Natick Public Schools
November 2016 Office of Student Services I am excited to welcome all of you back to another year in the Natick Public Schools. I trust that your child’s year has gotten off to a great start. As always, I am invigorated about our initiatives and offerings for our special education students here in Natick. As a district, we are moving into the third year of planning our enhancements for the Response to Intervention process. We have coordinated a significant amount of professional development for all of our staff in this area. The primary focus is to help build a culture of collective responsibility, that is, a joint belief that ALL of our students can achieve at high levels. Dr. Nolin and I are working together in this endeavor and are both excited to see the outcome.
This year, Jen Brenneman’s 5th grade classroom at Kennedy Middle School has been transformed into a 21st century classroom in advance of the reality of a brand new school being built over the next few years. Current research on how children learn has necessitated the need for a different looking classroom from the standpoint of instructional delivery, furniture, and new technologies. “The idea is that digital devices, software, and learning platforms offer a once-unimaginable array of options for tailoring education to each individual student’s academic strengths and weaknesses, interests and motivations, personal preferences, and optimal pace of learning.”1 Gone are the days of children sitting for long hours while the teacher is the focal point of instruction. Traditional classroom instruction is being replaced with lessons that allow students to collaborate, work independently, or in small groups. The teacher facilitates instruction while students begin to take ownership over their own learning. This type of instruction, also known as blended learning, is an educational program in which a student learns, at least in part, through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media. This class will be integrated into a 1:1 setting using Chromebooks. These are usually reserved for our older grades. A Chromebook is a laptop designed primarily for internet access. Most of what students will do will be part of the Google for Education applications. These reside in “the cloud.” Having their own laptops will enable our fifth grade students to have access to a learning management system that will help to deliver the content in a deeper and more meaningful way. The classroom will also have monitors on the wall which will allow students to watch instructional videos and collaborate on projects together. The teacher will have easy access to data that will
help to inform her instruction. “Integrating technology with face-to-face teacher time generally produces better academic outcomes than employing either technique alone.” 2 The furniture in this classroom is very different from most classrooms in the Commonwealth. “Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.”2 The chairs are comfortable and on wheels, which allow for easier movement and quick switches into groups. Workspaces are equipped with a desk top and hanging whiteboard, which allows for formative assessments (frequent checks for understanding) by the teacher. The classroom is also fitted with a “U” desk which is used by the teacher to meet with small groups of children and to work on specific and timely needed skills. The teacher’s desk is also on wheels which enables her to be prescriptive, proactive, and on the move by providing deskside coaching students in a personal way instead of lecturing at the front of the class. The learning environment shifts to support the idea that children are at the center of learning and the onus of the learning is on them with teacher support. 1)Harold, Benjamin. “Technology in Education: An Overview.” Educa-
tion Week, 5 Feb. 2016, www.edweek.org/ew/issues/technologyin-education/. Accessed 29 Sept. 2016. 2)Delzer, Kayla. “Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom
Redesign.” Edutopia, George Lukas Educational Foundation, 22 Apr. 2016 www.edutopia.org/blog/flexible-seating-student-centeredclassroom-kayla-delzer. Accessed 29 Sept. 2016.
There are significant studies that show that students with selfawareness and self-determination skills achieve both socially and academically at greater levels. Given this information I have developed goals to roll out an initiative with all of our special education and regular education staff around student facilitated/led IEPs. We are working this year with Dr. Lori Peterson out of the University of Northern Colorado to train our staff to develop and implement a course of action in this area for our students preschool to age 22. Each school level will be working with Dr. Peterson on a specific strategy for children to learn to develop these skills. At the elementary level, it may be as simple as a student introducing their parent at an IEP team meeting and describing their interests. At the middle school level it may include a student facilitating part of the meeting. At the high school level it could involve the student running their entire meeting. The team goal is to teach these skills to the students to participate in the meeting in a way that focuses the attention on their specific learning needs. I am truly excited about this opportunity and believe it will go a long way in building student independence and making their programming meaningful to them. In recent years we have made some significant changes in our specialized programs, some with minimal time for preparation of teachers, parents, and students. We realized that we have to do a better job in planning these changes in a more respectful way to all. To that end, last year we developed a 3-Year Specialized Program plan for our elementary schools in collaboration with our special ed parent advisory council, schools, and administration. We now have a plan of what programs will be offered, where they will be located and potential students who will be impacted by any changes through the spring of 2019. This projection allows us to better prepare students for transitions, staff with appropriate training, and buildings with needed accommodations. This year we will be projecting our 4th year
for the elementary level and the 1st three year projections for the middle and high school. I would be remiss if I did not mention our special education parent survey that was completed by more than 490 families during the last school year. Our ratings, once again, revealed more than a 90% satisfaction rate in the areas of communication, service delivery, and the IEP team process. The comments provided by families displayed the professionalism and caring of our staff here in the Natick Public Schools. It is data like this that makes me proud of our team and the families here in Natick. Some other exciting things going on this year: • Extended School Year Services have been expanded to incorporate a recreational component for students if parents wish to have their students extend their days. This year we will evaluate and determine the possible addition of general ed peers to the program • We are piloting an alternative learning model at our high school North Star program. The Summit School model, is an independently driven technology-based curriculum that allows students to work at their own pace with our teachers facilitating the process • We have created two new district wide positions: An Evaluation Team Leader that will assist in the transition from Middle to High School and an Assistive Technology/ Augmentative Communication Specialist • We were awarded a 3-year extension of our Skills for Success grant through the MetroWest Health Foundation that provides a social worker to help families and students who need home based wraparound services All the best for this school year, Timothy M. Luff Assistant Superintendent Student Services