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Gifted learners, COVID numbers discussed at School Committee meeting

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Education, Featured: Education

A presentation about the efforts being made to address the needs of high-achieving learners in the district dominated Thursday’s School Committee meeting.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh noted that knowing each child as an individual learner is a priority in the district and shapes and drives how instruction is delivered.

She said over the last five years in particular, Hopkinton educators are constantly revisiting data to see where students are growing and moving ahead along with areas where they may be struggling.

“We’ve made a strong concerted effort to have differentiation in the classroom,” Cavanaugh said. She noted that standards-based instruction is supplemented by extracurriculars that help students grow “intellectually, socially and emotionally.”

Vanessa Bilello, principal at Hopkins Elementary School, took the lead in much of the discussion. She noted that her staff wants to ensure students are “supported but challenged,” and emphasized the importance of taking different approaches in the classroom in order for all students to develop.

Talking about testing, Bilello said certain students can score in the very top percentile for reading, for example, but may not be able to truly understand more mature concepts. Data is collected from a variety of methods — silent reading, answering comprehension questions orally and multiple-choice questions — among other means to get a complete picture.

Bilello outlined some scenarios using January STAR test scores — she noted that 13.5 percent of fourth-graders are reading above the 90th percentile. That translates to 41 students across 14 classrooms, a high enough number to build a curriculum to meet that population’s needs.

Cavanaugh shared a statistic for first-graders that showed 41 percent of students reading above the 90th percentile. She credited the changes made to elementary literacy instruction with bringing about that result.

“That’s outstanding,” the superintendent said. “I don’t think that happens in a lot of places.”

School Committee Member Lya Batlle-Rafferty questioned what happens when kids get to the middle and high school, where lessons are less flexible and more “rigid.”

In higher grades, the superintendent replied that it is possible for students to give a certain level (i.e. AP class) a try for a while and move up or down depending on how it is working for them.

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Parson said there is a lot of “connectivity” between the middle and high school curriculum as well and opportunities where students have choices and can follow their interests.

“Teachers knowing them as students, people and learners are all part of an important equation,” Parson said.

The presenters also talked about the wide range of student-generated extra curriculars, where children can follow their passions and collaborate with others having similar interests.

Bilello pointed out that even fourth-graders came to her with the idea to form a “green team,” which meets during lunchtime to support the environment with trash cleanup, gardening and other activities planned.

COVID-19 numbers reported

Superintendent Cavanaugh reported on COVID-19 numbers during the week of March 11-17, noting that there were no cases at the middle school or high school. There were four cases at Hopkins and five reported at Marathon during that time period. However, Elmwood had a total of 20 cases.

Cavanaugh said she reached out to public health officials and they determined that the students were sprinkled across several classrooms rather than clustered in a particular room or two. The superintendent said the Board of Health believes the high number stems from an out-of-school large gathering involving children. The good news, she added, is that the children are experiencing very mild symptoms.

Additional coaches added

The superintendent discussed a request from Athletic Director Rich Cormier asking for one additional coach each at the middle and high schools for outdoor track and field this spring. Cormier pointed out in a letter that enrollment for the “no cut” sport was at an all-time high, with 220 student-athletes registering at the high school with six coaches and 110 student-athletes with three coaches at the middle school.

He said he expected numbers to increase even more with late registrations and if students don’t make other sports teams and sign up. Cavanaugh said it is important to ensure lowering the coach/student ratios to ensure safety. She added that it is a good thing seeing students want to “go out there and do something with their peers and exercise,” and the board agreed. The two coaches will be paid for by the athletic revolving fund and the matter will be revisited in the future should the numbers continue to be high.

Middle school robotics team to compete

The school Committee voted unanimously to allow 14 students from Hopkinton Middle School to compete at the VEX Robotics World Championship event in Dallas from May 7-11. At the last meeting, the committee had granted permission for high school students to compete.

The superintendent shared some comments from middle school students asking to go to the competition, with one child saying, “It would mean the world to me,” noting that in addition to robotics, participants learned about communication and teamwork.

Another student described the participants as “a very ambitious group of people,” adding, “it would be a great experience and just purely amazing if we could go.”

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