TMS to State: Bring It On

Last week, as TMS principal, I received word that the State Department of Education had designated Teton Middle School as “Needing Improvement.”

In response I would like to reassure our students, parents, and our TMS community that despite the State’s announcement, we are headed in the right direction. As a staff we have worked hard to look at the current realities and create a plan for how to best help our students and grow our organization.

Although the rubric hasn’t yet been fully explained, there were several areas that were targeted by the State:

ISAT Math Scores - We recognize our math scores need improvement. This past year we have been pouring through the data to retool how we deliver our Math instruction. We have some exciting changes we have been preparing to launch this year (see below).

Participation in the ISAT – Under State statute parents are allowed to opt out of the ISAT. However, at the same time, we are required to have at least a 95 percent participation on the ISAT test to score better than a “zero” in this category. We were dinged because we had more than the allotted 5 percent of students opt out of the ISAT this past year.

Student Engagement Survey – TMS was dinged on this score because a few classes didn’t complete the survey last year, and each missing survey was assessed as a zero. (Student engagement responses are averaged against the total number of students in the school.) In the upcoming year, every class will complete the survey.

Here is our school's response to the State's designation - BRING IT ON.

We are Not Afraid to Grow.

We approach this ranking with a willingness to learn, but we will not lose one ounce of pride in our great school. Our staff will model for our students that we are confident in our ability to grow. No one is more motivated to look at the current realities of our organization and make purpose-driven changes than we are.

Regarding our math program, we will: Initiate separate math levels for 7th and 8th graders. A grade-wide level math program had two negative impacts: advanced student scores were capped (kids weren’t able to progress) and students who were struggling to keep up were getting left behind (the course had to keep moving forward).

Our solution – Split courses based on student needs. We will target where the student is in their math development and then place them where they will be challenged, but not outpaced or limited in their growth, in:

7th grade - Grade level and a true Pre- Algebra

8th grade - Grade level (Pre-Algebra) and a true Algebra I

Provide additional assistance to students who are below grade level in math. Math is progressive and sequential in nature: if students do not master one skill in their math development, they may struggle and even fail to move beyond that point.

Our solution – In 6th and 7th grade Boot Camp-type math classes, we will:

• Treat students like math rock stars, rewire their thinking so they are not frustrated and are ready for 8th-grade pre-algebra.

• Focus on whatever skill is missing. Whether a student can’t multiply or is stuck on decimals, that is where we will begin.

• Take the time needed, whether it’s a one-year commitment or we are working to recover several years of missed math development.

• Limit class size to 15 students to maximize individualized learning and have a teacher specifically hired to reach this group of students.

We Are a Mission/Vision Driven Organization

Three years ago, we started the process of creating our mission. We asked ourselves many questions, one of which was – what fundamental attributes of our school will we never stop working toward, EVEN if they go against popular movements or trends in the education industry? These powerful discussions, with teachers and parent volunteers, resulted in a school-wide mission that we as a staff believe in. It has provided the clarity, purpose, and motivation to focus on what matters most. Mandates will change, policies will change, rubrics will change, but why we exist as an organization will not change.

Our mission is to create deeply significant learning that has staying power and becomes life lessons. This is what we stand for; this is why we exist; this is what will drive our efforts moving forward. Period.

Come and See

Anyone and everyone is invited to visit our school. We’d even like state officials to spend a day with us and check out what we are doing.

Our Commitment to You as a Community

I believe wholeheartedly in this growth plan. We will not make drastic changes because of a label given us by the State. We have complete confidence that we will get where we need to go if we stay the course and grow in the process.

We have a supportive Superintendent of Schools and a supportive School District Board of Trustees. We are excited to see our plan take shape and benefit our students.

This is going to be a great year! We look forward to seeing our students again.

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