Students across Somerville are settling into a new school year. Just a few weeks ago they (nervously, excitedly, or even begrudgingly, I’m sure) returned to the classroom. They may or may not know they returned to a district that has been steadily racking up achievements and accolades in recent years. To name a few, on the 2016 MCAS, Somerville was the state-leading urban district for growth, the Brown School earned the prestigious Commendation School Award for outstanding growth, and Somerville High School remained the only Level 1 urban high school, a distinction they’ve held for the past four years. We should all be proud that our schools are on an upward trend. But we shouldn’t be complacent. These successes didn’t happen overnight.
The progress we are seeing on MCAS and other measures took the dogged, day-to-day dedication of our teachers and school staff. It also took an unwavering and years-long commitment by the City and schools to identify and invest in key programs and needs. That work may be showing positive returns, but it isn’t over. If we want to continue the upward trajectory – and improve upon it – then we have some more homework to do this school year. Here are just a few of the initiatives we’ll be focusing on.
Universal kindergarten readiness
Research shows that providing education and support for children and families beginning with pregnancy—rather than waiting until pre-school—can significantly improve how a child will perform academically. So in Somerville, we are keenly focused on what is known as universal kindergarten readiness. This year, Somerville Public Schools (SPS) will continue to work toward ensuring Somerville children show up for kindergarten best prepared to learn and grow. SPS is expanding its partnership with CAAS Head Start and adding a third Head Start classroom within the schools. The district also added an Early Childhood Instructional Coach to support more SPS and independent classrooms, and afterschool programming for pre-K via the Community Schools program is also expanding to meet the growing need.
Developing real-time tools for student interventions
Just last month, the Boston Foundation awarded SPS with a two-year, $200,000 grant to continue development of the Student Insights data tool. This tool is a game changer. It provides teachers with a nearly real-time look at a student’s progress and where they may need additional support or interventions, which allows teachers to better meet the unique needs of individual students. During the pilot program for this tool, math scores increased for students in our test class. With this generous grant, we’ll be adding features to the tool and expanding its use to additional classes and schools.
Supporting the whole child
Of course, meeting the unique needs of our students extends far beyond academic instruction. This year SPS continues to focus on the importance of supporting the whole child, recognizing that a students’ physical, social, and emotional well-being has an impact on their ability to learn. Working in partnership with several community agencies and other City departments over the past three years, our schools have been able to introduce programs that strengthened youth wellness not only in our schools but also throughout the broader community, including a new physical education curriculum, an organized recess program, adventure programming opportunities for high-risk students and students with special needs, and more.
These initiatives have created a solid foundation for a more robust wellness program moving forward. This year, SPS invested in a District Wellness Coordinator who will oversee the sustainability of these and other wellness initiatives, including expanding mindfulness programming throughout the district.
Out-of-school-time learning opportunities help students explore and discover new interests and expand their network of adult mentors. This year, SPS is expanding out-of-school programs, especially those in the middle grades, by partnering with a number of agencies and organizations, including Citizen Schools (East Somerville Community School), Breakthrough Greater Boston (district-wide), and The Calculus Project (targeted student population at West Somerville Neighborhood School and the Winter Hill Community Innovation School). This new school year will also bring targeted ELL afterschool programs at two of our schools, and an Assistant Athletic Director who will work to support and expand our middle grades athletic program.
Again, this is just a sampling of the focused work our educators will be pursuing with the support of city and school staff this year. Successful schools commit to the overall well-being of every student through rigorous academics, expanded extracurricular and enrichment programs, and wrap-around services to ensure every child is best able to learn and grow. We’ve made it clear, we’re investing in that future—and we’ll do all the homework we have to as we strive for our student’s success.