One of the best ways a parent can support their student is to keep in touch with what is happening at their student’s school and in the school district. I’m sure many of you are learning about your school’s communication methods firsthand as you get emails, phone calls, e-newsletters and even old-fashioned paper. Taking some time every week to review the school information can ensure you know what is coming up for your child. It can also help you learn how you can get involved in your child’s education and your school’s community.
I’ll put my pitch for PTSA in here. As a district, our PTSA units are amazing. The last I heard, about ten percent of all PTSA members in the state of Washington were from our district. What a great statement about the involvement of parents in our district! Our schools rely on PTSAs for volunteer and financial support that is critical.
What’s in it for you? You are sure to get the PTSA newsletter, which will contain information on PTSA activities for your student and family. You will get vital information that can help you be part of the school community and learn about issues important to the school.
In addition to the school and PTSA communications, the district also sends out an e-newsletter called Connections every two weeks or so during the school year. Scan each issue to see which articles pertain to your family – some may only affect students at elementary schools, for example, while others are of interest to parents of high school students.
While you read the latest issue of Connections, click on the Facebook or Twitter icons to connect with the district on either site. Get news about the district there first.
Of course, everyone has their own preferences about how they like to get information. How would you like to get the information you need from your school and from the district?
Since the 2012-13 district calendar was recently finalized, I thought I'd answer some of the questions that come up around the calendar. It's something that affects all of us -parents, students and staff alike.
How is the calendar set?
It's part of the contract between the district and the teachers' association. So the calendar comes out of negotiations between the district and the teachers. It does have to meet specific state requirements (180 school days, 1000 hours of instruction).
What is considered in developing the calendar?
Among the considerations are history (major changes can be disruptive); instructional continuity; alignment with neighboring districts. Parents have expressed interest in starting after Labor Day and ending by mid-June so those interests are also considered.
Why don't all districts have the same calendar?
Every district has the right to set their own calendar. There are different histories and interests in each. Each district negotiates its own calendar with its teachers' group. So inevitably, there are differences.
What happened to mid-winter break?
We used to have a week off for midwinter break. But it is difficult to meet the parent interest of starting after Labor Day and ending in mid-June while taking two weeks for winter break, a week for mid-winter break and a week for spring break. In 2008, we made a change to three days off for midwinter break, rather than five.
When is the next time the district will look at making any changes in the calendar?
The school board just approved a one-year extension of the contract. Thus, we should be in negotiations with the teachers' association next year, which would affect the calendars for 2013-14 and the next two years after that if we come to a three-year agreement.
Any other calendar questions? Post them here to get answers.
I asked a few principals to share the agenda for their school’s LEAP day work today to give you some examples, after yesterday’s post on what LEAP Days are.
One critical item is the special education promotion process, which starts today. Special Education Guidance Teams will meet together to plan student transitions for special education students from preschool to elementary, from elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school. Counselors, special education staff and specialists meet to review the needs of each child and their educational programs with the student’s new school for next year. This step is just the first one, followed by IEP meetings, possible observations and additional planning work to ensure schools are ready for these students on the first day next year. A similar process takes place for students in the English Language Learner program.
While this process happens every year, there are two extra classes worth of students to plan transitions for this year with both 5th and 6th graders moving to middle school, and 8th and 9th graders moving to high school. Additional time on early release Wednesdays will be needed to make sure every student in these programs are covered. The time needed to completely review every student and the additional steps in planning for transitions for these students means we couldn’t put this process off to a later date. That was a key reason why this LEAP day could not be substituted for a student day in making up the snow days.
School reconfiguration, of course, is a big topic for schools this year. Junior highs and high schools will spend time today preparing for this shift. For example, Juanita High School will look at a model to help prepare for their incoming classes, using data to understand their academic needs. Evergreen Junior High will focus on how to transition kids, providing consistent expectations and a safe, supportive environment. Eastlake High School is examining its schedule and its homeroom system.
Another big topic is assessment. As noted in yesterday’s item, schools have several assessment modules to learn about best grading practices. Quite a few schools will be using time today to work through one of them.
Next year, many of the middle schools and high schools will introduce netbook computers on a ratio of one device for each student. Elementary schools have netbooks on a one netbook to three students ratio. Evergreen Junior High will be planning when and how to introduce netbooks into their school while Lakeview Elementary teachers are sharing effective strategies for using netbooks.
In some cases, teachers from different schools willshare knowledge and best practices. If you see an empty parking lot at your school, your teachers are spending their LEAP day at another school. For example, the Juanita Elementary and Keller Elementary staffs are getting together in the morning to review upcoming topics in the math curriculum. Specifically, they are planning ways teachers can intervene for students who aren’t getting it and enrichment activities for students who learn quickly or even already know the topic. In the Eastlake Learning Community, the six elementary schools will all get together. Each grade level team across the schools has determined their own agenda. For example, all of the fourth grade teachers will gather to discuss science. They will share best practices, materials and strategies to support student learning in this subject.
These are just a few examples of the work going on in schools today. Teachers are learning, planning and analyzing data. They are working together to make schools better for your student.
March 16 is a LEAP day, a non-school day for students that teachers use for professional development. So what happens in schools on those days, anyway?
First, LEAP stands for Learning Enhancement and Academic Planning. It tends to be described as a teacher professional development day or a day of professional learning. That takes many different forms but there are some common themes to what teachers do on LEAP days.
Curriculum and assessment are key topics. Teachers are responsible for teaching the district curriculum: on LEAP days, they learn about new curriculum or get ideas about how best to teach the current curriculum. Assessment is another area where teachers are always working to stay current with best practice. Teachers learn about how best to determine which students need extra help and which need extra challenge, as well as what to do once they figure that out.
For both curriculum and assessment, the district provides schools with specific learning modules to go through either on a full day LEAP or on the Wednesday afternoon weekly LEAP time (the reason schools get out early on Wednesday). This year, schools are working through modules on the Common Core Standards our state has adopted, the elementary math curriculum, and several models on common grading and assessment practices.
Some of the LEAP days are more structured. For example, the October 7 LEAP day set aside time for each school to examine and update the math goal they set as part of their Continuous Improvement Process. There were also specific technology topics covered by elementary schools and others by secondary schools (junior highs and high schools).
Other LEAP days provide more time for the school buildings to determine what they need to work on. March 16, for example, is a day that buildings will be working on what will help them improve most. Topics fall into one of several categories:
Continuous improvement planning
Addressing professional responsibilities, including instruction, assessment, curriculum
Professional development time for teachers and principals
Fostering student achievement and teacher collaboration
There will be more detail in the next blog entry but some of the topics being covered at different schools tomorrow include grade reconfiguration planning, assessment, Continuous Improvement Plan review and progress, and effective use of netbook computers.
We’ve gotten questions from parents about whether the district will seek a waiver so that we do not have to make up all the snow days that resulted from our recent week of horrible weather. Some other districts have announced they will do so while others have not.
Of course, the process isn’t as simple as you might think. First, here’s what the law requires that we do each year. Students have to go to school 180 days. They also have to get 1000 hours of instruction. It’s up to each district to determine how that happens. So Tuesday, the 17th, when we had a late start and early release, still counts as a school day for the 180 days.
We can seek a waiver to the 180 days provision if the governor declared an emergency and the county can show enough damage for it to be included. That hasn’t happened yet but may occur. That waiver doesn’t get us out of the 1000 hours rule, though. We would still have to meet that requirement.
Right now, no decisions have been made on whether or not to seek a waiver or on how to make up the extra three days. Once any formal decisions are made, you can be sure I will get the word out to all parents as quickly as possible.
The article in today's Seattle Times (http://bit.ly/vnBUuJ) about one of the chaperones on a school field trip being recognized as a wanted felon brought home to me why our volunteer screening process is so important. Seattle Schools do in fact do background checks on parent volunteers but it appears from this report some part of the process did not work in this instance.
There is a chain of responsibility that is required to keep kids safe when volunteers are involved in our district, even when they are parents. Volunteers have to take the time to fill out the application. The district volunteer office has to run the background checks and approve volunteers. School staff have to check to make sure the volunteers in their schools and on their field trips have been approved.
It's easy for one part of this chain to slip. As this story shows, though, the reasons to remain vigilant in following the process completely are many - all the students who could be put in danger.
A previous guest post described the new STEM school that will be an option for ninth and tenth grade students next year. Many parents and students don't know about another option that high school students in our district have, which is the Cambridge Program, offered at Juanita High School. Gloria Heier, associate principal at Juanita, offers some basic information here.
Juanita High School initiated the Cambridge AICE Program in the fall of 2010 with the first group of ninth graders. This rigorous academic program, supported by the University of Cambridge in England, culminates in an Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) – an international diploma. With an international standard, the Cambridge Program provides external validation of student achievement. The curriculum provides students with opportunities to develop higher-order thinking skills, using information and applying it in context, and with opportunities to demonstrate learning through multiple modes of communication.
As with Advanced Placement courses and the International Baccalaureate Program, many colleges and universities offer recognition for participation in the Cambridge AICE program. For a list of these universities, please go to the Cambridge International site
and then enter your search criteria. This video
provides comments by admissions officers of respected universities throughout the United States.
AICE courses and examinations, also known as the British A Level examinations, will be offered for students in grades 11 and 12. In preparation for the demands of AICE, 9th and 10th graders participate in a pre-AICE, or International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), curriculum and assessment program (the former British O Level examinations).
Spring assessment results for the first class of students in the Cambridge program were outstanding, with 68% of the scores being A or A* (the highest possible) and 96% of the scores passing. For specific information about the Cambridge curriculum and academic course of study, visit the Cambridge program section on the Juanita High website
. Specific information about the application process and the profile of a Cambridge student can be found there as well.
An information meeting for the Cambridge program will be held in the Juanita High library at 7 p.m. on January 4.
Another rumor has been floating around, this one that Redmond High and Eastlake High will be closed to variances next year. (Variance is education-speak for permission to attend a school other than the one your neighborhood is assigned to.) Redmond High and Eastlake High are closed this school year to variances from students who do not live in the district.
The reality is that no decision has been made yet on closed schools for 2012-13
. The open enrollment period is in February 2012. In January, final updating of enrollment projections for each school will be completed. Based on that information, decisions are made on whether a school will be open, open only to students who live in the district or closed to all. Keep an eye on the Closed Schools page
toward the end of January to learn the answer.
Keep in mind two things. One is that Dr. Kimball wants high school students to have choice in their academic program. He would like to keep open enrollment across the high schools for students who live in the district if possible. The second is that schools that are open take students on a space available basis. If more students apply for variances than the space available in a particular grade at an open school, a lottery may be necessary to ensure fair distribution of those spaces.
A reader asked in a comment to the last post if it were true that honors classes will no longer be offered in 8th grade and if so, why? Good question and in fact, junior high principals recently had a discussion of how challenge and honors will be handled in the middle schools. Last year, principals developed middle school belief statements to drive their work. Here’s the one that applies, edited for space:
Middle school students experience success at school when
they experience a rigorous and relevant curriculum that prepares them for success in high school and leaves them confident in their abilities… when academically challenging curriculum is available to all students regardless of their background… and when challenge and extended opportunities are provided for all students.
Rather than offering honors only to students who are in a separate class, the plan is to integrate challenge/honors opportunities so they are available to all students in a class. All students in that class will have the opportunity to tackle one or more “honors” level assignments. Those that complete a specific set of these challenging assignments will receive the “honors” designation. Each school is determining which subjects and in which grades they will offer challenge/honors opportunities. The overarching goal is to ensure that instruction is differentiated for every student depending on their individual needs.
The start of school next year will be different. Every school in the district will serve a different range of grades. Elementary schools will serve K-5, losing sixth grade. Junior highs serving grades seven thorugh nine will become middle schools serving grades six through eight and high schools will add ninth grade. These changes will affect every school and every support department as well. Understandably, parents and staff alike are a little nervous.
While there have not been many announcements about the preparations lately, a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to get ready. For example, The Shifting Grades
section of this website has information on the work that junior high principals did to develop the middle school model schools will use. Dr. Kimball's message
on this site describes the ongoing work to determine which staff members will be at which schools next fall.
As communications director, I'm part of the operations group. That includes our business services, facilities, transportation, technology, human resources and other departments. We have been meeting to plan our part in the grade reconfiguration transition. We have been identifying the operational issues, the tasks we will need to do and which tasks depend on the completion of other tasks before they can begin. It's like a giant puzzle, only we have to both create the pieces and figure out how they fit together. But the picture is becoming more and more clear. And some of the pieces are already done and in place.
Many of our regular operations processes are being moved up this year so that extra time can help us prepare for the changes. The staffing process is starting now rather than in February, for example. Projections on the number of students expected next year in each school have been completed. That's another job that is usually done much later in the year. Those numbers, though, are needed to determine teacher needs, facility needs, moves of curriculum materials, furniture needs, and much more.
I'm not going to tell you that everything will be perfect when school doors open next fall. Many district staff members are, though, working hard to make the transition as smooth as possible.