"Long after they've forgotten what you taught them, they will remember how you treated them."
-author unknown

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Project Citizen as an example of student democracy

Middle school years are a time when students start to seek independence (both at home and at school).  You probably know this already!  We try to give our students an opportunity to have a say in how their school operates.  There are many ways to do this and there is no clearer example than Project Citizen.  The link to the Project Citizen home page is in the navigation bar to the right of this entry.

There is a group of students at OHMS who are currently participating in Project Citizen.  Their project will be looking at the Student Code of Conduct that exists in the student handbook.  The students started by examining the Code of Conduct and drafting a problem statement.  This problem statement had five points to be addressed.  In addition to this statement, the group has created two surveys, one for students and the other for the OHMS staff.  These surveys are designed to gather input from the respective groups regarding their experiences with the Code of Conduct.  The group has also met with me a number of times throughout the process.

The ultimate goal is for their work to have a direct and positive effect on their school community.  I have no doubt it will have such an effect.  We are always looking for ways to include our students in decision making at OHMS.  Project Citizen is just one way for this to occur.  Great work kids!!      

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Technology to Enhance Learning and Communication

I apologize for the tardy and delayed entry.  I mentioned in last week's newsletter that this post would occur.  Well, here it is.  Better late than never.

I have written about technology use at OHMS before.  But tonight is our Technology Showcase where students and staff are "showing" off the many ways we use technology to enhance learning here at OHMS.  So this blog topic seemed entirely appropriate.  We feel strongly that technology is a tool.  It is not the teacher or the sole source of information.  Teachers and their years of experience and training are not replaceable.  We realize that the public has made a real commitment to technology in RSU#4 and specifically at OHMS. We hope that the showcase will demonstrate that we take this commitment seriously and that these machines are serious tools designed to enhance the educational experience of our students. 

Technology is also used daily to improve students' skill levels.  There are many quality sites that provide exercises and data collection around very specific academic topics (adding fractions).  Teachers are able to use these sites as resources that have a high interest level for the students and have real educational value.

Giving students a voice and some choice around their academics is a hallmark of both the middle school approach and that of proficiency-based education (customized learning).  The student laptops and the web provide multiple ways for students to access information and ways to demonstrate knowledge.  Blogs, websites, Prezis, Keynotes, Google Docs, charts and graphs are just some examples of interesting and engaging ways students can show what they know.  

Collecting and managing the volumes of data is no small feat.  One that is not possible without the right technologies.  Infinite Campus allows for some of that collection and also allows parents access to grades, attendance and lunch counts, all at your convenience.  We encourage parents to check on their child's progress regularly through this technology.

Our technology takes many forms and is used in many ways.  Increased communication is an important goal for us.   This blog for instance is an attempt to inform our community of OHMS programs and systems, why we do things the way we do and the research behind these decisions.  We also deliver the newsletter via email saving paper and human resources.  Our report cards are now available on line.  OHMS teachers have "teacher sites" that allow parents 24/7 access to information and resources specific to a child's class.  Our school site (www.oakhillmiddle.info) has links to these teacher sites as well as copies of newsletters and my once a month school board report.  We hope to add virtual tours of the school soon for those kids transferring in the middle of the year or summer.

Finally, we at OHMS would like to thank Mrs. Audet and her tech team for all the support they provide the students and staff.  Tech Day and the Technology Showcase would not be possible without their support.   

Friday, February 10, 2012

Customized Learning

Perhaps you've heard about RSU#4's new path toward Mass Customized Learning (MCL).  We have been existing in an educational setting that is truly archaic.  It was created in the 1800's during the industrial revolution.  Our educators have been doing as well as possible under this system.  The State Dept. of Education and the RSU#4 School Board have decided that it is time for a change in our delivery system. This is no small feat.  We are used to what we have always done.  There are some models out there to examine, but what we have discovered throughout numerous conversations is that MCL looks different from one place to another, across states, towns and schools.

With the commitment from the school board, we are moving forward with some planning.  There will be training available for educators and administrators.  We are visiting other schools that are in this process in order to learn from their successes and mistakes.

The premise behind MCL is that students are able to progress through an established set of standards and learning targets at their own pace.  This is a gross over-simplification of a significant shift in practice and school culture.  Students receive learning plans that guide them though the learning targets.  These plans establish the necessary activities that must be completed prior to assessments.  Multiple resources are available to the student for guidance.  In using this system, students are typically more successful with exams and assessments as they don't complete them until they are ready.

We are taking small steps towards MCL.  All of our teachers are establishing and communicating learning targets to their students.  Ask your child about learning targets.  They should be able to tell you which learning targets they are working towards in each of their classes.

For more information, visit the MCL website posted on the right-hand navigation bar or give us a call!    

Friday, February 3, 2012

Counseling services at OHMS

As has been discussed in this blog and in person with many parents, the middle school years are a time represented by significant physical, social and emotional change.  This is not news to any of us who spend time with pre-adolescents.  Most kids this age do not have fully developed coping skills to handle these changes alone.  They need our help.  They need help from home and they need help from school.  It truly does take a village to raise a child.  An integral part of this team approach is a school counselor.  The roles of the teacher, administrator, bus driver, and custodian in a school are all pretty clear.  Not so much for the school counselor.  I hope to add some clarification.

To start, we have several staff members that fill counselor-like roles.  In addition to our school counselor we have a two 1/2 time social workers.  These roles are quite specific in working with identified students through their IEPs or 504 plans.  They are attached to specific programs and provide more of a therapeutic service.  Our social workers are not typically accessed by the general student population.

We have a full time time school counselor at OHMS.  Her name is Mrs. Cloutier.  Her job is complex and multi-faceted.  Her primary role is to service students.  All students are able to access Mrs. Cloutier through appointments.  The reasons for students meeting with Mrs. Cloutier are as varied as the students themselves.  Issues with friendships, troubles at home or in the classroom and the all too common low self-esteem cause many of these meetings.  Her job is to listen and support the student through advocacy and problem-solving. She is a very busy lady.

Mrs. Cloutier also works to acclimate and register new students. She meets with new students and their families to develop schedules and provide as smooth a transition as possible.  She teaches career prep skills, holds social skills groups, runs a "walking group" and has duties.  All in a day.

Supporting students through their middle years takes everyone being involved.  These are special kids and they deserve special treatment.  Our counselors and social workers are a lesser known, but entirely crucial part of OHMS and the education we provide.  Please call if you feel your child could benefit from these services!        

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Technology and Student Learning (at OHMS)

The use of technology in schools has increased at what can seem like an amazing rate.  Currently, OHMS has a 1:1 computer / student ratio.  Our 7th and 8th graders have MLTI (Maine Learning Technology Initiative) laptops.  While not the exact same machines, this program started back during Governor King's administration.  Student laptops have been in middle schools for many years.  More recently, the school board voted to fund this laptop program through 12th grade using the same machines found at the middle level.  As recent as last year, laptops were purchased so that our 6th graders will have the same access to technology as the rest of our students.  They are not the same machines, but equally as effective.

Simply possessing a machine will not increase student achievement.  Our student laptops are designed to be instructional tools.  We look to use them as another learning strategy to enhance students' experience.

In the 2007 posted research article from the Association of Middle Level Educators (AMLE), "under the right conditions, technology:
  • Accelerates, enriches, and deepens basic skills.
  • Motivates and engages students in learning.
  • Helps relate academics to the practices of today's workforce.
  • Increases economic viability of tomorrow's workers.
  • Strengthens teaching.
  • Contributes to change in schools.
  • Connects schools to the world."
Access to and appropriate use of existing technology is becoming more important than ever to be a successful part of life after school.  We need to teach students digital literacy so they know how to appropriately use technology.  Technology is a part of so many occupations in today's economy.  Students need to have mastered certain technology skills to have a shot at landing that job.

Technology in the classroom is also an integral part of our push toward Customized Learning.  The collection, storage and analyzing of so much data can not be done without the proper soft- and hardware.  We are continually seeking enticing and practical ways for students to complete individualized learning plans.  This often involves finding the right website.   Assistments and Google Docs are two such sites.  Please feel free to reach out and inquire about technology and learning at OHMS.  Our students and staff have embraced technology and are ready to have it positively impact our learning.    

Friday, January 13, 2012

PLGs and Late Start Wednesdays

PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and PLGs (Professional Learning Groups) are terms that can be used to describe these same thing.  In RSU#4 and OHMS we call these groups PLGs.

What are PLGs?  Simply put, it is a group of educators that gather with a specific purpose related to improvement of instruction, professional development and increase student achievement.  At OHMS we have several ways we group our teachers for the purpose of PLGs. Sometimes teachers meet with grade level collegues, sometimes they are grouped by content (math, ELA, science, etc). Sometimes the whole staff comes together for a PLG.

What happens in a PLG?  PLGs are opportunities for teachers to meet with a number of purposes in mind: 1.  Discuss student needs including data from assessments and how best to meet the needs of particular   students.
2.  Teachers meet to learn together or from each other.  Our staff has a wealth of experience and knowledge.  We can and do learn from one another at little to no cost to the distrcit.  At times teachers discuss a research article, other times they share instructional practices or discuss how to implement formative (or other) assessment strategies.
3.  Generally once per month PLGs discuss student survey data from around our advisory groups and how this program can better meet the needs of each grade level.  Each grade level has a theme and they design acitvities for the students related to these themes.
4.  Vertical teaming is the practice of having teachers meet from different grade levels that have something in common. Examples of vertical teaming groups include, but are not limited to 6-8 math or ELA, 6-12 science or social studies, k-12 Art or Media specialists.  These groups don't get to meet very often, so PLGs are important to the coordination of services and curriculum.     
When does a PLG occur?  The short answer is that a PLG can occur any time the necessary staff can get together.  Primarily for this year PLGs are occuring during late start Wednesdays.  It is one of the few times all staff are available to meet.  Work that isn't completed during this short hour can and often is finished or continued during common planning times and after school.   
Why is it worth the time?  As mentioned above, teachers working and learning together is excellent for our professional development.  The associated research article posted on this blog goes into greater depth in describing how PLGs done well can dramatically increase student achievement.  While we are always working to improve the use of our time, we are grateful for the gift of this time.  Our Leadership Team plans the work of the PLGs a month in advance and they generally have one of four themes: 1.  Planning  and student grouping during our intervention times, called Learning Lab, 2) Planning for the thematic approach to our advisory system, 3) 6-8 or 6-12 vertical teaming by content area as described above or 4) the study of Formative Assessment straegies.  The common thread throughout these PLGs is the collection or analyzing of data.

PLGs can be complex and are certainly a fluid entity.  They are a research-based and growing trend in education today.  The conecpt behind PLGs work in concert with the middle school philosophy.  Please feel free to contact me (jeff.ireland@rsu4.org) if you have any questions about PLGs.      

Friday, January 6, 2012

Budget Season

There seems to be no more misunderstood topic than that of public school budget development and adoption.  Please know right up front that we aim to be very transparent with our budget development.  We realize that we are funded by public tax dollars and that this is not an unlimited resource.  We start the budget development process for the next school year during December of the current school year.  I realize this seems early, but there are many steps that need to occur prior to final adoption.  Below is the budget time line adopted by the school board on 11/30/11:

12/2/11            Administrators submit budgets to Superintendent
1/17 - 2/2        Administrators meet with Superintendent and Business Manager
3/14, 3/28       Budget presentations to School Board (in public board meetings)
4/4                  Budget Workshop with Selectmen
4/11                School Board Budget Meeting
4/25                Board adopts RSU budget
6/6                  Public meeting to adopt the proposed budget
6/9                  Budget referendum vote (by town)

It is important to know that all board budget meetings are open to the public.  There are many sections to a schools' budget.  These include, but are not limited to: Instruction, Guidance, Library, Office of the Principal, Operations and Maintenance, Co-Curricular, Extra-Curricular and others.  The areas mentioned above are directly in the OHMS budget.  There are other areas that exist within the RSU budget.  Confused yet?  We try very hard to create a budget that meets the needs of the school and our students, but stay fiscally responsible as well.  This is not always an easy balance to strike.

I invite any member of the public (not just OHMS parents) to make an appointment to meet with me and ask questions about the budget or the process.  Transparency is the goal.  If I can't answer the question, I can likely point you in the right direction.