Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Principal's Newsletter -- June 1, 2011

These ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ speak to the current reduction in force and the ongoing planning for Riverdale’s continued development. I hope they are helpful and informative.

Can you please outline the effects of the 3.3 FTE reduction at the Grade School?

The reductions are as follows:

  • 2.0 classroom teachers (Holly Westphal and Tod Johnston)
  • 0.2 music
  • 0.2 art
  • 0.2 counselor
  • 0.5 pe
  • 0.2 library* (This portion of the librarian position was funded by Federal stimulus dollars, and was previously reduced.)

What was the process of arriving at these decisions?

This process has been incredibly thorough. I realize one of the side effects is that it has been difficult to wait for information. However, making sound decisions was the top priority, followed by sharing personally the difficult news for our wonderful faculty members most directly impacted by the reduction.

I applied a triple lens to this process, with each stemming from a core component of our school identity -- Class Size, Arts Integration, & Strong Academics. The School Board’s recommended class size caps have been honored to align with our sense of what is academically and socially possible for students and the strength of the relationships they engender between students, families, and teachers. I wanted to protect program wherever possible and was able to do so around the visual and performing arts, which are a lynch-pin of our identity. Both of these contribute to the strength of our academic program. Bolstering that program even further, was the final lens. Moving toward a more defined school-wide literacy program, including making use of our literacy specialist to greater degree is an example of the outcome of my decisions.

The process was undertaken very seriously, with full awareness that our reduction impacts the lives and livelihoods of some amazing teachers. I remained focused, too, on ensuring that our students would be least impacted.

What are the impacts on the specials? Will my child still have art, music, and PE?

The reduction of classrooms of students in the primary and intermediate levels results in a reduction of time we need specialists; thus, the reduction in FTE. Students will still have these specials, though – in the case of PE – the classroom teacher will deliver one-half of the instruction.

Can you outline the configuration changes including multi-age classrooms?

  • Students in the “full day” option will now remain in the same classroom rather than transitioning classrooms at mid-day.
First & Second Grades:
  • Single first grade section (class size of ~21)
  • Single second grade section (class size of ~21)
  • One multi-age classroom (class size of ~18)
Third & Fourth Grades:
  • Single third grade section (class size of ~20)
  • Single fourth grade section (class size of ~20)
  • Two multi-age classrooms (class sizes of ~18)
Fifth & Sixth Grades:
  • Three multi-age sections (class sizes of 24)
Seventh & Eighth Grades:
  • Same staffing configuration
  • Potential move to 6th period day, lengthening academic time, reducing study halls

What supports will be available to teachers working in muti-age environments?

Our staff development time in the next year will be extremely tightly focused on curriculum and configuration. Faculty will be allowed time to plan collaboratively and specialists will be provided to assist with and enhance the Language Arts program. In addition, I have experience teaching in a multi-graded classroom, as does our superintendent, and I will be assisting in mentoring and providing leadership in operating multi-age classrooms as smoothly as our single-age classrooms. I’ve asked the PTC to support us in our configuration changes, and they’ve set aside budget to do so. (Thank you, PTC Board!)

Will we be able to give input into the placement of our children?

Yes. You will shortly receive an email link to a survey designed to capture all of the information we customarily collect with the addition of a simplified Likert scale focused on multi-age classroom placement for students at 1-2 and 3-4. We will work diligently to place students in accord with your wishes in this regard, keeping in mind that there are multiple aspects to arranging healthy classes. I anticipate this survey to go out Wednesday, with a due date of Monday.

The survey for rising 1st-4th grade students (in 2011-2012) can be found here.
The survey for rising 5th-8th grade students (in 2011-2012) can be found here.

When will you post class lists?

We plan on posting class lists, as usual, on the afternoon of the last teacher work day, Tuesday June 14th.

How will decisions be made about what students will be in multi-age vs. single-grade classrooms?

The class placement process will follow the same procedure we typically employ, with an added layer. We will send the surveys out next week. One change is that the survey will now be electronic. The other is that it now includes a query regarding your feelings related to multi-age classrooms, including a deferral option (wherein you may select to defer to the judgment of the teaching team). As per usual, this is critical input, and we will do our very best to make balanced classrooms that reflect family input. However, given our few economies of scale, it may be impossible to honor 100% of your requests.

When will we know the staff configuration for next year?

The staffing of homerooms will be as follows for the 2011-2012 school year:

K - Sara Brounstein
1- Pam Anderson
2- Lynn Evans
1-2 Multi-Age - Debbie Gorenstein
3- Jennifer Schulz
4- Sharon Whitehill
3-4 Multi-Age A – Todd Migchelbrink
3-4 Multi-Age B - Michelle Sager
5-6 Team: Larissa Reece, Dietrich Nebert, Brian Black
7-8 Team: Jeff Robinson, Angela Dawes, Jill Leve, Nick Hershman, Bill Mandis

How will the curriculum be taught in multi-age classrooms? Will the units of study for each grade be taught separately, combined into a multi-age curriculum, or somewhere in between?

Teachers are in the process of working collaboratively to address teaching in a multi-age classroom. We already group students according to ability to some extent in language arts and mathematics. New standards are being implemented State-wide in the next year, increasing academic expectations and providing our school with an opportunity for growth and development in these areas. We will be providing a 90 minute common language arts block and utilizing our resident Reading Specialist and a consultant to build this program.

Specifically, and more to the question, there are aspects of our curriculum that lend themselves to grade-level-specific grouping, while for more thematic units of study will, in some cases, be taught on an A-B cycle.

Are there effects on the 5-6 curriculum?

For some aspects of the curriculum at 5-6 students will be grouped by grade. Molly Scholz, for instance, needs to see the 5th graders alone as they discover their instruments for the first time. The three teachers, then, will retain their primary identities as subject-specific specialists, teaching multi-age groups of students for some subjects, while grouping by grade level for others.

I’ve heard we may be able to accommodate enough students at the 5/6 level to warrant adding back a staff member. Is there a possibility of adding back a 5/6 classroom?

This is a very remote possibility that we are currently monitoring. Currently, it does not appear financially feasible. However, we are keeping this option open.

What is the plan for pre-K and K? Will they be full day programs? How will we ensure an outstanding curriculum at this important entry point?

Kindergarten will include the full-day option (assuming sufficient interest by the June 1st deadline), and those children will remain in the same classroom with Ms. B, allowing for far more continuity and meaningful learning opportunities as a result.

The goal with Pre-K was to have sufficient interest in all-day to make that a possibility. There is still hope that will be the case, but it is looking more likely that the “all-day” days will be Tuesday and Thursday, with the am portion available five days of the week. The morning option is nearly full! More detailed information on Pre-K will go out to those families directly in the coming days and weeks. we are also able to welcome young students from other districts, so please spread the word.

How will we continue to market Riverdale even after these decisions are made/announced?

We will continue to market our school as a place where strong academics, deep relationships, and arts integration are central to our school community. I can confidently say that these changes do not deteriorate the program we offer, and will enhance the academic program we offer. In fact, we have a real opportunity to grow professionally through this experience. I say this knowing the personal toll some faculty have experienced this week, and without any effort to dismiss that experience. And my approach is that change, approached correctly, breeds ingenuity and innovation. We need to be constantly seeking ways to improve and embrace innovation, creativity, and the cutting edge of what we know about how children learn and what will prepare them for the future. Our school is blessed to have unwavering community support, strong leadership, and talented faculty who are dedicated to the education of our children.