Great School Leadership for the 21st Century: A Colloquium in Brookline, Massachusetts






Great School Leadership for the 21st Century:

A Colloquium in Brookline, Massachusetts

Saturday, December 7th 2019, 9:30 am – 3:45 pm

Coolidge Corner School, Brookline, MA


Our town, Brookline, is about to commence a most important process – searching for its next Superintendent of Schools. To support and inform this effort, Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development (WCEHD) joins the Brookline Parents Organization (BPO) in sponsoring an exciting all-day Colloquium – Great School Leadership for the 21st Century. The day will include a variety of presentations and interactive discussions, featuring some of the most respected school leaders and teachers in the northeastern US.


The day begins with coffee and pastries at 9:30 am, followed by what promises to be an inspiring keynote address by Dr. Ramon Gonzalez, Obama White House Champion of Change, at 10 am. Then, attendees and participants will explore a program designed to demonstrate what great leadership means to the diverse constituencies served by the superintendent. The Colloquium will conclude with an analysis and summary of the presentations and conversations, responding to the question, “What did we learn today about great school leadership?” This summary will be presented to the superintendent search committee to inform their deliberations and will be published for the entire community.

Please RSVP at this link

Please note:  There will be engaging, fun, and professionally supervised activities for children all day. A sit-down lunch will be provided for all attendees.

Presenters and panelists include:

Dr. Ramon Gonzalez, founding principal of the award-winning MS223, Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx, New York City

Karen Tarasevich, 2018 Superintendent of the Year in Rhode Island

Dr. Julie Hackett, 2018 Superintendent of the Year in Massachusetts

Jon Sills, Superintendent of Schools, Bedford, MA

Dr. David Fleishman, Superintendent of Schools, Newton, MA

Dr. Piper Smith-Mumford, Former Principal, Pierce School, Brookline, MA

Dr. Henry J. Turner, Principal, Newton North High School, Newton, MA

Dan Bresman, Director, School Within a School (SWS) at Brookline High School

Tanya Paris, Kindergarten Teacher at Pierce School, Brookline, MA

Keira Flynn-Carson, English Teacher, School Within a School (SWS) at Brookline High

John Strecker, 4th Grade Teacher, Runkle School, Brookline, MA


Other participants include Dr. Bob Weintraub, Program Director of Pre-K-12 Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Boston University WCEHD, Mary Burchenal, former English Department Chair at Brookline High School, and Dr. Jeff Young, former Superintendent of Schools in Lexington, Newton, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.


THE AGENDA:  December 7, 2019


9:30 am  Registration and refreshments

10:00 am  The Conversazione - The Entrepreneurial Principal:  “How Can a School Principal Create and Sustain a Culture of Innovation and Change?”  DR. RAMON GONZALEZ, Founding Principal of MS223. Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, the Bronx, NYC

11:00 am  Superintendents Panel:  Balancing Two Big Ideas:  Building a Great School System and Building a System of Great Schools” 


(moderated by Dr. Jeff Young)


12:15 pm  Lunch and Recess


1:00 pm  Principals Panel:  Stories from Building-Level Leadership – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly?”


(moderated by Dr. Bob Weintraub)

2:00 pm  Teacher and Parent Panel:  “What do teachers and parents need from school and district leaders?”


(moderated by Carey Goldberg)

3:15 pm  Summary: “What did we learn today about great school leadership?”

Please RSVP at this link


Support Brookline’s Kindergarten Teachers!

Dear parent, family member, caregiver, and supporter of children in Brookline Public Schools -

Thank you. More than 475 people have signed the petition in support of Brookline kindergarten teachers and keeping play in our classrooms. We received signatures from well outside of Brookline, too. Other districts are watching to see if and how we lead.

More than 100 of you left thoughtful and moving comments reflective of the depth of care and concern the community feels about this issue.

To whit:

"We hire wonderful teachers. LET THEM TEACH!"

"Play is a critical part of inclusion for children with special needs. In the words of Fred Rogers, 'Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.'"

"We chose Brookline's public schools for the creativity and innovation that Brookline teachers bring to their craft. We trust that they know how to engage and excite our youngest learners as they embark on the lifelong journey of education. We did not choose to live here for standardization and excessive data collection. These are not Brookline values."

We have not yet heard if Superintendent Andrew Bott or members of the School Committee have responded or reached out to the kindergarten teachers following their public presentation on June 6.

So, what now? We will be presenting the petition, signatures, and comments at the next School Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 19. The meeting begins at 6pm at Brookline Town Hall, 333 Washington Street.

Your voice matters. Your presence matters. Sadly, I fear that even the most hefty petitions can be ignored, but individuals in a room are not so easily dismissed. Therefore, if you felt strongly enough to sign and comment, we encourage you come to the meeting. We encourage you to speak during the public comment period. Make your concerns, stories, and requests heard. We understand (and sympathize) that attending evening meetings can be very challenging, but if even a fraction of those who signed come to this meeting, we could fill the room in support of our littlest learners. Thank you.


Meghna Chakrabarti and Benjamin Kelley

Bringing Joy Back into the Classroom: A Community Dialogue about Brookline Schools

Join parents, educators, students, and members of the community at large to share your experiences, concerns and vision for public education in Brookline.

Wednesday November 28th
6:30-8:30 PM
Hunneman Hall, Brookline Main Library
361 Washington Street


  • How can our classrooms be places of joy for all learners?

  • How can we as a community support teachers and build these kinds of classrooms?

  • What are the factors limiting the creation of  these classrooms?

  • With a new round of contract negotiations coming up between Brookline educators and the School Committee, what role can those negotiations play in bringing joy back into the classroom?

    Please come to share your ideas!

How Kids Learn Better By Taking Frequent Breaks Throughout The Day


Excerpted from Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies For Joyful Classrooms (c) 2017 by Timothy D. Walker. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton. 


Like a zombie, Sami—one of my fifth graders—lumbered over to me and hissed, “I think I’m going to explode! I’m not used to this schedule.” And I believed him. An angry red rash was starting to form on his forehead.

Yikes, I thought, what a way to begin my first year of teaching in Finland. It was only the third day of school, and I was already pushing a student to the breaking point. When I took him aside, I quickly discovered why he was so upset.

Throughout this first week of school, I had gotten creative with my fifth grade timetable. If you recall, students in Finland normally take a fifteen-minute break for every forty-five minutes of instruction. During a typical break, the children head outside to play and socialize with friends.

I didn’t see the point of these frequent pit stops. As a teacher in the United States, I’d usually spent consecutive hours with my students in the classroom. And I was trying to replicate this model in Finland. The Finnish way seemed soft, and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time. So I decided to hold my students back from their regularly scheduled break and teach two forty-five-minute lessons in a row, followed by a double break of thirty minutes. Now I knew why the red dots had appeared on Sami’s forehead.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure if the American approach had ever worked very well. My students in the States had always seemed to drag their feet after about forty-five minutes in the classroom. But they’d never thought of revolting like this shrimpy Finnish fifth grader, who was digging in his heels on the third day of school. At that moment, I decided to embrace the Finnish model of taking breaks.

Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would, without fail, enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a fifteen-minute break. And most important, they were more focused during lessons.

Continue reading...

Why we need SC members who will stand up against unreasonable data collection!

Teachers Go Public With Their Resignation Letters

quit_chalkboard.jpgScripted lessons, an oppressive testing culture, and a punitive evaluation system are the main reasons teachers are heading for the exits, according to analyses of their resignation letters. Now a new study examines how the letters have risen into the realm of social action.

"The reasons teachers are leaving the profession have little to do with the reasons most frequently touted by education reformers, such as pay or student behavior," said Alyssa Hadley Dunn, a co-author of the new study on "I Quit" letters and assistant professor of urban teacher education at Michigan State University. "Rather, teachers are leaving largely because oppressive policies and practices are affecting their working conditions and beliefs about themselves and education."

The authors of "With Regret: The Genre of Teachers' Public Resignation Letters" set out to understand how teachers' writing aims to make a difference in an an education system they view as broken. The study analyzes 22 letters written by educators from 13 states between 2012 and 2014, and with experience ranging from one year to 40 years. What emerges is a veritable style of writing expressing disillusionment with the teaching profession and the aims of the education system. (You can also read Education Week Teacher blogger Walt Gardner's assessment of why teachers quit here. Gardner taught for 28 years in Los Angeles and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education. And here is a first-person account of why a teacher in her sixth year has decided to leave the profession.)

In the past five years, U.S. teachers have increasingly shared their resignation letters onlinein blogs, on Facebook, Youtube, and on local and national news siteswhere the missives have gone viral. These letters come from novice and veteran teachers of all subjects and grade levels, in urban and suburban settings all across the country. Linking these letters is the view that education in the United States is headed in the wrong direction, and that the best course of action is to leave the classroom and let the public know why.

Teachers often write of feeling complicit in a broken system, and that leaving was a way of taking a stand. One teacher writes: "I quit because I'm tired of being a part of the problem. It's killing me and it's not doing anyone else any good."

That sentiment informs the central component of the teacher resignation letter: a description of what's wrong with U.S. education today. Gerald J. Conti, a social studies department leader in the Westhill Central School District in Syracuse, N.Y., offers a case study. The 40-year veteran cites many reasons for his exit, not the least of which is what he sees as an overreliance on "data-driven education" that "seeks only conformity, standardization, testing, and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core . . .  ."

Like the other letter writers, Conti expresses feelings of abandonment by a profession which, as he says, no longer trusts teachers to create their own quizzes, and then eats away at their planning time by making them prepare lessons and other materials for review. "After all of this, I realize that I am not leaving my profession; in truth, it has left me," he writes. "It no longer exists."

Still others express defiance. One teacher writes: "I am quitting without remorse and without second thoughts. I quit. I quit. I quit!" His reason: He feels the profession forces him to preside over a barrage of tests "for the sake of profit."

The study's authors conclude that resignation letters provide teachers with a platform for questioning the policies that shape education, while also educating the public about its problems. Taken as a whole, the "I Quit" letters describe the state of U.S. education, build empathy for teachers who work in the system, and provide a call to action to fix what is wrong in public education.

For an alternative view of the "I Quit" letter phenomenon, check out Justin Minkel, who says these "gloomy tales of departure" deserve a response from career educators who find the teaching profession worthy of a lifetime of dedication. Minkel is a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher in Arkansas who frequently writes for Education Week Teacher.

Lab Rats for America, A Kafkaesque Version of Our Future

Peter Greene writes here about a polished (and terrifying) video released by the ACT Foundation that portrays the programmed education of the future.

He begins:

Oh my God. Oh my effing God.

If you want to see where Competency Based Education, data mining, the cradle to career pipeline, the gig economy, and the transformation into a master and servant class society all intersect– boy, have I got a video for you. Spoiler alert: this is also one way that public education dies.

I’m going to walk you through the video, embed it for your own viewing, and tell you about the people behind this. Hang on. This is stunning. And I’ll warn you right up front– this is not some hack job that looks like amateur hour video production (like, say, an in house USED video). This is slick and well-produced. Which somehow makes it more horrifying.

The video is a little SF film taking us ten years into the future. Imagine you are one of the one billion people using a new technology called The Ledger. And our slogan…?

Learning is earning.

Peter patiently walks you through this dystopian vision of the future of training, disguised as “education.”

He writes:

Exactly what task will certify that you have acquired one hour’s worth of critical thinking?

And how do we even begin to discuss the notion that it doesn’t really matter whether you learn quantum physics from a PhD in the field or from a person who once sat in one class taught by that PhD?

And does anybody think that this is how the children of the wealthy will be educated? Will they accept this sort of “education”? Will they accept this total violation of data privacy?

This is not education. This is training. This is operant conditioning for the servant class that also provides the upper class with tools that let them trickle even fewer benefits down to the working class.

In fact, I would say that this is just training rats to run a maze, but it’s even worse than that, because ultimately even if we were to accept the premise that simply giving some job-ish training for the underclass is good enough, and even if I were to accept the racist, classist bullshit that somehow ignores the immoral and unethical foundations of such a system, the fact remains that this would be a lousy training system. To reduce any job of any level of complexity to this kind of checklist-of-tasks training provides the worst possible type of training.

So, no, this isn’t even sending rats into a maze to earn a pellet of food. This is carrying the pellet dispenser with you as an app. This is saying, “Well, the maze just involves twelve left turns and seven right turns.” Then I hand the rat a tiny phone with an app that measures his ability to turn corners, and once the rat has turned twelve left corners and seven right ones, the app spits out a food pellet.

This is also, not incidentally, the death of public education for any but the wealthy. In the world of the Ledger, there are no teachers, no schools, and no education for any purpose other than to satisfy the requirements of the people with power and money. In the world of the Ledger, education training exists only to help workers better react to the demands of employers. There is no benefit to education training except to trade for money. The Ledger is the wet dream of every corporate boss who said, “Why are they wasting time teaching these kids all this extra stuff. I’m not gonna pay them for that.”

It is important to know what the futuristic thinkers have in mind for us and our children, whether their vision will expand our ideals or contract them. This is most certainly the latter.

Press Release: The BPO Endorses Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris for School Committee!

The BPO, Brookline PAX, BEU, and BRJE Join to Endorse Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris for School Committee

On Tuesday, May 2nd, Brookline citizens will have an historic opportunity to vote for a School Committee that supports the ideals of excellence, justice, and democratic process that have long been the hallmarks of our great public school system.

The Alliance for Brookline Schools, consisting of Brookline PAX, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU), the Brookline Parents Organization (BPO), and Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity (BRJE), have joined together to endorse two highly qualified candidates for School Committee: Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris. Suzanne is a long time Brookline resident and parent, and a retired teacher and Boston Public Schools principal who combines a lifelong passion for students and education with an intimate knowledge of the workings of public schools. Paul is also a long time resident and Brookline parent, as well as a town meeting member and founder of its Green Caucus, former co-chair of Climate Action Week, who is deeply committed to public education here in Brookline.

The Alliance believes strongly that Brookline should never repeat the debacle that was the recently resolved three year contract negotiation. It believes strongly in a living wage for paraprofessionals, in freedom and autonomy for teachers in their classrooms, and that students are not data collection points.

“The students of Brookline deserve an education of equity and excellence that addresses the needs of the whole child,” says Suzanne. “In this time of challenge to the public schools at the national level, I am running to protect the integrity of our schools at the local level.”

Paul adds, “I believe I can help the Brookline School Committee engage more constructively with teachers and paraprofessionals. A realization of this will include students, educators, and other staff who love their work, their peers, and the Brookline Schools.”

The Alliance came together out of an unprecedented need for change in the direction and vision of our town’s School Committee, and put its collective energy into interviewing and vetting all of this year’s School Committee candidates. As the result of this process, the Alliance has endorsed Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris out of its belief that they are the only two candidates who share a vision for a school committee that is transparent and will work in active collaboration with the community.


Massachusetts’ ESSA Plan

Massachusetts ESSA State Plan

Massachusetts Consolidated State Plan Under ESSA – Draft for Public Comment   

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education welcomes your comments on our draft ESSA State Plan. Please submit feedback through this survey, or email The deadline for public comment is March 9, 2017. We expect to submit our plan to the U.S. Department of Education on April 3, 2017.

Massachusetts ESSA Plan: Executive Summary (draft for discussion)   

Massachusetts ESSA Plan: Highlights (draft for discussion)   


On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, reauthorizing the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and replacing the most recent reauthorization of ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). With a few exceptions, ESSA will first take effect at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. The law includes provisions to help ensure improved outcomes for all students receiving elementary and secondary education, including the following:

  • States must establish high academic content standards, and schools must teach all students  those standards to help prepare them for college and careers
  • States, districts, and schools must share information with families, students, and communities regarding annual statewide assessments that measure students' progress toward these high standards
  • States and districts must establish systems of accountability and support for all schools, and provide particular support to the lowest-performing schools, schools with low-performing subgroups, and schools with low graduation rates


I Am Not Hostile To Change

Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, Feb. 15, 2017

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke today to a gathering of Magnet School folks, and opened up by suggesting that "some people" are "hostile" to change.

I just want to be clear. I am not hostile to change. In fact, there are some changes that I would love to see.

I would love to see a change in the rhetoric about failing schools. Instead of declaring that we will "rescue" students from failing schools and offering lifeboats for a handful of students, I'd like to change to a declaration that where we find struggling and failing schools, we will get them the support and resources that they need to become great.

I would love to see a change in how we approach the communities where those schools are located. Instead of pushing local leaders aside so that outsiders who "know what's best" for them can swoop in and impose decisions for them instead of letting them have control of their own community.

I would love to see a change in how teachers are treated. Instead of trying to bust their unions, smother their pay, ignore their voices , and treat them as easily-replaced widgets, I would like to see teacher voices elevated, listened to, respected, and given the support and resources that would lift them up. I would like to see them treated as part of the solution instead of the source of all problems.

I would love to see a change in how we discuss race and poverty, treating them as neither destiny nor unimportant nothings.

I would love to see a change in how we treat public education. I would love to see public education treated like a sacred trust and not a business opportunity. I would love to see us pursue a promise to educate all children-- not just the few that we deem worthy or profitable or best reached by a sensible business plan. Every child.

I would love to see a change in the status quo. Because at this point, the status quo is a public education system that is being smothered and dismantled by people who lack expertise in education and belief in the promise of public education. The education "establishment" has been pushed out and replaced by well-meaning amateurs, profiteers, scam artists, and people who have no desire to maintain the institution that has been the foundation of a robust and vibrant democracy. Reformsters are the status quo, and that is a status quo I would love to change, because they have had their shot, and all of their promises have proven to be at best empty and at worst toxic.

I would love to see us change from test-centered schools, data-centered schools, and revenue-centered schools to schools that are student-centered, that steer by the children at their center.

And all of that is because I welcome the change that I have always welcomed, built for, worked for-- which is the change of young humans into grown, fully-realized, awesome, grown, valuable, living, breathing, completely individual and fully capable adults, the change of each child from an unsure rough draft into the version of their own best self.

No, Secretary. I am not hostile to change at all. I embrace it, welcome it, hope for it and work for it every day. There are many of us out here, and if you imagine we are hostile to change, that is one more thing about public education that you do not understand.