Gracedale Public School, in northwest Toronto, serves 700 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 5. The population is culturally diverse, with the majority of students coming from a South Asian background. More than 80% speak a language other than English at home, and many families are unfamiliar with the Canadian school system. One of the challenges at Gracedale is that many students enter kindergarten with very limited English. The school population has experienced a small decline in the past few years, but kindergarten enrolment remains high, as Gracedale has a large catchment area. Parent engagement is a very important component of the school’s success, and right from the start, parents are welcomed as partners in their children’s education. If necessary, translators accompany parents to meetings so that the students entering kindergarten receive the necessary supports. Parents are very supportive and willingly work with the school, taking advantage of all the resources offered to them. As a component of its early intervention strategies, the school hosted a six-week preschool program for parents and children. The children were informally observed and, if necessary, supports were planned for September.
Information sessions such as EQAO evenings for Grade 3 parents and curriculum nights focusing on literacy and numeracy give parents the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the educational system and acquire skills to help their children succeed. All information is available in the parents’ first language to ensure they can participate. The school is the hub of the community and works closely with the settlement worker to offer a variety of courses for parents in the school, sometimes taught by one of the parents. Computer courses, cooking classes and information sessions about report cards are well attended. Teachers take every opportunity to increase parent engagement to make the transition to school seamless.
The administration and teachers examine the over-time EQAO data as well as school and board data to determine areas of strength and those needing improvement. They also review the Item Information Reports to determine which types of questions the students experienced difficulty on and identify areas of the curriculum where they need to focus their school improvement planning. Professional learning community (PLC) sessions are planned for the year, and release time gives teachers the opportunity to collaborate, plan and co-teach lessons to improve their daily practice and to challenge themselves and their students to meet higher standards. Emphasis is placed on integrating the curriculum and minimizing interruptions during instructional time to maximize learning opportunities. Principal Susan Billington states: “Teachers work collaboratively using data to make informed decisions and achievable school-wide goals, creating learning opportunities for our students that are relevant to their needs.”
“Teachers work collaboratively using data to make informed decisions and achievable school-wide goals, creating learning opportunities for our students that are relevant to their needs.”
— Susan Billington, Principal
Numeracy and literacy are the focus of their monthly PLC meetings. Using the inquiry method, teachers school-wide concentrate on three-part lesson plans in mathematics and parallel tasks to involve all students. The teachers place students in small groups and assign meaningful content to generate discussion. Assigning parallel tasks gives all students the opportunity to contribute and to be successful on math problems that are differentiated to their learning needs. In reading, the teachers focus on making connections and inferences and reading for meaning. They access EQAO resources to expose students to the language, key words and format of the questions. Other resources, such as manipulatives and dual-track books, are allocated by need and shared with the whole staff. Teachers have become less reliant on textbooks. Manipulatives are used consistently, which provides students with tools to solve problems. Updating the library and classroom reading materials was a priority, so teachers were asked to discard outdated books and replace them with new ones. The walls in the school are used as “third teachers.” Learning goals, student work and learning processes are posted, so teachers, students and parents can observe and be part of the learning that is happening throughout the school.
“The teachers at Gracedale Public School are a cohesive and committed team who view school improvement as a shared responsibility. I believe that data is our friend, telling us stories. By spending time with data and doing so regularly, we are able to discern what it is telling us, leading us to ask questions to get to a deeper understanding of what is going on. We then can make informed decisions, which lead to enhanced student achievement.”
— Susan Billington
“Early intervention is important at Gracedale,” states Sukhwinder Buall, vice-principal. “Special education and English-language-learner teachers are an integral part of our PLCs to ensure all students will have supports in place to achieve success.” Students needing support are identified early in September, and their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are created. Assistive technology, modifications or accommodations are arranged, and students’ IEPs are monitored throughout the year. Teachers believe all students are the responsibility of all staff, and regular professional development is provided for teachers on how to create and monitor the IEPs.
The use of technology to engage students is an important focus at Gracedale. The computer lab was dismantled to make more effective use of the school’s computers. Ipad and notebook mobile carts, as well as Smart Boards, were purchased to give teachers and students more access. Technology is also used to assess and track the progress of students and to provide information Web sites for parents. Teachers demonstrate the different levels of achievement, so students can examine them and decide what they can do to move their work to the next level.
An important goal that Gracedale teachers have for their students is to become lifelong learners. Students are proud of their school and take leadership roles in programs such as Eco-Schools and Me to We. They also participate in global projects such as Adopt a Village and Clean Water and environmental initiatives such as Litterless Lunches, Waste Audits and the creation of an outdoor classroom. The school also has a vegetable garden, which students and parents maintain. They are planning to share the food they grow.
“The teachers at Gracedale Public School are a cohesive and committed team who view school improvement as a shared responsibility,” states Principal Billington. “I believe that data is our friend, telling us stories. By spending time with data and doing so regularly, we are able to discern what it is telling us, leading us to ask questions to get to a deeper understanding of what is going on. We then can make informed decisions, which lead to enhanced student achievement.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient