Last week we had the honor of interviewing Dr. Lord, our assistant superintendent and interim principal here at Peabody High. A lot of people don’t know much about him besides the fact he appreciates the school and frequently uses the phrase “Bulls up, hooah!” to start off our day during the morning announcements. The following is what he said in response to our questions about himself and his goals during his time in Peabody.
Are you thinking of staying long-term?
Sure, I am thinking about it, but it’s not my choice; It’s Ms. Murtagh’s decision. She is kind of the bottom line for where people are placed in their roles in the school system and whatever she thinks would be best for the community. I’m sure it will be a more global conversation.
Do you have any long-term goals?
I would love to help build a high school in Peabody over the next ten years. That would be cool. I would love to get Peabody High School to be seen by the public for the absolutely outstanding instruction and practices that are happening here. I am a NEASC commissioner. There are 660 high schools in New England roughly and NEASC that came to visit a few weeks ago. So this organization has been around for like 150 years and they go into schools and teams accredit the quality of instruction. This school is so far down the road on what we call the 2020 standards. Most of the high schools haven’t even been assessed on the 2020 standards, but they all start with the Vision of the Graduate. The commission picked six high schools to kind of pilot this two years ago. You guys did it all on your own. This Vision of the Graduate thing? You are the tip of the spear for instructional practice. The work you guys have done here to get students to own the Graduate? That’s very unusual. So I would love to get Peabody High illustrated to the super public, not just our community here, about the great stuff that’s going on here. This is top shelf stuff.
What’s your biggest goal for this year?
I’m about to present the school improvement plan to the school committee and I’ve started speaking to students about it. I would love to run it over with you if you have a few minutes? It’s kind of in a draft form right now and the goals are there to answer your questions.
(Editor’s note: The slideshow he showed us had statistics from this year and last year which showed a large improvement in attendance, grades, and achievements in all the subjects. When asked if the new attendance policy is causing this vast improvement in attendance, he said that they believe so.)
So looking at that information we need some help in English. The Math and Sciences are looking pretty good and our attendance is looking pretty good. So what I’m going to share with the school committee is significantly improved attendance and science and math achievement. Those are the things we’re doing well on. So here are our areas for growth. Our English achievement needs to get better and more kids need to get involved in AP. Not enough of our kids are involved in advanced placement classes. So those are our goals. We want more kids taking advanced placement classes and we need to help the English department. We’re going to be having a meeting with the sophomore class. I don't know if you know this, but they changed the rules for your class and how they’re going to measure your ability to get your diploma for passing MCAS in ELA. We want to help out the current sophomore class to help them understand the new marking system for MCAS which is called Next Generation MCAS. The current juniors took it for the first time last year on the computers. But the bar has changed. The cut score used to be 220 and it looks like it’s going to be 240 and on the new scale. So goals are to improve English achievement in the school, to get more kids involved in advanced placement opportunities for next year, and taking a serious look into Tanner Time. I don’t know if you’ve heard anything about Tanner Time. There's a requirement as part of a NEASC visit for every student to be well-known by another adult other than their guidance counselor. Usually it's the homeroom teacher. Some schools call it Advisory and you guys go to an Advisory a couple times a week or however they want to do it. But you get well-known by your homeroom teacher for your whole four years here and what we’re trying to figure out is how to get that to happen in Peabody High. It’s a requirement for accreditation to do this and we know that that team that visited a couple weeks ago is going to say you need to establish a program where kids get to be well-known by someone other than their guidance counselor, so that’s my other third goal: to come up with something called Tanner Time that would hopefully get each of you connected with a homeroom teacher or advisor or mentor for your whole high school experience.
Have there been any challenges so far this school year?
Well this is not my first rodeo. It’s my fourth time being school principal and most of the time it’s been fine. I get it, lots of the stuff that I’ve seen here I’ve seen in my other roles as a high school principal. I wouldn’t call it a challenge, but what’s really fun is getting to know everybody. I got to tell you some of the best kids and teachers I’ve ever worked with are at this school. I mean you guys are pretty special people and I’m really honored to be here. I don’t know if that’s a challenge, but just getting to know all of you.
Did you grow up in Peabody?
I didn’t; I grew up in Maine. My mom’s still up there. My father passed away a couple years ago and I guess that’s the best way to say it. My parents divorced when I was five years old, so I moved around different places, but most of the time we were up in Maine. I went to a high school in Maine, I lived in Maine all through college, so that’s where I grew up.
How did you end up in Peabody?
The assistant superintendent position opened up a couple years ago after Ms. Murtagh was hired as the superintendent and she needed an assistant. She’s got great experience with elementary, but she doesn’t know much about high school. The high school was in level three as you might know, like the state was knocking on the door like “We’re gonna help you out.” So anyways with those numbers I just showed you, we’re fine for a little while. Your class, your sophomore class in particular, is going to help move the needle and keep the state from taking this school over. I lived through this as a principal in Rhode Island, you can Google me. One of the things to do in this situation is to fire the principal and get a new principal into your building if the high school isn’t performing. Anyways, so we’re in pretty good shape and I think we’re moving in the right direction, so I’m really excited about that. So to answer your question, I was hired by Ms. Murtagh to kind of help with the high school last year and as the assistant superintendent I got to know all of the teachers. I wasn’t here everyday, but I was here like once or twice a week and had meetings with teachers and helped with the new Aspen schedule. Both of the principalships I had before had Aspen, so I’m very familiar with it.
Why did we switch from MMS to ASPEN?
Why did we? Oh, a bunch of reasons. The Aspen system can do electronic report cards for elementary schools. The portal is much easier to access for scheduling of all the elementary schools. You know how you guys get a schedule for a seven-period day? All of the elementary schools have a 70-period day in five minute increments so we could schedule the entire learning experience for all of the K-5 kids. The middle school has the same thing. They have a brand new schedule through Aspen as of last year. The grade book function for teachers is much easier to get done. There’s tons of reports in Aspen that we view all the time: attendance for students, progress reports, attendance for staff, licenses for teachers, the scheduling feature. There was just a lot of good reasons to do it and Ms. Murtagh actually made the decision before I started, so glad I could help
What is a typical day or week like?
Oh man it’s different everyday [laughs]. I usually come in in the morning, talk to students out front, sometimes do a Fired-Up Friday song if someone gave me an idea which is fun. If you guys have a song I would be happy to play it (Editor’s note: We requested “Take on Me” by A-ha, “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen). We still have about three or four more up there we haven’t played yet. I usually meet with the administrative team first thing in the morning where we talk about student issues and teacher issues. Then I go in and visit classrooms just to pop in to see how things are going. My primary role is to go into classrooms and make sure you guys are getting a good education, you know what I mean? And there’s a whole team of people, not just me, like the administrators do that, so I go in and see how things are going in the classrooms. I meet with parents sometimes, do school improvement plans sometimes, we have teachers looking at data. I don't know if you’ve heard of this before, but I’m very proud of this. These are the professional learning community time frames for teachers. Have they told you about this? What happens in most high schools is there’s seven periods a day. There's 140 teaches here so that means there are about 20 teachers that are having their planning period every block while everybody else is teaching kids. So what are we going to do with that planning block? All the teachers teach five classes and they have two open blocks. So what we did is we said if it’s got to be 20 teachers, why don’t we make everybody who’s a math teacher have first period off, everybody who’s a history teacher period five, everybody who’s science period six, everybody who teaches English period three, do you follow me? And we spread it out equally among all seven periods. I have scheduled 40 high schools and I'm never able to do this. What teachers can do now is all of your Geometry teachers can sit down in first period and have a conversation about how Geometry is going and talk about tests they’re going to be giving you. It’s called professional learning community time. This is very rare and it hasn't happened at any high school that I've worked for or worked as a consultant for. I’ve schedule dozens of high schools with Aspen and other software products. MMS was actually one of my high school’s product years ago. But this time for teachers to be able to talk about student work and to be able to have conversations about how to get their teaching even better is exciting and I’m very excited to have that.
If you could come back as a high school student, what things would you change from your high school career?
They didn’t have Naviance when I was your age. Naviance has an interest inventory that you guys take, so if I was a high school student I would take that as a freshman [laughs], so I would figure out what my interests were. I know that you have to take a lot of required classes in high school. Like half of your classes are required classes, but with the other half based on an inventory I would take things of my interest and try to get a broad education. My favorite class in high school was automotive mechanics and it was a lot of fun for me. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t get to that class until I was a senior and it was an elective. So I would get a better sense of what my interests were and then build my education program around it. The other thing is I really didn’t know that the transcript that I was building in high school starting at my freshman year sticks with me for 60 years after graduation. I mean my high school transcript was okay, but I would try to make it a little better [laughs]. Anyways, so that’s what I would do differently. I would get a clear picture of what my interests were.
How do you stay energetic all the time?
Honestly it’s being with you. I think it’s kind of a feedback thing. You guys seem really happy, so it makes me happy and things seem to be going well. The teachers seem to be happy and it just makes me feel good, so I hope that it’s mutually beneficial, you know what I mean? I’m happy to be useful.
Did you volunteer to be principal? If so, why?
Well Ms. Murtagh asked me if I wanted to do this job and I said yes. It’s going really well. I've explained to a lot of people every once in awhile, you know when you're driving to work in the morning every light is green and you don't have to stop? That’s what it feels like here. There are a lot of things in my career over the last fifteen years as a principal in three schools that I think have brought a skill set that this culture really needs. I mean you had an accreditation visit and I’m a commissioner so I can help with that. You started Aspen and I know Aspen. Call and I can help with that. There needs to be some culture type activities like Fired-Up Friday and just things that make school fun and make you want to go to school. That’s what I always did as a principal. I wanted kids to be there because they wanted to be there, not because they had to be there. Even though by law you have to be here, I would much rather you come because you want to be here. Even if it’s one class that you love I hope you want to get out of bed and get to that class and come for the rest of the day. Develop friendships and programs. With a big high school like this there's a lot of opportunity for you. There’s six CTE programs downstairs. Not many kids have that. Those kinds of things are really great opportunities for kids and I just like being a part of that. If those kinds of opportunities can be built on then great!
Is there anything about Peabody Veterans Memorial High School that you like the most?
I love the traditions and history here. Like you know about all the different areas of the building and how they’re dedicated to different people? Like the guy on the top [of the door], General Gideon Foster. He fought in the American Revolution with George Washington. THAT is cool. And that’s what I love about that. I’ve always had great respect for the military and the armed services. My uncle flew B-17’s over Germany in World War 2. My father was in the coast guard, so military life has been a part of my life, but not mine personally. So I have a lot of respect for the veterans part of this organization. It’s very cool