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Getting Down to Business -- in Uniform

Parkville's first week of school included a good response to the new district uniform policy on opening day and teacher workshops on phonics, themes, and classroom environments. Included: Descriptions of some staff meeting topics.

The first sign of a successful opening day of school at Hartford's Parkville Community School had nothing directly to do with academics and everything to do with attire.

Teachers promote reading any way they can. (Education World photo)

Instead of the latest fall fashions, students were sporting the school-uniform-look of white, yellow, and light blue shirts; blue pants, jumpers, and skirts. Almost everyone seemed to have gotten the message that uniforms were mandatory for K-8 students this year. Hartford's mayor, Eddie A. Perez, even recorded a phone message that was sent to parents' homes reminding them of the uniform policy.

Many children also wore new black shoes and a number of girls completed their outfits with white knee socks, and personal touches such as colored headbands and hair ribbons.

Principal Elizabeth Michaelis also started off the year in "uniform" wearing a white shirt and navy slacks.

Even the littlest Parkville students seemed ready to jump into their studies. Many toted loaded backpacks almost as long as they were tall, making them look like lines of turtles with brightly-colored shells.


Signs in English and Spanish lined the hallways welcoming parents and directing them where to go, and many staff members alternated English with Spanish as they sent parents to the right rooms. New registrants went to the library; transfers and class assignments headed for the office.

The Road to AYP

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending time this school year at Parkville Community Schoolin Hartford, Connecticut, to report on the challenges an urban school faces and the strategies it employs in its quest to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Anxiety, though, is a language needing no translation, and it was written on the faces of a number of parents who led their children in, many wheeling or carrying younger siblings. One staff member assured parents in Spanish that their child was okay, and they could leave.

For some, the stress was just a little too much. One boy wailed and clung to his mother until she carried him into a kindergarten class, and shut the door behind her, where he continued sobbing and kicking the door. Several staff members drifted over to peek in the door or see if they could help.

"He'll be that way for a week or so," a staff member said. "We'll have one or two moms who'll have to stay in the classrooms for a few days."

Staff members also did not hesitate to keep tabs on visiting students. Michaelis passed an older boy in the hallway who was dressed in a t-shirt, do-rag, and cap. "You come into my school like that?" she asked.

"Shouldn't you be in school?" Mr. Elm added. The boy shrugged. "The bus didn't come." "You've got feet," Mr. Elm said. "You can walk."


Much of the adult hallway traffic had to do with parents registering children, transferring children in or out of Parkville, or seeking class assignments. Some had registered their children but waited until the first day of school to get a teacher. This year, transfers seemed to outnumber new students.

Ms. Poplar, coordinator of the Reading First program, stood in the main office door and gave out numbers to parents, wearing a Cat in the Hat hat with a sign on it that said, "Read 20 minutes every night with your child" in English on one side and Spanish on the other.

"It's better than flyers," she said.

By 9:30, 45 minutes after school opened, the lines were almost gone and the hallways were quieting down.

"If we're set by 10, that's usually okay," Michaelis said. She already was taking mental notes for opening day next year. Since the number of transfers and those seeking class assignments far outnumbered new registrants, next September, she plans to shift more staff to the office.

Michaelis paused to meet with Mary Anne Sullivan, who works in the district's special education office, and who serves as Parkville's "point person" for all issues. She comes to the school on special days to serve as Parkville's emissary to the central office.

"I still get what I call opening-of-school-butterflies."

Sullivan came to gather information about how the opening of school went and what resources Parkville still needed and report back to the district's central office. A former special education teacher, Sullivan still works with special education students and teachers at Parkville.

"You saw an excellent opening of school," Sullivan said. "Elizabeth is so organized." There were some bus glitches, in part because the district changed bus companies, and some paraprofessional assignments still needed to be worked out. Sullivan reviewed a checklist of opening day items, took some notes, and left to deliver them to the central office.


After Sullivan left, Michaelis got busy sorting through attendance forms classroom teachers completed. Those not done correctly were sent back to the room. Names of children who were enrolled but did not show up were put on a list so officials could investigate.

Munching some peanut butter crackers, her breakfast, Michaelis noted she is like the kids when it comes to the first day. She asked one little girl if she wanted breakfast, and the girl said no, she had a "funny" stomach. "I said I did too; I still get what I call opening-of-school-butterflies."

All was not as smooth as hoped for on the first day and during the first week. About 100 new students enrolled. One child was transported to the hospital in an ambulance on day one. Transportation problems continued into the next week because of missing and incomplete student lists. And a severely handicapped student arrived with no warning and little information about her background and care.

That child ultimately may not remain at Parkville, but Michaelis told her staff members, "It's not done until that family gets services."


Teachers Get Busy

Click here to read about work in a second-grade class.

Almost nothing, though, distracts Michaelis from the school's mission. There is no doubt that Parkville is determined to prove itself to those outside its walls. Bulletin boards in a hallway near the main office announced Parkville's Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) scores and the school's ranking in the district on many of the test sections. Signs on some classroom doors read, "Be a CMT champion!"

As part of its efforts, the school is moving grades 3 to 5 over to Everyday Mathematics this year; it was piloted in those grades last year, and first and second-grade teachers already were using it. "It was a district decision -- it involves more thinking skills, more manipulatives, and not as many drills," Michaelis said. "And it ties in the with the Mastery Test skills."

Before school opened, teachers mapped out the reading levels for each student and each grade in the school. The charts are coded so all the teachers can monitor each student's progress. This also is a way to determine if some students who excel in class don't perform well on tests, or the other way around, Michaelis noted.

Michaelis also built in second literacy block into the day. Students still learn science and social studies, but they are taught within the literacy content, she said.

"I know they're missing something," Michaelis said. "But they can't read."


Just a week after school started, teachers had their first faculty meeting after school. But this was no chance to lean back and passively listen.

"Too often you sit in a meeting and it has nothing to do with you," assistant principal Latesha Jones said, in explaining the format. "Now every single minute is used to help teach the kids in front of you."

Teachers were broken down into groups to tackle different topics. The kindergarten and pre-K teachers met to talk about themes for the week -- all the kindergartens follow a weekly theme.

"I know they're missing something. But they can't read."

"Each teacher is making sure she meets the skills of each child," Jones noted.

First, second, third grade, and special education teachers attended a presentation on using phonics to teach reading.

In the library, teachers graded reading assessments for students in grades 4, 5, and 6. These were timed tests with open-ended questions.

"They can assess where the students are," Jones said. For example, a strand on which students were tested is developing interpretation. If several students had problems with that, the teacher could focus his or her lessons on that topic or set up centers in the classroom for students to practice that skill. Younger children would be assessed on their phonetic reading skills.

Upstairs, some teachers discussed classroom environments and looked at a model room. Teachers received guidelines for setting up their classrooms; certain elements are required and only student work or reference materials can be posted on the walls. But each room has its personal touches as well.

In one third-grade room teachers visited, Michaelis noted, "Everything has a purpose."

(Editor's Note: All students' and teachers' names have been changed)

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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