Reflecting on My Entry Plan

My first blog post described the entry plan process I employed at the start of my tenure in Smithfield.  The purpose of this process was to get to know the community, its schools, and the people here in Smithfield before making any decisions of consequence (see  This last blog post is a reflection on those findings and subsequent work done in the district. This is work done by all of the dedicated administrators, educators, and staff who work in our schools, rather than my accomplishments.  

After completing the entry plan steps, I reported back to the School Committee (see and wrote out my findings in an entry plan report.  There, I listed a number of action steps I would take to address my findings.  In addition to continuing to support the strengths of the district, the following actions were identified and each completed:

Logistical Changes

  • Streamline district procedures, eliminate redundancy and reduce paper use to leverage administrator time for more important tasks.
  • Identify new sources of funding for initiatives.
  • Better utilize the webpage as well as social media, press releases, and blog posts to improve communications and promote the district.
  • Systematically review and revise School Committee policies and post policies on a searchable website.
  • Automate purchase orders through the use of an upgraded financial software program that additionally allows for better monitoring of budget lines.
  • Put more control of the budget in the hands of school leaders.
  • Consider the addition of workshop sessions to allow for topics that develop School Committee understanding of educational issues and policies.

Many of the papers our administrators and I signed each day did not require our attention (for example, routine personal day requests) so the processes were subsequently streamlined to eliminate both the steps administrators were taking and the paper passing that followed.  We eliminated redundancy with paper and online processes.  Not only did this simplify things but it also eliminated errors.  The purchase order process was also streamlined, eliminating the need for signing paper POs and utilizing an upgraded financial software program that could be accessed by administrators for better monitoring of budget lines and putting more control of the budget in the hands of school leaders.  The implementation of the iVisions software program was a huge undertaking but well worth the time and effort.

All districts are awarded federal entitlement grants each year but securing additional funds from competitive grants varies widely from district to district.  For each competitive grant awarded, several others are not awarded, multiplying the effort applied.  Nevertheless, the effort was well worth it, since the amount of grant funding from these competitive grants over the past 5 years exceeded three quarters of a million dollars.  Of particular note, a COPS grant provided funding for new Sallyport entrances at SHS and GMS, along with key fob entry and a districtwide safety audit.  A subsequent Farm-to-School grant continues to provide funding for the use of local produce in our cafeterias and programming encouraging healthy eating.

New webpages, hosted by Apptegy, are regularly updated.  The Apptegy platform also allows for mass emailing and telephoning, along with simultaneous posting on the websites and on social media platforms.  The online information about our budget alone is impressive.  Additionally, over 200 school committee policies were updated or added to a searchable policy webpage (, making Smithfield’s policy book one of the most  up-to-date set of policies in the state.

Rather than workshop sessions, a showcase was added to each school committee meeting to allow for School Committee understanding of a variety of programming in our schools and to acknowledge the work of our teachers and students.  For example,  the most recent meetings included a showcase of the GMS drama program and the acknowledgement of our support professional of the year.

Foundational Changes

  • Beginning with the Future Search, work to develop a common vision for Smithfield Schools and a new strategic plan, and align school improvement planning to the district vision.
  • Further develop the process for evaluating all staff, engendering value for reflection, evaluation, and accountability for continual improvement.
  • Increase access to professional development for all members of the school community, paying particular attention to continual development of leadership skills for administrators, teacher leaders, and students.
  • Visit classrooms on a regular basis and create formal structures for principals to visit each other’s schools to develop shared understandings and strengthen leadership skills.
  • Revise district curriculum, for both core academic subjects and social-emotional learning, and make the curriculum mapping process more transparent to parents and community members in order to articulate expectations across grade levels.
  • Consider additional programming, including elementary and expanded middle school world languages, computer science, and additional career pathways.
  • Use technology in instruction in deeper ways.
  • Develop a facilities master plan and capital improvement plan that are informed by evaluations of the current conditions of our buildings and the needs of our educational community.

Significant progress was made on the list of foundational changes recommended in the entry plan report.  A Future Search that involved over 100 stakeholders was organized to develop a common vision for Smithfield Schools and a new strategic plan was developed. 

Together with the town, we took facilities master planning to a higher level, developing a 20-year facilities capital improvement plan.  and establishing a school facilities capital fund.  We have already accomplished many of the projects first identified as deficiencies in the 2017 Jacobs Report.  Most notably, our elementary schools have all been renovated and expanded and a new project involving HVAC/energy improvements to SHS and GMS and the renovation of the Boyle Athletic Complex is underway.  

Our administrators are committed to conducting evaluations that focus on reflection and continual improvement.  Professional development activities are regularly offered to all district staff and administrative team meetings regularly include professional development.  Recently, teacher leaders at the middle school level were added to help facilitate the improvement work of GMS and to further develop the leadership skills of our teachers.

Not only are classrooms visited by administrators on a regular basis but our partnership with professional organizations, including Instruction Partners, BridgeRI and NE Basecamp, enables us to focus on many aspects of instruction despite a small administrative team. The district curriculum for a variety of subject areas, now available on our website, have been revised and pacing guides and common assessments enable us to ensure that students have an equitable experience.  

Perhaps, in the area of technology, we have grown more than we could have imagined back in 2018.  The pandemic caused us to innovate in a variety of ways and our technology director to pivot at a moment’s notice.  While in-person instruction is preferable over virtual instruction, some tools that we used for virtual instruction; such as SeeSaw, Google Classroom, and Google Meet for parent and other meetings, continue to be used today.  The technology proficiency of our staff has grown – leaps and bounds.

Elementary and expanded middle school world language programming was not established in the district. Unfortunately, funding for other initiatives took precedent.  CTE programming was continually developed, though not specifically expanded.  

What Comes Next?

A new superintendent will surely see the district through a new set of eyes and have her own ideas about improvements.  Writing this blog post about possible next steps are merely a means of documenting my thoughts about some additional areas for improvement and enhancement. Ideas for management changes will be discussed with each department and many of these are in process.


A policy book is never complete.  Policies should be reviewed each year and a list of policies needing updates generated so that there can be continued work to keep these policies up-to-date.  Also, there is always the possibility of new School Committee members at each election.  Any new members should be oriented to state requirements, local practices, ways to effectively handle complaints, current policies, and Roberts Rules of Order, among other topics.  The School Committee should consider subcommittees in the areas of budget and policies to more easily engage in this work.


Last year, we created a budget document that meets the high standards of the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO).  The next step will be to submit our budget to ASBO for review to see if we can be awarded the Meritorious Budget Award.  We should work on creating a variety of financial reports for the community – how we spend money, what cost savings were realized by an energy project, our annual maintenance expenses, etc. – and posting these reports on the website or sharing them with members of the community through a variety of other means.  Financial transparency is something I value highly but school budgets can be complicated so how we share the information should be focused and clear.  Last, writing competitive grants can be difficult and time consuming, even when the grant proposal is denied.  While I often speak about the COPS grant awarded to Smithfield, there was another COPS grant that was not approved by the DOJ.  The chance of being awarded funding from these grants to make our schools safer, make our school lunch more nutritious, and make instruction more effective makes all the time it takes to prepare them well worth the time.

I also recommend that Smithfield continue to build the capacity of the administrative team to manage the finances of their individual school or department so that they are better able to target funds for identified improvements.  Students, as well, should have greater control and decision-making for student activities funds.  These funds are held by the school department for various clubs and grade levels but do not belong to the school department; they belong to the students.

The finance department would benefit from additional staff time. Our HR coordinator also administers benefits, leaving little time for the development of programs for our personnel, streamlining hiring processes, or recruiting new talent.

Last, I believe that the town’s budget board engage early in the process for developing the school budget so that they can gain a better understanding and the process can be more efficient.  There’s been great strides with relationships between the school department and town and this would be yet one more step in the right direction.


The District would benefit from an evaluation of the middle and high school facilities performed by an architectural/engineering firm.  This evaluation would allow for the list of deficiencies to be updated so that we can adjust our capital improvement plan accordingly.  Some deficiencies are obvious, such as the need for new windows at the middle school or the need to repave parking lots at both schools, but other deficiencies can be either verified or identified and prioritized. This evaluation may also answer the questions, When should we replace either of these buildings?  What projects should be done ahead of the replacement and what deficiencies should we put off if the building is planned to be replaced anyway?  Together with town leaders, we can prioritize all of the town needs so that we can be responsible stewards of the town’s assets.  Additionally, while the elementary renovations and additions were only recently completed, incorporating their future needs into the capital improvement plan is essential for maintaining these buildings. There is no shortage of work for our dedicated facilities director!


Improving Internet access, employing new tools for Internet safety and data privacy, growing the use of media technology, and other advances are addressed continually.  Keeping up with new tools for education will continue to be a goal for the district.  Using technology to connect school learning with the real world and providing a means for students to use technology to produce, rather than just consume information should be an important objective.  At the same time, students shouldn’t go through the entire day with their Chromebooks open.  There are many other instructional approaches and, as they say, variety is the spice of life.  We want students to learn collaboratively and have hands-on experiences.

Wellness, Behavior, and Safety

An active Wellness Committee and our Farm to School initiative provide a nice foundation for additional attention to student and staff wellness.  The District should think carefully about measurable outcomes for wellness so that this work can be focused, effective, and celebrated as key milestones are met.

Common expectations for behavior are necessary for student engagement in learning and for safety. Isolated behavior incidents will happen but with tiered levels of support that include clear expectations, explicitly taught behavior, consistent responses to misbehavior, and behavior intervention plans for students who continue to struggle with meeting expectations, we can have more productive and joyful learning environments.  Overall, we are already starting with relatively calm and productive schools, however, we can improve.  The MTSS audit done this spring at SHS can provide the district a clear direction for next steps.

The District Emergency Operations Team meets monthly and includes district and school administrators and fire and police representatives.  The District would benefit from adding another staff member in Central Office to follow-up with safety plans and conduct random checks for safety practices.  This position might also focus on auxiliary services – food services and transportation.  Currently, both safety and transportation is led by the superintendent and food services is overseen by an already over-burdened finance staff.


Of course, teaching and learning is at the heart of what we do.  Our assistant superintendent has led initiatives that have improved teaching and learning and in order to continue this work, it will be important to provide her with the right supports – financial and other – and limit the distractions that may consume her time. The same can be said for special education programming and our director of special education.  Smithfield should be proud of the programs we have in the district to serve students with a variety of needs.  In order to evolve as student needs evolve, additional efforts should be made to address mental health issues.

We have talented and dedicated educators and paraprofessionals who deserve high-quality professional learning to continually improve.  We also have increased requirements for training from the state, including suicide prevention training, safety training, Right to Read training, etc. Compared with many other districts, there is less professional development time provided.  Additional time should be considered when a new contract is negotiated.

Finally, while state testing scores should not be a goal unto itself, they do measure what our students have learned in math, ELA, and science.  As such, it is wonderful to have LaPerche recognized as a Blue Ribbon School one year and OCRS recognized by the commissioner as having improved student achievement during the pandemic the following year.  Each year, we should celebrate exceptional accomplishments.  If a school gets stuck in the middle of the pack, identifying the root cause and making adjustments are necessary.

Anything more?

Equity work should continue.  The ADL training for students was a good start but to be most effective, fidelity to the program should be a priority.  The equity audit done by ASCD will provide recommendations for further improvements that aim to make Smithfield a wonderful place to live and learn, regardless of the color of your skin, your gender identify, or your ethnicity.

The development of a new strategic plan is necessary this coming year. As the district moves toward more measurable goals, remember that not all things worthwhile are measurable and not all that is measurable is worthwhile.  That being said, the value of the current strategic plan was that it was actionable and was never abandoned, however, more care could have been made to articulate goals in a way that communicates our values and provides clarity about what will determine if the goal is met.

Of course, there’s more but I’ve already gone on too long…

All these recommendations are predicated on the belief that students will excel under the tutelage of well-trained and talented educators in inspiring facilities with high-quality instructional materials when they understand expectations and their individual needs are met.  Regardless of the path Smithfield takes in its future, I wish for success and happiness.

Special thanks goes to our district and school administrators, school committee, union leadership, town manager and town department heads, staff, educators, custodians, and clerical staff.


The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons was originally presented as an essay in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, then reintroduced by Garrett Hardin in 1968, though it was Aristotle who first proposed that “what is common to many is taken least care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than for what they possess in common with others.” 

Lloyd tells the story of common land used for grazing sheep.  Over grazing the fields will lead to the destruction of the very resource necessary for their success, however, the more sheep they have, the more profit they will realize and their own sheep only represents a fraction of the total sheep grazing on the land.  Without regulating the numbers of sheep grazing on the common field, the growing sheep population eventually leads to the failure of the land to support further grazing.  If only the farmers focused on the needs of their collective group, rather than their individual needs, all would benefit.  The tale is often told to support the regulation of the environment though it also can be applied for efforts to regulate family size, institute traffic rules and vehicle standards, and to apply COVID mandates.

While individuals believe that the decision to wear masks or to get vaccinated is purely an individual choice, it is a public choice as well.  Both actions contribute toward reducing the spread of the virus across the public.  “Joe Public,” however, may not be considered a member of our circle of families and friends.  Additionally, like the individual farmer’s sheep grazing on the common land, these individual decisions may appear inconsequential in the scope of a global pandemic.  

There has been quite a bit of Facebook chatter about individual rights related to becoming vaccinated or wearing masks.  If each of us lived in a bubble, individual rights would supersede all else; however, like it or not, we are members of a society.  Our actions contribute toward the overall health of Joe Public.

The physician of Joe Public is an epidemiologist.  Unlike general practitioners, the concerns of epidemiologists lie not with individuals but with the masses.  Statistics, infection rates, and probabilities take the place of body temperature, blood pressure, and laboratory tests.  Shoppers wearing masks in stores and children wearing masks in schools is not only about protecting the health of individual shoppers and children but is a means of reducing the spread of the virus across the population and improving the health of Joe Public.  

Parents and educators are not epidemiologists.  Our concerns lie with the individuals in our care.  We see what is in front of us and lack the training to extrapolate from the present conditions to what might befall us in the future.  Yet, we have been asked to develop policies that are, in essence, means to protect Joe Public.  Moreover, as Americans, we are taught at an early age to value individual freedoms, labeling anything less as “socialist.” We are pushed and pulled in two directions.

As an American, a district leader, an educator, a scientist with degrees in chemistry and environmental science, a parent, a daughter of elderly parents, and a member of a community, these next few weeks of preparations for the school year will be focused on finding common ground, balancing individual rights with public good, listening to divergent views, and making difficult decisions.  Whether the final decision is one you agree with or oppose, I hope you know that this decision will not be made lightly; our children and our community depend upon us.

Although I first learned of the Tragedy of the Commons in graduate school for environmental studies, I reread articles on the topic for details, including the Aristotle reference, which can be found on this site:  Additional information about this concept can be found at:

Address to the Class of 2021

Before I begin my address to the Smithfield High School graduating class of 2021, I’ll tell you what this speech will not include:  thoughts on the pandemic, masks, vaccinations, or social distancing.  Instead, I have chosen to focus on what brings us together as a community and gives us hope for the future.  

Many of the families in this room chose to live in Smithfield because they knew it was a safe community with good schools.  It may not have been an easy decision, since less expensive housing was available elsewhere but sacrifices were made for the good of the children – children who are now young adults who will soon move from being beneficiaries to benefactors – from those who others have cared for to those who care for others.

Someone among these graduates may work in a nursing home, taking care of a beloved member of our family.  Another might repair a roof that keeps us warm and dry.  A math-loving graduate will become an accountant, helping us with our own business or personal financial decisions.  An individual may become a firefighter, saving the lives of an elderly couple trapped in a house fire.  There are future teachers, police officers, artists, musicians, chefs, nurses, doctors, hairdressers, plumbers, electricians, and truck drivers among our graduates.  Not all will be heroes but all can be good friends and neighbors and community-oriented people who vote and volunteer, observing laws and practicing good judgement. 

Many of the graduates in this room will choose to live in Smithfield or other such communities because they know them to be safe and have good schools.  It may not be an easy decision, since less expensive housing will be available elsewhere but sacrifices will be made for the good of the children – children who will become young adults who will then move from being beneficiaries to benefactors – from those who others have cared for to those who care for others.  They will attend the graduation ceremonies of their children, as their parents do now and their grandparents did before them.  Such is the cycle of life that brings us together as a community and gives us hope for the future.  

While it may sound not overly exciting, these lives will be peppered with travel, celebrations, accomplishments and, most importantly, love.  My hope for the Class of 2021 is for them to find themselves in the same positions as their parents are today, members of a wonderful community celebrating the accomplishments of their children and helping them to move from beneficiaries to benefactors.  

Building the Foundation for our Equity Work (Part 2)

[This post is part 2 in a 2-part series on the foundation of our equity work in Smithfield.]

The establishment of the town’s equity task force is a good step toward developing a comprehensive plan for ensuring that Smithfield is an inclusive place to live, an inclusive place to work and do business, an inclusive place to learn, and that we demonstrate a commitment to an equitable and just community.  As we begin this work with our town partners, our challenge will be to make this work productive and support real change, rather than simply engaging the already-committed members of our community. To help address that challenge, Smithfield leaders and educators have participated in professional learning, including the DMGroup Leadership Development Meeting:  Equity in Education:  Making it Core.

Our work with DMGroup began with an introductory session, where we were reminded about the issues faced by our country at this time.  These pervasive issues have not just recently surfaced, as is evidenced by the three covers of Time magazine shared during the presentation:






We explored these three questions:

1. Does your District have a clear definition of equity?  [Yes!  Recently, the School Committee revised their nondiscrimination policy to include a definition of equity.]
2. Does your District have an official policy on equity?  [Yes!  … the revised nondiscrimination policy]
3. How well is the overall work on equity understood by people who work in the district?  [Not well.  Recent SurveyWorks data makes this point clear.  Not only do we need to continue with our work, but we also need to communicate our progress regularly.]

We also explored data related to equity.  John Kim, DMGroup’s Chief Executive Officer and Founder, reminded us that the rate of poverty among Black and Latin populations is decreasing but still remains almost twice the rate of poverty among White communities and that White workers earn more than their Black and LatinX counterparts, regardless of education level.


It is estimated that 2-3 trillion dollars would be added to the gross national product if we could close this achievement gap.

At the same time, our student populations in the United States have been changing dramatically.  White students made up 65% of all students in 1995, while in 2017, White students made up 48% of all students.  Moreover, 4th grade reading proficiency, a significant data point for determining future success, varies considerably between White students and students of color.  The 2019 NAEP testing showed that 45% of White students were at or above proficiency, while that figure is 23% for Latinx students and 18% for Black students.  Third graders who are below proficiency AND in poverty are 13% more likely to drop out.

Efforts to increase the numbers of non-White teachers continues to be a challenge.  Additionally, culturally responsive teaching, which is demonstrated to positively affect the outcomes for children of color, is not widespread.  Culturally responsive teaching has three tenets:  to build students’ ethnic and cultural identities, focus on academic success, and develop students’ sociopolitical consciousness. Many teachers are still not satisfied by the current content available to help be more culturally relevant to the students of today.

Emerging ideas and approaches include increased personalization and evolving the teacher’s role from one focused on content to one focused on coaching.

What was most intriguing was refocusing on potential, rather than solely on performance.  Considering that only one in seven high performers are actually high potential employees, they may be on to something.  This brings us to their last consideration – to redefine and assess performance.

There was considerable time during the meeting to meet as a district team then to meet with another district to share problems of practice.  Our problem of practice was broad:  Not all Smithfield classrooms are equitable and inclusive places to learn all the time and for all students.  This is a difficult reality to articulate out loud, though is absolutely necessary if we are to address the issues that result in inequitable outcomes and experiences.  Workshop facilitators pushed us to ask “why?” then “why?” then “why?” again.

Our team pondered several potential answers to those questions.  Underlying implicit biases may be resulting in low expectations for some students.  Not having had significant training or discussions on bias, it’s difficult to catch oneself acting upon the implicit biases one might have.  Teachers and administrators may also have a lack of knowledge about what to do to make things better for all students as there hasn’t been sufficient training in this area.  There is also a low comfort level with having difficult conversations among colleagues and with students about societal issues involving race when some have been conditioned to be race-blind.  Consequently, some don’t want to confront issues between students when these issues involve race.  We all agreed that leaders need training as well and need to model having these difficult conversations.

We summarized our future work through a theory of action:   If…we have training for our teachers and administrators…. and  If administrators model having these types of conversations…. Then.. there will be more knowledge about how to make our students’ educational experiences more equitable and to close the achievement gap…  And then… a comfort level will develop… And then…educators and administrators will be more reflective on their implicit biases and more apt to confront issues…. Which… will lead to more equitable learning environments.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of our meeting was partnering with administrators from Berkshire Hills (Western Massachusetts) where district and school leaders recently eliminated tracking in 9th grade, strengthening supportive interventions and raising expectations for all students.  We each shared our work, pushing our thinking and learning.  It’s comforting to know about the good work being done in other districts and the shared challenges to make all schools equitable and just.

Building the Foundation for our Equity Work

The Smithfield Town Council recently voted on a resolution creating the Smithfield Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, consisting of eleven (11) members: a Town Council member, a School Committee member, the Town Manager, the Superintendent of Schools, the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, the Police Chief, the Director of Parks and Recreation, one (I) School Administrator selected by the Superintendent of Schools (John Burns and Julie Dorsey will share this responsibility), and three (3) town residents to be selected by the Town Council.
The purpose of the Smithfield Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force is to  advise the Town in developing recommendations that further the advancement of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Town of Smithfield.   Their goals are as follows:
a. Engage with Smithfield residents, interest groups, and businesses to seek feedback on their experiences that can improve life in our community.
b. Identify strategies that help the Town to be more inclusive in engaging our residents and businesses that will better promote unity, equality and understanding in Smithfield
c. Work with a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant to develop a comprehensive plan and long-term vision of diversity, equity and inclusion goals for the community.
d. Present recommendation to the Smithfield Town Council on how to achieve these goals.
In anticipation and support of this work, the Smithfield School Committee revised its nondiscrimination policy to be more proactive, rather than reactive.  This policy states,
The Smithfield School Committee believes that all children and adults should receive what they each need within an environment and system that is intentionally built for them to achieve academic, social, and emotional success, regardless of race, ethnicity, language or other characteristics of their identity.

Smithfield schools have the responsibility to overcome, insofar as possible, any barriers that prevent children and adults from achieving their potential. This commitment to the community is affirmed by the following statements. The School Committee intends to:

1. Promote the rights and responsibilities of all individuals as set forth in the State and Federal Constitutions, pertinent legislation, and applicable judicial interpretations.

2. Encourage positive experiences in human values for children, youth and adults, all of whom have differing personal and family characteristics and who come from various socioeconomic, and racial and ethnic groups.

3. Work toward a more integrated society and enlist the support of individuals as well as groups and agencies, both private and governmental, in such an effort.

4. Use all appropriate communication and action techniques to air and reduce the grievances of individuals and groups.

5. Carefully consider, in all the decisions made within the school district, the potential benefits or adverse consequences that those decisions might have on the human relations aspects of all segments of society.

6. Initiate a process of reviewing policies and practices of the school district in order to achieve to the greatest extent possible the objectives of this statement.

The Committee’s policy of nondiscrimination and its commitment to equity will extend to students, staff, the general public, and individuals with whom it does business; No person shall be excluded from or discriminated against in admission to a public school of any town or in obtaining the advantages, privileges, and courses of study of such public school on account of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or pregnancy. If someone has a complaint or feels that they have been discriminated against because of their race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or pregnancy, their complaint should be registered with the Title IX compliance officer.

Most importantly, the Smithfield School Committee requires that its administrators and staff intentionally develop curriculum, instructional practices, disciplinary practices, communications, and improvement efforts that result in a learning environment that ensures that all feel included, valued, and are poised to achieve academic, social, and emotional success.

Without a commitment to this work and a system of accountability, policies and resolutions are just words.  I’m calling on all members of our school community to hold us accountable.  No month should go by without some movement on this work.  We certainly won’t address all our goals immediately but we should continue to move forward.

To ensure success, our administrative team has been participating in professional development focused on equity.  We have a book group that is reading White Fragility.  In addition, a team of four:  Assistant Superintendent Sara Monaco, Principal Julie Dorsey, Principal Cathy Pleau, and I, attended a DMGroup Leadership Development Meeting, Equity in Education: Making it Core  The meeting included content as well as time to work through our team’s problem of practice.  This problem of practice is: 

The establishment of the town’s equity task force is a good step toward developing a comprehensive plan for ensuring that Smithfield is an inclusive place to live, an inclusive place to work and do business, an inclusive place to learn, and demonstrates a commitment to an equitable and just community.  As we begin this work with our town partners, our challenge will be to make this work productive and support real change, rather than simply engaging the already-committed members of our community.

Part 2 of this blog post will focus on what we learned from this meeting.

Emerging Innovations and Vocabulary

The efforts of the 1950’s and 1960’s to land a person on the moon brought about new vocabulary, innovations, and a sense of pride in the accomplishments of our country when tasked with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. “Blast 0ff,” “unmanned,” “shuttle,” “flyby,” “earthbound,” “astronaut,” “spacecraft,” “soft landing,” “mission control,” and “lift-off” are familiar terms to those who lived through or past the 1960’s but were either unknown or uncommon to generations who came before that point in time.  Innovations, including fireproof clothing, photovoltaic cells, wireless headsets, camera phones, memory foam, dust busters, ear thermometers, the computer mouse, and scratch-resistant glasses are derived from space travel technologies. Can the same be said for new vocabulary and innovations resulting from the pandemic?

Surely, “community spread,” “asymptomatic,” “super-spreader,” “flattening the curve,” “hand hygiene,” “social distancing,” PPE,” “N95,” herd immunity,” Zoomed,” covidiot,” “new normal,” and “blursday” are either newly created or newly popular.  My poor grandfather, who passed before the onset of COVID-19, would be befuddled if I told him to “mask-up,” use the “hand sanitizer,” and observe “social distancing” but what innovations can be attributed to our efforts to get through this global pandemic?

The most obvious innovation resulting from the pandemic, of course, is the development of a vaccine in such a short amount of time.  Numerous articles have been written on the topic and all give credit to the unprecedented global cooperation, existing experience with similar viruses, advances in genomic sequencing, and the resources applied that have enabled companies to work without assuming the financial risk of manufacturing in advance of clinical trials.  The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines themselves are a new class of vaccines – m-RNA vaccines, which trigger our own cells to synthesize proteins associated with the virus.  Our immune system responds to these proteins as it would to the virus.  This trigger of the immune response is then ready, should we be exposed to the real virus.  The safety of these vaccines is not only assured through clinical trials but also through our understanding of how they work. Other medical innovations include low-cost ventilators, cleaning processes for PPEs, and monoclonal antibody treatments.

Restaurants and retail establishments have also applied creativity to operations during the pandemic.  Curbside pickup may have been introduced prior to 2020, however, their proliferation was accelerated as those aimed to reduce their exposure by opting out of in-person shopping or eating.  Who would have thought that fine restaurants would promote and benefit from take-out service?  And let’s not forget outdoor dining in February …in Rhode Island.

Also in short order, new innovations have emerged for instruction. Would we ever have thought we’d be able to virtually assess the work of our youngest learners, as we do with the help of a program called SeeSaw?  At the time of the Future Search, we envisioned added positions for instructional coaches, however, the pandemic forced us to consider options involving virtual coaches and these have now replaced our need for full, in-person positions.  Assessments, as well, have evolved over the last year.  Educators are no longer able to use “Googleable” questions on assessments given to virtual students.  This year, professional development has focused on developing assessments that require that students apply their knowledge in novel ways.  Each of these innovations will carry over to life after the pandemic.

Our hope, as well, is that, like in the 1960’s, there will be a sense of pride in the accomplishments of our country and our schools as we work to overcome this seemingly insurmountable challenge.

Information used to write this blog post was collected from a variety of sources, including articles on the development of the vaccine:  and   and ; and articles on innovations stemming from space exploration:   and .



Video games provide immediate feedback to players.  If you make a move to the right and “lose a life” you make the move to the left next time.  These games are often used to illustrate the importance of feedback yet they are not exactly incomparable.  In classrooms and schools, our actions do not produce immediate results, and feedback is often communicated verbally or in written form rather than through immediate consequences.  Nevertheless, feedback is indeed important to teachers, students, and schools who are on a journey of improvement but only under certain conditions.  In order for feedback to be effective, the feedback must be descriptive and timely and the recipient must be accepting of the feedback. 

Three examples of feedback mechanisms are the assessments taken by students, our educator evaluation system, and our regular reviews of our district initiatives by our district improvement team.  The evaluation system is well-established, though some adjustments were made this year due to the pandemic.  Unannounced and announced visits to classrooms are followed by feedback provided through an online system.  We know that defining terms like “engagement” is important if we are to successfully communicate what we are seeing during visits.  It’s also important to include follow-up statements to inferences such as:  “few students were engaged in the lesson” by accounts of what was observed.  For example, statements such as the following let the recipient know why the observer made this inference:  “while most students took notes while listening to the lecture, only one student interacted with the teacher by asking questions.  There was no way to know whether or not students understood the content.”

Informative descriptions are also necessary following positive feedback and this can be best illustrated with student assessments.  Comments like “good,” “nice job,” “good writing” do little to help students understand what they did well and therefore what they should repeat for continued success.  I remember, as a student, writing a lab report, receiving an “A,” then writing the next lab report that was graded “B” but never knowing what I had done in the first report that resulted in a higher score.  To be sure, providing more descriptive feedback is much more work than checks and stars, but it is also more beneficial to the recipient. 

Timeliness is a virtue that cannot be undervalued with regard to feedback.  It takes 6 hours to grade a classroom set of papers whether you return the papers a week later or you return them a month later.  If the latter, however, the six hours will have been poorly spent since the feedback will not have the same value that it would have had if provided in a more timely manner. 

At the last School Committee meeting, our assistant superintendent reported on how district assessments are used to provide feedback to students as well as to teachers and schools.  Monitoring the progress of individual students is important for identifying students who may need additional supports and interventions while monitoring the progress of classes and schools lets us know how we can improve instructional practices and curriculum to benefit the entire school population.

The recently held District Improvement Team (DIT) meeting provided opportunities for updates on action steps and recommendations for future improvement efforts.  The feedback provided includes updates to percent completion, posted on the district strategic dashboard (see  Our action steps identify what Smithfield is doing to improve both instructional and managerial practices.  

In terms of instruction, the team recognized the work of Smithfield administrators and teachers, under the guidance of our assistant superintendent, who continue to revise and document curriculum documents.  Most notably, the group reports that Smithfield teachers are working with NE Basecamp to update the civics curriculum with support from an XQ grant.  We are also moving forward with procuring high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials as the curriculum is reviewed, ensuring that materials are reviewed for cultural bias.  Unfortunately, progress on the goal to expand world language offerings has been stymied by a lack of funding.  For secondary mathematics, we are working with Instruction Partners for ongoing training.  BetterLesson has provided professional development for teachers at GMS on flexible assessments and for designing engaging learning experiences for teachers at GMS and SHS. Both Instruction Partners and BetterLesson are providing ongoing coaching for teachers in the district.  Training on technology tools has been ramped up due to the need in providing virtual lessons. 

Professional development on trauma-informed practices was held on August 26th for all staff and a series on trauma-informed, social-emotional supports was held in October and November for 19 staff members.  Presentations were also held for parents, one focused on adolescent sexual health held on January 27th.  In the area of social-emotional learning, plans are underway to focus on suicide prevention in February and nutrition (supported by the Farm-to-School grant) this spring.  Year 2 training from the Anti-Defamation League was held recently to ensure an inclusive culture at SHS and GMS.  

Among the progress sited, the report of the DIT includes the increased communication with stakeholders by a variety of means, including the district website, e-mail blasts, social media, a blog, a district app, and reports by principals and others at the public School Committee meetings.  Improved relationships with the town were enabled by regular meetings between the town manager and superintendent and a collegial and inclusive budget process. 

The team also recognized a number of challenges the district faces, most significantly due to the ongoing pandemic.  Some of the steps on our five-year district strategic plan and individual school improvement plans have been postponed, including the goal to develop partnerships with area businesses and organizations.  The district improvement process and resulting feedback contribute to a better understanding of district strengths and needs to enable focused efforts to improve the schools’ and district operations.

On Racism and Community

Three years ago, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I had written a blog post calling for action “to safeguard our American ideals and to ensure our schools are bully-free.”  The nation was then embroiled in turmoil over racist remarks made by President Donald Trump. At the time, worshipers at a Sunday service at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church “called the president’s remarks racist and divisive” and prayed “for his soul and our country in a national call to conscience.”  That prayer has gone unanswered.

Putting politics aside, racism and hate should be condemned by both Democrats and Republicans alike.  Each January, we enjoy a long weekend, not because we need time away from work or school but because we need this time for reflection on race and equality.  When we talk to school children about his work, it’s a good thing that these children, born 40 years after his death, can’t imagine that people of color had different bathrooms, couldn’t sit at the front of the bus or went to different schools.  We’ve come far, though not far enough.

I’ve written other blog posts on previous January weekends and each year, without exception, the news includes some topics relevant to race and discrimination.  During my time in Leicester, headlines included a proposed registration of Muslim citizens.  I fear for what future January news headlines will include if we all don’t take action.  

Most discrimination, as well as bullying, stems from a lack of knowledge. Schools have an important role in educating our youth about other genders, religions and countries so that they are less likely to exhibit sexist, discriminatory or ethnocentric behavior.  Our policies dictate that teachers present a balanced view, though this does not mean that white supremacy, Naziism, or other hateful ideologies should be presented with equal value, worth, or merit as do our American ideals.  

While the unrest in Washington plays out on the national stage, Smithfield, as a microcosm of our nation, experiences acts of racism and hate.  Recently, racist graffiti was discovered on the Stillwater Scenic Trail in Smithfield.  Someone took the time to buy spraypaint and paint hateful messages on a beautiful public property in our community.  The graffiti is ugly and its creators are cowards who hide behind anonymity, perhaps because they know their ideals have neither merit nor value in a democracy.  The member of our community calling my attention to this travesty wrote, “Silence in the face of hatred and wrong-doing is complicity and perpetuates the lie that these attitudes and behavior are unimportant, can be ignored, are not a problem. Silence says these actions are acceptable. They are not. And the leaders in this community need to say this strongly, repeatedly and consistently.”  I agree.

As I did three years ago, I close with two important quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr., which I hope will awaken a call for action to safeguard our American ideals and to ensure our schools are bully-free, not simply by punishing the bully but through education, for it is through ignorance that the bully is empowered.  

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.






It’s Complicated…. the Snow Day / Distance Learning Day Debate

Most will be glad to see 2020, which included both a pandemic and a contentious election, in the rearview mirror.  This is especially the case for public officials, whose decision-making resulted in no “rights” or “wrongs.” Instead, 0% of decisions failed to meet everyone’s needs. Regardless of the reasoning behind decisions, complaints abound.

I’m not immune to being quick to judge other leaders, I admit.  Are we being admonished by the governor a bit too much?  With traditional public school districts numbering in the double-digits, why is there no personal touch from the commissioner?  Why rebuke schools for moving to distance learning just prior to the holiday break only to suggest, one week later, that an additional 2 weeks of distance learning may be applied after that break?  The answer, as is the answer to the complaints all leaders regularly receive, is “it’s complicated.”

The needs of a variety of constituents must be considered for all decisions. Governors have voters, union leaders, public health, businesses, the economy, and other needs and constituents to think about.  The commissioner reports to the Board of Education and must be responsive to the governor’s office, in addition to teachers’ unions, district leaders, and families.  For district leaders, it’s naive to think that students and students alone are our constituents.  We also know that our decisions affect families, our staff, and our town.

Some have suggested that students and staff alike could have benefited from a good, old-fashioned, snow day – the kind that includes pajamas followed by snowsuits.  Considerations toward the decision to have a distance learning day, instead, included:

  • Expectations:  An email from Emily Crowell of the RI Department of Education includes: “Per the original guidance provided with the statewide calendar, districts should be shifting to a distance learning day tomorrow if they need to make an adjustment,  They would be required to make up any missed instructional days.”
  • Learning:  Would this be one more disruption after a series of disruptions from quarantines this year?  Although educators worked hard this past spring to provide a comparable learning experience to students, nothing beats in-person instruction.  Students are not performing to the levels seen in past years. Yet, some instruction is better than no instruction.  We’ll soon have a week and a half off for vacation.  Can we afford more time off at this time? 
  • Structure:  Do students benefit from structure?  The answer is “yes.”  Some structure in a day provides comfort and discipline.  
  • Break:  Do we all need a break?  The answer is, again, “yes.” A break is coming in another week.  We can hold on until then!
  • Make-up Day:  How difficult would it be to add a day at the end of the school year to make up a real snow day?  Due to the statewide calendar, schools are already getting out on the 23rd – 2 weeks after we usually end the school year.  We also don’t know how many more weather-related events may occur this year.  Our buildings are hot in June. The prospect of stretching out the school year one more day into summer is not appealing.
  • Building Project:  We have a major building project going on and need every second of the summer 2021 break to complete the project before the start of the new school year.
  • Middle and High School Students:  How do we substantiate a snow day for students already in distance learning? 

My reasoning, however sound, does not result in a right answer, just a decision that’s been made in my best judgment and in consultation with others who I know to act in the best interest of our students.  As a leader, it’s all that can be expected.  I’m sure that the debate about whether to have a snow day or a distance learning day will continue. I will continue to listen to the debate with care as well as with scrutiny.  As General Douglas MacArthur once said, “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.”

Confidence in our Schools

As a leader of a public school system, a town or a police department, or any other agency that serves the public, it is essential to earn public trust.  Parents entrust their children to us and it is important for them to feel that their children are safe and that the adults with whom they spend their day have their best interest in mind.  And so we try to communicate what we are doing to ensure quality teaching and learning and an effective learning environment.  We celebrate our successes and the successes of our students.  

There are also many times when it is essential to communicate uncertainty, provisional plans, and disappointing data in an effort to be transparent and honest.  The pandemic has increased the necessity to put in motion plans that we cannot guarantee will continue to be in place in weeks to come.  We hope that our efforts to continually reflect on our outcomes and adjust accordingly will  instill confidence that we are working with the best interests of our students in mind, even when so many uncertainties exist.

We are moving into budget season, which necessitates additional discussions about our needs, sometimes coming into conflict with our goal to instill confidence in our schools.  How do we articulate the need for new curriculum materials while concurrently telling parents that our schools offer the best instructional program?  How do we articulate the need for technology infrastructure while also assuring parents that their children are being educated to be ready for the 21st century workforce?  How do we engage the community in discussions about the need for renovations to the Boyle Athletic Complex while promoting our high school as a competitive choice for secondary education?  The answer is simple; the best institutions are continually refining their practices and addressing their needs.  To do otherwise would result in stagnation.  We can’t continue to deliver on our promise that all children will be ready for continued education, career, and life without addressing emerging needs.  As we begin the budget process, we will work hard to identify cost savings and efficiencies so that we can continue to evolve while being considerate of the needs of the entire community.