The best cities to live and learn 2011
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Top cities to live and learn 2011
Best cities 2011: clusters of excellence — find the regions with the most pro-education towns
Best cities 2011: top 10 education towns nationwide
Best cities 2011: homes under $100K
Best cities 2011: homes $100K-$199K
Best cities 2011: homes $200K-$399K
Best cities 2011: homes $400K-$599K
Best cities 2011: homes $600K-$799K
Best cities 2011: homes over $800K
Best cities 2011: Midwest
Best cities 2011: Northeast
Best cities 2011: South
Best cities 2011: West
The missing ingredient: What don't these towns have?
Find out how we picked the winning cities 2011
By Carol Lloyd
Teacher mind meld
There probably isn’t a superintendent in America who won’t extoll the virtues of great teacher development and collaboration. But the district serving Barrington, RI (like many on our top 10 list) has systemically implemented these ideals through what's known as "professional learning communities," or PLCs. Typical professional development often consists of lectures or seminars by random experts. PLCs are teacher-centered, problem-solving support groups in which teachers help each other solve real problems with their students. PLCs, which are gaining support from both teachers and administrators, are predicated on the following assumptions: 1) For teachers to feel like professionals, they need a professional community; 2) The best way to improve teaching craft is to help teachers solve real-life problems (How can I get Jessica to stop blowing spit wads?) vs. abstract pedagogical debates (whole language literacy vs. phonics?).
Patrick Guida, School Committee Chair and parent of two Barrington school graduates, says that adopting the PLC model strengthened an already collaborative culture between Barrington teachers. "We already were following many of these strategies, but since [implementing PLCs], it has assisted us in continuing to support our teachers and making sure every teacher continues to improve."
Barrington PLCs make time for collaboration so teachers work together planning curriculum, problem solving, and supporting one another. "But perhaps most important," says Guida, "is that it encourages high expectations for the teachers, students, and administration." These high expectations have had tangible — and positive — results for Barrington's high-school kids. Now all the students, not just the high-achievers, are encouraged to consider Advanced Placement courses, for example.
Setting the bar high, one child at a time
Faced with a move to the greater Boston area in 1998 as their first child was entering kindergarten, physician William Kassler and his wife "pored over the numbers."
"We looked at multiple metrics — class size, student-teacher ratio, test scores — and we chose Bedford exclusively for the schools," says Kassler. Although the hamlet near the city of Manchester is relatively affluent compared to some towns nearby, its housing prices (median home price $293,730) are far lower than those in Boston, where Kassler sometimes commutes.
Twelve years and three children later, Kassler says their choice has been validated "over and over and over." No matter what their issue, Kassler says he found the school system "flexible and responsive." Teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors consistently tailored individual responses to their concerns — whether for an accelerated curriculum or troubleshooting a learning challenge. "We never had to fight or argue for special services."
When asked if Bedford is yet another pressure cooker for Generation Race to Nowhere, Kassler acknowledges there’s a debate about Bedford’s sky-high expectations. The new high school’s International Baccalaureate program offers what Kassler characterizes as "the best of both worlds": Any student can take advantage of the rigorous program by enrolling in individual classes, while the most driven kids can choose the far more intensive full-time, two-year diploma.