New initiatives will begin in Somerville Public Schools

On September 6, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The Winter Hill Community School is the district’s first Innovation School.

By Cathleen Twardzik

It’s time to get ready for another school year, so get your new school supplies together, and strap on your backpack.

The Somerville Public Schools (SPS) will begin the 2012-2013 school year on September 5, and several newly funded, district-wide initiatives, which are designed to support student achievement and to continue to improve upon the district’s dedication to providing SPS students with a comprehensive educational experience, will debut.

Kindergarteners, as well as pre-K students, will begin school on September 10.

Quite a few initiatives are included. First, Community Engagement and Family Outreach are among the district’s focus areas this year.

Family and community liaisons will work in partnership with the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC), which is the district’s community outreach program, as well as school administrators and staff, to develop a stronger connection between the school, families and the community.

“Approved funding support in this area will allow us to hire school-based family and community liaisons whose primary role will be to improve and [to] increase family engagement that creates strong supports for teaching, learning and school achievement,” said Dr. Sarah Davila, District Administrator for Family and Community Partnerships.

“These liaisons will also collaborate with school-based volunteer coordinators to strengthen the connections between schools and their respective community and to leverage the vast array of skills, experience and energy that our community members bring to the table,” said Davila.

Also, an initiative made it possible for the Winter Hill Community School to become the district’s first innovation school.

“One of the basic tenets of our school system is the understanding that students thrive and have the most positive educational experience when a community is united in working toward common goals,” said Susana H. Morgan, Coordinator of Grant Writing & Information in the Somerville Public Schools.

It is essential to note that, “Our students will benefit from a robust and rigorous curriculum that allows them to maximize their potential, as students, and as individuals,” said Morgan.

Somerville is an extremely “engaged community,” in which business professionals, families, community members and partners, as well as the city, work, along with schools, to encourage students.

“Community Engagement and Family Outreach are a key component of the school committee’s and district’s two year goals, and align strategically with our goals of improving student achievement and supporting innovation,” she said.

The Somerville Public Schools’ world language department is enlarging its curriculum to include middle school grades throughout the district. Based on broad community input, which was obtained in spring 2012, SPS middle school students will be able to take Spanish as an optional course. The district has hired three full-time teachers to support that course, which will take place five days a week.

It is expected that students, all of whom will be enrolled in the course for two years, will meet the high school Spanish I course requirement, and they will begin their high school world language study with Spanish II.

This language course will be challenging, and it will make it possible for students to “transition into” Honors Spanish II during their freshman year of high school, which will provide an opportunity for them to take advanced placement Spanish at the end of their high school world language study.

“The course content will focus on the two components of the communicative strand of the curriculum. The interpersonal component targets students’ communication with each other and with the teacher in that language [and] the presentational component targets students’ mastery of oral presentations, either individually, or in groups,” said Jim Nocito, K-12 World Language Department Head of the Middle Grades Spanish Program.

“A tremendous amount of culture will be interwoven throughout the class.  Two of the three teachers are native Spanish speakers. One is from Columbia and one is from Argentina. The third was a student-teacher at the high school last year who was eager to stay on, and brings great passion to that team. Finally, we want students to have fun, as they gain an appreciation of the language and the culture,” said Nocito.

Another new initiative this school year, which will involve each classroom in grades 1 to 8 throughout the district, is a daily Intervention and Enrichment period of 40 minutes, which is less formally called the ‘X’ Block.

The block “supports what students are learning in core curriculum classes by providing students with the appropriate level of support or enrichment during this time block,” said Morgan. Students who demonstrate proficiency in language arts and math will participate in enrichment and challenge activities “to further “enhance their skills,” she said.

The Spanish Language program will be available to eligible students in 7th grade and 8th grade at the start of the school year during that time slot.

An expanded middle schools intramural sports program will provide students in grades 7 and 8 a chance to “hone” critical team and leadership skills by participating in a variety of competitive sports programs. Fall middle school intramural sports include tennis, flag football, volleyball and cross country.  Winter sports include indoor soccer, All-City Swim Meet and Indoor Boys and Girls Track and Field Meet. Spring programs include basketball, swimming and participation in the Hershey Track Meet, which will be sponsored by the City of Somerville’s recreation department.

Students in grades three and four will have the opportunity to take part in an intensive “music model,” which will run after school.  It is designed to achieve social change for underserved communities by the use of ensemble-focused music education.

El Sistema Somerville will operate each Monday to Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Edgerly Campus of the East Somerville Community School. The program will serve as many as 50 youth in its inaugural year. It will include SHS music students, as well as community members and college students, all of whom will serve as music mentors.

Diane Cline, Violinist, was recently hired as the Director of El Sistema Somerville.

Interested individuals may find more information about El Sistema Somerville on their Web site at

“We look forward to another great year of teaching and learning at the Somerville Public Schools. We’re really pleased about the new initiatives that we have in place for this year.  These initiatives will help us continue to move forward in providing our students with an outstanding education.  We’re also glad to welcome many new educators and administrators to the Somerville Public Schools and to the Somerville community.  There’s a great deal of positive energy and excitement about the coming year, and we look forward to working with all of our community partners and stakeholders to provide our students with an exceptional learning experience,” said Tony Pierantozzi, Superintendent of Schools.



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