This is my very favorite time of year. It is getting just a little bit cooler and you can almost smell autumn in the air. The best part about this time of year is school. Yes, a new school year full of promise and anticipation. Our scholars have new uniforms and are ready to begin. We have been planning for the start of this new school year since last September. We are excited about the opening of anew partner school for PreK, and lots of wonderful learning opportunities for our littlest learners. There are new reading programs in all of our elementary schools, exciting new learning spaces and Teach-to-One in McGinnis and a new vision for Shull. Our PAHS academies are growing and developing in ways we could not have imagined. Teachers are better prepared than ever,thanks to four full pre-service days and a new emphasis on professional learning communities. Our facilities are being improved, including a new dining space at the main campus of the high school, new pavement for Flynn and School 7, new steps for Shull,and a new parking lot for Barracks Street. We know this will be a wonderful school year and that everyone will continue working together to move our district forward.
Parents, you have the power to make this a great school year for your child. Get your family into a nightly routine. Eat dinner together. Read together. Make sure your child completes homework and prepares for the following day before going to bed early enough for 8-10hours of sleep. In the mornings,assist your child to get up and ready and out the door with plenty of time to be on time for school. Talk to your child about what is happening at school and communicate your expectations. Say things like, “after you graduate from high school and go to college…” or “when you go to college…”or “I am so excited that you will one day graduate from high school and go to college.” We want our whole community to continually communicate aspirations for college.
Be sure to communicate with teachers and administrators about your child’s progress. Ask questions. Provide information and input. If you don’t get the attention or answers you need, please don’t hesitate to contact me! (email@example.com or 732-376-6201).
To everyone who supports our scholars and our school district, THANK YOU! Let’s make it a great year!!
In our high school, we have eliminated the “general” track, so that every class is considered college-prep. We know that our mission is to ensure that every student is ready for college or career. We also know, through available research, that students who opt to go directly into a career, need the same or perhaps more skills than those who will go right to college. Further, our state has adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), so we have an obligation to ensure complete alignment with these standards. Like many districts, we discovered that most of our high school courses were not nearly rigorous enough. It turns out that the level of rigor in our “honors” courses was the lowest level that would meet the new standards. So, in the 2012-2013 school year, we offered only the courses that would meet the Common Core State Standards. For the coming school year, we are offering a small group of honors level courses, which will exceed the CCSS. These include (but are not limited to) Honors English 1, 2, 3, 4, Pre-calculus, Calculus, Advanced World Languages,and some academic electives. Additionally, we are increasing the number of Advanced Placement (AP)courses, allowing more students to have the opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school.
In our middle schools, we have been working to fully implement the CCSS in the four academic areas. There are a few academic courses which include only high performing students, while other courses are more heterogeneously grouped (including students with varying academic levels). Some students are provided the opportunity to accelerate in particular subjects (i.e. taking 7thgrade math while still in 6th grade). Decisions on how to group students are made at the school level, by the people who know the children best. This is consistent with our policy, and with best practices. It is critical at this age that we pay close attention to students’ social development as well as academic development. Therefore, we want students to have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of electives, and a wide variety of people. At the McGinnis School we will be implementing the Teach-to-One program in math which will allow students to progress as quickly as possible, eliminating the issues that we previously experienced in “leveled” classes.
In our elementary schools, we are taking a hard look at our efforts for advanced students. How do we identify these students? Should they be in segregated classes? If so, how should these classes differ from more typical classes? Is grade acceleration (skipping grades) a good option for some students? Each elementary school is looking individually at each student with higher academic needs to determine what will be best for that student. Parents with students with higher academic needs are speaking directly to principals and teachers to ensure that each child is appropriately challenged and inspired each day.
Other questions that we have yet to answer throughout the district involve high achieving students who may have disabilities or language support needs. How do we provide appropriate services to “twice exceptional” students? How can we best support English language learners to have appropriate academic challenges while still learning English? These are important questions that need to be explored and addressed systemically.
Throughout the district, we are increasing our extracurricular offerings that will provide great artistic and intellectual outlets for all of our children. Such efforts include our debate team(including a bilingual team), new music programs such as El Sistema, new arts electives in the middle schools and high school, and programs in partnership with local non-government organizations and our city government. We want every child to have a rich learningexperience at every level.
As the mom of two children (now grown) who were academically advanced, I have an intimate understanding of how important it is to appropriately challenge a child. As an educator, I have created specific programming for these students, and am acutely aware of the educational consequences of each decision. I look forward to continuing our conversations throughout the next school year as we determine what approaches and programs will best meet the needs of our academically advanced students.
by Gisela Vigil
"Back then, I was thrown into a class of English speakers and I learned English fast."
"When I first came from my country, nobody taught in my language and I learned English."
"Why are you teaching your students in their native language? That's not how it was done back then when I was young."
Back then. Back then. Comments, such as these, are heard by our nation's bilingual teachers each day. Let's dare to look deeper...
Back then, when I came from another country there was, in fact, no bilingual education. There was also no color tv. Music played from record players or 8 track tapes. There existed only a few types of cereal and milk was delivered to my house in glass bottles. Pluto was still considered a planet and streets were safe places where children played.
Back then, the United States was considered a Melting Pot where different cultures, colors and beliefs all blended into one. No ingredient in this pot would retain its unique characteristics. Rather the new blend would be a product in which all traces of the old were removed.
Back then, the practice of segregation was written on the previous chapter just read. Discrimination was not recognized as unfair. How could it be, in a big pot which blended the uniqueness of human beings, rather than retain it?
Back then, those that were brewing in this melting pot would struggle within themselves as their identities melted. Birth names were changed, cultural foods and beliefs were taboo and language to be spoken, there was only one. Speak only English. Imagine having to learn everything you needed to know in a language you did not understand. If a child did not learn (because of language barrier,not intelligence), he/she was labeled as "not too smart".
Back then, within these children perhaps something stirred (outside of the pot). They became adults that had been scorched by fire as children. Perhaps the voice of inner child needed to be heard. They grew up to be the planters of a new seed, a new theory, upon America's soil. Its fruit, the Salad Bowl theory, replaced the idea of the Melting Pot.
What was back then, is not now. In the last four decades, extensive thought has been given to the benefits of the Salad Bowl idea in which each ingredient retains its color, flavor and uniqueness. The end result is the creation of a healthy new dish. No ingredient is stripped of its distinct color or flavor. Of each ingredient, we must plant and sow seeds. Some will flourish under direct sunlight, others in the shade. Some will thrive with little water while some will need more. Education is the fertilizer by which we give each seed a chance to grow.
Today, Bilingual Education is grossly misunderstood by many. It is not a method used to prevent a child from learning English. It seeks to educate our immigrant children so that concepts are learned in a language they can understand until they learn English well enough to understand them. At the same time, they are taught English. Bilingual Ed seeks to add opportunities, not prevent them, so that all children can learn. Its goal is for children to become productive members of our society. This cannot be accomplished if a child has "gaps" in knowledge due to a language barrier. Back then, we did not have millions of pages of research on how language is best learned. We do now.
Perhaps Bilingual Education is an attempt to clean up the mess from a previously failed practice.
The next time that you are enjoying a fresh salad, ask yourself if you would still be eating it had it been puréed in a blender.
Are you a reformer? You may immediately say no due to all of the recent hype in the educational news that decries “reformies” as the bad guys who are certainly causing the absolute destruction of our public education system. But before you answer too quickly, I ask you to consider this definition of reform from Wikipedia: “Reform means the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc…Reform is generally distinguished from revolution. The latter means basic or radical change; whereas reform may be no more than fine tuning, or at most redressing serious wrongs without altering the fundamentals of the system.”
There are some basic things wrong with our public school system here in Perth Amboy. This is evident by considering the dropout rate. We graduate a little less than 73% of our high school students. This means that of the nearly 700 or so who enter 9th grade every year, only around 500 actually complete the requirements for graduation…which means that about 200 kids a year drop out…which means that 200 kids a year are likely to continue the cycle of poverty that is embedded in our community…which means that 200 kids every year are at high risk of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, crime, poverty, and a lower life expectancy. Our low graduation rate has existed for decades; yet until this year, we have not had accurate data that reflects the truth. You can see for yourself by looking at state report cards from past years. Look at the stated graduation rate, and then compare the number of 9th graders to 12thgraders. Districts used to compare the number of grads to the total number of SENIORS each year, instead of comparing to the entire cohort when they first entered high school. We now understand that we must count all of our kids – not just those who make it to their senior year. Later this week, the state will release our official report cards for the 11-12 school year. You will see our schools compared to all others in the state, and for the first time, to “peer groups” in the state. These peer groups are an attempt to show progress among schools that are similar in demographics. This focus on the students is very different than the old “District Factor Groups” that used the relative wealth of municipalities for the comparison. After you look at the report cards, I ask you to ask yourself, “Do we need reform?”
There are some basic things that are very right, and even amazing about our public school system here in Perth Amboy. We have incredibly dedicated professionals who give all they have to our kids every day and are willing to try anything and everything that will lead our students to greater success. We have school leaders who embrace change and work tirelessly to support teachers in improvement of their practice. We have all of the resources we need to create great schools, and excellent fiscal management to ensure that the money follows the instructional needs of the kids. We have community partners who help us keep us our kids safe, and support education in a variety of venues. We have a Board that is focused on the kids, and moving politics out of the way so that reform is possible. Most of all, we have kids and families who are strong and resilient and ready to engage in the greatest education possible. All of the building blocks are in place for true reform.
I say this loudly and proudly. I am a reformer. I hope all of you will be brave enough to say that you are reformers too. Remember…we will have the schools we demand.
What is a good teacher? There has been much written about this topic. We have been working in Perth Amboy to establisha common understanding of what should be happening in every classroom every day,in order to ensure that kids are learning as much as possible. In short, a good teacher helps kidslearn and inspires them to do the things necessary for learning to take place. I became a teacher way back in 1984, whenwe were taught about the structure of lesson plans, how to establish a good educationalobjective, what the classroom should look like, and lots of other ingredients tosolid instruction. Teachers today understandthe same sorts of things. But thanksto a ton of research that has happened since 1984, we now know much more about howthe brain works and what specific strategies will lead to greater learning in kids. In Perth Amboy, we are putting all of thatgreat research to work. We have establishedsome common instructional expectations to help each other become better teachers,so that students will learn more.
A good teacher ensures 100% student engagement in learning. This means that every student in the classroomis fully involved in instructional activities. We don’t expect to see kids with their heads down, or staringout the window. We expect them to bebusy doing things.
A good teacher provides rigorous learning opportunities. We are using the Common Core State Standardsas the framework for learning. Thismeans that in a typical 8th grade classroom, students are working towardthe standards that are included at the 8th grade level (or higher) accordingto the Common Core. Activities shouldrequire kids to evaluate, analyze, and create as often as possible, as describedon Bloom’s Taxonomy. We expect thesame level of rigor in a general education classroom, in-class support classroom,or bilingual classroom.
A good teacher ensures that kids talk to one another aboutwhat they are learning. The days ofa teacher at the front of the room lecturing to students are long gone. We now know that kids learn the most fromother kids. So, we expect to see veryshort periods of direct instruction (no more than 5-10 minutes), followed by smallgroup work when students are working together on learning activities. In Perth Amboy classrooms, you will heara wonderful, continual “hum” of learning, almost everywhere!
A good teacher knows her kids are learning by providing meaningfulassessments. She understands that testsand quizzes should allow students to demonstrate mastery, and allows them to retakethem to continue demonstrating progress. Report card grades reflect true mastery, and not an overabundance of “soft”indicators.
A good teacher participates enthusiastically in professionallearning communities, focusing on the improvement of learning. He participates in instructional rounds,provides feedback to peers, and examines student work to understand what kidsare learning. He fully implementsthe programs and initiatives that have been selected for his students. Some examples this year include the ProgressiveScience Initiative, Progressive Math Initiative, and Reading Horizons.
And of course, a good teacher comes to work on time every dayprepared for the day.
This year we are on track for 100% completion of teacher evaluations,which has not happened for a long time in Perth Amboy. We are working together to ensure that evaluationsare meaningful; helping struggling teachers become good teachers, good teachersbecome great teachers, and great teachers to take on leadership roles withintheir schools. At a time when thereis so much noise around teacher evaluation, it is critical that we all work togetherto focus on helping teachers help their kids learn as much as possible.
These students are discussing the difference between addition and multiplication to create an original definition for each.
These students are working with their teacher to analyze non-fiction text.
These students are evaluating the capacity of different sizes and materials to hold water.
These students are evaluating the strength of responses to physics problems by their peers.
In active classrooms, where students are truly engaged, the students are doing most of the work. At the end of the day, they are usually a little more tired than their teachers because their brains have had a workout. Our Quantum Learning professional development has provided teachers with many strategies to increase engagement through changing state and adding multi-sensory approaches to learning. Our Progressive Math Initiative and Progressive Science Initiative provide tools for new types of engagement through technology. If you would like more professional development in these areas, please talk to your building administrator, a peer who is using these strategies, or drop me an email. I want to be sure that every teacher has lots of opportunities to visit classrooms, talk in professional learning communities,and access a variety of resources to improve engagement in the classroom. Let's work together to make 2013 a year of student engagement!