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Malden School Committee votes to retire AEAP program, citing value of district’s new K-8 curriculum

Sharyn Rose Zeiberg
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Promoting equity in local education, Supt., other school leaders detail how all students will continue to be challenged; unveil new MS Honors Pathway

  The Malden School Committee at its regular meeting on Monday night ended a nearly four-year saga surrounding the viability and future of the city’s AEAP program with a 7-2 vote to eliminate the longstanding academic model designed for top students in grades 1-8. The vote came after a nearly two-hour presentation by three Malden Public Schools literacy and STEM directors on the new districtwide curriculum in place for this full school year at the grades K-8 level. A full livestream of Monday’s meeting is available at www.youtube.com@MATVShow.

  Voting in favor of “retiring” the AEAP program were School Committee Members Michael Drummey (Ward 1), Robert McCarthy Jr. (Ward 2), Vice Chairperson Jennifer Spadafora (Ward 3), Dawn Macklin (Ward 4), Adam Weldai (Ward 5), Sharon Rose Zeiberg (Ward 8). Voting against the resolution which retired AEAP were Ward 7’s Keith Bernard and Ward 6’s Joseph Gray.

  The directors, who included Victoria Mulkerin (Literacy & Title I-District), Cara Hovhannesian (STEM Grades K-5) and Dr. Douglas Dias (STEM Grades 6-12), mapped out in detail the new curriculum in the Malden Public Schools, which includes literacy instruction called GLEAM UnboundEd. As for the acronyms used above, AEAP is Academically Enriched and Advanced Program. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. GLEAM is Growing Literacy Across Massachusetts.

  The presentation, which went 98 minutes and was the single longest (time-wise) presentation in recent Malden School Committee meeting history, also included a detailed explanation of a new pilot that is being implemented next school year (2023-24) in the Malden Public Schools middle schools (Grades 6-8), the Middle Schools Honors Pathway. The Honors Pathway is designed to complement the new curriculum and tie it into a bona fide academic recognition platform. Combined, the new curriculum and new Honors Pathway are a new and innovative platform to both challenge and acknowledge all students in the respective grades, the directors stated, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ligia Noreiga-Murphy confirmed.

  Dr. Dias, who was the impetus behind the new Honors Pathway, said the pilot was designed for a lot of reasons, most notably as a means to identify and acknowledge high-achieving Malden Public Schools middle schoolers, and also prepare them for a clear and smooth path to continued Honors level achievement at Malden High School. Students in this program – which will be open for inclusion to all qualified students in Grades 6-8 – would have the distinction of Honors marked and noted on their permanent academic transcript.

  “It would also make it easier for guidance and other academic staff to create the right path for these Middle School Honors students and help make the right class schedule for them at the high school level, long before they walk in the door to start the new year,” Dr. Dias said.

  A key element of their supporting vote, as expressed by several School Committee members, was how the directors described how student academic achievers above grade level are continuing to be challenged in the new curriculum with additional resources called lesson “extensions.” The directors also said that methods and subject matter in the new curriculum would be included in a future formal Program of Studies to be released in May.

  “I would love to be a member of the School Committee and say ‘There, in the Program of Studies, on Page 10,’ that’s what we need,” said Ward 8 School Committee Member Sharyn Rose Zeiberg. “We have students who need accelerated academics, who are above grade level. To do it this way, to have a Program of Studies, it holds us accountable.”

  “Our job as School Committee members is to create policy, and it is up to the Superintendent to provide curriculum for our students,” Ward 3 School Committee Member Jennifer Spadafora said. “There is a need for students that learn differently; the current program, as it stands, was not meeting the needs of all students, just a few.

  “This curriculum meets where they’re at and helps them get where they can be. We have had three qualified directors explain to us how this curriculum will work in this fashion, and I can support this model moving forward,” Spadafora added.

  “For me it is creating a richer environment for [our students] because that is what life is about,” Dr. Dias said.

  “This illustrates why we are not the ones who make decisions about curriculum and instruction. We hire and trust educational experts who do that for us,” Ward 5’s Adam Weldai said. “For the first time in a while this does address the primary function of what we were looking for curriculum to do, which was grow; meet any kid where they are and find a way for them to grow. [For] some people that’s getting them to grade-level standards; for others it pushing them above grade-level standards, for others it going deeper into grade-level standards.”

  “It would be to meet every kid where they are; provide targeted and legitimate ways to have a student grow. I appreciate hearing that in the presentation,” Weldai said.

  “From what I have heard tonight, it is an evolution to where we should be going,” Mayor Gary Christenson, who serves as School Committee chairperson, said.

  “We will take all into consideration all of your suggestions on all of our Program of Studies and then you will see the draft and vote on it.”

  “We are willing to listen to your suggestions, but I must say I am surprised why we are having this conversation at this level. Programming, curriculum, instructions are under the purview the Superintendent,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy.

  Rose Zeiberg said, “I still feel the need for a resolution to get us back on track, considering the history of how we got here, and make sure we are in the right lane, to make sure going forward. this doesn’t happen again.”

  The resolution reads as follows:

  “Whereas the Malden Public Schools’ goal is to graduate all students ready to succeed in a diverse local national and global community,

  “And whereas the Malden School Committee believes in raising the achievements of all students,

  “And whereas the Malden School Committee requires that the Malden Public Schools district provides every student with access to high quality curriculum, support and other educational resources,

  “And whereas the Malden School Committee acknowledges that students learn at different speeds than their peers,

  “Therefore, be it resolved that the MSC recommends the retirement of the current Academic Enrichment and Advanced Program – AEAP to be replaced with programs that better meet the needs of the students of the Malden Public Schools;

  “Be it further resolved the Superintendent includes in the yearly Program of Studies the method in her program that will be used to address the needs of students who are performing higher level than their peers within their assigned grade;

  “A specific method in the program will also address the needs of students who are determined to be above grade level and any subject matter using objective data such as IXL and IReady;

  “These methods and programs are to be subject based and offered at each school in the district serving K-8 students;

  “The methods and the programs and the program of studies will be updated at least once a year before submission to the School Committee;

  “The School Committee will receive the programs of studies no later than May of each year for discussion and approval.”

  After reading the resolution, Rose Zeiberg said, “One of my biggest concerns in looking at how everything happened, was that there was a program, but it wasn’t fostered and we weren’t paying attention to it,” referring to the AEAP.

  “We are now going to be held accountable. The Superintendent’s Office will be held accountable. [This resolution] puts us on alert so that students who come before us and speak and say they want this – we can answer them that we are meeting your needs,” Rose Zeiberg said.

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