Hillmount Public School in North York, Toronto, serves 313 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 6. Over the past four years, the school has seen an increase in enrolment, and continued growth is expected. It has a large number of English language learners, with students from rural China making up 70% of its student population. Altogether, the students speak 22 different languages at home, and many enter school speaking no English. The school staff is also very diverse. Principal Sandra Bauer states: “We have a phenomenal teaching staff that represents the community and uses their knowledge and expertise to assist students and parents whenever necessary.” In addition to a diverse student and teacher population, the school has a large number of students with special education needs.
Teachers and support staff set high academic standards for their students, and the parent community values education. Because of the strong partnership between home and school, the students come to school prepared to learn, which gives the teachers more time to focus on the curriculum. There is ongoing communication with the parents and, when necessary, the school draws upon the translation skills of its staff and outside interpreters. Phone calls, classroom and school newsletters, and the school Web site are used to share information and to notify parents about upcoming events.
The school team reviews both the over-time EQAO data and the most recent EQAO results to determine the areas of strength and those needing improvement. The teachers believe the assessment reflects the curriculum expectations, so they use the results to determine next steps. They disaggregate the data by areas of need and measure the results with the Cohort Tracking Report. Classroom teachers meet with their grade partners, and in divisions, to examine the EQAO data as well as the school and board data, including information from report cards, CASI and DRA. All staff members believe that early intervention is the key to success, so shortly after school starts in September, diagnostic tests are administered. The tests reveal which students require assistance and help the teachers to collaborate on developing strategies to meet the varying needs of their students. The teachers focus on the whole student, not just on their academic performance, because they believe that every student can learn “but not necessarily on the same day or in the same way.”
Cultivating success is important to the staff at Hillmount, and there is an emphasis on moving students forward. Progress is tracked throughout the year and parents are notified if their child needs more assistance. To determine how each student learns, teachers administer learning-style checklists, which enable them to use a student’s particular strengths to engage him or her. The teachers include a strong arts focus in their daily instruction, and cross-curricular activities are used to explain concepts; for example, a dance class may be used to help students understand patterning. Teachers integrate literacy and numeracy with science and social studies and encourage the use of manipulatives and technology, such as Smart Boards and computers through the Mac Laptop Initiative, to create lessons that appeal to all students. Principal Bauer states: “The arts engage the body, mind and soul in celebrating the joy of life. All students have an opportunity to find their niche and excel whether it is academic or arts.”
In their professional learning communities, the teachers focus on literacy, numeracy, higher-order thinking skills and differentiated instruction. They use their Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway meetings to discuss how to differentiate instruction and create specific strategies for the gifted, special education and regular programs. Teachers develop exemplars by using moderated marking and samples of work across the grades and divisions. The quality of dialogue among the staff members continually improves as teachers share ideas and strategies.
When analyzing the EQAO Student Questionnaires, the teachers realized that a significant number of children were not being read to at home. The staff then implemented a program in which book bags would be given to students from kindergarten to Grade 3 every night. To help parents assist their children, the school provided instructions and concrete examples, held information sessions and made presentations. Marlie Délicieux, an arts teacher, states: “The teachers believe that they are role models for the students and parents. They use their expertise to move students forward and are passionate in their belief that all students can learn with the appropriate supports in place.”
“We are a small school with a big heart. We are warm and welcoming and the many new Canadian families that join our school community appreciate this. Our teachers are extremely passionate and skilled and use the EQAO data to guide their instructional practice. They understand what is expected of students from JK to Grade 6 and work together to create a positive environment that focuses on high-quality student achievement.”—Sandra Bauer, Principal
“Our principal, Sandra Bauer, reminds us that building a rapport with students is crucial to their success,” states teacher Sidney McKay. “Teachers at Hillmount challenge the students to monitor their own learning and are always available to assist students. The students respond to the positive culture and to their teachers’ enthusiasm and work hard to meet their expectations. Teachers realize that not everything they do will be successful, but they keep trying, using different hooks to engage their students. We are fortunate to have the support of our principal, who has set very high goals for everyone and truly believes that our focus must be on the whole child, with the arts and daily physical activities integrated into the curriculum.”
Principal Bauer is very proud of her staff members and the work they do to ensure all students have the opportunity to achieve success. She states: “We are a small school with a big heart. We are warm and welcoming and the many new Canadian families that join our school community appreciate this. Our teachers are extremely passionate and skilled and use the EQAO data to guide their instructional practice. They understand what is expected of students from JK to Grade 6 and work together to create a positive environment that focuses on high-quality student achievement.”