Northampton Public Schools Superintendent Blog

February 2012 District Highlights

Posted on: March 12, 2012

R.K. Finn Ryan Road Elementary:


Measurement has been receiving considerable attention at R. K. Finn Ryan Road Elementary School throughout the grades recently.  First and fifth graders have been seen about the school measuring hallways, squirrel hops, and the volume of classrooms. Young children begin measuring by using non-standard objects like paperclips and cubes while older students use rulers, meter sticks and formulas and accomplish conversions between measures. Measurement incorporates estimation and naturally leads children to an understanding of fractions as they figure out how to quantify between two whole numbers.  Second graders have been exploring weighing and balancing by creating mobiles.  Third and fourth graders have continued to deepen their understanding of the relationship between addition and multiplication through their exploration of measurement involving perimeter and area.

Teachers are incorporating non-fiction reading into their Readers’ Workshop across the grades, meeting two needs of our students.  Many students in the elementary grades are more interested in non-fiction “real” text about real things, so it is motivating as reading material.  Second, the new 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks expect greater proficiency with non-fiction text.

Teachers and ESPs are deepening our understanding of Responsive Classroom through a new NEF grant in recent weeks.  We meet after school to develop supportive material for those new to our school, namely substitutes and new staff members and teachers of new students.  We enjoy this opportunity to revisit our Responsive Classroom resources to identify those most useful for people new to our school community.  Our discussions have also encouraged us to reflect and think more deeply about the approaches to which we are committed.

Northampton High School:

Dan Dietz, a senior, has been named one of the top runners in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards inMassachusetts. As a result he will receive an engraved bronze Distinguished Finalist medallion to commemorate this prestigious award. This is a great honor for Daniel, our school and community.

JFK Middle School:

1.  Teachers at JFK have been learning about, and creating Standards-Based Bulletin Boards.  At the January Faculty Meeting, English teacher Diana Ajjan provided a quick professional development on creating her learning board and shared the feedback she had received on it. Teachers have taken learning walks to view her bulletin board and one created by reading teacher Patti Chandler. The information is included below.

Purpose: teaching and learning boards

  • Educates the community, teachers and students about the standards
  • Shows the connection between a student’s work, the standard the work is to meet, and the assessment that is used to decide if the work meets the standard.
  • Supports our standards-based classroom work: work early in the year may be “work in progress” towards the standard or “approaching the standard”. Eventually work displayed will meet or exceed the standard.
  • Provides information for all stakeholders about the student work: objective, criteria, task statement
  • Provides exemplars for the community, teachers and students
  • Improves learning outcomes


  • Title: describes the big picture
  • Standard: written exactly as in the state frameworks
  • Mastery Objective: what the student is expected to know, written in student friendly language.
  • Task statement: what students were asked to do; the assignment was….
  • Criteria:  rubric, etc…
  • Student work: can be a range of work – work early in the year may be “work in progress” towards the standard or “approaching the standard”. Eventually work displayed will meet or exceed the standard.

2.  JFK Department Chairs recently developed a document for all teachers: “Vocabulary Words Students Need to Know and Understand to Access the MCAS”.  The resource was created as a result of the MCAS data analysis and question review completed by departments. All teachers, across disciplines, have the document and will be reinforcing and embedding this vocabulary in instruction and assessment.

3.  Fifteen students at JFK submitted either artwork or writing pieces to a contest co-hosted by the Boston Globe (representing us regionally) and Scholastic (hosting the national contest). Students were competing against grades 7-12. JFK students submitted a wide and impressive variety of projects. Students worked on the projects independently, checking in after school with Ms. Graham and other writers or artists. While there was no pressure to “win”, JFK had the following impressive results:

1 Gold Key artist (category: drawing)
1 Gold key writer (category: memoir)

2 silver key artists (drawing)
2 silver key writers (personal statements)

5 honorable mentions: (3 short stories, 1 personal statement, 1 poem)

For literature:
Gold Key: The highest level of achievement on the regional level. Approximately 7 – 10% of all regional submissions are recognized with Gold Key Awards and all are considered for national-level recognition.

Silver Key: Approximately 10 – 15% of all regional submissions are recognized with Silver Key Awards.

Honorable Mention: This Award recognizes students with artistic potential. Approximately 15 – 20% of all regional submissions receive Honorable Mention Awards.

Student work will be displayed beginning next week at theStateTransportationBuilding.

Jackson Street Elementary:
Jackson St. School Council and Faculty have been reviewing the results of the parent/guardian survey that the JSS Council gave to families in the fall. The survey was given out in paper form at the Parent/Teacher conferences and online through Survey Monkey.  We were pleased with the number of respondents – 110 – as well as the number of comments people took the time to write.  We surveyed several aspects of our school – climate, leadership, expectations for behavior, curriculum, and special subjects. There is a lot of good information for us on which to reflect.  It has also given us a “window” into what is important to our families – what we are doing and what we need to improve. Our plan is to report on the results to the school community in March.

The JSS faculty devoted its entire January meeting to reviewing the school garden curriculum that is being written, based on lessons teachers have developed and the alignment with the curriculum standards.  This work was in preparation for further curriculum writing with garden educator, Hope Guardinier, of School Sprouts who has been consulting with our faculty through NEF grant funding.  We are able to continue this work with additional grant funding from Cooley Dickinson Healthy Communities grant. It is exciting to have authentic experiences on which to build students’ skills and learning that are cross disciplinary – in the areas of math, science, writing and social skill development.

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, all classes in all grades were assigned aMLK, Jr. quote, accompanied by a photograph. The students and teachers worked together to reinterpret his words and put them into their own words. At our annual assembly to celebrateMLK, Jr. Day, representatives of each class presented their interpretations, through pictures, song, rap, poems and prose. They put a lot of effort into this and were very excited to share it with each other.  Their work is now in a scrapbook on display in the library. Please stop by to see it!

Bridge Street Elementary:

The fourth grade team (two classroom teachers and sped teacher) attended a very useful workshop on co-teaching and together with two other trained teachers will be leading our faculty’s next discussion of this practice.

At our faculty meeting the data team presented their first review of where we can immediately have an impact by assisting students to complete the open response questions. Diane Wolejko, our Title I reading teacher, presented a quick and effective graphic organizer for writing that the teachers decided to use.

The students are engaged in a fund-raising Read-A-Thon for the next few weeks for Nature’s Classroom.

1 Response to "February 2012 District Highlights"

I’m interested in learning more about the quick and effective graphic organizer that assists students with completion of open response questions.
I think this blog is a wonderful way for people to learn more about what is happening in our schools.

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