Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Dr. Betty Ann Wyks provided a progress update on Culture of Caring, one of the District's five goals. Academic Achievement was the focus at the January 28 Board meeting, Teacher Effectiveness was reviewed on February 11, and the remaining two goals -- Fiscal Responsibility, and Community Engagement -- will be addressed at future meetings.
Dr. Wyks described Culture of Caring as meaning "Staff and students will consistently demonstrate respect and concern for others." Sub-components of this goal include developing consistent behavioral norms and an age-appropriate Code of Conduct, which is still in the development phase. Dr. Wyks noted that there is a great deal of work and many discussions taking place within the schools, particularly at the elementary level, where the goal is to develop a consistent program. She mentioned the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) as being one aspect of the program.
Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Elaine Cuglietto, who serves as the District's Dignity Act Coordinator, shared an overview of the DASA structure. She explained that the intent of DASA is to provide an environment free of discrimination and harassment. Each building has an assigned DASA Coordinator, to whom parents, students, and staff can reach out regarding possible incidences. Mrs. Cuglietto explained that all staff members in the District have been trained on DASA, the timeframe for reporting concerns, and what to do if they hear or see that something that should be reported.The list of DASA Coordinators and their contact information is available on the District's website.
Another Culture of Caring component is emergency management. The District's Facilities Director Sam Carder discussed measures that have been taken to address elements recommended by StoneGate Associates, the District's security consultants. He explained that one of the security projects had been put out to bid and the District is seeking State contractor pricing as well. Public Announcement system upgrades are also being quoted through the State Education Department contractor. The District has additionally received pricing for 3M security film, a preventative film applied to glass to deter forced entry. All current door hardware was fixed and confirmed to work, classroom numbers are now prominently displayed in all windows. Exterior lighting in all the schools has been repaired and some lighting has been added. Exterior doors remain locked. Lastly, Mr. Carder explained that floor plans of all buildings in the District were provided to Rye City Police Department, which has conducted drills to familiarize officers with the school layouts.
Rye Middle School Social Worker Peter Green presented an overview of the individual school initiatives relating to character education. Mr. Green defined character education as "teaching of the core values that help people live together in society," and explained that many school districts, organizations, and other institutions have adopted the Six Pillars: responsibility, respect, trustworthiness, caring, fairness, and citizenship as central to their character education programs. Mr. Green pointed out that the District pays particular attention to respect and caring, as well as compassion,empathy, and emotional intelligence. Each of the District's school principals reports their own design and delivery of character education programs. While the programs in the three elementary schools differ in level of control and nomenclature, they emphasize similar values; all employ monthly themes supported through announcements, activities, reading, and curriculum.
Mr. Green noted that Rye Middle School Principal Ann Edwards describes the middle school years as "a crucial time for shaping character and creating a culture of caring," and encourages teachers to support this on a daily basis. Curriculum in classrooms supports conversations about empathy, responsibility, citizenship. Assemblies explore ethnic and gender stereotyping. Classroom visits from Mr. Green, seventh-grade team building activities, student leadership opportunities, clubs, and the peer mediation group further strengthens the values of good character. Additionally, the Middle School holds an annual expo celebrating dignity and differences.
At the High School, Principal Patricia Taylor "sets an intention and looks for opportunities." The school has introduced awards that recognize students who demonstrate good character in addition to academic achievement. Literature is used to support community well-being, a civility committee is evolving and will help plan future programs. Excellent Awareness clubs exist for students interested in service.
Mr. Green specifically spotlighted the Rye School of Leadership (RSoL), explaining that it "embraces value of personal responsibility and caring for others." The RSoL Principal Paul Blank bases values on five words: courage, concern, curiousity, integrity, and leadership. The school also emphasizes five principles: destiny, humility, conscience, truth, and brothers keeper. At RSoL, failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn about oneself, and students are taught to be responsible for their education, actions, and school building.
Mr. Green also spoke about the Rye Youth Council (RYC) and the role that this community organization plays in the schools. RYC advocates visit the District's schools and provide various programs, panels, and events for students and families to participate in.
Lastly, Mr. Green discussed the District's athletic program as another avenue in which to encourage students to develop leadership skills and become people of good character. High School Principal Patricia Taylor and Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics Robert Castagna have put in place procedures regarding acceptable student conduct and is also introducing service learning opportunities for teens.
Dr. Alvarez explained that the District can now explore ways to provide more consistency around the programs that Mr. Green mentioned. He expressed that the District has a series of effective programs and our goal now is to determine how they can come together more systematically, using the Six Pillars as a framework.
Culture of Caring: Midland School's Approach
Midland School Principal Angela Grille and Assistant Principal Joanna Napolitano provided a presentation detailing Midland's character education program, highlighting just one of the approaches the District uses to promote character education. Dr. Grille first explained that "Culture of Caring" means "taking the knowledge and going beyond the District's Code of Conduct and policies, beyond the curriculum and DASA, and making all of those elements come to life for young children by creating a culture where people truly care for each other." She summarized Midland's approach to character education, R.E.A.C.H., which was established in 2003 through the efforts of the School Excellence Team. The group of teachers and parents researched the Six Pillars and simplified these values into a condensed format that children can more easily understand.
R.E.A.C.H., which is an acronym for Respect, Empathy, Acceptance, Cooperation, and Honesty, serves as the framework of Midland's program. The program involves monthly building-wide themes. Among those already focused on this year are Citizenship, Responsibility, Empathy, Gratitude, Acceptance, and Kindness.The themes serve as the center of monthly Spirit Assembles,during which the entire Midland family comes together for a celebration of meaningful "WOW moments" acts of kindness, school-wide tributes, and more. Dr. Grille explained that character education at Midland is also incorporated into various content areas including literature, writing, language, environment, reading, and outdoor classroom studies. Students participate in a number of drives, fundraisers, and outreach initiatives that are conducted by parents as ways to support the R.E.A.C.H. principles. Additionally, Midland participates in many character education activities with RSoL students, which has strengthened the positive relationship between the two buildings.
In 2011, Midland received the National Schools of Character Recognition Award for "the warmth and community within the school and the behaviors and values evident in the school."