FAIRFIELD COUNTY — Science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction were on display when State Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais visited the Fairfield Magnet School for Science and Math on Thursday.
Computer programs that promote literacy by assessing a child’s starting point and providing a targeted level of instruction were one thing he found impressive there.
Principal Gail Whitfield explained how the educational team works at the school to provide data-related art and special area instruction work within small groups. Each faculty member adopts a student who needs extra help and encouragement.
At the selective school, the goal is for no student to have his or her average drop below 77 which would mean the child would be transferred to another district school. Study hall is used both for remediation and for acceleration as the school works to challenge its more gifted learners.
“We see potential in our children an that it is not okay for them or this school to be just average,” Whitfield said. “If students choose to come here, we work extra hard to keep them with us.”
Movement education is one innovation based upon research that students moving around can stimulate their brains, so each teacher can lecture for 10-20 minutes but then must involve a kinetic, movement-based action.
“Children should go home exhausted each day, not teachers, because the children should have had so many projects and programs to participate in that they are tired,” Zais said. “People learn by doing and you designed ways to learn by doing. That really makes a difference.”
In 2007-08 the school was reconstituted and children were recruited using a lottery system, but the children accepted show propensity for math and science.
“Some are now in the STEMS academy at the Middle School, so that shows we are doing a good job of preparing them for the next level,” said Whitfield. “We look at all test results and map scores to show where a student starts and where the student finishes. If necessary we will require a student to repeat a grade.”
That results-oriented approach suited Zais, who was in fact held back in kindergarten many years ago.
Writing takes place across the curriculum in every area of the building, including kindergarten. The emphasis on writing and reading for content impressed Zais who referenced the upcoming PASS and Common Core Assessments that relies upon writing.
Whitfield spoke of the preparation of narrative, expository and student-friendly writing assignments. Those assignments include correct grammar, spelling and paragraph format.
Zais said on visits to major employers in the state that the one thing he kept hearing was that employees were deficient in the ability to write and speak well.
Whitfield also told him of the Magnet School Science Fair that showcases hands on learning in the areas of pre-engineering. String instrument instruction is available for students in grade four and band becomes an option in grade six.
This year the band performed at the local veteran’s day program and has also been to other community events in Ridgeway and Winnsboro.
Zais suggested the principal and staff look into their students participating in the Science Olympiad held annually at Newberry College. He also mentioned ideas that could help curb summer reading loss, including letting children pick out books they would like to read at a book fair and then sending the books home with them for the summer.
“While poverty is a factor, it’s not an excuse. Poor kids can learn if they have effective teachers,” Zais said.
In some ways the Fairfield School District is supporting his assessment because even though the district was number 47 in the state in terms of poverty, it scored a middle B average score on district report cards, a reflection of the hard work of dedicated, effective teachers.
Zais said his goal is to keep the most talented teachers in the classroom. Teaching is a talent and a skill that not everyone has, so keeping those who have that gift in contact with children is a solid strategy for success according to Zais.
“With dignity, respect and compassion districts need to help that small number of ineffective teachers to find jobs more compatible with their skill set.”
He also was impressed with the work going on at the other schools he visited, McCrorey-Liston and Fairfield Elementary Schools as teachers strive to ensure each student has the opportunity to learn and positively affect the future.