(This is the second in a three-part series focusing on Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler’s goals for this school year.)
LYNN — School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler plans to address social and emotional learning, overcrowding at the middle school level and explore ways to increase diversity in the teaching force as part of his district improvement goals.
Tutwiler and district leadership are also working to compile a multi-year district strategic plan for the Lynn Public Schools.
Tutwiler and Deputy Superintendent Debra Ruggiero recently sat down with The Item to outline some strategies for meeting those goals this school year.
Social Emotional Learning
This year, Tutwiler is working to develop or identify a comprehensive pre-K through fifth grade social and emotional learning curriculum and related professional development, intending to implement them next school year.
The strategy is to start with the elementary level and then extend that curriculum, once developed, into the middle and high school levels. With such a large district, Ruggiero said administrative officials felt something would fall through the cracks if all grade levels were tackled at once.
Another reason to start at the lower grade levels is that social and emotional needs can be caught and dealt with early on with students, making them more successful in later grades, according to Ruggiero.
“This is more a reflection of a philosophy and a core belief that if students’ social and emotional needs aren’t being met and if they aren’t being taught the skills around resilience, around healthy interaction, healthy relationships, problem solving, then they’re probably not going to be as available to learn reading, writing and arithmetic as we would want them to,” Tutwiler said.
Part of the social and emotional work the school district is doing includes assembling a committee of administrators, teachers, social workers and guidance counselors who are collaborating to research and determine curriculum resources that could be used across all schools.
Overcrowding at the middle school level
In the wake of last year’s failed vote to replace Pickering Middle School with two new schools, school officials are trying again for replacement.
A statement of interest for replacement of Pickering Middle School has been sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).
But Tutwiler wants to develop a multi-year plan to address overcrowding at the middle school level in the meantime. At Breed Middle School and Thurgood Marshall Middle School, enrollment increased this year by 100 to 150 students each. With class sizes of more than 30 students, that creates a less than ideal learning situation, he said.
“It might not sound like a lot, but that’s actually a lot in one year to go up and as we look at the next two years, we’re also looking at increases,” Tutwiler said. “It just seems prudent to be thinking about how are we going to accommodate the increases in a way that does not interrupt our efforts to meet students’ learning needs.”
Strategies include assembling a team to figure out the costs and resources available to address overcrowding.
One strategy, Tutwiler said, would be to get portable classrooms at the middle schools.
The option is not cheap, but is less expensive than building a whole new school and would alleviate some of the overcrowding. Four elementary schools in the district — Ford, Hood, Sisson and Tracy — have portables.
Recruiting and retaining a more diverse staff
In the Lynn Public Schools, more than 60 percent of students are Hispanic, but less than 10 percent of its teaching staff is of color, according to Tutwiler.
“I think there is a value in there being a staff that reflects the students they serve,” Tutwiler said. “That said, I/we never marginalize quality.”
One of Tutwiler’s district improvement goals is to develop a strategy to recruit, professionally develop and retain a diverse staff.
Some of the strategies include creating a team to form a plan, creating and putting out a survey for current staff of color, finding a university partner and leveraging findings from the superintendent’s participation on the design team for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)’s Influence 100 Initiative.
Despite the disparity in diversity in student population and teaching staff, Tutwiler and Ruggiero say many other similar districts are struggling with their numbers.
The exception is Boston Public Schools, which is required by a 1970s federal court order to have 25 percent of its teaching staff be African-American. The order also requires another 10 percent of the force to be other ethnic minorities. According to the Boston Globe, the school system has been struggling for years to meet that court order.
Nationwide, African-American men constitute only 2 percent of the teaching force, which also makes it difficult to retain a diverse staff, as education is not a profession they’re entering in large numbers, according to Tutwiler.
One strategy is to identify a university partner to recruit from. Those schools could serve as a feeder to Lynn.
“We’ve got a large teaching staff in Lynn who (are) from Lynn,” Tutwiler said. “I think a big part of the long-term strategy is finding ways to make connections with our current students. If their experience is fulfilling and they feel those connections and they’re inspired by what happens in their classrooms, I think some of them will come back, including students of color, and teach.”
Developing a multi-year district strategic plan
In September, Tutwiler shared with the School Committee his intention to develop a multi-year district strategic plan, complete with a collaboratively developed vision and district core values. The last plan for the Lynn Public Schools expired in 2017.
Administrative officials are proceeding with the Planning for Success model, which is endorsed by DESE and provides resources districts and schools can use to conduct an inclusive planning process. The process is being paid for through a Title I grant.
Planning, which will be facilitated by Lori Likis, DESE’s Planning for Success consultant, and will include six retreats for the district’s leadership team and four retreats for an inclusive planning team, comprised of students, parents, teachers, partner organizations and elected officials, according to Tutwiler.