Falmouth Superintendent Receives Passing Marks; Finance Director Resigns

At the conclusion of her first year in the position, Falmouth superintendent Bonny L. Gifford received a mix of “proficient” and “needs improvement” ratings from the Falmouth School Committee.

Judith Fenwick, who presented the committee’s end-of-year review of Dr. Gifford’s performance at  the June 10 school committee meeting, stressed that “needs improvement” has a “particular meaning” when a staff member is new to a position. Needs improvement means that a new staff member is developing and on track to be proficient in three years, Ms. Fenwick said.

For the overall rating, four committee members gave Dr. Gifford a “needs improvement” mark, and five rated her “proficient.”

School committee member Laura L. Peterson said it is an “honor to work with [Dr. Gifford], and she has my full support.” Leah L. Palmer praised her for supporting a rigorous curriculum.

Donna Mattison-Earls suggested Dr. Gifford be “more inclusive and get buy in from teachers” and that there needs to be “more discussion on new initiatives.”

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The school’s director of finance and facilities, Michael M. Ward, is resigning after a year on the job. His resignation is effective June 30. He was hired into the position last spring.

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Zachary S. Waddicor, who was hired as the district’s new assistant director of curriculum and instruction, introduced himself to the school committee Tuesday night. It was his birthday. He is 31.

Dr. Gifford said Mr. Waddicor will provide instructional leadership at the elementary level. She said the high school and junior high school have benefited from department heads that monitor both buildings, but “we do not have the same structure at the elementary level,” she said.

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Grace A. Simpkins, co-president of the North Falmouth PTO, spoke during the public comment period. She was distressed that the new kindergarten curriculum, Tools of the Mind, was siphoning teaching assistants away from the older elementary classrooms. The keynote of Tools of the Mind is a focus on structured play-based learning; it requires every classroom have its own, full-time aide.

Kindergarten aides are currently shared between classrooms. Because the district is not hiring any new teaching aides, this means fewer aides are available for the upper grades.

Ms. Simpkins said she felt there were too many “top decisions [made] without parent and community input.”

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Elementary school teachers are being offered $1,250 more per year to become “grade level leaders.” The leaders will attend an off-site training in how to improve student achievement; they will then lead group meetings between teachers at the town’s four separate elementary schools to share strategies and ensure “excellence in every classroom.”

Director of curriculum and instruction Mark C. Wilson emphatically stated that the new grade level leaders’ initiative will respect individual teacher creativity and style. “There’s never an expectation that we have to be clones of each other and be on the same page on the same textbook,” he said.

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The school committee voted unanimously to administer the PARCC computer-based assessment rather than the pencil and paper MCAS test next year. Schools have the choice to administer PARCC or MCAS next year; the following year PARCC will be mandatory.

The district field tested the PARCC test with small groups of students this year; administrators reported that the students liked the digital test format, and that keyboarding skills were a non-issue for the elementary school students.

PARCC stands for Partnership of Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers; it is one of two standardized tests associated with the Common Core, a reform initiative to set national education standards and benchmarks. MCAS stands for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System; it was implemented in the late 1990s.


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