Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Melrose Middle School Parent Welcome Night: May 5th

Lots to learn about the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School captured in 68 minutes! Principal Conway introduced himself and some of his team who would stay after the presentation to answer questions.


Personal Qualities: Honesty, responsibility, respect, self-management, pride, and perseverance. Students who are caught exhibiting these qualities receive positive recognition (e.g. photo op, name over loudspeaker, etc.).

Quick facts: 260+ students; three teams per grade (6A, 6B, and 6C) for a total of 90ish students/team.

Scheduling:  [Definitions: class = the content area and block = the 57 minute period/length of time that a class meets.] There are four core team classes (ELA, math, science, history) every day (meaning students are in classes with others from their 6th grade team but not necessarily the same students in each class), two off-team classes every other day (meaning students are in classes with others from any 6th grade team), and one class in A block (first block of the day and the only one that’s at the same time every day with students from any team and possibly other grades, like band/orchestra/chorus). There are no free blocks – students have an assignment for every block. Six classes meet per day making for a 7 day modified waterfall schedule (and if you want to know more about that, you can look here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1466 and read Slide 8, right hand column, along with the following document showing research regarding best practices in middle school scheduling from the 2/4/14 School Committee presentation).

More scheduling details: Students get a schedule with the detail (block, class, teacher, and room) for all seven days. Core classes meet every day. Off team classes meet three times in a cycle. Some electives meet all year (PE, chorus, etc.) while others don’t. The A block has five days in a cycle because one day is used as “extended team time” where students stay in homeroom or may get together to do things like take a team test (so they don’t lose day of instruction), or participate in an assembly, or engage in individual class teaching like social emotional learning that they wouldn’t otherwise receive. The overall schedule (Day 1, Day 2, etc.) is posted around the building so students don’t have to memorize the order of different blocks, and it’s announced on loudspeaker in the morning. If it snows, the day gets “lost” since the plan is prepared at the beginning of the year.

General 6th grade academics: Includes cross-curricular experiences (like history/geography with English and library); use of technology; whole/small group instruction; hands-on science with labs; math that continues the same curriculum as elementary grades; lots of student talk to improve understanding of content; and varied subjects in off team classes. There is project based learning (e.g. Ms. Ciampa’s math class was studying proportions and explored correlations between runner height and race time asking “are races fair for all or should they be redesigned?” Their research was combined with active data and analysis like measuring heights/running competitive races/etc.). Class options include challenge classes that are open to any student and enhance content experiences with project based learning, research, speaking/listening while intervention classes are based on need and current performance (e.g. math lab).

Foreign language: Students don’t choose a language to study for the full year in 6th grade but choose a language for a trimester (German, Italian, or French). Some students may request two languages during the 6th grade year. In 7th grade students choose one language to study from five offerings (adding Spanish and Latin). 93% of students enroll in foreign language in 7th grade. If they successfully complete two years in the same language, they enter HS at Level II. If students choose German or Italian in 7th grade, they must choose German or Italian as 8th graders because those aren’t offered at Level I at the high school (a staffing issue). Spanish is the highest enrolled language so staffing limits make it unavailable in 6th grade. Very few middle schools offer five languages (we have the “Cadillac version” of language offerings).

Accelerated learning: There is a Grade 7/8 compacted math class (25% of grade) for 7th graders to prepare for the HS model Algebra I class and HS math if a student completes Algebra I prior to 8th Grade. There is Accelerated ELA in Grade 8 (featuring advanced content). There are challenge classes with a focus on project based learning. Challenge classes contain a gifted and talented (G&T) cluster where students take the same challenge classes as other students, but together and in the same sequence.

Supported learning: For students who need academic support, there are intervention classes (including math, math lab, ELA, and organization/study skills); inclusion support for ELA and math, social skill groups, related services like speech and language/OT/PT, and other help.

General supports for students: there many which include intervention classes in math and ELA; summer tours to help with transition; after school tutoring hours for all teachers; regular posting of homework, grades, and assignments on Aspen; many after school activities; open library until 4:00 each day; and team teacher meetings to share information that will help student learning.

Coming soon: The A block classes (for those not in performance arts) will be an intervention or lab class and change every trimester; there will be a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system (PBIS) with common expectations for how students should act and treat each other; the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Peer Trainer model will be incorporated so the 30 7th and 8th grade trainers can then train other students in biases and prejudices; the MS and HS schedules will be aligned allowing for the sharing of resources (like selected teachers) and students taking HS courses.

Requesting classes (new this year): planning forms will go home next week from the elementary schools for parents to complete with their child (using the http://d1868cr0a5jrv6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2014/08/MVMMS-Program-of-Studies-16-17.pdf). Principal Conway and administrators will visit elementary schools in the 1st week of June bringing logins, and if student forms are filled out, it will take < 10 minutes for students to input class requests (not a registration or guarantee). If classes are overenrolled other classes will be randomly assigned to fit. Some specific classes schedule first (like band since there is only one block).

Communication tool: The Daily Bulletin is posted in the building. Students film the Bulletin’s announcements in the school’s TV studio where they are shown on Smartboards during homeroom, and they are posted on the website for parents the afternoon prior. (Here’s this Monday’s edition: http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/our-school/compass-school-report/#sthash.0l3znvkh.dpbs.)

Getting involved: There are many clubs and activities (including drama where students not only perform, but manage sound, lighting, etc.). Students have earned awards for contributions like this year’s Black History essay winner who was recognized by the Boston Celtics. Community events include the long-standing and powerful student-run Veteran’s Day assembly. There is a student-funded no-cost-to-veteran’s trip (this year with 16 students with 25 veterans heading to Washington, D.C., and including a different theme each year with this year’s theme being Women in Service). There is ADL Youth Congress as well as a science, technology & engineering opportunity (building and programming electric cars). Last year, the school hosted an after school activities and events fair to inform students of the many opportunities (more here: http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/2015/09/mvmms-after-school-activities-and-clubs-information-fair/#sthash.a1ys2Yw8.dpbs).

To look forward to: This year is the 2nd annual 8th grade trip to NYC, with six Coach buses taking all eligible 8th graders as part of their Global Education in Melrose (GEM) experience. They’ll visit Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and more.

Question and Answer (in order of asking….)

Q: When requesting classes, should students choose the trimester in which they want the classes? No, the school needs to arrange the scheduling but students will be assigned their choices somewhere during the year if at all possible.

Q: What if students sign-up for a yearlong class (except PE which is required for the full year) like performing arts and don’t like it? They can drop it although that’s discouraged. The school has a conversation with the family asking about the motivation. If it’s for a curious reason, like “my friend dropped it,” the switch might be questioned but school counselors try to work with families to place students appropriately.

Q: Can students take three trimesters of art? No, but there are two types of art offered so they could request both of those classes. If they were to take a third, it would repeat one of the two already taken since the curriculum is the same.

Q: What happens for students on an IEP or need ELL services? Some services may be built in like learning strategies, which fills three blocks all year (of six). Team Facilitators have planning forms and families will discuss services with them. Needing those services doesn’t prevent options, it just means that planning will be done differently. Transitional meetings are held in the 2nd week of June and its ok that scheduling forms will be done first as they can be revised.

Q: Must students take a language to graduate from high school? Yes

Q: Are classes leveled in 6th grade? No, but they are heterogeneously grouped. Individual dynamics are considered. There are flexible groups within classes (doing project based learning, etc.).

Q: Can 8th Graders take Latin as a 2nd language? Yes

Q: How does scheduling for performing arts students work? Students are placed in their performing arts classes first and are other classes are built around them.

Q: Are 6th Graders required to take a language? No, and it’s especially hard if they are taking band, chorus, or orchestra.

Q: How does lunch work? Lunchtime is 25 minutes including 5-10 minutes to go outside. There are three lunches, one per grade, so all 6th graders eat together, etc. At one grade in middle school, students will have a split-block lunch meaning that they attend the first half of a block, then eat, then return to that class to finish the block. First lunch is at 10:45 (and yes, there are kids who are hungry at that time).

Q: Can all students take challenge class? Yes - all students will have an opportunity to take them.

Q: What is happening with late start? In Fall 2017 MVMMS will shift start time to 8:15 and will start and end at the same time as the HS.

Q: What happens after school now? The school day ends at 2:05; teachers are usually there for 30 minutes; open library from 4:00 (40-70 students/day) where students can use Chromebooks, etc.; many after school options – drama may stay later during rehearsals but length of after school activities vary depending on the activity.

Q: Can parents apply to have their child identified as gifted? If the parent previously had the student identified, that would be known by info in Aspen but if not, parents can request the testing. Those students are in challenge classes together but in their own group. Others take the same class but in a different trimester. Placement criteria are in the Program of Studies for entry into advanced classes.

Q: When will students see the school? Very near the end of the school year in June, all students walk to middle school and visit (step up day). There is also an August open house when kids give tours.