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

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.