Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Positive Start to a New School Year

This is a year of change for us. Our construction project is almost complete, we exceeded our enrollment projection which means additional funds for our school, our new staff members have acclimated well, and we made some changes to our schedule that we think will make a difference for our students.

This year, there are still areas with orange plastic screening to keep us out, but for the most part, most of the construction barriers have been removed. What a difference this has made! The past three years have been like walking through a maze to get from one area of campus to another, and the walkways were dark and narrower than usual.  When the bell rang, there wasn't enough room for students, parents, and toddlers in strollers. Now that those barriers have been removed, there is plenty of room on the walkways for everyone. Yeah! Happy staff, happy students, and happy parents!

It's nice to have covered walkways throughout the campus. Now students can stay dry when they're walking around campus even when it rains.
This school year, we are focusing our efforts on four initiatives. We will continue to address the six priority strategies for our Department, but our main focuses will be on the following:
  • Implement project-based learning (PBL) with communication skills embedded. Literacy skills - reading, writing, speaking and listening - will be addressed throughout PBL, and the use of technology will be encouraged when appropriate. We started exploring PBL last school year, and this year, we will be building on what we learned. This year. teachers set their own goals related to PBL, and we will be placing them into Professional Learning Communities based on what they would like to explore and discover. There will be opportunities to articulate vertically with teachers in different grade levels and to bring back information to the respective grade levels.
  • Continue to develop a writing continuum with sample writing pieces and criteria so students can self-assess and set their own goals. Last year, we struggled with the idea of a writing continuum that would be personalized for our school. Rather than abandon the idea, we will be collecting student samples of different kinds of writing and looking at the pieces more closely. We want teachers to critique these writing samples in their classrooms, eventually coming up with criteria for quality writing. We want students to be able to self-assess and to revise their own writing pieces. The writing continuum is a work-in-progress; it is a process that takes time and honest discussions amongst our teachers and our students.
  • Students learn and apply math for understanding using “Stepping Stones” and other resources; embed problem-solving skills and strategies into math instruction. Our State has mandated the use of "Stepping Stones" as a resource to teach math. Because we did not have funds at the time, we put off purchasing licenses for this program until this school year. I just read an article, "A History Lesson: When Math Was Taboo," and I found it really interesting and applicable. Too often, we teach algorithms, and students don't understand what the algorithm means or why it works. We need to teach math for understanding.
  • Implement Positive Behavior Intervention Support school-wide to ensure success for all students. Students need to feel safe in their learning environment. We have a strong PBIS system in place, but we continue to make it better. We know that building positive relationships with our students is essential, and having students reflect on their actions has been effective in reducing negative behaviors. We made PBIS a priority two years ago, and we believe that emphasis has resulted in pride and respect amongst our school community.

We anxiously await the completion of our covered play court; we will have options for activities before school, during the day, and after school. We have more recess areas and a different schedule that will give students choices for unstructured as well as structured opportunities. We plan to offer after-school or weekend enrichment activities, and when the library opens, our Makerspace will undoubtedly be a popular choice for students to express their innovation and creativity.

As the year unfolds, I will share insights, lessons learned, reflections, and challenges. After one week, I can say that the year has gotten off to a wonderful start!

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