Steve Wilkins' Welcome Message to Parents 2019

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Steve Wilkins' Welcome Message to Parents 2019
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog

 

Welcome!

On a June afternoon in Stacey Daniels’ office, a late season 2nd-3rd grade crew of three students was at Carroll for their admission visits. Sue Kingman had taken the kids for a tour of the Lower School, so a small group of parents had the floor to ask us questions about Carroll. One dad, self-proclaimed dyslexic and curious soul, asked the perfect question: “Why does this school work?”

Amidst typical and important questions about the daily schedule, dress code, carpools, and how long do kids stay at Carroll, we realize that this dad’s question is the perfect question. The question leads to a cascade of “if-then” statements.


IF WE GEC ...

It starts with our core belief statement that our job is to give each child (GEC) what they* most need. If a school believes that, then it is essential that we figure out what each child most needs. The way to do that is to collect information - data - on each child through observations, parent input, work samples, embedded assessment, diagnostic-prescriptive teaching, and tracking progress diligently. We constantly seek to assess how each child is progressing.

... THEN WE NEED A CUSTOMIZED PROGRAM FOR EACH CHILD

When we know a student’s profile, we have a moral imperative to deliver a program that addresses their needs including strengths, weaknesses, and social-emotional needs. This mandate leads Carroll to design each student’s array of classes, focus block, peer groupings, and teacher/tutor matches according to what they most need. It doesn’t happen in this way in typical schools; Carroll fits the program to the students’ needs while typical schools need a student to fit into their curriculum and program. We program each student’s schedule so that their greatest needs can be addressed in a focused, specific, and effective manner.

*Our use of they/their is intentional and how we choose to include and celebrate all members of our vibrant community.

IF WE REMOVE LEARNING OBSTACLES ...

All of this creates an environment in which teachers understand their job is to remove learning obstacles for each child. Obstacles reside in our cognitive makeup, including our approach to tasks (readiness to benefit from instruction). Principles of neuroplasticity inform us that more positive changes in cognitive function are possible than we believed just a decade ago. We know now that the principles of Orton-Gillingham are brilliant from a neurological perspective: we build effective pathways in children’s brains through our riveted training. If the roadblock is reading or reading fluency, we design a child’s day accordingly. If the obstacle is math or written expression, we make sure that we deliver focused instruction in those areas. If the student most needs to gain self-confidence and develop a sense that high effort brings high quality results, then we reinforce this truism in a child’s program constantly and exhaustively. We have become so much more flexible in our programming for a child based on GEC concepts. How do we do all this?

... THEN WE NEED HIGHLY SKILLED TEACHERS

It takes highly skilled educators to execute our plan to give each child what they most need. Carroll teachers and tutors are bright, curious, passionate, committed, tenacious, and creative. We also make sure that we are all constantly learning and thinking about how to do better and better. This is the logic behind the huge commitment to professional development, coaching, professional learning communities, the five Carroll Courses, professional days, learning walks, support for graduate work, and the professional speakers we bring in to work with us.


IF WE HOLD THIS MISSION ...

Oh, and we are extremely meticulous about our admission decisions to make sure we have both students whom we know how to help (a specific profile) and appropriate groupings for each child that make focused group teaching possible. We all know that this is far from a perfect science for many reasons, including the reality that all children are growing, changing, testing, and influenced by so many factors. Nonetheless, the Carroll student population is about as homogenous from a learning profile perspective as any school you’ll ever find.

... THEN WE NEED TO BE A COMPLETE SCHOOL

With the GEC promise that we hold as our goal without equal, a quick stop at Carroll to get fixed is no longer a reasonable plan. For so many children, Carroll is their school. They wear the blue and white proudly. The family car has the Carroll bumper sticker alongside other schools and colleges. Carroll needs to be able to educate the giftedness within our children as completely as we remediate the LBLD weaknesses. A full and inspiring set of offerings are core to a Carroll education in science, history, arts, athletics, technology, social justice, service learning, leadership opportunities, and entrepreneurship.


IN SUMMARY ...

Carroll is designed solely for the benefit of its students. Faculty and staff will work together in opening meetings on a ritual we call “We Believe Statements” when the faculty and staff recommit to a variety of self-generated statements about our mission, our commitments, and how we execute on these goals. Every three or four years, we have undertaken this activity. Each time we engage in this activity we find new and inspiring angles, new words of emphasis, and modernization of our commitments. The last time we did this activity was 2016 (the results are posted on the Carroll website's mission page).

Here’s to another year of transforming lives.



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