Erin Porter, president of the Dennis-Yarmouth
Educators Association, said the program has worked
well at that school because “the teachers were very
involved in the planning and implementation from
The Marguerite E. Small School had already
established a grant-funded after-school program
before the Innovation model was available. The
planning grant gave the staff time to figure out how
to provide all students with enrichment during a
longer school day without requiring teachers to work
Porter said the model isn’t completely revenue-
neutral since the district pays some of the teachers a
stipend to stay longer for the enrichment block. “But
they are getting a big bang for their buck,” she said.
“The students and teachers are very happy with the
The experience in the district’s other two
Innovation Schools that opened this year has been
mixed, Porter said. Teachers are overwhelmed by
so many other requirements — including the new
evaluation system and Common Core curriculum
alignment — that there is little time and energy
left over for planning big changes. In addition, the
district is in the process of reorganizing and closing
one of its school buildings, which is likely to disrupt
the implementation process.
“My advice to anyone considering this is not to
rush in with major changes too quickly,” she said.
“We tried to do too much too fast. If we’d had more
planning and more teacher involvement from the
beginning, it would have worked better.”
T hat said, Porter believes the new models are promising. Plans in her preK- 3 school include a healthy-lunch program that incorporates
local produce from a community garden and a farm-to-plate initiative, a beautification project for which
students helped plant hundreds of daffodils and a
community service program that involves students
“harvesting” pennies on behalf of a charity they get
“Down here there are a lot of charter schools and
school choice districts,” Porter said. “We know we
have to do something that’s a little different to appeal
to our customer base — the parents. The teachers are
working very hard on this and are dedicated. It may
be a little too quick, but I think we will succeed.”
“I believe that MTA members can and should be
the architects of reform and not the objects of it. We
need to be the ones leading change with our students
and communities,” Toner said. “When they are
developed with educators, their unions and community
members, Innovation Schools can be a very positive
experience for teachers and students alike.”
Continued from previous page
By Laura Barrett
A manda Bell, a teacher at the Winter Hill Innovation School in Somerville, said staff members had to decide quickly if
they wanted to convert to a new educational model.
“Prior to Tony coming to us,” she said,
referring to Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi,
“I don’t think any of us had heard of Innovation
Schools. It was quite interesting at our first
meeting hearing he wanted us to do it and if
we agreed then we had to make a decision very
quickly because there was a grant available.
“We all came together and realized we have
a great school,” Bell continued. “We know what
we’re doing. We have fantastic people here and
we know what works. So it was sort of like, ‘Aha,
here’s a chance to get to do what we want to do.’”
Add to the mix that a new principal, Chad
Mazza, had just been hired as implementation was
“I jumped on a moving cart,” said Mazza.
“This is a unique staff,” he added. “I could see
right from the start that they work well together. I
could tell this could work at this school.”
Mary McGivern, an inclusion specialist, said
the school is filled with strong and open-minded
educators. “There were a lot of innovative things
happening here already, but some of them were in
their infancy and had not been realized to their full
potential,” she said.
“This was an opportunity to put innovation on
steroids,” added Jackie Lawrence, president of the
Somerville Teachers Association.
Teachers interviewed by MTA Today agreed
that putting a plan together quickly is not ideal.
To slow it down a little, they are implementing the
changes in phases. As part of the planning, it was
important for parents to be in the mix.
Bell explained, “We had a meeting with
parents to ask, ‘If you could have anything at your
school, what would you want to see?’”
The teachers also put up a “parking lot”
chart on which staff members could post their
ideas, questions and concerns. Several priorities
emerged, and plans were put together by the
governing board. Each component was voted on
by the staff, with nearly unanimous approval for
the final plan.
One change seeks to improve students’ “social
competency” through adopting the Responsive
Classroom approach, a program that involves
the whole staff in promoting appropriate social
Bell allowed a visitor to spend time in her
classroom of third- and fourth-graders during
“morning meeting,” a daily feature of the
Responsive Classroom. On that December day,
students took turns being in the center of a circle
and everyone was told to observe them. The chosen
student then hid and made a change in his or her
appearance. One boy put his shoes on the wrong
feet. Nine-year-old Shellby Duval removed the hair
tie that had been around her wrist and was pleased
that no one could identify what had changed.
Shellby said she loves morning meetings. “We
have fun and play little games and tell our friends
what we did over the weekends and things like
that,” she said.
In this particular exercise, the students were
also honing their observation skills and modeling
taking turns. Morning meeting is also a time the
teacher can observe whether a student seems
troubled and may need some extra attention.
“It’s important for students to build social
skills so they can interact well with each other
and the staff,” Bell said. “Self-regulation is so
The innovation plan also calls for more
common planning time — carved out of the
existing schedule — and staff-driven professional
development. The school is also introducing a
therapy dog program for special needs students.
Somerville Teachers Association President
Jackie Lawrence visited the Winter Hill
Innovation School, where she spent time in
a classroom with Principal Chad Mazza.
Photo by Laura Barrett
Please turn to When/Page 9
New approach shows promise — but also presents challenges