Thankful

Each week I write an email to teachers to remind us of the values and mission that frames the work we do. This is the email I sent teachers this week.

  • Last week, I noticed two kindergartens arrive at school together. One of them held the door for the other and then they held hands as they walked down the hall to the gym. There was a group of parents smiling and watching this interaction.  As one mom put it, “the more mature one is helping the other one.”  
  • I also witnessed caring in action in third grade. One third grader escorted a student with significant learning challenges into the building and then down the hall to the gym. When they came back through the lobby in line, they were holding hands. When they arrived at the elevators, they let go of hands and gave each other a hug. One of them took the elevator upstairs while the other walked with the class.
  • Some sixth graders made a mess in the cafeteria.  One of them stayed behind to clean up while Nico went to get the others to help.  At the end of the day, Nico and I spoke to them about their poor choices.  The next day, one of them sent an email apology.  Both Nico and I replied thanking the student for the apology.  Then another sent an apology.  We didn’t ask for these apologies; the students provided them spontaneously (or at the suggestion of parents – student one – and maybe the suggestion of student one – student two.) 

Our children aren’t perfect. We didn’t get four nicely written apologies — we got two. Kids still make mistakes and can annoy each other or say unkind things. We still need dean teams and to take the time to coach our children on wise choices. They (we) are all works in progress.  But these seemingly random acts of kindness happen throughout the school day.  The kids don’t seem to think they are a big deal. It is just how they are and how they relate to others. 

A recent conversation with a fifth grader compelled me to re-read Wonder, by RJ Palacio, the first read aloud of the fifth grade ELA curriculum.  At the end of the book, the principal of the school makes a speech at the year-end ceremony.  The school is named Beecher for Henry Ward Beecher and the speech references some of his ideas.  (If you haven’t read the book, you should. I strived to avoid any spoilers.) Here is a bit from the speech: 

“…Henry Ward Beecher was, of course, the nineteenth-century abolitionist — and fiery sermonizer for human rights…  I came upon a passage that he wrote that seemed particularly consistent with… themes I’ve been ruminating upon all year. Not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness.  The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s courage.  The strength of one’s character. … Courage. Kindness, Friendship, Character.  These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”  

These qualities are evidence of our students’ caring.  They learn this from the adults in their lives and from their peers. They learn it from the caring and compassion that our teachers model each day — their willingness to take time to listen and to reflect and to be humble and honest about their own growth as a human and by pitching in to support each other and our students. Our students see these acts and learn from them.  I am deeply appreciative, each day, for their tremendous modeling of caring and respect.

School – Home Communication

Last year, one of the goals of the School Leadership Team was to revisit our school mission.  We were able to synthesize it down to a few words (you can read a more expanded version here.) Our mission is to nurture students who are

  • Curious
  • Capable
  • Confident and 
  • Caring. 

This month during our SLT meeting, we launched work on clarifying how we plan for effective communication between school and home.   As we approach the middle of November, we want to communicate how our students are growing in these important ways. Test scores and report card grades are tools that measure and communicate how students are performing in terms of New York State learning standards. Teachers work hard on assessments and grading and these scores are an important piece of the puzzle in understanding a child’s successes and challenges. However, the qualities of curiosity, kindness, and confidence that are so essential to success in life are better communicated through conversations and anecdotes. 

At 276, we make it a priority to know each student well.  Teachers work with students one on one and in small groups, they observe students in different social and academic settings, they assess student work products, they talk to their colleagues to learn how students act in other classes, and they know about cognitive development and diverse learning styles.  They use this knowledge to develop an understanding of a child’s curiosity, the academic, social and emotional skills they have and need to hone, the confidence that they are developing in different situations, and their compassion and empathy. 

We know how important it is for families to understand how their children are progressing in school. We have multiple ways that we communicate with families.  For grades PreK through 5, we invite parents in for Family Fridays and send emails home about the curriculum and what children are learning. In middle school, when students are craving increased autonomy, we send home progress reports shortly before conferences to provide insights into how students are doing. 

Next week, is Open School Week when parents are invited to visit the school and observe classes.  We also hold parent-teacher conferences next week. In grades PreK to 4, parents meet with teachers to learn about their child’s progress. Starting in grade 5, we have student-led conferences because we know that students need to be part of these conversations if we want them to be able to set goals and advocate for themselves. Student-led conferences are a powerful strategy to help students become confident and capable learners. 

We know that in order to support each student, we need to enter into conversations about student learning with a positive, collaborative perspective. Please keep the following in mind for conferences: 

  1. Students need to know that parents, staff, and students are one team. A collaborative relationship is essential for student success.  
  2. Everyone on the team wants the child to be successful in all areas of life and learning.
  3. We care about the whole child — academics, social/emotional well-being, and physical safety. We may discuss homework, friendships, in-class participation, and even if they are eating lunch or drinking enough water. 
  4. We recognize that all participants in the conference are bringing unique and important perspectives and expertise.
  5. Conferences are only one snapshot of student learning.  

Report cards go home in December and March about 3-4 weeks after conferences.  This gives students a chance to try out some strategies discussed in conferences so that they get recognition for this work on their report card.  The final report card goes home in June. It has grades for the third term and also final grades for the year Our report cards are standards-based and use the format required by the Department of Education. The criteria used to evaluate student progress are aligned with Common Core Learning Standards and report how students are doing in regards to meeting these standards.  

If you have other questions about our school program or policies, you can check out our school website. It hosts many documents that describe our school policies and curriculum.

Each of these resources can provide more information about our school policies and programs. 

 

Educational Institutions in our Community

We are fortunate to have amazing cultural institutions in our neighborhood.  The Skyscraper Museum, right next door, helps us document the history of our school — from photographs of our building going up in their archives to resources of our changing neighborhood. The Museum of the American Indian, a branch of the Smithsonian, has provided our teachers and students a number of amazing learning opportunities that open our eyes to different stories and histories of indigenous peoples of the Americas. And we have the China Institute on Rector and Washington, Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, across the street.  We are surrounded by a richness of educational and cultural institutions. We are so lucky to have these resources so close by! They inform us and challenge us to think more widely about the world.

Often these exhibits are inspiring and uplifting.  Sometimes, they are sobering.

This spring, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is opening an exhibition on the history of Auschwitz.  The purpose of this exhibit is to  explore “the dual identity of the camp as a physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.”  As part of this exhibit, the Museum will exhibit a freight car that was used to transport Jews from the ghettos to Auschwitz.  The train car will be installed on the plaza in front of the Museum.  It will spark conversations in our community that may be challenging and informative. Children will have questions about it and we adults will need to think about how to answer their questions that are truthful and developmentally appropriate.

I did some research on some ways we can talk to our younger children about the Holocaust. First, it is important to note that there is wide agreement that we not talk specifically about the Holocaust with children younger than 9.

We can, however, make sure that we inform children accurately in developmentally appropriate ways and we want to make sure our responses to their questions build empathy and resilience. When we answer their questions, we want to be sure to 

  • Start slowly
  • Be honest but be careful what you say
  • Emphasize tolerance and respect
  • Insure your children that they are safe
  • Take action together to make the world better

That might sound like:

The Museum is a place where we can learn about Jewish history.  There have been some sad parts in the history of Jewish people.  They have been excluded and have been treated unkindly.  The Museum is telling one of those stories right now.  Later, when the Museum changes the exhibit, we can go there to learn about the amazing history of the Jewish people. 

There are some sad stories in history.  We learn from these and how people are resilient and how we can do things better than they were done in the past.

You can also begin with an example from your child’s own life in which your child or a friend was treated unfairly because of skin color, religion, or some kind of disability and talk with your child about how this felt. Then, together, you can practice speaking out against injustice:

  • “Talk like this makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like those words…”
  • “The train car is part of a sad part of history when people weren’t treated fairly. It is there to remind us of these stories and to think about how we can treat people kindly.”

You can also talk to your children about your own family’s traditions and how you help others and each other to help overcome adversity  There is research that shows that children who have knowledge of the ups and downs of their family story are more resilient than children who know little or who only know the good parts of the family story. “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

Here are some resources that can help you navigate these conversations. You should always preview resources before sharing them with your child.

How should you talk to your children about the Holocaust?

Discussing the Holocaust with Children

Books for children about the Holocaust

The Number on My Great-grandpa’s Arm (video)

The Museum is also holding a community meeting on Wednesday evening, March 27, to discuss the exhibit.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.

Talking about Race

Last fall, I received a phone call from a friend asking for some advice. Her first grade white son had said something racially insensitive towards the only Black child in the class. My friend wanted to make sure that she responded in a way that made sure the Black child felt safe and that her son learned why what he said was wrong. Just as importantly, she was thinking about how she was raising her White children to become more conscious and conscientious about the experiences of others.

When I grew up, and even when I was raising my daughter, the idea was that we should all be “color blind” so that we treat everyone equally. We assume our children are unaware of race and difference and that we adults can raise children to be non-prejudiced if we support this “color blind” approach. In fact, young children begin to absorb their cultural and racial identity in infancy and notice physical differences such as skin color, hair texture, and gender anatomy as toddlers. A color-blind approach reduces our ability to see difference.  If we do not see race, we cannot play a role in working to create a world with greater equity and justice.

At 276, a key component of our vision for our students is to help them become compassionate and caring individuals.  This means that we need to help children navigate the issues of race and difference that permeate our society.  Children hear about race and racism in the news, in the books they read, and on the playground. As adults, we need to help them process this information.

At the February PTA meeting, my principal report focused on the anti-bias and anti-racism work we are doing at 276.  This work is essential to achieving our goal of educating for respect. It helps us teach children how to live and work in a diverse world, builds empathy leading to children who are happier and more successful, builds strong social relationships and collaborative skills, acts as preventive measures to reduce mean behaviors and bullying, and will help us leave our children a kinder, more compassionate and humane world.  This is especially important because, according to FBI data, we have seen a 17% increase in reported hate crimes in the US in 2017. This was the third consecutive year of an increase! Of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported last year, nearly three out of five were motivated by race and ethnicity.  The other two major causes were religion and sexual orientation.

Our faculty takes the social responsibility of educating children seriously. Together, we study our own identities, read widely, study history, and think about how we respond to acts of bias. The Southern Poverty Law Center publishes educational resources on anti-bias and social justice education that we find useful. In addition to social justice standards, they also have resources that help us be proactive in helping students become aware of bias and help us react in educational ways to acts of bias.  In order to effectively engage our students in learning about race, identity, and difference, we have to thoughtfully examine our own experiences, conscious and unconscious beliefs, and knowledge of race and differences.  This can be messy work, but we are committed to it.

There are three areas that we focus on at 276. In ways that are aligned with student age and readiness, we work to build

  • Accurate knowledge and pride in one’s own identity. This includes understanding history and the contributions of one’s group to society.  It also means that we have to help children understand the diverse stories that people within a group have.
  • Accurate knowledge about and appreciation of the history and contributions of other groups. Again, we have to make sure that children understand the diverse stories and experiences of individuals in a group.  In the US, we have a tendency to focus on only one aspect of a story. For example, African American history is confined to slavery and the civil rights movement and Jewish history is limited to early immigration stories and the Holocaust. We can counter this single story narrative by reading widely in fiction and non-fiction.
  • Understanding of how racism has shaped history and current social issues (this tends to happen as students get older.)

But sometimes children make mistakes as they grow and become aware of their identities and navigate social pressures.  When necessary, we apply the following four steps in responding to biased behavior.

  • Interrupt – Clearly tell the speaker or actor “I don’t like words like that. They are hurtful.”
  • Question – Reflect with the speaker about their actions/words. “Why do you say that? What do you mean? Tell me more.”
  • Educate – Help them understand the history and impact of those actions. “Do you know the history of that word? How else could you say that?”
  • Echo – When others speak up, thank them for speaking up. “I agree that is offensive and we shouldn’t act/talk that way.”

As I have been learning more about this topic, I have been finding some resources that I have found helpful.

  1. Raising Race-Conscious Children: this is a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. This is a link on their website for strategiesto help your children become race conscious.
  2. Embrace Race: this is an online community to discuss and share best practices for raising and caring for kids, all kids, in the context of race.
  3. SURJ Families: This Facebook group for families is a subgroup of Showing Up for Racial Justice. It provides resources and an opportunity to share experiences.
  4. Raising White Kids: A recent book on how white children navigate race in their schools and communities.

 

Executive Function

  • Can your child follow multistep instructions?
  • Does your child work hard on their homework and then forget to turn it in?
  • Does your child say or do things without thinking about them first?
  • Does your child get frustrated easily?

Executive Function is a popular buzz phrase in education. The underlying skills of executive function include the capacity to plan, organize and strategize actions and reactions which can impact learning, behavior and emotions, and social relationships. As children get older, the demands on their executive skills increase — they have more homework, more responsibilities, and are expected to exhibit increasing abilities in engaging in groups , reflect on learning, and make decisions.

At school, we are studying Executive Function skills and teaching these skills to students with deliberation.  You can support your child in developing the skills at home as well. Below are some easy strategies and some resources for you and your child.

Some easy strategies:

  • Use checklists. Think about the tasks you need your children to do. Break the task down into subtasks and create a checklist. Strive for one task done independently and then build up.
  • Verbalize when you are engaging skills of flexibility, using working memory, or planning in order to complete a task.
  • Give your child specific praise for when you see her using these skills.  Name the skill specifically. “Wow, you were really flexible today. You wanted to have sushi for lunch with your playdate but we had pizza instead.”
  • Monitor your child’s screen time.  There is some initial data that shows that a lot of screen time can negatively impact a child’s attention, working memory and language skills.

Some resources for parents. 

Executive Function video A 5 minute video from the Harvard Center on the Developing Mind that explains executive function and the impact of these skills at school.

Center on Developing Child, Harvard University.

Executive Function 101 from Understood.org

Misunderstood Minds from WGBH, a primer on learning disabilities.

Books for Parents

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel.

Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson.

The Organized Child: An Effective Program to Maximize Your Kid’s Potential–in School and in Life by Richard Gallagher, Elana Spira and Jennifer Rosenblatt

Books for children: 

How to Do Homework Without Throwing Up by Trevor Romain

Get Organized Without Losing It by Janet S Fox

See You Later, Procrastinator! by Pamela Espeland and Elizabeth Verdick

 

 

 

Books, books, and more books

IMG_7595This weekend I discovered that the new Shakespeare & Co book store (yes! for independent booksellers!) has opened on the Upper West Side. I chanced upon it on opening day and just had to go in.  It is beautiful with a cafe in front so you can sit and read your new books! I walked out with three new books to add to my ever growing pile of books to read (There There by Tommy Orange, Spy School by Stuart Gibbs (a children’s book), and Well-read Black Girl edited by Glory Edim).  Apparently, Tsundoku is a Japanese word for a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read.   I have a tsundoku at home, one at school, and another on my kindle. I can kind of read multiple books at once. But mostly, I pick one up and have to read it all the way through. If I pick up another book midstream, I  put the first aside for a while. Reading nurtures my curiosity. I find new questions, new insights, and new information (and vocabulary.) It also provides a great escape. Lost in a good book I can almost shut out the testifier shouting about the bible on my morning commute. 

This year we are really putting a lot of effort into building the independent reading habits of our students. Independent reading  is shown to build knowledge, vocabulary, and empathy.  Increasing reading by just 10 minutes a day has impressive impacts on student test scores. But mostly, reading daily improves reading ability. (Links to some research are below.) 

We have already begun this work by refreshing classroom libraries. 

IMG_7592We are selecting books with more diverse characters that represent more authentic experiences. We want our students to be able to see themselves and their life experiences reflected in the books they read and to learn about the range of experiences of others in their reading choices. We have been buying books that are from the end of year recommended lists from the NY Times and  by professional science and social studies teacher organizations. We also have a number of the books that won YA National Book Award prizes this year. We are looking forward to the annual Newbery, Caldecott and other prize winning lists that usually are released in December. (And this nurtures my habit of visiting brick and mortar book stores to find what is new and interesting in the world of publishing for young people.)

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We are nurturing a love of literature from an early age.  Early childhood teachers continue to read aloud books to students and leading them in discussions.  In the middle grades, teachers are using read alouds to teach students to track characters and plot development and how these lead us to uncover the larger themes in the books.  In middle school, students are applying reading skills in more sophisticated ways about more sophisticated texts.

At home, this work can be furthered by engaging your children in conversations about the books you read, the books your children read, and things you read online, in the paper, or magazines. (We want our children to be reading widely in fiction and non-fiction.) You can talk about how characters are developed and how they are influenced by setting or other characters as well as what the book is making you think about.

And it is important to read to and with your children regardless of how old they are. When we share books with others, we model the importance of books in our own lives.

Some research on the benefits of reading:

Increased empathy

Increased emotional IQ

Improved behavior and attention

Improved vocabulary

Enhanced test scores

 

Summer Stories (and homework)

“But we all have stories, right? They might be milk-snorting-out-of-your-nose funny ones, or listen-to-how-cool-and-awesome-we-are ones, or come-close-so-we-can-whisper-in-your-ears- juicy ones. They might be old favorites or stories about new experiences. But no matter what, our stories are unique, just like we are.”

That is how Ellen Oh introduces the collection of stories in Flying Lessons and Other Stories that she edited for young people. It captures part of the reason that as human beings we are storytellers and story listeners — stories are a critical way that we learn about the world, make sense of our experiences, and develop empathy.

Summer homework this year is all about stories.

Reading over the summer is essential to avoid a decline in reading skills that often happens over summer vacation. This is the homework that we take most seriously. All children should read and/or be read to often. There are a number of programs to encourage reading. (Children and teens can get a free book by participating in the Barnes and Noble summer reading program. The New York Public Library also offers a summer reading challenge and recommendations for great books.) Middle school students are expected to log the books they read and respond to one book. Instructions are on the school website.

Introducing the first annual PS/IS 276 Story Telling Contest!

 This year, we are also encouraging our students to become storytellers.

 Students can enter our contest to tell stories about what they are experiencing or learning over the summer. The story should have characters, a setting, a problem and a solution. Stories should also include, in some form, a reflection on what was learned: a moral can be embedded into the story, students can write a prologue or afterward, or they can document their learning in some other way. Creativity and clear self-expression is valued.

Story submissions can take multiple forms.

An important goal is that students practice crafting and telling stories of importance. Another goal for this work is that students explore their creative sides and develop interests. Some examples of story format include (but are not limited to….):

Video

  • Stop motion
  • Animation
  • Compilation of images (a la 5th grade documentaries)
  • Performance (get some friends together and act out a screenplay)
  • A video game

Text

  • A graphic novel
  • Fiction (short story or chapter book)
  • Poetry
  • Personal narrative

Audio

  • A song with lyrics performed and recorded (get a band together and record your work)
  • A podcast.

Visual

  • A painting, drawing, collage or series of art pieces
  • Three dimensional work (sculptural, diorama, 3 D printing)

First, second, and third place prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

  First place Second place Third place
Rising 1st – 2nd graders $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble $15 gift card to to Barnes and Noble $10 gift card to to Barnes and Noble
Rising 3rd – 4thgraders $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble $15 gift card to to Barnes and Noble $10 gift card to to Barnes and Noble
Rising 5th – 6th graders $25 gift card to Shake Shack $15 gift card to Shake Shack $10 gift card to Shake Shack
Rising 7th – 8th graders $25 gift card to Shake Shack $15 gift card to Shake Shack $10 gift card to Shake Shack

 

Math

This week, our 3rd through 7th graders are going to sit for the New York State math test.  This year it is two days of untimed testing —  a mix of multiple choice and constructed response in which students have to show their thinking.  (Hopefully, it won’t be as time intensive as the ELA test was this year.  Very few students completed that test in the 60 – 90 minutes the State predicted.)

While I understand that students need to learn how to take tests successfully in order to gain entry to most professions (from civil servants to MBAs and doctors, many professions require us to pass tests), I regret how these tests force so many away from the true purpose of the discipline. Mathematics isn’t just calculating numbers; it is an approach to problem solving that involves logic, deep understanding of numbers, communication and creative thinking.

Last week, Basia went to hear Eugenia Cheng talk about math and the concept of infinity. One of Dr. Cheng’s goals is to rid the world of math phobia (a goal that is not made easier by math tests.) Below are some excerpts of an email Basia wrote me about the lecture:

“The lecture was greatly enhanced by the way it was shared. Eugenia Cheng discussed the ideas using storytelling, visuals, and even music including singing. She also said a few things about teaching that I feel is worth mentioning here. For example, she talked about the attitude that students have to math. When she taught students majoring in math, she often heard them saying that they like math because it’s easy. In her words, “that’s a shaky idea.”  She thinks they felt this way because they were expected to work with concepts they already knew/grasped. Learning, though, is about gaining new knowledge and understanding. Currently, Dr. Cheng is teaching at the Art Institute in Chicago, and she finds that art students often approach math in her class the way it suppose to be approached because they are interested in thinking. Math is about making connections — not really about correct/incorrect answers. As a professor, she teaches her students through storytelling and hands on activities. She tailors the stories to students interests (ex. when she taught math majors she used lots of food stories because they seemed to become more engaged in the lectures). Reflecting upon this, I keep on encountering the idea of teaching as storytelling – it is something I find very enticing, and something that is so human – people of all cultures, as far as we can go back in our history as species seems to engage in storytelling. It’s not easy but it is powerful.”
We continually work to find new and interesting ways to hook students on the magic of mathematics.  Games, stories, and puzzles provide an alternative entry point to mathematics that then allow students to apply algorithms, strategies and formula to problems with more confidence and flexibility.  In the end, our goal is not to develop students who are calculators, but instead, students who are confident problem solvers and thinkers.

Civics

Historically, the main purpose of school was said to teach students the 3 R’s — reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  That isn’t really true, however. Schools were also expected to teach students civics — the history of our country, how to be a good community member, and how to participate in our democratic government.

I am part of a progressive school leaders group at Bank Street College of Education. At our March meeting, we read and discussed an article about how schools work for and with democracy. This conversation got me thinking about what exactly do I mean when I say we are educating our students for participation in a democratic society? The article we read suggested that there are 5 goals we have for our students; we want them to be

  1. informed,
  2. inquiry minded,
  3. empathic and inclusive,
  4. confident and vocal, and
  5. involved.

Our teachers work tirelessly on our curriculum so that are students are informed about important events, people and ideas in our nation’s history and in the world. Our curriculum is grounded in inquiry where students are encouraged to ask questions and to investigate possible answers. This happens in science where students learn to conduct scientific investigations, social studies when students investigate the impacts of human action on the environment and the legacy of Brown v Topeka, and reading when students discuss theme and craft.

We nurture empathy through our use of restorative practices and in working collaboratively with a range of peers. This work with peers takes place within classes and across grades. Our 8th graders buddy with younger students. Children volunteer to be special buddies to younger students who need support to start the school day and we are establishing a partnership program with the students at P94.

We also create spaces for our students to be confident, vocal and involved.  Our student council and GSA are given a voice in our school. They are encouraged to identify aspects of our program that need change and given the opportunity to help shape policies.  I was so proud of our students for organizing themselves and raising their voices (we have some photos in People magazine) around the debate for safety in schools and access to guns.  And as adults, we model democratic experiences for our students through providing access for parental involvement, being informed about world events, and engaging with local elected officials on issues important to our community. 

Our work together shines a light on how public schooling prepares students for participation in civic life.  We want to make sure that we are preparing all our students to be informed, empathic, and active members of our society.

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Students protesting during the #MarchForOurLives

 

School Priorities

School budgets are finicky things. Our school budget is calculated by number of students on a grade. Schools in NYC get about $4100-$4300 per student with additional funding for students with IEPS.  These funds are expected to cover teacher salaries, supplies, and some supplemental items such as professional development.

I have two key funding priorities when figuring out the budget.  One #1 priority is to have teachers to provide support for struggling students.  When this work is done well, not only do the students who struggle gain confidence and skills, teachers also learn from each other how to support all students.

The other #1 priority is to continue to provide the rich program we currently have. We have a very luxurious program! Spanish in elementary school, two full time music teachers, an amazing librarian, and a developing technology program. Rachel Lewis wrote a grant proposal for a robotics program last Spring and she is now rolling this work out with our older students.

These two priorities may seem a little at odds with each other. I don’t believe they are.  Students who struggle in school need the intervention support. They also need a rich curriculum that allows them to develop different intelligences and ways of self expression.  Our program also gives all students the opportunity to excel in school.  Students who are visual and kinesthetic learners shine when given the opportunity and can often assist students who “excel” in traditional academic tasks.  Children who are bilingual, become expert resources in Spanish even though they may struggle in English literacy. These programs also stretch the students who do not struggle with academic tasks.  We have a lot of high achieving kids who we need to challenge in new ways.  Our rich school program helps all students become more well rounded problem solvers, thinkers and citizens.  In turn, it builds content knowledge and vocabularies  and improves engagement, learning, and test scores.

My challenge is to keep the reality of this vision going.  It may mean we need to squeeze some budget lines here and there — cutting back on some PD expenses, figuring out solutions for covering classes for intervisitations and for IEPs (sub coverage is a big expense in our school), using MyNYPL for books for units, making sure kids treat our technology with care, recruiting more student teachers to help in classrooms instead of assistant teachers.

In past years, we usually had money left to roll over to the next fiscal year. Unfortunately, declining enrollment this year, has us owing funds back.  My commitment to our school program is secure, however.  I have been working closely with the PTA to make sure that we are covering necessary expenses.  I will continue to market the school to parents and to work with the PTA to increase donations.

Given the new tax laws, this is also a reminder that your donations to your preferred charities (hopefully the Battery Park City School PTA is one of these) are tax deductible this year, but may not be next year. I am making sure to make my donations in the few days remaining.