Below is an abidged version of my "Back to School Night" remarks on 9.13.18
The beginning of the year always holds such excitement and promise, and for us it is an annual rite of passage where we open our doors and share with you our hopes and dreams for the coming year. I speak for all Hillview staff when I say, what a blessing and a privilege it is to serve you, the Menlo Park community, where anything is possible, and the sky’s the limit - especially if you’re a Hawk!
This is the time of year when we identify our goals and determine how we will spend our time, energy, and resources in the service of our students. Our teachers and our school Site Council are already working on our official Site Plan, and with all due respect to our Site Council and their thoughtfulness and dedication, I'll spare you the details and hit some highlights.
To that end, I want to outline what I believe to be the three most critical endeavors for Hillview, and how these manifest themselves or will manifest themselves this year.
First and foremost, Hillview is a place where we build relationship and create a sense of belonging for all our students. Last year, we focused on the trait of mindfulness in order to develop traits such as empathy, focus, and emotion regulation. We developed and delivered lessons to small advisory-like groups of students on this specific topic. But in doing this work, we missed the obvious. Students bring something with them to school everyday, and what they need cannot be addressed by a series of lessons on this trait or that trait. Instead, we need to meet them where they are, with whatever they are carrying. We don’t need to be searching for the content to provide to our students. The kids are the content.
This year, we continue our work in the area of student wellness by growing a practice we already have some familiarity with: community circles. Here’s the way a community circle might run: the teacher or facilitator presents a prompt, and members of the circle respond on an index card, starring the card if they do not want their comment read. The facilitator groups and reads the cards, and then sits back and lets the students respond. Some sample responses include acknowledgement, advice, or inquiry. The topics that come up can then inform any larger scale interventions we might need to implement.
Already teachers are running circles, and we want to grow this work so that all students have this experience regularly. If we truly believe that a sense of belonging is important, that a sense of belonging is a necessary precondition for our children to thrive, we have to intentionally create spaces where students learn about each other, talk to each other, and support each other, and we have to intentionally create spaces where teachers connect with students and know where they are at. Community circles are that space, and by the end of this month, each of our three grade levels will have engaged in a more advanced circles training led by Karen Junker, our consultant from the International Institute for Restorative Practices, and Kim Staff, MPCSD Wellness Coordinator.
Our second simple, foundational vision is that Hillview is a place where all students make academic growth. Last year, we saw exciting gains. Schoolwide, the percentage of students achieving Standard Met on the Smarter Balanced Assessment rose in both English Language Arts and Mathematics. Additionally, we saw growth for nearly all of our subgroups who are underrepresented in UC and CSU schools. For example, our socioeconomically disadvantaged students grew 10 percentage points in both math and ELA. In fact, in nine out of ten subgroup categories, we celebrated growth. The one area where we slid was for our students with disabilities in English Language Arts. Not surprisingly, this will be a focus this year.
It’s not only our subgroups and students who are not year scoring at grade level that we devote attention to. Last year, we also grew the percentage of students scoring at the highest level on SBAC in English Language Arts, improving that Standard Exceeded group by over three percentage points.
Our teachers deserve the credit for this growth. Their care and skillful collaboration is what allows us to continue to narrow the achievement gap. Each of our teacher teams has already begun developing their theory of action on how to reduce the gap further.
Finally, Hillview is a place where all students have meaningful opportunities to solve authentic, relevant problems. Our world is changing, and the workplace of the future is vastly different from that of the past. Students are changing, too. Our generation Z children have grown up Googling everything they need to know. They are looking for meaning in their educational experience, yet they aren’t articulate enough to say what is they want or need. Our system runs the risk of producing students who learn what the rules of school are, stick safely inside the box, don’t take risks, and therefore can’t collaborate well or solve complex problems. How can we create those experiences that work against this trend and truly equip our students to be difference makers? Project-Based Learning affords our students the opportunity to tackle meaningful problems in the adult world that matter to them, and to sustain their inquiry in creating some public product that requires key knowledge, understanding, and “success skills” - such as collaboration and critical thinking. In 2017-18, we spent a planning year dipping our toes in the water of Project-Based Learning. Our teachers visited PBL schools around the Bay Area, took PBL courses at the County Office of Education and at the Buck Institute’s PBL World, and engaged in several days of on-site professional development. This year, each core academic content area - English, Math, Social Studies, and Science - will implement a project. Being overachievers, we’ll also see projects in other areas such as world language, art, and music. You as a community can be a great support for this work, and we look forward to partnering with you so that you can help our students see more connections between their work and the “real world.”
Building relationship and creating a sense of belonging. Ensuring that all students make academic growth. Creating experiences where students engage in solving authentic and challenging problems. These are the only things we are going to work on this year, and perhaps they will be the only things we ever need to work on.
I also am excited to share with you that this year our staff is embarking on some visioning of the profile of an ideal Hillview graduate. We spent half of our first collaborative day together generating some initial ideas about those skills and dispositions we value, and our next steps, beyond the synthesis of these ideas, will be to reach out to students, parents, and other stakeholders so that your hopes and dreams inform ours. Our goal is to come to consensus on this ideal graduate profile by the end of the year, and that profile will drive the environment and the experiences we’ll continue to build at Hillview.
I hope you will return again on Thursday, May 23, for Hillview’s Open House, where I will report out on the progress we have made toward our goals up to that point in the year.
Warmly, Willy Haug, Proud Hillview Principal