School Year Opens with Expanded Middle School Reform

August 26, 2008
School Year Opens with Expanded Middle School Reform and Interactive Classroom Technology

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) opens this fall with an expansion of the Board of Education’s middle school reform initiative to improve the education provided to students in middle school—and a substantial increase in the number of classrooms with state-of-the-art interactive technology designed to promote an interactive and engaging learning experience for students.

The second year of middle school reform features expansion of the program to six more middle schools, with four additional schools receiving partial implementation. A key component of the initiative, interactive classroom technology with computer-driven Promethean whiteboards, will be expanded by December 2008 to two-thirds of middle and high school classrooms and in elementary schools with new classroom additions. That constitutes an addition of 2,600 Promethean 21st Century Interactive Classrooms that will be financed primarily through the federal eRate program.

“Our plan for middle school reform improves teaching and learning and engages teachers and students with innovative technology,” said Board of Education President Nancy Navarro. “In this tight budget year, I am particularly pleased that we are able to expand this promising initiative.”

“Our goal is to create a pathway to career and college success that begins at the pre-school level and continues throughout all stages of a child’s academic career,” said Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. “The changes we are making at the middle school level are helping to build a strong bridge between the early years of education and high school.”

Staff and students

Approximately 650 new teachers are among the 12,000 who will greet about 138,000 students on the first day of school, although recent estimates indicate this enrollment projection may grow by as many as 1,200 students. Nineteen percent of the newly contracted teachers are MCPS graduates, and 11 percent are graduates of the school system’s university partnerships. The school system also filled 13 principal positions for the new school year—seven elementary, three middle and three high.

Middle school reform

This year—the second of a three-year middle school reform initiative—six more middle schools join Banneker, Clemente, Montgomery Village, Sligo and Earle B. Wood in moving forward with full implementation of all components of middle school reform. Participating in the second phase of middle school reform are Eastern, Newport Mill, Shady Grove, Silver Spring International, Tilden and White Oak. In addition, four other schools—Gaithersburg, Martin Luther King, Jr., E. Brooke

Lee and Julius West—will receive partial implementation of the initiative. The three schools in the Middle School Magnet Consortium (A. Mario Loiederman, Argyle and Parkland) also have been an integral part of Middle School Reform, and have played an important role in developing the curriculum and other elements of the initiative. Featured components are technology for interactive instruction: advanced courses that carry high school credit; engaging elective courses, many of them technology courses; parent communication and resources such as Study Circles; and training for teachers and school administrators.

The 2008-2009 expansion will bring to18 the number of schools currently implementing middle school reform—half of MCPS middle schools. Many of the remaining schools are already using elements of the curriculum developed through the initiative.

Expanding classroom technology

Promethean interactive classrooms connect with today’s technology-savvy students. Teachers who have used the Promethean interactive classroom technology praise it for motivating students, addressing different learning styles, and providing immediate feedback on student performance. The $3.3 million expansion of this technology into two-thirds of middle and high school classrooms and some elementary school classrooms this year has been financed largely through federal dollars provided by the eRate program and through a negotiated 17 percent reduction in the cost of the technology.

The interactive classroom consists of adjustable interactive whiteboards, student response systems for assessing student understanding, wireless slates for student-teacher interaction, and downloadable online teaching resources.

Also new this fall

• Additional funding for hours-based staffing for middle school special education is designed to ensure equitable distribution of special education staff to support special education students in the general education environment. Three schools—Neelsville, Newport Mill and Gaithersburg middle schools—have been added, bringing the total of hours-based staffing schools to 16.

• Forty-eight schools and alternative programs will offer the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program this year, with a focus on reducing suspensions.

• John F. Kennedy and Seneca Valley high schools will begin the process of becoming approved to offer the International Baccalaureate program, joining six high schools, five middle schools, and one elementary school in MCPS that currently offer the International Baccalaureate.

• Albert Einstein High School will be the site of the second Students Engaged in Pathways to Achievement (SEPA) program. The program, begun at Wheaton High School last year, provides job skills and English language instruction to older Latino students who come to high school with limited education. SEPA is an outgrowth of a partnership between MCPS and the Latino Education Coalition.

Major capital projects

Fourteen capital projects are ready for the opening of school. They include:

eight classroom additions
four gymnasiums
one school-based health center
site work at Richard Montgomery High School.

The completed projects add 226,000 square feet of new construction and include 37,500 square feet of interior renovation.

Preparation and activities during the summer

• By the end of summer school, 6,651 students had participated in regional elementary and high school classes, with 233 students earning their high school diplomas.

• More than 6,000 Title I students attended the Extended Learning Opportunities Summer Adventures in Learning program at 28 schools.

• Two high schools held a successful pilot program for the Bridge Plan for Academic Validation—a state-designated alternative to passing High School Assessments for some students .

• More than 4,400 teachers, administrators and support professionals received a total of 32,000 hours of training during the summer. Offerings included training to implement the middle school reform initiative; understanding key data points including kindergarten benchmarks in reading and mathematics in middle school; co-teaching; and developing culturally competent schools. New educators received a weeklong orientation in August.

• Technology Modernization Program staff installed 7,927 new computers, reinstalled 1,707 refurbished computers and uninstalled 9,002 old computers.

• Staff completed more than 200 facilities upgrade projects, including restroom renovations, painting, roof replacements, indoor air quality, asbestos abatement and energy management. In addition, from mid-June to mid-August, 7,500 maintenance and repair work orders were completed.

• Sixty new bus operators were trained to be ready for the first day of school. Work continues on a recently awarded $700,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant for retrofitting and using diesel particulate filters on 55 buses—bringing the total MCPS buses with environmentally friendly emissions control devices to 39 percent of the fleet.

• New family applications for free and reduced-price meals, with instructions translated into multiple languages, were prepared for distribution to students on the first day of school.

• Security measures include new or upgraded digital closed-circuit TV camera systems in 12 middle schools, planning and distribution of 38 visitor management systems in middle and elementary schools, and designing access control systems in 26 elementary schools.

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