A Day in the Life: Peeking into TNCS Division by Division!

What happens at The New Century School does not stay at The New Century School. Instead, the magic that fills each and every day enriches the lives of the students who experience it far beyond the classroom. Imaginations are sparked, perspectives broadened, values instilled, skills honed, spirits of adventure awakened. All while students pursue rigorous academics in an environment that allows them to learn and progress at their own paces.

Although this last attribute is typically understood to mean that a student who is not ready to work at a standard age level is not forced to try to do so and therefore burn out, and that’s of course the case at TNCS where applicable, it often means the inverse here—students are not asked to wait for anyone to catch up to them but can soar as high as they so desire.

Among the TNCS community, we have watched this magic transform our children lives, but it can be difficult to articulate to someone unfamiliar with the school. Sometimes, it  just needs to be seen to be believed. So, this week’s Immersed is trying something a little different. Throughout the past years, we visited classrooms unannounced to get inside glimpses of what any given day looks like in each division. You can bet there’s almost always something special going on. Maybe that’s because with daily triple language learning, visual and performing arts, an emphasis on service learning, and a pervasive atmosphere of inquiry, there’s just no such thing as quotidian at this school. We invite you to look closely at the montages to follow. There are worlds to see.

IMG_3260 copy

A Day in the Life: Preschool Division

TNCS’s littlest learners in the preprimary classrooms, ages 2–3, focus on social and emotional development. They learn to work in groups and cooperate with their peers. They are immersed in either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, so, as they cultivate language skills, they do so bilingually. Take a recent visit from Spanish-speaking Clifford the Red Dog and Pete the Cat. In addition to being exposed to language in all forms, making music and art are their main in-class pursuits, and artists are invited to classrooms to present their age-appropriate art. As students are ready, they begin to explore the Montessori materials they’ll see regularly in the primary classroom.

In the TNCS primary Montessori classroom, students ages 3 to 5 develop the ability to concentrate—to start, work through and complete a given task. They use Montessori materials to hone fine and gross motor skills both individually and in small groups. They continue to develop socially and emotionally and begin to refine their language skills in, now three, languages. Art and music are daily pursuits as is an emphasis on peace and kindness.

A Day in the Life: Elementary Division

In elementary grades, K through 5th, academics become more rigorous, but the focus on visual and performing arts, music, and languages also amps up, with dedicated teachers in each subject, making for a truly well-rounded education. Fostering independence while celebrating community, the elementary program encourages students to ask questions then figure out how to find the answers. Field trips to local spots of interest as well as in nearby towns happen at least quarterly.

As elementary students age up, they move to building north, which they share with middle schoolers. Here, service learning expands to include the outside community as well as the campus.

A Day in the Life: Middle School Division

When TNCS students hit the big time, a lot changes for them at school. Academic preparation intensifies, as they ready for high school, but research shows that middle schoolers can flounder socially and emotionally, so TNCS students are given loads of opportunities to try out their burgeoning independence in new ways and develop self-confidence and self-agency.

This peek inside some typical days at TNCS (where a typical day is anything but typical) should make it clear—TNCS students have the world at their fingertips.

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 12.44.19 PM

Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali Attends Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education Presentation!

The New Century School cares about nothing so much as quality education, so when the “Kirwan Commission” was established in 2016, TNCS took note. In fact, just last week, Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali, who is involved in advocacy for this initiative, attended a presentation and was motivated to share her thoughts about what she witnessed.

“Dr. Kirwan worked with the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). to identify building blocks of high performing schools around the world for 1 year,” said Ms. Danyali. “During his year with NCEE, he researched gaps in Maryland, which led to the Kirwan recommendations.”

What’s the Kirwan Commission? 

Kirwan 2The Maryland Legislature established the Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education in 2016 to improve Maryland’s school system to world-class status. This commission has become known as the “Kirwan Commission” after its Chairman, Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Maryland and nationally recognized authority on problems in education. With a long and illustrious career in education, starting in the classroom and working his way up to multiple university presidencies and chancellorships, Dr. Kirwan nevertheless calls this Commission, “the most difficult and important work of [his] life.”

Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) puts it like this: “The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is a multi-year initiative to research and develop major funding and policy reforms to improve the quality of Maryland’s public education system to benefit all of the more than 790,000 students, which will in turn benefit the State’s economy and quality of life for all Marylanders.”

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 9.51.45 AM

Key Policy Areas

The Kirwan Commission has a two-pronged goal: 1) Make policy recommendations that will improve Maryland schools performance overall, and 2) propose changes to current funding formulas for schools.

KirwanThe Commission has targeted five key policy areas to achieve their goal: Early Childhood Education, High-Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders, College and Career Readiness Pathways, More Resources to Ensure Success of All Students, and Governance and Accountability.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Interim Report

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 10.53.36 AMAlthough the Commission was supposed to submit its final report to the legislature by December 2018, it ultimately took another year to work out how to achieve the necessary funding (known as the “Thornton formulas”)—a whopping $4 billion (a small fraction of which will come from casino revenues). The Commission issued a comprehensive Interim Report in January 2019.

Benefits for All Marylanders

That price tag—sounds like a lot to ask? Not when you consider the potential return on investment (ROI) study done by Strong Schools Maryland and the Sage Policy Group. along with David Hornbeck, another Marylander with a stellar career in education. “Mr. Hornbeck is gathering facts and statistics to support getting this bill passed,” said Ms. Danyali. For example, 12% more moms would return to the workforce if preK were more widely available. With a well-educated population, prison expenses as well as Medicaid expenses drop, because individuals are employed. The bottom line is, by 2046 the ROI is projected to be $6.3 billion—that’s a lot more than the initial outlay.

IMG_0945

Educating youth, starting at very young ages, and valuing educators has multiple advantages: individual empowerment; healthy, more sustainable communities; and a robust statewide economy. (Read the full Executive Summary.)

Kirwan’s Presentation

IMG_0949Said Ms. Danyali: “Through his social justice advocacy group, Dr. Kirwan is committed to high-quality schools and especially early childhood education (ECE), with mandatory pre-K4 statewide and expanded offerings for ages 0–3, which is why I got involved. He spoke a lot about Judith P. Hoyer Center Early Learning Hubs, also known as “Judy Centers,” that provide resources and support for ECE in every county in Maryland.”

Some of Dr. Kirwan’s speech really resonated with Ms. Danyali:

This is the right vision and focus to match needs and prepare students for the current work world and for the future. We have to be as good as the best. There are many good schools and superb teachers, but not enough—47% of MD teachers leave the profession after 2 years due to lack of compensation and support. Students need to perform at a grade 10 ELA and have completed algebra 1 to graduate, but only 40% of MD students meet this criteria. We can’t allow this to stand. It’s unacceptable. We need to make education a high-status profession. If we do not shift this point, there is no point.

Want to Take Action?

The 2020 legislative began Wednesday, January 8th, and there will be multiple opportunities to make your voice heard. Here are a few:

Join StrongSchoolsMaryland in Annapolis: http://bit.ly/AnnapolisSignUp
Join the StrongSchoolsMaryland email list: http://bit.ly/ssmsignup
Get your voice counted for fixing the funding gap: https://www.strongschoolsmaryland.org/email-your-leaders

The legislation goes to vote on April 6th, and this is it. Another such commission will not be possible within this decade and maybe even the next. The time is now to stand for great education for all Marylanders. “It doesn’t matter if you’re public or private,” said Ms. Danyali. “This is going to affect every school in some way.”

TNCS Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Joins Multilanguage-Learning Professional Development Cohort!

Integral to the curriculum as well as the identity of The New Century School is language learning. We are by now well aware of the many kinds of social and cognitive benefit that multilingualism confers (but check out our Resources page if you’d like a refresher!). However, as Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali understands, staying abreast of the best practices in teaching language is critical.

tncs-head-of-lower-school-alicia-danyaliThat’s why she attended a cumulative 5-day training called “The Can Do Philosophy and the Guiding Principles of Language Development” that took place at the Johns Hopkins School of Education in Columbia, MD from November 4th–6th and December 4th and 5th in order to learn more about how practitioners observe, document, and analyze observations to promote dual (or, in the case of TNCS, triple) language development. The training was provided by WIDA, whose mission is, “Helping multilingual learners—and their educators—reach their potential.” The WIDA acronym stands for World-class Instructional Design and Assessment, but everyone knows this group as “WIDA.” They are headquartered at the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research in Madison, but they have satellites all over the United States. tncs-wida

Ms. Danyali says she found out about the opportunity from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) weekly newsletter. “I’m so nerdy that I actually read it,” she joked. It’s a good thing she did. The WIDA Consortium is a member-based organization “dedicated to the research, design and implementation of a high-quality, standards-based system for K–12 language learners”—and they offer tons of amazing resources for educators. Says Ms. Danyali, “I noticed that this organization is very interested in dual language learning in the early childhood environment. I thought, ‘I have to look into more about that!’ They’re partnering with MSDE on how to better support family–school partnerships with dual language environments.”

She explains that, even though she isn’t coming from the public school sector, she nevertheless wanted to know what supports are out there and what new advancements in language education have been made. They were separated into three groups to role-play as a Parent, Educator, or Administrator. “This is the first time—and it is exciting to me—that it has been looked at at the early childhood level, which has always been something I feel very strongly about, capturing that age of language acquisition. So, I applied to be part of a cohort and submitted a blurb about TNCS and how we start at age 2 with a full immersion setting,” she explained.

“A big portion of the conversations with the cohort I was in—and it was people from all walks of education, from professors to para-professionals, was about receptive and expressive language. That’s really what we do here at TNCS—develop the ability to understand words and speech, which is the receptive part.” For example, Song Laoshi will say, “Line up” in Mandarin a thousand times to her 2-year-olds the first 2 weeks of school and she’ll model that instruction. One student will figure out what she’s doing and what she wants the class to do, and then slowly everyone else starts to get it. It’s the most beautiful thing.” But how are the teachers able to measure how well that’s happening in the preschool environment? Participants were given worksheets to guide them on how to effectively gather that feedback.

IMG_3607 copy

In expressive language, the student communicates their wants and needs, speaking, not just gathering from their environment. So, back to the example of Song Laoshi’s 2-year-olds, eventually, they will start to talk about what is happening, building on  receiving instruction and being able to act on them.

“Another thing we discussed in our cohort,” says Ms. Danyali, was how to “appeal to young students’ learning styles, which is a lot more difficult in a prescriptive public environment, and how to go off the cuff and meet the students’ needs.” In Maryland, Spanish is the fastest growing language in Maryland and Urdu is the second, which is almost as prevalent. “So we’re not looking necessarily at how we can support Spanish speakers in an ESL environment, which has always been the standard, but more of just how do we support language development?”

What Does This Look Like at TNCS?

Even though the WIDA consortium is primarily about how to support students who speak English as a second language, flipping that the other way around and applying their evidence-based practices to any multilanguage-learning environment makes perfect sense. Accordingly, Ms. Danyali has implemented a program in the primary classes for assistant teachers to provide monthly status reports on each student’s progress with language:

It has been quite a game-changer and very helpful, but I also understand as a former educator that introducing new things sometimes feels like having more added to an already-full workplate. But this is actually so supportive and in line with how we think about how our students obtain language. I tell them, too, ‘I want you to grow in your career. This is the one thing that threads our whole school together. We have language from age 2 through grade 8. The common message that sets us apart is our language program, and you’re driving that, so I want your feedback.’

Another important aspect of language at TNCS is the concept of proficiency versus fluency. At the younger ages, it’s really very important that students are hearing language being spoken, no matter what the language. Definitive milestones are not important here. This process is more organic.

Fifty years ago, when immigrants came to the United States, they were instructed not to speak in their native languages so as (as the thinking went) to assimilate into U.S. culture more quickly. “This created major deficits in their lives,” explains Ms. Danyali. “The mindset is now changing, fortunately, and we want our teachers and assistants to speak their native languages.” The WIDA Consortium wants to move away from “English” and talk more about language development to be more inclusive. In fact, the state of Maryland supports over 100 languages in terms of having translators available for free to translate documents, meetings, conversations, etc.

In the near future, Ms. Danyali will incorporate the Can Do Descriptors and Promising Practices she was trained on into the TNCS curriculum. To be proficient in a language, a speaker must be able to Express Self, Recount, and Inquire.tncs-wida

“The preschool component is really our heart and soul for engaging in language for the long-term student. We attract families who know that language is important. So, all of this will factor in to how I roll out what I’ve learned at TNCS,” said Ms. Danyali.

I walked away feeling very fortunate for the environment we’re in. We don’t have stand-alone teachers in a class of 37 kids who need a lot of support. But I found a lot of compassion among the cohort. Some families do not reach out to avail themselves of services because of the current political climate, but the MSDE was there to confirm that they do not turn over that information to anyone. Everyone was on the same page in this cohort to find ways to help and that education can bridge perception gaps.


Here are some WIDA publications you might find interesting:

TNCS Fall 2019 Open House: Your First Taste of TNCS!

On Saturday, November 2nd, The New Century School held its annual Open House, an event designed to introduce prospective families to TNCS academic programs and overall educational approach. This one was hosted by Admissions Director Suzannah Hopkins, who made the most of this opportunity to spotlight TNCS:

Open House signifies the kick-off, for many schools, to the admissions season. It is one of the many opportunities to see the school. In addition to private tours during the school day or the information night later this month, the Open House offers families a chance to visit the school on a Saturday and ask questions of our amazing lead teachers. The Open House allows us to showcase our faculty, students, and facilities.

Ms. Hopkins, a veteran Admissions Director, feels it’s important to establish a relationship with prospective families, so she started the event off with a bit of a mixer. Families mingled in the auditorium over fresh fruit and baked goods provided by Chef Danielle, while chatting and settling in. At 10:00 am, they were treated to a lineup of student performances that Ms. Hopkins felt would show the audience how both important music and language-learning are at TNCS, two of the many features that set the school apart.

Oral and instrumental performances by a willing group of TNCS students impressed even the babies in the audience! Note that the performances that follow were simply a few elementary and middle school students who volunteered their time to help out; they do not represent an official school performance. . . and yet, they certainly have wow power!

That last Spiderman bit was not only arranged by “Spidey” himself, but also closed with a backflip by way of exit—audible gasps from the audience indicated how successful the performances were in demonstrating the breadth of talent TNCS cultivates and celebrates. “The student performers and ambassadors were terrific. I wanted prospective families to feel welcome and to get a sense of our community,” said Ms. Hopkins.

This performance was followed by brief talks by Ms. Hopkins herself as well as TNCS Head of Lower School and Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali and finally a slide presentation about TNCS by Head of School Shara Khon Duncan.

After that, the student ambassadors Ms. Hopkins just mentioned took over, escorting families to classrooms, showing them around, and answering their questions. What better way to show families, yes, you want your children to attend TNCS and emulate these paragons of student excellence!


“The event went well,” reflected Ms. Hopkins. “We had nice attendance and, from what I could see, families seem happy to be in attendance. We even received two applications over the weekend!” After the event, she surveyed both attendees and faculty about their experience. “I am hoping to use the information I receive to build on the event for next year,” she said.

Open Houses are wonderful ways to start to get to know TNCS, so please, tell your friends and coworkers who might be looking for schools about these great events. As great as they are, though, they are but an “amuse bouche”—to get the full flavor of TNCS, contact admissions@thenewcenturyschool.com so Ms. Hopkins can arrange to give you a tour while school is in session.


By the way, you can see some of that magic happening this month at the TNCS Middle School Preview Wednesday, November 20th from 9:00 am–10:30 am, where you can observe classes in session. Also, the TNCS annual Elementary and Middle School Information Night is taking place on Thursday, November 21, 2019 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm. These are must-see events for parents of rising middle and elementary schoolers!

The Art of Teaching K/1st: Meet Lindsey Sandkuhler!

Lindsey Sandkuhler took over The New Century School‘s mixed age Kindergarten and 1st-grade homeroom for the 2019–2020 school year. Teaching, she says, is “kind of a family profession,” and both of her parents are teachers. She always knew she would follow in their footsteps and attended Towson University to earn a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She is from Towson and lives there still.

Road to TNCS

From college, Ms. Sandkuhler never looked back. After graduating, she was hired by Harford County public schools, where she had completed her student teaching. There, she taught 4th grade for 2 years, then 2nd grade for 3 years. Next, she says, “I left the county and decided to go for pre-K—big difference!” At a nature-based preschool, she taught 4- and 5-year-olds, then spent an additional 2 years at a different private preschool for 5-year-olds. “Now, I’m here, year 9!”, she said. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind!”

So what did bring her to TNCS? A bit of good timing! Her last school announced in February that it would be closing permanently in June. Ms. Sandkuhler saw that TNCS was hiring, liked what she saw, and applied. She was offered a position the day after she interviewed in May, at least partly because her teaching style meshes so well with TNCS’s educational approach. “It was both a relief not to have to scramble for employment as well as very exciting for me to embark on this new adventure,” she explained.

davenport photo

At TNCS

Back to liking what she saw, the aspects that most appealed to her about TNCS were precisely what makes TNCS the school that it is, particularly, small class sizes, the emphasis on The Arts, and differentiated learning. “I have done a lot of different kinds of teaching for a lot of different ages,” she said, which has given her insight into what works in early childhood and lower elementary education.

I really love how small the classes are. In the county public school, at one time, I had 28 2nd-graders in my class with no aide; it was just me. I felt like I couldn’t reach all my students. There was no way, and I burned out because of that. I was trying to get to everybody, and I just couldn’t do it. One of the great things here is the small class sizes. By week 3 I already had a good grasp on where most of my students are.

It’s a story we hear time and again about teachers being underresourced and, by consequence, students often winding up underserved. At TNCS, Ms. Sandkuhler has a very manageable 14 in one class and 13 another. “That’s amazing,” she says, “and I love that it’s so centered around where the students are. Yes, we’re going to encourage them and challenge them, but not to the point of frustration.”

She is here again making a comparison to her stint in the county public school system. “You had to stay on pace. If your students didn’t understand addition, too bad, you had to move on to subtraction because the test is happening on this day coming soon, regardless. That’s another reason I needed to move on. I felt bad for the kids. They weren’t ready, which was totally fine by me—we all learn differently—but that’s not how the county saw it. It was not okay.”

Ms. Sandkuhler teaches Math and English Language Arts (ELA), the two core subjects. She shares the K/1st cohort with Pei Ge, who teaches Global Studies, Science, and Mandarin. When asked about TNCS’s multilingual bent, she says, “I was very forthcoming at my interview about not being bilingual, and it wasn’t a blocker. But I think it’s wonderful to start teaching language so young. My students are now teaching me things in Spanish and Chinese, which is really cool.”

Love of Art and Nature

So what makes Ms. Sandkuhler tick besides a love of teaching? “I love art. My sister is an artist, a sculptor, so I live vicariously through her sometimes,” she said. “When I taught pre-K, during the kids’ naptime, I’d sit and watch YouTube videos on how to do calligraphy, and I would practice during my downtime. That’s something I had always wanted to learn. It’s very therapeutic. I like to draw and paint, too.”

In addition to making art, Ms. Sandkuhler enjoys being outside in nature (hence the nature-based preschool), especially hiking. Her parents live in an idyllic setting on the Choptank River in Dorchester County, and she goes there to kayak, crab, and fish. She describes her mother’s love of hummingbirds and the handheld feeders that the birds will come feed out of if you remain still enough. “Sometimes it’s so nice to get out and away,” she said.

Not surprisingly, her pursuits out of the classroom influence her approach inside it: “Parents should know that I’m creative. I’m patient with the students. If they’re not getting something a certain way, then we’ll try a different approach. Basically, I’ll be their kid’s advocate for the school year.” Among a parent community that values art, creativity, and compassion, this will all come as very welcome news. There are additional benefits as well, including the cognitive gains that come with the synergy between art and academic disciplines:

The county schools are so into math and reading—which is fine, I get that, but they’ll take away band and art. Those are the first things to go. But, for kids who might be struggling with math and reading, the arts might be the only thing they look forward to at school. If they can’t have a reason to go to school, the other subjects are just going to suffer more. So, I really feel strongly that creativity needs to be incorporated not just in art class, but throughout the curriculum, including my subjects, math and ELA. I just find it very important. More understanding starts to open up for the child.

Artfully said, Ms. Sandkuhler! Welcome to TNCS!

Meet Multifaceted Loretta Lee: One of TNCS’s New Lower Elementary Teachers!

Given its progressive, inquiry-based bent, it’s no surprise that The New Century School attracts some very special educators, as we have seen over the years. The 2019–2020 school year boasts several new faces, all of whom will be profiled by Immersed. Today’s post, though, is all about Loretta Lee, who has a 2nd- and 3rd-grade homeroom and teaches English Language Arts (ELA) and Global Studies to the 2nd- through 4th-grade cohort.

Background

IMG_0773Right off the bat, Ms. Lee identifies herself as an educator. This avocation seems to be central to who she is (although it’s not the only way she sees herself). “I have been teaching since the late 1970s,” she said. “One of the reasons I’ve stayed in the profession as long as I have is that I consider myself a lifelong learner. I enjoy learning new ways to teach and new techniques, and I’ve been give the opportunity in most schools that I’ve worked in to be able to grow in all sorts of different ways, like sitting on hiring committees, running book clubs, and so on.”

She also explains that she has seen education trends come and go and has clear notions of what works and what doesn’t:

I’ve seen a full gamut of what’s going on in education. One of the things I’ve chosen to be here at TNCS is the progressive nature of the school and the ability to meet kids where they are. That’s not true in all schools, and that’s one of the things that definitely drew me here. I’ve been in places that really embrace that, and I’ve been at schools that really don’t.

She earned an undergraduate degree in early childhood education in Boston and went on to obtain a graduate degree at University of Wisconsin in Madison, where her major was Educational Law and Policy Studies. In support of these studies, she testified at senate assembly meetings as well as served as an intern on a committee for how monies were spent in public schools. She also created curricula for incarcerated youth. “Oftentimes what happens to those poor kids is that their education stops as soon as they get incarcerated,” she explained. “We put together a curriculum so that when they came back out, at least one thing was in place for them.”

At TNCS

Ms. Lee brings a rich background of experience to her classroom, and this becomes a valuable asset not just to her lucky students but to her as a teacher as well, as she explains. “One of the benefits that comes with age is knowing yourself well enough to know what fits. I don’t think you know that when you’re very young and just starting out. So this is where my career journey has led me.”

Although she now lives in northern Baltimore County on a 3 1/2-acre piece of property, she and her family have lived all over the country. Her husband is also a career educator, and they have taught in Connecticut, where they met; on the West Coast; and for 15 years in Texas before relocating here in 2014. They decided to come back to be near their parents, one set in Florida, the other in New Jersey. The Lees  are now right in the middle! They also really like where they live: “There’s a donkey next door,” said Ms. Lee, “and roosters everywhere. We have horses and two large dogs we wanted to give the ability to be outside and stretch their legs. It’s very beautiful and quiet. I only wish it was about 15 miles south because the commute isn’t great,” she joked. Besides her four-legged babies, she has two sons. The oldest is 27 and still lives in Dallas. The younger one (age 19) is here with them and doing a “gap year” between graduating high school and starting college, explained Ms. Lee.

Before coming to TNCS, she taught at Krieger Schechter Day School in Pikesville. But now that she’s at TNCS, she finds it refreshing, she says. “It’s really a fit, even with trying to get used to the nuances of a new school and its culture. The kids have been great, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them. My colleagues have been very sweet, and I know I’m probably the oldest, but I always say I’m young at heart.”

As for how she wound up teaching ELA, she explains that this is the first time in a long time that she is not teaching math but has always been interested in ELA.

I went to a parochial school for many years and I knew that’s not the way I wanted to teach, and it’s not the way I learn best either. So, I wanted to open up my mind to other ways of getting the same information. There’s not one way—there are many, many ways, and I just wanted to allow for that. Visually, aurally, it doesn’t take you long to realize strengths and weaknesses when you’re presenting in multiple ways. Where are they picking it up the best? That’s half the battle. Where do I put this information in so that it actually goes in and stays somewhere? Once you learn those aspects of teaching, it makes it very easy to move on and keep making progress.

And I like ELA! It comprises not only the reading element but also the writing and the spelling, and it really has all the individual nuances for the English. I want the students to make connections; I want them to see that it works together. I think so often we segment things out and then you expect the children to make the connections. I think if you connect everything together to begin with, then it really makes sense for them.

Ms. Lee has familiarized herself with the Singapore math curriculum as and appreciates seeing that same approach used in math as well—making real-world connections to numbers. Math for this cohort of 33 total students, by the way, is taught by Ms. Klusewitz as is science.


As mentioned, although Ms. Lee is a veteran educator and teaching is very important to her, she has other sides and has many interests. “I guess the one thing that parents should know about me is that I am a parent, and I have been there, done that. But I have many facets. I really enjoy design work and color and art pieces, so that’s a love of mine as well. I also enjoy being on the water, especially the ocean. It’s my place to regroup and recharge.”

IMG_0714She spends much of each summer in Maine, where she bakes cheddar biscuits, blueberry crisp, and the like for her best friend’s retail shop. “I’m the comedy relief,” says Ms. Lee. “When I arrive, everyone goes, ‘she’s baaaack’!”When it’s time for her “to come back to reality,” she enjoys cooking in her spare time and has a to-die-for tequila lime shrimp. Let’s hope she makes an appearance at a TNCS pot luck!

With or without your blueberry crisp  in tow, Ms. Lee, welcome to the TNCS community!

 

TNCS Head of School Wraps up the 2018–2019 School Year!

Shara Khon Duncan has been Head of School at The New Century School for a full year.  Immersed had another sit-down with her for a nostalgic look back at her first year, what goals she set and accomplished, what went well, what she’s continuing to address, and what she’ll tackle next.

Immediately, Sra. Duncan expressed her pleasure and gratitude for what she called a great year.

It’s really great—I love it. Friends, family, and former colleagues will say things like, ‘you don’t look tired enough,’ or ‘you’re still smiling; how is that possible?’, and it’s because I love what I do. It’s not a job. I love coming to this place everyday, where I have such wonderful people to work with as well as wonderful students and families. I tell people that this is one of the most diverse environments that I’ve been in. It’s a blessing to be here.

Diversity and languages are, indeed, important to Sra. Duncan, who was a Diversity Coordinator at one of her former schools. She is amazed that TNCS doesn’t even need one—it organically attracts a culturally diverse population and is inherently inclusive and respectful of the community’s various needs. And the languages really elevate the school for her; in fact, that’s what originally drew her to TNCS (see TNCS Welcomes Shara Khon Duncan as Head of School for her rich history with languages). She gets to use her adopted language Spanish daily, and she is even picking up some Mandarin, thanks to the perseverance of Li Laoshi. Sra. Duncan joked that, so far, she can tell you whether it’s raining or not. “In all seriousness, though, it’s just wonderful to hear the students speaking in Spanish and Mandarin,” said Sra. Duncan. It amazes me to hear kindergarten students who just started in the fall and spoke only English singing in both languages at the spring concert and sounding like they’ve been doing it all their lives. It gives me chills.”

IMG_2889.jpg

Goals Accomplished

The year went really fast in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve been here a long time,” said Sra. Duncan. “It presented some challenges in the sense that there was a lot of work to do just putting systems into place, trying to make it so that we can run more efficiently in the background, which was one of my goals.” She explained that in order to be as visible and out and about on campus as she’d like to be, she needed to first work behind the scenes to establish a framework.

One such system is a new student management system, which the TNCS community will learn about in the coming weeks and will launch for the 2019–2020 school year. It’s called Blackbaud, and it will provide a much more efficient platform for communication—think school delay and closing announcements—as well as much, much more. Staff will be able to readily send out notifications, and teachers will have individual web pages that parents can access to find out what’s going on in the classroom rather than receiving such information from a sometimes unwieldy email platform. Resource boards will also be available to house other kinds of information so parents don’t have to go spelunking through their inboxes to find out, for example, what is the requested dress for an upcoming student performance. It’s right there in one easy-to-access place.

“That process of vetting various systems to see which one would work best for us took a good deal of my time,” said Sra. Duncan, “but we established teams, and I talked to other schools. Things like that take time; you want to do your due diligence. There’s no one system that works well for everyone, perfectly, but our hope is that this one will probably work the best for us.”

Blackbaud will also facilitate the application process as well as the administrative workflow for teachers and other staff so that they can maximize their time. “When you’re a small school, you wear many hats. But anything we can do to make people’s jobs better, so they work smarter not harder, is really important. We can, including me, find ways to use our other skills more effectively,” said Sra. Duncan. Curriculum is one thing that is very much on her mind that Blackbaud will help streamline.

See what other successes the year held in Thoughts on the First Half of the Year from TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, and read on for what’s to come!

What’s Next

One important change is with the upcoming implementation of i-Ready supplemental work. “We used to use SuccessMaker, but it didn’t really work for us the way we wanted it to this year. What we found through our research is that i-Ready will give students the ability to practice their skills in ELA and Math in a classroom rotation,” said Sra. Duncan. The advantage is that, as a supplemental program rather than a primary curriculum, it will help diagnose any problem areas students might be having and feed that information to the teacher.

Narrowing the focus a bit, with TNCS having graduated its first-ever 8th-grade class this past year, the Middle School is very much on everyone’s mind. One thing that this class showed Sra. Duncan is that test-taking skills are critical. “It’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “Being a school that doesn’t do standardized testing, per se, we nevertheless have to prepare our students for the standardized testing they’ll need to enter high school. So, we’re working on test-taking skills for our middle school students, in particular, and they all took the ISEE test this past year.”

She says she wants to make the TNCS Middle School the best it can possibly be and is focusing on strengthening that program over the summer.

Our goal is to help people understand that we go all the way through 8th grade. We want people to see this as a school that doesn’t end after preschool or even after elementary, it ends at 8th grade, and we want families in for the long haul. Families who enter in preprimary or primary believe that something is good about our program, so why not see how that can continue in their child’s life? They know that language is important, and they get to see it in action. I’m in awe everyday of what our teachers do, but we want that to continue all the way up. So that’s something we are working on.

Another thing the first crop of 8th-graders revealed to Sra. Duncan and to Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau, TNCS’s “resident expert on high school applications,” is that middle schoolers must get used to doing daily homework, so they increased the amount mid-year. “That may sound like not a popular thing, but it helps them get that time management piece down that they really need in order to be prepared for high school,” explained Sra. Duncan. “Students adapted to it wonderfully, and parents were right along with us!”

With the test pilot of increased homework having gone so well, this new initiative will continue for the coming year. Additionally, research and other long-term projects are on the horizon. “There’s a lot more that we need to teach our students, such as understanding how to use and be critical of technology. There are pieces that they have to learn about the whole process, and what’s important is helping them understand what goes into the process of researching. It’s almost as important as the writing process,” said Sra. Duncan.

She continued: “We feel very good about our first graduating middle school class, and we learned an awful lot about the whole process. Ultimately, we just want to make sure that we have everything we need to make sure our students are prepared for when it’s time to move on from here.”

It’s a Partnership

With everything that Sra. Duncan and the rest of the school is doing to ensure that TNCS students are learning and flourishing, it’s vital to remember that parents also play important roles in this process. One big theme of Sra. Duncan’s is the importance of two-way communication and that her door is open. When community members hear things thirdhand, for example, but don’t bring their concerns forward, uncertainty spreads. “When people are talking to others about something they’ve heard regarding the school, but they don’t come to me, I can’t address it. If you have a concern, I’m happy to talk to you about it,” she said.

She’s going to be straight with you, but she also really wants to hear what you have to say and is going to be very fair about that. “I know I have more peace of mind if I just say my piece or ask my questions. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they can’t come talk to us. This is your child. Come talk to us. We may not agree, but we’ve got to talk about it. I get it—I’m a mom, too.”

A second important theme is that TNCS is a work in progress—a very innovative and exciting work in progress—and that there’s no such thing as a perfect school.

The advantage is that we will always keep trying to be better. We are a young school, but that’s a good thing, because we’re trying to figure out how to make this work beautifully every single day. We are trying to learn from every little thing that doesn’t quite work the right way. We fix what doesn’t work, and we figure out how to do more of what goes great. This hidden gem down here is pretty amazing, and when people really find out about it, they are duly amazed.

Final Thoughts

When asked what the main thing she wanted parents to know about her first year at TNCS, Sra. Duncan said: “This is what I was made to do. This is my thing. I’ve been working toward this my whole life, and I didn’t know it. It’s just so wonderful. This is my place. I love it. I really love it.”

And, with characteristic good humor: “Also please don’t run over me while I’m directing traffic. Please.”

IMG_1946.jpg