Here are excerpts (the highlights are mine) from a message sent to the Manchester Board of City Schools by Selma Nacach-Hoff, long-term Manchester educator and now head of the English department at Manchester High School Central:
“Where Do We Go Now?”*
(*Title of an award-winning film addressing how to bridge animosities in Lebanon between Christians and Moslems)
….We’re done with NECAPs in English and Math. We know that there’s some kind of standardized assessment that will take its place. Our students and our teachers will be held responsible. We want to be able to give our teachers the tools to help them move students in the direction that will help these students succeed in whatever they choose to do. But we are floundering. Where do we go? What do we do?
On the high school level, students are assessed based on mastery of competencies. In English (as in all other disciplines) our competencies are rigorous. They’ve always been aligned to state and national standards. Quite frankly, these competencies are basically the same as the new standards….One shift that we do see is a shift towards more informational text, both in writing and reading. And we’re already trying to address that. Another is a greater emphasis on technology, and our district has a comprehensive plan to address that as well.
As you can see the new standards need not be a major shift. Adopting new standards does mean, though, that there has to be a whole-school effort – and therefore a whole-district initiative. No longer can we say that English classes – and English teachers – will be addressing this alone. It has to be all-inclusive. The emphasis on informational reading and writing requires a buy-in from science, social studies and other disciplines. It should be a school-wide undertaking, as we’ve done in the past with literacy and numeracy across the curriculum.
And while I am speaking about Central High School and its English department, I’m sure the other high schools and other departments are doing much the same.
So at this juncture, we are well prepared. We just need to know what to do. We need to know in which direction to go. We need to be given some sense that, if we are going to continue with this, we will have the support of the district and the community – that our students won’t have to be relearning or unlearning over again, perhaps next year or the year after that as often happens with new initiatives. That’s not good pedagogy. It’s not good for teachers or students. And above all, we want our students to be able to succeed no matter what they chose beyond high school.
We just need to know that we would have the support – teacher training, of course, but also philosophical support, a clear direction of where this district is going. And, quite frankly, a clear direction is not a board vote and then a revote in six months because somebody else had another idea. We can’t be implementing new standards and then, at every juncture, having to justify that. Our teachers should not have to navigate the labyrinthine kind of mess that can occur if there isn’t a clear direction, and our students should not have to be victims. They are much too precious to us and to our future.
If I were to send a message to the members of our Board of School Committee who, I know, hassle with a myriad of issues almost daily – for which I thank them whole-heartedly — it would be this:
Have trust in the educators of our school system to recognize what our students can do. We are caring, educated adults, and we work doggedly each day to create a positive learning environment for all.
Then, validate that trust by allowing us to move forward in a way that will allow us to move — step by step if need be — to help each student reach the highest performance possible. And if that means establishing a new set of criteria, let us do that.
If it means professional development for teachers, if it means a different way of looking at assessments, if it means looking at a different corpus of works for our students, then that’s what we should do.
But above all else, please let us all be on the same page. Let us all understand the vision and how we get to make sure that that vision is implemented so that it results in success for all our students.
We need to know that our district is behind us, that the community is behind us in helping our students become successfully functioning adults of the 21st century.
Thank you for listening to the concerns of a proud 30+ year veteran educator in the Manchester School System, who is also a product of this school system.