Schools focus on middle-tier kids

Schools focus on middle-tier kids

Social studies teacher and cross-country coach Sean Connolly prepares his North Cumberland Middle School 7th-grade classroom on Monday morning. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)
Major changes happening with school bus vendor

CUMBERLAND – Significant achievement gains have put town schools among the elite in the state, and officials say all that progress means they can work on fine-tuning their approach.

The focus of the district’s attention will turn more sharply this year to “Tier 2” students, said Supt. Bob Mitchell this week. Those are the ones between Tier 3 students, who need intensive help in improving their academic performance due to such challenges as learning disabilities, and Tier 1 students, or those scoring proficient or above who need few supports in the classroom.

“We’re going to focus on getting those Tier 2 students in the middle, who might be teetering on the brink of proficiency; we want to get those students additional support,” he said.

All three tiers are found in the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system, a framework for improving the culture, climate, safety and learning for students. Played out in practice, new “essential courses,” or buddy classes allowing parallel academic support, will be added this year at the middle school and high school level.

School starts back up in Cumberland next week, with orientation next Monday, Aug. 26, teacher professional development Tuesday, Aug. 27, the first day for grades K-9 on Wednesday, Aug. 28, and everyone else returning Thursday, Aug. 29.

Mitchell said he checked on six of eight schools Monday and plans to get to the rest this week.

“All of the schools are in really good shape,” he said.

Landscaping of grounds after a summer of green growth is happening this week. All schools are getting their annual deep cleanings and floor waxings.

“Our focus is on making sure everything is ready, and we’re right on target,” said Mitchell.

Schedules were tentatively expected to go on the Aspen student information management system today, Aug. 22.

School officials are hoping to start fresh this year when it comes to the busing issues that have plagued the district the past several years. Durham School Services has a new general manager, Armando Ferreira, taking over the Cumberland Durham busing location.

“We’ve already had a couple meetings, and I’m optimistic there will be fewer issues,” said Mitchell.

In addition, Marian Varone, assistant to the director of human resources for the district, will now be the point of contact on all issues related to transportation in the district, said Mitchell. She has extensive past experience, both with the U.S. Postal Service and other jobs, in transportation issues, including routing, and is very professional and highly skilled.

The big point Mitchell wants parents and students to internalize this year is just how well Cumberland is doing academically. Students in grades 3-8 are in the top five statewide for math and English language arts progress, “tremendous progress” and “something we should feel really good about,” he said.

On star ratings based on a host of metrics, including student and teacher attendance and improved performance of student subgroups, local schools are also performing well, all schools boasting at least three stars, four of them with at least four stars, and two with five stars.

A question mark heading into the year is in the area of field trips, which remain in limbo as school officials try to figure out how to generate new revenue to support trips, said Mitchell. Those trips include even those for competition, as schools are no longer allowed to charge students money to go.

A significant positive this year is how much continuity there is in leadership across the district, allowing students to focus on what’s important and staff to “hyper-focus” on results, regardless of challenges. T-shirts given out last year, reading “No Excuses, Only Results,” still hold true in a district that continues to do more with less, said Mitchell.

“Regardless of the challenges we face, it is our expectation that all students are going to grow academically,” he said.

One of the main reasons for the district’s success is that it’s stayed the course, making good choices on curriculum and providing professional development that positively impacts teacher practice.

“We talk all the time, if we expect student performance to improve. We all have a responsibility to grow professionally,” he said.

Cumberland maintains its laser focus on evidence-based research guiding decisions on curriculum, said Mitchell. Continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done simply doesn’t work.

This will be the first full year of a new relaxed dress code in Cumberland after school officials revised policies in the spring.

Mitchell said the community will be hearing more in the coming weeks as a building committee works on the bond referendum, hearing specifics on options for facility improvements that would ideally begin next summer.

North Cumberland Middle School custodians Mario Sa, left, and Tony Singh throw unused textbooks from a stair landing into a recycling bin on Monday morning.
Special education teacher Jocelyn Romano, in her fifth year at North Cumberland Middle School, works on creating student schedules in her classroom on Monday.