Head of education makes call to Songo Locks School

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBy Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Everyone in the school felt like they had just scored the tie-breaking points, and won an important game for their team.

Or, that particular Wednesday could be compared to the day that a budding athlete got to Skype with their favorite professional athlete.

The U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had phoned Songo Locks School to personally thank Vicky Edwards and her fifth-grade team for the thoughtful and hard work being done on a daily basis with their students.

His phone call was part of Teacher Appreciation Week; and Songo Locks was the only school in Maine that Duncan called.

“I was stunned! I told the students when I went back to class that it was like them, as a little league baseball player, getting a call from David Ortiz,” Edwards said, adding, “In the “teacher world,” this was a big event!”

After the call ended, a smiling Edwards said her heart was beating so fast.

She said she couldn’t think of what to say, but luckily she referred to the notes she had written for a staff meeting with her fellow teachers and School Administrative District (SAD) 61 Assistant Superintendent Deborah Howard.

The phone call had been a surprise. So, Edwards and the other fifth grade teachers did not know about the incoming call from the head of education in Washington, D.C.

Shortly after the call ended, Vice Principal John Dickerson got on the intercom, and shared the news with the student body.

“Everyone was (so proud). They couldn’t stop smiling. The students were clapping and cheering. ‘Congratulations’was the word of day,” Edwards said.

In an e-mail to the coordinator who is part of the Secretary of Education’s staff, Edwards wrote, “We are still smiling and feel so honored to have received the phone call from Secretary Duncan yesterday! How rewarding it is to have our work recognized.”

So what did teachers at Songo Locks do to turn the heads of the nation’s education department? Basically, the fifth-grade staff re-arranged their classes — breaking up some classes according to grade level and allowing each teacher to focus on their strength, be it language arts, science, social studies or mathematics.

Songo Locks Literacy Coach Anna Walker had submitted the paperwork to Duncan’s office, pointing out the students’ progress after teachers made the changes.

“Our fifth-grade team reorganized their classroom structure and has seen significant improvement in student achievement in all subjects, but particularly in writing and particularly for the lowest achieving students.”

The team reorganized after Vicky Edwards participated in a RESPECT roundtable held by TAFS in the district in the spring 2013,” Walker said.

“Vicky is the primary teacher for the team and is passionate about data. She is exceptionally-organized, and having reflected on how they could rework their schedules, worked with the team to better share responsibility for student achievement,” she said.

“The fifth-grade team’s successful results are clearly a demonstration of this effective collaboration,” Walker wrote.

On Wednesday, two teachers on the team had more than test results to prove progress had been made.

Holly Tremblay said, as the third trimester rolled around, people in the community with fourth-graders are looking forward to next year with excitement.

As a local resident, Tremblay has talked to parents at sporting events and other community activities. Those families with children in fifth grade are pleased, and younger siblings cannot wait to do the things fifth graders have been doing.

Betsy Mayo said the writing improvements have been vast, and she is impressed with the students’ progress since the beginning of the year. During a recent three-minute writing session, students went right to their work and produced between a page and a page and a half , she said.

Also, the children are excited about lining up to go to another classroom. Part of that might be because science teacher Doug Elder is in a Christian rock band. So, some students line up more quickly and quietly than others to go to his class, she said. Plus, they get to study rock formations and fossils, and even put hot glue on dead bugs.

Principal June Conley said the upstairs floor is actually very quiet when fifth-graders are going from classroom to classroom. The students know what is expected of them and abide by the rules, she said. So, switching classrooms is a nondisruptive activity, and the fourth-grade teachers continue studies with open doors, Conley said.

Not only does the switching of classrooms help prepare students for the transition to middle school, but it also gives teachers an opportunity to lead curriculum that falls in their area of expertise.

Edwards explained some of the changes that were implemented this school year.

“Students are in classes that are designed to be skill-specific based on student need. This structure has made it possible to tailor lessons that utilize the time we have with each student more effectively,” she said.

“Another difference is this structure allows us to capitalize on teachers’ expertise, rather than having all teachers teach all subjects. This format gives us the opportunity to delve into our subject areas in more depth, and to implement content-specific teaching strategies,” she said.

Edwards has been with the school district since 1981. Collaboration among teachers is one of the specific reasons she took the position at Songo Locks.

“My interest and experience in this (social studies) content area during my 24 years of teaching has been some of the most rewarding experiences I have had with my students,” Edwards said.

One of the goals for that grade level — in addition to being prepared for middle school — is taking responsibility for school work.

“We often talk about how being a student is their job, just like being a teacher is my job. They took ownership of their job in these conferences, and explained their learning along with their experiences in fifth grade. It was a proud moment for students, parents, and teachers,” she said.

What prompted the restructuring was the workshop that Edwards attended this spring. She participated in a “roundtable discussion around the statement, ‘The 21st century education system demands inclusive schools and classrooms that are based on students’ needs and teachers’ abilities, rather than on prescribed formulas,’” she said.

“(It) served as the springboard for this reorganization. We now have math classes based on the skill-specific needs of our students, as are our reading groups. Our writing classes are taught by our resident writing experts, Mrs. Betsy Mayo and Mrs. Holly Tremblay. They have been able to refine their writing instruction to meet the students’ needs more effectively than with our previous teaching models,” she said.

“Our science teacher instructs all four of our fifth-grade classes. Mr. Doug Elder has a history rich in science instruction, and is a published author in this field,” she said.

“I have benefited from the new structure and grouping in many ways. One way is how rewarding it is to work collaboratively with the talented educators on my team. Another is I have been able to refine my teaching strategies to match students and the curriculum more effectively. Our data shows this reorganization has had a positive impact on our students,” she said. Elder has a history rich in science instruction, and is a published author in this field,” she said.

“During this Teacher Appreciation Week, students have been writing cards to their teachers. We see a common theme in many of our messages. They are excited about learning and being part of our team,” Edwards said.

 

Please follow and like us: