The trustees, staff and student representative listened attentively to the presentation on data from Mary Putnam Henck Intermediate School.
The MPH dashboard only tells part of the story of how the school and its students are faring.
RIM OF THE WORLD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Caring for the whole child
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
While the test scores in English Language Arts and math for students at Mary Putnam Henck Intermediate School were low and suspension and absenteeism rates are high, the report given to the board of trustees of the Rim of the World Unified School District at their Feb. 16 meeting was positive overall.
“It is an honor and a privilege to represent MPH,” said Principal Jennifer Whiteside. She was joined by Assistant Principal Terry Gomes.
Referring to the dashboard (see photo), Whiteside said they are looking at their practices and how they can bring up the students’ proficiency levels.
The school’s mission, she told the trustees, is to “optimize student achievement.” The staff is in the process of doing strategic planning. “What are the learning goals today?” is the question they are asking. The staff has developed assessment calendars that map the standards in four- to six-week units.
Based on student and staff feedback after last year’s California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) testing, MPH has added a CAASPP prep week.
The staff at MPH has been participating in Professional Learning Community (PLC) time for several years. During those meetings, they ask one another, What went well? What interventions are needed?
“We are working on collective alignment,” Whiteside said. “We have been working on communicating learning goals for all students.”
Whiteside showed several slides demonstrating what the students have been doing. Seventh-graders in world history have created life-size samurai and have been writing haikus. This unit, she said, “tasks students with analyzing the geography, religion, achievements, political, economic and social structure of feudal Japan.” The students, she noted, enjoyed working as a team.
Gomes addressed the attendance and discipline issues. As he displayed the data, his comment was “I’ve seen better but this is the reality.
“Students have great trust in how we operate,” Gomes said. “There’s no concern too small.”
To that Whiteside added that “we look at every statement that comes in. Mr. Gomes gives each concern great care and attention. We make the students feel heard every day.”
“We care about the whole child,” Gomes said. “The mental, emotional and physical aspect of the students.”
Bill Mellinger, president of the board of trustees, expressed his concern about the high suspension rate. “What are you doing to bring it down?” he asked.
“Any time a student is suspended,” Whiteside said, “we make sure they get restorative justice.” They ask the students questions like, What happened? Why? Who did you impact? What could you have done differently?
“Restorative justice has always been in place,” Gomes said. When a student returns the next day, after being suspended, they get feedback from a counselor with tips on how to make better choices the next time. “We are looking at restorative circles for students in conflict,” he added. “They can reflect on their behavior and what they can improve on. The bottom line is being more rehabilitative – that’s the direction education is heading.”
“We want our students to come to school every day,” Whiteside said. “That’s part of building up attendance.” To that end, the PTA is working with staff to provide surprises for the students, like a dance. Then there is the paper airline flying contest that has been taking place at lunch.
Whiteside is in frequent contact with her counterpart at Rim High, Principal Brian Willemse. And she recently visited with fifth-graders at Valley of Enchantment Elementary School, giving them an insight into what they can expect at MPH.
“It was exciting to go the VOE and visit,” she said. “The students made my day.” They had a lot of questions and were nervous that the intermediate school would be scary. “I assured them it wouldn’t be,” she said. She will be visiting Lake Arrowhead and Charles Hoffman Elementary Schools.
But Whiteside has noticed a reticence among students about raising their hands in class. One MPH girl was even nervous about leading the Pledge of Allegiance at an assembly.
Referring to Whiteside’s comment that MPH is preparing students for high school and beyond, Trustee Cindy Gardner said she is “super excited about the vertical articulation,” which includes the meetings between the two secondary principals.
Gardner asked Whiteside if they are looking at the D and F rates. “I don’t want a child to feel defeated before they get to high school,” she said.
“These are challenging times,” Whiteside said, referring to coming out of the pandemic. “We have to look at how we close the gap. Our kids have concerns. They are reluctant to ask for help. We need to build confidence across the board – from TK to grade 12, in the elementary schools, at MPH, at Mountain High, at Rim High, at Rim Virtual Academy.
“It’s challenging as a teacher,” she noted. “They are trying every trick in the bag. We are looking at measurable goals with the students. If you have a 53-percent average today, you won’t be at 90 percent tomorrow.”
Whiteside went on that “we want students with concerns to be able to talk with an adult they feel comfortable with in a safe place.”
The MPH staff, she said, is looking at how they can design a lesson in a different way for students to acquire the knowledge. “That’s where the expertise of our teachers comes in. They collaborate with each other. It’s really encouraging to see. One will ask another, How did you do that lesson? Your kid got it; mine didn’t.”
When Trustee Jordan Zarate asked if Whiteside anticipates seeing improvement when the next dashboard comes out, she said she is hopeful. “We are working on it.” Gomes chimed in: “I expect the dashboard to look better.”
An additional challenge for the MPH students, Whiteside said, is that it is the first time students from all the Rim communities are brought together. “That changes the social dynamic,” she said.