2000-10-21 / Columnists

Focus On 27 Community School District News and Notes District 27 Middle Schools: Raising The Bar By Rose P. Molinelli

Focus On 27
Community School District News and Notes
District 27 Middle Schools: Raising The Bar
By Rose P. Molinelli

Ex. Asst. to the Superintendent

It is always exciting and challenging to be a member of a team that possesses the determination, the skills and the passion to make a difference in the lives of children. Since October 25, 1999, I have had the pleasure of serving as executive assistant to Superintendent Matthew Bromme and of working with a dynamic administrative team in C.S.D. 27. One of my major responsibilities is to collaborate hand in hand with principals to raise the bar in our middle schools.

For a number of recent years, our graduating elementary school students have opted to attend middle schools in neighboring districts. Our goal is to halt this exodus by offering our District 27 children a superlative academic program so that our middle schools become competitive choices for our children. I would like to highlight some of the initiatives that have already begun to have a positive impact on our middle schools.

Staff Development: Research has proven what you and I already know: Good leaders lead good schools. Study after study demonstrates that the single most important factor in a school’s success is an ethical, strong, focused, knowledgeable and visionary educational leader who is able to communicate to and interact with students, parents and staff in a collaborative manner. Through the District 27 Middle School Initiative, our principals have formed a voluntary study group that meets bi-weekly to learn and work together. Some of the research-based accomplishments that are taking place in our schools include extended learning blocks, portfolio assessment and formalized individual education contracts for children having difficulty in a particular subject area.

On-Site Training: Research also teaches us that as much as 90 percent of learning can be lost without the component of on-site mentoring and practice of learned skills and strategies. Consequently, in addition to ongoing one-to-one mentoring with the individual principals, we have also established collegial walkthroughs. During the walkthrough the principal, assistant principal(s) and staff development team members meet with me to identify school needs, conduct a walkthrough to assess the identified focus areas and participate in an exit conference to design a plan of improvement. Each walkthrough is followed by a written assessment reiterating the follow-up goals that were collaboratively set. The school teams especially value these experiences because we are able to measure the school’s growth and improvement in a concrete manner. Cohort visits, where a cadre of principals visit each other’s schools for assessing and sharing best practices, is another factor that has improved performance.

Articulation: There is a renewed commitment on the part of our middle schools to articulate with our Queens high schools, our district elementary schools and our parent community. The goal is to enhance communication, build joint educational programs and increase parent/community involvement. Our middle schools have been hosting orientation programs, high school nights and open houses to familiarize parents and prospective parents with their special programs. In addition, our middle schools students and teachers have performed in community programs, excelled in academic competitions, and created subject area publications and/or videos celebrating their achievements. All of these activities are spreading the good work that our District 27 middle schools are thriving.

Academies: In an effort to meet the academic and learning needs of all our children, District 27 has successfully implemented two special academies this calendar year. The Active Learning Prep School, an official academy since February, features an expeditionary learning, outward bound methodology for six through eighth grade students. The newly created Superintendent’s Academy currently offers an alternative program of study for eighth grade plus students having difficulty meeting the standards for high school. By intensely concentrating on the major subject areas in a project based, block program model, these children should be able to enter high school in February. Long range, the Superintendent’s Academy may expand as an alternative middle school. Each Academy, directed by capable and creative administrators, offers students a small school approach, a strong academic program and an opportunity to learn in a specialized structure. Both alternative programs, although different in nature, are highly successful.

Gifted and Talented Programs: One of the factors that helps to improve the standing of a school district and make schools attractive to higher achieving students is the caliber of its Gifted and Talented Programs. Our middle school principals are committed to raising the bar in our schools. They have been working hard with their staffs to establish entrance criteria, expand their academic and talent course offerings and present a thematic program of studies based upon the school’s strengths and natural/community resources. This important information will soon be publicized and disseminated to students and parents.

Middle School Advisory Council: Good things don’t just happen in schools. They occur because administrators and staff work together to ensure success. In order to promote understanding and a spirit of cooperation, our middle school principals, together with our UFT chapter leaders, have begun to meet collegially off site on a monthly basis. The expectation is that problems can be anticipated, explored together and solved in a manner that meets each constituency’s needs while upholding contractual obligations. We believe this collaboration will impact positively on student learning.

Special Magnet Programs: The Chancellor’s Magnet Learning Communities offers our District 27 children an opportunity to participate in a unique program that provides a continuum of instruction with our Queens high schools. Middle School 180 (Law and Forensic Studies) and Middle School 202 (Science and Humanities), together with Beach Channel High School and John Adams, respectively, have created exciting thematic partnerships. Our students engage in advanced academic studies at their middle school and have the additional advantage of participating in a wide variety of extended day and Saturday academic and/or talent courses at their neighboring high school site. An expeditionary Breakaway Camp experience is additional offering at MS 202. Our district is currently working to expand magnet school offerings in the near future.

Our District 27 middle schools have only just begun our quest to raise the bar and yet we have experienced tremendous growth during this past year. We possess the passion and the talent to lead our schools to even higher standards during this year and in coming years. With the help of a supportive community, our children no longer have to look elsewhere for a sound middle school education. We are raising the bar in our own back yard.

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