MCAS scores improve
By Becky Harvey
OXFORD - Despite the nasty weather, the freshly plowed Oxford High School welcomed a full roll of the Oxford School Committee on Monday evening. The meeting commenced with a discussion of the school improvements at Clara Barton by Principal Stephen Baroni.
The MCAS scores have increased in English Language Arts (ELA) due to extra support, including the addition of a “.5 literacy specialist.” The school has started an initiative this year, sending home MCAS packets every week. Parents have responded positively to the program. In addition to straight-out MCAS work, grade three also sends home weekly literacy packets. These efforts, along with the addition of leveled reading groups have helped to reinforce language and reading skills.
Grade two and four math MCAS scores were also targeted for improvement through additional supports this year. Students spend over an hour a day on math skills and the school is hoping to add a “.5 Math support position” next year. The third goal at Clara Barton this year is to increase parent and community connections to the students. A number of very special programs have been put in place and are helping to successfully reach the goal. Parent volunteers have made up a big part in connecting the teachers to the community.
The fourth goal of instituting use of the Johns Collins writing program, which uses writing across the curriculum, is well on its way. Teachers are feeling much more comfortable with the program due to additional professional development in the area.
The only thing the principal listed for next year’s “wish list,” other than the aforementioned part-time math position, is to hire an assistant principal. He did mention that the addition of a late bus for the elementary level would be helpful. This came up as a follow-up to Susan Rivelli’s question as to how many students take advantage of after-school and before-school help. It should go without saying that numbers would be higher if students had a way to get home afterwards.
The Chaffee School Principal Norm Yvon, listed his goals to align the curriculum to the State frameworks with ELA as an area of concentration. They decided to focus on the ELA due to the fact that this was set as a district-wide goal this year. Staff meetings are used to help teachers reach this goal. The faculty has been given lists of vocabulary and symbols which the students are required to know in the hopes that they will use them often, creating a greater familiarity for the students. The school has implemented a treasure chest reward system for students who use the vocabulary appropriately throughout the school year.
Rock to Read is a new program where students work forty-five minutes a day, four out of six days per week, on literacy skills. The students are grouped with students at similar levels, based on the MAP testing that the school does. The goal is to have 75% or higher of the second grade students reading at or above grade level. Like the Clara Barton School, Chaffee is also using the Collins Program. Regular meetings have been held to discuss the implementation by teachers. The program has been integrated across the board, including in Art, Gym and other “specials” classes.
Chaffee is also making a point of making public outreach a priority. Food bank collections and cards to soldiers in Afghanistan during the holidays were just a few of the many things students and faculty have done to accomplish this goal. Another aspect of community outreach that has been a concentration of late, is to be sure the website stays up to date and includes all pertinent information. The last goal of the school is to help students demonstrate good character and make good choices. Chaffee Champs, a reward program that has been on-going for years, is one of a number of “caught being good” type programs the school has in place. Mighty Manners is a program that helps students behave properly while dining.
Ben Milliner, Assistant Principal of the Oxford Middle School, began by stating that the Middle School’s Improvement goals for this year are basically brand new, as all the previous school improvement goals had pretty much been reached and become part of the everyday way of life at school. There are three areas included in the “lean and mean” new school improvement plan, but the newly updated plan has not been made available online as of yet.
Joanne Daly, District Curriculum Director, announced the addition of the Atlas Curriculum Mapping program. It is an online-based program that allows teachers to plan out the curriculum and coordinate with other teachers on their grade-level and within the district. Daly also spoke about the issues with the aging Math program, “Everyday Math.” Currently teachers are supplementing their teaching materials with their own personal items. This is because the Everyday Math program is so out of date that elements can’t even be purchased now.
Brenda Ennis questioned whether or not the town was “behind the eight ball” by not moving on getting a new program in place immediately. When she asked why the town wasn’t moving to obtain a new program as soon as possible, Daly replied that we (as a state) are in flux waiting to see what the requirements of the next and newer tests will be. It is hard to spend the kind of money a new program will cost without knowing what the goals will be for learning. “Don’t buy anything now unless you are prepared to buy something new in a year or two,” Superintendent Allen Himmelberger told Ennis. He explained in detail that we are waiting until the fall of 2014 to find out what will be expected of the learning process before any major and expensive changes are made. He stated that the prudent thing to do is to research so that funds are not misappropriated, however accidentally that may be. It is a process that needs to be well thought out and meticulously planned. He acknowledged the frustration that this causes.
Chairman Daniel Coonan continued the meeting with a review of the school calendar. With the necessity for extensive professional development and with the renovations at the middle school, calendar changes and updates have become needed. Himmelberger stated that staff members have voiced that they overwhelmingly embrace a traditional start date in September after Labor Day. Despite years of a late August start, this has become a big possibility due to the construction. Also, the school calendar has six newly added half days for teacher professional development. Tossed around was the idea of removing February vacation. This neither went over well with students, nor teachers. The overwhelming consensus was to keep this traditional mid-winter break. Himmelberger requested that the committee make a decision, at least, about the start date to give both teachers and parents a firm decision upon which they can make plans. The board decided a vote would be taken to finalize the calendar at the next meeting.
Zach Tremblay spoke as student rep to the committee. He gave a rundown of some of the goings on from the student point of view. Tremblay talked about the Mr. Oxford pageant, which he and Jenna Bird hosted. It was won by James Higgins. He also mentioned the Student Council Winter Games happening at the High School this Friday. They help students and teachers to build teamwork, strengthen advisory relationships and raise morale. Tremblay congratulated the NJROTC for their six trophies (out of eight entered events) from their fourth and final meet with the Southern New England Drill League on February second. He also invited the committee to donate to the “Polar Plunge” at Revere Beach on February 23rd to raise money for the Special Olympics. In lieu of a donation, he invited the committee members to join in the plunge, to which there were no volunteers.