Friday, September 9, 2011

Cascade Teachers Plan Tutorial Class on Friday PCT

With administrators Diana Garcia (left), Jacob Ellis, and Annika Mizuta
What do you know about Cascade Middle School? You may know the school from a prior experience with it. You may know what you've read about it in the paper as a school in improvement. Or you may not know much about it.

What I want you to know is that the Cascade staff is taking ownership of their school and their results. Today, I attended the staff meeting during Professional Collaboration Time (PCT) and I was immediately struck by a couple of things. First, the teaching staff has a leadership role in the school. Principal Diana Garcia is engaged and quick to jump in where she can add value, but teachers are active participants in their own development. Second, this staff is energetic and dedicated. Temperatures were in the mid-80s outside and not much lower inside. It was Friday afternoon and the meeting followed five hours with students. But not once did I see a teacher anything less than engaged and fully present. Yes, that's their job, but I truly think this group is working on behalf of kids and not merely doing their job.

Michael Franzen and Nadia Counter present the math plan
Mike Sokoloski enjoys an ice cream sandwich - a relief from the heat
Today's meeting was about tutorial, a class most students have four days a week for thirty minutes. This is a time for students to reinforce and deepen their learning through independent practice. Teachers from the math and language arts departments presented the tutorial plan to their colleagues. Students in math tutorial will use our new ST Math software, which stands for "spacial temporal reasoning" and introduces or reinforces concepts in a visual manner. ST Math adapts to each student's needs and it engages students through tasks involving the animated penguin JiJi. If this sounds hokey, I have seen students use the program with enthusiasm and they will tell you it makes them love math. Many early adopters of ST Math have had fantastic student results. And remember, this is a complement to our more traditional, book-based math curriculum.

Kristi Fowler (left) and Karen Boucher present the reading plan
Most students not engaged in math tutorial will participate in independent reading. Today, language arts teachers coached their colleages on how to support students in choosing just right books and monitoring student reading. The teachers stressed the value of time spent reading. As a former musician, I know the value of practice, and that goes for academic skills, too.

This has been a time of change at Cascade, and I'm sure initially it was difficult for teachers to redesign the school under the microscope of federal accountability. Changing principals can create more unrest as well. However, there are a lot of signs that things are going in the right direction, including student growth on district tests and some, though not yet all, areas of the state assessment. Just over a year into its improvement grant, Cascade seems poised for a great year.

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