By Ginni Spencer
At successive meetings of the School Committee on May 27 and June 3, principals Kevin Tracey (John Glenn Middle School), Beth Benoit (Davis School) and Robert Ackerman (Lane School) presented summaries of strategic plans (also referred to as the School Improvement Plan) developed for their respective schools. Middle school assistant principal Matthew Mehler presented proposed changes to the Student Handbook.
Mehler began the review of the Handbook at the May 27 meeting by noting that in addition to ensuring that information on courses, programs and extra-curricular activities is accurate and up to date, the changes recommended also seek to better reflect the current practices and mission of the school. An academic honor code is being introduced, and various refinements to the JGMS Code of Conduct are being put forward.
With respect to the Code of Conduct, Principal Tracey added that the consequences of certain behaviors are being reviewed to better suit the younger ages that make up the middle school population. Rather than a strictly punitive approach to violations of the code, Tracey favors the creation of a greater number of options for responses by administrators that are more “pro-social” in nature. Such options might include, for example, the possibility of community or school service, restitution and/or apologies. Having the latitude of an array of responses to different situations involving students gives administrators more flexibility and increases the possibility of turning a potentially negative event into a learning opportunity.
The changes recommended were passed unanimously by the School Committee (Bradford Hafer absent).
The strategic plans for each school generally followed a common format of reviewing operational and professional goals under the headings of Governance and Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, and Assessment and Student support. The findings and recommendations presented to the School Committee reflected several months of discussion and feedback from teachers, parents, students and other staff members. (Copies of the School Improvement Plans may be obtained through the individual principals.)
All three of the principals acknowledged that the goals of the plans are ambitious and on-going; while significant progress will be sought annually, achievement in one year of all the goals is not projected. Common themes were: A shift in focus to more student-centered learning, a commitment to more efficient collection and utilization of data around how students learn successfully, the continuation of technology integration and making space in the schedule for social-emotional growth.
In talking about the middle school, a few of the goals Tracey mentioned were the need to continue working on maximizing professional development and fostering a positive school culture; focusing on instructional best practice; analyzing student achievement data to better understand successful learning; expanding Skill Center programming and ensuring counseling support for the social-emotional needs of students.
Principal Benoit led off her remarks at the June 3 meeting with a review of the revised mission statement for David School which emphasizes “respect, responsibility, and readiness” and the desire to enable students to become “life-long learners”. She also articulated goals of shared leadership, intelligent use of assessment tools, and a commitment to defining and implementing processes and protocols for the Bridges Program to meet the needs of students struggling with social and emotional challenges.
During the next presentation Principal Ackerman gave a brief explanation of planned changes to report card format was given along with an outline of other goals. Over the next year and beyond, Lane School will move to a standards-based report card instead of the traditional letter grade. Currently the report card at Lane is a “hybrid” of standards-based evaluation and letter grades; over time, this will become exclusively standards-based. He acknowledged that thoughtful communication, including feedback solicited from parents and others, will be required and will be planned for in the change.
As a component of his report to the School Committee, Ackerman introduced two Lane School staff members who have been leaders of the iPad Pilot Program at the school this year. Nicole Grimes, third grade, and Molly Maguire, fifth grade, each gave a brief report on their classroom experiences using the devices. Both were enthusiastic in their evaluations, highlighting increased independent learning, student collaboration, and creativity.
Discussion by the School Committee followed each presentation. Requests for mid-year progress reports to the School Committee were made. At the conclusion of the discussion, each plan was approved unanimously.