“It has been a banner year,” exclaimed School Board President Linnet Tse at the June 2 study session that featured central staff reporting on goals achieved across the district. Having spent so much time on the two bond referendums and the budget, she noted, it was easy to lose track of the other work going on, and she was glad to see that “so much has been accomplished.”
Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried replied that it is “part of my job” to protect the assistant superintendents “so that they can do their work.”
Annie Ward, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, took the biggest chunk of the evening, using “artifacts” of student work to illustrate how the district had met goals in math, literacy and other academic areas. Other administrators reported on community involvement, business operations and personnel.
New Elementary Curriculum in Math
In the area of math, said Ms. Ward, “we accomplished everything we set out to do, and more so.” A revised math curriculum known as TERC Investigations has been implemented in all elementary schools. Under the leadership of math coach Barbara Dean, the schools have developed pacing charts, tailoring the curriculum to prepare students for the March statewide math tests.
Editor’s Note: State math test results were released on June 1, too late to be included in this week’s presentation. As in previous years, the pass rate in Mamaroneck was higher than the state or county average. This year, students showed dramatic improvements statewide, leading some critics to suggest the tests were less rigorous than in previous years. See below for details of results.
As described at a prior meeting on building goals, lessons were developed for struggling students as well as high flyers. Central staff also prepared a lot of materials – the cutting and laminating that is at the heart of much elementary curriculum. This was “a good will gesture that went a long way” with teachers, explained Ms. Ward.
New Curriculum in Language Arts
Working towards its objective of developing K-5 units of study in writing, the district developed new curriculum for narrative writing. Using examples of student writing from the past, teachers and administrators “deconstructed” student work in an exercise that Ms. Ward likened to taking a dress apart and using the pieces to create a pattern.
As part of another objective, defining and mapping a research-based early literacy program, district staff focused on determining appropriate grade-level expectations. Independent reading level benchmarks were developed for each grade. Preliminary data were collected in March, and reading levels will be assessed again this month. Beginning next fall, assessments of each child’s reading level will be made in September, November, April and June to monitor progress and to determine whether extra reading support is appropriate. Dr. Anthony Minotti, assistant superintendent for student support services, explained how this work tied into goals relating to response to intervention (RTI).
Another part of that early literacy objective involved the adoption of the Words Their Way word study program, as reported last month. Implemented this year at Mamaroneck Avenue School (MAS), it will begin district-wide for students in grades 1 and 2 in the fall. Literacy coach Allyson Daley has trained all first and second grade for the new curriculum, and they are collecting data to assess each student so that student-specific materials can be ordered and prepared for September.
Showing a video clip of two high-level fourth graders at MAS working together to sort words under the Words Their Way program, Ms. Ward noted that vocabulary and spelling have “been a big gap in our literacy program for a long time.”
At the secondary level, the district has met its goal to launch a middle school writing curriculum, as described at last month’s meetings.
At the high school, administrators have begun researching options for seniors that will promote community service learning and later transition to careers. Dr. Fried noted that this work is continuing.
Data, Technology and Communcation Are Highlights
The district has also made strides this year in analyzing student performance data. The relatively new Eschooldata system allows for a variety of reports to be generated and then analyzed with the aim of improving instruction and fine-tuning curriculum.
Ms. Ward demonstrated the power of this approach in a slide presentation showing student responses to a frequently missed problem on a third grade state math test. Analysis of the responses revealed that students who used more than one strategy to solve the problem were more likely to get full credit on that problem and also were most likely to score the highest level (a “4″) on the test overall. In fact, 71% of the students who used multiple strategies on the problem received a “4″ on the exam overall.
Using technology for communications, as well as instruction, is an ongoing goal. Continuing to populate the district website remains an important focus through the end of the year, as the various pages that are under construction will go live on June 30.
Another ongoing objective is to develop a non-parent community database. Anyone wishing to receive electronic communications from the school district can sign up by clicking the “E-news” tab on at the district website and providing the requested information.
Green Cleaning, Security Cameras, Teacher Contracts and Other Initiatives
Noting that implementing the district’s two-year old wellness policy has been “an elusive goal for me,” Dr. Fried said differences between policy and practices in the various schools have been identified. School board member Nancy Pierson is working with the director of athletics, Bari Suman, school nurse Karen Cofino, and a committee of faculty and parents to see that the policy is fully implemented in all buildings.
The district has received a $5,000 grant from the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation to create a five-year expenditure plan and has hired accountants to prepare it. The plan is expected to be presented in the early fall.
A total of 38 cameras have been installed in the high school, noted Meryl Rubinstein, assistant superintendent for business operations. Ms. Rubinstein demonstrated the power of the cameras, which provide 360-degree views in most locations. Since their installation, there have been no false alarms at the high school, and vandalism has decreased.
Ms. Rubinstein also touched on several green initiatives, including pilot use of the Thin Client, a device which that make one computer into eleven workstations, resulting in a significant energy savings. She also passed around a jug of the new green cleaning solution being tested at the high school that has a pleasant orange smell.
Dr. Fried spoke briefly about the new teachers’ contract and the collaboration with the teacher’s union that is resulting in more homegrown professional development. At the upcoming September superintendent’s conference day, for example, there will be 42 different workshops offered by 70 faculty members – a “smorgasbord of opportunities.”
Parent Concern about Chatsworth First Grade
The only question from the audience came from the parent of a Chatsworth first grader, who expressed concern about the constitution of the grade, which is two-thirds boys. He asked how teachers would manage all the boys, especially with larger classes expected under the new guidelines.
Dr. Fried said he had the issue on his radar as it had been brought to his attention by the building principal and in a variety of parent meetings and e-mails. He noted that effective teachers would work to make the boy-heavy classrooms more hands-on and active. ”There was another time like this,” he added. The current senior class is approximately two-thirds boys as well, and yet “is one of our most successful classes,” Dr. Fried said.
Board member Michael Jacobson and parent Cindy Habig, both of whom have children in the senior class, agreed, noting that the graduating seniors have excelled in academics, athletics and the arts. Ms. Habig admitted that she had been concerned as a parent of a first grader, but “the proof is in the pudding.”
All the principals “know that they can ask for resources” if needed, concluded Dr. Fried.
Bringing the Work to Parents
At the end of the session, Dr. Fried spoke of the perpetual challenge of finding ways for parents to learn about the work that is being done in the schools. Only a handful of parents were at the meeting. However, two who had never attended a meeting before expressed their appreciation for both the work and the presentation.
Parents do have additional opportunities to view the presentation. The meeting was filmed by LMC-TV and will be re-broadcast as follows:
Friday, 6/5 – 9 pm
Saturday, 6/6 – 3 am, 9 am, 3 pm. 9 pm
Sunday, 6/7 – 3 am, 9 am, 3 pm, 9 pm
Monday, 6/8 – 3 am, 9 am, 3 pm