How often does a school math director have to make his case to such a number-literate set of school leaders? That happened at the Oct. 25 School Committee meeting, and each side held its own.
The questioning of Matthew J. Coleman, the new director of K-12 math for the Arlington public schools, was collegial. It followed his in-depth presentation about how he sees the math program progressing.
Questioners included these present or former math teachers: Superintendent Kathleen Bodie, Cindy Starks, Paul Schlichtman and Bill Hayner. YourArlington asked all members to comment on Coleman:
Bodie, who was K-12 math director from 2000 until 2007, when she was named assistant superintendent, wrote:
"I was and remain very pleased that Matt accepted our offer to be the new director of mathematics K-12. Not only is his knowledge of mathematics and the new mathematics common-core state standards (CCSS) extensive; he brings to Arlington enthusiasm, a strong interest in mathematics and mathematics education, as well as many years of experience teaching mathematics and mentoring math teachers." Her complete comments are below.
Committee member Paul Schlichtman is a central office administrator for the Lowell public schools, focusing on research, testing and assessment. He is a licensed mathematics teacher, having taught high school mathematics in New Jersey, as well as a licensed elementary teacher having taught grade three and mathematics grades three through five, in Boston. He wrote:
"The biggest challenge facing the new guy is the growth scores in grades 6 and 7, as well as the alignment of teaching practices and curriculum to meet the common core standards. In order for this to happen, he needs to be working actively with teachers so they understand the changes in standards, and have an active role in writing (and implementing) the district's curriculum.
"Things work much better when the process is inclusive, and teachers’ voices are at the table, instead of a top-down approach that almost never works. That's why I asked about assisting teachers with practice, and he had the absolute correct answer to my question."
Member Cindy Starks is in her fourth year teaching sixth-grade math at the Diamond Middle School in Lexington. She received professional status this fall. She wrote:
"I share Matt's excitement and optimism about the new common-core standards for math. As both a School Committee member and a math teacher, I think that the common core standards have the potential to enable nationwide collaboration of teachers as well as introducing mathematical thinking and problem solving skills into our national math discussion.
Member Bill Hayner retired from teaching in 1999 and is a substitute teacher in Lexington and Concord at the elementary level. He taught math on a daily basis and has a law degree but does not practice. He wrote:
"Matt Coleman is an exciting and energetic teacher. His presentation reflects not only knowledge but a passion and enthusiasm for mathematics. I envy the teachers he is working with. I look forward to future presentations."
Member Jeffrey Thielman is in his fourth year as president of Cristo Rey Boston High School. From 1997 to 2000, he was the development director of the first school in the Cristo Rey Network, and from 2001 to 2009, he was the vice president of the Cristo Rey Network responsible for overseeing the start-up of new schools. He did not teach math but did teach social studies and English. He wrote:
"I was impressed by Matt's knowledge of the new common-core math standards, his passion for Math, and his eagerness to work with our teachers to improve student performance in math district-wide. Arlington is fortunate to have someone with Matt's gifts leading the Math department."
Member Judson Pierce is an attorney at the law firm of Pierce Pierce & Napolitano in Salem. He has been in practice for 14 years and has not taught math. He wrote:
"I too was very impressed with Mr. Coleman's presentation. We have needed someone like him for a long time, and I give Dr. Bodie credit for having the good sense to hire Mr. Coleman. Especially given the changes in implementing the common-core curriculum, I am pleased with how he talked about this and his vision for math and our students going forward.
"He is energetic and passionate. I hope that the Arlington Public Schools will develop and sustain a high-quality response to intervention program in math as we have with reading."
Kirsi Allison-Ampe, School Committee chair, has an MD degree from Dartmouth, used mainly for basic research. She notes that enjoys math and has taken "a slew" of math courses over the years but has never taught. She wrote:
"I was quite impressed by his presentation, and I am very excited to see where Mr. Coleman takes our students in the coming years."
Leba Heigham did not respond to two requests for comment.
Bodie began her career as a mathematics teacher in the early 1970s. She has taught mathematics at the fifth grade, middle school, high school and college levels, including many years as a college supervisor for students aspiring to become math teachers. Over the years, she has provided professional-development workshops and courses to other teachers on mathematics topics and mathematics pedagogy. The rest of her statement:
"Matt accurately described the importance of the new CCSS for mathematics education, particularly with respect to the emphasis in the standards on mathematical thinking and problem solving. In the CCSS there are standards for both mathematical practice and content. With respect to practice, the standards include:
"(1) Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, (2) Reason abstractly and quantitatively, (3) Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, (4) Model with mathematics, (5) Use appropriate tools strategically, (6) Attend to precision, (7) Look for and make use of structure (discerning patterns), and, (8) Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
"The CCSS places these habits of mind on equal footing with content knowledge because they are essential to being a creative thinker, learner, and problem-solver.
"The mathematics programs we have at the elementary and middle school levels (Investigations into Number, Data and Space and Impact Mathematics, respectively), which have been the spine of the APS mathematics curriculum for a number of years, emphasize mathematical reasoning and problem solving. Both curricula were ahead of the CCSS in emphasizing mathematical thinking and mathematical habits of mind.
"However, the text editions of the two programs we use in Arlington are not fully aligned with the content standards in CCSS. Teachers have been working both during the school year and summer to align the district curriculum to the CCSS.
"We have also begun the process of purchasing new curriculum materials. Last year, grade 3 teachers implemented the new TERC Investigations curriculum that is aligned with the CCSS.
"This year, grades 4 and 5 are implementing the CCSS-aligned TERC Investigations curriculum. For Grades 6-8, we will be determining this year what CCSS-aligned program to purchase. In the meantime, we are supplementing our current text materials at the middle school."
This story was published Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012.