New school year set to dig deeper
- Published: August 22, 2019
“Excited.” “Energized.” “Inspired.”
The words Yellow Springs school leaders choose to describe their feelings about the new school year show a shared enthusiasm for students’ return next Thursday, Aug. 22.
“I think it’s going to be a good year,” new Superintendent Terri Holden said last week.
She described a two-day retreat with principals earlier in the month that gave the administrators a chance to talk about their educational philosophies and goals.
“It was very helpful and energizing,” Holden said.
In an interview this week, McKinney Middle/Yellow Springs High School Principal Jack Hatert agreed, calling the meetings “inspiring.”
Hatert said he appreciated the opportunity to look at the schools through the fresh eyes of an administrator coming new into the district.
In a separate interview, Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh agreed.
Housh said he is particularly excited about Holden’s experience with project-based learning, or PBL, the curriculum model at the heart of Yellow Springs’ instruction.
“I think that she can really help support us, really continue to refine … our instructional practices,” Housh said.
For all three administrators, that means strengthening project work to better reflect state educational standards.
“We’ll be looking at data more than we had been,” middle/high school Principal Hatert said, referring specifically to state testing.
“Test scores aren’t where we want them to be,” he said. “I don’t think
One goal for this year is to work on finding ways “to demonstrate their understanding a little better.”
At the elementary school, Housh said the staff will be working on “making sure the standards are embedded” in their projects.
“When we do project-based learning right, [students] are really engaged, and they take the information with them outside of the classroom,” Housh said. “It’s a successful method. … and I think we’re going to make more strides with that.”
Earlier this summer, the school board approved some staff changes to further support the PBL program.
A teacher at each school campus — Jennifer Scavone at Mills Lawn and Kevin Lydy at the middle/high school — has been assigned the role of PBL coach, a new contracted, half-time position. High school social studies teacher Lydy will still remain in the classroom half-time, with the additional hiring of another half-time social studies teacher; and Scavone will serve in an additional half-time capacity, working individually with students.
Both principals think that the coaches will help deepen the program, being available to help with “any piece of the whole,” according to Housh, from planning to implementation.
A continuing focus at both school campuses this year will be on social-emotional learning, in addition to traditional instructional goals.
While the district has made the social and emotional health of its students a priority for a number of years, believing in the importance of caring for the whole child — mind, body and psyche — more educational leaders are ascribing social-emotional ideas. This past year, in fact, Ohio adopted new social-emotional standards.
The principals said the standards help codify what they were already doing, while giving more room to expand with new initiatives.
At the elementary school, Housh said every class will start each day with a morning meeting “focused on helping kids understand their own feelings, how to treat themselves, how to treat others, how to be a successful classroom member and how to seek help if they’re anxious or worried.” Many classes were already doing this.
School counselor John Gudgel will continue offering his “Skills for Life” program, meeting with each class once a week. And teachers will be exploring other ways to support the students and the school’s cultural life.
“I’m excited about it,” Housh said. “It’s nice for the state to recognize how important this is, all the research that says you can’t really learn, unless your head and heart are in the right place.”
At the middle/high school, the focus will extend to teacher health as well, Principal Hatert said, noting that the school has received a grant to offer mindfulness, meditation and yoga activities to teachers who want it for a 30-minutes block each week.
In addition, intervention specialist Donna Haller will offer yoga to teachers and students for 30 minutes after school each Monday, and for an hour after school on Wednesdays.
Hatert said the Wednesday session will also serve as an alternative to detention as a consequence for some students. The hope is that a mindful activity such as yoga will be more helpful and productive to students.
“It pairs really well with social-emotional” goals, Hatert said.
Both schools will see students getting outside as much as possible, the principals said. The seventh grade will again be heading out on its now annual Into the Wild biking and camping adventure in September, while over at Mills Lawn, a “story walk” has been installed in partnership with Greene County Library. The path, around the north and west sides of the school, features stations where pages of a story book, or other materials, can be displayed and read by anyone walking along the path.
Reducing the carbon footprint
In addition to promoting outdoor activities, Mills Lawn will be looking at the schools’ carbon footprint, Housh said.
Last year, in response to fourth-graders’ research, the school eliminated all plasticware in the cafeteria, replacing it with metal cutlery.
The school will continue to explore ways to expand on that effort in the coming year.
“We want to reduce as much waste as possible,” the principal said. “We’re getting rid of plastic straws and will recycle as much as we can,” he said.
Introducing composting as an all-school activity is another goal, he added. While Housh anticipates that a couple of classes would likely need to take the lead before the whole school joined in, he sees the activity as uniting the school toward a shared community ideal.
The effort hearkens to a question Holden said she asked during the course of the administrators’ retreat: “How do we think about ourselves as a school district?”