Dear Thoreau Parents,
As we reflect on the 2011-2012 school year, please join the Thoreau staff and me in acknowledging and celebrating the many wonderful learning experiences and educational opportunities that have taken place for our students at Thoreau School, in numerous classrooms and in very creative and innovative ways. Together we have planned and executed best teaching practices and held students to high standards and expectations. Thoreau’s unique character, excellence in teaching, and the tremendous dedication and talent of our staff continues to make it a wonderful and special learning environment.
In planning for next school year, I have made some changes to teaching assignments. These changes have caused some debate. This was not my intent, and I want to communicate with you the rationale behind the changes.
It is my deep belief that the hallmark of a great school is to continuously work to improve learning for each and every child. As the leader of Thoreau School, I see this is as my most important responsibility and I take it very seriously. Therefore, creating strong and effective teacher teams at each grade level each year is a top priority for me as I work to ensure positive and effective teacher collaboration on behalf of children’s learning.
As principal, I am solely responsible for the supervision and evaluation of every staff member at Thoreau. In doing this, I visit every classroom several times throughout the year for extended periods of time as well as make numerous informal visits. These observational visits have given me a unique perspective on the teaching life of the school. I have been able to see firsthand how and what kind of learning is taking place in every classroom. In addition, I have also gained knowledge and perspective in working with faculty members both in groups or individually, throughout the year.
In considering teaching assignments, my goal is to create grade-level teaching teams whose collective and collaborative efforts will enhance children learning. This work includes analyzing teacher strengths, and reflecting on the many factors that contribute to making effective teams. In doing this, my most important consideration always is what will be best for children’s learning.
Teaching assignments can and usually do need to be adjusted from year to year. This is a very common practice in many elementary schools, including others in Concord. It has not been as common at Thoreau. In future years, I anticipate that assignments may be changed, but change should, and will, be based always on children’s needs.
Summer is a very special time for children and is the source of many happy memories. I hope that you and your children enjoy many opportunities to have fun as a family in the weeks ahead. I look forward to seeing your children in September.
Below is a summary of our work as a school community this past year.
We successfully reached our school goals outlined in our School Improvement Plan. Specifically, grade level teams met monthly with the math curriculum specialist, principal and special education teachers to study student work, analyze student data, and to work on the planning and implementation of math SMART goals. District-wide pre- and post-assessments were developed and implemented in grades 3, 4, and 5 for each of the 9 units in Investigations. Much time was devoted to analyzing the effectiveness of the new assessments for improving student learning. Teachers on each grade level were provided with opportunities to give constructive feedback on the new assessments. This feedback was shared with the principals and math specialists at Alcott and Willard, the Director of Teaching and Learning, and the Superintendent. Teachers in grades K through 5 read and discussed the Common Core standards at their grade level to compare and contrast the differences between the Common Core and current state standards, including the Crosswalks document provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Teachers also had the opportunity to work with the mathematics specialist to share instructional strategies used in the classroom for the implementation of the new common core standards. Fifth grade teachers were provided with an additional professional development day to work on the new content material on fractions now included in the two fraction units in Investigations.
As a result of this year’s goal, future work includes:
- Revising the grades 3-5 pre- and post-tests based on teacher feedback
- Creating common district-wide assessments for grades K-2
- Revising the existing progress reports to reflect the Common Core Standards
- Creating a model for mathematics Response to Intervention (RTI) at each grade level
In literacy, grade level teams met monthly with the language arts specialist to study student work, analyze student data, and to work on the planning and implementation of language arts SMART goals. Teachers read and discussed grade level Common Core standards to compare and contrast differences between the Common Core and current state standards, including the Crosswalks document provided by the DESE.
- Several teachers who were recently trained in a grammar program entitled Framing Your Thoughts met several times during the school year to discuss and share their teaching experiences and future plans for using this program and additional training.
- The literacy specialist met monthly with the reading tutors to discuss guided reading instruction student assessment data.
- The literacy specialist also provided additional training in Words Their Way for several staff members to build word skills for students.
Another important goal we worked on this year was to improve the school climate for the greater Thoreau community including students, staff, and families. Examples of this include the following:
- A committee was established to investigate issues surrounding school climate and social skills. The Thoreau CARES committee met several times throughout the year and surveyed staff to gather information and to create a vision for making school-wide improvements.
- The METCO program was evaluated to determine areas where we could make improvements. Staff was surveyed, results were analyzed, and five themes emerged. One immediate improvement will be to restructure the incoming Kindergarten meeting format. This new meeting structure was piloted this year with very positive feedback and results from both families and staff.
- A school newspaper club was initiated with great success. Many students committed to the project, along with several parent volunteers. The first edition of The Thoreau Times was distributed building-wide as well as to local businesses and it was a great source of pride for the Thoreau community. There was an outpouring of positive feedback from the students, staff, and parents.
- Monthly All School Assemblies and Spirit Days were also well received by students and staff. These two student-centered initiatives helped foster greater school spirit and a sense of community. Fifth grade students also served as strong role models for the rest of the student body as they lead the All School Meetings.
- The principal held monthly parent coffees for each grade level for parents to openly ask questions and discuss curriculum, instruction, or other topics of interest related to Thoreau School. A mathematics survey was designed and given to the parent community for their feedback. We are also working on a survey for the staff and once this is completed we will share all of the results and discuss next steps.
Another important goal our staff worked on throughout the school year was to increase staff participation in building school culture focused on improving student learning. Examples of this included the following:
- Time was allocated at faculty meetings for staff to share professional development, lessons, and learning activities targeted toward professional growth for all.
- Staff was provided opportunities to participate in several committees including the Thoreau CARES Committee, School Leadership Team (SLT), School Advisory Committee (SAC), Global Education, Grounds for Learning, and the School Spirit/Assemblies Committee.
- Grade level Teams, K through 5, created SMART Goals for English Language Arts and Mathematics. They collaborated to decide on their goals and then discussed and analyzed their success in meeting those goals.
- Staff helped form agendas for faculty and building-based meetings when applicable and contributed towards planning and modifying building-based processes. One such result of this was that staff invited two great resources to talk to our staff about autism spectrum disorders. Two staff members volunteered to lead discussions and develop a staff survey in order to analyze how we could strengthen our METCO program. Theses teachers also met with Aaron Joncas, METCO Director, to seek his input and support of the program. These efforts were well received by our staff and METCO families. This work will continue next year and beyond.
- The First Class Attention Thoreau folder was utilized for increasing the effectiveness of the dissemination of information to all staff including calendars, meeting schedules, meeting notes, and meeting projects.
- The principal initiated a blog this year as a different means of communicating important and timely information about Thoreau School with staff and families.
Last, our staff explored 21st century ways to interact with print as indicated by the new Common Core Standards. Here are some examples of how this was achieved:
- K-5 teachers were provided time to review the new Common Core standards for writing during their Tech Tuesdays. Sample lessons and activities were shared and discussed. Several teachers shared best practices that prompted more sharing of ideas.
- Ongoing opportunities for professional development were accessed by many teachers as they experimented with new activities and tools. Grades 3-5 teachers explored online writing tools such as Kidblog, WordPress, and Evernote. Grades K-2 teachers explored creating templates that students can access within our network to create and publish a variety of digital writing activities. Teachers and students in Grade 5 also piloted the use of iPads for the first time.