Home to more than 50,000 people with a rich industrial history and unique ties to the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, Peabody, Massachusetts, is located in the North Shore region of the state. Serving the surrounding area is Peabody Public Schools, with eight elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The district serves nearly 6,000 K–12 students.
Dr. Josh Vadala, the Superintendent of Peabody Public Schools, has been a Peabody resident for more than 10 years and has an extensive background in education. Dr. Vadala began as a classroom teacher and held prior positions as a principal, assistant superintendent, and more. He credits Mr. Collins, his eighth-grade math teacher, as the reason he went into education. In fact, each Teacher Appreciation Week, Dr. Vadala calls Mr. Collins to catch up and thank him for inspiring him.
The challenge: Supporting students and families in and out of school
In the spring of 2020, Dr. Vadala connected with Diane, the district’s Renaissance Account Executive. The district wanted to implement better universal screening and diagnostic data practices, knowing that students were in and out of the classroom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We knew that learning loss the following fall would be real and we wanted an accurate baseline measure,” said Dr. Vadala. “Even in March 2020, we knew some students would likely be remote the following fall, and we wanted additional tools that students could use outside of the classroom.”
Needing to know where students were at and where additional instruction was needed led the district to bring aboard myON and Freckle, along with Schoolzilla Starter to strengthen their current Star Assessments and Accelerated Reader implementations.
The results: Detailed insights on each student in the district to help guide instruction
With a strong relationship with Renaissance, Dr. Vadala and his colleagues were excited to make the most of their new suite of Renaissance products, scheduling training and one-on-one consultation sessions with Renaissance Coaches.
Dr. Vadala and his colleagues knew professional development would be important for successful onboarding. After the summer conversations with Diane, the district provided educators across the district with professional development on the new Renaissance products before the start of the school year, as well as ongoing professional development throughout the fall and spring. The team-like relationship between Peabody and Renaissance ensured everyone felt prepared.
An initial benchmark assessment
Educators at Peabody gave students an initial benchmark assessment using Star Assessments in the fall of 2020 when students returned to a hybrid learning environment. Collecting that initial data was important because it gave educators across the district a sense of where students were at and where additional support was needed.
“We presented the results to our leadership team and noted that this is where our students are at, and it was hard because that was the first test students took after COVID-19 closed our school doors in March 2020,” noted Dr. Vadala. “We didn’t know what to expect, but there was definite learning loss because of unstructured time and that initial confusion, not knowing how long students would be out of school.”
However, that insight led to important discussions with families at the district’s annual meet-the-teacher night. Families knew that the upcoming school year would be different, but having tangible data and a plan made it easier to digest. Dr. Vadala noted that families were understanding and willing to do whatever it took to help students succeed.
Growth and continued support—in and out of the classroom
In January 2021, when students took their second benchmark assessment, Dr. Vadala and his colleagues noted growth across the board, despite still being in a hybrid learning environment.
“That second benchmark assessment was an important piece for us,” said Dr. Vadala. “It reassured us that our instructional approach was working and our educators were making a difference.”
After comparing historical January data to the latest January benchmark assessments, educators at Peabody determined how to make the most of the rest of the school year and ramp things up to help get the most growth out of students.
“We have small group centers where students can use tools like Freckle, and independent centers so students can work on self-paced exercises targeted toward their specific needs,” explained Dr. Vadala.
“It’s one thing for us to have Star Assessments to help inform our instruction, but to have these other supplemental tools—like myON and Freckle—that get students excited about learning is a gamechanger,” he added.
“It’s one thing for us to have Star Assessments to help inform our instruction, but to have these other supplemental tools—like myON and Freckle—that get students excited about learning is a gamechanger.”
Dr. Josh Vadala
Superintendent, Peabody Public Schools
Summer plans and a sense of hope
That excitement lends itself to this upcoming summer as well. One of the first things the district did when schools began closing their doors in March 2020 was investing in a one-to-one Google Chromebook initiative, giving each student a device to help bridge the digital divide.
Giving students devices helped with access. With devices rolled out, Dr. Vadala and his colleagues hope that students will log in to Freckle or myON to practice math problems or read during the summer months. The team also hopes to increase in-person programs this summer so the students who need the most help can come into the buildings and receive a bit more direct instruction.
“Before we let students out for summer vacation, we’ll talk to them about how they can read on myON or take a quiz in Accelerated Reader,” said Dr. Vadala. “I personally think this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can do.”
“I personally think this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can do.”
Dr. Josh Vadala
Superintendent, Peabody Public Schools
And that optimism is leading to a sense of hope with educators, families, and students across the district.
“I think a lot of us felt helpless at first,” said Dr. Vadala, referring to the COVID-19 disruptions. “But to address some of those feelings creates a sense of hope and reassures students and families that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. That’s been our mantra this whole year, and we’ve embraced the idea of ‘hope’ moving forward.”