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Bridge Street School teachers reflect on recent ‘turnaround’ training at Harvard

  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Bridge Street School principal Beth Choquette, physical education teacher Craig Murdock, resource room teacher Carol Ruyffelaert.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Those strategies, aimed at opening up discussion about teaching practices at Bridge Street, were inspired by a training this month at Harvard University. The five-day “turnaround” session at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education featured workshops led by experts in helping struggling schools.

Bridge Street is grappling with a Level 3 ranking based on recent student test scores, which puts it among the lowest-achieving 20 percent of schools in Massachusetts. Its status is the reason the state has ranked Northampton a Level 3 district overall — a fact that Bridge Street teacher Carol Ruyffelaert — one of two chosen to attend the training — said has been “a weight on all our shoulders.”

Choquette, who participated in previous sessions at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, said she thought the turnaround program would both improve morale and help map out a way to increase test scores at her school.

“I’m excited that these two teachers got to do this with me and we will be sharing things with the rest of the staff,” Choquette said.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education paid the roughly $6,500 cost of the training with funds earmarked for Level 3 schools.

Craig Murdock, who teaches physical education at Bridge Street, said if there’s one thing he took away from the experience, it’s that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to boosting student achievement.

“I thought we were going to come in and be handed a program for how to do this,” said Murdock, who has been teaching at Bridge Street since 2005. Instead, he said, workshop leaders “emphasized that you have to reflect and find your own school’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Ruyffelaert, a veteran special education teacher at Bridge Street, said she learned that despite being cited for low MCAS scores, her school faces far fewer challenges than others they heard about at the training.

“One school had washing machines so that when the kids come in wearing the same clothes for five days, they’d have somewhere to wash them,” she said. “Some of the things they’re dealing with, the level of poverty and homelessness, the lack of parent involvement, we don’t have those problems to the same extent.”

Training prep

In addition to a lengthy application, the Bridge Street teachers had homework to complete before they left for Boston June 2.

“We got quite a stack of reading assignments,” Murdock said.

At the training, principals from turnaround schools in different parts of the country led small-group discussions and strategy sessions with participants.

Choquette, finishing up her first year at Bridge Street, said she went in thinking those sessions would be “hard core discussions about ‘you’re underperforming so get rid of all your people.’ But instead, they were very supportive.”

Murdock was struck by an exercise that likened improving student performance to climbing Mount Everest.

“We talked about how they organized the teams and what things are out there that you can influence and what you can’t,” he said.

Ruyffelaert, who will be teaching fourth grade in the fall, said the best thing about the training was finding out how many other schools are looking for ways to turn their rankings around.

“It was great to look at the big picture and realize you’re not as bad as you’ve been made to feel,” she said.

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