Looking Forward in Palmer
Palmer Massachusetts is a small community of approximately 13,000 residents set in the beautiful forests and streams of Western Massachusetts. Typical of many small New England towns, Palmer was built around robust saw and grist mill and textile manufacturing industries that developed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Today, many residents travel to nearby Springfield for work and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the seven colleges located in a seventeen-mile radius to Palmer.
Palmer Public Schools has a student population of about 1400 students almost equally divided between Old Mill Pond Elementary School and Palmer High School located on the same sprawling campus on west Main Street. Like many small Massachusetts communities, student enrollment in Palmer has changed from 93% white in 2012 to 79% white in 2017. Much of the increase in diversity is from a small but significant Hispanic population, which now accounts for more than 11% of students in Palmer. Palmer Public Schools were not rated by the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education in 2017 as they participated in the Next Generation MCAS tests, but had retained their level 3 rating from 2016, which identifies the district as in the lowest 20% of districts statewide.
Palmer has begun to partner with Focused Schools this year in an effort to stop a slow decline in test scores as well as devise new strategies to best teach their increasingly diverse student population. The creation of a strong Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) at each school is a cause for celebration as each evolved from an assignment from administration to strong, committed teachers who volunteered to represent their colleagues on instructional matters. Old Mill Pond Elementary School was able to maintain a high level of collaborative work through a change in principal leadership and eased a difficult transition with their professionalism and dedication to the students. Palmer High School’s ILT created a presentation to get students involved in the work and fired up for a focused start to the next school year.
With limited professional development time, Palmer Public Schools has made good use of the time and in addition to identifying strong ILTs at both the elementary and secondary levels, they have created foci for each school and are in the process of identifying SMARTe goals and research based best practices. Palmer Schools have faced some challenges this school year but are intent on finishing strong with a solid plan to move forward with a laser like focus next year.