As Orange students wait (some more patiently than others) at their mailboxes for that magical letter that reveals who their teacher will be for the upcoming school year, teachers are busy in their classrooms getting ready for their new class. Every student’s class placement is decided by a team of teachers and administrators to ensure a smooth transition to the next grade or school.
Turkey Hill Principal Denise Arterbery and Mary L. Tracy Principal Tricia Lasto presented to the Board of Education in June, explaining exactly how the transitions are treated, not only for the milestones such as from kindergarten to first grade, and sixth to middle school, but throughout all of the grade levels.
“We thought that with summer upon us, this is a perfect topic for not only the Board of Education, but for parents also. There is a great deal of effort and input and transition time that goes into making classes and moving students forward. This is an opportunity for you to get a glimpse of what’s happening behind the scenes,” Lasto says.
They put a presentation together that shows in chronological order how the year progresses for principals, teachers and staff. “It’s important, for example, that kindergarten students are aligned with what first grade teachers are expecting them to come in with. So, we set out to align end-of-year benchmarks with beginning-of-year benchmarks,” she says. The district also brought in reading and math consultants to collaborate on curricular expectations for the beginning, middle and end of the year across all schools and within a school.
The bulk of the transition process begins as early as January, Arterbery says. “Principals meet all year long to go through and discuss transitions across our schools, making sure we’re aligned, and we’re ensuring that fidelity of instruction is occurring,” Arterbery says. “In January through April, we look at student progress, and looking at how the progress they’ve made is impacting their transition to the next grade.”
Teachers and principals look at concerns or changes that may not have been foreseen and how that might affect the transitions coming up. “We look at future planning needs, specific to a grade or even a specific student depending on things that may have happened that year,” she says. Expectations are discussed across grade levels and transition. As are expectation of a student as they exit a grade level and make sure that aligns to the expectation of the teachers of next year’s grades coming in. Consultants collaborate across BOWA to ensure that Orange schools are consistent across the Amity district as well.
Sixth grade special education staff begin making monthly visits to AMSO to focus on students who need extra transition support. Sixth grade teachers also meet with guidance counselors to discuss course selection offerings for all students.
The kindergarten transition starts in April with a transition schedule to get all the principals to MLT. “We want them to see all students, not just students who are identified or who need special help. It gives principals a chance to see how all students interact socially. The students get to see the principal as well. It makes such a big difference, rather than to see them on paper, it makes a difference to get in there and observe—see who they’re playing with, or to see how much attention span they have. All of those little nuances prepare us all for the transition and what they’ll need on the other side,” she says.
Near the end of the school year, kindergarteners take a field trip to their home schools, take a tour, meet the principal, visit a first-grade classroom and meet first grade teachers and support staff. “That way they know it’s not a big scary building that they’ve never seen before. It’s a room just like they’ve seen at their school and it makes them feel very comfortable for that transition,” Lasto says.
Once that is all set, teachers and administrators begin the class assignment process, which begins with allowing parents an opportunity to provide feedback. Parents are asked to not request specific teachers, but are permitted to let principals know if there is anything special that should be considered in assigning a classroom.
“Teachers will analyze data and make sure that we have evenly distributed classes with mixed level learners, as close to a gender balance as we can, and also to make sure that students are walking in to friendly and familiar faces,” Arterberry says.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent