Notwithstanding the many meetings devoted to the school budget this year, school administrators have continued to work on improving teaching and learning. That was apparent at the June 1 school board meeting, where central administrators and building principals shared highlights of their progress toward district and building goals set at the beginning of last year.
Support for All Students
Across the district, assistant superintendents Annie Ward and Anthony Minotti are working to assure that all students receive appropriate support. In the coming year, Dr. Minotti explained, the bulk of the district’s work on Response to Intervention (RTI) will be in general education classrooms. The district will be exploring the concept of universal design in learning, a multi-sensory approach to learning.
Ms. Ward elaborated after the meeting, explaining that “what’s good for kids with special needs is very likely good for general education kids.” One can argue, she noted, that “every kid has special needs.” Thus, a device like a digital recorder can help both special education and other students with note taking.
Focus on Literacy
District wide, the elementary reading curriculum has been revised and extended through grade 5. Previously, the curriculum used throughout the district ended at grade 3.
At Mamaroneck Avenue School (MAS), the professional staff engaged in an all-out blitz to increase reading stamina. Studies show that an increased amount of effective reading increases growth in reading.
Part of the effort, MAS Principal Carrie Amon explained, was to get parents to realize that a child’s nightly reading was probably the most important homework, and not something to be saved for last. Other homework was reduced to allow students time to read more each day. Through letters, meetings and coffees, parents learned about a variety of reading goals and were given target numbers for each child’s weekly reading.
This summer, MAS students will receive reading kits so that their reading will continue to progress. Each student will get a ten-pack of “just right” books to take home, and there will be three opportunities to exchange the books over the summer.
Ms. Amon expects the MAS reading scores to increase. She noted that students are “1200 book points ahead of last year.”
At Central School, administrators also focused on reading. They disaggregated data from state testing and determined that the school’s least proficient readers needed to be supported in a different way. Although students had been receiving mandated academic intervention services (AIS), they had been pulled from their regular class during reading time in order to receive specialized instruction from a reading teacher.
Now, AIS instruction takes place in addition to regular reading class, not instead of it. Students who need AIS reading support are grouped by area of need, rather than by class. The groups are reassessed after a six-week cycle.
Other Elementary Initiatives
Chatsworth Principal Gail Boyle shared work on science curriculum mapping, noting that mapping curriculum is “like painting a bridge: as soon as you finish, you have to start again.”
At Murray, faculty and administrators developed an interdisciplinary curriculum around American folk traditions. The new curriculum touched all areas of the curriculum, including read-alouds, history and special classes such as library and art.
Secondary Schools Focus on Assessment and Students At Risk
Secondary department chairs shared their work around district assessment at a school board meeting several weeks ago. The secondary schools also continue to focus on supporting struggling students.
At the Hommocks Middle School, faculty and administrators worked to introduce “contracts” where struggling kids would come regularly for after-school help. Another committees worked on character education, including anti-bullying initiatives.
At the high school, efforts continued to assure that every struggling student is connected to at least one adult in the school. Not all of the at-risk programs have been successful, acknowledged Assistant Principal Gail Kleiner, “but in ten years every one of these kids will be able to say ‘they didn’t give up on me.’ ”
Assistant Principal Steve Frasene shared some data to confirm the assertion that the at-risk programs, together with video cameras and other initiatives, have improved the climate of the high school. Last year, 83 students had been suspended by mid-May for a variety of reasons, including fighting, substance abuse, thefts, disruptive behavior and insubordination. This year, that number is down to 43.
Similarly, 76 thefts were reported two years ago, 43 last year and just 10 this year.
“The atmosphere has never been better,” agreed Principal Mark Orfinger.
Other District Work
By the end of the year, the school board will have a report on the district’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Currently, only 4% of the district’s 5000 students meet the state criteria for being English Language Learners (ELLs). Many “born in the USA” students who speak another language exit formal ELL services by grade 2 but still struggle. A meeting to discuss the report, and how to help these students transition, is planned for the fall.
The beginning of a plan to support the district’s long-term financial health is in place, said Assistant Superintendent Meryl Rubinstein, but “more work is needed to get it off the ground.”
Work continues to improve district communications, including the district website, which is being used more and more by faculty, parents and community members.
Final School Board Meeting: Rockefeller Awards and Retirements
The school board’s final meeting of the year is scheduled for Tuesday, June 15 at 7:30 pm.