Tuesday, February 21, 2012

School Reform Initiative (SRI) Winter Meeting by Beth Beaulieu

Notes from Winter Meeting:

Each winter, educators who are a part of the School Reform Initiative (SRI) convene to, “create transformational learning communities fiercely committed to educational equity and excellence.” While my interest and connection to this organization spans many years, this winter was my first experience at the Winter Meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia. With financial support from the Parker Middle School PTO, Taylor Pelletier and I traveled on Wednesday evening from Boston to Atlanta to work with small groups of teachers, administrators and higher education faculty to look at our practice as educators and delve into the dilemmas that are faced and used to effect positive change in schools.

Protocols are the structural basis for the activities at Winter Meeting. Protocols are tools used by schools and educators to structure conversations in order to engage most meaningfully on complex issues. Using these protocols we aim to increase collaboration, reflection and analysis of student data. This work as professionals solidified the concept that for children to learn well, the adults working with them must be learning as well. SRI models the concept that professional learning may not always be formal like a college course, but it must be collaborative and set within the context of students’ work and educators’ practice.

The culmination of the weekend was a viewing of the recently released film, Louder than a Bomb. This documentary chronicled the writing lives of four teenagers participating in a poetry contest called a slam in Chicago. For the group assembled at Winter Meeting, the take-away from this film and the discussion led by one of the poets, was that students’ voices must be present in their work and life at school. These four young people created powerful pieces that reflected the lives they were living. None of the writing they did was assigned through a class but was often cultivated through supportive coaching relationships with teachers and family members.

How does all of this connect to our work here at Parker? The intersections were many. As you may know, on early release days as well as during daily meeting time, teachers use protocols from SRI to examine student work, data and assignments. Many teachers in the building are part of a structure called a Critical Friends Group, which is a collection of professionals that come together to improve teaching and learning through looking at student work. In addition, teachers modify protocols to use with students to include their voices and opinions in the work they are completing. Most of all, use of protocols from the School Reform Initiative helps to provide the basis for a rich professional learning community.

Principal Notes 01/05/2012

It is amazing to think that I was writing the “Welcome to Parker” letter in what seems like days ago, and now it is January 2012. Welcome back, I hope you and your families enjoyed the holidays and the break. Students seemed ready to return to school on Tuesday 01/03. They looked a bit tired; the change in schedule can be difficult after staying up a little later all week. I will often mention to students who are dragging themselves to class on the return from vacation, that “…it is difficult getting old.” Students usually agree and share how hard it is being 11-14 years old, which from their perspective is true. The second quarter is coming to a close and report cards will be sent out on Edline on January 26th. The next few months will be packed with events and activities please keep an eye out for the Parent Weekly Preview sent out on Edline.

Thinking and Rethinking Homework

Several teachers and teams have been looking at their homework practices here at Parker. The teachers and teams have discussed what types of homework best prepares students for class, supports and extends topics being taught and also provides extra practice for students to reinforce their understanding of concepts. The teachers are also keenly aware of the many demands and schedules that students maintain outside of school, and what we sometimes think extends and supports learning in the classroom can cause stress and anxiety. This has led teachers to being a bit more thoughtful and reflective about what and when homework is assigned. For example, math teachers in grades 7 and 8 are making a concerted effort as a team to assign fewer problems that require students to learn the big idea or concept being taught within sections as opposed to practicing thirty problems in one sitting. The math teachers have monitored quiz and test results to see if there has been a dip in grades and the opposite has happened. Students have appeared less stressed about homework and rates of homework completion are up. We will continue to keep a close eye on homework and how it affects our students. Additionally, teachers have agreed to assign no homework or projects over the holiday break to give our students a well deserved rest and to allow families an opportunity to spend some uninterrupted quality time. Please let us know if you think the break in the homework schedule has made a difference for your child.


With the end of second quarter, this starts the second semester and transition planning for grades five and eight. We are planning spring parent meetings with Eaton, Barrows, Killam and Birch Meadow Elementary Schools. In addition, to the spring meetings at each elementary school, we will also have a grade five parent night here at Parker where the sixth grade teachers, our school psychologists and the administrators talk about academic programs, extra curricular activities and academic support for our incoming fifth graders. Class sizes in our sixth grade next year look to be 26:1 at each middle school. We will be communicating meeting dates and locations at the beginning of February.

The eighth grade will start the high school course selection process at the end of January. The RMHS Course catalog will be published this week. We will be posting more information to Edline as we receive it from the high school. Eighth grade parents should mark their calendar for Future Freshman Night for students and parents, January 25, 2012 at the RMHS Fine and Performing Arts Center.