Exclusive: A virtual interview with Barnstable Superintendent Mary Czajkowski

This year’s turnaround at Hyannis West Elementary School is the jewel in the Barnstable Public Schools’ crown

Exclusive: A virtual interview with Barnstable Superintendent Mary Czajkowski

Barnstable Schools’ leader shares her pride

Dr. Mary Czajkowski is now in her third school year as superintendent of Barnstable’s public schools. We have sat with Dr. Czajkowski before to discuss school competition and other issues of concern to local school leaders.

Barnstable’s spring 2013 MCAS scores showed growth at several different schools. The most significant gains were seen at the Hyannis West Elementary School, where the school with an unprecedented percentage of high needs students became one of the highest achieving schools in Barnstable, most especially in grade 3 reading. Meanwhile, Barnstable’s 8th grade math scores saw significant growth over 2012. There is a general feeling that the town’s schools are in turnaround mode.

With the good news from MCAS scores, we invited Dr. Czajkowski to sit for a virtual interview. As with all CapeCodToday.com virtual interviews, we published Dr. Czajkowski’s responses exactly as she submitted them – with no editing, re-positioning or alteration whatsoever.

Virtual Interview with Superintendent Czajkowski

Cape Cod Today: Hyannis West Elementary School demonstrated amazing progress on the 2013 Grade 3 MCAS. What was the single most important factor in raising up that school’s test scores?

Dr. C: A school wide focus on reading fluency from utilizing a co-teaching model to frequent progress monitoring that allowed them to provide appropriate interventions quickly. Reading fluency is critical to a student’s success in all subject areas.

Cape Cod Today: What resources did the district bring to bear on Hyannis West that helped the students succeed?

Dr. C: Last year, we began Early Reading Intervention supports in Kindergarten, added English Language Learner (ELL) assistants and Responsive Classroom Training. This year we added additional grade 1 and 2 teachers to lower class size and to provide a multi-age classroom. Of all schools in our district, Hyannis West has the highest population of ELL students, around 29%.

Cape Cod Today: Hyannis West was the first school to go live on the new Barnstable fiber optic network. How is the school using that technology to improve student learning?

Dr. C: The school incorporates interactive lessons using Smartboards and iPads, Accelerated Reader (an online program to monitor students' vocabulary growth, literacy skills development, and other reading skills), uses audio/video sources to support language/vocabulary acquisition, creating online books, Skyping with pen-pals across the district.

Cape Cod Today: What lessons has the district learned from the Hyannis West turnaround?

Dr. C: With appropriate resources, ALL students can be on a level playing field.

Cape Cod Today: Barnstable’s eighth grade MCAS math scores showed a 30 percentage point improvement in students who scored advanced or proficient. What brought about such a massive improvement in a single year?

Dr. C: Any superintendent would appreciate a 30% point improvement but that wasn’t the case here. Grade 8 MCAS scores showed a 7% improvement in students scoring Proficient or Advanced. We are still pleased with the improvement in light of the elevated rigor of the new math frameworks. Barnstable began to phase in the new standards during the 2012 – 13 school year. Grade 8 teachers met weekly in a scheduled PLC to unpack standards; identify gaps students might have (in terms of prerequisite skills); and identify, develop, and share resources and materials that could be used for instruction, practice, and review.

Cape Cod Today: After the debacle with Mashpee Middle School’s math scores one of the possible causes cited was the school’s use of a non-traditional math curriculum. What is Barnstable’s math curriculum? Is it more oriented towards rote learning of basics like the multiplication tables?

Dr. C: During the 2012 – 13 school year, the 8th grade math staff developed curriculum resources reflective of the new math frameworks. We spent a good deal of time with the standards – identifying the skills and understandings required of the standards. We built binders for each unit for the 8th grade curriculum. This was a huge undertaking, but as a result, the teachers had a clear understanding of the standards and the way they work together as well as how they should be appropriately sequenced.

Cape Cod Today: Barnstable led the Cape in eighth grade Science Tech/Engineering MCAS scores. Your students ranked 17 percentage points higher than #2 Chatham in advanced/proficient level scores. What does that test measure?

Dr. C: Reviewing the scores for Barnstable and Monomoy (Chatham and Harwich), our Grade 8 Science/Tech Engineering (STE) scores were 3% higher. The test measures Earth & Space, Life, Physical and Technology/Engineering sciences such as the solar system, soil, weather, organisms, cells, engineering design and materials.

Cape Cod Today: What is Barnstable doing differently than other Cape districts to hit this high level of proficiency in Science Tech/Engineering?

Dr. C: If we look at Grade 10 STE scores across some of the larger districts on the Cape, it shows a fairly consistent outcome of Proficient/Advanced: Barnstable-79%, Bourne-78%, Falmouth and Dennis-Yarmouth-79% and Sandwich-83%. Given the state average of 71% Proficient/Advanced, we are all outperforming the state but certainly have room for improvement.

At Barnstable High, we have been part of the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative (MMSI) for 2 years. MMSI strives to increase participation and improve outcomes in Advanced Placement (AP) courses and to prepare students for college and career success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Cape Cod Today: Some Cape districts are moving to eighth grade STEM academies. Barnstable has not gone this way but does well in the STEM domain scores. Is STEM just a gimmick?

Dr. C: Every district is unique in its academics and programs and we are all focusing on variations of MMSI and STEM to prepare our students for college and career success. Each district should analyze its own academics and outcomes to determine the success of a particular program in its schools.

Cape Cod Today: You selected “Choose Big, Choose Barnstable” as your school choice recruitment slogan. Has Barnstable shown growth this year with in-coming school choice students?

Dr. C: We are showing similar levels to last year but we had to cap incoming school choice students due to high elementary enrollment and the limited number of choice seats available.

Cape Cod Today: What about out-bound school choice? Have you reduced the number of students choicing out?

Dr. C: It is too soon to tell as we are gathering that data now.

Cape Cod Today: How important is growing your school choice numbers to the district’s finances?

Dr. C: Adding overall enrollment is important to our finances whether it be through new families moving into Barnstable or through school choice. As small as Cape Cod is, there are large number of education options be they public or private so it is essential to both add new students and keep those students.

Cape Cod Today: Last week the state halted the proposed Sea Star Charter School. Do you think we will eventually see an elementary level Commonwealth charter school on Cape Cod?

Dr. C: As previously indicated, there are already a large number of education options on the Cape.

Cape Cod Today: The MCAS scores at Barnstable Community Horace Mann Charter School are unremarkable compared to the town’s traditional elementary schools. Does Barnstable still need a Horace Mann charter school? Is that school providing something the students cannot get in your traditional elementary schools?

Dr. C: Each elementary school is unique in what they offer to all students. I do not believe that the Barnstable Community Horace Mann Charter Public School is providing something the students cannot get in the other traditional elementary schools. The Barnstable School Committee voted 4 to 1 in favor of renewing the Horace Mann Charter School for another 5 years.

Cape Cod Today: The International Baccalaureate program has become something of a ‘golden ring’ on the Cape with the success of Sturgis Charter Public Schools. IB offers different types of programs, including one recently implemented in Provincetown’s lower grades. Is Barnstable considering this type of program for any of its schools?

Dr. C: Not at this time.

Cape Cod Today: You are now into your third year leading Barnstable’s public schools. What do you consider your major accomplishments in that time?

Dr. C:

  • Recruiting highly qualified and certified staff to lead our schools and programs. Working closely with our special education parents to provide a more collaborative and inclusive SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council)
  • Returning the Barnstable Horace Mann Charter School (grades 4-5) to the public schools through working with the entire staff. It is a more collaborative and positive working relationship between staff and administration and has changed the culture of the school.
  • Expanding leadership capacity of our administrators and teachers by participating in the NISL (National Institute for School Administrators). By the end of this school year, approximately 50 staff including administrators and teacher leaders have participated in this 18-month program.
  • Recruitment efforts to attract more students and families to Barnstable Public Schools.
  • Reaching out to families and the community through participation in "Superintendent House Calls."
  • Data-informed Decision Making: Using multiple sources of evidence related to student learning, including state, district, and school assessment results and growth data, to inform school and district goals and improve organizational performance, educator effectiveness, and student learning.

Conclusions

This year’s turnaround at Hyannis West Elementary School is the jewel in Barnstable Public Schools’ crown. It shows what can happen when school leaders focus their time and resources on solving a problem. Such a turnaround in a high needs school demonstrates that not a single school on Cape Cod has an excuse for low student achievement. It also shows that all students can be high achievers when given a level playing field.

Over the past few years Dr. Czajkowski has grown into a mistress of school competition. Coming from a district in Western Massachusetts where school competition was virtually non-existent, Mary educated herself in the art and steeled herself for the cut-throat world of Cape school competition. At a time when her district was especially vulnerable to school choice and charter choice, this superintendent has shown strong leadership and encouraged staff at all levels to innovate, collaborate and motivate students. The school board allocated the necessary resources and great things began to happen.

Mary Czajkowski has set the bar high for Barnstable’s school district. We look forward to watching the students and their teachers reach higher and continue their remarkable growth.

► You can see all our past education stories including past virtual interviews here.


CapeCodToday.com welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on CapeCodToday.com.