Published February 13, 2019
By JILLIAN STRING
LYNNFIELD — Lynnfield Middle School Principal Stephen Ralston presented an update on two school improvement plan goals to the School Committee on Feb. 5.
Ralston reported significant progress toward the social-emotional learning (SEL) goal as well as the core values implementation goal.
“I feel that we’re in such a good place with these (goals) now,” Ralston said. “We have full buy-in with the faculty and I think the process, as messy and frustrating as it was, really brought a lot of us together.”
The SEL goal focuses on recognizing the academic and social challenges for students in grades 5 through 8. The goal also involves developing and implementing supports and strategies for students and staff, which aligns to the strategic plan’s social and emotional well-being objectives.
“We’re very excited with where we’re at so far,” Ralston said.
Students and staff participated in a survey this past fall regarding school climate, and Ralston stated that although data is still being reviewed, preliminary reports have not revealed any new concerns.
According to Ralston, staff members are starting to pilot different initiatives in their own classrooms and are sharing data regarding what is working well versus not working at all.
“The staff has really bought into the SEL work that we’ve done thus far,” Ralston said. “A lot of staff have collaborative learning experience (CLE) projects, as well as SMART goal development for their student learning and professional practice goals around SEL.”
The staff created a SEL Steering Committee and is in the process of creating an advisory program for SEL consisting of a faculty and administration partnership CLE, an advisory faculty committee, and a Second Step pilot program for eighth graders.
Second Step is a SEL curriculum, which is currently being used by students and staff at Huckleberry Hill School and Summer Street School.
“We’re really excited, and we also recognize that as we go through this it’s going to be a learning process,” Ralston said.
Ralston reported a significant increase in student clubs for the 2018-2019 school year.
“We’ve had a real uptick in student activities and clubs this year that’s really been kind of an organic, grassroots movement with students and staff working together,” Ralston said. “If there’s an interested group of students and a willing advisor, you have a club.”
New clubs at LMS include the One Club, a pop up Origami Club, Model Car Club, Harry Potter Club, Sci-Fi Club, Games Club, and a few arts clubs.
The School Committee had numerous questions for Ralston regarding the SEL survey as well as the overall progress toward the SEL goal.
“Do you plan on having a survey at all in the future where you match student and staff perceptions?” School Committee member Dorothy Presser asked.
Ralston stated that the November survey has shown a positive change in overall school climate, which he attributed to the work done last year on the core values. He also noted that another survey will be administered at the end of the school year.
School Committee member Phil McQueen asked if specific data from the survey has been shared with students.
“We haven’t shared the survey results with the students yet,” Ralston responded. “As we start to roll out some of our advisory programs, we are going to indicate to students areas that maybe were overwhelming across all the grades.”
School Committee Chairman Jamie Hayman asked Ralston to discuss specific results of the survey with the committee.
“The school climate piece came out very positive,” Ralston said. “This is my 14th year at the middle school and it feels very different this year than it has in the past as far as the overall connection with the students, the students connection with faculty. We certainly have some work to do around grit. We recognize things around anxiety. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
LMS core values
During the 2017-2018 school year, LMS adopted the core values of kindness, effort, and citizenship.
According to Ralston, the core values implementation goal supports continuous curriculum development and instructional excellence with a shared vision for high quality expectations and outcomes. Middle school officials and teachers will develop activities and structures to advance the LMS core values.
The faculty and students began the 2018-2019 school year with a core values kickoff that included team building activities over the first few days of school.
Since the kickoff was so successful, Ralston said the faculty decided to make it an annual event.
“There’s a sense of respect and ownership in that building that I had not seen in the past, and I think it’s because of the time that was taken to explicitly sit down and talk about what’s important,” Superintendent Jane Tremblay said.
Each grade level has been promoting the core values in different ways.
The eighth grade faculty honors “Core Contributors” at a monthly assembly. These students are recognized for demonstrating kindness, effort, and citizenship within the school.
Seventh grade students and staff participated in a ropes course team building activity with Project Adventure. They have also been using early release days to develop activities for each of the three values.
A kindness quilt was made by sixth graders, who also had a Thanksgiving breakfast focused around kindness, effort, and citizenship.
Fifth grade faculty invited guest speakers to come in to discuss different topics with students and staff.
Exploratory teachers have brought students together for group activities across disciplines.
“Everyone’s really rolling up their sleeves, pitching in, and there’s a real shared effort with this,” Ralston said.
The School Committee commended Ralston and the LMS staff on their work with core values.
“We were in such a different place at this time last year, and to see the change and the investment that you’ve made and the acceptance by both the teachers and then the students, I’m thankful for that,” School Committee Vice Chairman Rich Sjoberg said.