Principal’s Address for Open House

Good afternoon, Henley Families, and welcome to Open House.

I can’t tell you enough how excited we are to be here today. The teachers have been busily getting their rooms ready. Our custodial staff, I can’t say enough about our custodial staff. We had an all county professional development event here on Friday, so they had a very quick turn around to be ready. And, of course, they nailed it!
So, first and foremost, I want to thank you for sharing your child or children with us. I have two boys of my own, one of whom goes here and it’s a big deal! We take responsibility for the safety and wellness of your child and we appreciate the trust you give us every day. We’re looking forward to 180 days of engaging learning.
My name is Beth Costa, I am starting year five as the principal here. For the first time in five years I have the same administrative staff returning. Michael Combs, 6th grade administrator and Becky Fisher, 8th grade administrator.

I wanted to start off Open House by sharing some of the work that we are doing this year around Equity and Learning. I’ll get more into this at our State of the School address in September, but I thought it would be important for you to know about our goals for the upcoming school year. Last week we opened our school year with our teachers. We did a lot of summer learning that connects to our Henley Guiding Principles and our division’s strategic priorities and so the first thing we did when we got back last Monday was took some time to debrief our summer learning so that teachers could hear from their colleagues and connect it to their own learning. Teachers engaged in Community Conversations, they went to Developmental Designs workshops, conferences on differentiation and grading practices. I know summer is their time to recharge their batteries, but let me tell you, our teachers were busy.
So, then on Tuesday we listened to Dr. Haas’ Back to School Address at Monticello HS. He, too, talked about equity and starting the year off well. It was great to have him set the tone for a strong year.

On Wednesday we worked with Dr. Kristina Doubet on Differentiation. We are all reading and using Dr. Doubet’s book to strengthen our ability to differentiate curriculum, assessment, and instruction to better meet the needs of all learners. Our goal is to “teach high” with high expectations for students and then to get really good at scaffolding for learners who may need more support to meet the same expectations as their peers. It’s pretty exciting work.
And then finally on Thursday, we looked at some concepts that we have been honing in on, like collective efficacy, equity, social/emotional learning, differentiation and we aligned those concepts with our North Star with is Deeper Learning for Equity through differentiation and developmental designs.
If you are new to Henley, Developmental Designs is our social/emotional learning framework.

The Developmental Designs approach is founded upon seven evidence-based principles that form the core of successful teaching and learning in the middle grades.  Knowing the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual needs of the students we teach is as important as knowing the content we teach.  We learn best by actively constructing our own understanding and meaning.  The greatest cognitive growth occurs when learning is leveraged by social interaction.  Goals are best achieved through the incremental mastery of tasks.  Social learning in a supportive community is as important to success as academic learning.  There is a set of personal/social skills that students need to learn and practice in order to be successful socially and academically: Cooperation  Assertion  Responsibility Empathy  Self-control  Trust among adults is a fundamental necessity for academic and social success in a learning community.

This will be the third year of sort of operating within the Developmental Designs framework. We use the framework to set our climate goals of knowing all students, helping them to feel safe, and then to use what we know to plan and deliver engaging learning experiences. With our population continuing to increase, we want to make sure that we still operate as a close community. We use a team approach to support students. Teachers and students are teamed either on the Henley team or the Hornets team. With very few exceptions, kids on the same team will have one of two language arts teachers, one of two math teachers, and then the same SS and Science teacher. To keep class sizes as low as possible, we did have to hire more teachers this year, but we are trying to maintain the middle school teaming structure.

We’ve been using Developmental Designs also to guide our Responses to Student Behavior. A major premise of Developmental Designs is Assume Nothing Teach Everything. We know kids come to us with varying skills, whether those skills are reading, writing, problem solving, or working well with others, collaborating, sharing, or any other pro-social skill. We use the Developmental Designs structure to help kids develop those skills and positively contribute to our school community.
As we get into the year, I’ll go deeper with families around the way we handle discipline and things like bullying and meanness, but I do want to pause and introduce you to our counseling staff and Dean of Students. Matt Hopewell is a new addition to our team after a very successful year last year as a part time Dean of Students. Matt’s role is unique in that he only works with kids. He provides classroom support, he meets with kids who are having conflicts. He is in that perfect position between counselor and administrator.

As with any middle school, we do see meanness and bullying. If you are a rising 6th grade family, I am sure that middle school behavior is very big on your mind right now. I want to let you know that we have a lot of things in place here to support our students. Their social, emotional well being and safety is our top priority. Almost 100% of our staff is trained in the Developmental Designs framework. We use Empowering Language in the classrooms and common areas to help kids make the right choices. We have a system where kids can take a break if they are having trouble with focus in class or if they just need a break. We do use a whole host of interventions, many of which are case specific to address the behavior and change it. Our goal with student behavior is change. Some times it takes longer for change to occur and we are committed to using Developmental Designs as opposed to a more punitive system of consequences. I assure you we apply consequences, we just don’t start with them.
So, a school day for your child. We have four instructional blocks a day-Our day actually starts at 8:00 with morning drop off. We provide a very helpful service to families who need to drop off their child early. From 8:00-8:35 we gather higher numbers of kids and at 8:35 Ms. M will take the first wave of students out to morning recess. Kids play games, talk, socialize before the bell rings to start the day. Students on buses can also get off for morning recess.

We start off the day in Advisory, which is much like a morning meeting. Announcements also happen during Advisory. We have a student broadcast team led by Mr. Myers. We take attendance for the day during Advisory. Jen Wilkes takes all of the attendance for the building. It would really help her out if you would call the attendance line (main office number and then you get the prompt to pick attendance). You can imagine how hard it is for her to have to all of the phone calls for absent kids, so you calling will be much appreciated.

Then students have their first academic block. Our classes are about 73-75 minutes long. They have lunch block during the second block of the day. We allow kids to go out for lunch recess for about 13 minutes…it’s a nice outdoor break. We then have our third instructional block of the day before going out to our all school recess. After recess we have our last block of the day. We pack up and head to our STING class, which is now moved to the end of the day. STING is a block of time, 24 minutes where students can get extra help, study, read, make up work, etc. We anticipate that some students will check out early, which is actually fine with us as long as the teacher doesn’t need to work with the student. This is a bit of an experiment for us, so we are hopeful that it actually turns out to benefit both students and our school community.
We have kids pack up before STING so that we don’t have students at their lockers at the same time as the wave of students going down the hall trying to exit the building. We did this during the last nine weeks of the school year last year and it really helped. Our teachers walk with students at the end of the day…they’re not in line, but they are just walking with them as they leave for the day.

What you can expect from us…we know you value communication. So do we. You can expect that you will hear from your child’s teachers if there is an issue. We have a new learning management system this year to replace Blackboard. Teachers will post their syllabus and pacing guide, plus use the calendar feature to update assignments. Schoology really does make it easier on the student, the teacher, and the family. It’s very user friendly. Students will get their laptops on Monday, so we’ll be teaching them how to navigate the new system. We only have two schedules this year instead of four. We have one Blue day and One Orange day, so we hope that it’s clearer for students and families.

What other topics can I discuss before we let you get going? As I said, we’re going to do this again in early September. My goal was to just talk a little about our goals for the year, share some logistics and then let you get started at the Open House. It’s a very free flowing format. I can stay and answer questions for a few minutes, but other than that, I thank you for coming and hope you have a great afternoon.