Leadership and Newton’s Achievement Gap

This week, Mayor Warren joined forces with Boston City Council President Michelle Wu to write an opinion article in the Boston Globe. The underlying premise of the article was that we need leadership for the MBTA to operate more effectively, not merely better management.

Mayor Warren’s attempt to challenge Governor Baker’s leadership got me thinking: Are our elected officials doing enough to produce results in regard to issues that our local government arguably has significant power over?

For all intents and purposes of today’s blog post, I pose the specific question: What more could be done, if anything, to meaningfully close the achievement gap in Newton? In other words, what should leadership on this issue look like, and why does it matter?

From your perspective and based on your experiences, what is the key to producing meaningful results? Should we put more of an emphasis on social-emotional learning? Do we need universal pre-K or increased access to extracurricular activities? Or is the key for our community to take an entirely different approach?

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Margaret AlbrightJulia MalakieTom DavisLynne LeBlancSallee Lipshutz Recent comment authors
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Sallee Lipshutz

@ Tom: I’m not sure how the Achievement Gap has been measured or what it shows since my kids have been out of the school system for decades. Is it racial, economic, disability, gender, age specific? Perhaps some or all of the above? Something else? I Googled “Achievement Gap Newton” and didn’t find much. If there is good controlled data on which cohort is lagging behind, then programs can (and should) be developed to reduce or remove those identified deficiencies. Can you be more specific? It’s certainly something to think about and a good topic for discussion of leadership.

Lynne LeBlanc

Jen Price, former principal of Newton North, provided leadership at North. She was always looking for ways to help those needing support while understanding she could help the entire North community by doing so.
A couple of examples: Transitioning Together (T2) is college application support for first generation scholars. By partnering with parents who had been through and knew the ins and outs of the college process, she helped fill a need for support for students (and their families) who have college in their sights but might be overwhelmed by the process and thus miss opportunities. (FYI – mentors are always needed. Contact Newton North if you are interested).
The urban scholars program is another partnership with various segments of North faculty and staff. This supports traditionally under-represented student populations who are taking honors or AP classes for the first time.
Both of these are great ways to bridge the achievement gap. Jen Price’s leadership was instrumental in both of these programs.
Both examples show leadership that is concrete and effective.

Julia Malakie

Sallee and Tom, I knew I’d seen data on achievement gaps, and I think it was in the reports you can find on this page: http://www.newton.k12.ma.us/Page/760

For certain MCAS tests, e.g. Mathematics Grade 10, percentages in the different achievement categories for Low Income, “High Needs” (not sure what that encompasses — ESL? SPED?), and African American/Black are compared to All Students. It appears the gaps have narrowed but still persist. The narrowing in Grade 10 Math is notable between 2009 and 2012, then it stopped. Does anyone know what might have happened in those years?

Does anyone know why North has Transitioning Together, but not South? Back when I was at Newton High in the early ’70s, I was totally oblivious to NSHS, but as an adult, watching friends’ kids go through the two schools, I’ve found it odd that there are certain activities that one high school will have that the other does not, like the big speech each NSHS student does.

Margaret Albright
Margaret Albright

Hello everyone. Like every school district in Massachusetts Newton collects and reports a great deal of data which is on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website.

Achievement data for students is disaggregated by subgroup – race, primary language, income, special education – and is posted in many charts and graphs. For younger grades its MCAS/PARCC. For high school students we also have AP classes taken, AP tests taken, SAT performance, plans post graduation, etc.

High needs are kids who are English Language Learners or special needs or low income (the sum of these three subgroups combined).

The DESE website is very interactive and allows you to do all kinds of charts, graphs, comparisons, etc.

So the upshot is because of the great degree of reporting we are required to do and the robust nature of the DESE website, we know a lot about our achievement gaps.

Margaret Albright
Margaret Albright

Julia, I was on the School Council at North when we developed Transitioning Together. It was created in response to a need identified by the principal, teachers and guidance counselors. The percentage of low income students at NN is higher than the district’s average. The majority of Newton’s Title I elementary schools are on the north side and that means these students attend NN.

Newton North has also developed a College Application Process Guide also in response to identified needs – which is printed and available in several languages as well as being available online.

Several schools in Massachusetts have contacted Newton North about using the guide as it explains what can be a very mystifying process not only for those who have never been through it but also for those of us who haven’t been through it in a long time.

Julia Malakie

Thanks for the info, Margaret. I’m just seeing this. Been preoccupied with trees the last few days.