Exclusive: Virtual Interview with Mashpee's new superintendent Brian Hyde

No Cape school superintendent is under more pressure this year than Mashpee’s Brian Hyde who is faced with a Level 3 rating of his district due to low MCAS scores at Mashpee Middle School
A verbatim interview with Brian Hyde

A Virtual Interview with Mashpee Superintendent Brian Hyde

New superintendent addresses MCAS, town relations and more

No Cape School superintendent is under more pressure this year than Mashpee’s Brian Hyde. A first-year superintendent, Mr. Hyde is faced with a Level 3 rating of his district due to low MCAS scores at Mashpee Middle School. In Mr. Hyde’s own words, this brings a challenge to “focus every minute of every day and every dollar of our $19.6 million budget on positively impacting student learning.”

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education describes the “Level” status of a school as:

  • Level 1: Meeting gap narrowing goals
  • Level 2: Not meeting gap narrowing goals
  • Level 3: Among lowest performing 20% of schools
  • Level 4: Among lowest achieving and least improving schools
  • Level 5: No schools are reported at this level for 2013

Shortly after the MCAS scores were released we asked Mr. Hyde to sit for one of our “virtual interviews”. These interviews consist of CapeCodToday.com submitting a list of questions and the guest responding via email. Mr. Hyde’s responses are presented verbatim as submitted with no editing, redaction or re-ordering of material.

Exclusive Virtual Interview with Mashpee Superintendent Brian Hyde.

Cape Cod Today: Much attention has been paid in recent weeks to the very disappointing eighth grade MCAS mathematics scores at Mashpee Middle School. Can you tell us what happened?

Mr. Hyde: We have paid a great deal of attention and effort to the Mashpee Middle School. Its recent Level 3 rating is due to the 2013 grade eight MCAS math scores. Although Mashpee scores improved, they did not grow at the rate expected therefore was included with the lowest 20% of all middle schools statewide. Mashpee’s 7/8 grade middle school was compared to all Massachusetts middle school models; most of these middle schools are grades 5-8, some are grades 6-8, and others are grades 6-9. If any of these configurations was the case in Mashpee, Mashpee Middle School would have remained a Level 2 school.

Cape Cod Today: Studying last year’s class of eighth graders, it seems this particular group has achieved fairly low math scores consistently since they were in fifth grade. Is this a case of students who missed important math concepts at the elementary level?

Mr. Hyde: The state’s level system is far more complicated than that assumption. There are many factors involved in MCAS math scoring including literacy levels. We are currently in the process of a root cause analysis with the support of the Southeast Region District and School Assistance Center to determine how we can best support our students’ growth.

Cape Cod Today: How is Mashpee altering its mathematics curriculum to prevent this from happening in the future?

Mr. Hyde: Our District Leadership Team consisting of 22 members (including the Mashpee Middle School principal) and the Massachusetts District and School Assistance Center are re-evaluating the curriculum, materials and instructional practices of our math department.

Cape Cod Today: 80% of your eighth graders scored either Needs Improvement or Warning/Failure on the MCAS math test. Is it feasible for these students to acquire the necessary math skills prior to the tenth grade tests?

Mr. Hyde: Mashpee High School is confident that its 9th graders will be prepared for next year’s high stakes MCAS exam. In fact, Mashpee 10th graders had the 4th highest percentage of advanced math students (of the 13 Cape Cod school districts) on last year’s MCAS exam trailing only Nauset, MV and Sandwich. Our teachers continue to do an outstanding job. The 2013 numbers are very similar to past scores and the Mashpee High School has a record of relatively strong MCAS results.

Cape Cod Today: At the high school level, 81% of your tenth graders scored Advanced or Proficient on the math test. How do you account for the skill gap between the tenth graders and the eighth graders?

Mr. Hyde: Great question! If we knew that answer, it would be an easy fix. There is a standard gap statewide among middle school and high school students as students recognize that the grade 8 exam is not high stakes. Currently we are investigating all aspects; curriculum, instruction, schedule, family, and the values of our community. Now that we have identified a problem, we are united in our purpose of the analysis of our current work and looking toward a root cause analysis when we can develop a strategy to execute.

Cape Cod Today: Mashpee’s tenth grade Science Tech/Engineering scores were the lowest on the Cape. What does that test measure? How can you improve Mashpee students’ performance in those skill domains?

Mr. Hyde: Again, there are multiple factors involved. All Mashpee freshman students take the 10th grade exam during their freshman year when they are mandated to take Biology and MCAS test. Mashpee’s vertical curriculum and mapping have been a priority for our district this year.

Cape Cod Today: 9% of your tenth graders failed the Science Tech/Engineering and 6% failed the Math MCAS. What does Mashpee High School do to help these students pass the test before graduation?

Mr. Hyde: 9% science failure rate is incorrect data. In fact, only 1% of our students failed the Grade 10 Science/Tech/Engineering exam in 2013. All Mashpee freshman take the grade 10 MCAS. Those that do not pass this high stakes exam take Physics, Chemistry and/or Tech/Engineering in subsequent high school years and then enroll and take the Science/Tech Eng. exam of their choice. We also provide tutoring to students that have been identified for support to pass MCAS prior to graduation. Mashpee has had excellent success in this area.

Cape Cod Today: Switching to elementary school MCAS for a moment, 44% of your third graders score either Needs Improvement or Warning/Failure in the third grade reading test. What happened there?

Mr. Hyde: Mashpee third grade students scored 33% advanced and 38% proficient in Math, and 9% advanced and 47% proficient in Reading in 2013. A needs improvement is a passing score, but we still strive for proficiency in all areas. Mashpee has 53% High Needs student population and continues to outperform other districts with High Needs populations. We will continue to look at curriculum and instruction in all areas and determine where we can align and improve through professional development.

Cape Cod Today: A 2010 study published by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform found that “74% of third graders who read poorly are still struggling in ninth grade.” What steps is the district taking to work with the 44% of last year’s third graders who scored so low on the reading test?

Mr. Hyde: We will continue to increase the rigor of our classrooms, raise the expectations for all of our staff, students and families, and of course support the teachers in their efforts to help our children succeed.

Cape Cod Today: Mashpee’s overall MCAS scores in the elementary and middle school grades are surprisingly low compared to school districts with similar demographic profiles. For example, Mashpee’s third grade reading scores look more like those at Station Avenue Elementary in Yarmouth – a school with 8.1% “first language not English” and 6.6% “English language learner” in its population. Your Quashnet school has 2.5% “first language not English” and 1.8% “English language learners”. Since it’s not this demographic that’s pulling your scores down, what do you think is the biggest factor and how do you plan to address it?

Mr. Hyde: Demographics is much larger than ELL. Demographics also consist of race, gender, low income, students with disabilities, special education, and many others. Mashpee Schools are focused on improving and raising the rigor in all classrooms. Impact on student learning is our number one priority. We believe that the most important staff member in any school system is the classroom teacher. It is the rest of our responsibility to support them in their efforts. Of course the new Massachusetts Educator Evaluation System has been created with that goal in mind.

Cape Cod Today: Clearly, Mashpee has a lot of work to do on academics over the next few years. What would you like to share about your plans to improve your district’s overall K-12 academic performance?

Mr. Hyde: Every school in America clearly has a lot of work to do. Mashpee is no different. Continuous improvement and focused objectives is the norm in American education. Our first goal is to unify our district mission in becoming a High-Performing School District. We have created COMPASS (Cohesive Mashpee Educators Accelerating Student Success). This staff led organization currently consists of half of our professional staff and is growing everyday. We have created 10 subgroups ranging from Vertical Teaming to Gifted and Talented to Enhance Music Programming to Foreign Language K-12. The staff is excited to lead professional development and place strategy in action. We are looking at our stakeholders’ core values and identifying the “Big Rocks” in our district. We are committed to going slow to speed things up while not succumbing to all the noise that distracts us from our goals. Improvement is a linear process where findings will be reported after a thorough analysis of our schools. We will define root causes and then develop a strategy that will be executed as one unified team committed to achieving our vision.

Cape Cod Today: How much has school competition affected Mashpee this year in terms of students gained/lost to school choice and charter choice?

Mr. Hyde: Mashpee is on the plus side in terms of school choice. For the first time since Mashpee started school choice, we have more students coming into our district than going out.

Cape Cod Today: How many ninth graders did Mashpee send to Upper Cape Tech this year?

Mr. Hyde: Zero. Mashpee is part of Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich that receives 57 Mashpee students.

Cape Cod Today: As a long-time teacher in Mashpee you possess deep “local knowledge”. How can you leverage that to help improve Mashpee’s academic performance over the next two years?

Mr. Hyde: The biggest concern coming into this position (prior to our Middle School’s Level 3 rating in September) was the school’s relationship with the staff and the town. I am happy to say that this issue has disappeared and no longer poses a problem for our district. The staff, town and community are on board and committed to supporting Mashpee in becoming a high-performing school district.

Cape Cod Today: Is increased use of technology a key to improving academics in Mashpee or is the priority more a matter of mentoring teachers in skill recovery methods?

Mr. Hyde: Mashpee has fallen behind the state in terms of students per computer. However, our Mashpee High School students under the leadership of teachers Sal Nocella and Michael Looney have been invited to showcase their program at the MassCUE conference this week at Gillette Stadium. Our Technology Department has been recognized as a Center of Excellence. The students have spent countless hours preparing for this event as it will showcase the high level of skills they have developed in their coursework. Sal has been a true innovator in public education as many of the courses we offer throughout our Technology Department are ahead of the curve in applied learning. The Mashpee School District and I recognize the value of our innovative programs and their impact on student learning. Students taking these programs are college and career ready as the coursework challenges them with college and industry level problems. Over the years, the Mashpee Community has been extremely supportive of our Technology Department as we offer students an opportunity to apply their academics in real-world applications. In particular, the courses in 3-D Animation, Computer Game Design and Drafting using 3-D Creo-Parametric Software offered at our school are unlike any other in Massachusetts. Tim Loew, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Digital Game Institute visited our department and referred to it as "A Center of Excellence". More information and links to past articles can be found on our website at http://www.mashpeetech.com.

Cape Cod Today: Do any of your schools use the OpenCape network or do you plan to use it in the next two years?

Mr. Hyde: Our Technical Director Sean Moroney is ahead of the curve in this area. Mashpee High School is a foundation site and the fibers are already connected to the facility. Services are in the process of starting up, however slowly. Currently, there is one vendor and we need three vendors to bid on the service aspect of the OpenCape network. We are excited of the possibilities that OpenCape will provide our students.

Cape Cod Today: What can the parents of a low-scoring Mashpee child expect from the district at this point in time?

Mr. Hyde: A student that has had a low score on any MCAS exam or in classrooms that has been identified for support will be assisted in not only academics, but also with social and emotional learning. Mashpee cares and will continue to care for our quietest voices and strive to provide a quality education for all. Mashpee parents know this and recognize the effort that every member of our team puts in everyday to support our students.

Cape Cod Today: Other than improving MCAS performance, what do you see as your biggest priorities in Mashpee for the next two years?

Mr. Hyde: First of all, building a team that is committed to Mashpee becoming a high performing school district is critical. Ownership, efficiency and excellence will become the standard, not the exception. It is urgent that all MPS staff focus every minute of every day and every dollar of our $19.6 million budget on positively impacting student learning. That is what our team will be committed to. Secondly, continuing the momentum of a positive relationship with the Town Manager, Finance Committee and Board of Selectman is important to the school committee and the Mashpee community as a whole. As a new superintendent, I am focused on improving my capacity to lead this district by participating in the Massachusetts New Superintendent Induction Program. I am fortunate to have retired superintendent Patti Grenier assigned as my coach, and have built positive relationships with C&I superintendents Czajkowski, Hoffman, Woodbury, Sanborn, Lamarche, Carpenter and others. Having Bonnie Gifford as a neighboring superintendent has also been helpful in enhancing my leadership ability.

The Cape is a nice place to live, and It Is Good To Be in Mashpee!

Conclusions

Superintendent Hyde’s remarks about focusing every minute and dollar on student improvement are good words. The test of his leadership will be how quickly and how completely the school community will fall in behind him.

Both Barnstable’s success with the Hyannis West Elementary School and Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School’s “Math in Action” program aptly demonstrate that a school indeed can turn around in a single year.

As we’ve observed in other venues, “turnaround” involves the entire school community – students, faculty, administration, parents and community-at-large. In order to succeed, Mr. Hyde must have all those groups pointing in more or less the same direction.

We look forward to taking a look at Mashpee Public Schools one year from now to see how the superintendent and his district have met the considerable challenges they face.

Read the previous Virtual Interviews here.


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