Music at 276

One of the less well known aspects of our program at 276 is our performing arts.  This year, we have an exceptionally rich music program.  Stephanie Mazarakis continues to teach band to students in grades 4-8.  She also has developed an outstanding general music history class for our 8th graders.  They track the development of popular music from the blues through to hip-hop. Stephanie leads the 8th graders through an exploration of Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the musicians that influenced them and who they in turn influence.  Each year, this program is enhanced through a partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Four times a year, we have jazz musicians perform for the 8th graders and talk about the development and importance of jazz in the American story. Here is a clip from our first performance last Thursday.  (Students are clapping in the background.)

Krista Bruschini, our new music teacher, is teaching general music to students in kindergarten through third grade. She is also teaching chorus to our students in grades 5-8.  By offering chorus, we are giving students in grades 5-8 the option of learning an instrument or performing vocal music.

I am so proud of our rich music program this year. Learning about music and the skills of working collaboratively on a performance  allow students to tap into different aspects of themselves.

Mathematics in Middle School

First, I want to assure all parents that we will continue to offer Algebra 1 for students who are ready for the fast pace and academic rigor of this program. For the past 5 years, we have offered Integrated Algebra or Algebra 1 and the corresponding Regents Test for our 8th graders.

Last year, Ariel and Dawn held an info session for parents on tracking and mathematics. This power point is available on our school website under the for parents tab/math workshops and information/grouping in mathematics. Key findings in mathematics research is that there is surprisingly little benefit of tracking (ability grouping) in math.

Our goals are for our middle school students to have a strong foundation in math concepts, to be able to communicate about mathematics effectively (in problem solving, representing, modeling, writing, justifying and discussion), to work with a diverse (in many ways) population of peers, and to have confidence in their ability to solve complex math problems effectively.

Some of our students are ready to tackle Algebra 1 by the time they get to 8th grade. Some are not.  We want to make sure we are setting students up for successful math experiences in middle school, high school and beyond. We will be sharing some programming considerations, information about middle school math in general, and criteria that we use to consider if students are ready to take on the accelerated pace and academic demands of Algebra 1 at an information session for parents from 8:30 to 9:10 on Friday, November 4 in the auditorium. We look forward to sharing with you how we are working to ensure that each student has a rigorous and enriching math experience.

Teacher Professional Learning

Last spring I had the privilege of being in a focus group with teachers and principals from across the country. We gathered in Washington DC with the US Secretary of Education, John King. Our task was to talk about models of collaborative teacher leadership. A strong professional learning program for faculty is one of the most powerful tools in enhancing student learning. A Stanford University research team determined that strong professional learning is on-going, experiential and collaborative. The professional learning model at 276 has these qualities.

Our school years are bookended by formal reflective processes on what we have accomplished, what new challenges we have encountered, and how we can deepen our knowledge of our work. We use these reflections to craft a professional learning agenda that is connected to our students, the curriculum, achievement data, and the context of our school.

The PTA provides funding so that we can implement this plan. This year, our professional learning is geared towards refining our assessment practices. That includes what information we are collecting about how students are learning and how we use that information to meet the instructional needs of the students in our classrooms. This work targets four specific areas – mathematics instruction, literacy instruction and inclusive practices.

Dawn Schafer is a full time math coach this year working with grades 4-8. Ariel Dlugasch is working with teachers in grades K-3 on a consultant basis. Their work focuses on assessing mathematics and then using those assessments to differentiate mathematics instruction through rich problems, mathematics routines, conversation, and differentiated learning stations in the classroom. In addition, teachers will be attending off-site PD offered through two different, nationally recognized, math education organizations – Metamorphosis and Math in the City. This math work will allow us to refine our mathematics instruction and insure that it is coherent across the grades.

Jaime Margolies and Andrea Lowenkopf are continuing to support our literacy teachers. Jaime works with teachers in grades K-4 and Andrea works with teachers in grades 5-8. They collaboratively plan with the teachers to enrich our reading and writing curriculum so that it provides increasing challenges and engagement for our students. Teachers will also be attending workshops off site to learn new approaches to teaching literacy.

We also work with the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project. Our two consultants from this organization support teachers in developing units of study that embody elements of Universal Design for Learning. This model leads to increasingly accessible curriculum for all learners by providing opportunities to gain information through a variety of media and to communicate understandings in diverse ways. This year, we will be developing four classroom labsites where we will study strategies for inclusive education as it is practiced at 276. Faculty will be able to observe the work being undertaken in these classrooms and to learn alongside their colleagues. The TCICP is also supporting our paraprofessionals in deepening their skills as assistants in the classroom and in helping co-teachers work more efficiently together.

We are also excited to be part of some additional professional learning opportunities. This year, we are part of a pilot program that brings the Urban Advantage professional learning for middle school science teachers to our upper elementary grades. Shirley, Rebecca, Kim and Alexis will all be participating in these workshops. I am excited to deepen a focus on science for our upper elementary grade students..

Teaching is an incredibly complex task. It requires teachers to have in-depth knowledge of content, child development, and pedagogy and to match that knowledge to the students in their rooms. It requires a willingness to reflect on one’s skills and to have a voracious appetite for continuous learning. I am proud of the learning that our faculty engages in each day. Their eagerness for new professional knowledge and their thoughtfulness in talking about how these skills can best be implemented in our school are key attributes that make our school the great place it is.  Funding from our PTA is greatly appreciated as we work to make our school one of the best in the city.