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State Advocacy Archive

MaFLA Interviews MA Secretary of Education,

Dr. Matthew Malone


Secretary of Education, Dr. Matthew Malone with Jane Rizzitano and Madelyn Gonnerman Torchin of MaFLA

On October 24, 2013, MaFLA President Elect, Jane Rizzitano, and Madelyn Gonnerman Torchin, MaFLA Past President and Membership Coordinator, interviewed Dr. Matthew Malone, Secretary of Education in Massachusetts. Dr. Malone is a supporter of early foreign language education. As Secretary of Education, Dr. Malone directs the Executive Office of Education and works closely with the Commonwealth’s education agencies:  Department of Early Education and Care, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Higher Education and the University of Massachusetts system. Dr. Malone brings a wealth of experience to this position, working in urban as well as suburban settings. Prior to his appointment as Secretary, he served as the Superintendent of the Brockton Public Schools, Superintendent of the Swampscott Public Schools from 2005-2009, and he previously served as a Special Assistant to the Superintendent/Instruction Leader in the San Diego City School District. Prior to his work in San Diego, Dr. Malone was the Headmaster of Monument High School in South Boston, and also served as a middle school assistant principal in Duxbury, Massachusetts. He taught Social Studies at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston as that school successfully worked to regain its state accreditation.  Dr. Malone began his career as both a Paraprofessional and long-term substitute teacher in Boston Public Schools at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. Before beginning his career in education, Dr. Malone served as a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and is a Combat Veteran of the Persian Gulf War. Dr. Malone received a Bachelor of Science degree in History from Suffolk University, and earned his Masters of Education and Doctor of Philosophy from Boston College.

Below is MaFLA’s interview with Dr. Malone:

MaFLA: Did you have an opportunity to study a language in K-16? If so, what language did you study and why?

Malone: Yes, I did. I studied Spanish in grades seven, eight and nine and again in college at Suffolk University. I even studied Italian for a semester, but when I was in the Ph.D. program, computer languages were accepted and that fulfilled my language requirement. I was on an IEP for dyslexia and it made foreign languages very difficult for me so they were waived in high school. I regret not being able to become fluent in Spanish but want to learn more. Knowing a foreign language would be an asset as I travel around the Commonwealth.

MaFLA: Former Department of Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta spoke of the national need for competency in multiple languages. Do you agree and why or why not? Which languages do you feel are the most important for the U.S. to know?

Malone:  Yes, I agree. For Massachusetts, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin and Hindi are important. However, I would not say that German, Portuguese, and French are not important. They are. We also need more people who speak Russian.  I support a requirement for learning world languages because we never will be able to be competitive in our work force development without the next cadre of folks who are bilingual.

MaFLA: Our Foreign Language National Standards and MA State Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks dovetail with Common Core State Standards, and advocate a long sequence of language study in order to achieve functional language proficiency. Many other states have foreign language graduation requirements or have established exit foreign language proficiency levels for graduates. Though Massachusetts is known nationally for providing high quality education, we have not yet adopted this type of mandate. What role do you believe that foreign languages play in a world class education beginning in elementary school through college? How can we, in Massachusetts, remedy this situation?

Malone:  The Common Core Standards speak to literacy and non-fiction reading. I consider World Languages a part of the Core and view it as academic inquiry. We have to stop looking at it as an elective. If we shut kids off from world languages, how can we say that they are college and career ready if we don’t give them access?

MaFLA: Massachusetts has not had a state supervisor of foreign languages in many years. What is the importance of this role and do you see the chance of this position returning in the future?

Malone: Why is that? Tell me more about this.  Who is serving in this capacity now and what is being done?

MaFLA:  Massachusetts has a representative to the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL) who is recommended by MaFLA and approved by the state.  This representative has associate rights only, so does not vote on important matters before NCSSFL.  Also, the NCSSFL representative connects with DESE through the Director of Literacy and Humanities, Susan Wheltle, but does not have a direct voice at the table.  Madelyn Gonnerman Torchin is the Massachusetts representative to NCSSFL.

Malone: Let me investigate this situation.  I’ll have to get back to you on this one.

MaFLA: As you travel throughout Massachusetts, what do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of foreign language programming?

Malone: I see strengths in the types of programs we have in communities such as Newton and Brookline. Burlington connects world languages and technology and Brockton High School has the Medical Interpretation and Translation program. I would like to see other types of world language college and career ready programs emerge that target public safety capacity, hotel and restaurant work, tourism, etc. We need to think differently about how we count languages. American Sign Language options could be expanded, as well as more Latin at the middle levels in order to promote reasoning and analytical thinking.

MaFLA:  As is to be expected when new guidelines are being put into place, educators are anxious about the new state evaluation system, especially District Determined Measures and the lack of MCAS or other state assessments for foreign languages.  What are your thoughts on testing for world languages?

Malone:  The good news is that an extra year has been added for developing local assessments.  Schools have an opportunity to create their own measures for determining progress and foreign language educators are in the strong position to guide the process within their districts.

MaFLA:  Final thoughts regarding world languages in the Commonwealth?

Malone:  We need forward thinking and creativity, along with technical infusion, to create strong world language programs.  I view world language not as an academic requirement or an elective, but as an essential.

MaFLA:  Thank you very much for your time, your support for a state supervisor, and your strong advocacy for foreign languages.

Sharon French Teacher named

Teacher of the Year

Kathleen Turner, French teacher at Sharon High School, has been named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year by Commissioner Mitchell Chester. She will be Massachusetts’ entry in the national competition. MaFLA Advocacy Chair, Nicole Sherf, had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen recently to hear about the selection process and Kathleen’s professional and teaching style.

1 – What was the process for the Teacher of the Year competition?

I was nominated by the Foreign Languages Coordinator, Dr. Kristina Dahlen, back in February. Shortly later, I received a packet of information from the DESE outlining what the process would be. To start, I had to write five 2-page essays.  I wrote a biographical piece, and then wrote about my educational philosophy, my ideas regarding mentoring new teachers, current problems in public education, and the basis for teacher accountability.  I also had to submit a letter of recommendation from my principal.

I found out in mid-March that I had made it through the first round and was one of 10 semi-finalists. I then had to write two additional essays, one about what my message as Teacher of the Year would be, and one about my community involvement.  I also had to submit a 30 minute unedited video of me teaching a class, a two-page analysis of this lesson, and two additional letters of recommendation.  I chose Dr. Dahlen (who had nominated me) and David Goldstein, a student who I had taught for two years and who had taken two trips with me.

I found out in mid-April that I was one of six finalists.  For the last step, I was interviewed by a 10 person team.  Members of this group included a representative from the DESE, a representative from Hannaford Supermarkets (a sponsor of the program), former Teachers of the Year, former administrators, and a representative from the MTA.  I had to make a five minute presentation introducing myself personally and professionally, and then the team asked me questions about my teaching practices and my ideas, thoughts, and opinions on various topics around public education.

I found out later that evening that I had been chosen from the six!

2 – Are there any specific practices or supports in Sharon that helped you to become a stronger TOY candidate?

I have been in Sharon for 18 years, since graduating from college.  I have always believed that my role was not only to teach French but to play an active role in the school community.  I have been an advisor to two classes (2001, 2005) and to the Student Council.  I have organized spring break trips to France every two years since 1996, winter trips to Quebec for the past two years, and an exchange to Rouen, France for the first time this year.  I have served on countless committees (from School Council for 15 years, search/interview committees, our NEASC steering committee, curriculum review committees, etc. etc.).  I was also one of the founders of the New Teacher Orientation Program 13 years ago and am still one of the co-chairs.

I think that my overall commitment to the students and staff at Sharon High School made me a strong candidate for Teacher of the Year.

3 – How does it feel to be named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year?  What has been the reaction of your department and your classes?

It is hard to explain how I feel about having been named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.  I don’t know that there are words to describe the emotions.  I am honored, excited, thrilled, amazed… and I have really been on cloud nine.  On the one hand, this award is recognition and validation of the work that I have done in my classroom, in the larger school community, and in public education for the past 18 years.  On the other hand, however, this award is much greater than that:  it is the recognition of what we ALL do every day.  As I have said to various groups, effective teaching does not happen in isolation.  The success of any one teacher is linked to the dedication and commitment of educators at all grade levels and across all disciplines.  I owe much of what I have been able to accomplish to the work of my colleagues throughout the Sharon Public Schools — and to the work of all of the other teachers who I have come in contact with through the years.  This award is truly a celebration of public education, and I look forward to being able to represent ALL teachers in the coming year.

The reaction to my being named Massachusetts of the Year has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone – students (past and present), colleagues (past and present), family, friends, former teachers of mine, and complete strangers – has had kind words and echoed similar sentiments: “you are so deserving of this”, “you have made me cry”, “you have given me goose bumps”… Fellow language teachers have been particularly excited, and fellow French teachers are over the moon!

The DESE helped to coordinate a full-school assembly/pep rally to publicly announce my award. Over 1200 students and all of my colleagues, in addition to some family and friends, representatives from the DESE, and Hannaford Supermarkets were there.  I was so honored and moved by the ‘vibe’ in the gym!

4 – What are some of the activities you already have scheduled in the coming year in your role of MA TOY?

I have already had a number of interviews for newspapers, television, and radio.  I was honored as a Hero Among Us at a Celtics game, and I was the Most Valuable Educator at a Red Sox game.  I will be at MaFLA in October, I will go to a conference with other Teachers of the Year from across the country at the end of January, I will give a speech at the Junior Pinning Ceremony at BU in February, I will go to Washington, DC in April, I will speak at the MTA Conference in May.  I will also be part of several committees at the DESE.

5 – What type of advocacy activities do you do in your class, school and district to promote foreign languages?

I have done a number of activities through the years:

  • I have taught French to elementary school students as an extra-curricular activity, my high school students have taught 5th grade students, I have planned trips to Paris every two years since 1996, and I organized an exchange with a school in Rouen this year.  My colleague at the Middle School coordinates a French Night every year.  All of these activities generate excitement for language learning.  The trips and the French Night are longstanding traditions, and students and their families look forward to them each year.
  • I have presented workshops to colleagues in Sharon and across the state.
  • I talk to parents at Back to School Night and Program of Studies Night about the importance of foreign languages (see below).
  • I speak to my French teacher colleagues in French so that students see that its usefulness extends beyond the classroom walls!
  • French is a part of my life outside of school:  I travel to France every summer (and then talk to students and their families about the trips), I have my answering machine in French, the settings on my computer in French, etc.

6 – What do you believe the role of foreign languages is in the high school curriculum?

Foreign languages should be an integral part of any high school curriculum (and should really be part any district’s program even early than high school if possible).  Foreign languages are – clearly – about learning to communicate in another language to prepare students for travel, work, research, etc.  The linguistic importance of foreign languages is only part of the picture, however.  They provide a link to all other disciplines (art, history, literature, science….).

Furthermore, when students learn a foreign language, they are introduced to the perspectives, practices, and products of another culture and understand (ideally!) that “difference” is not negative and should not be feared.  I believe that a number of the problems we face in the world today have their roots in the fear of difference (religious, political, etc).

7 – What are your personal best practices in foreign language teaching?

I believe that speaking in the target language to create an immersion experience for students within the confines of the classroom is of utmost importance — even (and perhaps especially) for beginners.  I tell students that learning a foreign language will not happen overnight; just as a baby learns sounds and then words before sentences and paragraphs (over a 4 or 5 year time span!), they will learn words and then sentences and paragraphs.  I want to make students feel comfortable — that saying a word or two at the beginning will be success and that it is OK to make mistakes (we talk about mistakes that children learning their first language make, eg. I brang, it’s mines, etc.).

I plan activities that allow students to work with a partner or in small groups to maximize the amount of time that they can interact with the language (it is hard to have everyone participate when there are 28 kids in a class!).  I also create numerous games to help students learn grammar, vocabulary, and cultural themes.

8 – What advice do you give other foreign language teachers?

Use the target language!  If you are excited about communicating in a foreign language and learning about other cultures, your enthusiasm will be contagious and you will engage your students!