Monday, October 10, 2016

How Do We Expand Our Notion of Success?

In the course of the last few weeks, I and other members of the district and high school leadership teams have received questions in different forms from members of our community centered on two distinct areas of interest:
What is the high school doing about mental health issues? 
What is the high school doing about student stress and academic pressure?

While the tone of the discourse related to these topics has varied widely, I am encouraged by the interest in having a better understanding of the work we have already begun at both the district and school levels, as well as a willingness to partner with us on the work going forward.

Beginning in 2013, ABRHS began a 3-year Professional Learning plan centered on Mental Health, Wellness, and Learning. During the 2013-2014 school year, we focused on mental health and wellness. We trained our staff on the impact of depression, anxiety, and trauma on learning. We strengthened our Student Support Team (SST) to include a case-study model that increases collaboration among administrators, counselors, psychologists, nurses, and other staff to support our students. We trained staff on Signs of Suicide (SOS) and partnered with key community organizations to bring the William James College (MSPP)  mental health referral and support services to families in Acton and Boxborough. Each year, our new staff members will be trained in the above areas to maintain common understandings and build capacity as we welcome new staff to the high school.

During the 2014-2015 school year, we transitioned to looking at learning and specifically examined practices related to homework and workload. We used a year-long, cross-disciplinary model similar to one used by Newton South High School to articulate individual department purposes for homework, pilot 30 minute "in class" homework assignments, review current practices, survey our students, and read and learn together as a staff. Some of the results of that year included the pilot of our midyear week and a better understanding of what is most stressful for our students as reflected in the survey: Assessment.

Given our students' feedback, we decided to look more closely at our assessment practices and the relationship between assessment and instruction during the 2015-2016 school year before making decisions about any potential revisions to our homework policies. A committee with cross-disciplinary representation is currently leading the high school as we learn together. We plan to pilot an assessment calendar this year as well as to continue to look more closely at our school day schedule and the impact it has on student learning and overall workload. The high school will also continue to examine Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) at the secondary level, including models and practices.

As you are well aware by now, our district decided in the spring of 2016 to partner with Dr. Denise Pope's organization Challenge Success based out of Stanford University. This partnership complements the work already begun a the high school and across our entire district and offers great potential to partner with the parent/guardian community in advancing this work with a PK-12 lens.

I strongly encourage those who have posed the questions I shared above and who are interested in helping us all to expand a notion of success for our students that more fully encourages wellness, balance, and overall health to remain informed about this partnership. Dr. Pope will be with us on November 8th for an evening community presentation. I hope that many of you will attend her presentation.

To encourage ongoing connection with you in the course of our Challenge Success work, our district leaders will provide monthly updates and resources. Below is the October communication with a link to the newsletter. Please take a few minutes to read and browse the videos and other resources. Our ability to expand our notion of success for our students will be directly determined by our willingness to partner in making it possible. Thank you, as always, for your support in our work together.

Expanding Our Notion of Success- October
A few years ago, the district began work to support health and well-being, including social emotional learning (SEL), for all members of our learning community.  Please take a few minutes to read the October installment of the AB Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter at:, where you will find a variety of resources, including websites and short video clips, to support our continued efforts to develop engaged, well-balanced learners.