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Regarding Readiness • ENGAGE for Nov. 15, 2018

Scott Erickson, Head of School

ENGAGE is the newsletter of the Head of School. His message to parents is reproduced here.

At PBS, “we aim to cultivate empowered, independent thinkers by guiding students to be agents of their own progress.” This is one of the 10 Things We Know and Love about PBS. We recognize the specific need to focus these efforts on preparing students for success when tackling school-centered tasks they’ll encounter in the future – for example, how to seek out their own academic challenges, address intellectual problems, build their peer group without teacher support, and develop connections with teachers on their own. Developing skills that support middle or high school applications, interviews, and standardized testing is also essential in growing confident and well-prepared students.

We want PBS graduates to have a high level of agency and to be independent as well as emboldened with academic acuity and emotional intelligence.

In our anonymous parent survey in February, you noted readiness for middle school as a top concern. Your second-highest concern was described as increased stress and anxiety in our culture, often related to readiness. Over 225 parents attended grade-level coffees this fall, and I shared with you that the PBS team agrees. We want to increase readiness and decrease anxiety. To do that, and to reflect the best educational research, we have been developing new initiatives that integrate key learnings from field scans and that are responsive to what we’re seeing at school, as well as to your feedback. My articles today and on December 13 outline several new initiatives and results of current work.

Ready? Set...Go!
Setting students up for success in middle school

This pilot program has launched this fall. Its goal is to ready our students for future endeavors, intentionally addressing elements that are not naturally part of our PBS approach. A secondary goal is that we’d like to do more teaching of these skills at PBS so that, over time, families will not feel the need to seek outside resources as much. This program’s curriculum will scaffold over three years beginning in 3rd grade, building in 4th grade, and continuing through 5th grade as many students apply these skills to the middle school application process. Key components of this new program:

  • Expand student skills in standardized test-taking so they are equipped to perform confidently and to their potential
  • Expose students to a wide range of challenges that will exercise their ability to purposefully plan, organize, execute, and manage time effectively
  • Build students’ interview toolbox, including how to share their stories and maintaining awareness of their experience during a middle school shadow visit
  • Empower students to approach unfamiliar and challenging risks with confidence

Co-teaching model in 4th and 5th grades

We’re excited to pilot a co-teaching approach because we believe it’s best for our students. This is a departmentalized teaching model that will ease students into the middle school structure of different classrooms and different teachers for each subject. Our pilot adds a new layer to prepare confident and successful middle schoolers who can flexibly build knowledge from a variety of teaching styles, all within the consistency of PBS’s philosophy. Since teachers each take charge of a particular content area, their focused planning allows for greater rigor, challenge, and differentiation. They are teaching these lessons to both cohorts, and students still have a homeroom as their primary learning space throughout the day.

In thinking about middle school readiness and setting up our students for success, we recognize there is a balance to achieve with our pilot. We are excited to explore other small shifts, like Quiet Time acting as a conferencing time with teachers to mirror study hall. The importance of social and emotional well-being remains a top priority, and all three teachers in 4th and 5th grades know and love each student. Connection points such as Morning Meeting and Closing Meeting allow each cohort to grow together as a learning community.

Other things we want you to know

  • Progress reports: We heard at the parent coffees that it would be helpful to see a copy of our progress report format before January so that you can see the many skills and abilities your children are developing this year. Those blank templates are available now on the Community Portal.
  • New play structure: Based on input from our teachers and families, we’ve spent some time researching additional recess options for our 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-graders. New this year is the magnetic engineering wall, and we've also designed a new play structure. We expect it to be up and running during the first week back from Thanksgiving.
  • Middle school placement: PBS is committed to continuing robust resources for families in the placement process and advocating actively for each 5th-grader. Over the past four years, 90% of PBS students have been admitted to one or more of their top three middle school choices, even as the admission environment has become exponentially more competitive in that same timeframe. In addition, 80% of last year’s graduates were admitted to their first-choice school. I thought it was important for you to know these results in the context of our focus on readiness.

More coming soon…

  • Parent education program: New pilot customized to address issues that are top-of-mind in our parent and educator communities, and created with input from you and the faculty
  • Possible new math resource: Goal to better challenge students to reach beyond their potential and ensure rigorous and cutting-edge math practices in the classroom
  • Diversity and inclusion: We are preparing to embark on an in-depth, two-year study to define a PBS-distinctive program and identify what further success would look like relative to socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural diversity.
  • PBS curriculum guide: Shows our program arc in order to increase your knowledge, understanding, and confidence in our learning program

Closing note

I want you to know that these are the kinds of innovations and improvements that are made possible by your gifts to the PBS Annual Fund. Proceeds are directly invested in our program operating budget for the current year. Thank you for your generosity and commitment to our school. Please consider making your family’s pledge or gift before the holidays and let Olana Khan or me know if you have questions.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Scott Erickson has been Head of School at PBS since 2011. In that time, he has focused on curriculum growth, faculty support and professional development, expanding parent and community relationships, partnering with the board to strengthen the school’s financial position, and developing and implementing the school’s Strategic Action Plan. Scott enjoys reading, public speaking, projects at home, exercise, traveling, and time with family, friends, and pets.

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