Northampton Public School District
Superintendents Entry Findings
Artwork- Grade 5 Students
Jackson Street School
John A. Provost, Ed.D Superintendent of Schools
Presented to the Northampton School Committee February 12, 2015
Table of Contents Executive Summary...3 Community Support for Learning.........5 Students.......6 Public and Private Competition..13 Teachers and Teacher Evaluation........14 Curriculum..17 Instruction......20 Student Achievement..............30 Special Education........42 School Finance.....45 English Language Learners and Students Whose First Language is not English............47 Title I...47 Technology48 World Languages....48 Leadership49 Communication50 Co Curricular Subjects50 Athletics and Activities........51 Concluding Remarks....51 Works Cited...52 Appendix....54
Executive Summary Making sense of the work already underway in our district is a critical first step to developing a coherent vision to guide the work that lies ahead. This initial assessment of current systemic conditions, though just a snapshot of a dynamically evolving system, provides a realistic assessment of the challenges that lie ahead and the strengths that the system brings to bear on them. By identifying drivers of success and barriers to success in the district, it provides a context for the next steps in the strategic planning process which are identifying the root-causes of the observed conditions, prioritizing improvement objectives, and implementing the next iteration of the District Improvement Plan. It is hoped that the reader will perceive the findings contained herein as neither excessively critical nor congratulatory, but objectively defensible based upon the evidence presented. Drivers of Success There is strong support in the community for the Northampton Public Schools. This assistance includes substantial financial aid from the Northampton Education Foundation, active school PTOs, and other community organizations. Smith College is also an important collaborator and co-producer of educational benefits for our students who may take up to six Smith classes during their Junior and Senior years at no cost to themselves or the district. The teachers of the Northampton Public Schools are one of its greatest assets. Many are considered leaders in their fields and have been recognized for excellence in teaching. Northampton has maintained a Middle and High School language program that affords students the opportunity for seven years of uninterrupted study of Spanish or French or six years of uninterrupted study of Latin. The diversity of co-curricular programs offered by the Northampton Public Schools is a source of pride for students, staff and the wider community. Observational data gathered across classroom and school settings shows that teachers are using a variety of teaching strategies to provide students with different ways to access content. Northampton offers student-athletes a wide array of opportunities for interscholastic competition including many Division 1 teams. Athletic facilities include a lighted multipurpose natural turf field, rubberized synthetic track, swimming pool, and gymnasium. These facilities are augmented by the fields and indoor track at Smith College. Northampton has a diverse AP program with a very high student participation rate in AP testing. About 75% of Northampton test-takers obtain qualifying scores of 3 or better, indicating that they are ready for college-level work.
Barriers to Success The absence of an explicit written curriculum in all subjects and grade levels has inhibited the districts ability to educate all students according to a common set of learning expectations. However, it is important to note that the district has made significant progress on this problem through its current curriculum initiative. Northampton has experienced higher than average turnover rates among teachers and administrators in recent years. Based upon the age-distribution of the current teaching staff, Northampton is likely to experience higher than average teacher turnover rates for the next decade. Many experienced teachers will be replaced by novice teachers who are particularly vulnerable to stresses that may cause them to leave the profession and who are still in the rapid competency building stage of their career. Over the past several years, the number and percentage of low income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners (known collectively as high needs students) enrolled in the Northampton Public Schools has increased. Competition from other schools is likely to have contributed to this trend. Based upon the grade-level distribution of high needs students, it seems likely that the overall percentage of high-needs students in the district will continue to increase for at least the next four years, with much of the increase occurring at Northampton High School. The overall achievement gap between high-needs students and their non-high needs peers has remained constant or increased. Northampton identifies a higher than expected proportion of its students as students with disabilities and implements a less inclusive service delivery model, including higher than average placement of students in private special education programs. Relatively high spending on special education in an era of flat budgets has constrained the districts ability to fund other needed educational priorities, notably educational technology. District budgets have sequestered large portions of the appropriated funds in district-wide cost centers thereby constraining the principals ability to exercise significant budgetary discretion within their own cost-centers.
Community Support for Learning Theres a lot of optimism and support, frankly, for the schools in the community.
-School Committee Member
According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (2014), Northampton was one of only 28 Massachusetts municipalities to attempt a Proposition 2 override vote for the 2014 fiscal year, one of only 11 municipalities to obtain an override, and one of only six municipalities to obtain an override that included funding for public schools. This speaks profoundly to the value the voters place on public education and to the trust they place in their officials to exercise stewardship of public funds. U.S. Census Statistics (2014) show that 55% of Northampton residents aged 25 or older hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Whether compared to the statewide rate of 39% or the national average which is closer to 33%, it is clear that Northamptons college completion rate is a distinguishing characteristic of the community. A particularly strong link in the high school to college connection in Northampton is the districts partnership with Smith College. Through this partnership, Northampton High School students are able to take up to two Smith College classes during their junior year of high school and four Smith College classes during their senior year of high school. Northampton High School students pay nothing for these classes and earn credit that may be used to satisfy the graduation requirements to earn their high school diploma. Last year, 80 students from Northampton High enrolled in 91 Smith College classes. The Northampton Public Schools are also the beneficiaries of ongoing support from the Northampton Education Foundation, a non-profit organization created to fund projects and programs that expand educational opportunities, foster creativity, and enhance academic experiences in Northampton's public schools (NEF Website). Through a variety of small grants, special grants, book funds and the Daniel Stephen Goldstein Fund for Arts in Northampton High School, NEF has invested more than $1.1 million in the Northampton Public Schools over the past quarter of a century. Our schools are also supported by a core of more than 100 volunteers who are recruited, trained, and placed by Volunteers in the Northampton Schools (VINS), a private, non-profit organization, with a mission of providing volunteers in all of Northampton's public schools. Each of our schools is also supported by an active and vibrant PTO. A partial listing of resources for learning provided by the PTOs includes:
The Northampton High School PTO raised approximately $20,000 for classroom technology.
The Ryan Road PTO has provided ELMOs, musical instruments, and playground equipment.
The Bridge Street PTO supported the construction of a new playground and school gardens.
The JFK PTO provided over $10,000 in grants to teachers last year to support field trips and special programs such as the science fair.
Students There are more kids who are really struggling.
Any analysis of the functioning of a school or district must begin with and proceed from an understanding of the students it serves. In Northampton, district-level descriptions of the student population are misleading, because they obscure differences in the types of students enrolled in the different schools and at various levels. From the perspective of a hypothetical student, these differences must be quite pronounced. The class of 2014 graduated from a school with much less ethnic, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity than the state or district as a whole. Nevertheless, many of these students began their academic careers in Northampton elementary schools where the enrollments for students from ethnic or linguistic minorities, low-income students, or students with disabilities exceeded the statewide averages. Each of the schools serves a unique population of students and will be treated individually in the paragraphs that follow: Bridge Street