The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 20, 2006


Carlisle School Superintendent looks ahead

With 50% of U.S. workers in science, technology, engineering and Math (STEM) fields retiring in ten years, what should public schools be doing to nurture their replacements? This and other futuristic questions were addressed on October 10 as Superintendent Marie Doyle gave an informal presentation to the Selectmen on this year's plans for the Carlisle Public School (CPS). With a rapid delivery designed to fit a lot of information in the allotted time, Doyle left no doubt the pace of change at the school will not be slowing any time soon as it prepares students for a future of useful work and positive life choices.

Developing a passion

There are not enough graduates of U.S. schools to replace the 50% of workers in (STEM) fields that are retiring within ten years, according to Doyle. Since the 70s, there has been a 35% reduction in graduates choosing these areas, and current SAT takers express a lagging interest in these subjects, with only 20% considering these fields. Immigrants from India, China and other third world countries who have plugged the engineering gap in U.S. companies are now finding jobs in their home countries, and countries such as Ireland and Scotland now graduate a higher percentage of STEM students. A crisis is looming in U.S. technology companies if more STEM workers can't be found.

The Carlisle School plans to help students "develop a passion" for these subjects with the eventual goal of "getting students into these fields." Parent Ginny Lamere has organized a program in which a parent engineer pairs with a teacher to offer an after-school program in electricity, physics, car engines, Legos, and other STEM topics. The parent with a STEM background "makes the experience really rich," says Doyle. The administration is exploring moving these topics into the curriculum. "It's cost-effective to use the experience of parents." In addition, a program using Legos Robotics is being used by students to build robots to follow directions.

Selectman John Williams worried about the stress on students and whether "very young children should be worrying about what they're going to be when they grow up."

Responded Doyle, "I think they're having fun." She said students participating in the after-school STEM programs and chess club "have no idea they're learning skills" that will be useful to them in the future. The hope is "they will continue to love math and science." "That's a great answer!" responded Williams.

Another area of focus is world languages, as Doyle sees a future where workers will "need to be bilingual if not trilingual." The addition of Chinese two years ago brought Asian language and culture to the school. Currently 71 students are enrolled in Chinese. The school is also piloting elementary Spanish from kindergarten to fourth grade, with a choice in fifth grade of Spanish, French or Chinese.

Year of respect, collaboration

The theme for the school year will be "The Year of Respect." Doyle said there will be a new emphasis on student leadership and dealing with bullying. While the bullying issue is not excessive in Carlisle, "all schools have it." CPS will focus on educating students, particularly in the elementary grades, who do not always understand the line between teasing and bullying. In addition, collaboration with Concord has resulted in the addition of part-time social service and psychiatric resources at Carlisle, sponsored by the Community Chest, that will provide support for students with difficulties.

The Carlisle, Concord and Concord/Carlisle administrative teams have been meeting to prepare for joint curriculums and "we hope to continue our collaboration with Concord." This year the math curriculum will be reviewed in Carlisle to determine whether to stay with the current program or begin to pilot a new one. Doyle plans each year to pick a new subject area for curriculum review. Other collaboration between the two towns has led to Carlisle's participation in the Columbia seminar on writing held in Concord.

Other initiatives include piloting of a boy's chorus to encourage broader participation, an emphasis on wellness, including introducing more healthy and cost-effective offerings in the food service, and a program in literacy for students who come to the school with little or no knowledge of English. Williams asked her to look into adding classical music to the curriculum, perhaps an orchestra in addition to the award-winning band.

Buildings, network, experienced teachers needed

Top on the list of school needs is a replacement for the Spalding Building which, Doyle said, has deteriorated to the point where students are learning among "termites, carpenter ants and leaking roofs." The school Building committee has completed a Master Plan and Doyle expects the building project to end up "somewhere around $30 million." She noted that although enrollment is projected to decline in the future, "the school is currently overcrowded." Another immediate concern is the need for a new school computer network, as computers can no longer be added to the existing one.

Another challenge is reducing turnover, especially as hiring shortages in math science, world languages and special education have become severe. Doyle noted every school system in Massachusetts has struggled with the turnover issue as there has been a "wave of retirements." She credits Steve Bober with starting the Mentoring Program which she believes has produced "a really collegial atmosphere" among teachers. Doyle also notes her appreciation for the salaries she is able to offer; "better wages help immensely in recruiting" and this years hirees have been across the board "outstanding." As teachers have retired, the plan has been to bring on experienced faculty as well as new teachers so there is a balance.

Doug Stevenson noted his "new respect for the schools" as he watches his three kindergarteners "come home every day full of stories" and "leave every day with enthusiasm. They're being taught to love to learn." The one cautionary note was sounded by Tim Hult who suggested, "It's better to do a small number of things really well, especially with new staff. Focus on those things that make us the best." Doyle said planning is taking place to set priorities and "find a pace that's manageable." "And what will you be doing in your spare time?" asked Stevenson. "I look forward to some day having some," responded Doyle.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito