New upcoming school programs highlight final CEAB meeting

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The Cranston Education Advisory Board (CEAB) held its final meeting of the school year on Monday, May 7 in the Meshanticut Room of the Culinary Arts Department in the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC).

CACTC Director, Zachary Farrell was the guest speaker for the evening and he presented the group with updates from the current school year as well as a look ahead at the coming changes for the 2018-2019 school year.

“This is a very exciting time at the Career and Tech Center,” he said. “We currently have 12 career and technical pathways in place, 11 here on the West campus and one, the JROTC pathways program, is housed at East. We have a very varied interest field for kids all over the district and from surrounding districts.”

He noted some of the changes coming to the program for the upcoming school year.

“The programs will now be four-year programs,” he said. “They are currently three-year programs and we are very excited because this will offer more opportunities for our middle school students to come right into CACTC with less transitions. They will come right from eighth-grade to the ninth-grade and into a program rather than coming from eighth to ninth and then from ninth, transitioning again into a new CTE program. It will minimize the disruption and students won’t have to attend a different high school first for ninth-grade and then transition over for tenth.”

He said that the new format will also provide students with more opportunities and access to programs and internships throughout the year than before, and that it will fit in well with the high schools’ new block scheduling initiative set to start in the fall. “We are also in the process of adding new CTE pathways to the district,” he said. “We are scheduled to begin a Criminal Justice program at East and we are also looking to add a welding pathways program at East for next year. We are looking to secure an Equity and Innovation grant through the RI Department of Education which will give us $150,000 for equipment and a teacher’s salary over two years’ time. Electric Boat is also part of this equation, because for their training program they use a virtual welding program that would be purchased for East. The students would also be bussed here to our welding lab on the CACTC campus at West for the practical applications. This is a result of our ongoing partnership with Electric Boat. There are going to be a huge amount of jobs in New London in the coming years as they are looking to increase their workforce to three times what it is now over the next three years. They are looking for welders, ship fitters, and other tradespersons. These students in this pathway can walk out of high school and into a $70,000 a year job. We are excited about the opportunities for these kids.”

He noted that Electric Boat is one of the state’s biggest employers and has been very supportive of the progress being made at CACTC.

Added support teacher

In addition to the new pathways programs slotted to begin in the fall, Farrell also explained that there would now be a full time student support teacher on site for academic support to all of the students in the programs.

“Whether they have a 504, special needs or in need of special services, we will be better able to support them,” he said. “We will also be having a half-time English Language Learner (ELL) teacher on site.”

He explained that these new initiatives have been made possible by the increase in students choosing a CTE pathways program in addition to their traditional high school schedule.

“This is all possible because of the increased numbers in our programs,” he said. “We have 692 applications this year, up about 200 from the usual amount. This is a great thing. We have seen a huge amount of growth, an explosive amount and we are very happy about that because that’s what we are here for.”

Additionally, he explained that a second Pre-Engineering/Robotics class has been opened up for next year, due to the overwhelming amount of students applying to the program each year. This year too, a lottery system had to be put into place for some of the programs with the most demand, as is required by RIDE regulations. “The state regulations require that if the number of applicants is more than the number of available seats in a program, a lottery system must be used,” he said. “Therefore, we had to do that for Medical Pathways, Entrepreneurship and Robotics. At the end of the day however, about 98 percent of the students got into the programs that they were looking for.”

A question was asked regarding the new middle school pathways programs being put into place in Cranston for next year, and their connections, if any, to the CACTC pathways programs.

“We are working to make this building a bridge to students all over the city,” said Farrell.

Middle school pathway programs

Joe Rotz, Executive Director of Educational Programs and Services explained further that in the coming years, the goal is to connect and align the middle school pathways programs with those at the high school level. He also explained that a new system, Naviance, is in place for students which will help to survey students’ career interests and goals, and that data will be tracked and later used to help incorporate pathways courses which align to student interests. Naviance has also been put in place to help students with college exploration and to track their Individualized Learning Plans (ILP), which are required for all students from middle school through graduation. The ILPs help students identify academic and personal goals as well as possible college and career goals. It also has specific targets for literacy and numeracy for each student.

“Like most initiatives, this is a work in progress and the Naviance platform is a new one,” Rotz said. “We are currently moving to a digital system, whereas in the past, students have had hard copies on paper of their ILPs from year to year.”

“Naviance can be used K-12 for guidance and goal setting and tracking data,” said Farrell. “We can see longitudinal data over the years and it really allows us to be able to dig deeper and see that type of data.”

Rotz briefly discussed the school committee’s budget presentation to the city of Cranston at a recent City Council meeting.

“They proposed their budget to the City Council and asked for close to a $700,000 increase from the year before,” he said. “The City Council will now meet, discuss, and decide what they will allocate. The mayor proposed approximately $400,000 to $500,000 in his budget, so the school committee might get close to their number, but not the whole amount.”

In Central Office news, Rotz reported out about the recent FNI presentations which are focused on the in-depth evaluation of all the school buildings in the district and surveys of teachers, students, parents and community members. The initiative with FNI came out of the recent Jacobs Report that detailed desperate situation the school buildings in Rhode Island are in, and their need for updates and improvements.

“FNI will be organizing the data they’ve received and presenting a report to us as to where they think the district should go,” Rotz said. “The buildings are very old and very, very outdated and we need a new plan. It could involve additions, closings, redistricting, building new schools or adding on to current schools. All of those things are hot topics and that’s why we hired an outside organization that does not have ties to this community. This will continue throughout this school year and the summer and into the next school year. The school committee will have plenty of time to review the report and decide on their recommendations for the next fiscal year, 2019-2020.”

Rotz described the information presented at the FNI meetings as eye-opening.

“To see what is possible, to see how it should be for our learners, that this is how we could have a better atmosphere for our students coming to school, was eye-opening,” he said. “It makes you think about what teaching and learning looks like for the 21st century.” To that end he noted some changes taking place in the areas of curriculum and instruction.

“We are, as a district, moving away from the sitting and listening to lectures type of instruction and into a more project-based learning environment, a more hands-on opportunity for students to take ownership in their learning,” he said. “However, that’s easier said than done. Many teachers have been teaching in the traditional lecture style for decades and it is going to take some time to revamp it and teach them exactly how to organize lessons in this new way. We are training our teachers in these initiatives. The middle school pathways programs are a good way for our middle school teachers to reflect on their teaching and their content and how it supports career pathways. For example, how does science instruction support the medical career pathway, how does the math instruction support an engineering career pathway, and how does English Language Arts instruction support an early childhood career pathway?”

Rotz also explained that more work is being done in establishing partnerships and opportunities at the high school level for internships for credit and work is being done to make sure that the work being done in the internships connects to the standards needing to be met for graduation requirements.

“There is a lot going on in these areas as well as in the areas of personalization and blended learning,” he said. “It varies from school to school as to where they are in the process, but there is a lot going on. For example, at Dutemple Elementary School, they have received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation for work in blended learning and personalization. They will be doing very specific, in-depth training and getting resources and support from the grant for this two-year training.”

A question was asked about the Boston Kindergarten program taking place in the kindergarten classrooms at several schools, and why that program had not been implemented in the first grade classrooms as was initially stated to the parents in last year’s classrooms. Traditional classroom instruction is in place in the first grades instead.

“We want to see that program going into the first grade and that was the goal, to roll it up from year to year,” said Rotz. “Unfortunately we don’t have the resources to do it and we don’t have the training available or the people to do the training.”

Rotz discussed the new RICAS testing which has been concluding across the city in time for science testing to start in various grades.

“The new testing system was not an easy transition, and because it’s the first year we are anticipating lower scores,” he said. “MCAS changed to new testing overall and shifted the depth of their assessments, making the MCAS more challenging and Rhode Island jumped in at that time, so the tests were new and difficult.”

He said that overall, state testing takes a lot out of the staff at the building levels and central office level preparing for the tests and giving them.

“Getting all of the students into the new system, getting all of the accommodations for those who need them, it is a lot of work. The actual testing time is a disruption in student learning, absolutely. It’s still interrupting their learning for a period of time.”

It was also noted that the PSAT and SAT are now the required state assessment for the students in their sophomore and junior years at the high school level. According to Farrell, those testing sessions, held in school, went relatively smoothly with all students taking the tests without incident.

The next meeting of CEAB will be held in the fall of the 2018-2019 school year.

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