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My Turn: Pittsfield is working to help every student succeed

Last modified: 8/5/2015 12:05:24 AM
There was a time when many of Pittsfield’s students attended one of the lowest-achieving schools in the state, when students in Pittsfield were not engaged in a personalized learning environment, when Pittsfield’s high school was labeled a “dropout factory.” Those times have passed.

In 2008, Pittsfield’s schools began a commitment to a student-centered learning environment, through a strong community effort; considerable retraining of administration, faculty and staff; and significant funding from outside sources, both governmental and private sources.

As a result of this collective effort, our high school, which was ranked No. 80 out of 85 high schools in New Hampshire at the time, began on our path toward excellence and was ranked in the top 20 of New Hampshire high schools by U.S. News & World Report in spring 2014. Pittsfield is now nationally known for our innovative approach to providing opportunities for our students and improving student outcomes.

Like the student who was featured in a recent article (Monitor front page, July 25), our students who face learning challenges are provided with a broad range of interventions and supports, all personalized to each student’s learning profile and needs. From daily advisory meetings to one-on-one courses with expert teachers, from extended learning opportunities to summer academies, many, many opportunities are available to our Pittsfield youth.

One option that is rarely accessed in Pittsfield is retention in grade level, mentioned in the recent article. While grade retention may seem like an obvious solution for a student who is struggling, the research evidence concludes that students who repeat a grade are no better off than if they’d been promoted. In fact, they are often worse off as retained students have been show to have a greater likelihood of dropping out of school altogether.

When I met the featured student, her mother and a companion following our graduation ceremony in June, I was greeted with smiles and gratitude. I have known this family since they moved to Pittsfield many years ago, and observed the student working one-on-one with her reading teacher throughout the last year, so I was surprised by their recent statements about the student’s school experience. I did not hear of any difficulties from the parent, and therefore assumed that appropriate progress was being made.

As part of our commitment to continuous improvement, the Pittsfield School Board recently asked the school leadership to develop a more robust system for monitoring individual student progress and providing students with a progressive system of support. This work has already begun and will be in place for the new school year. We will continue working with the community to ensure that all of our young people receive an education that will prepare them well for life after high school.

(John J. Freeman is superintendent of the Pittsfield School District.)


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