Superintendent's Blog
Dr. Marilyn Tencza

Recent Posts
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Today's Topic: Interdisciplinary Learning Interdisciplinary learning develops awareness and understanding of the connections and differences across subject areas and disciplines. Research shows that this type of instruction has many benefits:
  • Teacher collaboration
  • Student engagement
  • Higher level thinking
  • Content mastery
  • Real-world application
  • Non-fragmented learning

While many schools try to infuse interdisciplinary instruction into the curriculum, one barrier they face is the daily schedule. In most schools, the day is divided into periods during which students are exposed to one subject at a time. Each teacher has a specific responsibility to cover the material that is mandated by the state standards. Many teachers try to broaden the scope of their lessons and may even do some co-teaching. For example, if the subject is Ancient Egypt, the teacher may include a bit of history, literature, and the arts. This approach provides some relief for the problem of fragmented learning, but doesn’t really give students the chance to explore a subject in depth.

What is Leicester Doing?

To get around this barrier, Leicester Middle School has become very creative. This year, Friends of Leicester Middle School applied for a grant from the Osterman Family Foundation to finance The Innovation Hub at LMS. The Innovation Hub is an after-school enrichment program consisting of four activities: the Movie Club, the MakerSpace, the Audio/Visual Club, and the Robotics Club. The overall goal of the Innovation Hub is to provide opportunities for youth to learn and grow in creative areas that will prepare them for their future endeavors. By taking part in one or more of these activities, students are able to explore what interests them in much greater depth than they have time for in the classroom. And, they get to experience authentic learning at its best.

This year, one of the best examples of Interdisciplinary learning was an original film created and produced by the LMS Movie Club. The film, entitled Leicester Academy of Magic: The Book of Times to Come, is based on the popular Harry Potter series. It took hundreds of hours by many staff members and students to complete this project. Approximately 50% of the school community participated in it under the supervision of Ms. Minton and Mr. DePace. High school junior, Devyn Butkiewicus, spent countless hours filming, editing, and creating special effects. Ms. Dusty’s Art Club created artwork and set design for the film. Ms. Looney’s Band and Chorus recorded the soundtrack for the film. And through the community’s generosity, the crew was able to film at notable locations including Leicester Congregational Church, the Castle Restaurant, the historic Swan Tavern, the Leicester Town Common, and St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer.

The film project was a great success due to the commitment of everyone, especially Mr. DePace and Ms. Minton. They dream big and make their dreams become reality. Other key success factors are: Students and staff members WANTED to participate, even on their own time. The activities were extremely engaging and fun. Students were able to forge strong relationships with their teachers and other students, which might not have occurred without this project. The administration and staff were very supportive, providing flexibility during and after the school day to help make activities run smoothly. The community pitched in to volunteer when needed.

They say it takes a village, and the LMS community came together to provide a unique interdisciplinary learning opportunity for its students. They took on a complicated project that showcased students’ abilities and interests in the areas of art, drama, music, and technology. Anyone in attendance at the movie premiere will tell you that it was fabulous. Kudos for everyone who made it happen!

References Hayes Jacobs, H. (2019). The Growing Need for Interdisciplinary Curriculum Content. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

MacDonald, H. (2004). Why Teach with an Interdisciplinary Approach?. [online] Interdisciplinary Approaches to Teaching. Available at: [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

Posted by colbyl  On Jun 14, 2019 at 7:54 PM

New Exchange Teacher The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department has selected Leicester Middle School to host a fully-funded teacher of Modern Standard Arabic as part of the 2019-2020 Teachers of Critical Languages Program (TCLP). The exchange teacher will be coming to the U.S from Egypt. This program is one of several State Department initiatives that support U.S. students, teachers, and professors in learning critical world languages through instruction in the U.S. and abroad.

To learn more about this exciting opportunity, please click HERE.

Posted by colbyl  On Apr 09, 2019 at 4:06 PM
Please click on the following link to see last week's School Department Recap.

March 1, 2019, School Department Recap
Posted by colbyl  On Mar 05, 2019 at 9:27 AM
There is movement state-wide to update the method for allocating funds to school districts. If you want to find out more about it, please join state legislators, school committee members, and school superintendents for a Community Forum on State Funding to Public Schools. Click on the following link to see the details.

Community Forum Flyer
Posted by colbyl  On Feb 13, 2019 at 10:56 PM

The School Department is facing a significant budget shortfall for next year:

Requested School Budget      $17,440,595

Town Proposed Budget           $16,881,790 ($9,755,847 - State; $7,125,943 - Town)

Deficit                                     $ 558,805

After conducting a comprehensive analysis, school administrators came up with two options for reducing expenses: close Memorial School or keep it open. This evening the School Committee unanimously voted to close Memorial School beginning with the 2019-2020 school year.

This decision was not made lightly. The group considered many factors such as maintaining educationally sound practices, the impact of potential actions on the Middle School building project, grade restructuring, the capacity of existing buildings, and much more.

This action means that the Pre-K will move to the High School, grades three and four will move to the Primary School, and grade five will move to the Middle School. This could mean that staff may be reduced by up to 13.6 FTEs, and 24 stipends could be eliminated.  

By adopting this plan, our schools:

  • Maintain educationally sound practices
  • Enrich programming at each school, including adding STEM education for elementary students
  • Minimize transitions for students
  • Provide handicapped accessibility for all students
  • House all students on one campus
  • Provide more efficient transportation
  • Utilize staff in a more efficient and effective way
  • Keep all current programs in place

There will be one-time construction costs, and the Memorial School will be vacant in the short term. However, there may be opportunities to lease the facility to other educational organizations or businesses. Under both options, there will be a reduction in staff, but the impact will not be as great under this plan.

Over the next few months, the School Department will be working diligently to bring this plan to fruition with as little disruption as possible.

Posted by colbyl  On Feb 12, 2019 at 7:34 PM

During part 2 of the Visioning workshop on January 29,  the Educational Working Group created a list of “Future-Ready” learning goals consisting of the following items:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving - Prioritize, plan, and manage for results, access and analyze data, conduct quantitative and qualitative reasoning, and master core academic content
  • Caring, Empathy, and Humility - Exhibit service, compassion, integrity, ethics, citizenship, develop digital, social, and civic competencies and cultural awareness, and engage in multi-generational community activities
  • Adaptability, Initiative, and Risk-Taking - Inspire curiosity, imagination, confidence, inventive thinking, wonderful ideas, and joy of learning
  • Growth Mindset - Learn how to learn, take ownership of learning through self-direction, ask good questions, realize that failure is a learning tool and use it to improve
  • Effective Communication - Strengthen literacy skills to enable effective written and oral communication, especially with digital media
  • Effective Use of Real-World Tools - Increase productivity and expeditionary learning (learning by doing), enhance career and college preparation, and learn to know, do, be, and live together in an increasingly digital world
  • Leadership and Teamwork - Exhibit leadership and collaboration, take part in a positive competition, and develop strong interpersonal skills.

Click on the link to see the slides that were used for the first workshop.

Visioning Workshop One - Slide Presentation

Posted by colbyl  On Feb 12, 2019 at 8:21 AM
Every week I meet with my staff and others, as needed, to discuss what is going on in the schools, communicate important items, solicit feedback, and plan for the future. Starting today, I will be publishing a recap on a weekly basis. Click on the following link to see the recap from February 8, 2019:

School Department Weekly Recap - February 8, 2019
Posted by colbyl  On Feb 11, 2019 at 3:15 PM

At the first Visioning workshop on January 29,  the Educational Working Group created a list of priorities and considerations for the design of the renovated or new school.

Summary of Priorities and Considerations

  • Innovation and Engagement - Space that encourages student engagement, fits the school’s climate and curriculum, and more project-based learning spaces
  • Shared Culture - Warm and welcoming, efficient facility, and vertical alignment of professional learning communities
  • Community Access - Community use of the building, accessible restrooms when the building is closed.
  • Agile Classrooms/Flexible and Collaborative Spaces - Efficient classroom adjacencies to minimize travel time for students, flexible breakout spaces, well equipped with technology and storage
  • Outdoor Spaces and Connections - Age appropriate and accessible playgrounds, access to outdoor classroom spaces, and more fields
  • Sustainability/Ease of Maintenance - Environmentally-friendly facility, efficient building that is easy to maintain, and reasonable cost without sacrificing quality
  • Safety, Security, and Ease of Access - Building check-in that is safe and welcoming
  • Parking, Drop-off, and Pick-up - Big enough parking lot with separate area for drop-off
  • Unified Arts/Performance and Display Spaces - Large enough auditorium to support the district’s commitment to the arts, along with plenty of space to show off student work
  • Sufficient Resources - Adequate resources: books, materials, and technology

Click on the link to see the slides that were used for the first workshop.

Visioning Workshop One - Slide Presentation


Posted by colbyl  On Feb 07, 2019 at 5:22 PM

Educational Working Group

The architects for the Middle School Building Project, Finegold Alexander, the School Building Committee, and Dr. Marilyn Tencza, Superintendent of Schools, are bringing together a group of people to develop an educational vision for the proposed renovated or new Middle School in Leicester. The educational vision will be developed in a series of three “visioning” workshops.

Workshop 1 - January 29

The goals of the first workshop are to: 

  • Share priority goals for Leicester Public School’s master planning process and the design of the renovated and/or new Leicester Middle School.
  • Discuss 21st-century teaching and learning strategies and identify learning goals as connected to current and future best-practices within LPS’s K-12 schools.
  • Assess Leicester Public School’s strengths, challenges, opportunities, and goals (SCOG) with regard to the development of its academic programs and school facilities.
  • Share visions for the future evolution and growth of the LPS K-8 schools.
Workshop 2 - February 5 The goals of the second workshop are to:

  • Review and expand upon the learning goals and SCOG analysis for Leicester Public Schools.
  • Explore and prioritize a range of architectural design patterns that will best support 21st-century teaching and learning within LPS’s K-12 schools.
  • Understand the role that guiding principles play in setting facility design priorities and intent.
  • Create a set of guiding principles and priorities for the design of Leicester Middle School’s renovated or new facility.
  • Share blue sky Ideas for the design of Leicester Middle School’s renovated or new facility.

Workshop 3 - February 26

The goals of the third workshop are to:

  • Review a compilation of notes from workshop two, including priority design patterns, guiding principles and blue-sky ideas for the renovated or new Leicester Middle School facility.
  • Generate a listing of key spaces and adjacencies for the renovated or new facility.
  • Engage in a bubble diagramming activity to identify important spaces and adjacencies within the renovated or new facility.
  • Identify key points to share with the community about LPS’s design priorities for the renovated or new facility.

The education of our children is the school district's top priority, and any facility should reflect that. This committee will develop an educational vision that will put teaching and learning at the forefront prior to the beginning of renovations or new construction. The next steps will be for Finegold Alexander to conduct meetings with parents, students, and community members to get their feedback on what they are hoping to see in the new school. All voices need to be heard in this process.

Posted by colbyl  On Feb 07, 2019 at 3:17 PM

Today’s Topic: Relevance: Making Real-World Connections

(Excerpts from an article by Saga Briggs, Managing Editor of informED, an Open Colleges resource for educators)

When you were in school, did you ever ask yourself the question, “When will I ever use this in the real world?” It’s a great question - one that schools need to take very seriously.

When students don’t see the reason for doing an assignment, or they are not interested in a particular subject, it is easy for them to withdraw or not even try in the first place. In either case, the chances of them remembering what they have learned or being able to use that knowledge in the future declines. Conversely, when teachers design learning opportunities that are interesting and help students “see the point” of what they are learning, students tend to be more engaged and are more likely to understand and remember the material. In other words, when the material is relevant to students, research shows that learning outcomes improve. “Relevant learning means effective learning” (Briggs).

In the Briggs article cited below, a teacher and educational psychologist, Robin Roberson, says, “I am convinced that relevance is one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning. Based on my experiences, I define relevance as the perception that something is interesting and worth knowing. When a teacher provides relevance for a student, the teacher helps the student perceive these two things.” Further, the article states that (based on cognitive science) the search for relevance is a basic feature of the human condition; it can be used well when communicated properly. Simply put, when teachers design and provide relevant learning activities, they tap into their students’ need to make sense of the world.

Some teachers attempt to add relevance to their lessons by focusing solely on creating interest. They do this by adding things like flashy digital presentations or games. These may attract the attention of students in the short term, but, if the content that follows is not substantive or well explained, then their attention will likely wane. The students will remember the flashiness or who won or lost the game, but they will not remember the content or be able to use it in the future. Don’t get me wrong, creating interest is important, but it must be accompanied by the perception that the material is worth knowing.

One way to achieve relevance is to give students real-world connections to the material - a reason to work hard other than merely completing the assignment or getting a grade. “Real-world connections draw from, or upon, actual objects, events, experiences and situations to effectively address a concept, problem or issue. It is learning that allows students to actually experience or practice concepts and skills, as opposed to learning that is theoretical or idealistic” (Real-World).

Some ways to make real-world connections in the classroom are:

  • Routinely provide students with living and inanimate objects to manipulate and experience such as 3-D models in chemistry, blocks in mathematics, and artifacts in social studies.

  • Have students make something useful in class such as yogurt in biology class.

  • Use the news. Focus learning on current issues and problems familiar to the students. Support student action to find solutions to a local problem such as conserving energy at home.

  • Provide frequent opportunities in all subject areas for students to collect, manipulate and use real data such as when conducting experiments.

  • Find opportunities for students to communicate, perform, and display what they have learned to audiences beyond the classroom through concerts, plays, art exhibits, debates, presentations, and publications.

  • Look to the broader community for partnership and mentoring opportunities that will allow students to practice, enhance, and apply classroom learning in a real-world setting, such as speaking a new language to native speakers (Real-World).

  • Bring in guest speakers, content experts, local historians, actors, musicians, and others who can share and discuss their real-world experiences (Haynes).

Making real-world connections in the classroom fulfills our students’ need for relevance, helping them discover that what they are learning is actually interesting and worth knowing.

What is Leicester Doing to Make Learning Relevant to Our Students?

In Leicester, I am happy to report that teachers and students are making real-world connections every day, both inside and outside of the classroom. Here are some great examples:

Leicester High School

Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • In English language arts, students compete in the annual Lions’ Club speech contest and some go on to speak at the state level. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sponsored an initiative called Leading the Nation in which LHS students created a video that was shared at the state and local level. Click HERE to see the video.

  • Foreign language students cook and share French, Arabic, and Spanish recipes.

  • Math students participate in dual enrollment courses at Quinsigamond Community College, allowing them to experience a college course during school hours and use the credit, if acquired, for state colleges. This year the Math Department invited someone from the banking industry to discuss how math is applied in their field.

  • Science students traveled to UMass Medical School to explore different careers, and one of their guest speakers this year was a scientist who is studying tuberculosis in order to earn Ph.D./M.D. degrees. Science students care for the environment by using the three Rs at home and in school - reduce, reuse, recycle.

  • Seniors in social studies classes organize the annual voter registration drive and conduct mock elections during presidential campaigns to learn how the town voting system works. The department brings in guest speakers on Veterans’ Day and has conducted study sessions at the JFK Library. On March 14, students exercised their First Amendment rights and demonstrated responsible citizenship through a peaceful walk-out in honor of 17 lives lost in Parkland, FL.

  • Students in special education work with custodians during the school day.

Hands-on Learning Outside the Classroom

  • ELA students film and act as commentators for the varsity basketball games, which are broadcast on LCAC.

  • Social studies students provide assistance and logistical support to the town’s annual Memorial Day Observances, participate in field trips to historical sites, and attend the annual Student Government Day at the Massachusetts State House.

  • Foreign language students travel to other countries such as Spain and Canada. Next year they would like to plan a trip to London, Paris, and Rome.

  • The guidance department provides students with the opportunity to attend college and career fairs and participate in School-To-Career Opportunities such as:

  • Internships - job placements within the district.

  • Externships - job placements outside of the district. For example, we have students working at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, Pools and Cues, and New England Aquatic Landscaping.

Service Learning

The National Honor Society hosts/sponsors/participates in many activities and events such as:

  • “Senior Prom” for senior citizens

  • Red Cross Blood Drive

  • SoleHope - Students collect jeans and send them to SoleHope, an organization that makes shoes for people in Uganda who suffer from foot disease.

  • Toys for Tots at Boston Children's Hospital Cancer Center

  • Food drives which benefit the Leicester Food Pantry

Leicester Middle School

Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • In Project Lead the Way, students are designing toys for children with Cerebral Palsy. Two groups of students will go to Boston Children's Hospital to present and showcase their creations to the children and the doctors.

  • The LMS librarian is constructing a Makerspace, a place for students to come and freely create, innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve.

  • A group of teachers has come together to work on a huge interdisciplinary project, a film called Star Wars: Academy of the Force. A total of 50 students, including two high schoolers, are working on creating this film. The premiere of this film is on Star Wars Day, May the 4th.

  • The District Attorney’s office partnered with the Leicester Police Department to bring an anti-drug program to LMS.

  • Twice this year, eighth-grade French students visited the Leicester Senior Center to converse with native French speakers.

  • Middle School students regularly participate in Country Bank’s School Banking Program. This program teaches students how to manage and save money.

Hands-On Learning Outside the Classroom

  • Students in the Yearbook and Newspaper Clubs create wonderful products for their families, classmates, and the wider Leicester community.

  • The LMS Library Advisory Group allows students to provide input into the resources and programs offered in the library.

  • At the annual Evening with the Arts, students perform musical numbers and display their works of art for the public to see and appreciate.

  • Five students auditioned for the Massachusetts Central District Band and Chorus.

Service Learning

  • Some of our students were interviewed by Erika Tarantal from WCVB Channel 5 for their efforts with Crayons to Calculators. These students collected school supplies for teachers and students in need. Click HERE to see the news segment on Five for Good.

  • One student was chosen to be this year’s Project 351 Ambassador. This designation kicks off a year of service. Currently, the ambassador is working with the National Junior Honor Society to conduct a clothing drive for families in need.

  • The Peer Leadership Group volunteered at the Leicester Senior Center for the Veterans’ Day Breakfast and Senator Moore’s Thanksgiving turkey dinner. They also serve at the annual Harvest Fair and the Apple Festival.

  • The National Junior Honor Society regularly supports the Leicester Food Pantry, which serves over 200 families in Leicester. They also run an annual Halloween candy drive for active military personnel through Operation Gratitude.

  • CommuniTeen goes out into the community every month to help family, friends, and neighbors. They participated in a Walk for Cancer, visited The Meadows Nursing Home, served at New England All Breed Rescue, and sponsored a Read Across America Night for Primary schoolers.

Memorial School

Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • Students are pen pals with senior citizens in town.

  • Fifth-grade students write blogs online.

  • A published author (Jane Sutton) visited each grade level and provided a workshop on revision for our students.

  • Students voted for school-wide earnings using ballots.

  • On Unified Arts Nights, students display their work for parents and the community.

Hands-On Learning After School

  • Our project fair highlights student work.

  • Our field trips to the Freedom Trail and Plymouth provide connections to our past.

Go Deeper

Click on the following links to read the full articles cited in this blog.

Briggs, Saga. “How To Make Learning Relevant To Your Students (And Why It's Crucial To Their Success).” InformED, Open Colleges, 4 Oct. 2014,

Haynes, Kim. “Top 12 Ways to Bring the Real World into Your Classroom.” TeachHUB, 2018,

“Real-World Connections.” Resources for Rethinking, Learning for a Sustainable Future, 2018,

Simkins, Michael (et. al). “Increasing Student Learning Through Multimedia Projects.” ASCD, 2002,


Posted by colbyl  On Apr 04, 2018 at 9:42 AM 98 Comments
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