WILMINGTON — The School Committee received presentations at its last meeting from Wilmington Middle School Principal, Dr. Jeanette Quirk, and Superintendent, Dr. Glenn Brand, on the Master Entry Plan and recommendations for middle school curriculum review.
Brand started by talking about how they viewed Quirk’s transition to the permanent principal role as an opportunity to pause, listen, and learn more about the middle school environment.
Quirk shared that his efforts to learn included a series of surveys and meetings with stakeholders in focus groups. She has also researched other districts and pedagogy. Its objectives were to gain an understanding and knowledge of history and to identify priorities for moving forward.
From an 8th grade exit survey, which had 111 participants, she saw a need for improved communication, school climate, curriculum, and instruction. The communications desires identified were consistency and timeliness, and the proposed next steps for this area were a communications plan, newsletters, staff meetings, and a virtual kindness board.
For the school climate, participants responded that they wanted to see a climate that fostered fairness and tradition rather than friction and mistrust. Parents have identified bullying that seems to go unpunished as one of the reasons people have bad college experiences. Students shared that they want more leadership and extracurricular opportunities.
The next steps proposed in this area were to create traditions, a block of activities in the calendar and a year-long calendar of events. Finally, for the curriculum and teaching, they will initiate a quarterly newsletter for families, will plan interventions in the calendar and will introduce cross-functional projects.
Committee members first commented that they enjoyed the presentation. Stephen Turner asked Quirk if teachers would agree with these recommendations. She confirmed that most of them were.
Jesse Fennelly offered that Quirk come back from time to time for updates on the school’s situation with these changes, which she said she would do.
Chair Dr. Jenn Bryson emphasized the importance of making children feel seen.
“We need to make sure that every decision and every new initiative thinks through who it includes and who it excludes,” she said.
Another important thing she mentioned is bringing mental health conversations to students instead of expecting them to reach out for help.
David Ragsdale agreed that belonging and connection to school is important. Melissa Plowman said they should create a supportive and positive outlook around these recommendations as they aim to make improvements.
She also said she liked the ideas of building tradition and consistency and asked for insight into the division of responsibilities among school administrators.
Brand took over at this point, paying tribute to the college teachers who stuck around despite lacking leadership and stability for more than a decade. The college program review, as he detailed, is the result of a review of stakeholder feedback, a list of findings, preliminary recommendations, feedback from WMS staff and finally a set of actionable recommendations to follow.
The recommendations he shared covered three themes: culture and climate; curriculum, instruction and assessment; and leadership and organization.
Under culture and climate, stakeholder opinions reflected a desire for a culture of respect, personal development and safety. Recommendations shared by Brand in this area included extracurricular activities, a school counseling program, community partnerships, a student counseling program, and a culture and climate assessment.
To improve teaching and curriculum, they proposed a unified arts curriculum review, student-led lectures, and curriculum alignment. He said they want to invite students to take more ownership of their learning and reflect on their accomplishments.
In terms of leadership and organization, the recommendations included implementing student success teams instead of team leaders, effective middle school best practices, and a new six-period student-teacher schedule. This schedule change would increase learning time and reduce the number of transitions between classes.
Some of these changes would take place next year, and the rest in the following two years.
Plowman noted that there were a lot of task forces required from those recommendations, wondering if there would be enough interested college staff to fulfill them. Brand responded that he hoped to see staff wanting to play a role in these areas.
Jay Samaha said he appreciates how these action items are systems that will be durable and adaptable over time. Turner also requested regular updates on these items.
Ragsdale asked if the program review looked at “houses” or team structure and if it was a good setup for students. Brand replied that they weren’t aiming to change the houses at this point.
“The research strongly points to this structure for young adolescents,” he said.
However, they might be willing to adjust the number of teachers on each team based on need and enrollment, if they dig deeper into this. Quirk added that they have changed the current team structure so that students change houses every year.
Bryson recommended asking students for input as well and inviting them to play a role in implementing the recommendations. Brand pointed to recommendations that would bring students together, including the counseling program.