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“Homework, and Back-to-School Smiles”
By Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, September 2016
School is in session for the 2016-2017 year, everyone is back in the swing of things, and as I walk about the building I see a lot of smiling faces. It is obvious that students are happy to see their friends and teachers are happy to see their students and are anxious to get back to teaching. Ashford School is a good place to be in September. This year the full staff came together for a professional development day before the students returned. The day was designed to provide information and an orientation to the coming year. In my address to the group, I offered welcome back greetings and shared some information that had surfaced during the summer. I mention this because during my presentation, I challenged the teachers to reconsider their use of homework as a tool in their teaching. I have never been a big homework advocate, but had never really broached the subject with our staff before. This year it just seemed appropriate. We have been moving in a very positive direction with our curriculum and instructional practices, and the time seemed right to get a “homework conversation” started.
There is a great deal of research that supports the elimination, or the minimizing of elementary and middle school homework. There are many reasons why one might want to see less homework. It seems that modern life is so busy that families find homework as a source of stress rather than a benefit to learning. By the time everyone is home, and family time begins most nights, the last thing a busy family needs is to deal with their child’s homework. I certainly agree with the idea that homework should be important, or it has no reason to be assigned. In my own family we had after school sports, instrumental lessons, religious instruction and a variety of other early evening commitments that left just about enough time to eat dinner and get to bed at a reasonable hour. The addition of worksheets, or other school busy work, just added stress and eliminated the possibility of any down time for everyone to just…. unwind. Yes, we did the homework, but it never seemed worthwhile. Especially, as an educator, there were some days I wasn’t home until later in the day or evening; and as a father, I hated to use what little time I had with my family chasing after my kids to get their homework done. And I often found it impossible to help or provide guidance because every few years there was a new way to do math, and a very different way to evaluate what “good” writing was. It was very different from what I learned in school, and it was even different from what the older brothers or sisters learned. And the new way was the “only right way” to get the answer. So, now that I am in a position to influence the matter, I have given the teachers of Ashford School the challenge to decide what homework is important, and what is not, as well as to begin to discuss the concept of homework and its value.
Homework assignments will likely vary quite a bit based upon grade level, younger grades with less homework than in older grades. One thing that middle school teachers worry about is preparing students for high school. There is no doubt that homework is often heavy and complex at the high school level. Shouldn’t middle school students be somewhat prepared to deal with the increased workload, and have developed some good homework habits before they get to high school? Perhaps, but on the other side of the discussion is the idea that high school is different in many ways, and it is not the role of the middle school to worry about that. They have enough of their own work to do without seeing themselves as a preparatory school for high school. Isn’t that why they abandoned the term “junior high school” and called themselves a middle school some years ago? The middle school debate is not likely to be resolved here, but perhaps eighth grade is a time for a homework transition.
I bring this matter to your attention because you might notice a change in the amount of homework that your child brings home, and I didn’t want you to think there was a problem. The faculty will be discussing the subject at meetings over the next few months. And until we have some consensus we will see a wide range of approaches. As professional educators, every teacher has the right to decide how to deal with homework. It is a personal and professional decision. I suspect that many will try different approaches and resolve the issue over time. If you have an opinion, feel free to let your child’s teacher know.
Those back-to-school smiles that I mentioned earlier are not there by accident. It takes a lot of work by the staff and administration to create a climate in school that balances work and fun in a way that is both beneficial and enjoyable. Ashford School is a very nice place for a child to grow and learn. There are very few cases of bullying, and students seem to get along fairly well. This is partly due to the way student behavior is managed at Ashford School, but we also have the distinct advantage of beginning the day with a student enrollment made up of well-mannered, and well-behaved children. But even the best of us have a bad day or get angry, or in some way misbehaves. That is where the staff steps in.
Our school uses a system of positive reinforcement and approaches student behavior management as a process, and not crime and punishment. This is a topic that will be the subject of a future article. It is too much to explain in a few paragraphs. But I feel that you might notice the systematic changes in approach, and should at least have some sense of what we are doing as the school year begins. The basic concept is to, on the one hand, reward good behavior through a system of positive behavior recognitions, and on the other hand, deal with unacceptable or negative behavior by asking the offender to recognize what he or she did, who it impacted negatively, and then restore the damaged relationship through a positive action such as an apology, dialogue, and community service. Thus the name “restorative justice.” Justice is achieved by restoring the damaged relationships caused by poor behavior. The plan is to teach students that bad behavior damages their relationship with others, and that they must do something positive to restore it. Teachers and administrators work with students to identify the poor behavior and develop the restorative strategies. There are still consequences for unacceptable behavior, but there are also many non-traditional approaches to discipline that might be surprising to some parents, but are carefully designed to teach and remediate.
This turns behavior management into teachable moments, decreasing the likelihood of repeat offenders. For those who are in need of a little more attention, there is an after school program called the “Wolf Pack” which is a club of sorts for behavior, or academic improvement through positive experiences. This is a very successful way to give students what they need to succeed as they grow and learn. I believe that the faculty and administration have some exceptional solutions for some of educations most common and long-standing problems. It is also reassuring to see everyone working together to help our students and improve our school climate and culture.
Once again, if you want further information, or have any questions or comments relative to the material covered in this article, feel free to give me a call, or drop me an email. My contact information at Ashford School is 860-429-1927, ext. 365, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Citizens Dedicated to the Children of Ashford”
By: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, August, 2016
I often write to you about our dedicated teachers, administrators, and other staff, as the reason that Ashford School is such a dynamic learning environment. Their dedication to the children of Ashford is unquestionable. I have also devoted articles to the importance of the parents who volunteer in classrooms, serve on committees, join the PTO, and in so many other ways help us on a daily basis, without whom it would be impossible to do many of the special things that we do.
Today, I want to recognize the citizen volunteers that serve on our Board of Education. Devoting two long evenings a month to meetings, and many hours of preparation in between. Those citizens who volunteer to serve on the Ashford Board of Education dedicate a great deal of time and energy serving the children of Ashford. There is no salary associated with being on a Board of Education; their reward is a better school for all students and the community. Serving as a Board of Education member is how citizens can serve their community in a way that is devoted primarily to children.
Why would I spend time highlighting the Board of Education? For several reasons….first, the leadership provided by the Board members is extremely valuable to those of us whose job it is to deliver the best education possible to the students of Ashford. Second, the Board members provide a terrific connection to the community. Board members are residents who not only serve on the Board, but also are concerned about their community, and therefore provide a valuable localized perspective. Third, I hope that once you understand how important the role of the citizen volunteer is, it will inspire you to see how you might get involved, and use your own skills and knowledge as a means of making Ashford School a better place for children to learn.
Another reason for choosing this topic for this month’s article is because on the evening of August 11th, the Ashford Board of Education held its Annual Summer Leadership Retreat. An annual event that is comprised of several hours of planning and decision-making devoted to making Ashford School a better and more efficient learning environment. To prepare for this retreat, Board members received nearly a hundred pages of material to study.
This year’s agenda focused on these topics:
- An opportunity for members of the public to speak;
- Creation of goals for the 2016-2017 academic year;
- Review the current status of the curriculum, instruction, and staffing through reports from the school administrative team;
- Refinement of our three-year plan for school improvement;
- Development of a long-term plan for capital investment in the school building and grounds.
There are hundreds of possibilities associated with this list of tasks, but the Board was charged with developing priorities and planning the best path forward while considering the both needs of our students and costs to our community.
As a result of the dialogue at this year’s retreat, the Board goals for the coming year embrace improving curriculum and instruction, improving communication, providing training for all staff members, and providing the best learning environment Ashford can afford. The revised long-term Three-Year Plan addresses the development of school programs such as our S.T.E.A.M initiative and S.T.R.I.V.E. Gifted and Talented program, Robotics, Enrichment programs, after school clubs, curriculum focus on improving writing performance, professional development for all employees, and ways to make Ashford School a better learning environment. The revised Capital investment priorities are targeted for maintaining the facility to protect Ashford’s largest property investment by way of remodeling classroom space, adding improvements to ceilings and floors, and many other major improvements in the building and the grounds to make the facility more efficient and safe.
As Superintendent, I participate in this process as a facilitator and advisor. However, the citizen volunteers of the Board of Education carry out the primary decision-making through their leadership and policy-making responsibilities. At this retreat, they debated many possibilities, and ultimately put together a plan that is designed to most efficiently serve the students and the community. The discussion was lively and the debate spirited. Ultimately the best interests of the children of Ashford are served through determined and dedicated leadership.
I have always been impressed with the amount of time and energy that a Board of Education expends serving both students and community, and how such a diverse group can come together and represent education so effectively. Each member of the Board brings a very different set of skills and abilities to the process. It is that diversity of experience and training that makes the Board so effective. You can find the Board Retreat minutes on the Ashford School website, and you can see the decision-making in action by visiting the school.
The Ashford Board of Education meets the first and third Thursday evening of most every month, at Ashford School, in the conference room next to the administrative offices. Meetings normally begin at 7:30 pm. Every meeting opens with an opportunity for members of the public to speak. I invite you to attend a meeting, and/or participate as often as you can. The Ashford School website also contains their meeting minutes and a lot of other important information. You might also note that the meetings from November through March are partially devoted to development of the next year’s school budget. You might want to join us for some of these meetings, as spending priorities are established, and the bottom line is determined. At the very least, I hope that this article helps you to better understand what the volunteers on the Ashford Board of Education do to contribute to making Ashford School one of the best schools in this part of the state, and inspires you to take a closer look.
“Another Great Year, and Some Ideas for the Summer”
By: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, June 2016
There are two important things that we do every June at Ashford School. We look back at our school year, and we look forward to enjoying the summer, a break from our normal routine that allows us time to plan for the future. In this article, I hope to spend a moment reviewing the year that has just ended and to provide the “Ashford School View” of what a student could do during the summer recess.
We are currently engaged in a look back at the year, assessing programs and performance, as well as meeting for curriculum writing, policy review, and goal setting for next year. While it is a break from the normal academic year routines, summer is a busy and productive season. There is a great deal of work that must be done over these summer months to ensure that we can continue to improve as an educational community. This past year has seen advances in our STEAM curriculum, our enrichment programs, and our art and music programs. We are very pleased with the fine work of our staff this year, and have scheduled several curriculum committee meetings over the next month to continue this good work and progress.
In addition to our summer tasks, we take a moment to celebrate the completion of another great year! Even with all of the celebration and excitement before us, the coming of summer is still a time of mixed feelings. We all understand that our children need a break from the routines of school, and an opportunity to just play and be carefree, but we also fear that this time away from school causes some loss of the academic advances that occurred during the school year. We all know that come September, we will have to spend a good deal of time reviewing and recovering learning that has been forgotten after a summer of play.
Most children figure that they spend the winter learning, and the summer playing. Essentially we agree with that. However, educators talk about learning as a lifelong experience, and a never-ending process of growth as a mindset that we hope our children will adopt. We want to stimulate a positive attitude toward learning and foster creativity and curiosity all of the time, not just at school. As a child, I might hope that everyone just forgets school, and allows me to play and be a kid, carefree and relaxed. Hopefully most children will enjoy a fun break from school, with a few formal activities with the family and friends, but a lot of free time to just play and be a kid. Most parents agree with that idea, but are also concerned about their children forgetting some of what they learned and even falling behind.
We, as teachers and administrators, are often asked what we suggest is best for our students over the summer. We suggest striking a balance, mixing a little formal learning, family time, some fun visits to places of interest, and time for free, creative play. Here are a couple of suggestions.
First, the faculty at Ashford School wants to be a resource for you as you plan your summer. Every teacher has some summer work suggestions on our website that can be useful for rainy days or to fill in empty time periods over the summer. This work is designed for summer and intended to help keep the child’s curiosity and creativity active without being too burdensome.
Secondly, we suggest that you go to the State of Connecticut tourism website to find some of the hundreds of free or very inexpensive places available in Connecticut for you and your family to visit. There are beaches, state parks, museums and galleries that are enjoyed by people who visit Connecticut…. but overlooked by residents.
Just type “Connecticut Tourism” on the internet and you will be directed to pages of great ideas for daytrips close to home, in Connecticut. These can be day trips that can be fun and rewarding. They can be learning experiences for our children and a great family day at the same time. We just have to approach it with a casual, relaxed and stress free attitude and go for the fun of it.
Summer does seem to fly by, and we often think that plans have to be complicated and costly, but I hope this article reminds you that there are other, less expensive, and simple options available to us right here in Connecticut.
I hope that you have found this article helpful. The key is to make some plans, decide what fits into your family schedules, and take the initiative. You won’t regret it. Think of summer as a time for fun and family, but also a time for learning and growth. Take some family day trips and enjoy opportunities for learning that you might have overlooked because they are so close or familiar. Connecticut can be an adventure, learning can be fun, and summer is the perfect time to enjoy a family outing or two.
“Thank You for Helping us Enjoy Another Great Year”
By: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, May 2016
Each June the administrative staff of Ashford School meets to review the year, assess our progress in meeting our goals, and begin the process of planning for the coming year. As I collect material for this meeting, I am profoundly aware of just how many people participate in our school, and contribute to our successes. Of course our faculty and staff work diligently, and often well beyond their daily responsibilities for the benefit of our students. They are a dedicated group who really take pride in their work, and joy in the successes of their students. But it is the parents, grandparents, and the community, that I would like to recognize and thank now. Many people come to our school and participate as chaperones, classroom assistants, speakers and donors of time and money to ensure that our students enjoy a full and rich experience in school. Whether it is in the classroom, at an event, or building a greenhouse, you were there, and we thank you! Your participation makes Ashford School the success it is.
I would also like to thank the hundreds of family and friends who attend our special events. You, as the audience at our concerts, art shows, science nights, sporting events, assemblies and many other activities, provide our students with encouragement and reinforcement for the effort it takes to run out on the field, or get up on the stage. From our first open house, to our commencement ceremony, you are there. Children build upon your support, and express their gratitude with the smile on their face, or the effort it takes to participate. We know that it is not always easy to volunteer or to attend school functions. Work and other responsibilities are often in the way, but somehow hundreds of you end up in our school and are there to support the children. Your being there not only inspires and reinforces the efforts of your children, but it also inspires their teachers and all of us at Ashford School to work harder and be more creative and full of enthusiasm and effort.
Growing up in the twenty-first century is not easy. Gone are the carefree days of the past. There are so many distractions and temptations that today’s children must overcome and rise above if they are to succeed. We all know about the Internet, social media, television, and the possibility of predators out in the world, and we all do our best to protect the children from them. But often it is the knowledge that you are there, and that you care and participate, that helps a growing student to make the right choices. I am writing this article because you probably don’t hear “thank you” as often you deserve. Kids are busy growing up, and dealing with the challenges of every new day, to think of saying thank you. But they feel it, and live it. We at Ashford School see the impact of what you do every day and recognize the impact of your participation and support. We have a great school and that is in large part due to the participation of parents, grandparents, friends and community members. I hope that you do not receive this message as being old fashioned or corny in recognizing the importance of your presence in our school and in support of these children. If so, forgive me, and please just continue to be there. Thank you.
A reminder to all, our school’s website has a calendar that lists all of our events and activities. As a matter of fact, it has all sorts of good information, even links to the teacher’s individual websites. If you have not made use of our website, take a look. It is a very useful resource!
“Standardized Testing in Ashford School”
By: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, April 2016
Standardized testing is a hot issue nationally, and a topic of discussion throughout our state. Parents and educators alike have been debating the value of standardized testing, with some parents allowing their children to opt out of the tests entirely. This debate has been on the minds of the educators in Ashford School. I believe that we have come to a very healthy and balanced approach to the tests, as well as how we use the results. This brief article is designed to share our conclusions with you, and to make our approach to testing clear.
Throughout Connecticut all students in grades three through eight take the standardized tests in March and April. Every school district has its unique way of utilizing the results. In Ashford School the test results are one of many tools for us to use as we design instruction for our students. Students are tested in mathematics, reading, science, and in most years, writing. The standardized tests provide us with data that can be used to measure student academic needs, as well as our school’s instructional effectiveness. The scores are a valuable tool that support our data driven, differentiated instructional model.
There is a difference in how we utilize test scores in Ashford from many other communities. It is that difference that has made our use of standardized testing easier to accept by parents and educators. We value the tests, but they are not our primary source of understanding student learning, our curriculum, or instructional effectiveness. As I said earlier, the test results are just one of the tools that we use. We believe that the most important way to understand student learning is through the day-to-day monitoring of their performance by their teachers. The quizzes, tests, homework, written classwork, class participation, and other day to day learning measures that the teacher has available to them are added to the assessment mix, and ultimately act as the foundation of our personalized learning approach to every student’s learning plan. So, we support the taking and use of standardized testing, but we do so in the context of the many other assessment measures available to us.
First and foremost, among the reasons for our support of the tests is that they help us to understand the individual needs of our students. The test provides insight into the areas that the test taker, (our students in grades three through eight) are strong, or need additional instruction. The tests that we are administering this year are relatively new. They are based upon the recently adopted Connecticut Common Core Curriculum Standards much more than the previous tests were (Connecticut Mastery Tests, CMT). The Connecticut State Department of Education has endorsed the Common Core Standards, and ultimately has approved the new tests as an assessment of the state’s many districts’ effectiveness in teaching them.
The testing is mandated by the state, and our participation is linked to receipt of state and federal funds, but whether we teach to the test, and/or what we do with the data, are local decisions. I hope that this article makes clear that I see standardized tests as a tool, and not a measure of the quality of our teaching staff or curriculum. The tests certainly serve as an indicator for us by providing us with data that we can assess and utilize. But there is a lot more to a good education than performance on a battery of tests.
Much of the controversy about standardized testing is around two aspects of the new test: first, that it is connected to the controversial Common Core Curriculum Standards, and those standards were developed by a group of individuals funded by private money that many believe did not include a sufficient number of educators. Second, the test that is being adopted in Connecticut, and throughout the country, is also a private enterprise controlled by one for-profit company that many believe also does not involve a sufficient number of teachers. These two aspects of the history and foundation of the tests are also hot topics that could each be the subject of a separate discussion and article. Perhaps we could devote future articles to the history of both the Common Core and its related standardized tests.
In conclusion, I believe that Ashford School has a very healthy and well-balanced view of standardized testing, the Common Core Curriculum Standards, and the use of data to support student learning. They are integrated into our overall curriculum, instruction and assessment strategies to assist us in designing instruction that is responsive to student needs. In Ashford School the emphasis is upon inspiration, motivation, creativity, and the development of individual learners.
“Ashford School Offers Students a Variety of Opportunities to Grow”
By: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, March 2016
While at a recent Board of Finance meeting a board member suggested that I devote one of my monthly articles to some of the special opportunities that a student at Ashford School enjoys. It had not occurred to me that if you do not have a child in Ashford School, you might not realize how much it has changed, and how many programs we offer that enrich and expand upon the lives of our students. We are very proud of our school, and we believe that our faculty offers our students some of the regions most interesting enrichment and club opportunities.
As we review the special programs offered at Ashford School it is important to remember that these are programs offered in addition to our exemplary core curriculum. In previous articles I have highlighted our PK-8 STEAM curriculum and instruction model, as well as our comprehensive special education offerings. Our regular curriculum design is built upon the belief that it is our responsibility to teach a broad spectrum of subjects and how they are interrelated, to expose students to the varied opportunities out in the world that they might further explore, or choose to build their future.
Ashford School has introduced a program called WolfPACK that is responsive to students who have exhibited a need for behavioral or social intervention. Wolf PACK is an after school program to connect students with the Ashford community, build physical capacity, and develop academic skills. Students stay after school three days a week in order to take part in this restorative program.
The remainder of this article is focused on programs that are either provide curriculum enrichment, or are extra-curricular in nature and essentially expand upon the learning experiences available at Ashford School.
The following activities were offered this year, as well as in previous years, as integral aspects of our curriculum and enrichment menus. Robotics has been one of our most popular programs, and is going to be part of every fifth and sixth grade student’s regular schedule next year. In Robotics class, students learn about engineering and technology, as they design robots and practice manipulating them to perform specific tasks. These robots, designed and controlled by students, go up against robots from other schools in weekend competitions. Our Robotics students have done very well in these competitions, winning or placing several times. We have both a print and a video yearbook club where students photograph peers, staff, and events. We have a school newspaper written and published by students, as well as clubs, such as MathCounts, and the Science Quiz bowl that offer students with an interest in math or science robust enrichment opportunities.
We have a very long list of extra-curricular club offered after school, with late bus transportation available for students who choose to participate in them. We offer a Kids Marathon Club. This club is for grade three or four students of all fitness levels who are interested in participating in the Kids Marathon event held on June 4th at E.O. Smith. Over the course of club meetings, students complete 25 miles of walking or running. They finish their last 1.2 miles together at the celebratory event in June! There is also a Tabletop Games Club where students in grades six through eight have the opportunity to play a wide variety of board games in an environment that encourages collaboration and friendly competition. Our Paper Crafts Club provides grade five through eight students a chance to create a variety of folded paper crafts. Focus will begin with cut and glued crafts made entirely of paper including figures, hats, decorations, and objects. This club is an opportunity for healthy social interaction and self-expression. Grade six through eighth grade students with a desire to stretch their minds might do so in the Brain Games Club where students focus on decision making and problem solving strategies. A Jugar! is a Spanish games club where grade three through five students may come and practice Spanish and have fun playing a variety of games with Maestra! For those students who love writing as a form of expression, we offer the Creative Writing Club, where grade five through eight students might explore and express an idea for a novel, comic, short story or poem, and where students will exchange stories, give each other writing tips, and have time to write together. An interesting club for grade six through eight students is the Heroes on Film Club that explores what success is and what it means to persevere through a variety of PG movies that depict the lives and stories of real-life heroes. We’ll talk about what greatness is, and where we might see heroes in our lives every day. In the Lawn Games Club grade five through eight students discover that lawn games are a wonderful way to get outside and be active. The games are great for all athletic abilities, are a lot of fun to play, and also have an amazing social aspect to them.
Popular Dances for the Novice Dancer is offered for grades three through six students to practice popular dances that are played at weddings, parties, and other events in a pressure free environment. The Outdoor Adventure Club is for those fourth through eighth grade students who have a love of the outdoors, enjoy being active and among friends. In the Around the World in 60 Days Club grade three through eight students interested in our place in the world gain knowledge of the world and the many exciting places that they might visit someday.
As members of the Field Hockey Club grade six through eight students will begin by learning the basics of the sport field hockey. They will learn the rules of the game, stick skills, and even prepare themselves to join the E.O. Smith Field Hockey Team if they wish. In grades six through eight we encourage community service. Our Community Service Partners Club provides students who are interested in reaching out to help their school, town, state, or global communities a base from which to do great work, make connections, and serve their community.
As you can see, we offer many opportunities for enrichment and fun at Ashford School. There is a wide range of activities and opportunities for students of all interests. I hope that I have mentioned them all because they are staffed by our outstanding faculty who spend many hours doing much so more than just their job as they guide our students through there critical years. This has been a long article, but that is because so much is offered to our students at Ashford School! We are proud of this, and hope that you are too. After all, being a student at Ashford School is an experience that is all about the joy of participation and learning.
“Understanding Special Education”
By: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, February 2016
One of the least understood aspects of any school or school district is the special education department. Because each student enrolled in special education has a right to privacy, people don’t know the intricacies of the program, its costs, or if it is accurate or efficient. Hopefully, this article will provide some insight and understanding of special education as an integral aspect of our school. Efficient special education programs normally account for about twelve to fifteen per cent of any school budget statewide. Offering a full spectrum of services that most people will never have contact with, or fully understand. This spectrum of services incorporates academically gifted and artistically talented students a well as students with disabilities or temporary service needs. It should be further noted that the special education services described here are required by state law. The state laws that mandate special education services exist based upon the idea that all students deserve a full and equal education. I write this article with an understanding that services are required by law, but also that we, as educators, believe that these services should be provided because they are the right thing to do. The prevailing philosophy at Ashford School is “Optimal Education for All.”
To complicate matters more is the fact that special education costs are dispersed throughout the school budget. That is, there are transportation, outplaced tuition, speech, occupational, and physical therapists, psychologists, teachers, specialized adaptive equipment, specialized instructional resources, and many other expenses that the special education department must incorporate in their budget depending upon the needs of the students enrolled. Above all, because we never know what the needs of any given student will be until they are enrolled in our school and evaluated, planning accurately a year ahead of time during budget preparation is very difficult. Because of these complexities, and the potential for misunderstanding, I thought that this would be a good topic for this month’s article.
But, before we dig into special education, we should address a common misconception: the fear that a student is stigmatized if they are enrolled in a special education program. Let’s be clear, there is no stigma attached to receiving special education services. It is actually the smart thing to do, and should be seen as the act of parents, teachers, or specialists addressing a child’s need. One that can usually be vastly improved with appropriate services. We believe that whether it is a short term or long term need, children should receive the services that can help them. If we can provide a service that will positively impact a student’s life, we should jump at the opportunity. Many parents hesitate to ask, avoid the identification process, or just try to stay clear of special education, when it could really benefit their child. Special education is an asset that is available to us all, and should be utilized whenever it is appropriate, and can positively benefit a child. Advocating for a child is our responsibility as parents and as educators. They are too young to advocate for themselves, and they rely upon us to ensure that they get the educational services that they need.
There is no mystery surrounding special education. Simply put, it is a full menu of specialized services that are provided to students who need them. However, before a student can receive special education services a few essential steps have to be completed. First, someone has to suspect special services are needed. In some cases, the issue that could benefit from special services can be noticed or identified at an early age. There is a birth-to-three program that can provide very early intervention in some cases. In those cases, a doctor, teacher, or parent will notice something is different, and should be looked into. This is the time when many cases are ignored or misdiagnosed. Often, there is a touch of parental denial that can put treatment off until symptoms and needs are too obvious to be ignored, or attributed to another cause.
Some readers may be feeling a bit uncomfortable at this point in my article. Please don’t. Just pursue services if you suspect anything. We don’t service students who do not need them. So you have nothing to lose by asking for an evaluation, or a professional to check into your child’s situation. Don’t rely on a medical doctor alone. Sometimes they do not have the training that they need to identify an educational need. Talk to the special education department head in your school to ask for an evaluation if you have suspicions. I am not encouraging parents to seek special education without need, but I am encouraging anyone with legitimate suspicions to seek our professional’s opinion. I promise you that no one will deny an Ashford student services if they need them, and no one will try to enroll a child in services that they do not need.
It should also be noted that many students who need special services do not display that need at an early age. Some issues do not surface until a child is older, and is faced with intellectual, physical, or emotional situations that they have difficulty dealing with, and indicate their need for special services. Or, they have an accident that causes an injury that requires attention over time. As a parent or guardian, it is important that you remain open to the fact that as children grow and develop they are faced with increasingly complex situations, and must have the personal tools to deal with them. We must be aware, and diligent in our constant attention to our children. If you think that a behavior, ability, or inability or remnants of an injury is something that should be checked out, contact your special education department head to see if, after an evaluation of the situation, they agree. We do not want to overreact to every problem your child faces, but we want to be open to checking things out if you have suspicions that something needs special attention. The earlier an issue is recognized and attended to, the more likely it can be dealt with successfully. We don’t want to be overly alarmed, but we don’t want to deny either. You know your children. Act when you have suspicions. Remember, the school does not service students who do not need service. We will check out your suspicions and act accordingly. Of course, inherent in this approach is trust. You must trust the special education professional’s opinion. They are professionals who are committed to the appropriate education for all children, and are in the field because they want to make a difference. They are not going to deny services if they believe that they can help. This is especially true in Ashford, where we have an exceptional special education faculty and administration, and a philosophy that demands a quality education for all students. Additionally, we provide services in the least restrictive way possible. In many cases the services that are provided are so integrated into the student’s regular day that they do not interfere with other subjects or the student’s remaining schedule.
Once one has decided to act on their suspicions, and arranges for an evaluation to be administered, the process is set in motion. If the evaluation determines that special education is appropriate, a Planning and Placement Team is organized and a meeting held. The Planning and Placement team is a group of special education professionals from a variety of disciplines. Each member specialized in a field that could be helpful to your child. This meeting is called a PPT meeting, and it results in an individualized educational plan (IEP) for the student. This can range from more evaluation to the scheduling of specific services. This IEP (individualized education plan) is the first step in getting services scheduled for the student. The planning and placement team, through the PPT meeting process, develops the individualized education plan that sets the special education process into motion. Services are scheduled and delivered. Some students require special services for only a brief period of time. In those cases, once the service is no longer needed the student is exited from special education, and they begin to receive just regular instruction as a member of the regular education population.
Special education can be as simple as speech therapy, or physical or occupational therapy responding to temporary physical issue or developmental delays. It can be a short-term service that ends as the child works out his or her issues. Special education can be counseling, or academic assistance for intellectual issues that are developmental and might be short term or easily remedied with specialized assistance. It can be help a child adjust to illness, injury, disease or a life-long issue. The spectrum of services is amazing. It goes from very short-term to life-long. The key is to understand that it is specific to the child being served. Every child, and every situation is different. I am pleased that we have such a great special education department and that I can have complete trust in them. Ashford can boast one of the best and most effective special education departments in the state. It is also comforting to know that Ashford’s special education budget is based upon need, and service to our students, and is managed with expertise and consideration.
I hope that this article has done a few things. First I hope that it has diminished your fears, or any belief that special education stigmatizes students. Second, assures you that services are provided only when needed, and therefore there should be no fear of frivolous, or unnecessary services, or the denial of services when they are warranted. Third, our department is exemplary, and can be trusted to advocate for the best educational program that can be offered for every student. And lastly, we always do our best to be accurate, but that we never know who will enroll, or leave Ashford, so our budgets are difficult to estimate annually. All of this adds up to the fact that Ashford School does provide the best possible education for every student, and we should all be proud of that.
by: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, January 2016
During the budget work session at the Board of Education meeting of January 7th, we discussed most every program and staff position to better understand how they fit into our drive for excellence at Ashford School. We discussed the cost, value, and role of every program and staff member as we determined how to best serve the needs of our students, and how best to allocate our resources. Through this discussion, we determined what was to be maintained, reduced or expanded. During that dialogue it became evident that the least understood of all of the various aspects of Ashford School is the role and importance of the administration. I was asked to write an article that explained the role of the various administrative positions at Ashford School.
When most people consider the role of school administrators they compare them to the role of their bosses at work. This is not necessarily an appropriate comparison because of the way leadership and responsibility are assigned in a contemporary school. An educational leader, that is, principal, assistant principal, director of special education or superintendent is not like a traditional “boss.” Actually, they are all active participants in the educational process, and have active leadership responsibilities daily. I have been an educator for over forty-five years, the last thirty as an educational leader in towns with as many as thirty schools. I can say without reservation that as I traveled from one school to another I could feel the difference in climate, culture and general atmosphere from one school to the next. This difference reflected the school’s leadership. Most often provided by the administrators and a few stand-out teachers.
I am going to devote this article to presenting how our administrators contribute to the success of Ashford School. First, the Principal. The school Principal is the educational leader who ensures that everyone in the school is striving to achieve the mission and goals set by the Board of Education and the Superintendent. He is the school’s day-to-day supervisor. This is achieved by focusing on several key areas. First, the Principal leads the staff in implementing the district’s instructional vision. Ashford is a student centered school that utilizes a STEAM based curriculum. Our Principal works with the staff to ensure success in implementing this vision. The Principal leads in hiring staff. He is the chairman of all search, or hiring committees. We believe that a strong teaching staff is essential to a successful school, and our Principal has been a key leader in this regard. Once staff is hired, we must train them and provide them with guidance and support. The Principal works closely with the Superintendent and the rest of the leadership team to put together our staff training program. Our professional development program is a key element of our success. We must be sure that our teachers have the tools and understanding of the school’s goals and vision if we are to expect success. Our goal is for the teaching staff to inspire and motivate our students. Sound support systems, professional development and scheduling are key to this. These are designed and managed by the leadership team. The Principal is the primary evaluator of our regular education staff. His role in the evaluation process is defined by state law and regulation. The Principal is essential in maintaining a well-prepared, inspired faculty. He cultivates leadership among the faculty that serves as an example of how students can be empowered in the classroom. The Principal must continuously monitor and adjusts daily school practices ensuring alignment to the school goals. He works closely with the Superintendent to manage the allocation of resources and organizes the implementation of new initiatives. An important role of the Principal is to address parent concerns. He represents the cooperative efforts of the student, parent, and teacher. He keeps the Superintendent informed during regularly scheduled leadership meetings. Generally speaking, the Principal manages day-to-day school operations, oversees curriculum, supervises and evaluates staff. He assists the Superintendent leading to produce a safe, productive and well organized learning environment. He must be a source of inspiration and motivation.
Just as the Principal is the Superintendent’s right hand man, he could not carry out this full range of duties without an assistant. The Assistant Principal is his partner in most all of his responsibilities. In Ashford School, the Assistant Principal is also a curriculum leader. We have identified writing as one of our areas of concern. It is our Assistant Principal who leads our writing improvement initiatives. He participates in every leadership meeting, contributing to the dialogue, and actively assisting in the development of the practices and procedures that make Ashford School the pride of the region. The Assistant Principal is the primary evaluator for nearly a third of the staff. He is the leader of many curriculum development committees as well as the primary administrator of our writing initiatives and programs. Because Ashford School is a combination of an elementary school and a middle school, the range of curriculum is vast and complex. This requires Ashford’s administrators to lead different grade levels in both curriculum and staff evaluation, while our surrounding communities have separate elementary schools and middle schools. This requires them to have multiple principals and staff. With the combination of grades PK-8 in one facility, the Assistant Principal is vital to making this work. Several years ago we eliminated the assistant principal’s position. We operated for four years without an Assistant Principal, and found that it just did not work for our school. We could not make the desired progress without this leadership assistance or expertise. Now that we have restored the position, we are already seeing advances and improvements in our efficiency. The Assistant Principal is instrumental in student behavior management and leads the charge in most student discipline coaching. At Ashford School our Assistant Principal leads curriculum work, student behavioral management, faculty evaluation, and assists the Principal in managing day-to-day operations. Over the past few years, the Connecticut State Department of Education has handed down multiple new regulations in the evaluation of teachers, implementation of new standardized testing and changes in student behavior management. The assistant Principal plays a critical role in ensuring that we comply with al of these regulations in a productive manner with minimal disruption to daily instruction.
The position of Director of Pupil Personnel is an extremely important role. She is the leader of Ashford’s special education program. Special education is a morally and legally complex matter for every school and district. Leading this department requires skill and an educational leader capable of advocating for our most vulnerable and needy students while exhibiting expertise in understanding of the complex state laws and regulations that the district must adhere to. The leadership of the special education department is so complex that I could devote an entire article to the list of responsibilities and expectations. It is safe to say that if a student requires any special attention, or modifications in their educational experience, the special education director is involved.
The Director is a key member of the school’s leadership team. She handles all special education staffing, curriculum, planning, evaluation and daily operations. The Director is the evaluator and leader of our special education staff. She leads the development of every special education student’s individual education plan (I.E.P.) as well as our regular education 504 students. These are students who require adaptations or modification of their educational experiences to ensure a better opportunity to succeed. Designing the modifications in their educational plans is lead by the Director of Pupil Personnel.
The Director of Pupil Personnel is a position that requires a very skilled leader. She must act much like the principal in the leadership of the special education department. She not only has to evaluate programs and staff, but also represent families of special education students, and ensure that those students receive a quality education and the skills that they will need to function in their adult lives. Most people understand that special education is complex, and that it is mired in statute, regulation and law, and if not applied successfully, will result in failure and perhaps, legal action.
In defining the role of the leadership team at Ashford School I have tried to indicate the primary responsibilities of the front line of leadership in the building. It would be difficult to list all of the ways a good leader helps build a good school. We have an exemplary school, and that begins with leadership. Anyone who has spent time in the building can see how well it is run and how much our students benefit from a quality faculty, staff and administration.
Up until this point in the article I have not mentioned the role of the Superintendent. I am only going to touch upon that role briefly as it is awkward to talk about myself.
The Superintendent is the CEO. He is the overall chief executive officer of the school district. He must define the school’s mission and present its vision. The tone and climate in a building begins with the Superintendent. State law requires that every school district, no matter how large or small have a Superintendent. The reason for this is that there must always be a final authority in an organization, one who oversees all operations, and assumes the final responsibility for success and/or failures. It is my job to hire the Principal, the Assistant Principal and the Director of Pupil Personnel, and to lead the administrative team. I meet with them weekly and challenge them to be more effective and strong in their respective roles. The better I am at my job, the less you will hear of or think about me. I lead Ashford School’s leadership team. I evaluate them and hope to inspire and motivate them just as I expect them to inspire and motivate the faculty. In addition to the obvious role I play as the chief operating officer, I must create and manage the budget that the town ultimately approves for the operation of the school. In an effort to keep this brief, I will say that the Superintendent is the primary leader in the school, and the leader of the district. He must create a vision, carry out the mission, lead, oversee and even maintain a positive school climate and culture. The Superintendent must ensure efficiency and effectiveness, design and manage the budget, and generally be responsible for the success and failure of the school.
I am proud of Ashford School. We have earned a reputation in the region as one of the best. We are a destination for many aspiring leaders who want to learn and observe how a successful school operates. Over the past several years, we have improved every aspect of our operation and our facility. This is accomplished through exemplary leadership, cooperation and teamwork. We have put together a great faculty, staff and administration. I hope that this article helps you to understand the essentials of administrative function and how important this leadership is to success for all.
“Why the School Budget Process is Important to You”
by: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen December, 2015
Each year, beginning in December, the Ashford Board of Education, the Ashford Board of Finance, the Board of Selectmen, and ultimately the entire Ashford community engage in the budget process. This budget development process culminates in a vote upon a town and a school budget by referendum in May. This is part of the annual town budget process that results in the setting of your tax rate, as well as the allocation of funds for the town and the schools to operate. Over the past few years, about ten per cent of the town’s eligible voters have voted in the May referendum. When you consider what is at stake, this is an alarming statistic. Ninety per cent of those eligible to participate elect not to do so. Their taxes, and the quality of their school system are left to a very small minority of townspeople. This article is written to encourage you to participate in budget development, and to vote in the May referendum, as well as let you know how easy it can be to do so.
For example, the Board of Education (BOE) begins the process this year at their December 3rd and December 17th meetings, when they first receive the Superintendent’s recommended budget. The Board of Education meets regularly on the first and third Thursday of the month at 7:30 PM. at Ashford School. Meetings can last a few hours, but the public has the opportunity to speak early in the meeting, and after doing so, they may leave if they wish. Documents that are shared with the BOE are also available to anyone who attends the meeting, and they are made available on the Ashford School web site for anyone who cannot attend. These meetings are a great time to either comment on specific aspects of the proposed budget, or to make a general statement voicing your opinions regarding the budget process, and on the direction you would like to see the BOE take throughout the process. You can attend any BOE meeting, speak at the beginning, and let us know where, or on what, you believe the Board should focus its budget request. This may only take you a few minutes, but it would have considerable impact upon the process. It may actually be the most significant thing that you could do to influence the education that your children receive. If you do not have children in the system, it is an opportunity to voice your opinion and let people know what you would or would not support.
If you cannot attend a meeting, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com and let me know what you think; and what I should propose, or discuss with the BOE. It is always helpful to know what the townspeople want. We discuss the budget twice a month for five months as the budget is developed and refined. There is plenty of time to comment in person or by email or phone call.
Consider it this way; either the BOE can develop a budget alone, without knowing what you think, or would support, or they can develop a budget knowing your concerns, and what you would or would not support. Either way a budget will be developed, and ultimately one will be voted upon in May. Ashford uses a town meeting form of government, so there are many opportunities to be heard and to participate. However, by the time there are town meetings devoted to the budget, the budget is just about formed. The most impact is had at early Board of Education (BOE), or Board of Finance (BOF) meetings. I believe that the best time is to be heard while the BOE or the BOF are still making decisions. Of course, the ultimate involvement is through your vote in the May referendum.
In December, the Superintendent presents his budget by highlighting significant changes and the bottom line cost to the town. This would be a natural time for citizens to attend a meeting, call or email, and voice their feelings. I, as your Superintendent, value your opinion and, while I have ideas and opinions as to the direction Ashford School should take, I have found that the opinions of citizens are often very helpful in refining the final budget proposal.
The Board of Education and the Board of Finance are comprised of your neighbors. They work hard to do what they believe is in the best interest of Ashford. They must balance the needs of the students with the needs of the taxpayers. This is difficult, because it is not easy to gauge what citizens are willing to pay for their school, and therefore, where to draw the line, or to increase or reduce the town or school budgets. We all need you to participate. You do not have to attend every meeting or even stay at meetings for hours, but we really want to hear from you. Email, call, or send us a note. But be heard. What we need is to hear your voice, and ultimately, for you to cast a vote in the May referendum.
As Superintendent of Schools, I represent the students through the Board of Education. Therefore, the focus of this article is devoted to how you can influence the BOE during the budget development process. However, you may elect to attend a Board of Finance meeting. They are always looking for your ideas and involvement. They also meet on Thursday nights in the town hall, usually the second and fourth Thursday of every month. Their schedule is posted on the town website, or available by calling the town hall. Almost any Thursday night for five months, from December to April, you can go to either a Board of Education, or a Board of Finance meeting and voice your opinion. If you do attend or let us know what you think, you increase the likelihood that the budget proposal voted upon during the referendum in May will represent your opinions.
Let’s increase the percentage of eligible voters, parents and citizens who participate in the process. Let’s insure that the final product reflects your values. I am sure that all of the Selectmen and Board members would love to hear from you during their meetings, and have you participate on voting day. I know that I can speak for the Board of Education when I say that the world is getting very competitive, and the job market that our students will enter is going to be competitive and demanding. We must budget to provide our students with the tools that they need to compete and succeed. We want to focus our proposals and our spending on areas that you support, and your children need. We need to feel that we are representing you as we prepare our students for the future.
As I have indicated throughout this article, the budget process is important because it defines what your taxes will be; and the available resources the school will have to support the education to Ashford’s children. Your input and your vote are important to us. I hope to see you at one of our meetings, receive a call or an email, or meet with you at some point in the budget process. Remember, it begins in December and continues to evolve and develop for five months at both Board of Education and Board of Finance meetings.
There are a lot of very dedicated people, working very hard to insure that the town of Ashford is run efficiently and effectively. They can use your help and guidance during the process. I hope to see or hear from you over these next five months. Thank You!
“Ways We Communicate”
by: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, November 2015
Everyone agrees that it is important to communicate effectively if you want to be successful in life. It is no different for any business or organization, and we take that concept seriously at Ashford School. We believe that the only way that we can succeed at Ashford School is to effectively communicate with everyone within our school, as well as in our community.
There are many ways school staff communicates with parents and community members. There are several levels of communication from routine to emergency communications, and there is also a seldom-discussed communication called “listening”, that we embrace and value at Ashford School. Yes, we value listening as an important aspect of communication, and hope that you will consider the multiple ways available to you to communicate as a two way process.
It is a good idea for everyone to be familiar with the ways that staff communicates with parents and community members. Being “in the loop” is key to getting the most out of the educational experience. For that reason, I have decided to share with you the many ways that we communicate at Ashford School, as well as how that communication can be beneficial to you and considered a useful resource.
First, routine communications, school resources, and information are found on our school website (www.ashfordct.org). On this site you can find all sorts of information. Our school calendar, staff directory, Board of Education news, budget facts and notices, administration articles and communications, sports and events schedules, listings of current events, as well as links to your teacher’s websites. Our school website contains hundreds of pages of information available to you to ensure that you are well informed about your school. We put everything that we believe that you would like to know on our website. And we are always seeking ways to make it better, so if you have ideas to expand upon what is on the website, just let us know. Our school website is kept up to date, but also archives information that might still be valuable in the future to interested parents or community members. This website is a great resource. Visit us there, and you will be surprised at what is available to you.
My office also communicates through K-12 Alerts. Those are emails, texts, or telephone notices sent home to anyone who is willing to accept them. You must sign-up for this service. We send announcements and routine notices home every Friday by email. We also send notices home when weather conditions force a change in school hours, delays, early dismissals, and cancelations; or bus issues by email, text or telephone. Just send an e-mail to our office if you wish to be enrolled and receive these alerts (firstname.lastname@example.org). Most parents elect to receive these notices, but some do not. We encourage everyone to enroll in this service. It is reassuring to know that you can check your email and know if school is delayed or canceled, or if there is going to be an early dismissal, or know that you will receive a text or call is there is an important notice sent out. It is a free service that can really give a parent peace of mind and valuable information in a timely fashion.
You are invited to call or make an appointment to visit any one of us. Both the administration and teaching staff welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Personal meetings are encouraged, and a preferred method of communication. We welcome you to one of our many events, or to make an appointment to meet with any of us. Getting to know each other is valuable and ultimately helpful to your child.
Communication with teachers is probably the most important aspect of school communication to most parents. Teachers communicate in many ways, most commonly by sending notes, fliers or notices home in the backpack. It is sometimes a source of humor, when we discuss how few of those communications make it into the parent’s hands. One wonders where those notes or notices go? Much like the sock lost in the clothes dryer, they are never seen again. Because of the “missing note phenomenon”, teachers have sought other ways of communicating. So if you feel that you are not getting all of the information that you expect, drop an email to your teacher. They will find a way to be sure that you are receiving everything that they send home.
This brings us to the easiest and most common way to communicate with any of us. Just send us an email. It is more convenient than most other ways, as you can do it from the comfort of home or work at virtually any time off day or night and know that you have successfully gotten the message delivered. The best way to ensure that your teacher knows that you would like to communicate is to use our school email system. Every teacher has an email address devoted to school business. They check their email several times a day, as that is the way they communicate with each other, and receive notices from the school office. You are invited to email your teacher, the administration, or me any time with questions or concerns. It is the best way to communicate and have that communication recorded for future reference. Teachers may also use their email to reach out to you. If they do, please respond. Let them know that you value haring from them and are interested in your child’s school life.
Teachers maintain individual or class websites. Almost every teacher has a website that is designed to help parents know and understand what goes on in their classroom from curriculum to field trips. You can access these websites through links on the Ashford School Website. I highly recommend that every parent take the time to go on their teacher’s website and familiarize themselves with as many aspects of the classroom culture as is available to them. These websites are wonderful and valuable resources. Most teachers keep them up to date, and full of valuable information. If you find your teacher is behind on the updating of their website, send them an email and let them know that you went to it, and are wondering when the next update is due. Putting the time into the website is more rewarding when you know that people actually go to it.
Also, our Board of Education meetings are open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend. You get an opportunity to speak and have your opinions heard. Board of Education meetings discuss everything from curriculum to budget. Join us. We really do love to hear from you. You and your family are why we are here. Many community members stop into our meetings, particularly during budget development season (January through May). The Board meets the first and third Thursday evening of every month, normally at 7:30 in the office conference room. Board schedules, agendas and information are posted on our school website.
There are many organizations or events that are connected to Ashford School. The Ashford School PTO is the most active and supportive. The PTO is a fantastic supporter of school activities and even holds events that raise money to support school purchases. Joining the PTO, or any organization that meets at the school, is a way to keep in touch and be part of your child’s school life. If you can’t join, go to their website and see what they are doing for you and your child. You might find events or activities that you would like to participate in.
I have mentioned coming to meet with any of us individually, attending a meeting, joining our
K-12 alert system, looking at our school website, looking at teacher’s websites, e-mailing the administration or any member of the teaching staff, calling us, and participation in the PTO, as the most effective ways to be sure that you are “in the loop,” and know what is going on in your child’s school life. Your child spends over six hours a day with us. Be part of it, be informed, and get the most out of it. We are here for you, and want to communicate. Ashford School is your school. Communicate!
“What Does All of this Talk About STEAM Mean?”
by: Dr. James Longo, Article for the Ashford Citizen, October 2015
Over the course of the past few years Ashford School has been going through some significant changes in its curriculum and instruction design. We have been publicizing ourselves as a STEAM school. In newsletters, fliers, and other publications STEAM is defined as a school that places special emphasis upon science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. That definition seems almost like business as usual because that list includes pretty much all of the subjects we would expect a school to emphasize. One might ask, how does that design make us special or different? I am going to answer that question in two ways. First by describing the philosophy behind STEAM, and second by telling you about our specialized resources, faculty, and curriculum.
Before I get into the subject-by-subject highlights of our resources, curriculum, and instruction, I would like to present the complex philosophy that our school model is built upon. When we plan our STEAM curriculum, and develop STEAM lesson plans, we do so utilizing a philosophy rooted in how we can teach students to think and solve real world problems. We consider the way a scientist, engineer, artist, or mathematician thinks as we design our curriculum. For example, science is about inquiry, and we are committed to teaching our students to think like a scientist with curiosity and inquisitive minds when they are faced with solving a problem. We also believe that engineers approach problems with a unique mindset that is focused upon structure. How things are structured to be what they are, and how improving that structure can improve usefulness or effectiveness. Being able to think like an engineer is a wonderful asset when one is faced with real world situations. Furthermore, the self-expression and creativity of the artists mind has always been accepted as the key to the great inventions and cultural advances of most societies. We will also be emphasizing the artist’s mindset when we design our curriculum and write our lesson plans. That is, every student will be asked to focus upon their unique way of seeing the world, and how their uniqueness can be an asset in solving real world problems because they see and put things together in an expressive and creative way that is unique to them.
That is a quick summary of some of the key elements of the philosophy that our STEAM school is built upon, and how we strive to instruct our students in the unique way that scientists, engineers, artists and mathematicians think. Now I will examine how we expect to deliver that philosophy through a subject-by-subject analysis of our curriculum and instructional design and practice.
First, a STEAM model of curriculum and instruction is interdisciplinary in its structure. That is, a teacher designing lesson plans is supposed to be thinking about those core subjects, and integrating the essential aspects of each whenever possible. Then, when they deliver that lesson plan they are expected to point out the interaction of those content areas whenever it is possible. The teacher highlights the math in a science concept, or the art in a mathematics problem. Interdisciplinary teaching is not a new concept, but while that is generally true, in a STEAM school it is expected to happen with most every lesson and every time it is possible. It is a matter of frequency and consistency. So, the first rule of a STEAM school is to integrate science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics whenever possible.
Second, we provide opportunities to study each of those subjects with special attention to more resources in each subject than you might find elsewhere. For example, we have science labs for use by every grade in the school. We have four rooms with special science supplies and equipment, and four teachers with special skills who deliver a real science program to all of our students. This is far beyond what a school without a STEAM design would do.
Third, we carry science even further with a real robotics program. We have a room that is a true robotics laboratory. It has all of the supplies and equipment needed for students to learn about robotics, build and test robots, and apply robotics to everyday science concepts. The robotics course is staffed by a teacher with special skill and interest in robotics, offers an after school robotics club, and is taught in a room with a real competitive robotics arena. The robotics experience that our students are exposed to ties science, engineering, and technology together in a way that few other schools do. This is another characteristic of our STEAM curriculum and instruction model that sets us apart from schools that are not built upon a STEAM design.
Fourth, our school has technology second to none. We have several computers in every classroom for student use, two full computer labs, SmartBoards in every classroom, the full robotics lab, a special computer supported writing center in the media center, and we offer virtually any foreign language that a student may elect to study through technology in our media center. We also have carts full of laptops and IPADs available for every teacher in the school to bring technology into their classroom. We have a 3-D printer, and a fully supported electronic music laboratory for students to study music through the use of a MIDI music experience. We see technology as a great tool that every student should be comfortable and familiar with by the time they leave our school, and support that philosophy with up-to-date quality equipment. We teach the basics of technology, and fully integrate its use into our core curriculum. That is how we deliver the “T” in our steam curriculum.
Fifth, I mentioned our MIDI music lab when I was presenting our technology program. This is a classroom outfitted with seventeen workstations, each of which contains a computer, an electronic keyboard, speakers, and a special software program for the study and creation of music. The arts are the “A” in STEAM. Music is one of our premier programs. The music program at Ashford School has always been one of the best in the region. The jazz ensemble even played at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education conference a few years ago. We have a full range of vocal and instrumental music ensembles and boast of a top-notch music program. As part of the STEAM design it has taken another leap forward. The addition of this MIDI lab has given our music staff and students access to music in a way that will not be found in a school that has not committed to a STEAM curriculum.
The Arts are also addressed through the study of dance in physical education, drama and theater in language arts classes, and a new visual arts program that will be integrating visual arts into every subject throughout the year.
Sixth, we are offering a new daily schedule and an after school program that is designed to provide students with many options to study areas of personal interest in all STEAM content areas.
Hopefully this more detailed explanation of STEAM as a foundation for our curriculum and instruction at Ashford School has been helpful in providing you with an understanding of what makes our school special and why we are so excited about the direction our school has taken in the past few years. Ashford School is a gem that is something our community can be proud of, and a place that gives our students an exemplary education. We are excited about how we prepare them to compete in a complex world after they leave us, and move on to high school.
In closing, I once again invite you to visit our school. We will take you on a tour and show you what I have been talking about. Also, if you have any questions give me a call. I am available to answer your questions and tell you more about our wonderful school.
“Thinking Ahead to the Opening of School”
by: Dr. James Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for the Ashford Citizen, July 2015
In most cases, July and August are great months to be a child. You don’t have to get up and go to school, and maybe you get to play without adults telling you what to do every moment. Yes, you have more control over your daily activities in July and August than you do during the rest of the year. I hope that that is true for your children. I hope that they have opportunities to be creative and to play a little more freely than they do during the school year. A day in school should be good, but free play should be great!
I am writing this article because in a few weeks it is back to school, and we need children to be ready for another school year. It sounds simple. School begins, children go to school, and the cycle of learning renews itself in a different room with a different teacher and some different classmates. However, how simple it actually is depends a good deal on the child’s readiness for school, and the feelings and attitude that he or she brings with them on that first day. That back-to-school attitude comes in part from experience, and in part from role models. That is where we become partners and we all do the little things that make the child’s attitude toward another school year a bit more positive.
Learning is a complex matter. Scientists in universities and laboratories throughout the world are studying it, developing theories and ideal approaches in the ever-evolving fields of education, psychology, and brain science to name a few. I am not going to get into that here. This is neither the proper time nor place for such a dialogue. However, there are great books, resources, and places to get information on the subject if you are interested.
What I am going to do here is just mention a few things that you can do to increase the likelihood that your child is ready and experiences an optimal opening of school this year.
First, go to our school website and look for the welcome back brochure offered by the teachers in the grade that your child is entering. This brochure will orient you to the coming year by telling you a bit about the grade level’s curriculum and expectations, and also the materials that your child will need to bring to their first day. We don’t want you to go out and spend a lot of money on back to school supplies without seeing what the teachers hope your child will bring with them to the first day. Every grade is different and what the teacher would like the students to bring to school differs from year to year.
Next, look at the summer work packet put on the website by your child’s grade level teachers. If you have not been having your child do any of the suggested summer work, now would be a good time to ease them into it. A little work each week as the summer winds down gets them back into schoolwork without too much pressure or stress.
Another helpful way that you can make back to school more fun and less anxiety prone is how you discuss the fact that summer is ending and school will be opening soon. It seems like a small thing, but if you drop a few positive thoughts about the opening of school, and even engage in a little discussion about the coming year, that is encouraging and enthusiastic, it will help your child’s readiness and attitude on that first day. This dialogue might even elicit fears or anxieties that you did not realize your child had. He or she may be more nervous about going back to school that you thought. Occasionally having seemingly spontaneous conversations about going back to school that allow your child to express his or her feelings, while you are being positive and supportive, might be really helpful and important to your child. Over the years I have had a number of parents tell me how glad they were that they took the time to discuss back to school casually and in a positive way.
We all know how important it is to be supportive, and willing to listen to our children, but we might not realize that back-to-school is an issue that can really benefit from a conversation or two.
We want you to know that we have been working diligently all summer to be ready to welcome your children back to school. Teachers and administrators have been meeting regularly to write curriculum and plan instruction, custodians have been cleaning and preparing the facility, and the central offices have been ordering materials and pulling it all together. Summer is a very busy time for us, and hopefully a time for the students to relax and recharge. There is not much more to say, but that we are looking forward to seeing you and your children, and that September is just around the corner!
“Thinking of Summer”
by: Dr. James Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for the Ashford Citizen, May 2015
This time of year is exciting for many of us. We love the warm days and the way our plants come to life in the spring. It is a particularly eventful time for educators and students. Graduations, end of year concerts, shows, assemblies and ceremonies, and many other exciting opportunities for all of us in school to celebrate a year of work and achievement, as well as mark the coming of summer.
Even with all of the celebration and excitement before us, the coming of summer is still a time of mixed feelings. We all understand that our children need a break from the routines of school, and an opportunity to just play and be carefree, but we also fear that this time away from school causes some loss of the academic advances that occurred during the school year. We all know that come September we will have to spend a good deal of time reviewing and recovering learning after a summer of play.
So herein lies the dilemma. We spend the winter learning, and the summer playing. But we talk about learning as a lifelong experience, and a never-ending process of growth as a mindset that we hope our children will adopt. We want to stimulate a positive attitude toward learning, foster creativity and curiosity all of the time, not just during school. Do we just throw our hands up and forget learning for July and August? Do we assume that summer is a time for incidental learning through play and casual schedules? As a parent and an educator I have mixed feelings about the summer, and realize that there is no absolute right way to approach the long break from formal schooling. As a child I might hope that everyone just forgets school and allows me to play and be a kid, carefree and relaxed. Well reality is never that simple. Every family has its own unique situation. Work schedules, vacation plans, money concerns, and many other factors influence how we approach our summer. Yet it is still a significant time of year, and we should give it some serious consideration before we let it just happen.
I suggest that we strike a balance. That we mix a little formal learning, some fun visits to places of interest, and some time to play as individuals and as families. First, the faculty at Ashford School wants to be a resource for you as you plan your summer. We will have some summer work packets on our website for rainy days, or to fill in empty time periods over the summer. We hope to provide some work that reinforces learning, yet is not intended to be a burden or designed to replace play and pleasure. It is optional in most cases and intended to be useful not stressful.
Second, we suggest that you go to the state of Connecticut tourism website to find some of the hundreds of free or very inexpensive places available in Connecticut for you and your family to visit on daytrips. There are so many beaches and museums and galleries that are enjoyed by people visiting Connecticut, but overlooked by residents. Just type Connecticut Tourism: into your search and you will be directed to pages of great ideas for daytrips close to home in Connecticut. These day trips can be fun. They can be learning experiences for our children and a great family day for all of us. We just have to approach it with a casual, relaxed and stress free attitude. Go for the fun of it.
Some of our faculty has even offered some of their favorite places as recommendations for you. Here are a few.
Places to visit:
Mark Twain House, Hartford
Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill
Benton Museum, UCONN
Puppet Museum, UCONN
The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art, Oakdale
New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks
Mansfield Drive-in, Mansfield
UCONN Dairy Bar & kite flying on Horsebarn Hill
In New Haven: The Peabody Museum had great dinosaurs and science artifacts. The Yale Art Gallery is a great day trip and across the street is the British Art Museum.
Hikes and/or walks
Valley Falls Park, Vernon
Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury
Mashmoquet State Park, Pomfret Center
Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge
A few learning websites recommended
Bitstrips.com or Voki (writing)
For math, www.tenmarks.com offers a free online summer program that assesses the students before they begin.
www.newsela.com offers free current event articles for middle grades to junior high students. There are online quizzes for the articles, too.
I suggest that you look at some of these places and also do a Connecticut tourism search on line, and if you are a member of AAA, you can pick up a Connecticut Travel Guide. You would be surprised what is out there.
I hope that this little article serves its intended purpose. I hope to encourage you to look at our school website, visit the state of Connecticut website, organize some fun experiences and just consider the summer as a chance to learn without stress or pressure. Summer seems to fly by, and we tend to think that plans have to be complicated and costly. I am hoping too remind you of the other, less expensive, simple options available. In speaking to people around me, it occurred to me that we seldom think of Connecticut as the adventure people from other states think that it is.
The key to all of this is to take the time to make some plans. Decide what fits into your family schedules and take the initiative. You won’t regret it. Think of summer as a time for fun, but still a time for learning and growth. Take some family day trips and enjoy opportunities for learning that you might have overlooked because they are so close or familiar. Connecticut can be an adventure, learning can be fun, and summer is the perfect time to enjoy a family outing or two. Enjoy!
“An End of The Year Roundup of Thoughts”
By: Dr. James P. Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for the Ashford Citizen April 2015
Throughout the past year I have written an article every month highlighting different aspects of what is going on at Ashford School because it seemed to us that very few residents knew how good their community school was, and how much was going on.
This month is intended to review the year, and to provide a year-end round up of key aspects of the activities of Ashford School. This article will be a presentation of some of our activities in a very brief format. If you have any questions, or would like more information about anything mentioned here, feel free to email me, or call my office.
Curriculum Changes and Development
We have transitioned our school to a STEAM based curriculum as well as moved to meet the Connecticut State Department of Educations expectations that we would implement a Common Core Curriculum, using “Connecticut Common Core State Standards.” STEAM means a curriculum that integrates and accentuates Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. You would think that all schools do this, but the STEAM strategy and approach are different. In a STEAM school the content is not only covered as it is everywhere, but it is also taught in multi-disciplinary lessons that integrate the content with real life situations and make the material seem more useful and practical to the student. The STEAM school attempts to connect the content of the subjects to the student in a truly useful and integrated manner.
To accommodate this shift in emphasis we have upgraded school technology, purchased many new resources, upgraded our books and our media center, added new instructional units such as robotics, and changed how we teach key curriculum material.
These changes are continuous and ongoing. We have still have a lot to do, but we are offering an advanced curriculum that will certainly prepare our students for anything that they will encounter in secondary education, and better prepare them for the workplace of the twenty-first century.
Data Driven Instruction
We have discussed the use of data in previous articles, and in many communications to you from our school. However, this is still a misunderstood resource and instructional strategy. Teachers have always collected data. They kept it in their record book in the form of notes regarding test grades and homework completion. The concept is sound, and was the basis for the grade your child received each marking period.
Now the state mandates standardized testing in reading, writing, science and mathematics each spring that gives us a data baseline that is easy to compare to other schools and communities. Additionally, Ashford School uses other standardized material to track student performance in reading. These standardized tests are combined with tests and quizzes that the teacher designs and administers to track student understanding of what is being taught as well as record student performance rooted in daily instruction. Homework is also assigned and tracked. These sources of data, combined with behavior notes, and records of effort and attitude, form a broad and useful basis for determining not only how the student is doing, but also how the teacher is doing in getting his or her intended content across to the student. Data becomes a tool to not only measure student performance, but also instructional effectiveness.
Teachers use this accumulation of data to drive their lesson planning and determine how best to meet the individual needs of each student. The term “data driven instruction” merely means that the teacher uses the data to help him or her design their lessons as well as measure student performance.
We have encouraged our staff to develop special program to enrich the experience that students receive in Ashford School. We have introduced new technology instruction, new advanced science programs such as robotics, new music ensembles, and many other opportunities for students to do what they enjoy as they are enriched instructionally. Our school schedule even has time built into it for these specialized learning experiences that give teachers time to present the student with enrichment opportunities.
Improvements in the Sports Programs
This year we added cross-country and track and field to our team sports. We also expanded the size of our other teams, even encouraging junior varsity teams where enrollment allowed. Sports are a great way to build personal strength and character as well as a sense of teamwork and belonging. We will continue to build these programs with pride.
Extended Day After School Opportunities
We are in the midst of organizing a full menu of opportunities for students to stay an extra hour after school to participate in a special fun activity or program. Staff members are working to create clubs and we are seeking interested parents to help. This is a major expansion of our current after school opportunities and we plan for it to be fully implemented in October next school year.
School Safety and Security
Unfortunately recent events around the country have proven that even the quietest rural community is not exempt from potential violence. We have been proactive in our efforts to secure our facility and minimize the possibility that a violent event could take place at our school. We have added cameras, security doors, door locking panic switches, and many more security measures that cannot be identified publically. These facility upgrades are combined with increased diligence by our staff to insure that everyone is focused on safety and security. The improvements are considerable, and many more will be forthcoming in the near future.
While much of what we do is not evident to the average resident, you may find some of the new safety protocols inconvenient as we begin to implement new security strategies, but know that you will understand the reasons for the increased diligence and refined procedures.
Improving the Learning Environment
One thing that I have learned in my forty-six years in education is that one learns better in an environment that is clean and organized. There is no doubt that when a school is bright and well kept that students get a greater sense of importance as well as pride in their work. We have been removing dead trees and shrubs, painting, retiling floors, and fixing the building up to give it a brighter more welcoming look. This is a slow process as we can only do a little each year, but it really shows. If you have not been in the building in a few years, stop in for a tour. You will be impressed.
Opportunities to Donate
I have often been asked if there are ways to donate to our school. One of the most effective ways is by visiting a website, DonorsChoose.org. Ashford School teachers have found that this site has been instrumental in allowing them to obtain classroom materials that further enhances student learning. Please visit the website for a history of the organization, how it works and how you can make donations to your child’s classroom.
Concluding the Review
Hopefully, this quick summary of some of the things that we are doing at Ashford School will provide you with the sense that you have a very good school in Ashford with a dedicated and active faculty, staff, and administration. I am proud of what we offer and feel that we can compete with anyone. I also thank the community for the support that they have provided over the past years to make all of this possible. We have tried, and I believe succeeded, in creating a great educational experience for our students at Ashford School, and hope that you will join me in spreading the word.
“Every Student Counts! Testing, Data, and How Ashford School Deals with Standardized Testing”
By: Dr. James Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for Ashford Citizen March 2015
Every March we must test all grade three through eight students using Connecticut’s state mandated standardized tests. Standardized tests are a hot button issue, and many wonder if they are useful, or worth the expense, time and effort. We believe that we have implemented a valuable and beneficial way to use test scores to improve instruction at Ashford School. We use the data that these tests provide to help us design individualized educational plans for all of our students.
Over the years teachers and administrators have spent considerable time and energy trying to develop the best way to help students improve their performance in school and be better prepared for life. We continue to develop new programs in reading, mathematics, writing science and behavior management. The government even mandated standardized testing to insure that no child was left behind. Connecticut has gone through four generations of the Connecticut Mastery Test, a state mandated, standardized test administered every spring to determine how the schools were doing in meeting the challenges of teaching mathematics, reading and writing. Science testing was added a few years ago, and testing performance took over curriculum development in most Connecticut communities. Test scores are compiled annually by subject, school, and community, to demonstrate which schools and towns are doing a better job teaching the four basic subjects of math, science, reading and writing. Testing has become a driving force taking over school budgets, daily schedules, curriculum development, and have imposed a sense of annual dread among most teachers.
Rather than going away under the pressure of parental protest and expanding budgets, testing advocates have been successful in mandating a new form of testing that will replace the Connecticut Mastery Test with a test that must be taken on a computer. This new test is called the Smarter Balanced Test because it is responsive to the test-taker’s answers and is much more sophisticated than the old Mastery Test. It is clearly an improvement over the old tests, and it will definitely provide us with useful data regarding our student’s level of achievement in reading, writing, mathematics and science. It is a test with great promise. Whether it delivers on this promise remains to be seen. This is the first year most communities will be giving the new tests, and a period of analysis and comparison will have to be endured before a base line of performance standards are developed, and the data can be optimally used.
So where does this leave us? We have a plan at Ashford School that will help us use the tests to improve the way we serve our students. We have purchased the computers, we have prepared our students based upon our best understanding of the new tests, and we are now ready for our first round of this new Smarter Balanced Testing.
March starts the testing cycle for every student in grades three through eight all around the state. Is this a major intrusion into our schools, or is it a resource that will ultimately benefit everyone? Only time will tell. The one thing we can control is how we react to the inevitability of testing, and use the results that they provide. That is where the educator’s expertise and the administrator’s planning come in. Here is how we intend to make the most of our testing, and our test results, in Ashford School.
The new Smarter Balanced Test promises to supplement the data that we have accumulated with the Connecticut Mastery Test with more effective, individualized data. We will not only be able to continue to use the results of the test to inform our curriculum development, and instructional strategies, but we will better know how every student is doing in reading, writing, mathematics and science compared to other towns, as well as to the new state curriculum standards.
This data provided by theses tests will become a tool that helps us to insure that every student is getting the best possible education that we can provide, largely because the data is now individualized. Test questions change based upon the answers that a student gave to previous questions. The test is responsive to a student’s ability level and test performance.
The faculty and administration of Ashford School will make the most of this testing, and use it as a tool to improve the education that we provide your children because “every student matters in Ashford School.” We implement this promise and philosophy with the development of individualized education plans for every student at Ashford School. We do this with sound teaching strategies and data driven instruction. Standardized tests are a valuable source of the data that we use.
Our teachers have time built into their weekly schedules to review test data along with data collected through classroom activities. Standardized tests provide a significant source of data, but not the only source of data utilized to design individualized educational plans for every student in Ashford School. Teachers will analyze daily performance in class, weekly tests, quizzes, observation of students, and virtually all of the data that they can collect over the course of the school year to determine what is working and what is not working in their classroom for every student. That is, every student will enjoy the benefit of a personal review on a regular basis that will help the teacher know where extra effort has to be directed, and how to best serve their specific learning needs. This approach has been evolving for the past several years, and we believe that we have a great system in Ashford School for insuring that every student benefits from the data that these standardized tests provide, along with all of the classroom data available, so that every student gets what they need to succeed in school as well as later in life.
For this to succeed we need certain conditions. We need relatively new computers to take the tests on. Old, outdated machines and software just won’t work with the new tests. We also need time in the teacher’s schedules to analyze the test results, and develop individualized instructional plans. And we need relatively small classes so that teachers can divide the day up, and spend time with every student to deliver the instruction that has been individually designed. Because of sound planning and amazing community support, we have all of this at Ashford School. We have been on a technology replacement plan that has prepared us to take the test, we have time in our teacher’s schedules to analyze the data, and we have class sizes that allow for a lot of individual attention. We have worked together to insure that Ashford School is effective in providing an exemplary education to every student.
School districts all over the state are scrambling to prepare for these new standardized tests, and find the time to utilize the data that they provide. Many communities are struggling with the sudden awareness that the new tests have arrived, and they must administer them this month. We are proud of our school faculty and administration, and the fact that they have planned and prepared for these tests in a timely fashion, and are ready to administer them. We are also thankful that our community has supported us in this effort with sound budgeting practices and community support of the school.
Because we hold the philosophy that every student matters in Ashford, we can proudly state that we are ready to administer the tests, and furthermore, we are ready to utilize the data that they provide to insure that every student gets the education that they need and deserve. Every student will be treated as an individual, and we promise that your support has been well applied to make Ashford School a school that can honestly say “every student matters.”
“Learning For Life: The Concept of Student Success Planning in Ashford School”
by Dr. James Longo, Superintendent, Article for Ashford Citizen, February 2015
We are in the process of implementing a wonderful program at Ashford School that is built upon the good work that our staff has been doing for years, and formalizes it into a powerful tool for our middle school students to use as they make life choices and prepare to enter high school.
As educators, we understand that when a student reaches middle school age they must start to think about their future, and that this happens well before they are ready to think about life as an adult. In fact, the choosing of a life path begins when they are at an age when they most likely have no concept of a career, college, technical school, or any of the choices that they will have to make over their three years of middle school. Essentially a sixth grader is around eleven years old, and has probably spent little time thinking about a career or their adult future, so it is up to the staff at the school to assist them and help get them ready for the decisions that they will have to make by the time they leave eighth grade. They do this in a three-year program called “Student Success Planning.”
In the middle of their eighth grade year students begin the course selection process for high school. These choices put them on a path, and in part determine what comes after high school. But a lot has to happen prior to their being ready to make these decisions. We want to be sure that they understand the process and the many possibilities available to them before they have to make those choices. Yes, students can change their mind throughout high school and even after. However, one thing that is developed over these middle school years is their sense of possibility. What do they believe that they can do? What options do they believe they have? Students will be faced with deciding whether they will go to a two or four year college, choose a technical school or college, or go directly into the world of employment. These choices depend upon their sense of their ability and the options that they believe are truly available to them.
The Connecticut State Department of Education has passed regulations that require every middle school to pay attention to the choices that students and their families face, and present “Student Success Planning” that helps students not only make daily life choices about right and wrong, but also address decisions that they must make as they choose a career path or course of study for high school and beyond.
In response to the state as well as our sense of responsibility that we feel for our students, the faculty and administration of Ashford School have developed a robust Student Success Planning curriculum and program of instruction. We recognize that all of our students will have to choose the direction that they will take in secondary school, post secondary school, and career while they are in middle school. Therefore there is a need to teach the necessary decision making skills, expose them to options available to them, guide students through the decision making process, and set goals regarding their academic and career future as well as assist them in understanding their emotional/social growth as it relates to their success in the future. Knowing your options and believing in yourself are critical aspects of success as an adult. This is one of the most important and practical curriculums in our school. The following paragraphs will explain our program in more detail.
A Student Success Plan (SSP) at Ashford School is an individualized, student driven, faculty supported, plan that will be developed to help every student stay connected to school, and provide a forum for them to consider their life goals, needs and interests. Students begin to participate in success planning through grade appropriate goal setting and related activities across academic, career, and personal/social domains beginning in grade six, and continuing through graduation from high school.
Because this program begins in grade six, the Ashford School Middle level Curriculum must address student success planning. We present a program that begins in grade six, increases in complexity in grade seven, and culminates in students’ making their high school course selections in grade eight based upon the goals that they have set for themselves as well as an understanding of the academic and career options available to them.
Of particular importance is that the SSP program fosters an understanding of the connection between academics and career and personal responsibility for the direction that their life takes.
Students learn about these connections and how they can have control and influence the direction that their life takes.
In each grade, (6-8) the SSP program utilizes grade appropriate lessons and activities that include discussion of the personal planning process and its value with students in their homerooms and appropriate classrooms. During this discussion students will consider (grade appropriate) short and long term personal goals, career possibilities, secondary and post-secondary educational alternatives.
The SSP curriculum (each year) consists of several instructional sessions in the three mandated content areas: that is, academic options, career options, and emotional/social/physical growth.
When studying their academic options students will be exposed to the importance and consequences of their academic work, decisions, and actions relative to their future success. Teachers will present connections between school-career-life as well as guide students through research and self-assessment activities. Students are taught that they have control over their futures and can exercise influence over their personal success through hard work and effort.
During their Career studies students are exposure to the world of career choices, and participate in the exploration of options and goal setting based upon their personal abilities, talents and interests. This unit will include student research and exploration of careers as they emerge into the twenty-first century global society.
At the same time teachers are spending considerable effort to reinforce tolerance and understanding of the diversity that our students will face in the employment sector. Social/Emotional/Physical Growth will be addressed through units devoted citizenship, teamwork, tolerance, workplace decorum, leadership, and the importance of goal setting, personal drive, and commitment. Students will receive instruction that assists them in understanding the context of their life in the global society that will await them as they grow into the adult world.
While students are led through goal setting activities within each of the three teaching units, the last session each year will serve to identify the connections and relationship between the three major categories of the personal success planning process. Students discuss and identify the relationship between their academic training, career path, and personal emotional and social development. Over the course of the three-year program students become increasingly aware of the importance and consequences of personal decision-making, while being provided with the skills to make positive choices that build towards achievement of their personal goals, best utilizing their talents, and abilities.
The concept of Student Success Planning is exciting and developing into a powerful support system for our students. Once this program is fully in place students of Ashford School will enjoy the ability to make positive choices with confidence and understanding.
“State of the School” Ashford School is Enjoying a Renaissance
By: Dr. James Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for Ashford Citizen January 2015
In January of each year, as I prepare the “Annual Report” for the town, I assess the condition of our school. I examine the resources, the staff, curriculum, the facility, and all of the other facets of the operation that are important to our ability to deliver a quality education to the children of Ashford. This year, while doing this assessment, I was struck by the exceptional quality of the state of our school. Our school is truly an exemplary institution, and this is the result of a community working together to achieve excellence. Over the course of the past six years, Ashford School has enjoyed a remarkable renewal, all supported and made possible by the faculty, staff and taxpayers of Ashford. This year’s annual report reflects a school enjoying a renaissance of sorts.
The effectiveness, or quality of a school is measured in many ways. By any of the traditional ways to evaluate the progress of a school, our school has improved considerably in a very short time. This article is a way to highlight some of the more significant improvements, and to thank you, the parent and voter, who made it all possible by supporting the school budget and/or being there as a volunteer whenever help was needed.
Lets consider the ways Ashford School has improved. First, virtually every subject’s curriculum has been, or is in the process of being rewritten, revised or updated. We have acquired completely new reading, writing, and mathematics program support material in the past three years as part of our transition to the state-mandated common core curriculum. New programs such as our gifted and talented program, robotics program, expanded technology courses, science, and expanded music ensembles have been added as part of our STEAM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics based curriculum) . An improved set of extracurricular options for our students have been introduced in the past few years. Athletic opportunities have been expanded, adding track and field and cross-country teams, as well as increasing the number of students participating in other sports as we joined a larger and more competitive athletic league. In addition, new ways to improve the arts programs are being explored.
We have added support staff to assist students based upon the data collected in standardized testing, and formed data analysis teams to best utilize the data that is collected. We have modified the student schedule to accommodate the expanded use of data to drive instruction and to allow teachers more time to plan and develop effective instructional practices. Also, we have greatly expanded upon the professional development that our staff is offered to improve their readiness and ability to succeed in their classrooms, including training in crisis prevention (CPI), a program that teaches staff members intervention strategies to defuse and prevent student behavioral issues that might escalate into crisis situations.
In addition to all of these strategic, academic and extracurricular advances, we have devoted considerable effort to making our school a safer facility. Through grants and town capital investment we have added security cameras, security doors, improved our communication system, and several other safety and security improvements that add to the safety and security of those in the building. Understanding how important ones environment is to morale and attitude, w e have also done considerable work on the grounds and the facility to make it a more efficient and comfortable place to work or learn.
Over the past several months I have used this publication as a means of communicating some of our terrific programs, discussed the budget process, and generally tried to engage you in a closer look at one of Ashford’s greatest resources, Ashford School. The cumulative impact of writing these articles has been to make me more aware of just how good our school actually is. I will continue to write articles that highlight individual programs and help you to understand some of the special aspects of our school and to introduce you to some of the work of our exemplary staff. I think that this is particularly important for those of you who do not currently have students enrolled in Ashford School. It seems like this is the most effective way to let you know that we are all working to insure that Ashford is served well, and the students are prepared to go out into the competitive world of this complex twenty-first century. Morale is high; attitudes are positive; and the children of Ashford are enjoying the benefits of a dedicated and well-trained administration, faculty, and staff.
Yes, Ashford School is enjoying a renaissance, a renewal that benefits all of the children of Ashford. I invite you to tour our school, have a meeting with a teacher or administrator, and see for yourself just how dedicated everyone is to serving the community, and the joy that they take in their work. I also thank you for doing your part, and hope that these articles help you to feel confident that your efforts are being well-utilized and your tax dollar well spent.
It is All About the Students: School Budgeting as a Learning Tool
By: Dr. James Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for Ashford Citizen December 2014
Every year we go through the difficult task of putting together a budget for Ashford School. In this article I hope to demonstrate how the budget development process, and the final approved budget, are expressions of our educational priorities, and our values as educators, parents and citizens. When we design and approve a budget, we are deciding what can and should be done at Ashford School. At every step of the process we make decisions that affect the education of our children. The approved budget is a decision making tool that determines what is offered to the students of Ashford School.
This process begins in December with me, as Superintendent, meeting with administration, faculty and staff to determine the school’s priorities and needs. The result of these meetings is the first budget proposal, which is called “The Superintendent’s Budget.” The building of the Superintendent’s budget proposal is as much about teaching and learning as it is about money. It reflects the collective educational philosophy and values of the Ashford School administration, faculty and staff.
After “The Superintendent’s Budget” is created, it is brought to the Board of Education for public discussion and consideration. Every item in the budget is reviewed and analyzed by both the Board of Education members and the community members who attend the Board’s budget meetings. It is at these meetings that I begin to explain to the Board the reasons for every line item in the budget. Taxpayers ask questions, and Board members weigh needs against costs, until they have a “Board approved budget” that will be sent to the Board of Finance for consideration. The process begins again at the Board of Finance meetings where every cost in the budget is discussed, analyzed, and weighed against cost. The Board of Finance decides what should be presented to the taxpayers at the town meeting and town budget referendum. A bottom line figure is presented at the referendum, but it is the result of the public review of the budget proposal led by the Board of Finance.
I skimmed over the budget formation process because that is not the central reason for this article. I am writing this piece because I want to share the thinking and the reasoning that goes behind the budget requests that come out of Ashford School for consideration. I want to stress that everything that ends up in our budget proposal is the result of considerable dialogue, and is rooted in what the teachers, administrators, staff, Board of Education and those taxpayers who participated in the meetings believe the school needs to provide an optimal learning experience for the students.
What do I mean when I say that the budget process is a tool for learning? During the initial budget development process we discuss books, supplies, computers and other technology, curriculum, professional development activities, as well as the major expenses of new or additional staff, medical benefits, support staff, upgrading the facility, maintenance, safety and security improvements, and many other costs associated with providing the children of Ashford with a quality and competitive education.
This budget proposal undergoes scrutiny at every step. Everyone is aware of the balance that we must achieve between costs to taxpayers and benefit to students. The budget proposal has gone through a comprehensive process and many decisions have been made by the time it is the budget that the taxpayers vote upon at the annual town budget referendum.
There are consequences for every budgetary decision. Consider the big questions that we must answer every year. This year we must decide, do we want a social worker added to our staff? Should we have a guidance counselor for the middle school? Do we need a writing teacher? Do we want a librarian/media specialist in the media center? Should we expand foreign language? Do we need more computers? Should we buy students new books, write new curriculum, provide more support staff, and provide professional training? Every decision reflects our values as educators, and our respect for the taxpayers. A school budget is really the result of many decisions, many compromises, and a lot of people working very hard to find the right balance, so we can provide the best learning experience possible in Ashford.
In conclusion, it should be clear that the budget is about a lot more than the bottom line. The budget is about decisions for education. It is a very complex and transparent process that you are invited to participate in. This process will be beginning again in a few months as we develop the budget for next year. I write this article to introduce you to the foundation of our thinking, and to invite you to become part of the budget building process.
We want you to join in on the discussion and let us know what you want for the students of Ashford. The public discussion of the Ashford School Budget begins in earnest in January. If you can’t come to a meeting, just send me an email or give me a call outlining your concerns or ideas. Remember, participating in the Ashford School budget development process is a way of influencing the education that the children of Ashford receive, as much as it is about the bottom line voted upon at the annual budget referendum.
Ashford: A Student-Centered School
By: Dr. James Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for Ashford Citizen September 2014
Each month I write an article for The Ashford Citizen because there is so much that I believe the community needs to know about their school. After all, not only are we discussing the place that we send our children, but also the school is a major investment, and I am sure everyone wants to know how their investment is being applied. Surprisingly, it is difficult to decide which topic to present each month in the limited space available because there are so many exciting programs at Ashford School that you might not even be aware of. I have tried to cover two aspects of our school in my monthly articles; the exemplary academic programs and the school’s overall atmosphere (climate and culture) as a learning environment. This article is dedicated to a subject that bridges these two aspects of our school. This month I am addressing tat fact that Ashford School is a “student-centered learning environment.”
I believe that it is the administration’s optimism that drives the staff’s enthusiasm and drive for excellence. In the past months I addressed the positive climate and culture in our school, and in so doing I tried to demonstrate how this positive approach to the learning environment is carried over to the students. The positive atmosphere at Ashford School is the result of an administration, faculty, and staff that are on the same page.
This month I hope to present the core belief system that underlies the way we approach all decisions and planning at Ashford School. We believe that a school climate must be more than safe and positive, and that a school culture needs to be more than respectful and academically enriched. We believe that it must be “student-centered,” and we put that belief into action on a daily basis.
“We Optimize Learning For All” is a mantra that is woven into the daily fabric of all plans and decision-making. Every penny spent, curriculum written, or plan put in place is measured by its impact upon students. You could never attend a meeting without hearing, “how will this impact students,” or “how does this improve learning capacity at Ashford School.”
We are proud of our dedication to student learning, and the way a student feels when they walk into our school. To the growing child this is a significant influence upon their learning and development. They probably don’t even realize that it is happening, but our “student-centered” approach is having an impact. Students come first at Ashford School because it is the culture that has evolved over the past few years as a result of a dedicated faculty and administration. I felt that I should raise this issue with you because it is a subject that I hold to be essential to maintaining the exemplary status of Ashford School.
What does this mean to your child at the instructional level? It means that in Ashford School we see every student as an individual, and because of that we assess their strengths and weaknesses, skills, interests, and needs, and provide a personalized instructional program based upon that data. You may have heard of this strategy as “Data-Driven Instruction” or “Personalized Leaning.” We are five years into this program, and have gradually and thoughtfully been modifying our curriculum and daily instructional practices to accommodate this personalized approach to teaching and learning. Your child is receiving an education built upon his or her needs. Our teachers meet in “data teams” weekly to look at every student and discuss strategies to provide more effective personalized instruction.
A second aspect of our student-centered approach to instruction are the many academic choices built into our innovative middle school schedule. Students have time built into their day to choose academic pathways that are interesting them in a way that is both enriching and instructionally sound. I will be addressing this in more detail in future articles. It is a broad and rich program of choices that is designed to stimulate the middle school student’s desire to learn. It involves dozens of choices based in the core curriculum and designed to meet our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) school theme. As I said in the introduction to this article, there is so much to say in the limited space available. I trust that this basic introduction to our underlying philosophy of education has been informative and helps you understand the optimism, commitment and enthusiasm that drives the educators of Ashford School.
While we work hard to improve our instructional programs, climate and culture every day, we recognize that you, the community, are important contributors to our success. If you have any ideas, concerns, or questions, feel free to let me know. Also, feel free to send me recommendations for future articles. Together we can insure that Ashford School remains an exemplary learning environment.
A Renaissance at Ashford School: The Science Enrichment Program
by Dr. James P. Longo, Superintendent of Schools, Article for Ashford Citizen August 2014
During the past few months I have devoted this space to presenting the positive climate, and the spirit of creativity, scholarship, and community that are present at Ashford School. As promised last month, over the next few entries I will be addressing the individual programs that make Ashford School the regional gem that it is. We have been enjoying a renaissance over the past six years at Ashford School. Yes, a true rebirth of the commitment to excellence that the citizens of Ashford expect and deserve from their community’s educators. This rebirth has been the result of a cooperative effort by the entire staff and administration to aspire to greater achievements each year. We can truly say that we have made both minor and major evolutionary changes annually at Ashford School that have improved the educational experiences that we provide. I will be highlighting a different program each month to familiarize you with our efforts.
This month I will focus upon our science enrichment programs because they are innovations not found in most elementary schools. Science is a core subject in Ashford School, and we now have three science labs: one devoted to primary students, one to intermediate students, and one to our upper middle school students. These three laboratories are staffed by teachers skilled in science who embrace the opportunity to expose students to content that will prepare them for the twenty-first century world they will enter as adults, a world that will be highly dependent upon expertise in the sciences. In addition to our core science curriculum, our science enrichment program is an additional science opportunity that adds another dimension to the study of science across all grade levels.
Through the science enrichment program our faculty offers an experience that integrates science with other content areas to foster a deeper and richer understanding of the role, and potential, that the sciences offer us as creators and thinkers. The science enrichment program is part of the “S” in STEAM, which is the thematic approach we utilize to integrate curriculum at Ashford School (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).
Our students participate in hands-on inquiry based science activities in the Science Enrichment room. Kindergarten students attend once a week, first through fourth grade students participate twice a week, and fifth through eighth grade students who have science every day also have occasional science enrichment along with opportunities to participate more often if they choose. The program covers all the Connecticut and National Science Standards for each grade in addition to providing an opportunity for students to dig deeper into the world of science. The science enrichment program is part of our school-wide system of enrichment opportunities rooted in every subject across our curriculum. In our enrichment programs students have hands-on experiences in every lesson, providing them with opportunities to question, explore, and enhance their learning through investigation.
While participating in our science enrichment program, students are exposed to curriculum content and materials that they would not be exposed to until high school. For example, first graders get to use digital microscopes. Students participate in the “Invention Convention,” enjoy “Science Night’ as well as a variety of science enrichment opportunities after school such as; Science Olympiad, Science Quiz Bowl, VEX Robotics, and First Lego League, all of which meet weekly. Each of these clubs focuses upon opportunities to work collaboratively in small groups as well as participate in regional competitions where they will meet students from other progressive district.
I am limited in space here, but I am sure that my brief presentation of our science enrichment program illustrates how we go a bit further at Ashford School. Our programs are exemplary opportunities for our students to develop a lifelong interest in the joy of learning. If you want more information or are interested in attending an event, just give us a call. We will gladly point you in the right direction, introduce you to a staff member, and welcome you into our learning community.
What’s Happening at Ashford School!
By: Dr. James Longo, Superintendent Article for Ashford Citizen July 2014
I will be writing brief articles every month for this publication. Last month I provided you with insight into some of the major initiatives driving our programs for the opening of school in August. This month I have chosen to highlight the climate and culture of our school. We enjoy a culture that makes us a learning community second to none. The climate, the overall feeling one gets when interacting with our staff, or walking among our students, is amazingly positive and inspiring. It is built upon the cornerstones of pride, respect and responsibility. The Ashford School climate and culture are also built upon the support of the community, the professional efforts of the staff, and the skill of the administration in organizing and leading the effort.
Unless you have had a reason to visit Ashford School, to spend time in the classrooms and around the halls, you are unlikely to realize what a wonderful learning environment we have in Ashford. We have changed and improved so much in Ashford School over the past six years that someone who hasn’t been here in a while would hardly recognize the place. We have upgraded our curriculum, improved our technology, renovated the facility, and added many safety and security provisions. We can say with pride that today’s Ashford student is being prepared to compete in the twenty-first century, in a safe, healthy, and positive leaning environment.
The taxpayers have supported their school, and the administration and staff have worked diligently to make the best of that support. As I stated last month, we take a great deal of pride in our school, and “the value of education” that we bring to our students. We operate striving for a culture of success for all, and a climate that is positive and exciting for everyone who is part of it.
Schools are different than most organizations. Bringing hundreds of children of all ages together to work with dozens of highly trained professionals creates a dynamic that is unlike anything you would encounter in any other workplace. Every minute of every day is important, and there is no “do over” if a mistake is made. Every moment is observed by the inquiring minds of the students, and every moment contributes to the success or failure of the lessons we aim to teach. Understanding this drives us all to work harder, and strive to be the best educators that we are able to be.
We invite you, as parents and community members, to join us as often as possible, and let us know how we can be of service to you and your children. Visit the school and find out for yourself how great it is. We realize that it takes the positive interaction of the community, the parents, the faculty and staff, and the student, to form a successful learning experience. We will do our part, and hope that you and your children enjoy the experience.
In closing, we want you to know that we are approaching the 2014-2015 school year with enthusiasm and excitement, looking forward another great year. Next month I will begin to present individual programs, subjects and grades. Thank you for your support, and feel free to contact me at any time if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas regarding the school and the education of your children.