Friday, January 30, 2009

New schedule coming to Taylor next year

When I began teaching high school history in 1990, my school had a seven-period day with 50-minute periods. I had my students for both semesters. In 1994, the district decided that it would be more effective to switch to a 90-minute block schedule in which teachers would have students for one semester only. There were good reasons that supported going to the block including extended time to go into greater depth of study and fewer classes for students to focus on. There was however little research that indicated that it really increased student learning. Like many reforms in education, it worked well for some kids and for some teachers but not for all.

Several years ago, Taylor too adopted a block schedule with four 84-minute classes. Again, it worked well for some kids, some teachers, and some subjects but not all. Since then, things have changed: things like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Response to Intervention (RTI). NCLB has caused many schools to narrow their curriculum to make sure that all students can read, compute, and write proficiently. The good news is that it has forced us to pay attention to students who might have previously been underserved: minorities, the poor, and the disabled. The bad news is that it has led to some cuts in elective programs. More on this point later. RTI, like NCLB, also is forcing us to pay attention to every student who is not proficient in math and reading. This is the good news. We must now devote extra class time and teacher resources to helping these students become better readers and mathematicians. I absolutely agree with the intent of this. The problem is that we have to provide these additional services with no additional money, staff, or instructional days. We have had to get creative.

Schedule redesign considerations:
This was the dilemma facing us when we asked our teachers to help us design a master schedule that would do the following:
• Provide extended blocks of time for math and reading interventions for non-proficient students
• Allow every teacher to see every kid every day
• Provide accelerated classes in all core subjects
• Organize teacher prep times by content area
• Not significantly reduce elective course offerings
• Maximize teacher instructional time

New Schedule Proposed to Instructional Council:
We held several meetings to discuss how to best design our schedule to meet these objectives. After listening to staff input, the school leadership team came up with a new design for next year with the following features:
• Move from four 84-minute blocks to seven 50-minute periods a day.
• Every teacher will see every student daily.
• All math students will have two 50-minute math classes each day: one for core instruction and one for either remediation or enrichment.
• All students who are not proficient readers will have two 50-minute classes each day: one for core instruction and one for either remediation
• Pre AP and accelerated classes will be offered in all core subjects.

We presented a draft of the proposed schedule to the Instructional Council in mid-January for discussion. Council members took the proposal to their various departments and teams for further discussion. I am pleased to report that the Instructional Council approved the proposal at their meeting on January 28th. We are now moving forward with implementation for next school year.

What will this look like for my student?:
For a regular or advanced student, her schedule will have: Math (2 periods), Language arts (1 period), Science (1 period), Social studies (1 period) and Electives (2 periods).

For a student who is not proficient in reading, the schedule will be: Math (2 periods), Language arts (1 period), Reading (1 period) Science (1 period), Social studies (1 period) and Electives (1 period). Once a student progresses in reading to proficiency, he will be able to leave remedial reading and add a second elective class.

Changes in instructional time:
This new schedule increases the total time every student has math from 380 minutes per week to 500 minutes per week. It increases the amount of time non-proficient students have language arts/reading from 380 minutes per week to 500 minutes per week. The number of minutes that all students will have for science and social studies increases from 210 minutes per week to 250 minutes per week. We were actually able to increase the time in elective classes from 210 minutes to 250 minutes per week. To accomplish these increases in core instructional time, we reduced teacher prep periods from 84 minutes to 50 minutes. Unfortunately one casualty of these shifts was the beginning Drama classes in the 6th grade exploratory wheel. In their place we hope to offer creative writing. Other elective course offerings did not change. We are hoping to add advanced drama if funding allows.

I am grateful to our staff for their creativity and professionalism in this design process. I am convinced it will increase student learning next year. Thanks to all!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Some reflections on sewing and scarcity

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the works of Stephen Covey. I began with his best-seller Principle- Centered Leadership, moved on the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and most recently read The Eighth Habit. In his books, Covey draws from the wisdom of the world’s great religions as well as his own insights. Two particular Covey principles have really helped me be a better principal and I’d like to share my thoughts about them as they relate to our school.

Principle 1: You reap what you sow:
The basic premise is simple. If you plant potatoes in your garden in January, you will harvest a crop of potatoes in July. In school, it works the same way for students, teachers and staff, and parents. For example, a student who sews seeds of disdain for school rules or towards her teachers will soon enough reap a harvest of phone calls to parents and referrals to the principal’s office. Conversely, a student who sews seeds of diligence in completing homework will reap a harvest of good grades and recognition. For school employees it works the same way. A teacher who sews seeds of respect towards his or her students will harvest respect. An EA who sews seeds of kindness toward her disabled student will reap kindness.

Sewing and reaping. It is elemental and it applies to parents and school as well. For example, I know parents who have the mindset that if a kids hits his child, his child is expected to hit back. When this seed is planted, it is no surprise that it often bears fruit in the form of fighting and physical aggression – often under the guise of self-defense. This happened recently when a girl got hit and she promptly turned around and punched the other girl in the nose. Bad seed. Bad fruit. How much better it would have been if the parent had planted different seed such as getting help from adults or even walking away. And so I ask myself on a regular basis, what kind of seed am I sewing? Do I plant seeds of hope and encouragement or do I plant seeds of anger and pessimism? I don’t really get to decide what kind of harvest is reaped. That is decided by the kind of seed I sew. This leads to principle #2.

Principle 2: Abundance versus Scarcity Mentality
Here is what Covey says about these two mentalities.

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people. The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flow out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”

For schools, the implications of this are huge. No more grading on a bell curve. If every student mastered the assignment, then every student deserves a high grade. For parents it might mean that they don’t need to be stingy with their praise of their child’s grades. After all, success breeds more success. And for students, it might mean that there is room in their social group for a new student or a student who seems odd. All of which ties back to sewing and reaping. If you sew the idea that there is enough good stuff for everybody, then you will tend toward generosity and magnanimity. This is my vision for Taylor – that we become a school where every kid is recognized for his or her strengths and not chastised for his or her weaknesses. With your support, I think we can get there.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The importance of Algebra

The Principal’s Corner with Mr. Bateson

Did you know that?
• 78%of adults in the U.S. cannot explain how to compute the interest paid on a loan
• 71% cannot calculate miles per gallon on a trip
• 58% cannot calculate a 10% tip for a lunch bill

This worries me but not nearly as much as I worry about how well our students are able to use math, especially algebra. I have excerpted the SEDL article below because it succinctly expresses the concerns I and many APS educators have:

“The National Mathematics Advisory Panel released its final report after nearly 2 years of hearing testimony and examining more than 16,000 research publications and policy reports. The panel noted that there is a “vast and growing demand for remedial mathematics education” at community colleges and 4-year colleges nationwide and also discussed the disparities in mathematic achievement related to race and income. According to the panel, “Success in mathematics education matters at the level of individual citizens because it opens options for college and career and increases prospects for future income” (p. 4)… The importance of algebra was emphasized in the report because, as the panel reported, “The sharp falloff in mathematics achievement in the U.S. begins as students reach late middle school, where, for more and more students, algebra course work begins” (p. xiii). The panel discussed other findings linked to the study of algebra:
• The probability a student will enroll in a 4-year college correlates substantially with completion of high school math beyond Algebra II.
• The majority of workers who earn more than $40,000 annually have two or more high school credits at the Algebra II level or higher.
• Two-thirds of the students who took Algebra II in high school reported they were well-prepared for the demands of the workplace.”
At Taylor, our math department is seriously looking at ways we can both engage our students mathematically while at the same time emphasizing the importance of math in adult life. Parents must be partners in this effort. If you feel inadequate to help your child with her math homework, plan to attend our MATH Night on the 27th. Our math teachers are here to help not just our kids but also our parents. It’s never too late to become better at math!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Three Myths About Taylor MS

Each year, a significant number of 5th graders from our feeder elementary schools opt to attend private schools or neighboring schools rather than attend Taylor MS. This bothers me. I firmly believe that the educational opportunities we offer at Taylor rival those of private schools and neighboring public schools. After visiting with parents and staff, I am aware that several myths persist about Taylor among certain segments of the community.

Myth 1: Taylor has rampant fighting and bullying:
I don’t know what happened in the past but I can tell you that fighting has been virtually eliminated this year. This has been accomplished by increasing staff supervision in the hallways, cafeteria, and playground. Consequences for fighting are severe and immediate. Incidents of bullying that are reported to the principals or SRO are promptly investigated and the offenders dealt with per the school discipline matrix.

Myth 2: Taylor is a gang-infested thug school:
The handful of students from gang backgrounds (fewer than five according to BCSO) are on a very short leash and are monitored very closely. The school dress code against sagging and gang symbols is strictly enforced. Closed circuit TV cameras are closely monitored by our full-time School Resource Officer Steve Aldredge. Gangs are not tolerated.

Myth 3: Parents are not welcome at Taylor:
I heard this from a parent who sent her children to Lincoln MS. She explained to me that when she visited Lincoln, they made her feel right at home. She said that when she visited Taylor, no one reached out to her or made her feel welcome. Again, I don’t know what happened in the past but I believe that if this mother visited Taylor today, she would find a warm, welcoming, and open school where parents feel like partners in their child’s education.

I believe in Taylor MS and I am committed to continuing to spread the truth about our school. Toward that end, I am going to Alameda, Los Ranchos, and Corrales ES in the next two weeks to visit all 5th grade classrooms to talk to our incoming class about Taylor. (The Sister School Program with James Monroe MS ends this year and we will no longer accept students from out of district except by transfer request). We are also having our 5th grade parent night on Tuesday, February 3 from 6 to 7:30 so all potential students can see the great opportunities that exist here. If you would like to help us host this parent night, please get in touch with your PTO officers or drop me an email. Together we can dispel the myths that hold families back from attending TMS.