Parent, student opportunities thrive in new school year

By Andrea Ray | Aug 23, 2017

After increasing the number of School Choice seats available to out-of-district families, Old Rochester Regional School District officials are preparing to welcome more than 2,000 students when classes kick off on Tuesday, August 29.

Those numbers are still subject to change, but the 799 students enrolled at the high school as of August 23 is a high-water mark for enrollment; the high school's previous record was 787 students in 2014. The high school currently has 82 School Choice students enrolled, roughly 10% of the school's population. The junior high has enrolled 485 students, of which 30 are School Choice attendees.

The increase of School Choice slots to 125 total (112 currently enrolled) at the junior high and the high school was an effort to supplement the district's budget. The sending district pays $5,000 for each student who attends through the program.

"There have been burgeoning enrollments at all of the schools," noted Assistant Superintendent Elise Frangos.

Old Rochester Regional High School Principal Mike Devoll says his team is prepared: "We have the space and the teachers."

When students arrive, they'll have something new on their schedules: the Bulldog Block. Held from 10:17 a.m. to 10:52 a.m. each school day, students can use the time to get academic help or participate in enrichment activities.

Devoll explained that area professionals have long volunteered to work with students and teach skills outside of the regular classroom curriculum, but scheduling was a challenge.

"When [volunteers] learned that it was a rotating block schedule," Devoll explained, "the timing never worked out."

Enter the Bulldog Block. Earlier this summer, the principal announced that he was looking for people to share skills with students, and the call-to-action has generated interest. Among the potential volunteers are a graphic designer and a filmmaker interested in helping students learn to write screenplays. Want to volunteer? E-mail Devoll at michaeldevoll@oldrochester.org.

While the high school administrators are focusing on new opportunities for students, the district’s elementary schools' officials are looking at new opportunities for parents.

"How do we engage parents to learn more about learning?" Frangos asked. "We want all parents to feel welcome participating in school, coming to school, learning about school. Not just the parents who were good at school, and liked it, but also the shy parents, the parents who might have had trouble learning.”

Frangos explained that there is strong evidence that students with engaged parents perform better at school, apply to more colleges, and have fewer behavioral issues.

Parents are "the lifetime teachers," agreed Sippican Elementary School Principal Lynn Rivet. "We want everyone to feel comfortable at the school, to know where things are."

Rivet noted that there will be a new system in place in the fall at all of the tri-town elementary schools, where alongside half-days for parent-teacher meetings, there will be occasional days teachers will be available to meet all day. The system is meant to increase communication between parents, students and teachers.

"We have to coordinate substitute teachers, but, for example, one day substitute teachers will teach first grade, while the first-grade teachers will be available for parent-teacher meetings," Rivet explained.

The students will also be present at these meetings. "If a child states that his goal is to do really well in math this year before a teacher and parents, it's highly likely that goal will be achieved," Frangos explained.

Health education is also a priority for the elementary schools. All students will take health classes starting in the fall.

"Health classes used to start in the seventh grade," Frangos said, "but it seemed that the health teacher would end up trying to frantically catch the kids up to everything they needed to know. We need to start teaching children about their health sooner."

The curriculum will focus on safety, physiology and nutrition.

Families will also see a switch to new standards-based report cards. The first will be issued in December.

The report cards will break down a student’s grade into different categories so that teachers and parents know exactly what the student needs to work on. For example, parents will learn whether a student is doing well overall, but having trouble reading and contextualizing non-fiction. Or perhaps a student understands decimals, but is having a problem understanding fractions.

"The old report cards could give a letter grade, but it was never really clear why the student received that grade," Frangos explained. "With this report, we know exactly what the problem is and we can address it quickly."

The last push is for "the three ‘R’s,'" as Frangos calls them—rigor, relationships and relevance.

Rigor and relevance deal with academics, but for "relationships," teachers and administrators will focus on social and emotional learning.

"The students of today are coming into a Google-type workplace," Frangos said. "Nobody can just work in a closet anymore. Children need to know how to work collaboratively."

Opening Day is August 29 for all schools. There is no school on Friday, Sept. 1 or Monday, Sept. 4 (Labor Day).

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