My granddaughter Zoe will enter first grade next week. Her sister Ava will start her second year of preschool. They attend school in another local school district. I know the girls are already excited and Ruth, their grandmother (and my wife) is adding to the excitement by mailing them a box of school supplies. We could have just dropped off the supplies but they are so excited to receive mail it just seemed like the best way to increase their excitement about school. The bubble gum and Silly Banz more than likely won’t find their way into the back packs for the first day. Zoe and Ava enter the school year with every advantage. They have caring parents, two sets of grandparents, and a loving aunt. All of the adults constantly tell the girls how important school is and reinforce and model that learning is fun.
This afternoon I visited East Oakview Elementary and had the honor of listening to the staff discuss the beliefs and goals contained in their school improvement plan. I sat with the first grade team of teachers. Table participants also included the school counselor, the library/media specialist, and the literacy interventionist. The discussion was lively and focused on what adult behaviors demonstrated the core belief of “every student can learn – just in different ways and at different rates.”
The staff discussed how they would implement the uninterrupted, 90 minute reading block for all students. They understand some students will master all of the reading standards and will need to be challenged. They know some students will not master the standards and will need remediation. The staff pledged to use their common planning time to build strategies for all students not just students who enter our doors with the same advantages as my granddaughters.
We aligned money from the district-wide curriculum budget to support this type of pledge. $500 is available to every classroom teacher in Kindergarten through 4th grade, every English/Language Arts teacher in grades 5–12, every self-contained teacher of special needs students in grades K–6, and every self-contained English/Language Arts teacher of special needs students in grades 7-12. The money will be used to purchase books for classroom libraries to meet the needs of the wide range of readers in each of the classrooms. The Reading Tree, a local business, will process the orders compiled by each teacher and provide a 30% discount on the purchases.
The 90 minute reading block and common planning time for elementary grade level teams were made possible by aligning staff time in the area of art, music, and physical education. This alignment also increased the amount of instructional time students receive in the unified arts. Of course when you realign staff and reduce budgets something else goes away. In this instance, we eliminated the introduction to Spanish language in grades K-6.
As I walked out of East Oakview this afternoon I wondered what Zoe and Ava’s teachers were doing this afternoon. I didn’t wonder what the teachers in our Northview schools were doing. I know they were highly engaged in the same types of conversations I witnessed at East. Each of our schools has a well defined school improvement plan.
I wonder if our son and his wife know about the choice process.