VIVA Teacher Speaks Out on Chicago Teachers Union’s Common Core Vote

Freeda Pirillis, a first grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools, was a member of the very first VIVA Idea Exchange, Voices from the Classroom. For the last three years, she has been working with the Chicago Teachers Union to develop Common Core curricula.

As she describes in this story on Chicago Public Radio, she was stunned to learn union delegates had voted to oppose the standards.

Chicago Teachers Union votes to oppose Common Core (by Linda Lutton, WBEZ 91.5, May 8, 2014)

Freeda said she understands the frustrations her colleagues have with how Common Core is being implemented. (Read her blog post, Implementing the Common Core State Standards: Too Little Too Soon, from last spring.). She is personally concerned about how the standards can and will be applied to students who have special needs or are English Language Learners. And, of course, she wonders what will become of the considerable amount of work she has done with the union the past few years.

Reimagining School: Why Creativity & Innovation Matter Symposium

Monday, March 3, 2014
6:30 – 8 p.m. CST

The Reimagining School symposium series, at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, brings together nationally recognized visionaries to discuss the ways schools can and must foster the creativity and innovation essential to our students’ global competence in a changing world. While New Voice Strategies is not an official partner in this event, we invite you to join the conversation either in person or online. There is no cost to participate.

Attend this event in person with an RSVP to the live event or register for the online live stream.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 East Grand on Navy Pier
Chicago, IL 60611

Featured speakers:

Trung Le has an incessant energy and curiosity exploring the intersection of design and learning. Le’s recent collaboration with Bruce Mau resulted in the publication The Third Teacher, an incomplete manifesto on how design can transform the ecology of learning. Launching from the collaboration with Bruce Mau, Le founded The Third Teacher +, an education design consultancy. As the world is pivoting from the industrial model of education to a new landscape of learning, The Third Teacher + believes in curating an authentic engagement with our clients that uncovers and amplifies our human capacity for empathy toward designing this new learning landscape.

Nichole Pinkard, Ph. D. believes that digitally literate kids – those who can critically consume and produce alternative media – grow up to be better citizens. With a B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, and an M.S. in Computer Science and a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University, she is an Associate Professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University in Chicago, and is the founder of Digital Youth Network and RemixLearning. Both organizations focus on developing digital literacies as tools for extending traditional literacies. Dr. Pinkard is also a co-founder of YOUmedia, a public learning  library space that immerses high school students in a context of traditional media – books – where they make and produce new media artifacts such as music, games, videos and virtual worlds. The recipient of a 2010 Common Sense Media Award for Outstanding Commitment to Creativity and Youth, the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies, and an NSF Early CAREER Fellowship, Dr. Pinkard serves on the Boards of Institute of Play and ChicagoAllies.

The Educator Forums series was created by Golden Apple, National Louis University, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and Family Action Network (FAN). Conversations are moderated by Alison Cuddy, WBEZ Arts and Culture reporter.

The Atlantic: Why Do Teachers Quit?

safe_imageIn his recent Reality Check blog (EdWeek, 10/28/13, subscription), Walt Gardner explains why he thinks teachers get burned out. “If teachers are treated like tall children, they soon become demoralized, regardless of their knowledge of subject matter and pedagogy,” he quips.

The crux of Gardner’s argument is that teachers do not have enough respect, authority, or input in the ways schools are run. Gardner cites University of Pennsylvania Professor Richard Ingersoll, whose research was recently profiled in “Why Do Teachers Quit?” (The Atlantic, 10/18/13).

Besides not feeling empowered, teachers often quit because of they feel stressed, unappreciated, overworked, and underpaid. The article also examines reasons why teachers stay, including the one big reason: helping students.

We want to know what would make you feel more valued as a teacher.

New York Times: Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?

NYTcoverIn Sunday’s New York Times, Jennifer Kahn, who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, asks “Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?”  Her provocative piece examines different approaches to Social Emotion Learning (SEL) that are playing out at schools across the country and offers insights from academics, psychologists, administrators and teachers.

She writes, “Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.”

We want to know what you think. Should schools be focusing on SEL? Has your school adopted an SEL curriculum? How is it working for you, in your classroom?

Take Action: Special Ed Teachers & Students in Illinois Need Your Help

On Thursday, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) will be voting on a proposal to eliminate all special education class size limits and limits on the percentage of students with IEPs in general education classes.

Thousands of educators, parents and students have contacted ISBE to oppose what VIVA Teacher Lindsey Terrill (VIVA Chicago) says would make it “nearly impossible for many of my students to learn effectively.”

To protect her students’ right to learn, Lindsey wrote a letter to ISBE President Gery Chico. She invites you to email your own letter to President Chico at, and has given permission for you to use or modify her letter.

Whether you live in Illinois or not, teacher voices carry strong weight when they speak for benefit of children anywhere.

Dear Mr. Chico,
I strongly oppose the removal of the special education class size cap in Illinois.
As a special education teacher who happily works only with students with special needs all day, I wonder what is the rationale of this vote.  According to ISBE law, students with special needs are to be instructed in their Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  Many would assume this means in the general education classroom.  However, as the department that created this law, I know you must understand this is not the true definition of LRE.  LRE actually means in the environment where a student can learn best.
It would be nearly impossible for many of my students to learn effectively in a classroom with more than 8 to 13 students, due to the severity of their disabilities.  By removing the class size cap, you will be removing students from their LRE.  If students with special needs were able to function in the large group setting they would not be in special education.  By placing more students with special needs in one classroom you are taking away from all students.  The students with special needs, general education students, and gifted students will all receive less time and attention from their teachers, which will in turn have a huge impact on how all of our students learn and achieve.  These are our future leaders that we are educating. Let’s give them a fighting chance to be able to tap into the potential they have inside.
I leave you with a quote in the hope that you will do the right thing and cast an opposing vote to remove the class size cap in Illinois
The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Lindsey Terrill
VIVA Teacher, Chicago
3-5 Special Education Teacher
James Monroe Elementary
Chicago Public Schools

Thus far, of the 5,523 written comments ISBE has received, 5,158 were opposed to the elimination of these state rules on special education class size.  Please add your voice. When teachers speak out, students get a better education.

Share your stories—what issues do you think need more teacher voice?

As a VIVA Teacher, have you spoken up on a state or local matter to advocate for the best interest of your students? We’d love to hear your story.

Or, maybe you have a critical issue you need help getting heard. If so, please contact our Teacher Engagement Director Tina Nolan at, to see how we can support you.

For the benefit of all students, the voices of educators, parents and students must lead the conversation on educational policy.


Ed Week Commentary: School Safety Begins With Collaboration

As first published in Education Week, August 21, 2013. Reprinted with permission from the author.

By Nancy Hahn

The Obama administration’s release of its “Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans”Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader stirred up discussion among educators everywhere. Some agreed with the report, some worried about it, and others were angered by it. It made people think and talk. This is pretty much the job of any report, if you ask me.

An amazing experience I was fortunate to have a few months before the report was released June 18 had a big influence on my view of the report and its recommendations.

I was part of a group of more than 100 teachers who shared our opinions in an online forum sponsored by the Chicago-based nonprofit New Voice Strategies in a partnership with the National Education Association, of which I am a member in my home state of Colorado. The forum took place on VIVA (voices, ideas, vision, action) Idea Exchange, and the topic of discussion was “creating safer schools.”

Eleven of us debated the issue of school safety without ever meeting in the same room. It was hard work, and we didn’t always agree, but we learned how to compromise.

So when I read the administration’s report, I was coming to it with this experience behind me. Of course, there were recommendations I agreed with and others I didn’t, but what excited and pleased me the most was that the report encouraged a collaborative planning process in working through school safety issues.

The first of the report’s six steps for developing and implementing a school safety plan calls for the formation of a collaborative team with all school stakeholders represented at the table. This, I now know, is the most crucial stage in the process of creating a safe school.

What I have now learned from my experience with the forum—and it did not come easily—is the importance of teamwork over the charged matter of how to protect students on school property. It is critical. If teachers alone were to come up with a plan, they would love it, but the administration, students, and parents would not. If parents were to create a plan, they would love it, but they would have a tough time finding support among the teachers, administrators, and students. And if the school administration were to devise a safety strategy … well, you can see the pattern here. In a truly collaborative process, everyone gets a chance to speak and to be heard. But listening in a group can also prompt all sorts of negative reactions, including, “How could a reasonable person believe that?” And yet, if you were to probe beyond this negative thinking, you might discover that there is validity to another person’s point of view.

Our group of 11 teachers had widely differing views on the value and appropriate use of school resource police officers. Many in the group had questions and concerns, including the basic worry about having officers in an elementary school setting. In our discussions, we discovered that some of our colleagues imagined these officers as menacing, stern, and unfriendly armed guards. Others pictured the “friendly officer”—the kind who speaks to children and gets involved in school-based activities. But the sticking point of our discussion—the one big issue we struggled with the most—was around arming teachers in schools.

The White House report on school safety does not recommend arming teachers. But it does recommend that teachers consider confronting a shooter, if there are no other options. These recommendations are for the absolute worst situation—an armed shooter on school property. Although extremely rare and horrifying to imagine, it is important to consider.

“What I have now learned from my experience with the forum—and it did not come easily—is the importance of teamwork over the charged matter of how to protect students on school property.”

While our group of teachers could not reach an agreement about this issue, there was passionate and good reasoning on both sides. My thinking was that when first responders arrive to take down a shooter, I don’t want the first person they see with a gun to be the math teacher. But another member of our group expressed the desire to be able to protect her kindergarten students with more than her body. On the matter of confronting the shooter? Oh, gosh. At 5-foot-2 and 106 pounds, and with no training, I would not be of much use. I would have to talk him out of his gun. Others thought confronting a gunman made sense. But this is what I believe the Obama administration’s recommendation is designed to do: empower and encourage staff and students to say, “I will do something.” Our group felt compelled to do just that.

In the end, our online discussion didn’t come down on one side or the other on the matter of arming teachers, which, I believe, is a reflection of how this issue is playing out across the country. Yes, there were strong feelings on both sides of the fence, but because there was no consensus, we decided it was an issue best left to local school districts.

Our small group understood that we could not dictate how any school, including our own, would move forward with our recommendations. From our discussion, we produced a report, “Sensible Solutions for Safer Schools,” that preceded the administration’s, which we knew was in the pipeline. We saw our recommendations as a menu of options, from which we hoped districts would pick and choose, according to what made the most sense for them.

In April in Washington, our group of 11 teachers presented our report in separate, private meetings to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and his staff, as well as the staff of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Speaking on behalf of our cohort of teachers, I hope that this will become a model of how adults can learn and work together to create safer schools everywhere.

Nancy Hahn teaches language arts and reading intervention to 7th and 8th graders in Wheat Ridge, Colo. She has been teaching for 15 years.

News from New Voice Strategies: Leadership Team Grows By Three

New Voice Strategies (NVS), the nonprofit parent of the VIVA (Vision, Ideas, Voices, Action) Idea Exchange™, is welcoming three new staff. Former Chicago Public Schools teacher Xian Barrett joined the NVS senior management team on July 15 as National Program Director. Beginning this fall, Tina Nolan, formerly of National Louis University, will work with Barrett as full-time Teacher Engagement Director. Veteran strategy and organization expert Bart Kocha signed on earlier this summer as Opportunity Strategist.

Barrett, whose layoff made headlines a few weeks ago, is responsible for creating and implementing all NVS programs, including managing Idea Exchanges and teacher engagement activities. “CPS’s loss is definitely our gain,” said Elizabeth Evans, founding CEO of New Voice Strategies. “The passion and energy Xian dedicated to his students will now serve teachers around the country who want and deserve to be heard.”

A VIVA Idea Exchange™ taps the power of the Internet to build networks for social change. In a short time, a large group of individuals are empowered to collaborate, imagine a better future, and create an action plan to make that vision reality. As a final step, New Voice Strategies connects those frontline experts directly with decision-makers interested in and empowered to make change. Since 2010, New Voice Strategies has hosted 13 Idea Exchanges, 12 of which have focused on education policy issues.

“I believe strongly that the only way to improve our education system and the world is to hear and act upon the voices of educators, parents and students,” said Barrett. “Through NVS and VIVA, I have the opportunity to amplify those voices.”

Nolan, who earned an M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision and Ed.D in Educational Leadership from National Louis University, has been working with NVS part-time for the last several months. She has moderated two Idea Exchanges and, in her new role, will work to develop the leadership skills of participating teachers.

“The Idea Exchanges have taught us that teachers are eager to participate in conversations that build consensus and create solutions,” explained Evans. “For the individual teachers who have participated in the VIVA process, presenting the final report to a key policyholder does not quell the fire that now burns bright within. Teachers want to continue to make their voices heard and develop the skills they need to speak out on education issues so that their students benefit. Tina will help us make that happen.”

Said Nolan, “My greatest passion is forming professional learning communities of educational leaders from all learning settings, making connections between and among current leaders, and crossing boundaries where progressive educational leaders are most needed.”

Kocha brings more than 25 years of strategy and organization expertise to New Voice Strategies. The former A.T. Kearney executive is focused on strategic growth and building organizational capacity.

“I am very proud of how much we’ve grown in such in a short time,” said Evans. “Bart will help to devise the road map for new strategic initiatives and the business plan to support them, as well as goals, benchmarks, and impact metrics to ensure we are getting the job done right.”

New Voice Strategies plumbs the collective wisdom of committed people with front-line experience in fields that are crucial to our country’s future, turning their expertise into recommendations for building a better, fairer and more productive America. Said Evans, “Our expanded leadership team of experienced strategists, with their wide network in government, politics, academia, media, and advocacy, will make us an even more effective operation.”

News from New Voice Strategies: VIVA Minneapolis Idea Exchange on student behavior

Unified Vision for Unified Connection between Social and Academic Learning
VIVA Minneapolis Teachers Recommend Eight Behavior Improvement Strategies

As the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Board of Education contemplates a new discipline policy for its nearly 37,000 students, New Voice Strategies’ VIVA Teachers project asked those on the frontline how they would improve behavior. They responded with eight actionable items the board can implement immediately.

“In order to embrace all the diversity that is Minneapolis in our schools, MPS needs to provide quality staff development that encompasses cultural competency as well as culturally relevant pedagogy,” said Pia Payne-Shannon, an English teacher for more than 23 years, one of report authors. “In turn, educators will have the instructional tools and prior knowledge they need to teach and learn from our diverse student population.”

In March 2013, the VIVA the VIVA Minneapolis Teachers Idea Exchange invited 5,000 K–12th grade teachers and education support professionals working in MPS to share their perspectives and experiences about productive approaches to addressing behavioral and discipline issues and maintaining a focus on learning. They were invited to share their ideas in response to these questions:

What are the most effective strategies you’ve used that have had a positive impact on student behavior?
What would best help students who grapple with behavior issues?
What changes need to be made at the building level?
What kind of support or professional development should the district provide so individual teachers can build a positive learning environment in their classroom?

“We recognize that our students do not come to us at a deficit, and we need to begin our work from the assets they bring into our classrooms,” Payne-Shannon added.

The nearly 300 educators who participated in the Idea Exchange spent hundreds of hours together online sharing ideas about how to build positive school and classroom culture throughout MPS. Then, a group of five teachers, still working exclusively online, formed a writing collaborative to distill the group’s collective experience into eight recommendations to identify effective practices for creating positive learning communities. Their recommendations give new insights for understanding how the social and academic curriculum work together to foster a school-wide culture of learning.

Report author Daniel Magnuson, a special education teacher at Anthony Middle School, said, “Minneapolis is now spending a lot of time, money and resources to improve alignment and create online databases to support teachers in delivering the academic curriculum equitably.  This is wonderful, but what about the social curriculum?  The teachers in this district have spoken up, and want a more comprehensive framework for addressing our students’ social needs.”

The resulting report, Connections for Learning: Unifying the Social and Academic Curriculum in Minneapolis Public Schools, was published and presented to MPS and the Minnesota Federation of Teachers in May.

“If we hope to reduce suspensions and close the achievement gap among our students, district wide, we must also address our students’ other basic needs: the need for power; the need for freedom; the need for belonging; and the need for fun.  An effective social curriculum helps students proactively meet these basic needs in positive ways so that they are less likely to meet these needs in unhealthy ways,” Magnuson said.

The VIVA Minneapolis Teachers Idea Exchange recommended eight actions the MPS Board of Education should incorporate into its behavior management policies and practices:

  • Select, implement consistently, and provide ongoing support for a set of district-wide behavior management systems.
  • Develop a comprehensive behavior framework that effectively meets the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students across all schools. Research the curricular instructional adaptations and teaching strategies that are most effective in reducing behavior issues. Prioritize those strategies that are most effective and make them accessible online.
  • Attend to the social curriculum by allowing time for students to learn through play.
  • Decrease fear among students and increase calm by incorporating nature into the curriculum.
  • Provide stronger support for parents by initiating home visits and expanding parenting classes.
  • Implement student-centered staff development that is socially focused.
  • Explore how schools can more effectively use Educational Support Professionals (ESPs).
  • Streamline due process.

New Voice Strategies developed the VIVA (Vision Ideas Voices Action) Idea Exchange to dramatically increase participation of diverse stakeholders in important public policy decisions. Our work on public education has opened direct communication between teachers and public officials to provide authentic insight and advance policies to improve student achievement and the teaching profession.

For more information on the VIVA Minneapolis Teachers Idea Exchange, VIVA Teachers, or New Voice Strategies, please contact Kim Bolton, national communications director, at, 708-785-9430, or @kdgbolton on Twitter.

Teacher leadership: How about some autonomy?

By Kim Farris-Berg, Special  to VIVA Teachers
Let’s drop our assumptions about the nature of teaching jobs, and imagine something different

Sometimes we become so accustomed to the way things are, we cannot imagine a different way of doing things. In 1927 one of the Warner Brothers made a famously wrong prediction, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” When it comes to systems vital for our future, like K-12 public schools, this myopia can be disastrous.

Even some teachers who are working to imagine a better future for K-12 schools get stuck in the assumption that the ways in which they currently operate are “givens.” Many educators accept that the role of a teacher is to instruct, and that a teacher’s management domain is the classroom. They accept that teachers need a boss to guide their culture and activities, and that only administrators are qualified to conduct evaluations and judge a teacher’s quality. They accept that “achievement” is defined outside of schools, and believe that teachers lose their power without tenure.

These assumptions are not givens! These are just perceived as givens. Some teachers are tackling the job of school improvement without assuming any of them, keeping only the practices that they deem best for their schools. You could, too.

There are more than 50 groups of teachers across the United States with collective authority to make decisions influencing the success of their entire schools. Some of the schools they serve are district schools, and others are chartered schools. Some work as members of the union local, and others do not. The schools are in urban, rural and suburban settings, and serve students from preschool through age 21.

My colleagues and I studied 11 of these teacher groups in depth. They have a mix of full and partial autonomy to collectively make decisions in an average of 7.71 out of ten possible areas.

  • Selecting colleagues
  • Transferring and dismissing colleagues
  • Evaluating colleagues
  • Setting staff pattern (e.g., determining who is full-time and who is part-time, allowing teachers to take on teaching and administrative tasks, and choosing the ratio of aides to teachers)
  • Selecting leaders
  • Determining budget
  • Determining salaries
  • Determining the learning program
  • Setting the schedule (e.g., calendar year and daily schedules)
  • Setting school level policy (e.g., homework and discipline approaches)

These teachers use their authority to create different types of jobs for teachers and learning opportunities for students. Their management domain is the whole school. They individualize learning and use assessment tools to improve their practice. They put students in the position to be active (not passive) learners. They expect students to develop both academic and life skills.

Autonomous teachers also create school cultures that are similar to those in high-performing organizations. They accept accountability, innovate, and make efficient use of resources. They select leaders to handle aspects of management, but these leaders are accountable to them (not vice versa). Teacher quality is most often judged by peers, who are expected to coach and mentor one another.

Teachers with full budget autonomy even go so far as to reject the idea of tenure and automatic raises. Instead they choose one-year, at-will contracts because, in their view, they need budget flexibility and the ability to control the quality of the workers who affect their success as a team. These teachers see job protections as necessary when other people control their work, but not when teachers call the shots.

My colleagues and I described all of these choices in detail in Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots.
Is calling the shots easy? No! Pioneering is intense and difficult work, especially in a K-12 education culture that values “sameness.” Also, these teacher groups are not interconnected. Many feel they are islands without a system of support. Still, pioneers are known for their willingness to take on hardships for the promise of something greater. And the support can be developed as more teachers secure autonomy and cultivate their craft.

As with anything new, there will need to be early adaptors willing to commit to the idea, face any challenges that arise, and give it a serious try. Ultimately, the success of collective teacher autonomy as a strategy for K-12 improvement is dependent on whether groups of teachers seek the opportunity, face its challenges, and use it to advance teaching and learning. Until a large number of success stories demonstrate, on balance, an improvement over the current situation with our K-12 schools, teacher autonomy will remain largely a theoretical idea.

So, if you are a teacher and find the idea attractive, consider rounding up a group of colleagues and asking for autonomy to run a school or group of schools. Learn all you can from those who have gone before you, especially about how they secured autonomy. The “right” autonomy arrangement for your group will depend on many factors including state and local politics as well as your school board or charter school authorizer and the teachers’ union’s tolerance for “trying things”. It will also depend on the personal preferences of teachers in your group.

If at first you don’t succeed in securing autonomy, look for another path. And once you have autonomy, take care not to limit yourselves to any perceived givens, including any best practices from conventional schooling. Think creatively. Innovate. Change your jobs. Improve learning.

Just like actors proved Mr. Warner wrong, teachers could prove wrong all of the people who advocate for controlling teachers to produce better public schools. Teachers could be the social entrepreneurs we need to improve K-12, public schools. But not necessarily in the confines of the jobs you have now.
Maybe it’s time to drop our assumptions about the nature of teaching and imagine something different.

Kim Farris-Berg is lead author of Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots. She lives in Orange County, California. She is a Senior Associate with Education Evolving, a policy design shop based in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an independent education policy strategist. Her Twitter handle is @farrisberg.

Press Release on VIVA Report from Massachusetts Teacher Assocation

Classroom teachers recommend ways to narrow achievement gaps in Gateway Cities

CONTACT: Laura Barrett, MTA, 617-878-8267

Download the Report

The state’s largest teachers union has released recommendations from teachers in low-income urban districts about ways to help narrow student achievement gaps, including replacing “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies that lead to high suspension rates with programs aimed at improving behavior within school settings.

The teachers’ recommendations stem from a collaborative project of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and New Voice Strategies, a nonprofit that has engaged in similar “idea exchanges” elsewhere. They are contained in a report titled “Addressing Educational Inequities: Proposals for Narrowing the Achievement Gaps in Massachusetts Gateway Cities,” which has been endorsed by the MTA.

Through the initiative, more than 300 teachers in 24 Massachusetts Gateway Cities plus Cambridge and Somerville shared their views in a freewheeling online discussion. Active participants were then asked to join a writing collaborative to craft the recommendations.

“We hope that the MTA VIVA project inspires discussions at the local level about what schools and districts can do about the critically important issues that our teachers have raised,” said MTA President Paul Toner. “The wide variety of opinions expressed during this project reminds us all that there is no single solution. Rather, there are a variety of strategies that can be effective if teachers, administrators, parents and community members all work together on behalf of students.”

The recommendations include:

  • Breaking the school-to-prison pipeline by reducing suspensions and promoting positive student behavior through in-school initiatives.
  • Offering both bilingual education and Sheltered English Immersion instruction to English Language Learners and promoting second-language fluency among native English speakers.
  • Transforming teacher preparation and professional development to address the challenges of a diverse student population.
  • Strengthening school-community relations.
  • Using flexible staffing schedules and collaboration with community-based organizations, among other methods, to lengthen the school day to provide enrichment and academic support for students and common planning time for education staff.
  • Encouraging Gateway Cities to collaborate on initiatives and jointly seek grant funding.

Gateway Cities are midsized urban centers that often serve as the “gateway” into Massachusetts for immigrant families. Many of these communities, including Holyoke, Springfield, Lawrence and Lowell, were former manufacturing centers. They have faced significant social and economic challenges since manufacturing has been in decline in the United States.

Education is often seen as the best means for building stronger economies in these communities, yet – as in Boston – student performance and graduation rates are significantly lower in Gateway Cities than in the rest of the state. For example, the five-year graduation rate for high school students is just 69 percent in Gateway Cities as opposed to 72 percent in Boston and 91 percent in the rest of the state.

One of the biggest challenges for school districts in Gateway Cities is that they serve a relatively high percentage of English Language Learners. Among other recommendations, the MTA VIVA teachers recommend a change in state law that would allow bilingual education services to be offered as well as the currently mandated Sheltered English Immersion. They also call on districts to do a better job of identifying ELL students who have learning disabilities so they can receive appropriate services at a young age. In addition, they encourage districts to provide early and effective second-language instruction to native English speakers so that they can become fluent.

On the issue of suspensions, the report recommends, “End all ‘no excuses’ or ‘zero tolerance’ disciplinary programs and policies that criminalize minor infractions of school rules and limit both in-school and out-of-school suspensions to only the most serious disruptions.”

The report also recommends strengthening school-community relations by, among other measures, extending school building hours “to allow students to have a safe place for before- and after-school activities” and establishing “home-school visitation programs,” such as one  in effect in parts of Springfield.

The authors recommend that Gateway Cities administrators work more closely together to share ideas and professional development opportunities and to apply jointly for grants.

The teacher-writers for the MTA VIVA project and the districts in which they teach are: Nancy Hilliard and James Kobialka, Worcester; Joel Patterson, Cambridge; Chelsea Mullins, Springfield; and Kathleen Sullivan, Malden. To reach any of these participants, contact Laura Barrett at MTA at 617-878-8267.