by Marc J. Smith and Patricia Hill
On Friday, October 17th a team of over 20 teachers, parents and administrators traveled to Duxbury and East Bridgewater to visit schools that are configured in a way that Sandwich will be next year. We were organized into two groups, one focused on the PreK-2 design and another focussed on the 3-6 design. Each of the schools that we visited welcomed us with open arms and we are so very appreciative of their willingness to host our large groups, answer a plethora of questions and give us a comprehensive tour of their facilities.
While the groups still need to reconvene to debrief what they observed, we thought we would share our initial thoughts from the visit.
The group focused on PreK-2 design was warmly welcomed to the Chandler School of Duxbury in the morning and the Central School of East Bridgewater in the afternoon. My first impression from both schools was that you could tell right away that the building was occupied by young learners. Every aspect of the building from color choices for the wall to signage to the conversation with staff left no doubt in my mind that these schools were focused on early childhood. This was affirmed by our conversation with the principals and their support staff. Each spoke to the benefits of a school focused on early learners, their unique needs and a consistent building/community wide approach that was rigorous yet developmentally appropriate.
My second observation was that each of the two schools took a different approach in the way that they organized classrooms inside the building. While one school chose to create clusters of classrooms at the same grade level, the other school decided to dedicate an entire floor to each grade level. In looking back on it, I see that each decision was made to best fit the physical layout of the school and that we will have to look closely at our school before making our decisions.
Similarly, the two buildings took a different approach to lunch, recess and large group assemblies. Where one school only had three lunches and three recesses, the other decided to break the students into smaller groups and run six of each. As we toured the building and the recess areas, it became apparent that again these decisions were made based upon the facility each of the principals had to work with.
Third, each school provided some type of a program that allowed families to extend the student day so as to better meet the needs of families. This is something that I feel we already do well here in Sandwich; however, I am looking for ways that we can better coordinate this for our Pre-K families and provide options for families that need a full-day experience for their child.
Lastly, I left the visits feeling very confident that we can be very successful with this model. When questions about things like class placement, transition, community and scheduling, I realized that both schools used very similar approaches to handle these things that we do. The larger numbers of students at one grade level did not require radically different approaches to these processes. Rather, they were able to fine tune each procedure to be better matched for the developmental level of students in the PreK-2 level and the specific needs of families entering the school system for the first time.
Our 3-6 Reconfiguration Team left the day with many of the same impressions that Marc mentioned above. The way that the primary schools were organized in each district flowed into the intermediate schools as well. For example, the Alden School in Duxbury is organized by teams so that there were clusters of teams from each grade level on each floor to give it that small school feel. However, when students went on to the next grade they did not necessarily stay on the “floor” the were on the year before. Students did move with a “learning partner”. This is a familiar face from the class the year before. A Learning Partner is a person that the teacher felt was a good academic match for each child. Even though students were only sent on with one Learning Partner, the school did an excellent job in the planning and placement of students based on a wide array of academic, physical and social-emotional needs.
One of the take-aways for the day was the process for their Child Study Teams. These are meetings where administrators, teachers and support staff meet to develop regular education interventions and differentiated practices for students and monitor their progress over time. The Alden School was extremely generous in sharing materials and ideas around what the principal referred to as their most successful initiative. This attention to the individual students is another reason a large school was able to feel small.
How space is used was a particular interest to me, especially since Oak Ridge will house close to 950 students next year. Although neither school had the physical plant that we have, the experience of touring the buildings has me looking at our space differently. I’m now looking at “what it could be” versus “what is it now”. For example, I noticed that the Mitchell School used small spaces between classrooms for pull aside, small group interventions very effectively. As for outdoor spaces, students in the intermediate schools had play structures very similar to ours, but we certainly got ideas on how to make adjustments including round tables for students who prefer to sit and talk, climbing areas, as well as using both field and playground spaces during recess.
Another area of interest was after-school activities and enrichments. Both school districts provided fee based enrichment programs for students that were run through local partners. In order to maximize opportunities for kids, adjustments were made to add sessions in high interest clubs, or to repeat sessions so students who didn’t get their 1st pick in one session, could get it during the next round.
I think I speak for both Marc and me when I say we found the day inspirational and are excited to begin the planning here in Sandwich. We’d like to thank not only to the teams at Duxbury and East Bridgewater Public Schools, but also to the visiting teams from Sandwich who devoted a full day to be part of this amazing opportunity. We are looking forward to sharing our notes with the rest of our RPT teams, and will then share them with the larger community.
We also invite anyone who is interested to join us at our Reorganization Planning Team Meetings.
The next meetings for the Pre-2 Team are Thursday, November 6 and November 20, 2014 from 5:30-7:30 in the Forestdale Library.
The next scheduled meeting for the Gr 3-6 Oak Ridge Team is Tuesday, October 28th at 6:30pm at Oak Ridge.
You can also download the schedule for the Pre-2 Team, at Forestdale, here: Reorganization Planning Team Dates