Holliston PTO has a packed agenda for the 2017-18 school year. Members and the community can look forward to a plethora of seminars and workshops with key industry gurus offering insights to overcoming the challenges we face as parents. 

Holliston PTO strives to provide quality programming to educate parents on the issues facing students, parents, educators and the school environment. It does this by bringing industry experts and ground-breaking documentaries and discussion formats to its members and the community, enabling progress, success and a growth mindset. 

We do our best to ensure that the programming is reflective of the needs of the community at any given time. Feedback is welcome and encouraged. Please contact us (details in the box panel to the right) with any comments or suggestions and we will be glad to include your ideas wherever possible and appealing to the greater audience. 

Parent Education events occur throughout the school year and are predominantly free of charge. All events are publicized through the PTO town newsletter available to members, the Holliston PTO Facebook page, Holliston Happy Facebook page and the Holliston Reporter Facebook pages. We also endeavor to run articles in the local press wherever appropriate. 

We look forward to seeing you at the next Parent Education event. Details to the right. 

Summary of previous Parent Education Events (most recent first)

10.3.17 Focus Group Meeting Notes

Thank you to everyone who attended the second meeting of the Parent Focus Group on creativity and innovation in the classroom. This document will serve as a summary of the main points discussed. Please feel free to contact Anne Buckley or Lynne Rahim at parentedevents@gmail.com for clarification on any points, or for a more in-depth overview.

1.       MLTS Book discussion was led by Nat Vaughn who is a group member, Holliston father of three and Principal at Medfield’s Blake Middle School. 12 Focus group members (including Nat) attended the meeting/discussion.

Discussion points/Q&A:

Q:  What brings you to this group?

A:  Answers varied and included wanting to see grit, perseverance, tenacity championed; wanting to help students find their passions and purpose; to engage unmotivated learners; to protect/encourage children’s curiosity and creativity; belief in alternative education; care about Holliston and our students. Concerns: Idea is exciting, but could go poorly without proper teacher training. 

Q: What mentors had the biggest influence on your life trajectory and why?

A:  Answers were college professors, teachers, coaches, career mentors, parents, or none at all.  The qualities these mentors had were qualities such as humor, creating opportunities for exposure, respecting students, never shaming, celebrating differences, teaching students to take action and explore potential, giving feedback, never saying ‘can’t’ but instead asking ‘how can we?’, pushing thinking and not giving answers, taking the time to care on a personal level and build relationships with students. 

Q:  What is the end game?

A:  That Holliston moves toward a new way of teaching and that the 4 C’s are priority (communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking).

Q: What is scary? What is great?

A:  The group discussed at length, topics such as parent fears about test scores and rankings affecting college admission, parent desires for social emotional health and academic excellence, children engaged in meaningless studies and activities for college acceptance.  Are other schools around us engaged in similar work? We discussed some of the difficulties that may be encountered with budget, teacher workload and training, parent and teacher resistance, assessing creativity and competence, how changing one thing affects many things, understanding why things cannot always happen as we would want them, importance of focusing on what reimagining schools would look like for Holliston – not one size fits all – need to develop a program exclusively for the benefit of HPS.

The discussion wrapped up with thoughts about next steps. We developed goals and an action plan:

Ø  Invite administration/teachers to our meetings perhaps on a rotational basis and decide on a few talking points in advance.

Ø  Identify stakeholders (i.e. administration, school committee, SEPAC and others), broaden our focus and make this more of a collaborative effort.

Ø  Consider sending focus group ambassadors to faculty meetings to inform about focus group.

Ø  Broaden our reach to parents/community through social media outlets.

Ø  Empowering teachers/administration with positive messages about what is working.

Ø  Personal action steps for focus group members.

Ø  Commit to bi-monthly meetings. 

Ø  Volunteers offered to host small MLTS community screenings (in home, library, etc.)

The remainder of the agenda went as follows:

2.        Anne briefly shared advances from administration/faculty.  Dr. Jackson will be blogging about examples of creativity and innovation occurring in our classrooms this year.  The blog will be posted on the HPS Facebook site.  You can also find examples on Twitter at #hollistoninnovates.

3.        The discussion continues about this groups focus and mission.  We decided tentatively on the mission statement of “Re-Imagining Holliston Schools”.

4.       Need to increase our membership.  (After the meeting, Nat suggested exploring ways to broaden our reach to parents/community).

5.       We would like to share tasks with interested members, i.e.  we are looking for someone to help with marketing and PR through social media to broaden our reach. Anyone with interest, please contact us at parentedevents@gmail.com.  Happy to have people collaborate and work in teams!

6.       Reminder: Linda Darling-Hammond speaking event at Wellesley College on October 19th.

7.       Next meeting will be on Monday, December 4th, 7pm, location TBD.  We encourage you to read Sir Ken Robinson’s book, Creative Schools.  We will spend some time discussing.  Again, it is never a requirement to complete or even read the suggested book.  Please plan to attend, there is much work to be done.


 Recommendations for further study:

                Names of educational thought leaders past and present, brought up during discussion:  John Dewey, John Holt, Ted Sizer, Justin Reich

                Bill had recommended a WGBH three-part documentary called School, Inc. It is free to WGBH members with their passport access.

                Nat recommended following AJ Juliani.

                Education Week has published a special report on ‘Schools and the Future of Work’. Search online and contact Anne Buckley at parentedevents@gmail.com for more details.

HCAT TV’s Mary Greendale is working with Dr Jackson for a piece on Most Likely to Succeed

Most Likely to Succeed Screening - 9/5/17

Most Likely to Succeed Screening and Panel Discussion: A summary

Date: Tuesday, September 5th, 2017: Robert Adams Middle School Auditorium

Running order:

 ·       TedTalk: Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity (running time 20 minutes 3 seconds)


·       Welcome: Anne Buckley, PTO Parent Education Chairperson

·       Introduction: Dr Brad Jackson, Superintendent, HPS

·       TedTalk: Ted Dintersmith: Prepare our kids for life, not standardized tests (running time 11 minutes 37 seconds)


·       Questions: Anne Buckley

·       Movie: Most Likely to Succeed

The session was intended as an introduction to new parents and an opportunity to reach existing parents that were unable to attend the initial screening of MLTS in April 2017. If you missed the movie or would like to refresh your memory of the key discussion points, you can view the trailer at www.mltsfilm.org.  There will be future screenings of MLTS in the coming months.


PTO is facilitating a Focus Group to look at the parent obstacles to more innovative learning. Please contact Anne Buckley at parentedevents@gmail.com if you would like to find out more, or to join the group.

Dr Jackson presented. Key points to note:

 It’s time for me to remove our handcuffs and challenge us to boldly embrace innovative instructional practices that help students explore their world, discover their passions and develop the critical skills they’ll need to be life-long, contributing members of our society until their retirement in the year 2085!

·       Summer reading; Most Likely to Succeed, Tony Wagner; The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros

·       Critical thinking, engage students with their passions and a growing sense of purpose, teach critical skills for career citizenship, inspire them to do their very best to make the world better

·       Critical skills; critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective communication, access and analysing information, curiosity and imagination

·       4cs – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity

·       Help students prepare themselves for anything

·       Holliston’s history of innovation

·       Dynamic, talented staff well positioned to do this work

·       Model the skills we want to develop in our students, including creativity, collaboration, complex problem solving and risk taking, to be successful

·       We need the support of our parent community

Questions to consider:

 •            What do we want our future high school graduates to know and be able to do?

•            What are the most important characteristics of the high school of the future?

•            What are the main deterrents for parents, administrators, students?

•            What can we do now to encourage innovation and change throughout our school?

Most Likely to Succeed - Follow up discussion 5/16/17

Tuesday, 16th May at Robert Adams Middle School Auditorium

We welcomed many of our PTO and community members back to continue the conversation about expanding student-led learning at Holliston Public Schools. A lively debate ensued and a full summary is below. If you would like to register your interest or become more involved, please let us know by posting on the Holliston PTO Facebook Page and tagging Anne Buckley. We look forward to growing the awareness in the new school year. 


 On 5/16, Holliston PTO ran a follow-up session to the screening of the movie, ‘Most Likely to Succeed’, which was shown on 4/25. This session included a panel of five and a lively discussion about bringing creativity and innovation to our schools. The panelists are listed below along with a summary of the debate. We look forward to bringing you more news and actions on this important subject. If you have any questions in the meantime, or would like to be added to the distribution list for next steps, please register your interest via the Holliston PTO Facebook page and tag Anne Buckley.


  • Dr. Brad Jackson, HPS Superintendent
  • Mrs. Karla Garvin
  • HPS Montessori Director
  • Ms. Dominique Ross, HHS Guidance Department Leader
  • David Jordan, Robert Adams Middle School Vice Principal
  • Mrs. Jaime Slaney, Sam Placentino Elementary Principal

 Ø  Introduction from Holliston PTO.

Ø  Brief summary movie to bring everyone up-to-date on Most Likely to Succeed

Ø  Dr Brad Jackson opened with a brief presentation. The key focus was on equipping our students with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

·       Creativity

·       Collaboration

·       Communication and

·       Critical thinking

Ø  Dr Jackson referenced Tony Wagner’s point about allowing errors and mistakes to enable growth, and learning to *not* expect perfection straight away.

Ø  Accountability was cited at the reason for assessment, but explored that we’re not using assessments to improve teaching.

Ø  We need to teach content and skills.

Ø  Dr Jackson gave some examples of non-traditional teaching at work, including:

·       Experiential learning

·       Community based learning

·       Game based learning (eg Mr Greg White in history)

·       Flipped learning

·       Project based learning (PBL)

Ø  He also explained the difference between projects and PBL

Ø  Examples of these methodologies were provided for each Holliston school

 Each panelist was asked a question that was outstanding from the event of 4/25 and given the opportunity to respond:

 Ø  Mr David Jordan:

 Q: What data is being used to evaluate our children’s confidence as self-directed learners and how are we gauging whether or not they feel safe to take those risks as independent learners?

To what extent do our students find school motivating, ie what projects have the kids felt most engaged in, what do they perceive as a waste of time?                                                                                  


A: We do not have enough self-directed opportunities now, but we want to do more. We need to gauge the level of engagement with the students and expand on what we already have. For example, Mr Kotter in 6th Grade Social Studies examines the supply chain with creative learning methods. He allows students to pin each element in the production line on a map and then explore the cultural significance of each one.  We also need to survey the students and get them engaged, and move towards more enquiries over discussion.                                                                                                                                                                                          

Ø  Ms Dominique Ross:

 Q: You mentioned that you are a proponent of vocational/technical education in every school. Why? How could this be incorporated in Holliston?

A: Vocational and technical education fuels natural curiosity. If we don’t provide those opportunities we risk an atrophy of curiosity. This appeals to all learning styles; kinaesthetic, audio – not just visual. For example, chemistry is applied to mixing hair dyes. Students work together and learn from each other. They learn to value all students.

We also have a belief that college is for everyone. This isn’t true and college isn’t the only path. College has led to less success than we’d expect as students go down a path designed *for* them rather than by them.

We need to foster problem solving, initiative and encourage students to develop social/emotional skills that will allow them to be ‘workplace ready’.

Ø  Mrs Jaime Slaney:

 Q. Is a school program on special skills, teamworking and dealing with anger and stress sufficient? Should schools teach to be self-sufficient, encouraging questions instead of discipline and silence in class?

 A: We’ve developed a common language for K-5 students through our Circle Time initiative. This focuses on emotion, empathy and problem solving and encourages our students to be self-sufficient. It’s impossible for our children to be self-sufficient if they aren’t able to manage their emotions.

We also teach a Growth Mindset. For example, we can’t do something yet but we will, with practice. The neuroplasticity of our brains is not fixed and we need to get better at accepting that mistakes grow our brains and brain function. This strategy is being implemented to increase learning.

Ø  Mrs Garvin:

 Q: Are there any plans to expand the program?  How can we continue a Montessori type program into the upper grades and/or make PBL accessible to all students?

 A: We’re already expanding our Montessori program from Grades 2 to 3 and have classes in each grade level. Dr Jackson supported this as we had enough parents that were interested and so we responded to that demand by providing additional classrooms. I’d love to see the program extend further, to High School but that isn’t an easy change. Significant factors are finance, research and studies into other schools that have already implemented such a shift.

It is totally viable to introduce Project Based Learning in to other settings and it is going on. There is a need to spotlight it and make sure that it is intrinsically driven – we want to keep learning.

Ms Garvin referenced a genius hour where 20 per cent of time is given over to a ‘Passion Project’. This is something to be explored further.

Ø  Dr Brad Jackson:

Q: You made the comment that people would be upset if test scores dropped.  Why would you think that test scores would drop?  If students are engaged in meaningful content they are more likely to remember it. 

How do we get the message out?

A: Outsiders place more value on test scores than the community does. There is a fear that test scores may fall and a certain kind of comfort comes from text books for both parents and students. This was evidenced in the movie Most Likely to Succeed.

So far we’ve concentrated within the four walls of the school.

Ø  The next section of the event focused on getting input from the audience based around some structured questions. Details follow:

Ø  The audience was invited to share some of their memorable experiences from school. Comments included stories of empowerment and choice.

Ø  Questions posed to Audience and Panel:

·       What do we want our future high school graduates to know and be able to do?

·       What are the most important characteristics of the schools of the future?

Audience Responses:

·       Perseverance and enquiry outside of the academic norm

·       Initiative

·       Team work

·       Ability to take constructive criticism

·       Environmental issue awareness

·       Critical thinking and evaluative thinking

·       Challenge in a positive way

·       Planning, debating to build logic

·       Our children are only taught one way to get to college. We need to educate them that short term failure leads to long term success.

Ms Dominique Ross Response:

·       Self-guided    

·       Open and flexible

·       Excited

·       Greater sense of community

Ø  Audience-led questions:

Q: How do you gauge what parent perception of student engagement is? How is the school evaluating itself?

A: Dr Jackson: Admitted that we don’t do that well with students, let alone parents. We have not done a good job of empowering students to have a voice but we are working with the school committee to improve that.  Excitement can be measured by noise level. We do not capture that data on a global basis and are currently not evaluating it.

                     Q: Is it prudent to get parent feedback? What teachers aren’t doing a good job of this?

A:  Middle School is doing great at this. There are pockets where it is happening and we need to increase the ability of teachers to engage. The limiting factor is TIME. MCAS, meeting the curriculum, doesn’t allow teachers to process the additional requirement.

Teachers need to be evaluated differently. We need to allow the system to educate the teachers and for the teachers to become facilitators.

Ø  Specific questions posed to Audience and Panel:

·       What are the main deterrents for parents, administrators, students?

·       What can we do now to encourage innovation and change throughout our school?

 Audience Responses:

·       Internal professional development to support and move the initiative forward

·       Change – people fear change

·       Money

·       Nuances of what goes on inside the building

·       Collective bargaining – unions

·       Legacy

·       Dropping MCAS scores

·       News report rankings

·       Misconceptions about what success looks like

Ms Dominique Ross Response:

·       Common planning time is not enough for teachers to embrace this methodology

·       Need time to integrate planning into the classroom

Mr David Jordan Response:

·       We feel that Middle School should still be a time for students to learn/explore and develop a growth mindset, BUT parents want their middle schoolers to choose their college courses at MS. A disconnect in expectations and setting goals. We need to closer align expectations and ultimate goals.

Mrs Jaime Slaney Response:

·       Mrs. Slaney responded that we need to build a systematic way for our teachers to be able to do this themselves and then take it to the classroom. We need to show our teachers the benefits by arming them with the skills and letting them practice it. We also all need to be ready to give permission to fail to enable growth.

·       Mrs. Slaney also shared recent questions that she had been asked at a Kindergarten Information Night, illustrating that not all parents may be ready to embrace change: We need to establish what the academic outcomes of each learning stream are and have you assessed them and recorded which colleges the students get into from each; ie, traditional, French immersion and Montessori?

Ø  Audience led question:

·       Broad content would be compromised for detail. What have you dropped in favour of PBL or have you pushed it all on to our teachers and said, ‘do it all’?

Mr David Jordan Response:

·       The exhibition piece is a glorious display. Each team learns all the content through sharing and analyses it. Even in the traditional teaching classroom we are looking at depth and not breadth of learning.

Ø  Next steps and summary:

Ø  Audience led question:

·       We want to leave here tonight with the hope that we can do something. We are ready to talk the bigger picture and encourage change and critical thinking. Where are the educators tonight? We are talking to the converted in this room.

Dr Brad Jackson Response:

·       Change will not happen at the education level. Change needs to happen from the bottom up. It needs leadership and direction but teachers won’t comply with something they don’t believe in. They need to be encouraged and led, not dictated, and ordered. We need to help the conversation take place between parents and teachers to bring about a change for the better.

·       Next year, we are beginning a two-year effort to switch 8th Grade science learning to make it a Project Based               Learning curriculum. This change was led by the Middle School teachers who brought it to the Administration and the Superintendent. It is a kernel of change and a ‘bottom up’ initiative.

·       We are encouraging peer to peer observation and want to ensure that teachers experience the success from the collaborative environment at the Middle School. We need to focus, plant the seeds and spread them.

·       We will create motivation and drive among the teaching staff, students will become more interested as they see other children doing things differently.

·       In the MS, change is already happening. This will grow to professional development days and technical training. The process has already begun to teach new teachers to move forward.

·       It is not easy to talk about imperfections, but we’re doing it. We have a growth mindset and this will help us.

PTO Response:

·       PTO will host a screening of Beyond Measure early next school year to follow on from the momentum created with Most Likely to Succeed. This movie complements the MLTS messaging and direction and will enable further discussion to bring about change.

·       We encourage parents who have not seen MLTS to find a screening in a local community. Locations are published on the MLTS website.

·       We encourage parents to continue the discussion with friends and neighbors and stay informed

·       Register your interest in forming a parent/student focus group for the purpose of spreading the word, determining parent/student interest and exploring next steps. You can express you interest on the PTO Facebook page and tag Anne Buckley.

Ø  Close

Summary of the MLTS Screening and initial panel debate 4/25/17

Most Likely to Succeed Screening and Panel Discussion: A summary

Date: Tuesday, April 25th, 2017: Holliston High School Auditorium


·       Mrs. Karla Garvin, HPS Montessori Director

·       Ms. Dominique Ross, HHS Guidance Department Leader

·       Dr. Brad Jackson, HPS Superintendent

If you missed the movie or would like to refresh your memory of the key discussion points, you can view the trailer at www.mltsfilm.org and see excerpts from the film where Sir Ken Robinson and other thought leaders tackle the most important issues facing education today:

Questions and Answers

Q:          Is this Montessori continued?

A:          (KG) There are lots of parallels. Holliston has an excellent reputation and is one of the top 10 innovative schools in the State of MA. We have three programs, including Montessori. The teachers guide and facilitate but rarely lecture to a whole class.

There are three ways of learning; doing, collaboration and teacher led learning. Montessori rarely uses text books but takes the gift of learning. KG gave an analogy of unwrapping a gift and the element of surprise and excitement at finding out what’s inside. She likened Montessori methodology to this unwrapping of a gift.

Montessori is generally louder than a traditional classroom. It can be perceived as chaotic but is productive and encourages problem solving, team-work and inter-disciplinary skills.

KG gave an example of the bat houses project that was embarked upon last year with the explosion of the white moths.

Montessori works on the basis that interest leads learning, which in turn leads to retention.

Soft skills such as self-awareness also play a role in Montessori classrooms. Students learn to recognize their strengths and play to them to move themselves forward. Teachers are the guides.

Challenge – plan – do.

Q.          How do we address ‘teaching to the test’? 

(DR) Everyone has a comfort zone and the current comfort zone is to train to the test. Discomfort is the greatest area of growth. We need to find equilibrium between the two.

We need to be careful to not cheat the students out of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills by removing all obstacles to learning.

Q.          Moving away from standard tests means taking risks. How do we address that?

(Dr BJ) Accountability is built from the outside in. Dr Jackson doesn’t feel that the State of MA Department of Education provides nearly as much support as it should to Holliston. We experience a $1-2bn deficit in fiscal support from the State, which pushes up local taxes.

The top schools’ lists are created by people trying to sell news. Perception is the reality and it is impossible to ignore. Holliston Schools are great. We offer three programs. We need to sit MCAS and produce test scores. If those numbers change, even temporarily, then other things are affected. Namely house prices as property values are inextricably linked to the school system.

We teach ‘essential questions’ and ‘enduring understandings’. Questions that you’ll know 10 years from now. We urge you to not worry about the MCAS tests. The kids come to Holliston schools ready to do well in MCAS, and they do.

Q.          What do we want our school to look like?

A.           Dr BJ) This is the beginning of that discussion.

Q.          What professional development is being provided to faculty to help them make the shift in learning?

A.           (Dr BJ) We are shifting our model by hiring people who believe in this philosophy. We are using Montessori methods to teach some traditional topics. We need to spark the demand for these educators.

Q.          Homework creates pressure and doesn’t influence SAT tests. In some schools, students are taught to write essays in 2nd grade. What is your view?

 A.           (KG) We have completed a homework stress study. Research shows that paper, pencil homework is not teaching anything. Reading is the only homework that is needed and will increase learning and improve education. Encourage a passion for reading.

Q.          We give (some) students a perfectly wrapped Montessori package. Why do we take it away in 4th grade?

A.           (KG) Good question! KG has spoken to Mr Keim and he had valid reasons for transitioning to traditional methods before the move to Middle School. These included the fact that there is a lot of change between 5th and 6th grades and moving to Middle School. KG made a suggestion to continue Montessori through to High School, which was met with applause.

Q.          I’m ready for the revolution. I challenge Dr Jackson to take risks. Holliston has choices but it’s still a lottery so it isn’t choice for all.

A.           (Dr BJ) Noted.

Q.          What about reverse teaching methods where children do their research at home for the next topic and apply their knowledge in the classroom?

A.           (Dr BJ) There are many ways to skin a cat. We need to get the students engaged instead of teaching them what we want them to learn. Whether that’s Montessori methodology, Project Based Learning (PBL), technology or community based learning.

One of the biggest problems is that teaching is engrained in teachers. It needs a leap of faith from teachers, parents and students. There is an argument that you don’t get as much content in PBL. We need to address all needs.

PBL is currently integrated into science in 8th grade and will grow beyond that.

Q.          Adults struggle with stress factors in day-to-day work life. What mechanism would you put in place to help manage those situations? For example, addressing stress, a dominant leader, team friction.

 A.           (DR) We have a huge focus on social and emotion learning. Lots of managers are not meant to be managers. We have a qualitative relationship with teachers that leads to intimacy in learning and in turn gives comfortability support.

              We are helping teachers become better at these skills and to teach our students how to deal with failure.

Q.          Are we ready to combine subjects?

A.           (Dr BJ) Not yet.

Q.          What about academic strengths Vs creative strengths? We seem to be missing out on tapping into creative strengths.

A.           (Dr BJ) We need to remember that we’re not a charter school and don’t set our own agenda. We are a public school and we need to discuss what the needs of our community are.

Q.          What’s next?

              (PTO) A follow up discussion will take place at Robert Adams Middle School on Tuesday, May 16th at 7pm. We urge all of you to attend and to spread the word so that even more people join the discussion.

Upcoming Events

  • 11/30/18, 7pm at Gilmore Room, Holliston Public Library
  • Holliston PTO invites you to continue the conversation with us about re-imagining education in Holliston.
    Tuesday November 28, 2017, 7pm in the Gilman Room at Holliston Public Library

    Seating is limited. Please register your interest at parentedevents@gmail.com

    11/8/17, 7pm at Holliston High School Auditorium
  • Dr. Ruth Potee will give a seminar on youth substance abuse to provide education and insights into addiction and abuse. This event is for parents/guardians, students, educators, administrators and community members. Sponsored by HDAAC.

  • 11/8/17, 7pm at Holliston High School Auditorium

  • The legalization of marijuana in MA has resulted in mixed messages and confusion about the dangers of drug use. Dr. Potee, a board-certified Family Physician and Addiction Medicine physician, will address this during her seminar to parents and students to provide education and insights about substance abuse and addiction. As the Medical Director for the Franklin County House of Corrections, the Franklin Recovery and Treatment Center and the Pioneer Valley Regional School District, as well as the Chair of the Healthcare Solutions of the Opioid Taskforce of Franklin County, Dr. Potee has wide ranging experience on this subject and will speak candidly to her audience to inform and educate students and parents alike. A panel discussion including members of HPD and Dr Brad Jackson will follow the presentation. 


Anne Buckley, Chairperson