My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Exciting Changes At ARMS

I've been meaning to do this blog post all summer, and now that the summer is almost over, I figured I better finally get it up. And I know I've been accused of focusing on the negative on this blog, but I'd also like to be clear that if/when I see good things happening, I'm certainly going to be equally loud about those.

So, what I'd like to share with my blog readers is the VERY impressive letter sent to 6th grade parents in late June from ARMS Principal Mike Hayes. This letter (which I understand from Mike is a new initiative) described the importance of helping rising 7th graders continue to practice their reading and math skills over the summer, and gives very specific suggestions for families about how students can maintain these skills.

The English department (chaired by Heather Sullivan-Flynn) requests that rising 7th and 8th graders read one of four books (one list for 7th graders, one list for 8th graders), and has copies of these books available to loan to families if needed. (My rising 7th grader read one of the books, and liked it so much that we got the sequel the next day, and he is now reading a second book on this list.)

The math department (chaired by Steve Zakon-Anderson, who has also contributed to this blog!) provides a very helpful description of math options for 7th graders, and also provided a HUGE amount of material for summer study (e.g., sample 7th grade pre-test, sample 7th grade extensions problems, sample 7th grade final exam) on the website ( This type of clarity and transparency is extremely helpful, and really marks a dramatic change from prior practice (in which the content of pre-test material, and sometimes even the existence of such a test, wasn't known to parents or students).

I remarked on the very helpful nature of this material, and publicly thanked Mike Hayes, at a Regional SC meeting in June, but then realized that those who didn't watch this meeting (or have rising 7th graders themselves) wouldn't be aware of its existence -- hence I wanted to make sure that at least my blog readers know about these impressive steps being taken by the middle school administration. This strikes me as a very good sign for the upcoming year in the middle school!


Michael Jacques said...

Having attended several of the Math meetings at the MS. I would like to thank both Steve Z-A and Mike Hayes for their work. The explanations, the problem sets, the new academic study time, etc. is spectacular. I would encourage every 7th grade parent to help the math department as it moves forward on this initiative.

This is exactly they type of information parents have been searching for or in my case worried about not getting. I believe if we as parents support and encourage this type of initiative we can have a district that others will envy in all respects.

Thanks also to the parents who initiated this discussion, the many parents who voiced there opinions in many meetings, wrote letters to express their position, and did not stop until we reached common ground with the administration and the math department.

Anonymous said...

But Mike, why does it take parents writing letters, voicing opinions, and in your words "...not stopping until we reached common ground..."? These complaints have gone on for years, parents are burning out. This was the RIGHT thing for Mike Hayes and Mr. Z-A to do, since it is giving transparency to the various math tests given to 7th graders. Previously, only some students were given a 2nd test and hardly anyone knew about it. This town supposedly prides itself on social justice. Social justice exists when all people know about the various educational opportunities, not a select few. It is about time!

Anonymous said...

Regarding "It is about time". I agree. My son was in 7th grade 7 years ago and several parents complained about the math curriculum. Seven years to get a change like this? It's not a wooohooo moment, it's more of a "what the hell took so long?" moment.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, this blog gets enough flak for being negative. Can we just celebrate the new developments and be happy for this example of administration, SC, and parents working together?! Thank you MH, SZ-A, CS, et al for helping to make this happen.

Anonymous said...

OK folks, it's time to connect the dots:

Would any of this be happening without Catherine Sanderson and other SC members pushing?


WW Mom of rising 6th grader said...

We were very impressed that in our kids' fifth grade class at WW, they sent the kids home with a similar set of HW for the summer (a packet including the 6th grade math competition, sodoku, & other problems for the challenge math portion, plus an assignment to finish 10-20 specific pages from their 5th grade math workbook, plus read 3 books and write one essay. We are hoping that this was an across-the-board assignment for all rising 6th graders in all schools.

There is some reward for finishing this work (you get to visit your fifth grade teacher or sit with your friends at lunch once or something along those lines).

In the lower grades, my other kids were sent home with their math workbooks and encouraged to work on them over the summer.

Michael Jacques said...

Anon 4:02

I could not agree with you more about the time it takes. It is far to long. I am aware after speaking with many parents of older kids that this debate, discussion, meetings, and letter writings are not the first. Better people than me have tried without success.

I could focus on the hundreds of parents over the many years who have fought the good fight but I would rather focus on the fact that we now have an open dialog, real information, and a willingness to change. We need to focus on this change and ensure it is completed, as it is a trial basis. For me this is a real break through. It needs to be nurtured and then hopefully it will take root and grown into other areas of our schools.

The two other people I forgot to thank were Rick Hood and Catherine Sanderson. Rick moderated the last two meetings and Catherine participated in all the meetings as both a SC member and a parent.

Anon 7:55. I connected the dots long ago. Without Catherine, Steve, Irv, Rob, and Rick we would not be making the changes we are today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks also to School Committee members Irv Rhodes, Catherinse Sanderson and Rick Hood for attending the middle school math meetings and for your thoughtful insights.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

It does sound like there's been good (and needed) progress regarding communications at ARMS. However, I am worried about an article in yesterday's Gazette indicating that Mike Hayes supports adding the sixth grade to the middle school. Given that ARMS has so many serious issues to address I think it is completely premature even to contemplate adding an additional grade to the school.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many 6th grade teachers Mr. Hayes spoke to before going public with this proposal.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the "6th graders at the MS" idea should be shot down before it has been fully examined and discussed. There are definitely some issues that would be addressed by this arrangement -- so the more discussion the better.

Anonymous said...

There are also some issues that would be created by this arrangement.