First half of school year marked by innovation, teamwork 

APS Superintendent Sheldon Berman

The Andover Public Schools (APS) have been making significant progress on multiple fronts through the first half of this school year. This forward movement stems from the outstanding teamwork that is a hallmark of APS. We have a very special staff who care deeply about the students in Andover and the quality of instruction they receive. In addition, devoted parents and a supportive community have been with us every step of the way as we strive to provide the best possible education for every child.

A critical area of progress has been addressing building repairs and renovations. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) invited the district to participate in the eligibility period for West Elementary based on our first application to the program. This may lead to a significant subsidy for renovating or replacing the building. Town Manager Andrew Flanagan has included funds for the feasibility study for West Elementary to be approved at Town Meeting on April 30. In addition, we are working with an architectural company on the Andover High School (AHS) facility study, and the School Committee will be considering options to address overcrowding and instructional improvement needs. We have also proposed a study of long-term upgrades needed for Doherty Middle School.

At Andover High School, the new 7+H schedule has had a highly successful launch. The year-long courses are enabling students to explore subject areas more intensively, and both students and teachers are taking advantage of the new H block to incorporate advisory meetings, speakers, and deep dives into content. AHS also introduced the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) college-preparation program in grade 9 and expanded the availability of online virtual courses.

We are strengthening our approach to literacy, employing a number of progress monitoring assessments to track students’ reading skills. The data-reflective culture we are establishing through teacher data teams and data analyses is enabling us to better support students and improve instruction. We are also midway through a pilot to identify a new elementary literacy program. At the middle and high school levels, we are providing teacher training to better support students with dyslexia and other language-based disabilities. Students at all levels may now choose to use TextHelp — a technology tool that assists students with language-based challenges to access rigorous curriculum but is useful for all students.

School and classroom climate and culture significantly impact learning. To strengthen the learning environment, we are applying strategies to increase student engagement. In elementary schools, we are implementing Responsive Classroom strategies that emphasize the formation of caring classroom and school communities and the building of positive learning environments for all students.

The iAndover 1:1 technology program is now complete K-12. We took our final step of deploying Chromebooks for students in grades 2 through 4 and iPads for K-1 students. We replaced aging Smartboards in elementary classrooms with new interactive projectors and added sound enhancement systems in many elementary and some middle school classrooms. We also provided teachers with new computer devices and redistributed the older models to students in grades 6-12 who needed them so they could participate in the Bring Your Own Device program.

Support for instructional innovation is encouraging teachers to involve students in design thinking and authentic learning experiences. Some examples include rapid design challenges, maker spaces, Global Pathways at the high school, and integrative arts and literacy activities supported by our New England Arts in Literacy grant. Through funding from Andover Coalition for Education (ACE), we also expanded the AHS Innovation Lab, supported teacher innovation grants, and spread the use of Capstone projects from the high school to middle and elementary schools.

A special innovation will arrive shortly after February vacation: the Global Portal is an immersive, audio-visual experience that will enable our students to communicate with others around the world. Thanks to a grant from ACE, we will be the first district in the country to provide this new technology and global experience to students. The Portal will move from school to school so that many students can participate.

Communication with parents and the community remains a high priority. The Student Services Department launched an outstanding online magazine, and every issue contains helpful tips and interesting information. Parents and community members are invited to sign up for online distribution. We are also finalizing a new district brochure to be available in the fall that will provide a thorough overview of our programs and services.

This summary highlights just a sample of what APS has been engaged in the past several months. We hope you are as enthusiastic about the progress and opportunities as we are. For more information about these activities and other initiatives, please check out my Mid-Year Progress Report to the School Committee, which is available on the Superintendent’s Office page of our website.

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