EDITOR'S NOTE: School Superintendent Sheldon Berman wrote this column to offer his perspective on Andover public schools.
Public tax dollars fund our schools. It’s important for our community to know how those dollars are being used and the kind of return you are getting on your investment. I’m proud to say that the 2018-19 year continued a strong four-year trend of improving the academic performance and enriching the learning experiences of students in the Andover Public Schools. Following are a few examples of how your dollars are being invested to make a difference.
Over the past four years, we have added staff to reduce average elementary class size from approximately 23 to just over 20 per class. Personal attention and support are critical to elementary students’ academic and social development. Personalization is fostered by reasonable class sizes that allow teachers to reach each child. We will continue to reduce elementary class size next year, particularly in kindergarten.
To meet the needs of students with dyslexia and other reading challenges, we have moved forcefully and effectively to provide a comprehensive approach through early screening, progress monitoring, program improvements and effective interventions. Our programs and services now enable students to remain with their neighborhood peers and benefit from a rigorous curriculum that will serve them well in post-secondary education.
To make our literacy effort even more comprehensive, we have invested in a new elementary literacy program and the professional development to enable teachers to effectively implement it. The program materials and classroom libraries that support the literacy program represent not only students’ diversity in reading abilities, but also their cultural, national, and racial diversity. The results are already apparent; through significantly improved reading scores on MCAS for third- through fifth-graders, particularly for students with disabilities.
In addition, we created an accelerated math program at the middle school level, as well as a summer school math program to prepare more students to move into the accelerated program.
We made a smooth and effective transition to a new high school schedule, which can be one of the most difficult changes in any school district. Survey results from students, teachers and parents reveal that the new schedule better supports student-teacher relationships, reduces academic stress, and is having a positive impact on student progress.
We are fostering more supportive learning environments through consistent social-emotional learning programs across all grades. As a result, students feel safer, more supported, and more connected to school and to others in their school.
Andover is gifted with an incredibly talented and dedicated teaching staff. We have embraced and encouraged the strength of our faculty and staff through high-quality professional development and the expansion of professional leadership opportunities.
We have increased regular communications with our parents and community, reaching out through our weekly newsletter, Warrior Wednesdays, and through ACCESS-ABILITY, our quarterly magazine, focusing on students with special needs.
Faced with the challenge of ailing and inadequate facilities, we developed a long-term facility plan, and placed the prospect of a new West Elementary and a renovated high school within the community's reach. We have a strong agenda of future capital improvements that will enhance the learning environment at all our schools. Plus, we developed a more transparent and credible budget process that received the support of the Finance Committee, the Select Board and Town Meeting.
Andover is recognized as a leader at the state and national levels. We have created a unique culture of innovation that supports authentic learning through our capstone programs, maker spaces, the high school’s innovation lab and IDEAStudio, and our efforts at personalized learning and universal design for learning.
We have set the stage for even more growth and development over the coming years through the lengthening of the school day next year, the consideration of start times to address the health needs of our adolescents, the restructuring of the middle school schedule, and the significant reduction and potential elimination of tuition for full-day kindergarten.
Making this kind of progress takes collective effort. The community can be proud of the teachers, administrators and staff who have willingly accepted the challenges as their own, knowing that they were making a difference for children. We are proud of the School Committee for their bold vision and for supporting that vision on behalf of our students. We take pride in this community for the support so many individuals have offered through ACE, Andona, the PTOs and PACs, our arts and athletics booster clubs, and our corporate and organizational partnerships.
This has been a very good year — and it sets a path for better years ahead. We thank the Andover community for the support and confidence in our work that you have offered over the past years. We look forward to your continued engagement on behalf of our young people.