evening, we had a school committee meeting where our German exchange students presented!

I had a great site visit to Boutwell this week.  As the photo below shows, students were practicing emergency preparation as a component of our ALICE program.

Our leadership team met and refined our logic model this week.  As I have shared before, all administrators in the district are taking a 3 credit course called Universally Designed Leadership.  We meet once a month to take the course in person and then once a month they have an online module to complete.  The course ends in December and their final project will be to share artifacts and a reflection on a universally designed faculty meeting, parent/community event, or professional development session.  It is great to have our administrators "walking the walk". They do this in addition to our other monthly leadership meetings where we focus on collaboratively moving the district improvement plan and strategy forward. If you haven't done so recently, thank your administrators for their hard work.  They are an exceptional group.

We Need Your Feedback!

In GDRSD, we continually strive to build a collaborative community where all stakeholder voices are heard. Currently, our district Professional Development Committee is reviewing our school calendar in terms of the half days we provide for teacher professional development. As a first step, we asked our teachers to provide us with feedback on their preferences for scheduled half days. Now, we'd love to hear from you. Please take a moment to answer this two question survey.

Our Newly Adopted District Improvement Plan!

I am so excited to share the recently adopted 2016-2017 District Improvement Plan.  Please check out the plan HERE.  You will see a focus on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Social Emotional Learning (SEL), a review for additional funding sources, partnerships with local and global communities, and universally designed professional development.

Our New Superintendent!

I am so pleased to say that on Tuesday's evening, Bill Ryan was appointed by the school committee as the new Interim Superintendent, pending successful contract negotiations.  Mr. Ryan has degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Boston University. He spent 34 years working in the Acton-Boxborough public school system, the last nine years as superintendent of schools before retiring in 2009.  He also held a successful interim post in the Billerica Public Schools in FY2012. I am sure in future weeks we will talk about opportunities for the community to meet him. Knowing that the district will be in the capable hands of Mr. Ryan gives me great peace to leave at the end of December.

School News

Swallow Union (Submitted by Principal Myerson)

We had a very busy field trip schedule last week at SU.  Our 4th graders went to Mt. Wachusett as part of their land form unit.  The 3rd grade crew took their annual visit to Plimoth Planation, which is always a class favorite.  In addition, our 1st graders went pumpkin picking, and are using their pumpkins as part of their measurement unit.

High School (Submitted by Principal Woodlock)
We had a wonderful evening at GD last Friday night even though the weather did not cooperate.  Please check out the link below to see the details:

We are pleased to announce that seniors, Abigail Vervaeke and Zach Gavel have been awarded the National School Development Council Award for Growth and Student Leadership in Learning. These awards are given annually to seniors who have consistently pursued a high level of academic effort and who have served as role models for the student body. These two students certainly display admirable character and accomplishment. Congratulations Zach and Abigail!

We are enjoying hosting our new friends from Pfungstadt in Germany.  Last week they enjoyed some history at Plimouth Plantation as well as enjoy a typically New England tour of a cranberry bog.

Mr. Villagomez's  government class played host to congressional candidate Ann Wofford this week.  Thanks to Mrs. Wofford for visiting us and graciously spending her time talking with our students.

Boutwell (Submitted by Mr. Hoyt):

Math – This week we focused on Shapes, Position and Spatial Relations.  We have been working on this unit for about 3 weeks and the focus has included identifying simple shapes and ideas like "near and far" or "on top, under and next to."
English Language Arts (ELA) – Our Lively Letter of the week was “E” – E makes it’s own sounds “eh, eh, eh” the long “EEE” and it is also known as King Ed as so when “E” is added to the end of a word he helps the vowel in those words say their name.
Social Emotional learning (SEL) – Al and his pals introduced the lesson “Let’s Cooperate” which is designed to introduce the concept of taking turns and sharing.
Upcoming Event: Groton-Dunstable Drama Students Present Arsenic and Old Lace
This fall, theater students at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School will be presenting Arsenic and Old Lace, a comedy by Joseph Kesselring. The cast and crew consists of fourteen actors, three stage managers, and many more backstage crew, set builders, painters, and costume designers. The comedy follows Mortimer Brewster, a Brooklyn drama critic who discovers that his two sweet, charming, elderly aunts may be hiding an interesting secret. To add to the peculiarities of Mortimer’s family, Mortimer’s brother thinks that he is Teddy Roosevelt, and no one in the family ever mentions his other brother, who has not been seen in Brooklyn in years.
The play is being directed by Jennifer Leung, an English teacher at GD Middle School, and student directed by Celeste Vandermillen. Performances are on Friday, November 4 at 7 P.M. and Saturday, November 5 at 2 P.M. and 7 P.M. Tickets are $10 general admission and $8 for students and seniors. Shows are in the GDRHS Black Box Theatre, 703 Chicopee Row, Groton, MA.


Swallow Union Site Visit

Boutwell Site Visit

Happy Weekend All!

Kristan Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Groton-Dunstable Regional School District

Friday, October 21, 2016

Weekly Roundup (10/21/2016)

Weekly Roundup

Last week, we had Auditor Bump visit the district to speak about the impact unfunded mandates has on our school system. You can read an article about it in the Groton Herald and can click here  to read the Nashoba Valley Voice article about her visit. 

I enjoyed starting my week at the high school.  It was great to visit the staff and students.  Some of the highlights included seeing students program and run simulations with robots, students leading musical practice groups, students discussing The Old Man and the Sea, students problem solving through mathematical thinking, students using our new maker-space called the "Collaboratory", use of our new approach to language instruction called OWL (Organic World Language), and evidence of mastery oriented feedback being utilized! See photos below.

This week, I met with area district leaders to discuss a cross-district model of professional development.  We also received training on inclusive practices. The group also discussed areas for cross district collaboration in the areas of curriculum. Meeting the needs of all students when there are financial limitations requires collaboration and it is great to see so many districts willing to share thoughts and resources as we collaborate!

On Tuesday evening, the Budget and Finance Subcommittee met with other members of the school committee.  I was there along with Frank Antonelli (Interim Director of Business and Finance) and Michael Knight (Assistant Business Manager).  During this meeting, the school committee discussed guidance they will give to the administration as we begin to prepare the superintendent's recommended budget.  This guidance will be shared with community at Tuesday's school committee meeting. They will also share this information with town officials in both towns as they all plan to get together in early November. 

It was such a pleasure to participate in a full day instructional data meeting with staff yesterday.  Dr. Novak led the group to engage in district wide analysis -looking at patterns and trends and discussing ways departments can unpack what we saw using tools such as root cause analysis protocols.  It began with a reviewing data against past district improvement plans, our current district improvement plan and thinking about future needs. This work leads directly into the district's logic model and strategy and will be shared with all staff as well as a formal presentation in the form of a Data Overview to the school committee and community in November. Thanks to the following staff for their participation! Below are the names of the teacher leaders and administrators who did this important work!
  • Derek Asadoorian
  • Kelly Cook
  • Dorothy Dwyer
  • Liz Garden
  • Karen Gartland
  • Jill Greene
  • Jacqueline Liebold
  • James Lin
  • Michael Lubawski
  • Jennifer Maio
  • Peter Myerson
  • Katie Novak
  • Dan Reid
  • Kristan Rodriguez
  • Adam Snodgrass
  • Kelly True
  • Michael Woodlock
  • Keith Woods
    We had our first Sustainability Committee meeting this week.  The sustainability committee members are below. The first meeting was a planning meeting.  We met as a group to get to know one another, set expected outcomes, and create a schedule of meetings for the group for the remainder of the calendar year. As a district, we are engaging in a programmatic review to define efficiencies in our budget.  The sustainability committee will review this process with us.  In addition, the sustainability committee will be highly focused on finding additional revenue sources to fund the district's operating budget and meet the needs of all students. 

    5By School CommitteeLaura TeepleCommunity Member
    Scott WhitefieldCommunity Member
    Donna FosberryCommunity Member
    Jennifer DuaneCommunity Member
    Rodney HershCommunity Member
    1By Dunstable BOSTracy Hutton (Town Administrator)Town Administrator
    1By Dunstable AdvisoryLorraine A. Leonard (Town Accountant)Town Accountant
    1By Groton BOSJack PetropoulosSelectman
    1By Groton FinComBud RobertsonFinCom Member
    1By SuperintendentLucas SmithGDEA Rep
    2By School Committee Angela DonahueSchool Committee
    By School Committee Stephanie CroninSchool Committee
    Ex Officio/Resource Members
    1SuperintendentKristan Rodriguez (Facilitator)
    1Dir. of Business & FinanceFrank Antonelli
    1RepresentativeRep. Sheila Harrington
    Associate Members
    2David PitkinCommunity
    Sara ClintonCommunity 

    Core Values Event (Open Invitation)

    Last year, we had about 80 members of our greater community get together to help us define a draft vision statement and core values, in a process called Future Search.  Recently, we adopted the vision statement that came out of this work.  We are currently working on finalizing the district's core values.  We invite you to join us (whether you attended Future Search or not).  We are meeting on Tuesday 10/25 from 5:30-6:30 pm in the high school library. We have only one hour so we will get straight to work at 5:30.  We will share the work from this group later that evening at our televised school committee meeting!


    Site Visit to the High School

    Friday, October 14, 2016

    Weekly Roundup (10/14/16)

    Happy Friday to All:

    Yesterday, I had a meeting with a parent who inquired about Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  We chatted about UDL and discussed potential ways to share more about authentic UDL with the community. I know that it was introduced in last year's District Improvement Plan and that I have shared videos, blog posts, and handouts on this before.  However, it always helps to circle back to important initiatives and, thus, this blog will be dedicated to unpacking UDL a bit for our greater community.

    Although new to Groton-Dunstable, UDL is not a new concept.  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on cognitive neuroscience.  The concept came out of researchers from Harvard University 30 years ago.  The term UDL was coined in 1995.  In simple terms, there are three networks in the brain that need to be activated to achieve authentic learning.  These three networks are explained in this short video if you are interested in learning more about them.

    The concept of UDL is a part of our newly adopted vision statement. Specifically, the statement includes the following: "Our students are an active part of the design and delivery of their own education so they become self-directed, creative problem solvers. Our universally designed, tiered instructional model meets the needs of all students, is based on a comprehensive standards-based curriculum and assessed by authentic tasks." Moving towards authentic UDL implementation is a multi-year process.

    You may notice the term UDL being used by educators a lot lately.  Why is that you ask? One of the main reasons is that UDL is gaining national and state momentum due to the inclusion of it in our laws and regulatory guidance from departments of education.  For example, UDL was written directly in the new Federal Education Act entitled,  Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which Congress passed and was signed by President Obama in December of 2015.  This Act replaced No Child Left Behind. For the first time, the nation’s general K-12 education law defines and endorses Universal Design for Learning.  The references to UDL are not limited to the new federal law.  Please see below for additional places where UDL is referenced.

    • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)  is referred to explicitly in the 2016 U.S. Department of Education's National Education Technology Plan.
    • The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 emphasizes that pre-service training through teacher education programs incorporate instruction on strategies consistent with UDL.
    In Massachusetts
    • If renewing a professional ­level license with an expiration date that falls on or after July 1 2016, educators must have at least 15 hours of training in strategies for effective schooling for students with disabilities and instruction of students with diverse learning styles (UDL counts towards this requirement).
    • UDL is a part of DESE's Massachusetts Tiered System of Support Blueprint
    • UDL is embedded in the new educator evaluation model (serving as one of 3 guiding principles in the Guidebook for Inclusive Practices).
    • UDL is a component of the state's new Massachusetts Playbook titled, "Equitable Access to Excellent Educators" that supports The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s commitment that "All students should have equitable access to great educators."
    If you are interested in learning more about UDL, below are a few handouts and a video that may be of interest.  A few are a bit outdated but still relevant.
    I want to take a few minutes to clear up some misconceptions about UDL that I have heard.
    1. One misconception is that UDL is only to support students who are struggling academically. While a lot of UDL literature is focused on students with disabilities, UDL is a Tier 1 approach, meaning it is used with all students. It is intended to meet the needs of all learners, those at, above, or below grade level.  
    2. One thing I hear is that we "purchased UDL". UDL is not a set of specific textbooks or resources.  It is not one particular delivery method for instruction. There is no "canned" UDL version out there that all need to do. It is not easy to implement and even though many of our staff are working towards implementing UDL practices in their classrooms, it will take years to authentically integrate completely (and will always need constant refinement).  It is a time consuming process and staff need the support and focus to do this over multiple years.
    3.  Another misconception is that UDL is "all fun" and reduces rigor in our classrooms.  When done correctly, UDL maintains rigor while addressing all students needs by reducing barriers. One misconception I hear is that because choice is a large part of UDL, that students are not challenged to do specific tasks (such as writing an essay).  This is not the case.  All teachers need to be responsive to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. Some of these frameworks require students to complete specific skills. For example, in math, students are required to solve an equation or graph a line; in English, students are required to write informational text with a firm thesis and a clear introduction, body and conclusion. Students are still expected to do this in a universally designed class.
    4. A last misconception that I will address is the concern that UDL will not challenge a student who lacks motivation as they will choose the "easy way out".  The choices we provide are intended to have similar levels of rigor. In addition, students are encouraged to have a "growth mindset" and are encouraged to engage in choices that may go outside their comfort zone.  Mastery-oriented feedback is provided by the staff who will work with the students to ensure they challenge themselves.  In fact, the student who lacks motivation is often not engaged. Engagement is one of the three main principles of UDL. This topic also relates to executive functions. The guidelines share the following, "Associated with networks that include the prefrontal cortex, these capabilities allow humans to overcome impulsive, short-term reactions to their environment and instead to set long-term goals, plan effective strategies for reaching those goals, monitor their progress, and modify strategies as needed...The UDL framework typically involves efforts to expand executive capacity in two ways: 1) by scaffolding lower level skills so that they require less executive processing; and 2) by scaffolding higher level executive skills and strategies so that they are more effective and developed."  Building these executive functions includes UDL checkpoints in the areas of goal setting, planning and strategy development, managing information and resources, and monitoring progress.
    By inviting all learners in our classrooms, we are teaching students valuable lessons in diversity, acceptance, and the value of inclusion. Most importantly, we are providing a rigorous, engaging education to all our students, which is imperative for their future success. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides a framework for teachers to design curriculum and instruction so that all students have equal opportunity to learn the same rigorous material. UDL provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged. Below are the 2016-2017 action steps created by a team of Groton-Dunstable educators called the "MTSS Task Force". These will guide our UDL work this year.
    • A group of interested educators at each school will institute UDL Rounds to offer teachers the opportunity to observe universally-designed best practices in their peers and collect information for future school-level UDL toolkits.
    • For all educators beginning their new Evaluation cycle (year 1), administrators will encourage staff to set professional or student learning goals focused on gaining knowledge in the area of UDL.
    • School leaders will model UDL principles through universally designed staff meetings.
    • Each school will offer multiple means of representation to inform the parent and community about the importance of UDL in meeting the needs of all students as evidenced by artifacts and the school calendar.
    I hope after reading this you know a bit more about UDL!  I am sure you will be learning much more about it in the coming years!
    Kristan Rodriguez, Ph.D.
    Groton-Dunstable Regional School District