Principal’s Corner: Community Coffee Q&A

Mata Montessori Principal Tomeka Williams prepared these answers to questions parents were invited to submit for the March 2, 2017 community coffee. She asked the PTA to share these with the wider Mata community for those who couldn’t attend.

ACPs

What is the update on modifying ACPs for Montessori, and why do you think this is important? We understand that although we were not able to get ACPs edited for the 16-17 school year that we can submit proposed modifications for 17-18; what is the plan for this? Who will be responsible for writing these?

We have promising news, we have been charged with submitting our Montessori pacing and alignment docs to School leadership along with appropriate sample questions for each grade level. This is important because we must be given an opportunity to assess what we have been taught and what aligns to our sequence. We have a deadline of presenting this information by June 1st so that they may consider our request for the Fall of 2017. We will have to complete this as a collective effort, which would be done by the Montessorians on our campus. (Volunteer teams.)

Curriculum Alignment

Can you talk about whether and how Mata’s curriculum aligns with what is covered on the STAAR test?

The STAAR test covers readiness standards and supporting standards from the Texas Essential of Knowledge and Skills. The Montessori sequence does not necessarily align with them directly; our guides create transfer materials to meet the needs of the standardized test. They review the standards in PLC’s to ensure that what is assessed will be covered.

What is the plan to get the kids ready for STARR test?

Teachers have created individual action plans to get students ready for the STAAR test. They have reviewed common assessment data and are including transfer lessons into their pedagogy. Some teachers are also tutoring targeted groups for STAAR.

How are we following the campus plan that was mapped out the second year? For example, how Montessori is connected to the TEKS? Is there a plan to put it on the website?

The guides are following the plans that were mapped out along with their Montessori sequence. They utilize this when creating their lesson plans. The document is already on Mata’s District website. Please look under Parents – Curriculum Information and Resources to find the Alignment documents. 

Reading Skills

I’m curious about how how reading skills are scaffolded (or are they?) in Montessori.

We adhere to the Montessori curriculum while using best practices that are compatible to the Montessori pedagogy. Students begin with writing using metal insets and sandpaper letters, then movable alphabets to compose their thoughts. The movable alphabet is used to discover phonetic rules and patterns. They then move into grammar and word study. We use leveled readers and lexiled text to allow students to transfer to using nomenclature cards, and research. 

We administer informal inventories and assessments to address literacy needs. (Istation, DRA, Common Assessments etc.) You can find more about it on the website as well.

TEKS Mastery

I have concerns that my kids are excelling in certain areas but failing in basic concepts in their grades.  What is your response to parents concerns that not all teachers are meeting certain benchmarks of the TEKS?

I would address this on a case by case basis. Within the Montessori environment, the lessons are individualized to meet the students’ needs. If a child isn’t meeting certain benchmarks, there must be a discussion with the child’s teacher and administration if necessary to find out the root cause.

Science Equipment

Once the new grant-funded science equipment is in place at Mata, will teachers be expected to take students to the science lab on more of a regular basis? What are the checks and balances in place now and going forward that will ensure all students are being exposed to the same science class curriculum?

The grant funded science equipment will be designed to be a part of the classroom. This will allow for every teacher to conduct experiments within their classroom. As students are given lessons in the Montessori classroom, the sequence of the Science experiments will be addressed as all other subjects are. We will ensure that students are receiving lessons in every subject, every week. 

Drama/I-Station

Now that our drama time has been replaced with computer lab, please describe what the instructional strategy for computer time is.  We understand that students are primarily using iStation during these hours.  What else could be incorporated that provides actual instruction in digital technology?

I-station is utilized during the former drama time. Students are tested once a month using ISIP which utilizes the Istation platform. The time in the computer lab allows our students to practice. It is recommended that Tier 1 students (on grade level) use the program 30 minutes per week, Tier II, at least 60 minutes per week and Tier III at least 90 minutes per week. The former drama time will be used to allow for this practice.

Garden

Are there any plans to get the teachers/classes out in the garden on a regular basis this spring?

One way that we are considering getting students out to the garden will be during the drama time as well. Volunteers may sign up with PTA to go out with classes once a month so that they may have the opportunity to experience the garden. Real School Gardens is scheduled to come out twice this spring to take out 6 different classrooms. In the fall, a different 6 went out to learn activities. The PTA is also partnering with us to allow volunteers to assist teachers as well.

SEL 

We understand that all DallasISD schools will need to choose a Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) program to implement in the coming years.  What is SEL?  How will the programs that we choose fit with Montessori?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

We will be choosing a program that will fit with our Montessori pedagogy. A team will be formed to review various programs, as well as how it aligns with our own “Grace and Courtesy” lessons.

After School Activities

How should parents sign students up for afterschool activities?  It seems like some parents know how and when to sign their students up and others don’t, and then students end up missing out.

For next year can we come with a list of extra curriculum activities. Such as Imagination Destination, Robotics, drama club etc .?  Can we have them in a list with start and contact list.. And how is the lottery tracked for this club.

In the coming year, our extracurricular activities will be an area of refinement.  Interest exceeds space availability, so we must design a process that is fair and equitable.

I’d love to hear about the destination imagination and robotics teams and how that works and how we can expect it to work next year. I didn’t know about any of that until I saw it on Facebook.

The Destination Imagination teams were selected last year. Much like a basketball team, those students stay together as they move up. It will be likely that the same would take place for Robotics. However, the goal will be to open up more teams for our campus. DI and Robotics teams can be sponsored by parent volunteers.

Playground Behavior

I hear a consistent complaint among a lot of the parents at Mata — some Students are using very vulgar language and explicit descriptions of a sexual nature on the playground, during specials and even sometimes in the classroom. Is there anything being done to combat this behavior?

Yes, the students that are involved in such behaviors are counseled by their teachers and parents are notified. We have also involved Ms. Gunter in directly working with those students and teaching them how to respond to such behaviors.

Sibling Preference

I heard through the grapevine that this would be the last year for sibling preference in admission for Mata. Is this true?

Somewhat … Students who are currently in Mata this year have been grandfathered in for their siblings. New students enrolling this year will be subject to the 25% cap.

Certified Montessori School

What is the status of Mata becoming a certified Montessori school?

Our ultimate goal is to work toward becoming certified if possible. We are planning to form a subcommittee on SBDM that can address this directly.

Montessori Consultant

Would the school be open to getting a grant to bring in a Montessori consultant to evaluate how we are doing?

Currently through our Instruction and Assessment Subcommittee we are analyzing ourselves and how we are doing. We do this through the Essential Elements of Montessori Rubric. It is a yearly self-assessment. However we are open to the idea, granted that consultant has worked with public schools.

Teacher Assistants

Please explain what kind of support the lower el teachers are receiving in the classroom.  Is there a designated floater TA, like last year? What is the schedule of the specials teachers helping out in the classrooms? Are we pursuing other creative options for getting them more help?

We currently have 2 TAs that support the lower el teachers regularly. Since we now have the designated TAs, the specials teachers are assisting with reading partners. We are always pursuing options to allow for more help.

Are there any plans to hire more TAs in the Upper Elementary classrooms? At one point the idea to partner with SMU’s Simmons School of Education was brought up. That partnership would bring graduate students into the classrooms as sort of an internship. Is this idea still being considered?

TAs are allocated based on the number of students in a school. As our numbers grow next year, we are looking to adding an additional TA that could support Upper El. We are open and still considering the partnership with SMU. 

Vacancies

Are you still working to fill the vacancy left by Ms. Pasic?

Technically, Ms. Pasic’s position did not open a vacancy. We were currently over-formula with her position. However, I am working to get that back and fill it.

Any news or updates on hiring a drama teacher and additional instructional coaches?

Yes, we will be looking to hire a drama teacher for the coming year.

Parent Communication

What guidelines do teachers have regarding communication with parents?  How often can parents expect work samples being sent home, as well as classroom updates?

We expect teachers to send work samples home weekly, provide classroom updates at least once per six weeks. You will receive 3rd Six Weeks Progress Reports, and 6th week report cards. The NCMPS report will be given in April with the April report card.

SBDM

What is SBDM and what do they do?  Has SBDM produced reports that can be made public to the parents?

SBDM is the Site Based Decision Making Committee. 

The function of the SBDM Committee is to advise the principal in establishing the campus goals and plan for improvement. There are several subcommittees that are organized as needed to plan and implement programs and projects approved by the SBDM committee. Our current subcommittees are: Evaluation and Modification, Coordinated School Health, Instruction and Assessment, Middle School, and Dual Language.

Middle School and Bond

Will you clarify Mata’s position in phase 2 of the current Dallas ISD bond program?  What does this mean for construction timing?

Can you talk about the bond money that will help grow Mata Montessori into a middle school? How will it be used? What improvements/additions will be made? What is the timeline? How will this affect current families, especially those children currently in the fourth grade?

On Feb. 23, the board approved the bond project for Mata. What this means is that we are in Phase two of the Bond program. The goal will be to have construction completed by 2019, which would coincide with the year we add 7th grade. As of now, the bond money will be used to create the space necessary for expansion. What this means for 4th grade families is that your students will be the first to be a part of the Middle School in 2019.

How will the growing traffic flow around the school be addressed with this bond money?

This subject is being considered by the district design committee as they plan for expansion.

What’s the status on middle school?

Middle school was approved and we are considering implementing the Montessori pedagogy.

What is the step-by-step process to get middle school up and running?

The process will be continuing with the design and building for expansion, solidifying our curriculum, and then implementing it all.

Will seats open up for 7th graders and 8th graders at that time so current 4th graders can have a true, multi-age Montessori experience?

We plan to add one grade at a time — 7th grade the first year, and then 8th grade the following.

A-F Ratings

What will the 5th domain of the new school report entail? How will it be measured?

The new school report is still up for vote with the state. 

Domain 1 is based on Student Achievement

Domain 2 is based on Student progress

Domain 3 is based on Closing the Gaps

Domain 4 is based on Chronic Absenteeism

If approved in the following year, 5th domain will be based on Community and Student Engagement.