Gill-Montague school district gears up for another school year

  • Recorder Staff/Tom RelihanGill-Montague Regional School District Superintendent Michael Sullivan

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/13/2016 9:46:12 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Expanding critical thinking and technology skills will be front and center in the Gill-Montague Regional School District as it enters the new school year, according to Superintendent Michael Sullivan.

The district hopes to achieve those goals with a new focus on essay writing across all grade levels and subjects, new teaching strategies, group work and 150 shiny new Chromebooks.

“This increase in technology will allow teachers, especially in ELA and social studies, to have students work collaboratively on research projects and writing assignments,” Sullivan said.

In the respective schools, expanded programming and new staff members will bolster student learning, he said.

Turners Falls High School

At Turners Falls High School, new assistant principal Ervin Santiago is a Spanish-fluent doctor of law and master of business administration who Sullivan described as a “life-long learner.” He previously worked in Springfield’s public schools.

The high school’s advisory program will shift toward student leadership this year, with student leaders having received training over the summer from teacher Jessica Vachula-Curtis, Sullivan said. That program sees students receive support in small groups with a single staff member.

Great Falls Middle School

Great Falls has added two new sixth-grade teachers, Daniel Carew and David Brewster. Carew will teach math, while Brewster will teach English language arts.

The school is also expanding its related arts program, with a permanent theater class for seventh-grade students and Spanish class for the eighth grade.

Hillcrest Elementary School

Partnering with the community to bolster student learning will continue to be a priority this year at Hillcrest Elementary School, Sullivan said.

The school plans to hold family literacy workshops, community playgroups, monthly all-school meetings and parent theme nights for its preschool through first-grade students and their families.

Principal Sarah Burstein said she’s excited that all of the school’s teachers are returning this year.

“We have a fabulous staff, and important new initiatives are a big focus of ongoing professional development for teachers around literacy instruction and around higher order thinking skills,” she said. That includes fostering students’ interest in talking about their learning, explaining their thinking behind problem solving, being able to defend that thinking, and asking good questions about their peers’ thinking.

Burstein said staff from Hillcrest also went to Columbia University over the summer to receive training from Lucy Calkins, who co-directs the Literacy Specialist Program there.

“We’re excited to share that back at school this year,” Burstein said. “(Calkin’s) Unit of Study approach to writing helps implement grade level (material) in a way specific to our students needs, in a way that sets high expectations for student performance, so even first graders see themselves as writers of personal narrative, nonfiction, persuasive writing and fiction.”

Teachers from pre-K, Kindergarten and Grade 1 will also attend trainings at the Grimes Reading Institute, where literacy experts will help them understand how students develop early literacy skills and how to implement classroom activities that are literacy-rich.

“Our preschool teachers will have a series of afternoon workshops with preschool families, where they’ll teach them routines that happen in the classroom to reinforce it at home, provide with materials and books,” Burstein said of the literacy programs.

The school has also hired a new adjustment counselor to replace a retiring one, and added bilingual paraprofessionals.

Sheffield Elementary

Sheffield Elementary School will welcome a new principal, Melissa Pitrat, and a new assistant principal, Christine Limoges, Sullivan said.

Pitrat began last year and has over two decades of teaching experience, while Limoges, like Santiago, comes to the district from Springfield Public Schools, where she worked as an elementary teacher and literacy specialist.

Pitrat said the school will be implementing a grant from the Carnegie Public Library to expand science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM) in some of the school’s classrooms. That will begin to be rolled out in October, and will see a STEM educator come in to co-teach science lessons with teachers.

Four of the school’s teachers also spent a week over the summer training in Lucy Calkins writing program.

In fourth and fifth grade, two classes will be “decompartmentalized,” Pitrat said. The teachers will teach only two subjects each, and switch students periodically. The third classroom will featured inclusion model with a full-time special education and a full-time general education teacher in same room co-teaching class. Those programs are designed to prepare students for middle school.

Pitrat said the school started a Student Council late last year, and hopes to further implement that this year.

Gill Elementary

Gill Elementary Principal Conor Driscoll said the school’s Destination Imagination project-based learning program will return this year.

“It’s a great program, spearheaded and piloted by Dave Grout, our sixth-grade teacher,” Driscoll said. “It’s beloved by students and families of students that have taken part in it.”

He said students form teams, which are assigned a problem to solve. All the teams get the same problem, and they compete to come up with solutions.

“One of the problems, for example, was to devise a vehicle that will make a certain number of trips using different propulsions, or different wheels each trip,” he said. “They’re given a certain amount of time and do as many trips and transitions as they can, and it ties really well to applying project-based learning to real world situations.”

Last year, at least three teams made it to the regional competitions.

Health and fitness will also be front and center this year, Driscoll said, with the school’s climbing wall almost up and running after a nearly 10-year hiatus.

“It was a long process to get it certified with the state, but it should be good to go,” he said.

Students will also work with the Upinngil Farm and Gill Tavern to learn how to cook.

Driscoll said having all of the school’s staff from last year returning this year will allow them to build up on last year’s successes.

You can reach Tom Relihan at: 413-772-0261, ext. 264


On Twitter: @RecorderTom


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