Spring 2014 Community Meeting Report

 

To: ​Jefferson Elementary School Community

Fr: ​School Governance Council

Re: ​Jefferson Elementary School CommUNITY Meeting Report:

What our community shared and proposed action steps

Date:​ Spring 2014

 

Overview:

 

On April 12th, nearly 150 parents, guardians, and community members gathered for a Pancake Breakfast and CommUNITY Meeting to build our community and our ability to work together from our many diverse perspectives. We focused on what’s working at our school and what could be improved. For three hours, we discussed our school’s academics, the school environment, and school-family partnerships. We started with informal conversations over pancakes and then split into small group facilitated conversations. Following those conversations, community members sat in groups of four to discuss learning across groups before concluding with a “gallery walk” of the notes from all of the facilitated conversations. During the gallery walk, parents/guardians used stickers to indicate the five comments that they felt were most important.

 

This report from the School Governance Council (SGC) provides an overview of what was shared, including key themes and proposed action steps. It begins with a brief look at the methodology we used (i.e., how we figured out the most critical themes to address), a summary of the major themes, and a description of proposed action steps.

 

We are incredibly excited by the turnout of the meeting, by how the event brought people together, by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we got about our school, and by the terrific suggestions that were made for ways to make our school even stronger for every child and their family.

 

As we prepare both to share Principal Maggie with the K-8 schools across Berkeley and to welcome new students and families as well as a new principal to our expanded campus, we hope that this report will serve as a guidepost that both affirms the strength in what we have already and the vision that we have for keeping our school great.

 

Methodology:

 

Each facilitator was briefed by Principal Maggie in advance to lead discussions that were inclusive, open, and candid. Building on their good work, the SGC met three times for multiple hours to review the data. We first typed up the hundreds of comments shared by community members, grouped by question (about academics, school environment, and school-family partnerships). After reviewing the comments, we identified a set of approximately 20 key topics (e.g., math curriculum, parent-teacher communication, etc.) that the community had surfaced as most important across the facilitated conversations, and then grouped comments by topic. We next identified the 3-4 issues that our community had prioritized in each question area. Once those important issues were clear, we brainstormed a list of action steps for the school community that is included below.

 

Summary of what the community shared:

 

Academically, the community felt overwhelmingly positive about the education our children are receiving and the communication and relationships with teachers and staff. Parents/guardians were especially enthusiastic about the reading and writing programs, and parents/guardians of English Language Development students were very happy with their children’s success. However, many parents/guardians shared mixed thoughts about the new Common Core and “Story of Units” math curriculum, which most of us would like to understand better. Parents/guardians requested guidance and workshops to help understand the curriculum and prepare them to help with homework. And many parents/guardians would like to see more art and science instruction throughout the school for students across all learning levels, but some expressed concern about challenges for high-achieving students. In addition to the action steps you will find below, please also see the appendix for examples of work that our teachers are already doing along these lines.

 

We also asked community members to talk about the school environment. Like academics, the consensus was positive and most parents/guardians value the incredible diversity at Jefferson and feel their children are safe at school. They are happy about yard supervision and the range of activities for our kids at recess and afterschool, although many expressed the thought that more adult supervision on the yard would help at lunch and recess. Yard safety and supervision was an area of concern that came out of the first community meeting in 2009, and one of the first changes to be made the following year. Many parents/guardians are worried about how the school will accommodate 80 to 100 new students next year, especially during recess and lunch. And many of us stressed the importance of having activities for both boys and girls, teaching conflict resolution strategies to kids, and making sure that the policies about resolving differences and behavioral expectations are transparent and clearly communicated to both students and parents/guardians.

 

The last area of discussion at the meeting was about school-family partnerships. The current community events, like Art Night, Math Night, Halloween party, school assemblies, etc., were popular, although as mentioned above families requested parent workshops on a variety of topics: the Common Core and new math curriculum, homework support, social and emotional development, and conflict resolution. Many parents/guardians would like a better system to communicate ways to get involved and participate in the school, which of course will only make the school stronger.

 

Proposed Action Steps:

 

The following are a list of the major themes that surfaced from the community and proposed action steps for addressing each theme. Please note these represent the most significant themes that emerged through our analysis. We robustly debated the inclusion of others, but ultimately decided that these themes were most representative of the comments shared by our community. In addition, a few themes were highly specific to particular communities within Jefferson. For instance, families of English Language Development (ELD) students expressed a concern regarding the time their children miss when they are out of their regular classroom for English language instruction, but also noted that they felt well-supported by the new ELD teacher and program this year.

 

I. Developing a better understanding of the Common Core State Standards and Story of Units Math Curriculum

• What we heard:
o Parents/guardians were confused by the new math standards and curriculum and, in particular, requested support to better understand what resources were available to them regarding math homework
• Proposed action steps:
o Parent/Guardian Workshop at the start of the school year
▪ The school will hold a workshop that provides an overview of the Common Core State Standards and, in particular, the new math standards
▪ At this workshop, teachers will lead sessions by grade level for parents/guardians on Story of Units
▪ Teachers will demonstrate how this curriculum can be deeply engaging for all students, including high-achieving kids
▪ BEARS and JAZ staff will be included so they can be resources for homework help
o Ongoing teacher resources for parents/guardians
▪ Teachers will build in regular opportunities for parents/guardians to learn about Story of Units (e.g., FYI “how to” guides with homework, short videos explaining concepts, grade specific workshops on key areas such as fractions)

 

II. Including more science instruction

• What we heard:
o Parents/guardians recognize the importance of more science instruction. They felt that there was not a sufficient enough focus on science instruction across all grades (i.e., not enough science is being taught). They are aware that the FOSS curriculum is being taught, but would like to see an increase in the number of units taught at each grade level
• Proposed action steps:
o Faculty meeting to discuss barriers to teaching more science (i.e., What gets in the way of more science instruction?)
▪ Teachers will meet to discuss why science is not being taught more and to strategize ways to incorporate it more regularly into the regular day
▪ Pending the outcome of this discussion, teachers will consider options for additional external support (e.g., Community Resources for Science, Lawrence Hall of Science for FOSS Kits)
o Subsequent community discussion on science anchored in next steps formulated by teachers
▪ Similar to the math meeting described above, the school will hold a community meeting to discuss and engage community members on next steps for science​
▪ As with math, a focus of this conversation will be how science instruction will engage all students, including those that are academically high-achieving
o New district-funded position for gardening
▪ This new position will offer 18 classes per year for K-5 students at every grade level and will be taught jointly by a new garden science teacher with classroom teachers

 

III. Engaging more deeply in the arts

• What we heard:
o Parents/guardians expressed a desire to more deeply embed arts into the lives of their children at school
• Proposed action steps:
o Share with the community the many things Jefferson is already doing with the arts
▪ In reviewing the comments shared, it was clear that the community is not fully aware of the many arts activities already happening at our school. Those include an art specialist for grades 1-2, music instruction for grades 3-5, choral singing for grade 2 with the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and teacher incorporation of arts into regular classroom activities (e.g., social studies projects, illustrations of writing, etc.)
▪ Teachers will strive to make this work more transparent to parents/guardians. As a first step, please see the Appendix for a list of arts activities teachers engaged in this year
o Re-establishment of an Arts Anchor Grantthat will develop teacher expertise in arts
▪ The Arts Anchor teacher committee is working to place a performing artist in our school for the 2014-15 school year and provide professional development support in the arts to our teachers
o Faculty meeting to discuss ways teachers can support one another to deepen incorporation of arts into curriculum
▪ While all teachers incorporate arts into their instruction, some do so in greater depth
▪ Teachers will meet to discuss ways to better support one another to deepen arts instruction across the school
▪ As part of this discussion, teachers will discuss ways that the arts can be used to engage all students, including those who are academically high-achieving
o Re-activate Project Color, a parent-led arts initiative that engages teachers and students and leaves a legacy of public art throughout the school
▪ Interested parents/guardians can organize activities and projects that beautify the school and create art for display (e.g., creating a mural for the cement wall behind the kickball field, creating a mosaic feature at new entrance of the school)

 

IV. Developing our students social and emotional skills

• What we heard:
o Parents/guardians generally felt that our school was a safe and nurturing place for their children. However, many expressed a desire for even more attention to their children’s social and emotional development. This includes many issues parents/guardians mentioned: building conflict resolution skills, addressing “bullying”, and focusing on issues related to gender.
• Proposed action steps:
o Parent/guardian workshops on social and emotional development
▪ A number of parent/guardian workshops on social and emotional development are already being planned for the new school year. These include:
• Introduction of “Toolbox”, a new Berkeley USD social and emotional development district-wide curriculum that teachers will receive professional development for in August and continuing throughout the year
• Charity DaMarto from the district office of Family Engagement will be invited to lead a workshop to encourage family involvement
• A new part-time district-funded Site Coordinator for Family Engagement who will work with teachers and programs, including Jeffersons & Daughters
• Parent/guardian Study Circles where families will engage in discussions on fostering community relations and awareness in our diverse community
o Share with the community the many things Jefferson is already doing with social and emotional development
▪ As with the arts, we saw in the comments a pattern that parents/guardians were not fully aware of all that our school is already doing regarding social and emotional development
▪ Teachers will work to more clearly communicate with parents/guardians on the following:
• “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports”: a school-wide approach that provides guidance on behavior and teaches a positive response to conflicts; this is our policy for school discipline and community building for students
• “Welcoming Schools” curriculum: a district-wide curriculum from the Human Rights Campaign that addresses family diversity, gender stereotyping and ending bullying
• Existing policies to support social and emotional development (e.g., What happens when there is an incident? How do we ensure students use technology wisely?)
o Periodically, communication folders will include an FAQ reminder of these policies to keep them fresh for the community
o More extensive training for JAZ, BEARS, and Physical Education (PE) teachers
▪ JAZ, BEARS, and PE teachers already receive ongoing training. Going forward, additional training on the schools social and emotional curriculum (e.g., Welcoming Schools and Toolbox) will be included so that all adults at the school are using consistent approaches to social and emotional development and conflict resolution

 

V. Enhancing students’ experience on the yard and at lunch

• What we heard:
o Parents/guardians generally felt that students’ experiences on the yard and at lunch could be strengthened. This included, in part, the social and emotional development issues addressed in the previous section. It also included concerns regarding gender equity with activities (i.e., at times girls playing certain things and boys playing certain different things) and how the addition of 80-100 new students would impact time on the yard and at lunch.
• Proposed action steps:
o Parent role in the development of the new playground
▪ In 2014-15, a Jefferson Site Committee will develop a plan with Berkeley USD to remodel playground (Note: The district has already committed funds for the Jefferson playground remodel). Parents/guardians who are interested will help shape the process of designing the new playground. Construction will take place in the Summer of 2015 in time for the opening of the 2015-16 school year.
o Introduction of Toolbox and deeper integration of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports to yard and lunch staff and more transparent use by teachers
▪ As was mentioned in the previous section, the yard and lunch staff will receive additional training in the Welcoming Schools, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, and Toolbox curricula
▪ Classroom teachers already regularly use the Welcoming Schools curriculum and the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program, particularly when an issue arises. Teachers will include their use of this curriculum and the specific issues being addressed in discussions in their regular weekly communication with parents/guardians.
▪ Incorporating the school garden into recess and lunch periods
o See the previous section for additional related action steps on social and emotional development.

 

VI. Communicating more clearly between school and home

• What we heard:
o Parents/guardians generally felt that communication between school and home was strong, but sought clearer, more consistent communication in a few areas.
• Proposed action steps:
o Increased communication regarding math, science, arts, social and emotional development, and yard/lunch time.
▪ See sections above for proposed parent/guardian workshops and ongoing teacher communication strategies.
o Vary communication approach between home and school​
▪ Teachers will discuss and experiment with multiple ways to communicate with parents/guardians. In addition to the ideas noted above, teachers will consider using text messages and additional opportunities to meet with teachers.
o Update the PTA website
▪ If there are parent volunteers to do so, an updated PTA website could foster stronger communication
• General resources (e.g., videos on how to do the math homework, school handbook with policies) could be posted along with links to resources teachers use to support their instruction
• Teachers could also develop class-only pages that include homework assignments and class-specific tips for parents/guardians

Next steps:

Principal Maggie and the SGC will share these themes with the incoming principal. The teachers have already begun the process of addressing these proposed action steps and will continue to do so in the fall. If you are interested in getting involved, we strongly encourage you to do so.

Acknowledgements:

The SGC would like to extend a special thank you to:

• All who volunteered and participated to make the CommUNITY Meeting a success
• Principal Maggie’s leadership and, in particular, her community organizing know-how and guidance
• Our chair, Erin Branagan, for her leadership in planning for and executing the meeting
• The PTA, English Learner Advisory Committee , and Black Families Group for helping get the word out
• Terry Pastika, SGC alternate extraordinaire, who went above and beyond to help plan and execute this event
• Our SGC teachers and staff (Anne Scheele, Barb Wenger, Jackie Murillo, Kathleen Gragera, and Rick Kleine) and all the teachers who came to CommUNITY day
• JAZ staff for making the day fun for our children while the adults met
• Volunteers from Cal Build for doing everything we asked and then some
• Our facilitators: Laurie Capitelli, Debbi D’Angelo, Charity DeMarto, Angelica Garcia, Jan Goodman, Wally Guiterrez, Nabilah Masoumi, Darryl Moore, Arlan Murillo, Elizabeth Arenas, Isabel Martinez Parra, Kalimah Salahuddin, Cheryl Wilson, Stan Yogi Superintendent Donald Evans and Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith for joining us
• The school community for your patience as we asked you… and then asked you again… and then again if you were going to attend… We’re glad you came!

Appendix: Please read the attached item for information on Arts and Science learning at Jefferson this year.

• 2013-2014 Arts and Science at Jefferson by Grade Level