Many folks have approached me to thank the staff and administration of MCS for providing more after school and vacation services for their kids. Of course, we’re customer focused and want to be of service to the families who have chosen us for the child’s education. However, in truth, these new services are also driven by a need to change our business model in the times we all face. Fewer children and fewer jobs aren't just affecting the global economy in RI. The weak economy has Catholic schools looking for alternative sources of revenue as well. Nonpublic schools are generally reliant on tuition as a major funding source, followed by private donations and fundraising. But since the state economy has put a damper on endowment income and in some cases on private donations, and since raising tuition has diminishing returns given the strain it puts on our families, fundraising is becoming more important as well as more sophisticated. In response, MCS is working both to boost enrollment and to raise more money through non-tuition sources. That includes everything from bake sales to alumni-giving programs to general community outreach. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual tuition at Catholic schools nationwide in 2007-2008 was approximately $6,000; at other religious schools, approximately $7,000; and at nonsectarian schools, approximately $17,316. In order to move forward, the staff and board knew that we had to do two things. First, expand upon our great programming so as to remain competitive and an excellent choice in a field that contains many wonderful local public schools as well as other Catholic schools. Second, explore alternative forms of revenue that would help our bottom line without further stressing our families. So, in first looking at our programming, we attempted to improve it from the points of view of students, teachers, resources, and community partners.
- Increase connection between the classroom and the real world.
To accomplish this we increased the amount of project based learning in our classrooms. Students go beyond the textbook to study complex topics based on real-world issues, such as the water quality in their communities or the history of their town, analyzing information from multiple sources, including the Internet and interviews with experts. Project-based classwork is more demanding than traditional book-based instruction, where students may just memorize facts from a single source. Instead, students utilize original documents and data, mastering principles covered in traditional courses but learning them in more meaningful ways. Projects can last weeks; multiple projects can cover entire courses. Student work is presented to audiences beyond the teacher, including parents and community groups. We’re also working with our partner school, Prout, to bring the Middle Years IB program to MCS.
2. Increase connections between and among our core courses and specials
Studies should enable students to reach across traditional disciplines and explore their relationships. History, literature, and art can be interwoven and studied together. MCS teachers work between and among grade spans and disciplines so that students study subjects using many forms of knowledge and expression, as literacy skills are expanded beyond the traditional focus on words and numbers to include graphics, color, music, and motion.
3. Increase the level of cooperative learning being offered at MCS.
Working together on project teams and guided by trained teachers, MCS students have increased opportunities to learn the skills of collaborating, managing emotions, and resolving conflicts in groups. Each member of the team is responsible for learning the subject matter as well as helping teammates to learn. Cooperative learning develops social and emotional skills, providing a valuable foundation for their lives as workers, family members, and citizens.
4. Expand the range and quality of our assessment process to better guide instruction.
We knew that assessment needed to expand beyond simple test scores to instead provide a detailed, continuous profile of student strengths and weaknesses. In addition to reviewing student work individually and by teacher teams, MCS adopted the new STAR Assessment system in place of the Terranova 3. The Star is a system of incredibly high rigor. Its reliability and validity are among the industry’s highest. More importantly, it provides basal, formative and summative info on students for the purpose of monitoring and adjusting instruction so as to ensure that students are performing at their expectancy levels. Teachers, parents, and individual students can closely monitor academic progress and use the assessment to focus on areas that need improvement. Tests should be an opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes, retake the test, and improve their scores.
5. Expand the range of auxiliary, support, specials and after school programming MCS has always had a fabulous theatre program as offered by JP Feragamo as well as karate with Kaela Dionne. Our resource program was reorganized to provide expanded support services under a Special Ed certified teacher, Mrs. Darsch. We brought in the Paul Effman Company to run an instrumental music program. We now have the 1:1 program offering intramural sports after school on Wednesdays to kids in grades k-5. Our robotics program was redesigned and better resourced. We were fortunate to have an opportunity to offer ham radio and cyber patriot programming to our middle school students. Our food service program was expanded this year to include Campus Cuisine. Finally, we’re currently in negotiations to run a math enrichment program after school along with piano lessons. Teacher Support Our teachers are being provided with professional development opportunities to enhance their effectiveness and give them a sense of greater impact and professional regard. The staff recognizes that the modern day teacher is a coach providing both intellectual and emotional guidanc. At MCS, the staff moves students through the learning process, giving special attention to nurturing a student's interests and self-confidence. As technology provides more curricula, teachers spend less time lecturing entire classes and more time mentoring students as individuals and tutoring them in areas in which they need help or seek additional challenges. Preparation for a teaching career follows the model of apprenticeships, in which novices learn from experienced masters. Teaching skills should be continually sharpened, with time to take courses, attend conferences, and share lessons and tips with other teachers, online (Middle Web, Teacher Network, etc.) and in person. With this in mind, our staff is provided with formal PD time as well as the freedom to take time off independently to visit other classrooms in other schools in order to observe other professionals practice the art and science of teaching.
The intelligent use of technology, has helped MCS transform and improve almost all aspects of school including modernizing the nature of curriculum, student assignments, parental connections, and administration. Online curricula now include lesson plans, simulations, and demonstrations for classroom use and review. With online connections, students can share their work and communicate more productively and creatively. Teachers can maintain records and assessments using software tools and stay in close touch with students and families via email and voicemail. Resources associated with time, money, and facilities have also been restructured. The elementary school day is flexible allowing for more in-depth project work. MCS no longer closes for a three-month summer vacation, but remains open for student activities, teacher development, and community use. In our middle school, through the practice of looping, teachers stay with a class for three years, deepening their relationships with students. By streamlining our front office team, more money is being directed to the classroom rather than the bureaucracy.
When schoolwork involves parents and our parish/community partners, students learn more. MCS recognizes that parents and other caregivers are a child's first teachers and can instill values that encourage school learning. We strive to build strong alliances with parents and welcome their active participation in the classroom. We try to inform our families of the school's educational goals, the importance of high expectations for each child, and ways of assisting with homework and classroom lessons. Our parish and community partners assist us in areas that may be beyond or exceed school resources. Therefore close connections with these entities, through the work of our development office, helps in this regard. Second, alternative sources of revenue have been enacted or are being explored. We first tried to expand upon what we are already doing well. Therefore, we’ve instituted a summer pre-k program to continue to good work of our pre-k program as well as to provide a quality summer service to our pre-k families. Second, Sue Whaley has an outstanding reputation for day care services. We’ve capitalized on that by asking Sue to run mini camps and an expanded summer camp for kids in grades k-5. Below is the announcement on Sue’s new programming:
-Our Extended Day Program will now be available on “no school” days and school vacation weeks to help out working families! -Kids bring a snack and lunch and we do the rest! -Outdoor activities, games, crafts, and much more! -Hours are 7:30am-5:30pm. -Available dates: Tuesday, November 8 (Election Day) Friday, November 11 (Veteran’s Day) Monday, January 16 (MLK Day) -Mini Vacation Week Camps: December 27-30 (4 days) February 20-24 (5 days) April 17-21 (5 days)
Finally, better use of our ‘extra” space is being tapped through rentals to areas businesses and individuals interested in accessing our classrooms, gym, cafeteria and kitchen outside of school hours. So, that’s the ‘new” business model at MCS. Hopefully it will serve to make us sustainable into the future so that we may concentrate on our real business….fostering a faith-filled community of lifelong learners and compassionate leaders committed to living out Catholic values and following Jesus' example through prayer, service, and love.