Dr. Narvaez Addresses Teachers at 2016 School Year Kick-off

Dr. Narvaez Addresses Teachers at 2016 School Year Kick-off

On Monday, August 29, 2016, Hartford Public Schools officially welcomed back its teaching staff at its annual Teacher Convocation celebration in the auditorium of Bulkeley High School. This year, the event centered around the theme of The Opportunity of Now:  Progress, Innovation & Action. Teachers had an opportunity to hear Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez’s ideas about how to build upon last year’s successes to help prepare for the coming academic year.
The morning began with a light breakfast (courtesy of a generous donation from the Hartford Municipal Employees Federal Credit Union) and included performances by the E.B. Kennelly School student drum line, and student winners of the Invention Convention and STEM Expo from Burr School and Renzulli Gifted & Talented Academy who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, student Timothy Burton, from Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy who sang the National Anthem, and the Kinsella Beats, a middle school modern band from Kinsella Magnet School for Performing Arts who danced, sang, played instruments, and brought down the house.
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The Premier Drumline from Kennelly School.
Hartford Public Schools would also like to thank the Church and Main Deli who donated breakfast for the performing students.
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Anthem singer HMTCA Senior Timothy Burton (right) and his teacher Ed Jardim.

The Kinsella Beats, above with their teachers and below, on stage.

Teachers heard from Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez; Mayor Luke Bronin; Richard F. Wareing, Chairman of the Hartford Board of Education; Gary Lotreck, 2016 Hartford Teacher of the Year, last year a Language Arts Teacher at Classical Magnet School and now an instructional coach at High School, Inc.; and Gayle Allen-Greene, Principal of Bulkeley High School.  Each of the speakers shared amusing and touching personal anecdotes about their experiences with teachers and teaching.

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Sanchez and Kinsella are in the house!
Annie Fisher STEM is ready to roll!
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 convocation 2016 tierra and mom
Burr School student and STEM Expo 2016 winner, Angelis Cartagena (right) and her parents.
Renzulli Gifted & Talented Academy student and Invention Convention 2016 Finalist, Tierra Jones (right) and her mom.

This year, five community partners joined us with information tables tailored for our teachers:

Hartford Municipal Employees Federal Credit Union – whom we thank again for the donation which made breakfast for our teachers possible.

Urban Alliance — who provides classroom supplies for teachers.

Hartford Youth Scholars  — who fulfill a mission of creating lifetime opportunities for under-served Hartford children through education.

Wadsworth Atheneum — who is providing free field trip buses to their museum this school year.

United Way — who supports the Hartford Campaign for Grade Level Reading and its mission to reduce Chronic Absenteeism and promote Summer Learning and Early Literacy.

WATCH CONVOCATION ON ACCESSTV.ORG

Please read Dr. Narvaez’s speech below.

Hartford Public Schools Convocation Speech, by Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Ed.D., August 29, 2016

Thank you and welcome back!

The start of this school year feels very different to me than the start of other school years… I think it’s because we accomplished so much together last year, that we have so much momentum, that we are coming together – united as a community of educators – behind a common vision…a common vision that places our students at the center of all that we do. And because we saw how our work made a real difference for students… in their academic achievement, in their personal growth, in their dreams, even in their belief that they can realize their dreams.

When I first came to Hartford in the summer of 2014 I referenced Marshall Ganz’ story of self, story of us, and story of now.

I shared my story, and I listened to your stories.  We did that to build relationships—and the foundation for the trust that is necessary for all of our work together. These were the stories of self.

We got to know one another, and together, we created a bold vision for the future of our children.  A vision of children who will transform their world.  Pretty bold, right?

Bold visions make bold demands.  They demand changes in mindsets and changes in practices… because that’s what it takes to make changes in impact, to change futures.  People from throughout the community, including many of you listened, reflected, imagined, prioritized, committed, and ultimately captured our bold vision, and our bold pathway to that vision in a strategic operating plan.  The story of us.

And that takes us to the story of now.  The story of what we do in this place, at this moment.  How our journey to today intersects with the opportunities that lie before us.

Our journey to today is defined by our skills, our relationships, our mindsets, our practices, our accumulated wisdom, our willingness to learn and grow.

The opportunities before us come in two varieties: some opportunities are clear and simply have to be seized.  Other opportunities have to be envisioned and created.

Either way, embracing opportunity always requires a willingness to change, adapt, do things differently, and move out of our comfort zone.

And that is why I am so excited as we begin this school year.  Because last year I saw exactly that.  I saw this district — I saw all of you — embrace opportunity, and embrace innovation.

Our strategic operating plan asked, and continues to ask, a lot of you in the realm of innovating and seizing opportunity:

It asks you to set and hold all students to ever-higher EXPECTATIONS.

It demands that you ENGAGE all students in meaningful, differentiated ways that match their needs and meet their interests.

It requires focus on the growth of EACH AND EVERY student and school

If challenges us all – leaders, staff, school communities at large – to EXPAND our capacity.

It defines success as nothing short of EQUITABLE outcomes in which every student thrives and every school is high performing.

Our strategic operating plan asks that we put students at the center of their learning, with a focus on:

Implementing Student Success Plans that are truly meaningful to students.

On advancing literacy for language as the foundation for helping students read, write, listen, speak, think, and lead.

And in providing students with customized experiences to supplement and enrich their learning.

Developing leaders to lead for learning is also a critical element of our strategic operating plan.  Adult learning, school support networks — remember, it’s about collaboration not competition — family and community partnerships, and disciplined use of data and teams will help usher in new forms of innovation for the benefit of our students.

We asked a lot last year, and wow did you respond.  As you know, our strategic operating plan has 8 equity indicators that we believe best reflect our progress as a district.

We have year-end data for seven of the eight equity indicators… and I am overjoyed to tell you this morning that THANKS TO YOU, to each of you, we made progress on every one of those 7 equity indicators.

In just one year our college acceptance rate is already more than halfway to our FIVE-year goal!  Nearly 95% of our graduating seniors were accepted into college. That is real progress… that is equity in action!

In 2014/15, 76% of our secondary school students had access to college and career readiness tools like advanced coursework and internship opportunities. Last year that number climbed to 82%.  Again—exceeding our goal for the year. That is progress that we should be proud of… that is equity in action!

By raising awareness of the value of Student Success Plans, sharing best practices, and making connections to caring adults, 15% more schools have adopted Student Success Planning.  That is progress that is making a difference for our students… that is equity in action!

Chronic absenteeism, a seemingly intractable challenge for so many years, decreased 18% last year, well ahead of our year 1 goal.  That is progress we should feel really, really good about… that is equity in action!

After a dramatic reduction in out-of-school suspensions in 2014/15, we reduced out-of-school suspensions another 27% last year.  Remember, I said we would not criminalize our children by using exclusionary discipline practices as our first resort. And, thanks to your efforts, we are breaking the school-to-prison pipeline. That is remarkable progress… that is the essence of equity in action!

In Reading and Algebra, where we would expect it would take a few years to see growth in our indicators, we saw growth in year one, with forward movement in both 3rd grade reading and students passing Algebra 1 by the end of the ninth grade.   This is, again, very good progress… and this is the ultimate measure of equity!

That is quite a body of work!  And in such a short period of time.  And in the face of last year’s distractions and challenges, I think it’s fair to say that part of our story of now is a story of success.

I am so proud of how our entire community – students, parents, teachers, leaders, community partners – came together and collectively rose to this challenge.  Because of our belief in possibility, rich opportunities and creative partnerships are emerging throughout the district.  Due to our willingness to put a stake in the ground around what matters most, our children are reaping the benefits.

It was a team effort – we are writing this story together. I especially want to thank YOU – as teachers.  You are closest to students.  You are the inflexion point of setting students on the path to success.  You make the greatest difference in the lives of each and every student you touch.  And you are doing phenomenal work.

So, we advanced a bold vision, we co-created aspirational strategies, and we achieved year one success.  We have begun equipping children with the skills they need to pursue their passion and lead their best lives.  There is, of course, so much more to do.

As we think about the upcoming year, I am reminded that our work is ultimately about helping students achieve THEIR goals.  During the Student Success Planning process, we challenge our students to set ambitious goals.  Here, through the voices of our middle and high school students, is a sampling of the goals they have set for themselves:

“Get all A’s and B’s.”

“Go to Manchester Community College for a year or two and then attend Berkeley.”

“Become a social worker because it feels good to help people.”

“Move out west and become a trauma surgeon.”

“Reconstruct myself to be less introverted.”

I am so impressed by these student goals.  Everything from better grades to personal growth.  From behavioral health to medical health.  From attending community college to attending an elite college… or in the case of at least one student, both!  Our students are dreaming big!  It is our responsibility to dream big right beside them!

Dreaming big starts with asking the right questions.  Going forward, I believe the questions are:

How will we build on our success?

What is our long-term path to sustainability?

What opportunities can we identify, seize, or invent this year?

What are the opportunities of now?

It is the answers to those questions that will define our story of now.

Our highest priority for 2016/17 is to focus relentlessly on the core business of teaching and learning .  Building on all of the new curricula implemented in reading and math these past two years, we will roll out a new Algebra curriculum for 9th grade so that every student—no matter what high school they attend, will have access to the same high level course—another important equity move.

There will also be new work in literacy at the upper elementary, middle and high school levels enhancing the foundation that was laid with our K-2 literacy program.

In general, we will challenge our students with rigorous and relevant content at all grade levels in all schools… delivered in more engaging ways, because, while we have seen forward movement in academic achievement, we have much farther to go before all of our students are meeting the new, higher standards that they need to master to be successful both with us and beyond their time with us.

The late Arlene Ackerman, superintendent in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Philadelphia—one of my teachers–had a mantra, a core value really, that she would take everywhere she led:  “Victory is in the Classroom.”

Our focus in this coming year has to be in the classroom, where we know our students will win if they are provided the right mix of challenge and support.

I also believe that in order to accelerate progress and reduce variability in learning outcomes we need to build upon and apply the learning from the early successes of innovations that we introduced last year:

We will continue to nurture our Centers of Innovation, in which a magnet high school and a neighborhood high school collaborate around mastery-based learning, blended anytime anywhere learning, and personalized learning.  Central to this work is increasing the opportunity for student voice in directing their own paths and contributing to the larger conversations about our district, our schools, or communities.

As JMA junior Claire Faulkner noted in a recent blog post: “The voices and opinions of students are often left out of the conversation when it comes to improving the education system. But not only do we deserve to be a part of that conversation, we are vital to it.” Claire is right and we embrace and celebrate her student voice.

Our teachers, and leaders, will continue to develop new knowledge, new skills, and new approaches to collaboration.

We will be inspired by the teachers at Bulkeley High School and JMA, Center of Innovation schools, who confronted uncertainty and vulnerability to take risks and master the use of technology and tools they had never used before to embrace blended, anytime, anywhere learning.

We will be inspired by the teachers at MLK, an Acceleration Agenda school, who took use of data and standards-based instruction to a whole new level… and who ultimately embedded rigor and urgency well beyond leadership’s expectations.

We will be inspired by the teachers at Burr who came together to review the academic, social emotional, family support, and health needs of every student… and who connected 41 high-need students with meaningful in-school and out-of-school support in just the first five months as a City Connects school.

And we will be inspired by teachers and leaders from throughout the district who have shifted their practices and learned from each other. At a recent Board of Education meeting Dr. Wood, Instructional Coach at Fred D Wish Museum School reflected on her experience implementing City Connects and Acceleration Agenda strategies. She said, “We entered into the process with a growth mindset; the current system needed improvement and that involved systemic changes to better support students, families and staff. We wanted a system where we not only knew every student’s name but also their needs, strengths, gifts, dreams and families.”

As we commit to putting students at the center of their learning, we recognize that by knowing our students well and providing personalized opportunities for them, we can open doors that can be life changing. Take the example of Ahmed Hassan. Just over 6 years ago Ahmed moved to the United States from Egypt. This spring he graduated from the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology. While there he worked on many projects such as the Lunar Rover Project, Nepal Project 2.0 and Earth and Apple Day.  As he was thinking about his future, he acknowledged he didn’t know what he wanted to do as a career.  When he heard about the Hartford Student Internship Program (HSIP), he jumped at the opportunity and secured a spot at United Technologies.  He shared with us that his internship opened his eyes to new career options such as Mechanical Engineering.  Ahmed said that he is more prepared for college now because he is better at prioritizing his time and now has an understanding of what is available in the world of work. We should be so proud of Ahmed and recognize our role as educators, caring adults, and mentors in his life.  This fall, Ahmed will make his mark as a student at UCONN!

We will deepen our use of restorative practices to address behavior challenges positively instead of punitively… to continue our dramatic reduction in out-of-school suspensions.  The immediate next step: we will offer more training to more schools.  I think you will be amazed at the power of restorative practices.

We also intend to expand the number of schools creating Hartford’s model of “Family Friendly Schools” to make our schools more welcoming and honoring our families’ partnership with us in helping to know all children well in order to serve them well.

Part of our Family Friendly Schools efforts last year involved hosting a Community Conversation on Race, Equity, and Cultural Competence, which was attended by over 700 members of the community—clearly, this is a topic that matters, particularly as we nurture our young people in a world that often times doesn’t value them enough.  We plan to conduct more community forums that encourage and facilitate a candid dialogue about Race, Racism and Equity and to continue our cultural competency learning in our internal HPS community so that there is no question that our students are loved and valued in our schools.

And then there’s our buildings. A beautiful, shiny, well-maintained school building certainly signals how much we value our students, families and staff.  Improving our infrastructure is also paramount to creating a long-term path to sustainability.  EVERY student in our district is entitled to attend a high quality school in a building that is conducive to learning.

Last year, we initiated Equity 2020 to create a long-term facilities and program plan.  During this new school year, Equity 2020 will continue to develop a realistic plan for balancing our need for high quality buildings and long-term declines in enrollment… and do so in a way that proactively incorporates input from and provides ongoing updates to parents, community members and staff. Make no mistake, this work will be challenging and it will impact many members of our community across a number of schools; but you have shown you can take on the hardest challenges and exceed expectations—as you have shown in the results we got last year. We are all in this together and we will need to lean on each other in order to turn this challenge into an opportunity.

As we continue our voyage into a world of sustainability and new opportunities, we must continue doing three fundamental things: knowing students well, tending to our own adult learning, and strengthening our trust in one another.

Knowing students well is a cornerstone of our strategic operating plan.  Knowing students well means understanding their needs, interests, strengths, learning styles, backgrounds, and aspirations.  It means understanding students in an academic realm and at a social emotional level.  It means understanding how to inspire them to pursue a passion as well as when and how to effectively mediate a behavioral situation.  It means understanding how they think and what they feel.

True learning involves considering new ideas, new perspectives, new ways of doing things.  That’s what we ask our students to do, and it’s what we must ask ourselves to do.  If we really understand what students need, and are truly committed to meeting those needs, then changing our mindsets to meet those needs follows naturally.  Both at a system level and in the classroom. I understand that change is difficult, and so I commit that we will support you with well-thought out strategies, highly organized implementation planning, and professional learning opportunities that lift you up and give you all the tools you need to truly put students at the center of their learning.

We have difficult challenges ahead of us.  Solving those challenges requires that we have a reservoir of trust in one another.  We have made progress in this area, but trust-building is a never ending process.   Trust has to be built constantly, but can be undermined in an instant.  Every member of our community who has a stake in our children’s future – families, educational leaders, teachers, the community at large – must take accountability for trust-building.  We will take the lead by inviting and practicing true collaboration among all stakeholders.  I see a new depth of collaboration among teachers across our district.  My hope is that we will model that approach to collaboration throughout our community.

The final ingredient in building on success, on establishing a path to sustainability… is urgency.  We must — we will — embrace our work with urgency.

Urgency can be hard to muster when a goal seems out of reach.  When success is elusive, urgency can become a casualty.  But do you know when urgency really takes root?  It’s when those early signs of success appear.  It’s when a little momentum starts to build.  It’s when the realization forms that WE CAN DO THIS.  That’s when urgency is born.  When we cease to think of our goals as being over the horizon and start to see them come into view… that’s what ignites urgency.  It’s when we can see our future, and when that future is something that we like… that’s when we feel the greatest urgency to get to our future… and without a moment to lose.

That’s where we are as a district… as a community of educators, parents, partners, supporters, and students.  Early signs of success are giving way to an urgency to get to our future and to the future our students deserve as quickly as possible.

Last year was a year of a pivot to bold action and significant progress.  We have set the bar high for ourselves for this coming year, but we have also put the building blocks in place to reach that bar, to go over that bar.

We know that children learn from our example.  Our vision is that our students will transform their world.  It they are to truly learn the value and the power of transformation, they have to see us engaged in our own transformation.  And that is my big ask of you this year… to build on last year’s work and continue to model the transformation we are asking of our students… as we continue on our path to even greater success, as we seize, with urgency, the opportunity of NOW.

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The Kinsella Beats’ outstanding student pianist and vocalist.
Providing exceptional event support, the Bulkeley High School ushers represented the school very well.

 

 

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