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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Press Release: New Energy Drives Change in Somerville Schools

Somerville, MA -- Somerville parents and educators, energized by a debate over a recent charter school proposal, have now focused their attention on bringing increased urgency and innovation to their public school system.

The community is embracing innovation with new vigor, aggressively pursuing multiple initiatives to bring ideas, energy, and change to bear on raising performance of their students. Paula Woolley, parent of students in 4th and 12th grades stated, “I’ve worked for many years on school improvement councils and I'm amazed at the level of activity over the past 3 months; parents, teachers and the city are collaborating to pursue new approaches to addressing the challenges in our schools.”

At last Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, Somerville Public Schools Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi announced that teachers at the Winter Hill Community School have eagerly begun discussing the idea of the converting to an Innovation School, and have voted to move forward with submission of an initial prospectus and grant applications to the State and the Gates Foundation for planning and implementation. “The entire district is focused on improving student learning,” stated Pierantozzi. “Innovation Schools are one method to improve performance and I expect at least one to be in place in September 2012.”

While several other elementary schools are also discussing this approach, this new dynamic isn’t limited to just the lower grades. Last week’s meeting also included a proposal for a STEAM (STEM + Arts) virtual school within the high school and a teacher-initiated innovation-school approach to the existing Next Wave/ Full Circle alternative high school. The High School is building on past success, last year, it was named “Innovative School of the Year” by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and recently received a grant from Verizon to upgrade classroom technology.

"Somerville is blessed with enormous talent and many creative ideas," said School Committee chair Paul Bockelman. "Our challenge is to focus efforts on those initiatives that best serve our unique community and prepare all Somerville students for success.” Somerville Teachers Association (STA) President Jackie Lawrence also noted, “The STA is excited that teachers will have a voice in the design of programs that will meet the needs of all students.”

Progress Together for Somerville (PTS), a group focused on city-wide education issues, has taken the lead in advocating for school improvement across the community. The group has reached into every corner of the city to build its membership and has multiple initiatives underway, including an education forum scheduled for mid-March. Ruth Ronen, a parent and active PTS member, stated: "We want great schools that work for all students in our unique community, and the recent initiatives are very exciting. We have an amazing pool of talent in the city and resources from the world’s top universities; there's no reason why Somerville can’t become one of the Commonwealth's top-performing urban districts.” Taking advantage of many aspects of school reform introduced by the state, the Somerville Public Schools and families are proving that a “traditional” public school system can think outside the box when challenged to do so.

Progress Together for Somerville is an independent, grass-roots organization of parents that advocates for exceptional public education for all students in Somerville.

FOR MEDIA INQUIRIES CONTACT: Michael Chiu, Progress Together for Somerville

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