With the commencement of the 2017–2018 academic school year, The New Century School scaled some exciting new heights. To name just two, the inaugural 7th-grade class made its debut, and the student body en masse has grown to more than 200 children. These milestones are impressive, certainly, but are also not without accompanying challenges. How does one small school accommodate an age range from 2 to 12 years? How do teachers keep all students engaged in mixed-age classrooms? With such a well-rounded curriculum, how is continuity of instructional approach maintained across so many diverse subject areas?
Enter Adriana Duprau, TNCS’s new Curriculum Coordinator (also known as Curriculum Specialist). Mrs. Duprau is already known to many among the TNCS community—in fact, there’s a very strong chance that she has taught your child in her classroom at some point, considering that she has been at TNCS since it first opened back in 2010. Being so familiar with TNCS operations, she was the natural choice to take on this new role, which, in brief, entails supporting teachers and giving them constructive feedback on how they are implementing the curriculum. Interestingly, however, she came into the role less because someone was actively being sought and more so because she was already the go-to when an instructor needed strategies for example, for differentiating lessons. In Mrs. Duprau’s case, as you’ll see, this support extends to students as well.
She spends about 80% of her time in the classroom so she can see firsthand what teachers are doing. She makes sure, for example, that lessons are being appropriately differentiated to accommodate the varying skill student levels in each classroom. At the same time, she wants to see that students are being challenged. On a macro level, another thing she looks for is that students are transitioning smoothly among divisions (e.g., pre-primary to primary, primary to kindergarten, elementary to middle school).
These are tasks that Head of School Alicia Danyali has handled in the past, but as the school grows, it became clear that a dedicated role was needed so that Mrs. Danyali can devote her time to running the school.
Sometimes school teachers can feel overwhelmed. Mrs. Duprau is there to “close the loop,” as she puts it. “What are their challenges; what are things that I can help with?” she asks herself, to provide an extra resource to the teachers. In some ways, it’s also a means of quality assurance. “If teachers are having a hard time, how can I offer support? Or, they may be having a hard time with a particular student—what can we do to come up with solutions?” she explains. “Having an objective observer who can stand back and take notes can be very revealing in these situations,” she continued, “and together we can problem solve and brainstorm the best approaches to addressing the challenges.”
Mrs. Duprau also plays a big part in helping Mrs. Danyali with professional development outside of the classroom, such as by demonstrating lessons during PD days and doing trainings.
Although she has embraced this support role, taking on a new position also can come with challenges. For Mrs. Duprau, the one thing she most worried about was not having her own classroom. “But, as it turns out, I spend most of my time in classrooms, so I’m really excited that I still get to have that time with students and with other teachers,” she said. And, although she has found herself so far spending most of her time in elementary and middle school classrooms, she nevertheless has had to get to know all 200+ students on a first-name basis . . . now that’s a challenge!
However, the biggest challenge she has found so far is having her suggestions go unheeded, whether inadvertently or from an unwillingness to take feedback, although Mrs. Duprau anticipates that this will probably dissipate as teachers acclimate to the idea of having a curriculum specialist and get used to accepting support.
She says her main goals, at least initially, are to make sure that teachers feel supported and know what should be taking place inside their classrooms. For example, programs like Reading A–Z might be new to a instructor, so Mrs. Duprau guides him or her through implementation. Again, her experience—not to mention her particular area of expertise—come in very handy here. She also sets up technology in classrooms so that appropriate ages all have access to SuccessMaker, a stalwart in the TNCS math program. All this, says Mrs. Duprau, because “we want to make sure we see growth in the students. This will give us a ‘closer look’ at the kids.”
She then uses the data she gathers to close any would-be gaps, such as finding ways to help former Montessori students matriculate into the non–classic Montessori Kindergarten classroom, or, conversely, introducing students who did not come up through the TNCS primary ranks to the “Montessori feel” of the K classroom. The Kindergarten group, by the way, is the largest it has ever been, so this is an area of keen interest. Moreover, Kindergarten can comprise a wide variety of skill levels, from students who are not yet reading and writing to students already completely comfortable with chapter books. Helping teachers set up their Daily 5 stations, for example, can go a long way to successful classroom management in this heterogenous setting. This has given her ideas for how to manage next year’s K transition: “A goal for us is to figure out what objectives the primary kids should end this school year before ‘going up’ so that they are prepared and can thrive in the more structured environment,” she explained.
Incidentally, in her tenure at TNCS, Mrs. Duprau has always had children of this age in her classroom, but now she says, “having my own kindergartener at home and seeing where he is developmentally has taught me even more about this age than having been a kindergarten teacher for so long.” So now, she can bring a dual perspective to the support she offers current TNCS K teachers—that of the seasoned teacher as well as the parent.
“I also get to spend a lot of time in other subject areas,” she explains. Chinese, music, and art, for example, are not classes she would have been a part of as a teacher. Now she observes how those are going to make sure all aspects of the curriculum hang together in a cohesive way and that instructors are meshing well. “One thing I saw was that having all of one division participating in a specials class together made the class too big. Being able to be there and see what’s unfolding and offer potential solutions has been very useful. We are now splitting the groups and adapting schedules to make sure that students and instructors are getting what they need.”
Another goal is to firmly establish units of study (e.g., in Global Studies and Science) that rotate on a 3-year basis so that students are all getting the full breadth of each discipline. The information is taught at differentiated levels, and she envisions gathering all of these lessons together in a master curriculum.
“Although I really miss having my own classroom,” says Mrs. Duprau, I am really enjoying this new position, and I think it’s very beneficial to the school. “There are aspects of the role that I am continuing to grow in, because I have never held a job quite like this one before—I now work as much with adults as I do with kids!” She finds the position perfect for her current situation, with two young children at home to care for, and she is also learning a tremendous amount about teaching from this new vantage point.
“My primary objective is to be helpful and to facilitate smooth operations,” she said. “My interest was sparked when I would help other teachers who were unfamiliar with the mixed-age and mixed-language approach, and I found that I loved that interaction. I broached the idea of having a curriculum specialist in some capacity at TNCS, and the administration agreed immediately.” She learned her superb classroom management skills both as a Baltimore City public school teacher and by her first mixed-age experience at TNCS.
If she ever does return to the classroom, she says she is considering trying an older cohort to see what that would be like. In the meantime, Curriculum Coordinator suits her just fine!