BY BARRY WARNER
School Superintendent Deborah Wortham is knowledgeable of the best practices for maximizing student achievement and is supportive of the teachers in the district. She must listen and take into account differing viewpoints of various constituencies and then make the best educational decisions.
“We believe that the initiatives we started in 2016 in the East Ramapo School District are being accomplished with fidelity. We’re seeing increases in student achievement plus more teachers are staying and are ‘chomping at the bit’ to advance throughout the district,” Superintendent Deborah Wortham told the Rockland County Times. “We’re excited to have launched professional development to enhance common core standards with Eureka Math and Expeditionary Learning (EL). The framework for all of this is Carol Dweck’s work called ‘Mindset.’ We believe that when students are focused and we help them come up with strategies, they will succeed. We say, ‘smart is not something you are, but you get smart every day through hard work and being attentive.’ I was 50 years old when I learned how I learn.”
“We believe that our students are benefiting from our vision and mission,” she continued. “I told the teachers that their ‘call’ is to be managers of development to teach our students to discover how they learn. We teach according to our own learning style, so our students have to be able to take that and transfer it into the way they learn. Our job is to help our students understand what they have to do to get smart, because failure is not an option.”
“I tell the students regarding bullying that their thoughts determine your actions. If they know what they do will get them in trouble, don’t do it. Think about the end result. Therefore, our discipline has decreased,” Wortham said. “When I visit a classroom, my goal is to interact with students every day. The past theme has been for students to rise up and go all the way up. Now the theme is go all the way up and beyond! We know that based on our benchmarks, our students have grown one year for a year in school. However we need to double-digit that. Our real success is our theory of action based on the book, ‘Mindset.’ A 20 percent difference in positive results is based on the culture of being happy and successful, which benefits the students and teachers. We’re one of six county schools that received a Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) grant.”
“Our new teachers are on fire with enthusiasm. We had an incentive for retirement and 29 teachers retired. We had time for multiple interviews for each position to determine the best fit for individual specialties. We have gone from 14 teachers of the arts to 44 in the last three years. This summer, many students were enrolled in the Summer Academy and worked on music, science projects, technology and robotics. We’re excited about the shift in the district as more people have chosen to come to East Ramapo to be part of the growing phase. We believe we’re getting better and smarter. Now we feel we have a seamless approach of bringing kids from kindergarten to the 12th grade. It’s a great day,” Wortham concluded.
The Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) model is a comprehensive strength-based approach to education that aims to improve achievement for all students by improving a school’s effectiveness at building relationships, leveraging real-time student data and capitalizing on the strength of each student. BARR seeks to help educators better connect with their students and address issues that cause students to fail courses, drop out and/or engage in harmful behavior. It works with a school’s existing curriculum and existing staff to attain the goals they set for themselves.
The Smart Scholars Program is a partnership between the institutions of higher education and public school districts to provide students with the opportunity and preparation to accelerate the completion of their high school studies, while earning transferable college credits at the same time. Students receive additional academic support from the school/college partnership to ensure they’re at grade level and ready to participate in rigorous high school and college courses.
Expeditionary Learning’s (EL) curriculum incorporates the development of aptitudes that have been identified as essential for school, work and life success that includes: mastering academic content, learning how to learn plus building higher-order critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem-solving skills.
In Dr. Carol S. Dweck’s book ‘Mindset,’ she shows how success in school, work, sports the arts and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a ‘fixed mindset’ are less likely to thrive than those with a ‘growth mindset’ who believe that abilities can be developed.