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Full-time assistant super touts lessons learned at IBM, Maynard

After four years without a full-time assistant superintendent, the Arlington public schools will have one starting July 1.

Laura S. Chesson, now the principal of Maynard High School, brings with her more than a decade of experience at IBM.

"Laura is very personable with a great sense of humor," Superintendent Kathy Bodie wrote in an email announcing her decision to the School Committee May 8. "I am confident that she will be a great addition to the Arlington team."

In a statement she read to the School Committee on Thursday, May 10, Chesson said that during lean times at IBM, "we had to think creatively about how we could do more with less -- a situation that correlates strongly to how things often go for school districts."

She said that among skills learned at IBM and applied to education were developing successful teams, solving problems using data analysis and using effective communication to build a strong sense of community and collaborative culture across a large organization. She said her project spanned two continents.

New high school in Maynard

In Maynard, she received approval for construction of a new high school after facilitating the design from the start to groundbreaking while working with input from more than 15 stakeholder groups.

Bodie called Chesson's 18 years in education a good fit for Arlington. Her "extensive experience and knowledge," she said, "aligns very well with the district's long-term goals and current initiatives, particularly in the areas of technology, Common Core, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and the new educator evaluation system."

Chesson's statement cited Arlington's first goal, focusing on providing an education that prepare students to be successful in the 21st century.

"During the last two school years in Maynard," she said, "I have facilitated teams which examined the changes in curriculum necessary for Maynard to align itself with the common core.

"Clearly the emphasis for students to have facility with reading and writing with informational text will provide a challenge to all -- but especially to teachers in elementary and middle schools.

"The team that I facilitated designed and coordinated professional development to support the full adoption of the common core literacy standards beginning in the fall of 2012. The work of this team has resulted in the adoption new instructional approaches, such as the Calkins Reading and Writing program -- a program that Arlington also uses - and expansion of our use of data to support our decision making such as the expansion of the use of Diebels and Test Wiz through grade 8, as well as the development of an RTI model for reading intervention at the high school level which was sorely needed."

The amount of Chesson's annual salary has been requested for publication. The School Committee is in the process of negotiating an employment contract with her and so a specific amount is not yet known. The position of assiatnt superintendent is listed in the fiscal 2013 budget at $125,649.

Choice made among 5 finalists

Bodie chose from among five finalists for the assistant superintendent position, including an internal candidate, Kerry Dunne, who heads K-12 history and social sciences for the Arlington schools.

Bodie called the decision difficult, given such a strong field of educators. Chesson holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Alfred University, a master's in education in school administration and a doctorate in education in school leadership. Both of the latter degrees are from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

She also has completed graduate course work necessary for teacher certification in mathematics.

Filling the position on an interim basis is Wallis Raemer, former principal of the Dallin School. The position had been cut from full time because of budget considerations.

The School Committee voted 7-0 to accept the recommended appointment, and a number of members expressed excitement.

The other finalists were Michael Harvey, formerly Belmont High School's principal who was recently named as Hamilton-Wenham's new superintendent; Sheryl Boris-Schacter, a Wellesley elementary school principal; and Alexander Wyeth, an assistant superintendent in Norwood.

Full text of Chesson's statement

Good evening. Words cannot express how excited and honored I am that Dr. Bodie has chosen me as her candidate for the position of assistant superintendent. The Arlington Public School district has a reputation for excellence that is well-known across the state, and beyond the borders of the commonwealth – as evidenced by the recent awarding of the Gold award to Arlington High School. I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you and to share a little about my background.

I came to education 18 years ago after spending 10 years as a manager for IBM. Through my tenure at IBM there were times when things were good and times when things were lean. In those lean times we had to think creatively about how we could do more with less – a situation that correlates strongly to how things often go for school districts. During my time at IBM I gained many skills I was able to bring into my work in education including the developing of successful teams, solving problems using data analysis, and utilizing effective communication to build a strong sense of community and collaborative culture across a large organization, which in my project actually spanned two continents.

I’d like to touch on a few key experiences I have had in education that I have had that I believe will help me in working with the staff and faculty of the Arlington School District to successfully address the goals for the district that you adopted in October.

Your first goal focuses on providing an education that will prepare students to be successful in the 21st century. During the last two school years in Maynard I have facilitated teams which examined the changes in curriculum necessary for Maynard to align itself with the common core.

Clearly the emphasis for students to have facility with reading and writing with informational text will provide a challenge to all – but especially to teachers in elementary and middle schools. The team that I facilitated designed and coordinated professional development to support the full adoption of the common core literacy standards beginning in the fall of 2012. The work of this team has resulted in the adoption new instructional approaches such as the Calkins Reading and Writing program -- a program that Arlington also uses -- and expansion of our use of data to support our decision making such as the expansion of the use of Dibels and TestWiz through grade 8, as well as the development of an RTI model for reading intervention at the high school level which was sorely needed.

The common core brings even more significant challenges in the area of math. I have worked with teachers in grades 6 – 12 over the last year re-articulate the math curriculum using backwards design this work has included building the capacity of the math teachers to prepare them implement new instructional materials which focus on mathematical reasoning and collaborative problem solving, while at the same time pushing more challenging math concepts much earlier in the curriculum continuum – Pre-Calculus topics are now included in Algebra II and Algebra II topics are now included in Algebra I. In addition districts will face significant hurdles in how to resolve what Algebra I will look like in 8th grade.

Key to the success of the work of any district will be the new evaluation system for educators recently approved by the DESE. As a Race to the Top district, Maynard must adopt the new evaluation system for the next school year. For the last four months I have co-chaired the administration and teacher team with the head of the MEA which was charged with negotiating the details of the implementation of the new evaluation system in Maynard. The agreement will go to the membership for voting next Monday. One of the key points to the agreement will be the ability of teachers to use evidence gained from peer observations as part of the evidence they bring forth during the evaluation protocol.

The second goal adopted in October focuses on expanding well articulated systems for communication and collaboration across the district. Over the last four years this has been a focus of my work. At the high school level we have implemented weekly email newsletter sent to all parents K – 12 and established a system whereby parents can express concerns via a special link on our website, expanded the number of parents sitting on our school council, and established an articulated transition team with the middle school that is part of our "Nine Months to Ninth Grade Project." Of particular note, this fall I organized the first ever Maynard Public Schools booth staffed by school leaders at the annual fall Maynardfest. We presented samples of curriculum and student work and provided community members with information regarding the successes achieved by our schools.

The last goal area adopted in October focused on the tools, infrastructure and systems necessary to support district initiatives and learning environments. The use of technology as a tool in instruction and leadership is key to providing a 21st century education. I have led my school and district through a number of initiatives in this area including the adoption of the use of IPASS, a new student information management system, the use of TeachPoint and iPads for administrators to collect data when doing classroom walk-throughs, the expansion of our use of blended and online classes, and the proposal and recent approval of a one-to-one iPad initiative for our high school.

The goals you have adopted will move you ahead on the road to providing 21st-century educations for the students in your community. I hope I have been able to give you some examples of the skills and the knowledge I would bring to your district. It would be a pleasure and a privilege for me to become part of your educational community.


This story was first published Monday, May 14, 2012, and updated the next day to include the amount budgeted for the position.

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