GROTON — Last month, as the summer break neared, in the lobby of the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, a banner hung stating that the high school was ranked one of “America’s Top Schools 2014” by Newsweek magazine.
GDRHS was ranked 86th out of 500 high schools that made the cut nationwide.
Newsweek assessed and highlighted schools that, “do the absolute best job of preparing students for college,” creating a high school achievement index based on performance indicators.
Under the first year’s leadership of Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez, and in conjunction with the work of administrators like Assistant Superintendent Katie Novak, goals are being identified and strategies are being implemented, district-wide, to keep the educational outcomes for the students of Groton and Dunstable on the same track. The district is busy working on numerous initiatives on which they reported to the School Committee in mid-June.
One of the key presentations was by Dr. Novak, who, seeking the approval of the School Committee, brought forth plans for fiscal 2016 curriculum modifications.
Three academic areas were featured. The first was sixth-grade history.
“The sixth-grade history textbook takes the prize for the longest running book, having used the same one for 18 years,” Dr. Novak said.
The curriculum department evaluated current needs, assessing the Massachusetts state standards and frameworks. They addressed the readability of the textbook options (rigor, vocabulary, sentence structure), knowing the textbook needed improvement in both components. Ultimately, “History Alive!” was selected as the recommended replacement text.
Secondly, an assessment of math in grades K-8 was completed, in conjunction with the Massachusetts math frameworks.
“Today, math is taught in a manner that is very language heavy,” Novak said. “We’re getting students to think about the application of math in real world problems.”
Novak continued, “We reached out to local and high performing districts for recommendations and came up with approximately 12 programs, eventually picking Eureka Math K-8.
“In the past, our focus on math programs has been divided, addressing K-4 and 5-8 separately, but now we will have K-8 on the same page, using materials that will use the same vocabulary and be aligned all the way through middle school,” Novak said. The goal is to “increase student outcome.” The Eureka K-8 math program has a “train the trainer” model and curriculum leaders will be attending this training over the summer.
The third area of academic focus was K-4 Writing Units of study.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Groton-Dunstable Education Foundation,” Novak said, “we will be able to have literacy coaches participate in in-depth professional development when they attend a course on the ‘Art of Writing.’ Again, our goal relative to the writing process is to remain aligned with the new Massachusetts frameworks. A lot of revision has been required for tone, word choice, purpose and structure in students’ writing skills.”
Knowing teachers may need to explain things in different ways to some students, or go into more detail to meet their needs, Dr. Rodriguez said, “We are going to be implementing more tier-based learning strategies to meet the differentiated needs of the accelerated learner as well as target the struggling learner.”