TNCS 5th- through 8th-Graders Take the Youth Chinese Test!

On Wednesday, November 13th, upper elementary and middle school students at The New Century School accomplished another big first—they sat for the Youth Chinese Test (YCT). The YCT is an international standardized test and was launched by Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters) to encourage non-native students to learn Chinese and improve their Chinese language proficiency. It assesses students’ abilities to use Chinese in their daily and academic lives and consists of a writing test and a speaking test, which are independent of each other. The writing test is divided into four levels; the speaking test is divided into Beginner and Intermediate levels.

From a handout that TNCS students were given:

The YCT Speaking Test assesses test takers’ ability to express themselves orally in Chinese. It is the counterpart to the Level I and II Chinese Proficiency Scales for Speakers of Other Languages and A Level of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEF). Test takers who are able to pass the Beginner YCT can understand and use familiar everyday expressions that meet specific needs for communication.

Miss Lily and Miss Jasmine, both from the Confucius Institute at Maryland in College Park, came to TNCS to proctor the tests, which Wei Li (Li Laoshi) had arranged well in advance. Li Laoshi had been preparing TNCS students for the test for weeks. It lasted about 20 minutes and was divided into three parts comprising a total of 25 items:

  • Part I: Listen and Repeat (15)
  • Part II: Listen and Reply (5)
  • Part III: Describe Pictures (5)

See how a select few TNCS students fared (understandably, only a few consented to having a videographer in the room!).

“The students did a great job on the test,” said Li Laoshi afterward. “Our school will get the final results after 1 month, and the certificates will ship to our school from Beijing 2 weeks later!” The maximum score of the YCT is 100, and 60 is considered a passing score. Li Laoshi also offered an explanation about why this test was important:

The reasons why our students need to take the YCT are, first, they can improve their test skills, which is very crucial when they move to middle or high school. Meanwhile, through the test, our students can realize what their current Chinese levels are, which can help them to set a clear learning goal for their Chinese learning in the future.

For practice in the meantime, here are two Chinese websites Li Laoshi uses in class for Daily Three rotations:

Good luck, TNCS students! Zhù hǎo yùn! 祝好运!

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!

Global Studies at TNCS Gets to the Heart of Ancient Civilizations!

For post #333, it’s high time to cover Global Studies in The New Century School elementary and middle school programs. (Immersed has looked at GS in the Montessori classrooms, and, to be sure, those early lessons in this essential discipline pave the way for future analytical thinking about GS topics.) So, buckle up—we’re boarding a time machine back to 2000 BC and forward to visit the three most advanced American civilizations prior to the arrival of the Europeans: the Aztecs, the Maya, and the Inca.

But first, why are Global Studies so important? They are foundational to cultivating global citizens, a tenet of TNCS’s educational approach. According to the National Council for the Social Studies, by studying other cultures, students:

  • [gain] knowledge of world cultures and
  • [understand] the historical, geographic, economic, political, cultural, and environment relationships among world regions and peoples.

As their critical skills develop, older students are asked to:

  • [examine] the nature of cultural differences and national or regional conflicts and problems and
  • [act] to influence public policy and private behavior on behalf of international understanding, tolerance, and empathy.

So, pretty important. Accordingly, in Quarter 1, TNCS 5th- through 8th-graders dug deep into their unit on Ancient World Cultures. Global Studies at TNCS is not studying historical facts and committing them to memory. To ensure that material is truly learned, GS is integrative, incorporating art, writing, and even performance. GS teacher Daphnée Hope explained that, for each of the three civilizations, students created an art project that celebrated one aspect of the given culture. They could build a 3D model of a village, draw maps of the various regions like the Yucatán peninsula where many Mayan structures remain today, or even build pyramids or citadels such as reproductions of Machu Picchu, for example.

The unit culminated with a large project intended to demonstrate that students have absorbed the material and could reproduce it in their own (very) unique way. They were graded in two-part fashion: In one prong, they were assessed on how they presented, in terms of engaging the audience, and, in the other prong, they were assessed on being a good audience and being respectful, attentive, and polite. As you’ll see from their presentations, one theme captivated them all. (If you guessed human sacrifice, you’d be correct!)

 . . . Nothing could beat the way the Aztecs performed their sacrifices. The Aztecs had a very unique way of performing their sacrifices: They would lay people down, stab them with an obsidian blade, and pull out their hearts. Most people would think it is gruesome, but it is a way of signaling their opponents defeat . . .

One thing is for sure—the ancient civilizations unit will really stick with these students! Other interesting tidbits that captured their attention were the Mayan belief that humans were created from maize, that the Mayans understood the concept of zero, and that the Mayan calendar is never wrong . . . except in predicting that the world was to have ended on December 21, 2012. Minor detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2 will explore World Cultures and Geography, followed by Civics in America in Q3 and American History in Q4. Although these units involve no bloody religious rituals, there will be plenty to keep TNCS students engaged and their perspectives broadened!


“Machu Picchu is still here,
Machu Picchu is still there!
Standin’ up!”

Get a Glimmer of TNCS Middle School: Meet Daphnée Hope!

The Middle School program at The New Century School got a whole new look for the 2019–2020 school year. Daphnée Hope not only took over as the 7th- and 8th-grade homeroom teacher, but she also transformed the classroom into a place of beauty, inspiration, and motivation. You can’t walk into her class without feeling uplifted! Even her name sparks positivity!

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With Hope for the Future . . .

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Home from first deployment!

Ms. Hope came to TNCS from San Antonio, Texas, and she and her husband moved to Baltimore almost 2 years ago for his work as a fighter pilot with the U.S. military. They now live in the Hampden neighborhood. She taught for a year and a half at other schools in the city before joining TNCS and is in her fifth year of teaching overall. We’ll delve into how her first year at TNCS is going, but first let’s backtrack to how she found teaching—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it found her!

Ms. Hope earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Texas A&M University. Her teaching degree came later and not in a completely conventional manner. Having so many creative writing credits meant that she could take additional related classes and then be “adopted” by a school that would mentor her as a teacher. “During my first year of teaching I wasn’t technically a teacher,” she explained. “I walked in on the first day of school and thought, ‘the students and I are going to learn together!’ It was really scary but it was the most rewarding growing experience.”

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Hiking in Sedona, AZ

This last insight came from a bit of reflection—she wasn’t immediately aware that deciding to teach was the right thing to have done: “I didn’t actually set out to be a teacher. I became a teacher. I’ve always loved kids, but I had never thought about teaching.” She recalls her father telling her and her sister that they could choose whatever degree they wanted to pursue, so long as they could find employment in their chosen fields. Ms. Hope had a job set up in France after college, but, much to her dismay, that fell through.

So, upon graduating, she started sending out résumés, thinking that she would teach for a year while figuring out what career she really wanted. She went for an interview for a teaching position in west Texas that somehow did not feel right to her. On the drive home, she confided her feelings to her mother who had accompanied her. “I really don’t want to teach there,” she told her mother, who responded that it was sort of the only available option. Then, in a stroke of maternal genius, she suggested stopping in a cute little town for lunch to cheer her daughter up. What happened next can only be described as “destined.”

We stopped in, and this feeling came over both of us. My mom said, ‘You can work here for a year.’ So, we go to the middle school, and I basically knock on the door and introduce myself to the principal. I said something like, ‘I know this might seem random, but I was wondering if you had any English positions open.’ She actually replied, ‘We have been praying for a teacher to walk through our doors for almost 4 years now!’ They hadn’t had a teacher, and there I was, just like they had wished for. Also, like me, she was a graduate of Texas A&M and an English major. Just like that, they hired me! I couldn’t believe it—it was so unexpected, but it was the best 2 years of teaching I had ever had. It was a godsend. The only reason I left is that my husband and I got engaged and had to move.

IMG_1399That was Ozona Middle School, and Ms. Hope clearly benefited from that near-miraculous experience. Her career path was set—she was a teacher through and through, after all!

. . . And Hope for the Present!

Mere weeks into her first year at TNCS, Ms. Hope seems to embrace everything about the school, and her positivity is infectious. Upper elementary and middle school students are working hard in her ELA and Global Studies classes and loving every minute of it.

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She came to TNCS because she was actively seeking an independent school, her experiences in city public schools having been somewhat discouraging. When she met with Head of School Señora Duncan, she felt excited about the school and the prospect of teaching here. “I could see myself fitting in well here. I remember going home and telling my husband that the kids are just so happy, and they want to learn.”

Ms. Hope’s ELA class initially comprised a Daily 4 Rotation of independent reading with daily reading log, mini writing lesson with her, word work station (5th grade) or ISEE test prep (6th through 8th grades), and iReady (see TNCS BTS Night for more information). However, as time has gone on, she has adapted the Daily 4 to better fit the needs of her students and to incorporate real-world learning. Depending on the day of the week, the Daily 4+ might consist of novel study through a literature circle station, a TED talk station, iReady reading comprehension lessons, a vocabulary/word work station, a social-emotional journaling station, and a news article analysis and conversation station.

Teaching writing is one of her passions, and she especially loves teaching writing to middle schoolers. Their first writing assignment for the year was a personal narrative, and quarter 2 started off with creative writing—a Halloween-inspired short story. “I really enjoy building relationships through writing. I use writing and journaling to help my students make sense of their feelings and have an outlet—a creative space to call their own,” she said. Middle schoolers, after all, are going through profound physical and emotional changes, so having tools like creative expression to forge them into something manageable is highly important for this age group. Her classroom is a space where they can be themselves, maybe even their best selves.

“My favorite thing about working here is that the kids are so happy to learn. You just don’t find that everywhere,” said Ms. Hope. It’s also true that not every school is fortunate enough to have such enthusiastic educators. Ms. Hope infuses her classes with rigor and fun. Her standards are high, and TNCS students are thoroughly enjoying rising to the challenge! Welcome to TNCS, Ms. Hope, and here’s hoping the rest of your school year gets even better!

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Service Learning Gets Souped Up at TNCS!

Service is a core value at The New Century School, along with Respect, Compassion, and Courage. Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali makes sure that TNCS students have regular projects to engage in that benefit the community and environment, from the Fell’s Point neighborhood, to Baltimore City, to national and international initiatives. Past projects include—but certainly are not limited to—Kindness Rocks, tree restoration in Puerto Rico, blanket-making for sick children, and raising storm water run-off awareness.

Soup’s On!

On Friday, September 27th, Ms. Danyali introduced her vision for Q1’s service learning project for TNCS 5th- through 8th-graders: making soup kits for food insecure citizens of Baltimore. She found this opportunity through an organization called Live with Purpose, whose mission is to [engage] volunteers to meet vital community needs and live with purpose through meaningful service.” The soup kits will be distributed to Living Classrooms and other local organizations like Paul’s Place who will distribute them to identified families in need to provide them “a hot and hearty meal.”

Before the kit assembly began, though, Ms. Danyali provided some context:

I know you’ve been partnering with other classrooms on some school-related service initiatives, but, today, you get to do a service activity with a focus on human dignity. No matter what anybody’s background, everybody deserves to be respected. We have to have meaning in our lives, which means that we have to take care of ourselves but also other people here in our school community and even beyond. I think it’s a really important value to serve. So, today we’re going to work on soup kits for people in Baltimore who are facing food insecurity. Food insecurity means that a person may not have the means to get enough food. When I reached out to Live with Purpose, they said they needed help making soup kits, and I said, ‘I have the perfect helpers!’

She next shared some sobering facts:

  • The USDA defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”
  • A quarter of Baltimore residents live in a food desert (an area where fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods are difficult to find due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers).
  • Nearly half of Maryland’s hungry are working—people who don’t make enough to provide both healthy food and a safe home for their families.
  • 1 in 4 children in Baltimore City’s schools are hungry when arriving to school, having not eaten a full meal since they left school the day before.

These are terrible truths that are difficult to fathom—25% of school-aged children go to school hungry? And 25% of all Baltimoreans don’t have access to healthy food?

These soup kits could make a real difference in our neighbors’ lives. So, during Teacher’s Choice time, first middle schoolers then elementary students spent 30 minutes putting together bean and barley soup kits to serve 4 to 6 people each. Stations were set up for pairs of students, and they got right to it!

“I think this is a great way to give back to the community,” said one TNCS 6th-grader. “This is fun, and it makes me feel good because I know I’m helping,” echoed a 7th-grader. They worked very carefully and neatly to produce attractive, quality kits.

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Thanks to TNCS students and TNCS Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali, some Baltimore residents might feel a little less insecure this fall. “I’m confident that knowing you’re helping other people, you’ll be very happy,” said Ms. Danyali.

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TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night: Your Source for Need-to-Know Info for the 2019–2020 Academic Year!

Now that summer has unofficially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2019–2020 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night on Thursday, September 5th. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies. In other words, students have had 2 weeks to acclimate—now it’s our turn! However, many parents were not able to attend, so this post will outline some of the more important bits of information you’ll need to get ensure a great year ahead.

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As TNCS enters its 10th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and continuing to grow the student body.

An overview of tips and policies is given here, and specific documents can also be downloaded accessed via the TNCS Parent Hub (as well as Blackbaud—see more info below).

Welcome to the 2019–2020 School Year!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Shara Khon Duncan warmly welcoming parents, new and returning: “It’s nice to see all of your faces again—welcome,” she began. She next introduced the new staff and elementary and middle school teachtncs-back-to-school-night-2017ers, who then returned to their classrooms to prepare for the group breakouts by division. (Immersed will profile Suzannah Hopkins, Admissions; Lindsey Sandkuhler, K–1; Loretta Lee, 2–3; and Daphnee Hope, 7–8 in the annual “Meet the Teacher” series so you can get to know them better.) Chef Danielle provided tasty refreshments for attendees.IMG_2827 copy

Sra. Duncan then addressed the parent audience and presented four primary points about this school year at TNCS.

Blackbaud Comes to TNCS

Never fear, it’s not a swashbuckling pirate! Blackbaud is a brand-new student information platform rolling out for the new school year. Led by Sra. Duncan, TNCS had been on a quest for an effective, efficient system for more than a year, and Blackbaud rose to the top after a thorough vetting process. Said Sra. Duncan,”with a student information system, we should be able to get information about a student; make queries within the database; and, most importantly, we should be able to communicate with families.” Sra. Duncan gave well-deserved props to Karin Cintron for setting up Blackbaud and getting it out to parents.

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In addition to everything Blackbaud will make easier to accomplish from an administrative perspective, like admissions, re-enrollment, and so on, the parent experience will be greatly enhanced as well. The system houses class pages, an interactive calendar, community groups for networking (e.g., class parents, Parent Council, volunteering), resource boards, a newsfeed, links to Family ID and other sites, and more. Throughout this school year and as parents get familiar with it, Blackbaud will become the go-to for just about everything school related. “No more digging back through emails to find out what concert attire is supposed to be,” said Sr. Duncan. “It’ll all be there for you in one convenient location.”

The rollout will continue in a piecemeal fashion, as TNCS administration recognizes that too much change all at once can be overwhelming. This initiative is to help make school processes easier, after all. “I really want everyone to buy in to Blackbaud as our primary communications tool,” said Sra. Duncan. “However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t email a teacher—please continue to do so. Blackbaud is more for our school-wide points of business.”

Communication: It’s Not Just Talk

Speaking of communication, this brings us to Sra. Duncan’s second topic. “Last year was my first year as Head of School, and I learned a lot. One thing was the importance of communication. I really want to beef up communication with parents, but that’s a two-way  endeavor.” She urges parents to speak up when they have a concern, not to wait around and let a situation get out of hand or cause bad feelings. “If something’s bothering you, please let us know,” she said. “It’s better for all of us if we can address a problem from the outset and possibly make a difference. You’re not bugging us—these are your children. We’re supposed to be working together.”

Sra. Duncan has a way of getting to the heart of a matter! Keep the lines of communication open through emails, phone-calls, conferences . . . but preferably not during drop-off.

Carline: Ins and Outs

And that brings us to the third topic of the evening: drop-off and pick-up. The most important take-away here is safety. There are children and adults walking about, and their safety is paramount. The carline is a wonderfully convenience for parents, but it only works the way it’s supposed to when everyone follows the rules.

Drivers: The speed limit is 5 mph. Not any higher for any reason. Please obey the traffic directors and their signals.

Walkers: Use crosswalks–don’t walk through the parking lot! Drivers are obeying traffic directors and might not see you. The directors themselves might not see you. Do yourself and your child a favor and use the crosswalks!

Double parking: Don’t do it! You might get ticketed, as police officers are really cracking down on that this year. It also causes numerous circulation problems and causes frustration for TNCS’s neighbors. What is double parking? It can mean temporarily parking next to a legally parked car and leaving your car with the hazard lights on, but it also applies to leaving your car at all anywhere on the street that isn’t a designated parking spot. “It gums up the system,” said Sra. Duncan.

Obey traffic laws: For example, avoid blocking the intersection of Ann and Aliceanna streets.

You may have noticed that Sra. Duncan is no longer directing exiting traffic. Unfortunately, not to mention unacceptably, she was nearly hit three times last year and is not willing to repeat that risk. “I love my life,” she said, “and I would love to continue being Head of The New Century School with my legs intact.”

“I don’t know of any school that has a carline that everyone likes,” said Sra. Duncan, “and it never goes perfectly. But, we all have to work together. We are doing the best that we can to get the students out of the school buildings and into your cars. So, your patience is really important and appreciated.”

Grades Get Real

“I saw way too many high grades last year,” began Sra. Duncan. “While you might think, ‘great—that’s awesome!’, it’s really not. High grades are great only if they are truly earned.” So, she met with teachers to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what the grades mean. How are children earning their As, Es, and 1s? Indiscriminately serving out high grades now will not serve students well when they move on to high school, and reality sets in. “One, we’re not setting our students up for success with this approach,” continued Sra. Duncan, “and two, we certainly don’t want to get the reputation that we inflate grades.” She also pointed out that students will not try harder if they have already achieved the pinnacle of success. “They need room to grow, something to work toward. There’s room to grow in a B, and it means that teachers will be working with your child in those specific areas.”

“Please don’t panic if you see some honest grades come home. We really want to do what’s best for our students.” Inflate gate deflated! Homeroom teachers will provide more information on grading rubrics.


And that was the gist of Back-to-School Night. More homeroom-specific information will be communicated by teachers, via Blackbaud, and from Class Parents. Enjoy your school year!

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.”

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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.”

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