May 2016

Happy May Walnut Acres Parents,

As the school year ebbs, we are experiencing familiar bittersweet endings as well as the promise of new beginnings. Here’s what’s happening…

Open House Festival

Please join us on Thursday, 5/26/16, from 5-7:15 p.m. to celebrate a successful year of student growth! Our event will start with a family dinner option at our picnic tables, along with some entertainment. After you’ve enjoyed a meal with friends and family visit our specialty rooms such as the counselor’s room, the library, as well as the reading lab, from 5:45-6:45 p.m. and chat with the personnel who coordinate specialty services…many of whom are funded by PFC. During the last hour of Open House from 6:15-7:15 p.m., classrooms are open so children may proudly share their work spaces and some of their work products. You may also want to take advantage of this opportunity to check out classrooms at your child’s next grade level.

Personnel

Allison Aguilar is retiring after 36 years of teaching, 32 of which were at Walnut Acres! She will be missed, but we wish her much joy as she begins a new phase of life. She plans to improve her golf game and do some traveling with her husband as she says good-bye to her classroom.

Mindy Rogers, our resource teacher, will also be leaving us after a year at Walnut Acres. She will take a special education position closer to her home on the other side of the tunnel. We wish her happy days and shorter commutes.

Cheryl Gerbacio will be joining us as a 2nd grade teacher. She is an MDUSD teacher from Delta View who comes highly recommended to us. She is excited to join us on our quest to enhance student choice, build student ownership of learning, deepen rigor and infuse technology. We will be hiring three more teachers given our current student registration numbers for 2016-17. I’ll keep you posted as we select new staff members.

Class size and placement

While one of our soon-to-be-hired teachers will take over the resource room, the other two teachers are needed because the district is planning for an average 24:1 ratio in TK through 3rd grade classes this fall. That means that while each class size may vary, the average ratio of students to teacher across TK through 3rd grade, must be 24:1. Class sizes in 4th and 5th grades will remain at 34 as of this date.

With our increase in numbers at the kindergarten level and our new ratio guidelines, we will add another kindergarten class in 2016-17. We will also close our 2nd/3rd combination class and instead we will have four 2nd grade classes and four 3rd grade classes. At this time we plan to keep the kindergarten classes a little larger so we can maintain our slip schedule plan rather than switch to a separate morning and afternoon kindergarten. The kindergarten teachers do not want to forfeit the valuable small group time slip scheduling provides with our youngest children. (Reducing class size would mean five kindergarten classes and require morning/afternoon use of rooms which would preclude time for small groups.)

Our growth requires us to reassess and reorganize our school classroom layout. We are using the design thinking process to plan out the best scenario for classroom placement. We will alert you when the 2016-17 school map is ready.

Instructional Planning for 2016-17

As of 2016-17 we are a full-fledged, committed Workshop site. We use Writing and Reading Workshop extensively across our school and our children can anticipate articulated, coordinated Workshop instruction in every classroom at every grade level. We will continue with one more year of strong guidance from Nicole Padoan, who is providing us with rigorous coaching offered with a gentle, patient hand. We are very lucky to have her commitment for 2016-17!

We will continue to focus on the 8 Math Practices (perseverance, reasoning, argument construction, modeling, strategic tool use, precision, pattern observation, and regularity in repeated reasoning) that describe the varieties of expertise teachers at all levels seek to develop in students. In elementary school, these practices are applied most frequently to the crucial mathematical concepts of number sense and procedural fluency. Automaticity of facts and algorithms are “the bread and butter of mathematics” Dr. Ruth Parker, math educator and writer, shared at a recent conference. She added, “However, if children do not understand why they are following certain protocols with numbers, they will be stymied with the more sophisticated mathematical concepts beyond elementary school.” We will continue to explore Math Talks (developed by Dr. Parker) Singapore Math procedures, Engage NY, and other strategies to build a strong foundational understanding of number concepts. For the “bread and butter” of math we will continue to rely on games and online programs, such as Reflex, which provide a motivational gaming format to the drill and kill of memorizing facts.

We will also explore the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) this coming school year. While publishers are scrambling to develop new materials for the updated Standards, we are reviewing the new Standards, keeping effective units that are still applicable, and developing new units to meet Standards expectations. Many grade levels have already begun their explorations. Design thinking activities, student discovery experiments, and hands-on lab learning will be preferred strategies for science, while an embryonic robotics component to our science curriculum will begin to form in 2016-17.

While we will continue our transformational efforts to prepare our students academically to be strong citizens and valuable leaders in a fast-paced, dynamic, and ever-changing world, there is one other aspect of our educational program that we will address in 2016-17. We know our students need to be prepared with the 6 Cs of critical and creative reasoning, collaboration, communication, global citizenship, along with content mastery, and we are doing our best to promote those skills. However, the pace and dynamism of our society suggests that in our efforts to teach the whole child, we need to redouble our efforts to prepare our children emotionally for the stress that often accompanies the vibrancy and rate of change in today’s world.

To that end, in 2016-17 we will be researching mindfulness strategies to support our children and we will reflect as objectively as possible on our own school practices to ensure that to the best of our abilities we provide a nurturing, positive learning environment with a strength-based educational approach. I’ll be sharing our progress and insights with you through this monthly note, and keeping you in the loop as we continue our work to become the best we can be.

Until then, I wish everyone who mothers a child a belated Happy Mother’s Day. You do the most important job in the world! Thank you for allowing the Walnut Acres staff to share that responsibility with you. I hope that together we will continue our joint task of preparing our children for life in the 21st century, and as we educate the whole child, may we remember the words of the Dalai Lama, “It is vital that when educating children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts.”

Here’s to our kids,

Colleen Dowd, Principal