There are three additions to the 2013-14 proposed school budget and one warrant article that need further explanation. I will explain the thinking behind these additions and why those of us involved thought it was important to bring to the voters.
As a school, we are charged with providing the best education for every student in our school. This is what we do and will continue to do. The following new staff positions have been proposed to assist and support our highly-qualified teachers in meeting the demands and needs of educating our students in light of:
- the advances of brain research and knowledge of how we learn
- 21st-century curricular demands
- the need for many in our small school district to “wear several hats” to provide for our students
- our increasing enrollment
We are seeing an enrollment increase at AE/MS. The school year ended in June of 2012 with 222 students. At the present time, we have 244 students – a 10% increase in just one year. During this past week alone, we had three new students enroll. Projections show an incoming kindergarten class of 28 children.
Fourth Grade Teacher
A new fourth grade teacher is included in the proposed school budget. The present third grade is made up of 34 students, currently split between two classrooms. A fourth grade class of 34 students is not educationally sound.
Two years ago, when Ms. Fitzpatrick and Mrs. Pellegrino retired, we only filled one of the positions. We hired Mrs. Witt to teach kindergarten and restructured the middle school. Since then, the enrollment has increased, and even with the middle school restructured, we need the additional teacher for the fourth grade.
A reading specialist has been included in the proposed school budget. Our need for a reading specialist was already significant, but now the bar has been raised for student achievement with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards.
High-quality reading instruction is critical for student success overall. A reading specialist has an expansive knowledge of the reading process, instruction, and assessment. A reading specialist serves as a coach and mentor to teachers to assist them in applying new strategies and instruction.
A reading specialist serves to support instruction and intervention when a student is not successful or to assist a teacher when there is the need to accelerate, enrich, or expand reading options for students reading above grade level. A reading specialist is a resource for parents, teachers, and students.
Reading instruction is no longer the sole responsibility of the Language Arts teacher. The Common Core State Standards call for teachers of science, social studies, and other subjects to teach literacy skills unique to their disciplines, such as analyzing primary and secondary source documents in history, and making sense of diagrams, charts, and technical terminology in science. Teachers are under new pressure to work essays, speeches, articles, biographies, and other non-fiction texts into their students’ readings.
The Common Core State Standards are making unprecedented demands on students, and more is expected in the lower grades in the curriculum. The AE/MS school community is excited and enthusiastically transitioning to the Common Core State Standards but needs the expertise of a reading specialist to help mindfully guide this literacy shift. We must ensure that the curriculum changes are made intelligently and that the teachers and students are supported with materials, instruction, and assessment.
The third addition to the proposed school budget is a technology support person. This has been a need for several years at AE/MS, but with the increased addition of technology tools and reliance on technology within the curriculum it has become overwhelmingly important.
There are clear technology curriculum requirements which students need to master before leaving the eighth grade. Our technology teacher is adeptly teaching these standards to our kindergarten through eighth grade students. (Yes, there are even technology standards for kindergarteners to master.) In addition to the technology in the computer lab, there are computers, laptops, and other equipment in the library, offices, and all classrooms.
Technology is integrated into all subject areas. Major assessments of student learning are done online with laptops. We need a technology support person to provide technical support and troubleshoot to resolve technology concerns, repair equipment, provide training, share expertise, and enable teacher lessons and student learning to be enriched and not interrupted or derailed.
Although we could use this person 24×7, we are being smart about how we will manage this position. Our plan is to have a 36-day contract. There are some times during the year that demand more technological support than others. For example, the start of the school year, online assessment weeks, grade reporting periods, and data analyzing periods. In addition, we need that person to be available to respond for repairs.
There is a warrant article to be voted on at School District Meeting that will deservedly elicit much discussion. This is not within the proposed school budget but will be voted upon separately.
Full-day kindergarten is again being proposed for AE/MS. Several years ago there was much discussion, but the proposal did not go beyond the School Board level. This is the first opportunity voters will have to weigh in on full-day kindergarten.
Full-day kindergarten will increase the amount of time that our students have to build early literacy and fluency. The longer day allows teachers to spend more time on reading, writing, and math skills. Full day kindergarten research shows both educational and socio-emotional benefits. Area school districts already offer full-day kindergarten programs or, in the case of Kearsarge School District, intend to do so next year.
We want our students to have the same advantages. We currently have two half-day sessions. Each session is three hours long. The Common Core State Standards, which New Hampshire and AE/MS have adopted, are based on 1,080 hours of instruction in kindergarten in a year. That is the equivalent of a full day, not a half day. Our current day provides our kindergarteners with only 540 hours of instruction for the year.
We don’t want our students entering first grade trying to catch up with the curriculum expectations. Nor is it realistic to think that our first grade teachers can make up half a year of kindergarten in addition to their own.
A key strategy for AE/MS students to successfully enter high school begins in kindergarten. More is expected within the curriculum, and more importantly, more is expected sooner.
Certainly, kindergarten is not all work and no play. We understand the developmental needs of five-year-olds, but there are so many opportunities in a full day to structure that play so that learning is occurring.
Next year, there would be a cost to full-day kindergarten, because an additional teacher would need to be hired. However, there will be some years when the incoming class numbers may not warrant the additional teacher.
Space can be made within the building to house an additional kindergarten class. Furniture and materials can resourcefully be found without additional costs. A savings should be gained with the elimination of the mid-day transportation. The current buses can accommodate the additional students on the existing bus runs at the beginning and end of day.
The AE/MS school community is hopeful that all four positions will be funded for the 2013-2014 school year. If anyone would like more information please don’t hesitate to call or stop in. I am more than happy to show you our technological support needs, share enrollment and class size information, give you more information on the Common Core State Standards, further elaborate on the need for a reading specialist, or give you a closer look at our kindergarten day.