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School’s Out for the Summer?

By Judith J. Paolucci, Ph.D.

What goes on in the district office and throughout our schools during the summer?

The school year is coming to a close and yet there will still be plenty going on in Smithfield Schools. The summer recess provides the perfect time to reflect upon the work of the past year and plan for the work of the next. This article includes a preview of summer happenings throughout the district.

Professional Development – Using grant funds from the New England School Development Council, we have joined with other area districts to provide Math AddVantage training to teachers who implement interventions to students experiencing difficulties with math learning. The 4 days of training centers around children’s early numeracy development and helps teachers understand children’s math thinking.

Administrators and counselors at the middle and high schools will participate in Mental Health First Aid training in order to identify social-emotional issues in youth and some teachers will be participating in Computer Science Fundamentals offered through Code.org.

About 30 elementary educators will be participating in 4 days of Responsive Classroom training. Responsive Classroom is an evidence-based approach to classroom management and instruction that helps educators ensure safe and engaging classroom environments where learning is maximized and where students feel supported and cared for. In addition, individual educators participate in a myriad of professional activities throughout the summer.

Summer School – Over 130 students with disabilities who have extended school year services will be attending school this summer. While some are scheduled for specific services, such as speech and OT services, others attend for more extended times for a variety of services and instruction to help them continue to grow as learners.

Curriculum Work – This summer, our assistant superintendent, Sara Monaco, will be working on various curriculum projects. In addition to getting ready for a pilot of elementary writing materials, Dr. Monaco will also be publishing science unit overviews for the elementary science curriculum.

Facilities – There are regular maintenance work done in our schools every summer. In addition, we are replacing all light fixtures in the high school and middle school with LED fixtures. This project is dependent upon approval of the capital budget. While over $512k would be spent on this project, the National Grid Rebate program provides for over $111k of actual light fixtures and the state reimbursements for school facilities projects would reimburse the town for 39% of costs. The project demonstrates our commitment to maintain our middle and high school facilities.

Operations – Our summer work in the district office includes a focus on our own learning as well as planning or research for both instructional and managerial improvement. Lisa Cournoyer, our Director of Financial Operations, has been closing the accounts for FY18 and readying the district for FY19. Both Lisa and I will also be reviewing office procedures and fiscal practices, in addition to reviewing our finance policies. Setting up our new finance software and training staff to use the new software will contribute much toward or goal of helping to make the district run more efficiently. Ultimately, running more efficiently, in turn, will contribute toward efforts that may ease future fiscal pressures.

Eileen Crudele, our Director of Special Education, will be working on a number of projects as well as supervising extended school year programs. In response to both local and state level reviews of our federal programs, special education services, and other program areas, Eileen follows-up with policy procedural changes to strengthen our specialized programs and keep them in compliance with state and federal regulations.

The administrative team has meetings planned to review school safety procedures, evaluation of school staff, and school improvement planning as well as to focus on instructional improvements by analyzing our state testing results, developing a plan for piloting new writing materials, and evaluating new interventions and supports for struggling students. We know that in many cases we are simply building upon an already solid practice. Continual improvement is our goal.

As a follow up to the Future Search event, which took place in January, a planning team met this spring to develop action plans for each of the goal areas identified. This set of action plans is commonly known as a strategic plan or education plan. The education plan was presented the School Committee for review and approval then was made available to the public through our website. This summer we will be starting the most important part of this work — actually implementing these plans! Certain staff members will be responsible for carrying out the action steps within the plan and a district improvement team will additionally meet 3-4 times annually to update and oversee the implementation of the plan. We also plan to annually convene a community meeting to report on progress and get input regarding each of the goal areas and for the overall educational improvement in Smithfield.

Let’s not forget our civic responsibilities….

While planning and research will take up much of our summer time, advocacy and political involvement are also important. Teachers and administrators benefit from their state association’s monitoring of legislation that may affect the educational environment. Parents and community members likewise have town officials and their political representatives watching out for their best interests, however, we all should become familiar with current issues that may affect our schools and become politically active through communications with our legislators. The summer may be a quiet time at the state house but it’s also a time for gearing up for future legislative action.

I also encourage you to familiarize yourself with the elementary reconfiguration project. While we tend to focus, initially, simply on what we might get from a project and what its tax implication may be, I also urge you to consider alternatives. What are the costs associated with postponing a significant facility renovation project? The bond question will be presented to the voters of Smithfield this fall. More information about this the project and its implications will be shared through public meetings planned for late summer and early fall.

Leaving some room for relaxation and fun….

After my first year in Smithfield I am looking forward to engaging in a “staycation” for summer fun in New England. Rhode Island offers a myriad of opportunities for recreation. I hope each of you take advantage of all our town and region has to offer.

Enjoy the summer!