Q&A With Superintendent: Tremblay Discusses Goals, Homework, Inequities in Schools, and Mental Health

FRAMINGHAM – Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay started with Framingham Public Schools in April 2017. He just completed his first full-year with the district. As students and staff, head back to school this week, Framingham Source ask Tremblay a series of questions.
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QUESTION #1 – When you started with the district in April 2017, you promised to spend a week in each of the districts schools? What did you learn through that tour? And give 1-2 examples of how you made positive changes in the district based on something your learned from your “residency” program.

TREMBLAY: The Superintendent Residency idea was an ambitious entry goal that I was excited to implement and probably the most productive time that I could spend getting to really know, understand, and appreciate the inner workings of each school in our district. Spending a week at each of the 15 schools – including B.L.O.C.K.S. Preschool and the Thayer Campus of Framingham High School – afforded me the opportunity to get into nearly every classroom across the district.

 

I had the opportunity to spend quality time with students, engage with our entire roster of staff and administrators, play soccer, join a few band rehearsals, enjoy a variety of school lunches, participate in school assemblies, and most importantly, become a familiar face to the school community that I serve.

 

In my opinion, visibility is a critically important element of school leadership. It was a tough goal to be sure, especially since I rarely visited my own office (the Central Office team was extraordinarily patient and accommodating), but something I would encourage every school district leader to do.

QUESTION #2 – One of the biggest issues in the district has been the inequities between the middle schools. What are you doing as Superintendent to fix that?

TREMBLAY: My observations over the course of several months in each of our schools revealed wide disparities and inequities across the district. Inequities across the middle schools had to be addressed, but so didn’t inequities across the nine elementary schools.

 

My sense is that each school was truly doing the best they could, but there wasn’t much attention being paid to consistency across the grades and schools, district-wide.

 

Among my first actions as Superintendent was to make some changes in the organizational structure with an eye toward ensuring focused oversight of each division (elementary an secondary). Hiring an Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education and an Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education, for example, was a step toward ensuring that we could take on the challenge of addressing the inequities and without losing too much time – remember, we only get 180 instructional days each year.

 

Building the FY2019 budget based upon an equity model that serves to provide every student with what they need while simultaneously working to address the opportunity gap was a step, in tandem with shifts in the organizational system, toward overall district improvement.

 

The return on this investment, however, will take some time before we see improved student outcomes as measured on standardized tests, but a walk through our schools or dropping in on a teacher planning meeting or a look at our curriculum offerings and spending detail will demonstrate that we are well on our way to addressing inequities at every grade level and school across the district. The goal to make every single one of our schools equally desirable to our families, children, and staff remains in front of us as we continue to take on this complex challenge with optimism and renewed energy by an extraordinarily talented team of school leaders, educators, and support staff.

QUESTION #3 – You just completed your first full academic year 2017-18 with the school district? Now that you understand the district better, what is its strength? And what are two biggest challenges facing the district and how are you addressing them?

TREMBLAY – Now that the teaching and learning side of the house – so to speak – is in order and moving in the right direction, I am focusing my attention on the operational side of the house. Looking at opportunities for transportation efficiencies and enrollment projections to determine the short- and long-term school facility needs – starting with garnering community support for the necessary and long-overdue Fuller Middle School project – are just a few of the many challenges facing the district.

 

I am working with our new Executive Director of Finance & Operations, Lincoln Lynch IV, as well as our transportation department, buildings and grounds department, and Parent Information Center and am currently in the process of assembling a Task Force to develop a plan that identifies and specifically addresses the enrollment and facility needs of the Framingham Public Schools.

QUESTION #4 – What are your goals for the district in the next year? next 5 years? next decade? Where do you see the district when your contract is up for renewal?
 

TREMBLAY: Improving academic performance across all of our schools remains our most important work as a school district. With our multi-year Strategic Plan and School Improvement Plans now in place and a well-articulated and cost-centered budget funded to drive this important work, we are poised to meet success.

This year, lifting student voice through the proposed Framingham Public Schools Student Congress is an exciting and somewhat unique approach to improving the educational experience across the Framingham Public Schools based on input from our most important stakeholders, our students.

For the coming school year, I propose shining a spotlight on homework as a key topic of conversation. This lightning-rod topic will most assuredly draw out opinions from our students and will set the stage for positional debates that will be steeped in research, framed by internal and external data collection, and discussed thoughtfully through a variety of perspectives.

In my ongoing efforts to better engage with the Framingham community, particularly our growing population of Portuguese families, I have begun a course of study aimed at Portuguese language acquisition. Despite my good intentions to learn Portuguese during the 2017-2018 school year, I simply ran out of hours in the day. I also did not hold myself personally accountable to learn the language and, as a result, that goal now appears in this document with the hope that a concerted investment of time in learning a language that has such prominence in our community will translate to improved communication between the school department and the community it serves.

 

Garnering community support and securing a vote to move ahead with the Fuller Middle School project is a critical goal this year and sets the baseline from which the enrollment projection and school facility planning work will stem.

 

In the span of the next five years, I expect that we will have drafted the second Framingham Public Schools Strategic Plan to build upon the work that is being accomplished now under the current Plan, forecasted facility needs and developed a revised Capital Plan based on enrollment projections, and have started a comprehensive strategic plan to realize universal, tuition-free preschool access for all Framingham children – something I hope to accomplish within the next decade.

 

At the time that my contract is up for renewal, I would like to see that our underperforming schools are on their way out of turnaround and that Framingham has emerged as a model school district of inclusiveness that is rich with opportunities for students and desirable by ALL as evidenced by staff retention data and Panorama data that addresses student and family connectedness to their school community.

QUESTION #5 – You did something unique with last year’s kindergarten class. Can you tell the public about it and the commitment you made to those kindergarten students and their families?

TREMBLAY – During my residency visits, I made it a point to connect with every single Kindergarten student – now our first graders – by reading to them in the classroom while visiting each of our elementary schools.

 

This year (2018-2019), I will build in time to meet with and read to all first grade classes.

 

Next year (2019-2020), I will do the same with the second graders to be. You get the idea.

 

The motive here is to usher the Class of 2030 to their graduation day with me having read to them every year for thirteen years – not coincidentally, the same span of time before I am eligible to retire from this amazing work.

 

Assuming Framingham will have me, I’d love to see this work through to 2030.

 

QUESTION #6 –  You made some changes with central office, and there has been some turnover with the principals in the district. Talk about your administrative philosophy, and what you looked for in selecting your key staff, and why you changed central office. Explain what qualities you looked for in hiring new principals.

TREMBLAY: To be a leader in the Framingham Public Schools means that you have the ability to connect and engage meaningfully with students, families, staff, union leadership, elected officials, and every single stakeholder that we serve. Curriculum leadership competence, building management skills, and other technical hurdles must obviously be cleared, but if you cannot engage meaningfully with children and work cooperatively while contributing to a shared vision, then Framingham isn’t the place for you to work as a building or district level leader.

 

The people who serve our students are the heart and soul of the work we do and if that isn’t absolutely right, then our students pay the price. Whether or not that accounts for the turnover of some, coupled with many promotions of building leaders to other positions within the district – consider many of my recent appointments – that is the philosophy. In my experience, getting the right people on the bus (to cite Jim Collins and his Good to Great book) is step one to building a great school system.

  
 
QUESTION #7 – There were several suicides last year in the City. Even more students were hospitalized for mental health issues at the high school, and even at the middle school. What are you doing specifically to help these students and their families? What would you like to accomplish this year?

TREMBLAY – Nurturing relationships in our schools is job #1. When our students feel that they are connected to trusted adults in their lives, then we will have made a significant step toward improved mental health for our students. Across the district you will see restorative practices where students are coached through mistakes rather than adopting a purely punitive, punishment model. Creating cultures of kindness, opportunities for meaningful reflection, places for breaks to reset before returning to class, mindfulness activities, and ensuring that every single one of our students feels valued from the moment they board the bus or walk through the schoolhouse doors is the work that we must ALL embrace. This is just a sampling of what we are doing this year.

QUESTION #8 – You and I have had conversations about stress and homework. Discuss your homework philosophy, and any changes your have or are looking to make in the district.

TREMBLAY: As I mentioned earlier, one of my goals for the year is to lift student voice. Homework is the topic for discussion by our Student Congress (that’s the working name/title for now) this year and I am hopeful that our students will play a key role in developing district policy through their research, position statement development, and debate over the course of the school year. Who, better than our students, understands the impact of homework on the balance of life in a student’s world. While I do have some strong, personal philosophical opinions about homework, I’m going to exercise my right to remain silent on the matter and listen to our most important stakeholders on this question.

 

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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