Updates On Superintendent and New Administrators

Beginning a new academic year, Malden Public Schools welcomed new district administrators who have all been working to make changes throughout the school district.

Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy, who is the Superintendent of Malden Public Schools, explained that for the past three months one of the projects that both her and the administration have been working on is revising policies. More specifically, seeing what policies the district has in place already, when was the last time they were revised and who was in the decision making process. 

On top of that, Noriega-Murphy expressed how analyzing data has been a major focus aspect, especially within Malden High School. She stated that the administration is looking at the dropout rates in hopes of making sure that “we go back to the students who left the school trying to find out what they are doing right now.” 

Noriega-Murphy added that she recently presented the dropout data to the Malden School Committee revealing how four percent of 10th grade students dropped out of school. Therefore, the administrators are seeing “what programs [they] can start in order to generate support” for students who are either dropping out or repeating grades. 

She also included that another area that the administrators have been looking at is a grant where they are in the process of implementing a plan for placing a coordinator for the Career Technical Program. They have been able to gather information from now until January where “[they] are going to be planning about what to do, who to bring on board and looking at the program of studies,” to see if certifications can be given to students and provide support such as an acceleration program for drop out students. For this reason, administrators have been identifying the students and how many credits they need, “in order to make sure that [they] are going to meet one on one, and come up with an action plan for the schools.”

Furthermore, Noriega-Murphy described how she recently met with several parents from the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to address concerns they had including COVID-19 and discipline in schools, essentially “trying to understand how [they] can support the students” and “how parents can help [them] to work together.” 

That being said, she believes that “students [need] to have a voice” and also parents, because she acknowledges that “[the administrators] make decisions and sometimes [they] do not know if they are the right decisions.” With regards to student voice, Noriega-Murphy plans to establish student government not only in the high school, but also in the lower grade levels where there would be monthly planning meetings as she wants to ensure that “[they] capture every single opinion from each school” since you cannot “have one voice that represents all students.” 

As a result, the administration has been taking into consideration the different “structures, systems, resources, expectations, the political lens and trying to see how [they] can align everything in a way that makes sense.” Noriega-Murphy emphasized how throughout this process, “it has been a lot of learning, but also changing as [they] evolve,” whether that would be collecting information or planning to establish new programs, and ultimately “refining what [they] need to pay attention to.”

For Laryssa Doherty, the Assistant Superintendent of Diversity, Equity, and Engagement, she stated how with her new position this year at Malden Public Schools, it has given her the “opportunity to look at what [has] been going on with our diversity work,” and fundamentally “take a deep dive into equity and how equity is permeating through everything that [they] do.”

Doherty expressed that it has been “a lot of learning from students, families and staff to figure out what it is that we want to move forward on.” Prior to working in Malden, Doherty was a principal in the Boston Public Schools and she explained how the “work of equity was embedded into that,” particularly looking at “the work of building and continuing to build culturally responsive teachers” and “looking at our practices and our policies, [...] making sure that all of our backgrounds are being represented, not just superficial.” 

In terms of the projects that Doherty has been working on since she assumed her role, she noted how there have been some that are more technical including an online enrollment system where families can apply to enroll their child to one of the schools in the district. She mentioned how instead of families having to come back and forth, “they will be able to sign in, see where their application is, what they are missing” in hopes of making the process more smoother. Doherty revealed how the original enrollment process “took a long time for [families] to register,” however with the use of Aspen, there is actually “a way that families can create a family portal and do all of their registration from their home.” 

On top of that, Doherty added “because we have so many rich and diverse languages,” it is important for the portal to translate into every language. It is significant for families who are “new to a country that may not have experience with American school systems.” Therefore, the ultimate goal of the new portal system is to ensure that it is “providing really clear information to our families.”

She went on to say that it is “especially important right now for our Afghan families that are coming in” because they may speak a variety of “different dialects that [they] do not have translations for,” and so as families are coming in from different countries that might not be a part of the major seven languages that are used traditionally, “[they] want to make sure that they are represented in that work.” 

Doherty then went into detail about the Welcome Center, previously known as the Parent Information Center, and how she has been working on establishing the role of the center to “be more of supporting families instead of [the] transactional back and forth” where she hopes to carry out the goal of having high school equivalency for families of students who are over age when they come to Malden. 

Using the Welcome Center as an example, she explained how changing the name from the Parent Information Center to the Welcome Center first has to go through the School Committee and be agreed upon. Additionally, Doherty would like to change the enrollment policy because she wants to better understand “some of the components in there that seem to have an impact on our historically marginalized populations.” In order for that to happen, there needs to be a motion in order to bring that to the policy subcommittee, which then has to go to the policy subcommittee and then if that goes through the policy subcommittee, it will be brought to the school committee. And so “there are some times where there are things that require layers,” said Doherty. 

Doherty would like to see the community to truly “understand what equity means” because she wishes to “have a foundational definition and practice” that everyone feels comfortable with. 

Emilys Peña, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Assessment and Engagement, the focus for her has been ultimately on “getting a good handle and a good sense of where students are academically, coming out of pandemic.” Similar to Noriega-Murphy, looking at data, whether that would be DIBELS scores (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) from students at the elementary levels or literacy data. 

She continued on saying that what they are “measuring right now is looking if students are either meeting or exceeding grade level standards,” more specifically analyzing where those percentages fall from in order to establish what are “the increments that we need to increase.” Peña mentioned how there are “a lot of multiple data points'' and that she feels “data has been a huge part of what [they have] been doing.” 

Another focus area for Peña has also been on systems including professional development as “[the administrators] really wanted to understand what does that look like, what does the arc of learning look like from September [...] all the way through June.” She described that it was a way to organize it “not just at the district level, but at every school” in hopes of seeing where these “activities align with what we are hearing our needs in the community [...] in our schools, or aligning to the school's plans for improvement.” Therefore, Peña conveyed that it has been a lot of “stopping and and listening to what everyone is sharing,” which she considers the “information so valuable when you are new to the district.” 

On top of that, both Peña and Noriega-Murphy are promoting classrooms to have central questions so that students are seeing essential questions that help to “ground [students] learning into this bigger concept.” She further said that clear content objectives should be present and “aligned to the curriculum, the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks” because they want every student to have access to this “so that their time and every single class that they go to, feels meaningful.”

In terms of curriculum, Peña explained that the newest one that was recently adopted is a K-5 math curriculum called Eureka. Peña explained how it was ensured that the team “deciding on what curriculums to pilot [...] would involve looking at sites that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) puts out,” where curriculums are listed that have already “been vetted not only by the state, but by districts that have used it.” 

At the same time, Peña acknowledged “there are certain things that we need to really pay attention to early” in an effort to “get [them] on track to raising the bar,” and what “[they] expect teachers to provide to students and what we hope students will meet.” Like Noriega-Murphy, Peña is interested in incorporating student voice because “[they] are looking at almost every layer of having places where [they] can interact with students” to hear what they have to “say about critical things that [they are] thinking of moving forward.” 

With the new administration in the Malden Public Schools district, the administration hopes to implement more plans and programs in order to create a more inclusive, transparent community where community members, parents and students alike are able to benefit from them and be involved in the processes like these.

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