Superintendent: A good year for Andover Public Schools

As the school year ends, it is a good time to reflect on the road we have traveled and to celebrate what has been a positive year for the Andover Public Schools. Ensuring and improving the quality instruction and care we offer students has remained our primary focus, and we can highlight significant gains in many key areas.

As proposed in our budget process, we added five elementary teachers. This additional staffing had a domino effect that positively impacted 16 classrooms and over 400 students. Districtwide, it reduced the average size of our elementary classes from 23 to 21.4. More dramatically, at some schools and some grade levels, class sizes fell by as many as seven students, enabling teachers to devote additional time to individual needs.

We improved literacy instruction districtwide, with particular attention to students with language-based learning challenges. Through early screening for reading difficulties, monitoring to ensure each student is making appropriate progress, professional development for both regular education and special education teachers in addressing reading challenges, and program improvements for students with reading difficulties, we anticipate a significant long-term benefit not only for students with reading disabilities but for all students.

Responding to parent interest, we implemented an accelerated middle school math program for grades 7 and 8, while strengthening the math program for all middle school students. These changes will enhance students' success in math as they reach high school.

After much planning and preparation, we look forward to launching a new high school schedule in the fall. The schedule features year-long courses, rotating classes, a block of time for personalized support, and collaboration time for teachers. It will create a more supportive environment, strengthen instruction and enhance opportunities for student success.

After three years of progressive implementation, we are excited about completing our iAndover technology initiative this fall and fully integrating technology into the curriculum. Students in kindergarten and grade one will have class sets of a dozen district-provided tablets, while each student in grades two through five will have a district-provided cloud-based laptop to use in class. Secondary-level students will be able to bring their own laptops to school. This approach will enable the district to use a blend of current online and text materials that are adaptive to students’ individual needs.

We expanded our global education efforts, our promotion of cultural appreciation, and our student exchange program. We also emphasized authentic learning for students through the integration of arts and literacy, maker spaces, an innovation lab at the high school, senior capstone projects, and our first annual AHS Senior Showcase exhibiting the exceptional projects undertaken by our students. Students from our innovation lab presented their home hydroponic system at Harvard and MIT and also won a gold medal at an international technology competition in China.

We made parent communication easier, more comprehensive, and more personalized with the introduction of a new website and mobile app and more parent events at schools. We also reduced the annual fee for full-day kindergarten with a goal of providing tuition-free kindergarten in the future.

Our facilities are in serious need of improvement and we have moved aggressively to address that need. We submitted an application to the state to renovate or replace West Elementary and launched a facility study committee to propose renovations to the high school. In addition, Town Meeting provided funding for a field access ramp and air conditioning at High Plain and Wood Hill, as well as classroom audio enhancement at our elementary schools.

We are very gratified that our School Committee and Town Manager secured a three-year contract with our teachers association that will provide significant long-term savings in health insurance costs and increase daily instructional time by 15 minutes. The additional time will be implemented in the fall of 2019 and is equivalent to adding seven and a half days of instruction to the year.

Finally, we brought on board a gifted and experienced group of administrators and teachers to step into the shoes of those who retired or left the district. The talent, dedication and hard work of our staff are truly what make this district great. It is to their credit that we remain a highly attractive district to educators who pride themselves on excellence and innovation.

I want to express my gratitude for the continuing participation and support of the Andover community as we strive to provide the best possible education for every child. We understand that the quality of education we offer is not only critical to the students we serve, but also to the value of every taxpayer’s property and to the positive sense of community that draws people to Andover. Thank you for your support and encouragement throughout the year. 

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The superintendent writes an occasional column for the Andover Townsman.

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