Reignited partnership between SSU and Salem public schools a win-win for both

 

 

In 1854, when Salem Normal School welcomed its first class of women who wanted to prepare for a teaching career, the city of Salem embraced the new school, endowing its One Broad Street location. Over the decades, the city and school developed a relationship that was mutually beneficial, but that waxed and waned.

 

That close historical partnership is entering a new phase with the recent signing of a memorandum of agreement between Salem State University (Salem Normal School’s heir) and Salem Public Schools (SPS).

 

Mayor Kim Driscoll is pleased that SSU will expand their connection with SPS through their Graduate School of Education and their commitment to the Horace Mann Laboratory School especially. “There is no more important mission for our city than ensuring that all our children receive a first class education that provides them with an opportunity to succeed,” she said.

 

One of the major sources of excitement for both SPS Superintendent Margarita Ruiz and SSU Dean of the School of Education, Dr. Joseph Cambone, is the return of the Horace Mann Laboratory School to its original purpose as a true “training school” for SSU students. “Some of our faculty longed to get back to collaborating with Salem Public Schools,” Dr. Cambone said during a phone interview.

Horace Mann Laboratory School was founded in 1896 and is now located at 33 Loring Avenue. Its 265 K-5 students and 26 teachers have traditionally drawn on the comprehensive resources of Salem State University.

 

When Superintendent Ruiz stepped in as superintendent in 2015, however, that liaison with the SSU School of Education was at an all time low. After the Horace Mann principal resigned soon after Superintendent Ruiz’s arrival, Dr. Cambone had a proposal for her and School Committee Chair, Mayor Kim Driscoll: What if a “very qualified” SSU faculty member served as interim principal for a year so Dr. Ruiz could have the time to think through where she wanted to go next with Horace Mann?

 

Superintendent Ruiz and Mayor Driscoll agreed, and SSU faculty member Chad Leith, EdD, was appointed interim principal for 2015-2016. “That was the genesis of our reigniting what has been in the past a close relationship but that had, over the years, become less strong,” Dr. Cambone said.

 

Dr. Cambone and Superintendent Ruiz wanted to use this turning point as an opportunity to explore the mutually beneficial ways SPS and the SSU School of Education could strengthen their ties and craft a formal agreement to memorialize that bond. To that end, they asked Leith to help convene a “blueprint committee” to rethink the SSU/SPS relationship and to consider ways in which the historic partnership between the two institutions could be better leveraged to enhance the learning experiences of Horace Mann students and aspiring teachers from SSU.

 

The blueprint committee included SSU faculty, an undergraduate education student, Horace Mann faculty, and a Horace Mann parent, and came up with five categories of activities to address.

 

Among those activities is collaboration between SSU and Horace Mann faculty around “curriculum enhancement”, meaning how teachers actually teach their subject matter. “Each year, whatever the core focus of Horace Mann is for their professional development and curriculum, we’ll work on our (SSU) side with some of our experts to assist,” Dr. Cambone said. This year, the core focus at Horace Mann is science.

 

Thanks to a 3-year grant, the SSU School of Education faculty and students and the Horace Mann community are also collaborating on “youth development”, including vacation, after school and summer programming. Winter and spring break “vacation academies” are under discussion.

As part of their curriculum, SSU students observe and student teach in classrooms while they do coursework to become early child educators. Returning Horace Mann to true “laboratory” status boosts the opportunities for students with interests in English language learners and kids with special needs to gain that targeted experience.

 

“Central to everything is our educator development,” Dr. Cambone said, adding that SSU students may go to Horace Mann to student teach and then return to their SSU classroom for faculty critique. “There is a back and forth between SSU and Horace Mann.”

 

Following his 2015-2016 year as interim principal, Leith was selected as principal of Horace Mann after submitting to a process that involved input from Superintendent Ruiz and the community. Once selected, that SSU faculty member steps off the faculty and into the role of principal for just under a three-year term, renewable one time. Leith is still an SSU employee, but reports first to Superintendent Ruiz and then to Dr. Cambone.

 

Leith’s expertise in English language learners (ELL) and inclusion classrooms, and his experience as a bilingual educator dovetail well with the needs of Horace Mann’s diverse student body, many of whom are newcomers who speak little or no English.

 

“Our students and families represent the full spectrum of the larger Salem community. We want to be sure we are continually looking for new ways of supporting and challenging our learners academically so that all students are moving forward, regardless of their particular needs,” he said.

 

The “blueprint committee” also suggested that Horace Mann support community outreach. To that end, a bilingual human resource specialist was hired to spearhead more Horace Mann community school efforts and to work on banding together with parents, the after school programs, service programs and other resources within the city.

 

“Another goal for the current year is to strengthen our approach to family and community engagement. I’m proud to say that we have a lot of happy children and families, but I know we can do better,” Leith said.

 

Both Dr. Cambone and Superintendent Ruiz point to the broader implications for the entire district of the revitalized Horace Mann/Salem Public Schools connection. “As students do their practicums at Horace Mann, they’ll get excited and think about working for us here at Salem. That’s what we want to be able to do,” Superintendent said.

 

“We are really strengthening the pipeline for our graduates training in Salem and then coming back to Salem to work. This is one of the benefits for the larger district,” Dr. Cambone said. “With Mayor Driscoll’s, SSU President Meservey’s and Superintendent Ruiz’s help, the stars are aligned for us to say, ‘Hey. This is a great way for us to get back to what we believe in.”

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275 Years of the Black Picnic

Salem United will focus on voter registration at July 16 event

By Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

Over a century before the Civil War, Salem was among a handful of Massachusetts towns that allowed enslaved and freed blacks to gather once a year and elect their own Black Governor, who spoke on behalf of all blacks and served as a judge, mediator and liaison.

 

That day, called “Negro Election Day” in 1741, was the first occurrence of voting rights for blacks in the United States. Now known as the Salem Willows Black Picnic, it will celebrate its 275th anniversary on Saturday, July 16, and Doreen Wade couldn’t be prouder.

 

Salem United

Left to right: Su Almeida, Salem United Treasurer, Doreen Wade, Salem United Founder and President, Mayor Kim Driscoll, Ann Carlson, Salem United Historian

 

“During this crazy election year, it is especially important to let people know the role Salem played in the black vote and to show everyone the importance of voting,” said the founder of the Salem United Organization, which hosts the event. “Our goal is to bring the day back to its origin and maintain its mission to voter registration and family unity.”

 

To that end, the event collaborates with the Young Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts for a get out and vote campaign statewide and a day of voter registration. The group will host a voter registration table at the event. Wade said that anyone with a driver’s license or birth certificate would be able to register on the spot at the Salem Willows Black Picnic.

 

Wade stresses that the day is geared to the entire community, not just its black members. “We want everyone out there to understand the importance of the vote,” she said.

 

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2015 Salem Black Picnic-kers

 

“With the republicans and Democrats in such disarray, we need to have all voters registered and educated to who they are voting for and what they are voting for,” she added. Salem United will be hosting family oriented vendors, including educational and health groups, as well as speakers to highlight the historical significance of the day.

 

The Picnic is also a day for family-oriented fun. Since 1885, Salem Willows Park has been the Picnic’s annual location and has always included barbecues, volleyball games, dances and more. This year, the musical entertainment on the Main Stage will feature the Dave Macklin Band, Purpose Music Group, and various other performers. Children ages 5 to 14 can enjoy free face painting, arts and crafts and other hands-on activities.

 

And, of course, there will be food. “The day is also a day everyone came together and cooked out. There are grills galore and all you smell is barbecue,” Wade said, reminding people that is it fine for them to bring their own grills.

 

Wade, who is Publisher and CEO of New England Informer dba N.E. Informer Newsmagazine, founded Salem United in 2015 to preserve and restore the Salem Willows Black Picnic. “As we celebrate its history and its 275th year anniversary, we felt it would be easier if we were a formal organization,” she said.

 

Organizing the 2016 event, she was impressed with the support from the City of Salem, from Mayor Kim Driscoll’s office to the City officials (many of whom are marching in the parade) and licensing departments. She is disappointed that Massachusetts didn’t embrace and support the July 16 event, but hopes the 2017 Black Picnic may receive more state recognition.

 

Nonetheless, Wade is upbeat and enthusiastic and steadfast in her commitment to the Black Picnic’s mission. “I hope people take away from this event that their voices are important. A day of unity is healthy and necessary. We can come together as a community,” she said.

CAPTION FOR PHOTO AT TOP: The Black Picnic, which started as “Negro Election Day” in 1741, at its first celebration at Salem Willows in 1885.

For more information, visit http://www.neinformer.net/BlackPicnic.html.

 

Math Common Core : Friend or Foe?

 

Although Common Core State Standards were adopted in Massachusetts in 2010, the topic is still a lightening rod for impassioned critique and opinion. There is even an initiative, “End Common Core MA”, to place the increasingly controversial academic benchmarks on the 2016 state ballot, the first time voters would decide whether to keep the K-12 math and reading standards.

 

But for the parents of a young child who is learning math in a way that bears little resemblance to the way they were taught, there is a pressing issue that is more personal than political: how do I help my child with his math homework when I don’t understand it myself?

 

What exactly are math teachers teaching these children and how is it so different from how their parents were taught the same subject in the past?

 

In a nutshell, Common Core Standards for Mathematics emphasize the importance of building conceptual understanding before requiring students to memorize facts. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for parents is the fact that Common Core Standards have also replaced much of the language they learned to describe mathematical functions with new words. Instead of “reducing” fractions, students now “simplify.” Instead of “borrowing” or “carrying”, students now “regroup” or “trade.” Doing calculations in one’s head is encouraged; spitting out the right answer without being to explain how you got it is not.

 

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Pamela Halpern, Associate Professor at Salem State University in the Education Department, teaches math methods courses to students who will become elementary and middle school teachers. In the past, students learned in a directed, structured, “here’s what you do, here’s how you do it, here’s an example, now go do it” way. “We weren’t ever taught why we were doing what we were doing and what it meant,” Halpern said, adding, “Neither teacher nor student knew or cared what it meant as long as we got the right answer.”

 

While she is a proponent of Common Core Standards, she emphasizes to her classes that it is part of their ongoing responsibility to help parents understand how the standards translate into the day to day math work their children do at school.

 

“We in education do a disservice to parents and to ourselves by not letting parents in and educating them as to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and then actually having them do some of the work that their children are doing in class. We need to explain why we’re teaching what we’re teaching,” she said.

 

These days, there is a lot more talking during math classes because Common Core emphasizes that students actually understand the problem and persevere in solving it. They are encouraged to be curious, to have a variety of ways to solve each problem, and to be able to justify their arguments and critique the reasoning of others. “Math is about more than calculating. There are so many different ways to solve a problem and think about it, and so when students share their thinking, it opens up new ways of thinking for all students,” Halpern said.

 

Arthur Unobskey, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for Gloucester Public Schools, believes that Common Core math standards are a step in the right direction. “We need to teach differently in order to build an understanding of relationships that force students to connect different ideas they have learned, rather than just solve the problem. Our kids have not been able to compete with kids from other parts of the world because we don’t understand what is going on in a mathematics problem; we don’t understand how to apply our skills to new situations,” he said.

 

 

Unobskey admits it is an ongoing challenge to help parents understand the new ways math is being taught. Principals and teachers take time to explain the curriculum at school functions, such as Meet the Teacher nights, and teachers discuss it in newsletters, parent conferences and letters sent home. Marguerite Ruiz, Superintendent of Salem Public Schools, said that her district focuses its efforts at the school level through Math Nights and Open Houses. Salem has also invested in Math Coaches, teachers who have expertise and often certification in math, to plan these events and to serve as leaders and coaches of teachers at schools.

 

According to Halpern, this may not be enough. She tells her students that parent math nights are essential and should be held at least once every quarter. “Parents don’t know. I think if we clued them in, they’d be on board with the way we’re teaching things. We can’t expect them to know how to do it if they’ve never seen it before,” she said.

 

Bookcover

 

Christen Nine, a Gordon College alumna and high school math teacher, believes all parents want to and should feel confident in their ability to interact with elementary children’s homework. While there are plenty of resources for teachers, she felt they lacked the clear, practical examples that parents care about. To fill their need for a politically neutral, educationally practical guide, she recently published a book titled, “A Parent’s Survival Guide to Common Core Math: Grades K-5”.

 

“The goal of this project was to provide a resource that would bridge the gap between the older teaching methodologies and the newer ones. That gap is much easier to fill than parents might think, and just as a good math teacher aims to reduce math anxiety in their students to promote quality learning, this book aims to alleviate confusion and frustration related to Common Core Standards in order to build up parents’ confidence to be informed advocates in their child’s math education,” Nine said.

 

The Common Core Standards have fans among most educators and administrators. “Anything that increases the rigor of instruction for children I am always going to be in favor of,” said Ruiz, noting that the bigger challenge in her district is building the capacity of teachers to be able to teach to that level. “Teachers need to be really knowledgeable and thoughtful about their implementation of these standards,” she said.

 

Unobskey, who holds a doctorate in math education, is a strong advocate for Common Core standards. “As it is implemented more and more effectively, students will uncover connections that show how math describes the world, and they will become more motivated to learn, and less afraid of math. Ultimately, our nation’s lack of comfort with math, I believe, is what holds our children back,” he said.

 

So why are citizen groups like “End Common Core MA” trying to do away with something that professional educators support?

 

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Nine. “Maybe we didn’t do a good PR job for Common Core Standards.” She lamented the fact that “End Common Core MA” and groups like it either intentionally or unintentionally spread this misinformation. “It concerns me, as an educator, that decisions could be made from someone’s blog post or the most recent viral photo that’s going around Facebook,” she said.

 

For information about Common Core Standards, go to corestandards.org. To order Nine’s book, go to amazon.com.