RSU 13 superintendent: Grades improve, students more engaged
ROCKLAND – Following recent threats made at Oceanside High School and the middle school, students came forward to report those threats. Superintendent John McDonald believes that the actions of those students are evidence of positive change resulting from implementation of the Schools of Our Future curriculum.
“It’s meaningful change, and it’s lasting change,” he said. “Because we are starting to build those positive – a little more trustful – relationships. The kids are starting to trust adults more....and it shows that kids are listening to us.”
This improvement is attributed to several factors, which he shared with Rockland City Council members during a status update Monday, March 12.
McDonald said he strives to put social and emotional learning on par with academics. Without that support for both students and faculty, engagement remains low and students won’t learn.
“If they don’t feel like they’re in a good relationship with their teachers or peers, or their administrators, the learning process stalls,” he said.
And when students don’t feel marginalized or alienated, when the atmosphere seems less authoritarian and more inclusive, the school environment becomes safer.
Yes, McDonald said he wants the schools to be more secure. Administrators have worked with law enforcement to strengthen lock-down drills and other safety measures.
But, he said, “We’re educators. We’re not security guards.... It’s the ones [threats] that we don’t know about that I worry about. It’s the person we have no relationship with, we don’t recognize, we don’t know who they are, that needs to change.”
Oceanside High School’s Freshman Academy is in its second year, and now co-exists with a Building Assets and Reducing Risks (BARR) program. As part of BARR, teachers assess the strengths and risks of each student, resulting in more individualized instructions. Also, teachers communicate this information regularly to each other, student services, and administration.
Also in practice is the Restorative Justice method. McDonald equated the program to ancient tribal camp circles where the members of the community sat together. They talked about how to solve problems and how to bring back into the community an individual who’d caused harm or had problems.
The students of today don’t know how to communicate with each other person to person, face to face, he said.
“These days, in this era of social media with kids who are really isolated, they really need that,” he said. “Sitting at a table, three feet apart, and texting each other. That’s not a conversation.”
Though the program is still relatively new, McDonald told council that early reports are indicative that ‘good things are happening.’
By the end of quarter two of last academic year, 11 percent of eight graders within the RSU 13 district were meeting the standards to pass their core classes. Those same students, now night graders, are passing at 86 percent at the end of quarter two of the current academic year, according to Superintendent John McDonald.
Active incorporation of brief meditation and mindfulness sessions by some educators have allowed for calmer classrooms.
The Pre-K program has grown from one teacher maintaining a program that was not state-endorsed, to a current four-school, state-endorsed program that will increase to six by 2019. State-endorsed programs receive subsidies, according to McDonald.
A task force is in place for the study of drop-out prevention, and, according to school board member Loren Andrews, college-bound students are taking academically vigorous classes.
Renovations of the high school are in the works, and will follow a 15-month completion time frame. Administrators plan to move their offices, and their technology infrastructure, from the McLean School to South School by the end of the summer.
And, McDonald said, this year’s school budget promises to be boring. No surprises.
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