Matthew J. Coleman in his AHS officeMatthew J. Coleman, school's math director, in his AHS office.

Do your children have an aversion to numbers?Meet Matthew J. Coleman, Arlington's new math director.

Get to know him, and you and your kids may like math a little better ... perhaps much better.

Coleman is 36, and he has ambitious plans for the public schools, which have been without a full-time director since 2006-2007.

"There is so much to do," he said in an interview in his office at Arlington High on Thursday, Nov. 8. "I'm not saying Arlington is behind, but in two to three years, the curriculum must be aligned with the common core."

Rare math faceoff yields high marks

That means new testing standards and teacher-evaluation system as well as technology improvements.

"All schools have to change," he said. As an agent for that change, Coleman brings a decided enthusiasm and depth of knowledge gained over 14 years of teaching, 12 of them in Framingham schools.

His rapid-fire delivery of ideas, in an Oct. 25 presentation well-received by the School Committee (see related story) and in the interview, is infectious.

Genesis of his appraoch

His approach to students, to teachers and to the challenges he faces here has a personal arithmetic: It derives in part from an 11th-grade class he took in Bohemia, Long Island, where he grew up. In a math class called "Creative Problem Solving," the teacher, Mr. McGarr, would present problems. Students would figure them out and, based on their solutions, go on to build things.

"I'm by nature a puzzler," he said, adding "introverted, introspective," adjectives that seem at odds with his lively public persona. "I loved number theory."

How does he plan to puzzle out the tangle of challenges with which the full-time math director must deal?

In an office that features a poster of his brother, who had been a soccer standout in college, as well as a wedding photo of his wife and him, he laid out a roadmap for kindergarten-through-12-grade math in Arlington:

* Update and align the curriculum with the common core curriculum state standards. These wholesale changes point to the need to find further funding, and so he was making his case earlier on Nov. 8 to the Arlington Education Foundation

* Build a culture of collaboration, which is in need of repair after budget cuts had scaled back the K-12 position for years. "I'm visible, I have a lot of energy," he said, adding that at the Nov. 7 EdTech conference he was "emailing teachers all day."

* Break down the walls that deter communication for all teachers. He noted that AHS does not have one math teacher whose schedule allows sharing a period for collaboration.

* Clean and reorganize: "I'm a bit of a neat freak," he said. "The rooms are a mess." That included his office: With help from math teacher Nigel Kraus, he removed texts and files dating to the 1960s. He said he wants teachers to have access, and an organized office aids that.

How to attain goals

To reach these goals, he is heartened. Many teachers are "hungry for leadership," adding, "All welcomed me," and he believes most are on board with refocusing the math curriculum. That support may go a long way to help Coleman address challenges that YourArlington pointed to and asked he would address:

     * Math scores for sixth- and seventh-graders: "Teachers need a consistent time to meet," so they can deal with content that is in transition. He wants teachers to make sure they are following the curriculum. He called for a "more contemporary curriculum" and recognized the need for staff stability. He added that eighth-grade scores are "off the charts." Further, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers need a clearer idea of expectations and communication.

     * Students need better support at Ottoson, noting there are two math-support teachers for three grades.

     * Longer range, he wants technology to leverage student achievement. That will require further investment in the schools' server infrastructure.

     * Finally, his October School Committee presentation pointed to restructuring middle-school math, part of suggested changes called "alternate pathways."

Apart from goals and ways to achieve, we return to the man himself. An early riser, he is in his AHS office at 6 a.m. or so, shaping his day, which is only as an administrator for this school year. The fiscal 2013 budget lists his salary at $85,000.

He misses teaching, saying, "I view myself as an educator." For the Westborough resident, math is in the family. He is married to a math coach for the Framingham schools. They are expecting their first child in January.

He is half Puerto Rican (on his mom's side). That lineage may account for his warm comments about the diverse populations with whom he worked at Framingham, a system with a significant Hispanic and Brazilian population.


Curriculum Overview | Dept. of Education common core

Wants some problems? | |

Common core, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers

Part of Oct. 25 presentation to School Committee:
by Dr. Laura Chesson, assistant superintendent, and Matt Coleman

Doing Math

The grocery store sells beans in bulk. The grocer's sign above the beans says, 5 pounds for $4. At this store, you can buy any number of pounds of beans at this same rate, and all prices include tax. 

Alberto said, "The ratio of the number of dollars to the number of pounds is 4:5. That's $0.80 per pound."
Beth said, "The sign says the ratio of the number of pounds to the number of dollars is 5:4. That's 1.25 pounds per dollar."

1. Are Alberto and Beth both correct? Explain.
2. Claude needs two pounds of beans to make soup. Show Claude how much money he will need.
3. Dora has $10 and wants to stock up on beans. Show Dora how many pounds of beans she can buy.
4. Do you prefer to answer parts (b) and (c) using Alberto's rate of $0.80 per pound, using Beth's rate of 1.25 pounds per dollar, or using another strategy? Explain.

Purpose of the Common Core

"The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) define the rigorous skills and knowledge in English language arts and mathematics that need to be effectively taught and learned for students to be ready to succeed academically in credit-bearing, college-entry courses and in workforce training programs."

Why Do We Need The CCSS?

. Previously, each state had its own standards 

. 21st century students must compete nationally and globally
. CCSS are modeled on highest and best models from all states and nations
. No longer "A mile wide and an inch deep." 
. Consistent standards provide appropriate benchmarks for all students across the country.

Not Just a New Name

"These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms." These are:

- 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for Mathematics
 -Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

Key Features of the New Math Frameworks

The new standards support improved curriculum and instruction due to increased:

. FOCUS, via critical areas at each grade level
. COHERENCE, through carefully developed connections within and across grades
. CLARITY, with precisely worded standards that cannot be treated as a checklist
. RIGOR, including a focus on College and Career Readiness and Standards for Mathematical Practice throughout Pre-K-12 Organization
. Standards for Mathematical Practice Carry across all grade levels

PARCC Assessment: 3-8, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2

. The 3-8 PARCC assessments will be delivered at each grade level and will be based directly on the Common Core State Standards. 

. Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 will be end of course exams and will be based directly on the Common Core State Standards.
. The distributed PARCC design includes four components - two required summative and two optional non-summative - to provide educators with timely feedback to inform instruction and provide multiple measures of student achievement across the school year.
. The 3-8 assessments will include a range of item types, including innovative constructed response, extended performance tasks, and selected response (all of which will be computer based).

Summative Assessments

. Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) administered as close to the end of the school year as possible. The English language arts/literacy (ELA/literacy) PBA will focus on writing effectively when analyzing text. The mathematics PBA will focus on applying skills, concepts, and understandings to solve multistep problems requiring abstract reasoning, precision, perseverance, and strategic use of tools.
. End-of-Year Assessment (EOY) administered after approximately 90% of the school year. The ELA/literacy EOY will focus on reading comprehension. The mathematics EOY will call on students to demonstrate further conceptual understanding of the Major Content and Additional and
Supporting Content of the grade/course (as outlined in the PARCC Model Content Frameworks), and demonstrate mathematical fluency, when applicable to the grade.

Non-Summative Assessments

. Diagnostic Assessment designed to be an indicator of student knowledge and skills so that instruction, supports, and professional development can be tailored to meet student needs.
. Mid-Year Assessment (MYA) comprised of performance-based items and tasks, with an emphasis on hard-to-measure standards. After study, individual states may consider including the MYA as a summative component.

This story was published Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, and updated the next day to add the last time the schools had a full-time math director (2006-2007).