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Welcome to the LCCPS Spotlight Blog!

Monthly Blog

September

 

Brick by brick.

 

During the first six weeks of school, teachers are busy building a positive structure they hope will serve their students well for the entire school year.  Getting off on the right foot, creating strong, positive classroom cultures now will pay off in December, March, and June.  This is always the work of schools in September.  Teachers are building that structure, the way a mason builds a strong building, one brick at a time, carefully and deliberately placed, with mortar keeping it all together.

Our school building was made of such stuff, back in 1873, both Mills 5 and 6.  Those bricks have lasted a long time, and like a classroom built on care and dedication, our bricks need repointing and attention consistently. I’ve been working with our team and our board to address our bricks and ensure that all sides of the building are strong and beautiful, the same way teachers want their classroom cultures to be strong and beautiful.

Teachers build classroom cultures by cultivating relationships with kids by showing genuine interest and care, by letting kids know they enjoy them as individuals and will pay them the right kind of attention. Teachers build respect by knowing how to ask kids to do things they can do, to show students they can do things they might not think they can do, expect them to do well in the process, and recognize them when they reach those expectations, and encourage them to give effort along the way.  It’s about creating authentic and positive relationships with each of two dozen students.  It’s about knowing how to use your eyebrows, mouth, and eyes to send the right message.  It’s about carefully gauging what to say, when to say it and who to say it to, every moment from 7:45am to 3:30pm 185 days a year.

Good teaching is about knowing about your subject matter, whether it is Math, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Music, Art, Technology, or PE, to name a few.  It’s also about knowing how to talk and relate to kids from a social and emotional standpoint, which in many ways is the first and most important part of the job.  They say a teacher makes 1500 decisions in a six hour day.  http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/teacher-makes-1500-decisions-a-day/.  Here at LCCPS we have nearly an 8-hour day, so it’s close to 2,000.  Over the year it is 370,000.  Teachers have a challenging and demanding job and they do much of it alone all day, very much like a mason, they are responsible for their structure.  When many teachers work in a school, they all contribute to its success the same way a team of masons builds a strong building. They each have their part that they are working on that contributes to the overall strength and beauty of the building as a whole. 

Support Services Program

 Lowell Community Charter Public School (LCCPS) has been partnering with the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association since 2014.  For the past three years LCCPS has been invited to participate as part of the Model Demonstration School (MDS) initiative.  The focus of the Model Demonstration Schools it to provide intensive, embedded, expert coaching for cross functional charter school teams to build school capacity to support students with disabilities and/or English learners. Each year the MDS and LCCPS team meet to identify a goal.  For FY17 the MDS Goal was: Create and pilot a modified fourth grade ELA curriculum to support the demonstrated needs of a group of ten fourth grade students who are significantly below grade level in this area. The team discussed how to allocate resources for the students, what tools would be utilized, and what part of the curriculum to focus on.  The team also discussed the roles of the teacher, reading intervention staff and paraprofessional.    .

  • LCCPS now has a template to use when looking at the incoming 4th graders who are struggling learners.
  • There was a large focus on Differentiated instruction so that information is presented and accessed through multiple means.
  • Scaffolding tools were identified to guide the learning.
  • Training was given to the Paraprofessional on how to use: Fountas and Pennell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention. The role for the Paraprofessional was to implement 30 minute lessons, 5 days a week.
  • Special Education Teacher worked with Curriculum Director to identify what reading materials would be used. She designed the specialized instruction and lesson plans.  The grading of the students was also shifted to the Special Education Teacher as well as the documentation of modifications for grading purposes.
  • Special Education Reading Interventionist focused on phonics, fluency and individual plans.

 Our students had an opportunity to practice skills on a daily basis, took more classrooms risks as the material was presented at a meaningful pace, and were not dragged through the curriculum but instead had more time to dig deeper into the curriculum.  There was an organized approach to the instruction that included common language and daily structure for reading and listening.  The special educator was able to provide final benchmark data that highlighted individual student growth. The Current Special Education Teacher who delivered the instruction will Loop to 5th grade with these students

As this group transitions to 5th grade planning, tracking of curriculum, skills and activities will be important data points to review.

The Power of Athletics at the Middle School level

 At LCCPS our sports program helps to shape and mold our school’s culture.  This year LCCPS had 325, 4th-8th grade students participate in six different sports to include Varsity and Junior Varsity Co-Ed Volleyball, Boys and Girls Soccer and Cross Country, Varsity and Junior Varsity Co-Ed Cheerleading, Boys and Girls Varsity and Junior Varsity Basketball, and Track and Field.

Highlights include:

  • Boys Soccer Champions for the 2016 Ecumenical Athletic Association (EAA) League. Team went undefeated
  • Girls Cross Country Team EAA Champions 2016
  • Varsity Cheer Leading won the 2017 EAA Cheer Competition
  • Boys Varsity Basketball had a undefeated regular season
  • Boys and Girls are the 2017 Track and Field EAA Champions
  • Boys Track and Field placed 3rd in the Massachusetts Middle State Championship
  • Several Athletes participated in the National Track and Field Junior Olympics

 The National Federation of State High School Association estimated that more that 7.6 million high school students (over 55% of all students) played sports during the 2010-2011 academic year. At LCCPS that number is significantly higher for our middle school students. 

 The benefits of sports participation are well documented.  The social, emotional and physical benefits are numerous. Physically it decreases the rate of obesity, lowers body mass, hypertension and diabetes and improves pulmonary function. 

 Socially, the Journal of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine and The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse state that competitive athletes are less likely to smoke and use illicit drugs which have a significant positive impact on prevention.  The Women’s Sports Foundation has stated that female high school athletes are 80% less likely to become pregnant than non-athletes.  At LCCPS our student athletes are less likely to have discipline concerns and more likely to encourage others to do the right thing. 

 The academic benefits show that athletes have higher grade point averages, and standardize test scores, attendance rates, lower dropout rates and better chances to go to college. All of these benefits are demonstrated at LCCPS.

 On any given day students demonstrate their Panther pride by wearing a team jersey that is allowed as part of their school uniform.  The satisfaction on their faces exudes confidence. Students-athletes are reminded of additional behavior expectations that they must demonstrate as they represent our school. 

With all of these benefits and the pride that sports bring to our school, it will not be a surprise if we have more than 325 students participate next in next year’s sports program.

By Middle School Principal Bryan Cannon

Cultural Proficiency Journey: The Beginning

 LCCPS has taken its first steps on the journey of cultural proficiency. Regis Shields of RAS Consultants, Incorporated and Sonya Patton, Director of High School Transition & Externa Programs of LCCPS are the trainers for competency professional development. The training is set up in three modules which all staff will be studying over a three year period. The modules are Awareness, Knowledge and Skill. Awareness of ourselves as individuals and how our biases, values, beliefs  and privilege impact our relationships with each other, students, parents and community. Knowledge of the cultural norms of our students and parents so that we are more culturally sensitive in our educational practices and have deeper understanding of how to navigate our relationship with students and parents around education.

 We will provide an opportunity of any staff who is interested to work with Regis and Sonya on a cultural research project that will help to discover more information about the various countries that we serve. This project will take place in the school year 2017-2018 in hopes to have a complete body of work by school year 2018-2019. The idea is to be able to use this body of work for new staff members of LCCPS. We are looking for opportunities to disseminate our school’s progress as we move through this journey.

 In November 2017, two faculty members and an administrator will be attending the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) International Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah to present The Intersectionality of Diversity & Inclusion: One School’s Journey. One of the faculty members took the lead as the other faculty member and administrator chimed in to complete the NAME grant and the grant proposal was accepted.

 The last module will be Skill. During the Skill module we will be looking for ways to apply what we learned over the course of the training. We will be analyzing what we currently do in all areas of LCCPS and how we can do it better based on what we have learned. We will be able to identify best practices in all areas of the school and in our policies. This is where the infusion of the changed mindsets and beliefs will happen. Where the transformation that has been happening throughout the journey comes to life in hearts, our daily practices and interactions with each other, with students in classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways, with parents and family members and with our community.

 Currently we are finishing up our first module of Awareness with the teaching staff. It was not an easy module as there were times when our beliefs and values were challenged, but we stayed the course and continued to question, share “I” statements and learn together. Stay tuned for more updates as we move through our journey.

Losing Pounds and Raising Scores

 Throughout the past couple of years, I have been asked what our secret to MCAS success is?   What specifically led to our students being better prepared to pass the state test? Almost as if it is a set of steps one follows to mastery.  I have never had a direct response as it has seemed like a woven web of actions, all building off each other. A couple of months ago, I found myself sitting in my dietician’s office asking her for the secret to weight loss.  She smiled and I waited the entire session but there was no secret shared.  I have reflected on these similar lines of questioning over the past couple of months.  I have come to a conclusion:  weight loss and test preparation involve the same set of core actions or beliefs.

 First:  Both necessitate a shift in thinking.

 Weight loss demands a new paradigm in which food is used for fuel not stress relief.   Exercise must become a way of life instead of a chore.  Test preparation requires a systemic shift in which an organization sees the assessment as part of the daily process.  MCAS skills and practice become embedded into the core curriculum such that what is taught, mastered and practiced helps the student succeed.  The test becomes just another way students showcase their mastery.  Note that it is another way not the only way.  The curriculum remains rich in text, writing, exploration and critical thinking.  Yet it is further bolstered by intentional test preparation. 

 Second:  Positive attitude required.

 The old adage “you are what you believe” rings true.  Weight loss is as much conquering the mind, as it is the body.  One must visualize him/herself as that healthier individual.  Students perform as they believe. Test preparation requires a belief that students will succeed and that by putting in the effort one will see results.  If every time one examines a MCAS question or works on an open response, the teacher groans and tells the students it will be over soon, a negative message is sent.  At LCCPS, we put a little “rah rah” in to our preparation, motivating our students to take risks and be proud of their successes.  We examine what it takes to move from a 2 to a 3 in an extended response and celebrate when we do.    

 Third:  Progress is gained little by little. 

 One doesn’t lose ten pounds all at once.  In fact, at times the progress can seem painstakingly slow.  There are even times when one seems to gain a pound in order to lose three.   The same is true in regards to student achievement.  Our turnaround has been a consistent climb upward but the steps in between have been small.  A change in a school’s achievement happens student-by-student and at times standard-by-standard.  It is impossible to focus on everything all at once.  Set goals.  What are we focusing on this month?  This year?  Where do we expect to see improvements and how will we know when we met our goal?  Frequent assessments with students help drive this initiative.  Similar to stepping on the scale each week, our students must know when they are improving and mastering content.  It isn’t enough for the teacher to see this progress.  The buy-in lives with the students. 

 Fourth:  Purposeful planning is key.

 I have learned the importance of meal prep.    One has to prepare to eat healthy as junk food and carbs are much easier to grab on the go.  This involves proactive grocery shopping and meal planning and even the time cutting and preparing food for the week ahead.  Test preparation isn’t any different.  It can’t all be packed in to the week right before testing.  Instead it is spread throughout the months so that students have time to grow and build upon their standard mastery.  Unit and lesson planning is a crucial step in this process.  It is imperative to know what standards are being addressed in which units and then how test preparation can be embedded.  At LCCPS, we have built in test-aligned performance tasks into each unit so that are students are authentically practicing those skills throughout the year.    

 Fifth:  Fads are everywhere.  Beware!

 Advertisements for the newest workout or slickest machines adorn the web.  Ten minutes a day and you will have the body you have always dreamed of.  Don’t eat this!  Eat this! Use this program and your students will make 1 year’s growth in three months.  Buy this new workbook, recently published and aligned to the increased state-testing rigor.  There is a magical answer – the teacher and best practices.  If you want to have students perform better on the ELA test, have them read and discuss texts across disciplines and genres.  Have students write -  and write a lot.  If you want to have students perform better in math, have them solve complex problems and talk about their answers and reasoning.  Classrooms need to be bursting with a joy for learning. 

 Losing pounds and raising scores take time, effort and heart.  The answer lies within the person or organization instead of around it.  Each school must find its own path that gets to the soul of its educational culture and rhythm while putting into action the core truths outlined above.   

Cultural Proficiency

 The world in which you were born

Is just one model of reality.

Other cultures are not

Failed attempts at being you;

They are unique manifestations of the human spirit.

-Wade Davis, Anthropologist

At Lowell Community Charter School we are proud of our diverse student body and point this fact out to many of our visitors and prospective families.    Yet, if we look deeper, we know that our students deserve more than our pride.  They deserve educators who are culturally proficient and bring skills and understanding to all aspects of work and relationships.

We are committed to develop our cultural proficiency.  Many ask, what does it mean?  Cultural proficiency is an approach to teaching and learning that embraces diversity and responds to it in ways that acknowledge and respect cultural differences.  This acknowledgment and respect move beyond the multi-cultural day events, which are still valuable celebrations of a diverse school community, to a mindset and deeply held beliefs that guide all facets of our daily life and work. Ultimately, it is a paradigm shift from viewing cultural differences as issues to learning how to interact and effectively embrace culture to improve school and student achievement.

A culturally proficient faculty, staff and school are essential to truly meeting high expectations for all students. Failure to embrace our students’ cultures as assets gives rise to deficit based thinking and places far too many students in danger of being disengaged from the learning process. Evidence is clear that student engagement is a robust predictor of higher student performance and positive behavior. Engagement means not only appealing to student interests and providing project-based learning but also requires that we acknowledge our students’ cultures in school and classroom norms, pedagogical practices, curriculum and parent and family involvement.

Becoming a culturally proficient school is a journey. A shift in mindsets and beliefs happens only over time, with support, deep personal reflection and real world experiences. If we are intent on transforming our school into a pluralistic and inclusive workplace we must first be willing to look at our own biases as well as the sociopolitical issues that confront culturally different individuals. This is demanding work, often challenging long held beliefs about identity, race, and privilege.

In the coming weeks LCCPS will be taking the first step on this journey.  Beginning with instructional staff, LCCPS will begin professional development focused on cultural proficiency.  The goals of these sessions is to lay the foundation for understanding Cultural Proficiency and its connection to positive school culture and increased student achievement as well as begin to recognize our own biases, the action steps we can take and the sociopolitical issues that confront culturally different individuals. This is only the first step in our school-wide effort. As our journey unfolds we will be adding additional training session for all staff and looking for other modes of delivery and development to include the entire school community.

Creative Partnerships for ELL success

Once in a while, I stumble across something that I like to call a gem of urban education. Such “gems” are techniques and practices that address one (and sometimes many) of the numerous obstacles that face students and educators in challenging urban environments.

I want to tell you about one such gem developed by an ELL educator at LCCPS. Just for a little context, LCCPS has a student population that is classified as over 50% English language learners.  With a language other than English being the primary one spoken in the home, supporting these students brings with it a variety of challenges.  We have a robust ESL program with educators that provide small group as well as inclusion support. The classroom teachers are endorsed with Sheltered English Instruction training. Our curriculum has a deeply embedded emphasis on literacy skill-building and we focus closely on developing and reinforcing English skills across all the domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing from kindergarten through grade eight.   We are (justly) proud of the work we do in the classroom to support all students.

But we know that what happens outside the classroom matters a great deal. For native English speakers, fluency is developed and supported at home by family members. For English language learners that is not necessarily the case. Therefore, in additional to school, any other resources in the community resources are an enormous asset. The library is a wonderful source for books, newspapers, magazines, movies, and special programs. Many families cannot afford to purchase these materials and are not aware that they can be borrowed for free from the library.   Four years ago, one of our ELL educators realized that the families of her first grade students – many of whom were recent immigrants - were not accessing the local city library and that they were unaware that such a resource even existed!

She contacted the city’s Pollard Memorial Library and made arrangements for a librarian to visit the school and educate all first grade students about the myriad of resources available. Some of these programs include arts and crafts, story hour, ESL tutoring, and lectures. The students were motivated to share this information with their parents.  Each student was then given a library card application (in English as well as their native language) for the parent to fill out and have the child return to school.  The project became a priority and an annual tradition for the first grade.  It includes a walking field trip each spring for the library tour and scavenger hunt! It will also grow to include special evening events at the library for LCCPS families. Throughout the duration of this program over 150 Lowell families have been issued library cards. This year alone, nearly half of all first graders(50) at LCCPS applied for their own library card through the partnership program.

The partnership between the school and the library provides enormous benefits for the school, for the library, and most importantly, for our students and families. The library has increased its user base as excited children pull their families by the hand through the library’s doors and toward the children’s section. The school’s work to improve elementary reading skills is supported by an increased wave of excitement about reading from the first grade cohort and access to the library’s treasure trove of books. For our students and families, the library provides not only books, but numerous community resources, educational opportunities and connections to services that many of our immigrant families have struggled to access.

As with anything, this little gem of creative partnership is not a miracle cure-all. We still have reluctant readers in first grade. Our students still struggle with the English language, fluency, and reading comprehension.  Unfortunately, many of our families are still missing out on this valuable school/community connection.   However, we still get excited when the library’s representative comes to visit and when we send home our students with their brand new library card!  That educator proudly reports on the number of library card applications that are received and processed.  We feel so rewarded when families tell us that they are now visiting the library and that they found something new there. It’s not everything, but it’s enough for now.