In 2009, the staff at Goderich Public School embraced the challenges of the amalgamation of two schools. This was followed in 2013 by the addition of portions of two more schools. Together, these elements now form a cohesive, caring and inclusive community encompassing a diverse rural and urban population. Sensitive to local feelings, throughout the transitions, the staff took proactive measures such as instituting pen pal programs, students symbolically transporting soil to the new site for tree planting and equal representation at opening ceremonies. The school’s subsequent success in bringing its students together, including the full integration of those with special education needs, stems from strong leadership, intense teamwork and a shared determination to operate as one entity.
Acting on their specific demographics and feedback from stakeholders, the administration and staff underlined their commitment to school unity by focusing on shared strengths and needs. Later, when the first combined EQAO data revealed persistent shortcomings in primary language, junior math and parental involvement, the staff knew they had to work even harder to engage the entire community. Since then, Goderich has surpassed all provincial standards, particularly in math.
Principal Deb Gill credits the school’s success to every staff member’s commitment to meeting the physical, emotional and learning needs of every child. Tireless efforts to engage parents through open houses, newsletters, book fairs and communications about timely attendance have had a positive effect. A crucial first step was establishing homework procedures requiring 20 minutes of reading with parents each evening. In time, simple math games were also assigned. Parents sign student planners and math folders to verify time spent practising reading and math together. In addition, education assistants run homework programs before and after school and, for those who ride buses, the administration operates a homework club during nutrition breaks. While large celebrations mark the attainment of reading and math goals, even the tiniest gains are celebrated and shared regularly with former teachers, peers and parents.
Four years ago, the board helped Goderich adopt a school-wide collaborative problem-solving approach to math using common vocabulary and high-yield strategies. Professional learning, through reciprocal classroom visitations, contributed enormously to team building. Deliberate timetabling allows divisional planning teams to meet and enables team teaching through shared preparation periods for same-grade partners. Grade 3 teachers use the abbreviation “RQ2” (Read Question Twice) to remind students to think deeply before answering questions and uniformly subscribe to Math Talk for problem solving.
Following the See Plan Do Check problem-solving structure, the junior division uses graphic organizers, bookmarks, anchor charts and checklists in math. Primary classes employ a simplified model. Resources include document cameras, mini computers and the Internet. Kurzweil, individual laptops and iPads are readily available for students with special needs. Taking an inquiry-based approach, teachers co-operatively plan, assess and integrate language skills into social studies and science units. Knowing the curriculum well and using “EQAO as a fundamental point,” they pull from a variety of resources to indicate next steps. “EQAO provides the timetable. It is the structure of the timeline. It lets you see the continuum in which each child’s needs must be met,” says Principal Debra Gill.
“EQAO provides the timetable. It is the structure of the timeline. It lets you see the continuum in which each child’s needs must be met.”
— Debra Gill, Principal
Informed by data from multiple sources that suggest that students remember their most recent studies best, staff never think in one strand. Instead they cycle back frequently and incorporate five strands in one lesson. Daily math warm-ups contain elements of units covered throughout the year as well as basic concepts that should have already been mastered. EQAO Math Challenge, an in-school creation, is a popular, instructive and widely used Jeopardy-style math game that achieves maximum student involvement and immediately alerts teachers to specific individual learning gaps. Students, working with partners or in groups, solve questions presented through a data projector and display their answers on individual whiteboards. Teachers record the data on running performance lists.
Acknowledging “a burning sense of urgency in the SK process” and a deep respect for data, Principal Gill oversees an exceptionally effective school-wide intervention program starting at age four. Data collection from PM Benchmarks, Learning Assessment Portfolios, Early Ongoing Identification sheets and individual data notebooks ensures that senior kindergarten teachers know by January which students are at risk. Any available staff conduct guided reading with these students for scheduled blocks as short as 10 minutes.
“That’s what the data does. If you don’t know exactly where the child is, you don’t know exactly what the next step should be.”
— Debra Gill
For three years now, Goderich has achieved spectacular results implementing a highly prescriptive reading intervention program called Empower to students functioning two years below grade level. Daily exposure to 110 decoding and word identification skill-building lessons provides students with a powerful base for future reading comprehension development. Indeed, nothing is deemed more important than learning to read. Large language blocks, easy access to material at various reading levels and the inclusion of independent reading in each instructional day contributes to success. In Grade 6, a culture of reading is established in September by scheduling independent reading first thing each morning. Once students are reading comfortably, willingly and with enjoyment, the teacher tracks individual progress. The accountability piece is built in. Through observation, direct questioning and running records, staff can pinpoint exactly where each student is.
As Principal Gill states: “That’s what the data does. If you don’t know exactly where the child is, you don’t know exactly what the next step should be.”
Understanding the balance required of those in leadership roles, Principal Gill holds high expectations and esteem for her staff. In addition to professional wisdom, she provides emotional and practical support for a talented, articulate, reflective team of educators who display a profound understanding of the learning process and a deep commitment to student success.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient