Posted in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, General, Primer Series, Programs

Primer Series: An Introduction to Special Education

Special education is a vast and complex subject. It encompasses a host of factors regarding specific classifications of special needs and the process of identifying and qualifying those needs as well as the various approaches to instruction, specialized services, funding, and even legal issues. Because it is so complex a subject, we offer an introduction to it in this article, and we will build upon this groundwork in a series of articles about special education going forward—including insight about Colchester School District’s diverse special education program offerings.

Special education, at its essence, tailors instruction through a variety of measures to students with identified, explicitly defined disabilities. The variety of measures employed to accommodate students in special education can include alternative learning environments, individually tailored instruction, adaptive materials and equipment, modified curriculum, and so on.

Because special education is closely monitored at local and state levels, there are very specific parameters used to determine eligibility for its services, and it is important to understand that while special education applies to a student population with a far wider range of disabilities than many people typically realize, it is distinct from general education, and as such, it is not a program into which all students may enter for specialized instruction.

In the state of Vermont, there are defined categories of disability into which a student must be placed in order to be eligible to receive special education services—as well as equally defined procedures for evaluating and determining eligibility. In fact, to be eligible for special education in the state of Vermont, a student must have specifically defined disabilities in certain disability categories, such as autism; emotional disturbances; traumatic brain injuries; orthopedic challenges; and impairments in such areas as hearing, vision, learning, speech, and language.

In addition, the defined disability (or disabilities) must adversely affect a student’s ability to acquire knowledge to the extent that the student ranks below the fifteenth (15th) percentile on standardized assessments.

Furthermore, there must be an identified need for specialized instruction as defined by the state.

As a result of all of these distinct requirements and parameters, special education is not a loose designation, and it is not designed for students who may struggle with a particular subject matter a bit more than some of their classmates. The state is very particular in its classification of special education students, and Colchester School District’s special education offerings are governed by the state’s requirements.

As we mentioned earlier in this article, the topic of special education is complex, and we will continue the discussion in future articles. If you would like additional information in the meantime, however, you may find the Special Education Guide on the Vermont Department of Education’s website particularly helpful.

Stay tuned for more information about special education in future articles!

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Posted in Colchester Middle School, General

CMS Hosts Book Fair

Colchester Middle School has been hosting a book fair in the library this week. The fair, which is provided by children’s book publisher Scholastic, concludes today. Proceeds from the fair support programs and materials for CMS’s library, benefiting our students and providing them with new opportunities to add to their personal book collections.

Among the fair’s offerings are twenty of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher (DCF) Reading Award titles for this year. (We have talked about this program in CSD Spotlight in the past; click here to read that May 2011 article.)

Students also may purchase books written by renown author Mary Downing Hahn. Ms. Hahn has received multiple awards, including the Dorothy Canfield Fisher (DCF) Reading Award. We are excited to announce that she will visit CMS in April to speak with students and to sign their books. More information about her visit will be available at it draws nearer.

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Posted in Colchester Middle School, General

CMS Open House a Success

Colchester Middle School’s Open House on September 27 was hugely successful. So many interested parents and community members attended that there was standing room only for much of the event. Assistant Principal Yagoda’s slideshow about the first day of school and about what a typical day (specifically, September 27) at school for CMS students was like—largely so that parents could get an accurate glimpse of it for themselves—was grandly received.

Among other topics discussed at the open house event, Ms. Gruss described some of the shifting structural components at CMS that are intended to facilitate positive change in the school’s curriculum, instruction, and assessment. She also discussed the forward momentum with the school’s improvement plan.

Parents had an opportunity to meet their children’s teachers, giving our educators the opportunity to showcase student work and establish meaningful relationships with our community members, and CMS’s administrators were highly available and accessible to attendees. Assistant Principal Gillard assisted parents with their Parent Portal accounts, further facilitating their ability to access their children’s grades.

It was a very positive, community-oriented evening, and because it was attended by such a large crowd, CMS administrators will hold their opening and closing remarks in a larger venue next year in order to ensure that everyone is able to participate.

Many, many thanks to all who ventured out!

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Posted in Accountability, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, General, Primer Series

Primer Series: Common Core State Standards

If you have followed education-related news and discussions lately, you have more than likely heard about the Common Core State Standards. Essentially, it is an education reform initiative that has been spearheaded with the goal of aligning the curricula of all states across the nation. The basic idea is that it would be useful and beneficial for education in this country if all students had the same (or very similar) educational expectations, particularly as related to required skill sets. We’d like to spend some time talking about the Common Core State Standards (referred to going forward as simply “Common Core” for the sake of simplicity), since it is an important topic not only for CSD but for schools in almost every state in the country.

Common Core—which will result in a number of significant changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment—will ultimately replace our current statewide assessment, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). Ideally, the new standards will be universally adopted by all fifty states, but whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen. Currently, the Common Core has been formally adopted by forty-seven states in the union, Vermont being among them. Using the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), Vermont will assess Common Core, which must be fully implemented by the spring of 2015.

The scope of this task is vast, and it has far-reaching implications for the way we approach education going forward. As such, regional curriculum coordinators and superintendents in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties are collaborating to learn about Common Core, developing and planning for the changes in curriculum that Common Core will necessitate.

Specifically, educators must comprehend the standards in order to develop the changes in curriculum and instruction, and they must also examine the assessment in order to understand the ways in which they must prepare the students for it by 2015. The local curricula must be revised in order to reflect the new standards, instructional strategies will need to be developed, and our teachers must be trained in those new instructional strategies. In addition to all of that, our community members need to be informed about the changes and about what the new educational expectations will be.

As we said, the scope of this task is vast.

As for some of the nuts and bolts of what will change as the result of Common Core, it is important to first note that Common Core is academically more rigorous and requires more critical thinking from students.

For a summary of key changes to the standards for English Language Arts (ELA), including reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and media and technology, click here. To put it succinctly, however, Common Core expects ELA skills to fully integrate with all other areas of study, including those in the sciences and in technical areas.

And for a summary of key changes to the standards in mathematics, click here. At its essence, Common Core spells out specific areas and concepts upon which students should focus through grade 5, after which time, the expectation is that students will expand upon those foundational skills to learn and understand increasingly complex material.

The standards for social studies and science are currently in development.

Suffice it to say that, similar to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Common Core will have a resounding impact upon the ways in which our educators formulate and present material to our students going forward, and preparing for this initiative is a monumental undertaking.

For more information about Common Core, please contact Gwen Carmolli, CSD’s director of curriculum and instruction, at carmollig@csdvt.org.

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Posted in Colchester High School, Employee Spotlight, General

Introducing Christine Eldred!

“With good information, people are empowered to advocate for themselves and make informed decisions; they have the basis for challenging unfairness or deciding for themselves when to accept life’s limitations.”

Before becoming Colchester High School’s new librarian, Christine Eldred served as the librarian at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School in Swanton. A graduate of Middlebury College with a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University, she has worked not only as an advocate for low-income people but also as an Americorps volunteer. She also joined the staff of then-Congressman Bernie Sanders and has worked as a fact-checker for Consumers Union.

Christine says that all of these experiences impressed upon her how important information is in people’s lives and that, with high-quality information, people can answer to their own satisfaction the “Why?” “How?” and “What if?” questions. She said, “Learning how to ask questions, to think critically, and to find good information is a vital life skill,” and that is what motivated her to become a librarian and to work with young people, particularly teens. She said, “The library is not only a place for students to get books—it is a gateway to the best resources for their education needs, including technology, online reference materials we purchase, materials in diverse formats, and advice on how to find information, take notes, synthesize information, and put together a great presentation at the end. I am excited to be here and to see in what directions we will all take the library together.”

Welcome, Christine!

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Posted in Colchester High School, General

CHS Wins High Praise from the VT Department of Education!

Cue the band!

We’ve recently received some great news that we’re really happy to share. The Vermont Department of Education (VT DOE) has identified Colchester High School as one of the few schools in the state to have markedly and steadily improved student performance—and CHS did so by maintaining relatively low per-pupil costs compared to other high schools and districts in Chittenden County.

One of the VT DOE’s current initiatives is to evaluate the state’s school finance system, and it is examining not only education funding in general but also education costs as compared to student performance. And because CHS’s student performance has improved without increased per-pupil spending—particularly in reading, writing, and mathematics—the VT DOE plans to conduct case studies at CHS, examining its strategies and programs in order to understand how it made such impressive gains and to identify the specific resources and tactics it employed in order to provide quality education to our students. As part of the process, representatives from the VT DOE plan to interview many of the school’s educators, administrators, coaches, and counselors. The VT DOE’s hope is that, as the result of these case studies, similar results can be replicated in other schools around the state.

We are honored and excited about this opportunity, and we hope you all are, too.

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Posted in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, General, Programs, Union Memorial School

Have You Heard About Action-Based Learning?

Have we mentioned before that we have some really innovative educators in our district?

Union Memorial School is pioneering an initiative that incorporates physical movement into the classroom environment as a means of increasing focus, curbing behavioral issues, and increasing exercise opportunities based on the theory that there is a direct link between physical activity and academic performance. Simply put, evidence shows that learning and physical activity are complementary—that engaging other parts of the brain during learning will increase retention and enhance knowledge acquisition. And then there are the added benefits of letting students expend some of their physical energy in an interactive, productive way rather than asking them to sit still for long periods of time.

Inspired by the Texas-based Action-Based Learning program, UMS is expanding upon last year’s pilot program to include kindergartners who qualify for Title I services, as well as first and second graders who may best benefit from additional enrichment and skills reinforcement. After observing the program in action with kindergarteners at Burlington’s CP Smith School, a UMS committee is compiling ideas and resources in order to incorporate action-based learning into their curriculum. Some of UMS’s teachers also attended a four-day “Brain Gym” workshop as part of this initiative.

A simple example of incorporating action-based learning into curriculum is one in which students sit on medicine balls during a lesson—or stand for a lesson rather than sitting. Action-based learning can incorporate any number of creative physical activities into the lessons, such as twirling, jumping, balancing, juggling, bouncing, walking, and a variety of others. Some action-based learning environments also include equipment like hula hoops, bean bags, streamers, balls, and the like. The learning environment is quite varied, helping to keep the students engaged and interested.

The action-based learning initiative is an important component of UMS’s shared vision of how children learn best and of how they can succeed. The goal is that it will further enhance the students’ learning experience and become an integral part in enhancing their academic successes.

For more information, please contact Lynn Mazza at mazzal@csdvt.org.

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Posted in Colchester High School, General, Programs

State-Wide Financial Literacy Campaign Kicks Off at CHS

Colchester High School’s “Ask the Experts” event on September 15 kicked off an important initiative aimed at providing financial literacy education to students here and across Vermont.

The Money Smart Child initiative unites government, nonprofit, and business organizations in an effort to help parents all around the state help their children understand personal finance. Free regional workshops will be scheduled in Colchester, Barre, Ludlow, Swanton, St. Johnsbury, and Salisbury and will focus upon some key areas, and a booklet entitled “How to Raise a Money-Smart Child,” written by the national Jump$tart Coalition, will be distributed to families.

Last Thursday’s “Ask the Experts” panel at CHS’s press conference consisted of Vermont State Treasurer Elizabeth Pearce, People’s United Bank Vermont President Michael Seaver, and Vermont Jump$tart Coalition President Gregg Mousley. Students posed excellent questions to the panel, inquiring about such issues as investing in stocks and bonds, establishing good credit, and long-term saving and retirement-planning strategies.

“Your opportunities—your future—is waiting for you,” said Treasurer Pearce. “The more young people are prepared for this, the greater their opportunities are.” She said that many people learn about finances through trial and error—which is obviously less than optimal, and therefore it is important to support financial literacy initiatives.

People’s United Bank’s Michael Seaver said, “We would have much better luck with our clients if they had a better base coming out of their youth,” and Jump$tart’s Gregg Mousley said, “Your financial well-being is tied to the decisions you make.” Mousley described a longitudinal study of at the University of Arizona named “Young Adults’ Financial Capability: Arizona Pathways to Life Success for University Students” which found that young people essentially fall into one of three major categories when it comes to attitudes and behaviors around personal finance—and that education around personal finance early on helps to encourage sounder decisions.

Fifty-seven schools around Vermont have requested copies of “How to Raise a Money-Smart Child,” which will help it to reach more than 11,000 families. The booklet is also available online through the Office of the State Treasurer’s website.

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Posted in General

Free Access to Millions of Books!

Did you know that CSD has access to the University of Vermont’s more than 1.39 million text and serial files—as well as a host of other materials—at no cost?

The district participates in a program through UVM where teachers can obtain a K–12 Educator Borrower Card. The cards allow educators at K–12 institutions in Vermont access to materials from the Bailey-Howe and Dana Medical libraries. This is a massive collection of texts, serial files, government documents, serial subscriptions, microforms, and much more.

While the materials borrowed from UVM’s libraries are for professional use and are not to be lent to students or colleagues, holders of a K–12 Educator Borrower Card may borrow up to ten books at a time, access the assorted non-circulating materials (including Special Collections), and use reference assistance and equipment.

Authorization forms and specific information about the program’s policies are available in Colchester’s schools. This is an incredible free resource available to our educators.

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Posted in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, General, Programs, Union Memorial School

The First Six Weeks of School Program

Have you heard about the program called the First Six Weeks of School? It is part of an initiative called the Responsive Classroom that is aimed at increasing academic performance and social skills while reducing behavioral problems. The First Six Weeks of School is based upon the book by the same name.

Union Memorial School has embraced this approach school-wide, incorporating it into the curriculum in all classrooms and with all specialists. Many of the educators at UMS have taken week-long coursework in Responsive Classroom I and Responsive Classroom II in Morristown, Vermont, as well as in other locations. Some of them also received credit through Southern New Hampshire University. The coursework requires participants to incorporate various aspects of the course into their own classrooms and then report out to the professors via reflective essays or other documentation.

While there is a great deal of flexibility in the program, it has a basic structure from which all educators work. The day begins with a morning meeting for the purpose of providing a time for students and teachers to greet one another and interact socially. The morning meeting consists of four components—greeting, sharing, activities, and news and announcements—in order to help students develop important social skills like eye contact, self-control, and speaking and listening skills. In addition, educators typically embed curriculum into the meetings, such as literacy, math, or science skills training. And in addition to the morning meetings, UMS holds a school-wide meeting every other week, and different classrooms, students, or educators have an opportunity to lead parts of these meetings.

Along with the morning meeting are the “guided discoveries” and “academic choice” components. During guided discoveries, materials used in the classroom, including everything from crayons to pattern blocks, are introduced to the students, and the teachers help the students to discover safe and appropriate ways to use them. During academic choice, which fits well with the district’s differentiated instruction model, students may learn or demonstrate their learning using a method of this choice—and the ability to choose proves highly motivational for them.

This approach is helping teachers prepare students not only to be successful students but successful adults and community members! The Responsive Classroom approach truly teaches life skills.

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