Comprehensive Grammar School
Due to the positive attitude and pride of the staff, students, and parents, the CGS is a school that functions well and has a reputation for being a caring and friendly environment, a school whose teachers have the professional initiative to improve and innovate their instructional methodologies, and a school where parents are involved, informed, and welcome. The success of CGS is due to several integrated pieces supported by Principal Raiche, carried out by the combined efforts of faculty and staff working toward a common goal of student learning and achievement.
The school climate
CGS has a healthy and supportive school climate, students know they are there to learn and achieve. The students are the center of all decisions and activities in the school. Examples of student work are everywhere in the school. Motivational and positive message posters and banners are in the cafeteria, hallways, and foyer. Classrooms are brightly painted and equipped with ample resources (i.e. books, computers, materials).
Part of the success of the school is due to its K-8 grade structure. The CGS served as the initial K-8 model in Methuen. Due to the successful implementation of the K-8 model at the CGS, all public grammar schools in Methuen now follow this K-8 structure. This was not an easy sell for a community that loved its small neighborhood schools. Promises of the benefit of a state-of-the-art facility with a gymnasium, cafeteria, computer labs, media center, and assembly hall sold the deal. But concerns lingered over the young kids going to the same school as those 'bad' middle schoolers (drugs, violence, and such). The solution was to create structures with the school that control interactions between the groups: e.g. staggered arrivals/dismissals, tight schedules, strict enforcement of corridor passes, etc. In other words, the only time the younger and older students saw each other was when the school planned the interactions. The Principal knew this to be a critical element for the success of the school. The staff and students knew that this was important as he communicated the vision of a school family from the beginning.
Positive interaction between older and younger students at CGS is encouraged. The older students (grades 5-8) serve as models of good student behavior as they interact in classrooms. 'Reading Buddies' is a great way to direct this interaction towards learning. Seventh and eighth graders also volunteer to help in the classrooms, the media center, or computer labs. These programs foster the spirit of cooperation throughout the school and demonstrate that those 'older kids' do good things. These across grade interactions help build a sense of community within the school. Initially, the vision for such programs was shared with the faculty and they carried the ball from there with tangible support (flexible scheduling, materials) from the Principal. Over the 12 years of the school's existence, there has not been one negative incident. In fact, the opposite is true. When passing through the corridors or in the cafeteria, one will often see a kid break way from his/her line and hug an older sibling or babysitter! The 8th graders, after 9 years in the school, feel like it is a home away from home.
The facility is well kept and maintained by all. The building still looks brand new. Custodians are recognized for their hard work. Teachers do all they can to maintain clean classrooms in cooperation with the custodial staff. There is minimal vandalism. Any incident (e.g. writing on bathroom walls) is investigated seriously and community service is the consequence for the culprits. There is an expectation that all students pick up after themselves in the cafeteria. Students who pick up papers (the 'not me' papers) in the corridor or cafeteria are recognized with "Caught Being Good" tickets for raffle prizes. The message is clear: keep our school clean so that students and staff can learn and work in a comfortable, welcoming, and safe environment.
The atmosphere of the school is an important element of the school culture. Students cannot learn in adverse environments. In 1994, the school initiated a Peer Mediation Program when the suspension rate was at a high - 18%. Peer mediation empowers students to solve their conflicts in a peaceful manner with the assistance of trained student mediators acting as a neutral third party. The Peer Mediation Program has won the support of students, teacher-advisors, and staff. The Program, now an ingrained part of the school culture, has been credited as part of the solution for lowering the suspension rate - especially as it is connected to violent incidents. Suspensions dropped to 4% for the 2001-2002 school year. The Peer Mediation program allows students to take responsibility for their actions and to find alternative solutions other than fighting. Last year there were only two fights at the school and they were more spontaneous outbursts as opposed to the "I'll meet you on the playground at recess" kind of fights. Students KNOW that they need to keep their hands to themselves and to seek alternative ways to settle disagreements.
Support for professional growth
Faculty and staff are respected by each other and the administration at CGS. Professional development activities linked to the school action/improvement plan continually take place. Many of these activities are offered during the school day, with a substitute to cover the classroom. Hiring substitutes and enabling classroom teachers to attend professional development activities during the school day shows that a teacher's contribution and involvement is valued. Maximizing teacher time for professional development, and using grants to support this are essential. Professional development courses are offered in classroom management, learning styles, assertive discipline, and learning theory to support the growth of skills of all faculty and staff. The school is currently involved in a Balanced Literacy Initiative in conjunction with The Center for Child Development at Tufts University. This is a state-of-the-art professional development program that allows for teacher-teacher classroom visitations and collaboration. There are also teacher generated study groups, individual coaching, and formal coursework.
In addition to the variety of professional development activities, CGS offers a mentoring program for new teachers in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts/Lowell teacher preparation program. The program allows new teachers to be linked to experienced master teachers. Mentor teachers offer instructional, professional, and personal support to newer teachers. The mentoring program provides flexible support for experienced teachers and a smooth transition into the field for new teachers. Mentors assist new teachers with several issues relating to teaching, such as effective classroom management. One of the objectives of the mentoring program is to increase new teacher retention.
The faculty at the school is stable. Teachers who start at the school tend to continue to teach at the school unless family or life circumstances force them to leave. The school is fortunate to have quite an age span of teachers from the 30-year veterans to the rookies. During the mid-90s the CGS school enrollment soared to 1750 students! This actually was a mixed blessing. It provided the opportunity to hire teachers committed to the school values, as well as those trained in the instructional skills emphasized in our approach to teaching and learning (e.g. middle school concept; developmental learning; multicultural sensitivity). This fresh, energetic, and talented cadre of teachers rejuvenated the faculty. The majority of these teachers are still at the school and have become the critical mass necessary to continue our vision.
Meaningful parental involvement is a keystone of CGS. The school is constantly seeking out ways to involve parents in the activities and goals of the school. CGS has been blessed with highly active Parent Teacher Organizations, strong parental representation on the School Council, and a parent volunteer cadre that is ever present during the school day. Minutes from the School Council and PTO meetings are posted on the school's Web Site (http://www.methuen.k12.ma.us/cgs). Parent involvement in meaningful volunteer work (over 100 volunteers) is a tangible and productive link between the home and the school. This involvement also creates a powerful political support base for the efforts of the school.
At CGS the mission statement calls for the school "to develop a system of communication in order to create an informed school community and to provide opportunities for parents to participate in every aspect of their child's education." CGS has always prided itself as having the reputation for being a parent friendly school. There are several factors that have helped with accomplishing this goal. A Parent Newsletter is sent home on a regular basis, keeping parents apprised of various school procedures and upcoming events, highlighting certain programs, and praising students. Open houses are conducted in September. This gives teachers an opportunity to meet with parents to share curriculum expectations and daily school procedures. Teachers are also encouraged to make 'Positive Phone Calls'. These phone calls are made to parents when their children are doing well - a little positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Administration reinforces this teacher practice by making complimentary comments such as, "Ms Jones, Tom's mother called me the other day and was thrilled to get your phone call over the weekend. It made her weekend!" News of such compliments travel fast in the informal communication network of a school.
In addition to the Parent Newsletter, teachers also send home curriculum newsletters or calendars to parents on a regular basis. These newsletters inform parents of topics studied, projects, homework, field trips, and special events. They also highlight student achievement and special recognition. Parents have informed the school that these newsletters are extremely informative and include the necessary information needed to help their child at home. This is an important initiative that involves parents in their child's schoolwork and helps them be partners in education. These activities take a considerable amount of time and effort on the part of teachers and they are commended for the success. However, the curriculum newsletters are an expectation of teacher performance and are cited in evaluations.
The Comprehensive Grammar School's major goal is to improve instructional methodologies enabling faculty and staff to provide classroom environment and curriculum challenges that allow every student to reach his/her optimum potential. CGS makes this goal achievable through the leadership of the principal, commitment on behalf of teachers and parents, and the hard work and dedication of the students.