Genesee Hill Curriculum Night Preview – and more

Dear Genesee Hill!

With our Kindergarten starting fully this morning, we are now up and running for the 2017-18 school year! I want to thank everyone – parents, teachers, tutors, recess monitors – for pitching in with such great support every step of the way. When Ms. Mears remarks that it’s been the smoothest start she’s ever seen, I take that pretty seriously!

This will be another big week, and I want to make sure everyone in grades 1-5 is planning on joining us for Curriculum Night on Thursday, September 14th. Here’s the schedule for the night:

  • 6:00 – 6:50: Grades 1 and 2 present in classrooms, Grades 3 through 5 math presentation in Library (optional)
  • 7:00 – 7:25: All-school presentation in Cafeteria
  • 7:30 – 8:30: Grades 3, 4, 5 present in classrooms

Hopefully this spread, with Kindergarten on its own night last week, will make it possible for families with multiple children to get to most classrooms easily. (In addition, Kindergarten families are invited to come see how their child’s classroom has developed since the first day of school at an Open House the night of the Hillville Carnival.) While Curriculum Night is structured as an adults-only program, we do not want that to be a barrier to any parents joining us; if it is necessary to bring your children along, please keep them with you as supervision is not otherwise available.

Since we won’t have much time to cover all school programming, I want to preview a few important details that we hope parents will be a big part of through this year:

CCC curriculum: CCC is the Center for Collaborative Classrooms and is our new K-5 English Language Arts curriculum. The adoption of CCC is the first district-wide adoption of literacy curriculum in 14 years and the roll-out so far has also been, by far, the most thorough and supported curriculum implementation I’ve ever seen. The chief curriculum writer worked previously with the Columbia Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, wrote the curriculum that we have been using for many years, so the transition at Genesee Hill should be pretty smooth. It’s most important for parents to know how much the curriculum emphasizes classroom community and student discourse, and over the course of the year, parents will be hearing from teachers about how to support these elements from home.

Math curriculum: Today, we started our “Walk-to-Math” program in grades 4 and 5 for the year (3rd grade starts in a few days). Our program is different from most Walk-to-Math schools because over the last nine years we have built in several elements designed to ensure that each student was receiving grade-level instruction that would effectively meet his or her particular learning needs. We believe that class size drives different instructional practice, and the groups range in size from eight to thirty. The same Singapore Math-based curriculum, Math in Focus, and Common Core standards provide the basis for instruction in all of the groups, and we have found this structure to be highly effective in moving all students forward. Students from all groups, for example, are placed in advanced Math 7 when they enter Madison Middle School. Many factors are considered in placing students in the groups. Using these multiple factors keeps the groups fluid and ensures that all of the teachers in a grade level team are communicating well about each student and each group’s progress. We will readjust the math groups at several natural intervals in the curriculum and school calendar. In keeping with our commitment to tailor the learning environment to the needs of students, we are also running a field test of a different curriculum in the 4th grade math group taught by Mr. Philp and Ms. Wells. This curriculum, called J.U.M.P. Math is Canadian and is the standard math curriculum in British Columbia schools. We think it has a structure that will prove to be hugely advantageous to the needs of these students, and we look forward to feedback from the students and parents alike about how their math learning changes this year.

Science pilot: This month, teachers will be launching the first of three kits at each grade level, newly aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. K-2 will start with a unit exploring the phenomenon of puddles, and grades 3-5 will be studying mag-lev trains. Thanks to the generosity of parents through the auction Raise-the-Paddle, we are excited to be able to join a significant pilot of this curriculum, called Amplify Science. In addition to the curriculum, we’re also busy planning a roll-out of maker space materials that we can incorporate at every grade level and through our new Genius Hour plan (see below).

Growth Mindset: If you have noticed the “Steps to Success” Learning Behaviors on our front steps, you know how much we have been thinking about guiding students at every age to take ownership of their own learning and progress. The next step in this process is building on the important work in “growth mindset.” This will be an important conversation in the coming years as parents and teachers both learn to prompt students to take risks and learn from “failure.”

RULER, Year 2: We are excited to be building on the work we did last year to establish the four elements of the RULER program as the cornerstone of strong relationships and self-regulation in our community. Please plan on joining us to write a Family Charter on October 19th (new date).

Instrumental Music (grades 4 and 5): We are very pleased to be able to bring instrumental music back into the school day and to eliminate the $150-$200 annual fee we have had to charge for the last eight years. Your fourth or fifth grader brought home information last week about signing up for an instrument. Band instruments and percussion will be taught by Ms. Bronson during students’ “specialist” time. They will be grouped in new ways (not by homeroom) based on instruments so no one will miss out on PE or dance. String instruction will happen Friday afternoon by a new teacher, Victoria Smith. Some instruments are available for students to borrow so that there should be no financial barriers for any student who wants to participate. Playing an instrument, however, is not required, and we are waiting to see how the sign-ups go to determine how we can offer a day of “general music” instruction for those students not taking an instrument.

Advanced Learning: At the Kindergarten Orientation last week, I told parents not to be worried about the September 22nd cut-off to request Advanced Learning testing for your child. Every year, Seattle Public Schools spends three times its allocation from the State for advanced learning instruction on testing (i.e. not instruction). The entire staff of the District’s Advanced Learning office is consumed by testing through the month of March. We think this emphasis on testing causes some parents to be concerned that children who appear to be academically ahead of their peers cannot be adequately challenged at their neighborhood school. I’m proud that Genesee Hill proves this to be wrong over and over again, and this year our Instructional Leadership Team is focused on developing a cohesive K-5 approach to advanced learning for our building. This is also the reason that we continue to cultivate our relationship with the Math and Language Arts Departments at Madison Middle School so that we can ensure these advanced opportunities for our graduates going into sixth grade. That said, some Fifth Grade parents will want to consider registering for Advanced Learning testing (by Sept. 22nd) as a way of ensuring this smooth transition for their students.

Genius Hour (GH^2): We are very excited to be developing this daily period (2nd grade on Monday, 3rd grade on Tuesday, 1st grade on Wednesday, 4th grade on Thursday and 5th grade on Friday) when students will have the opportunity to explore new things, dig deep, build, create, and play. All teachers, specialists and other staff (like Ms. Dunn, Ms. Watts, Ms. Thomas and myself) will be involved in teaching these courses (sometimes alongside parent volunteer experts). In the next week, students will be selecting 8-week “courses” (experiences) that they are interested. We’ll rotate students through four quarters over the year.

If you’ve read this far, you are truly sharing in my enthusiasm about our prospects for the year (thank you). It feels great to have the tough logistics of a new building behind us and to have such a great foundation of strong instruction (and great kids) to build on. I hope this overview prompts lots of questions and suggestions, so please send them my way!

We look forward to seeing you Thursday!

Gerrit Kischner

Liz Dunn

Constance Thomas


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