LETTER: Candidate Sees Shortcuts in Watertown Schools’ Goals

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Dear Watertown,

I want to encourage Watertown citizens to consider the 2015/2016 Superintendent’s goals and the learning goals discussed at the August 10th School Committee meeting. Goal setting is a powerful tool that school districts use to achieve purposeful results. Goals help schools focus energy, attention, resources, and motivation. They inspire commitment and action or, in their absence, inaction.

Watertown Public Schools (WPS) is a ~$45 million per year education system, serving 2700+ diverse students with a staff of approximately 550 people. To move to excellence, WPS needs goals that are on par with our challenges and opportunities. The methods and approaches that we use to reach and measure our goals, must be commensurate with our students’ needs, our resources, and our expectations for WPS. Our School Committee should adopt a more sophisticated approach to working with WPS on goal setting. They should ask questions of our administration, study other districts, and do the hard work of strategic planning. This means understanding our districts’ weaknesses, shining a light on problems, and setting priorities so that every student receives an excellent education and our schools are a great place to work.

Currently, I see critical shortcomings in the proposed goals. (See  https://sites.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/wps/sc/archived): First, according to parents, teachers, and standardized test results, our students have serious needs which the proposed goals overlook. Student data indicates that we should have math and science goals as some students do not reach minimum proficiency, while many advanced learners go unchallenged. Data also shows that we should have goals to improve student connectedness, as we have disengaged students at all levels. We should have technology goals as our eighth grade moves to one computer per student.

Second, it is not clear what strategies will be employed to meet the proposed learning goals or how progress will be measured. For example, one goal states that all students will achieve minimum reading proficiency. However, it is unclear how we will reach this goal. Have we budgeted adequately, do we have enough reading tutors, and do we have the right curriculum to achieve the goal? How will we track and measure progress, and know if we met our goal? We need these details before approving goals.

Another shortcoming is that the Superintendent’s goals are disconnected from the WPS learning goals. For example, one superintendent goal is to draft a comprehensive science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) plan. (I would argue that drafting a plan is not a goal.) Even so, despite the goal, STEAM does not appear in the district’s learning or professional development goals.

So how do we adopt a more sophisticated approach? We map our student data (on K-12, low, mid, and high achieving, and special education students), together with our district vision, superintendent goals, learning goals, budget goals, and professional development goals. We also talk to (or survey) students, teachers, administrators, and parents to identify our gaps, weaknesses, and what is needed to reach the next level. Then, we craft goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic, and time-bound) and we link the Superintendents’, district, learning, budget, and professional development goals. Next, we articulate the concrete, evidence-based steps and processes, and identify the curriculum, resources, and partnerships, needed to reach our goals. We also develop a monitoring and evaluation plan to ensure that we implement strategies effectively, track progress, and make mid-course corrections as needed. Finally, we commit to learning, admit failures, and revamp as needed until we reach our goals.

I urge the School Committee and WPS administration to adopt these practices to move WPS towards excellence. The School Committee is poised to approve our districts’ goals at the 9/16/2015 meeting.

Candace Miller

Have a Letter to the Editor, send it to watertownmanews@gmail.com.

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