The nitty-gritty work of improving instruction for students in each of Mamaroneck’s six schools was on display at the school board’s May 26 meeting. This was a sequel to an earlier meeting asking “How are we doing?” in academic departments, and a prequel to next week’s study session which will look at goals across the district.
Each principal reported on progress towards goals set last fall. At each building, principals and teachers are using data and collaborating with each other and with the district’s instructional coaches as they tackle goals in a variety of areas, including math and literacy instruction, differentiation of lessons for students at all levels, and support for struggling students.
Not all goals have been accomplished. Superintendent Paul Fried noted that goals “should stretch us,” so some will not be completed in a year.
Three Elementaries Focus on Math for all Levels
Central, Chatsworth and Murray Avenue Schools each implemented a revised mathematics curriculum for grades K-5 this year. This TERC Investigations program was implemented last year in Mamaroneck Avenue School.
As part of the new curriculum, teachers have spent a great deal of time working with math coach Barbara Dean to develop lessons for students at all levels. Lessons have been “differentiated,” both for students in self-contained special education classes who need to move at a slower pace with many repetitions, and for “high flyers” who need additional challenge and enrichment. Plans are being developed to use the website and other technology to share these lessons between schools.
Board members questioned whether the teachers are “buying in” to the new curriculum. Chatsworth Principal Gail Boyle noted that teachers “say they’re going with it,” but are reserving judgment until the end of the year. Future meetings will allow for discussion of the curriculum’s effectiveness and next steps.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Annie Ward advised that there will be more “TERC talk” at next week’s study session.
MAS Implements New Word Study Program
Teachers and administrators at Mamaroneck Avenue School have spent the year working to identify and implement a new word study program. After studying various programs and performing school-wide assessments of students in grades one through five, MAS and district administrators settled on “Words Their Way.” This sequential word study program uses word “sorts” to teach phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling and vocabulary. Working in groups, students learn to sort words by sound, pattern and meaning.
MAS teachers began implementing the program in February. Shortly thereafter, workshops were conducted to teach parents about word study and to share the program with teachers from each grade at the other district schools. Literacy coach Allyson Daley assisted with training and support throughout the process.
In June, children will be tested again and data will be analyzed. Because the program has only been in effect since February, huge gains are not expected, but the data will be used to assist in planning for students who attend Co-op Camp over the summer, and for the following year.
The “Words Their Way” program will be implemented district-wide for grades one and two next year. Ms. Ward promised more details about this program at next week’s study session.
Hommocks Develops New Literacy Curriculum
Hommocks Principal Seth Weitzman reported that the middle school had almost met its ten-step plan to improve literacy instruction, needing only to complete an e-mail to parents about grammar instruction. This plan was explained in detail last April. See Writing & Rigor: Hommocks Looks to Improve Writing Curriculum.
Rather than following the previous practice of “letting a hundred flowers bloom,” Dr. Weitzman explained, Hommocks teachers have been collaborating to develop a consistent writing curriculum. This work has been spearheaded by literacy coach Lisa Ramos-Hillegers, new this year.
Standardized test results have shown a significant improvement. Preliminary results of the March 2009 New York State English Language Arts test (ELA) show the pass rate for six graders increasing from 87% to 93%, Dr. Weitzman told the Gazette after the meeting. The percentage of seventh graders passing increased from 89 to 95. The pass rate in eighth grade remained the same.
Results on the fall 2008 Writing Assessment Program (WrAP) published by the Educational Research Bureau (ERB) were also very positive. This assessment is more rigorous than the ELA, said Dr. Weitzman, because it measures Hommocks youngsters against students from 50 high-performing suburban school districts. This year, Hommocks students surpassed suburban norms in every grade.
Larry’s Legacy: All Students Can Learn
Hommocks also has been working on all grades and in all teams to support struggling students by a variety of methods, reported Assistant Principal Larry Keane, who is retiring this year. Supports include teaching study skills, allowing students to retake tests that they failed, enhancing parent communication and mandating after-school help. Mr. Keane said the number of students with multiple failures has decreased significantly, but exact figures are not available.
It is often difficult to determine exactly what works, Mr. Keane noted, citing the example of a young man who failed multiple classes in sixth grade, in seventh grade, and in the beginning of eighth grade. For the last two quarters, however, he has passed all his courses.
Neither the student nor his teachers can explain what made the difference. “Something just clicked,” said Mr. Keane.
Dr. Weitzman summarized by remarking on “Larry’s Legacy: All students can learn.” With the additional supports that have been put into place at Hommocks, all eighth graders now take Earth Science and two thirds take Algebra, both high school level courses that conclude with Regents exams.
“Climate Control” at the High School
Several initiatives have resulted in significant improvements in the tone of the high school, reported Mamaroneck High School Principal Dr. Mark Orfinger. Important factors in this “climate control” have been the installation of fifty-five new security cameras and the opening of a new support center, staffed by counselor Dina Powis-Borbon.
The support center provided a locus for 391 referrals for minor disciplinary infractions through the end of April. Dr. Orfinger likened the referrals to “the Giuliani squeegee approach” of getting on small things before they get out of hand.
In addition, the support center served as a drop-in safe haven for students who needed a place to go.
High School Supports At-Risk Students, but Cancels Project Success
Referencing the work of the department chairs presented at the board study session a week ago, Dr. Orfinger noted that the significant curricular work takes place at the department level, whereas tackling an issue like students at risk of failing is appropriate for the school as a whole.
This year, various outside structures were put into place for students who had failed a class, including daily academic enrichment in reading and writing skills for 30 students, twice weekly small group instruction (on top of regular classes) for 55 students, and teacher mentoring for 19 students with social and emotional issues.
Another 13 students participated in Project Success, a program designed to assist students who needed to recover credits in order to be on target for graduation.
Nearly every student identified as being at risk of failing received some type of structured support.
The new structures appear to be making a difference in connecting students to staff and in getting kids to attend classes, reported Dr. Orfinger. More will be known after final grades are in, but it is clear that there still will be some failures. And it is clear that Project Success “was not successful.” It will be disbanded.
Although a disappointment, the mixed results are not a surprise, explained Dr. Orfinger, since many of these students have had academic difficulties for years, sometimes with emotional issues as well.
More Work to Do
Chatsworth had hoped to align its social studies and science curriculum from grade to grade, but that work is just beginning. Ms. Ward noted that there has been work in these areas district-wide, but that teachers could only implement so much new curriculum at a time. She will be addressing the pacing of these new plans at the study session next week.
Murray Principal Jennifer Monaco explained that her faculty had not done as much as they had planned to get teachers with similar interests and goals to work together. Nevertheless, she had successfully implemented monthly “visitation days,” where an administrator covered a classroom so the teacher could observe another teacher or students in another setting (like in speech and language classes, for example).
All the schools are working behind the scenes on their web pages. The district’s new website was rolled out in September, but the process of populating it has been slow. All schools are expected to “go live” with their web pages by June 30, Dr. Fried explained.
The website is already being used by teachers to share materials and lesson plans, but more virtual sharing is planned for the future.
Next Up: District Administrators Report on the Year
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Annie Ward promises that next week’s school board study session, led by central administrators, will address curriculum initiatives and examine student work in several areas. The meeting will be held at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, June 2 in in the Library Classroom at the high school and will air live on LMC-TV.