Saturday, February 3, 2018

February Letter from the Principal

February 2, 2018

Dear Parents,

Great Falls Elementary is a very special place… a place where the staff and parents believe in working together to help our students achieve their personal best! We have a dedicated Staff who always put students first. They work hard to make Great Falls a warm and friendly place, while at the same time maintaining high standards for student learning and behavior. Our goal is to help your child be successful in school and acquire the skills necessary to be successful in life. This goal can best be accomplished through a strong partnership between the teacher and the parent.

There is no question about it - success at school begins at home.  Parents are the single most influential factor in a child’s schooling. One of the most important components of a good school is the partnership between the school and parents who work together for the best interest of children.  The close partnership & collaboration between home and school is one of the strengths at Great Falls Elementary School.

In your role as a Great Falls parent, you have the opportunity to enhance our partnership in a wide variety of ways. We welcome & encourage you to attend monthly Parent Connection meetings, volunteer in the classroom, attend conferences, read newsletters and calendars, and help with school projects and events. It is significant to your child that you are involved in some way at school. In doing so, you are reinforcing to your child that his or her school is important.  

The Great Falls Parent Connection meets once a month – please join in, as it is great way to meet other parents and learn more about your child’s school community. Our Parent Connection spends time organizing activities and special events that enrich our students’ school experience. The more parents who volunteer, the more enriching events we are able to provide!
 If you are not able to join us for a meeting, please be sure to check out the Great Falls Parent Connection Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/greatfallsparentconnection

Remaining Parent Connection Meetings 7-8:00 p.m. :
February 6th    
March  13th                  
April  3rd                         
May   TBD   
                                  
“Behind every young child who believes in himself is a parent who believed first.”

Fondly,
Becky Fortier, Principal

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Day in the Life of a 5th Grader at Great Falls

I have been wanting to do this forever… shadow a student to really understand a student's perspective of their day at school. I finally decided not to wait a minute longer and cleared my schedule to spend the entire school day with a 5th grade student. The Great Falls 5th grade teachers gave me some names of students that wouldn’t mind having me as a shadow and I randomly picked a great candidate. With her mom’s permission, Ella agreed to have me follow her through a typical day in her 5th grade life.
Our day started out in music class with Ms. Doak. I always knew that our 5th graders studied and completed a Civil War unit in music class learning historically relevant songs that told the great story of the times. Truth be told, I never sat in on an entire lesson when Ms. Doak taught history through music. It was amazing! The lesson conjured up numerous emotions as she taught about why we observe Martin Luther King Jr. and the connections to the Civil War. The students were completely engaged and thoughtful with their responses to Ms. Doak’s frequent questioning. She did an amazing job of serving as a facilitator of learning and making students (including me!) feel as though no answer was wrong. Students were honored for their thoughts and given plenty of time to reflect, think, and participate. She encouraged us to sing along and said, “Just listening is not quite enough!” Ms. Doak explained to the class that “When you learn the music, it matters more.” Watching the faces of the students sitting around me and hearing their sweet singing voices, I couldn’t agree more!
Next up was math class. Mrs. Mullin has a great way of balancing fun, encouraging engagement, checking for understanding, and pushing students to take risks. The quote on her board, “Good mathematics is not about how many answers you know...it’s how you behave when you don’t know,” was apparent throughout her lesson. The students were eager to learn, happy to be there, and so supportive of each other. As a student, I felt ok if I made a mistake. At one point, Mrs. Mullin incorporated a math game that could be competitive but the students sitting around me were more concerned with their own answers, and more concerned with their own learning than how those around them were doing. The amazing student, Ella, who I was shadowing just kept her cool and did her best. She was willing to raise her hand, help her group, and encourage those around her. When it was time to do a partner activity, she was approached by many students who wanted to work alongside her, however, lucky me… I was her partner!
The first lunch at 11:00 a.m. is EARLY! I felt like I just had breakfast and now we were headed to lunch. Who scheduled this lunch block so early?!?!? Ohhh… that would be me! But.. it happened to be breakfast for lunch! The french toast sticks tasted a little like fried dough! Yippee!
Ella saved me a seat at the lunch table, which felt awesome! I was fortunate enough to sit with a fabulous group of 5th grade girls who were so kind and welcoming! They shared that they love being student ambassadors and working with younger students. They shared that the best things about 5th grade is having fitness breaks, read alouds by their teachers, and fun activities such as reading buddies and, of course, their funny teachers! They did have one wish… and that was access to Mrs. Mullin’s chocolate drawer!
Recess was a great experience… although I forgot my boots and snow pants so I had to stay on the pavement. Again… who made that rule?!!? Despite not being able to join Ella on the field to play in the snow, I was able to play four square with a great group of kiddos. I was blown away by the amount of younger students seeking out older students as playmates. I was equally blown away by how the older students were so accepting of the younger students and eager to play with them. When recess was over, we headed back in to the classroom to get ready to visit Mrs. Paolino for reading. There is absolutely no loss of time in 5th grade! The students know the routines, know what is expected of them, and clearly thrive off of their established schedule.
Mrs. Paolino has a poster that describes GRIT: G= Give it your all, R= Redo if necessary, I= Ignore giving up, T= Take time to breathe. It is clear that the atmosphere created in her room is to take risks and maximize learning. The students were selecting new novels of their choice as they were preparing to start a mystery unit and I could feel the excitement. One student said, “I have been waiting for this day!” And, yes, I may have been talking a little to Ella when I was not suppose to. I was excited about the mystery books too and couldn’t help myself!
After completing a partner activity and getting to work out in the hallway, which I always thought would be uncomfortable and distracting, but was actually really fun, we headed back to Mrs. Mullin’s room for Science. Mrs. Mullin had an awesome hands-on Mystery Science activity planned as part of her unit on physical and chemical changes. As table groups, we were able to investigate, make a hypothesis, and experiment with various solutions and their reactions on dirty pennies. It was so much fun and our group had really thoughtful conversations! I was blown away with how serious 5th graders take their learning when they are engaged and feel safe. We completed the activity, were able to reflect and share with the larger group, and the class period flew by! Next thing I knew, Mrs. Mullin was having us clean up and prepare to head to reading buddies in Mrs. Lyon’s kindergarten classroom.
Reading buddies is a school-wide initiative in which an older classroom matches up with a younger classroom to meet together on a weekly basis to read to each other. It has really taken off and the impact seen throughout the building and beyond is extraordinary! Students establish relationships and make connections with other students who they may see at lunch, recess, in the hallways, at assemblies, and even in the grocery store. I was excited to witness this interaction from a different perspective today. Ella is kind, caring, and the most wonderful big buddy. As soon as we sat down, she said, “Jenna, this is Mrs. Fortier. Mrs. Fortier, this is my reading buddy, Jenna!” It was adorable!

Ella had pre-selected a few books she knew Jenna would love. She gave Jenna some time to read to her and gave her tons of positive feedback. “Great job, Jenna! You are reading so well, Jenna!” It just melted my heart! The relationship Ella and Jenna have is just one example of the many positive aspects of our K-5 configuration.

When we returned to the 5th grade classroom, it was Friday Fun Time. This point in the day allowed students to get caught up on the week’s assignments, organize for the upcoming week, check in with Mrs. Mullin or play a game with a friend. It was during this block of time that Ella taught me the card game Trash and showed me a magic trick. I couldn’t wait to teach my own children the game and, unfortunately, I messed up the magic trick when I tried to replicate it. I will have to catch up with Ella again soon so she can teach me once more.

It was such a great day and experience. Quite honestly, it was one of the best days I ever had at school! If I had to summarize some of my learnings (or reminders) it would be:

  • Our students live a jam packed day of academic and social experiences. There never seems to be enough time!
  • Students want to be engaged, be active, and be part of their own learning.
  • They need time to be social, interact with peers, and have fun!
  • The cross grade level relationships are so powerful!
  • Students are more relaxed, participate at ease, and are willing to take risks when the environment feels safe and cooperative.
  • We have AMAZING teachers and staff members who truly put kids at the center of everything they do!
  • Our students exemplify the Code of Conduct!

Special thank you to Mrs. Mullin, Mrs. Paolino, Mrs. Lyons, and Ms. Doak for allowing me to crash your classrooms, Mrs. Sawyer for taking action photos throughout the day, and especially to my amazing 5th grade guide and student, Ella Senatore! It was a day I will never forget and I cannot wait to shadow a student in another grade level. Hmmmm… maybe kindergarten next!


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

January Letter from the Principal

January 2, 2018

Dear Great Falls Families,
Happy New Year! Winter weather is officially upon us. The daily temperature for Gorham will be checked at www.weather.com. When the "feels like" temperature is below 10 degrees, students will be kept inside for indoor recess.

School secretaries, Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Murray, will check the temperature for the AM recess and make an announcement as soon as possible. If the AM duty staff feel as though it is too cold while on the playground, they can make a judgment call to contact the office and bring the students indoors.
Temperatures will be monitored throughout the day and notification about canceling lunch recess will come from the office.
Monitoring temperatures is for the safety of the students and the supervising adults. While many students run around and are dressed appropriately, others are not and extended time at freezing temperature can be a hardship for​ those students.

However, even in the cold winter months, outdoor recess is an important part of the students' day. Students need movement breaks and perform best when they have an opportunity for vigorous play, so we will try to get them out whenever possible.
Please make sure your child comes to school with the appropriate winter gear even if the anticipated temperature is projected as mild. Warm jackets, hats, gloves, boots, and snow pants are highly encouraged every day. The office will not be able to supply snow pants if your child forgets them at home. We have limited supply of extra hats and mittens to use when needed. If winter gear is a hardship for your family, please contact me so I can provide resources to assist you in acquiring the appropriate winter gear for your child.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions and feedback. I am available through email at becky.fortier@gorhamschools.org and by phone at 222-1050.  Please follow my Twitter page & blog, which can be found at https://twitter.com/MrsBFortier and  http://greatfallsprincipal.blogspot.com/ .

Thanks you,
Becky Fortier, Great Falls Principal



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December Letter from the Principal



December 19, 2017

Dear Parents/Guardians of Great Falls Students,

As we approach the Winter Break, I would like to first take this opportunity to wish each of you and your families a most happy, healthy holiday season! I hope that you will have a chance to relax and enjoy some special times with your children. As always, I am pleased with not only how hard they have been working each and every day, but that they are kind. They strive to be “Citizens of the Code” and I could not be more proud!

One of our school goals is to help our students understand the important characteristics that make up ethical, responsible, and involved citizens. Our staff model and teach our students not only how to take responsibility for his/her own behavior, but how to demonstrate responsible behavior that is consistent to our core values, The Code of Conduct.

Responsibility
Respect
Honesty
Courage
Compassion    

Over the past few months, our school community has embarked on numerous campaigns that exemplify the Code of Conduct. Here are a few highlights to share:

Holiday Giving: As in past years, we have received many wonderful donations from local churches, businesses, Great Falls staff members and Gorham residents. These generous donations have made it possible for our school community to provide warm winter gear and holiday giving to families in need.

Backpack Program: We are continually accepting new enrollees into the Backpack Program for families experiencing food insecurity. This may be in the form of short-term support for families experiencing a challenging circumstance or extended support for the school year for those families in chronic need of food support. We are grateful for the many donations that allow us to provide food for our students.

5th Annual Empty Bowl Project: The Empty Plate Project is an international grassroots effort to fight hunger. The basic premise is simple: students create handcrafted bowls and then are asked to keep a bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. All K-5 students created a pottery bowl during their art classes with art teachers, Allie Rimkunas and Patricia Kaczmarek. We asked parents to support our act of kindness by making a donation in any amount to purchase their child’s bowl made during art class. The bowls were distributed at the Family Movie Night. Great Falls will be donating all proceeds to the Gorham Food Pantry.

King Arthur’s Bread: On Thursday, December 7th, our 4th and 5th graders learned to make bread from scratch. They discovered that math, science, reading, and baking know-how add up to delicious bread! Our students were given all the ingredients to take home and used their newly acquired skills to bake two loaves; one to keep and enjoy and one that was donated to the Gorham Food Pantry.

Please remember to check our school website on a regular basis for updates and information. The website may be accessed by logging onto The Great Falls Website.

IMPORTANT REMINDERS:
  • Thursday, December 21st - Full day of school
  • December 22nd - January 1st - Holiday Break
  • Tuesday, January 2nd - Students return to school
  • Tuesday, January 9th - Grades 3-5 Winter Chorus Concert at 6pm
  • Tuesday, January 9th - Round #2 of Kids’ Clubs begins
  • Monday, January 15th - No School - MLK Day
  • Tuesday, January 16th - Meet the School Committee Parent Meeting  7-8pm
  • Wednesday, January 24th - Early Release Day
As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions and feedback. I am available through email at becky.fortier@gorhamschools.org and by phone at 222-1050.  Please follow my Twitter page & blog, which can be found at https://twitter.com/MrsBFortier and  http://greatfallsprincipal.blogspot.com/ .

Kindly yours,

Becky Fortier
Great Falls Principal

                                                                                                                                                                                        

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Super-duper proud to announce...

🎉Our Very Own 
NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFIED TEACHER,
Gigi McAllister!🎊

🤗This is an amazingly HUGE accomplishment and the Great Falls school community could not be more proud of Mrs. McAllister!😍

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

November Letter from the Principal


November 2017

Dear Great Falls Families,

I hope you enjoyed your parent/student/teacher conference and feel as though you have a better understanding of what your child is learning, how they are demonstrating their learning, and the goals your child has to be successful in the learning yet to come. Fall conferences are a wonderful time to talk about learning expectations and how your child will grow throughout the school year. Thank you for participating in this process!

Superintendent Perry recently shared a blog post regarding this very topic at http://gorhamsuperintendent.blogspot.com/ . Proficiency-based learning (PBL) ensures that students will acquire the knowledge and skills that are necessary for success in school, college, careers, and adult life. It is based on the idea that the more transparent we are about our expectations for students and how they are doing relative to those expectations, the greater the learning that is likely to occur.

In fact, the Gorham School District strongly believes that student engagement as well as achievement improve when the components of proficiency-based learning are fully implemented in all grades and content areas. These components are:
  • clear learning targets;
  • aligned instruction and assessment;
  • timely interventions; and
  • grading/reporting that reflect those targets.

Over the past few years, Gorham teachers have been working hard to identify clear learning targets at each grade level in every content area. These learning targets are aligned to a set of K-12 Graduation Standards, which are based on the Maine Learning Results, including the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards. They are called performance indicators because they “indicate” through a student’s “performance” if the student is on track to achieve the K-12 Graduation Standards.

At the K-5 level, teachers have already identified the performance indicators in all content areas and are now using assessments aligned to these indicators. Finally, teachers are using Jump Rope, an online standards-based gradebook, to track student progress to the performance indicators. To learn more about Jump Rope, check out the online resource found at How to Interpret Your Child's K-5 Report Card. The 1st trimester report cards are scheduled to be emailed to parents on Friday, December 8th.

Quoting Superintendent Perry, “Everything we do is aimed at making sure our students ultimately graduate prepared and inspired to be successful in any post secondary learning they wish to pursue beyond our great schools!”

As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions and feedback. I am available through email at becky.fortier@gorhamschools.org and by phone at 222-1050.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with thankful hearts and continued blessings!

Becky Fortier, Great Falls Principal

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

October Letter from the Principal


October 3, 2017

Hello, Great Falls Parents!

It is just about time for Parent-Student-Teacher Conferences! Here is some important information for you to have:

WHAT:
The general purpose of conferences is to connect in a one-on-one setting with your child’s teacher, as well as an update on academic progress and “skills for life.” These progress checks include student sharing of their work products, goal setting, and the presentation of other assessments and work by the student or teacher. As your child will be present, it is understood that issues which are private and confidential require a different forum for communication. It is expected that issues that are of a serious concern would have been discussed prior to and outside of these conferences. IEP meetings, even in close proximity to conference dates, do not take the place of student led conferences.

WHEN:
Conferences are held on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 25th and the full day on Friday, October 27th. Technically, however, there is a 2-week window during which your particular conference may be scheduled. The available dates and times during this window of time vary depending on the teacher. You will be able to register for your child’s conference beginning on Tuesday, October 10th at www.PTCfast.com.
HOW:
The PTCfast online program is used for scheduling conferences, unless teachers know that there is a family who does not have Internet access at home.  Teachers will be sending out notices and passwords for parents to use to set up conferences. The procedure is user friendly and quite efficient, especially when a family has more than one child in our school.  This program allows you a maximum choice in dates and times, choosing the one that works best for your schedule. When you pick a day and time, you will receive a confirmation and a reminder prior to the conference. If you need to change the day and/or time, you simply return to the site and do so, unless it is beyond the cutoff time selected by the classroom teacher.

Parents’ quick guide to www.PTCfast.com

Step 1:  You will receive a letter or email from your student’s teacher containing a link to the class’s conference website.  Enter the link into your browser.

Step 2:  Enter the class code your student’s teacher has sent to you into the box on that screen-- you can copy and paste it if that's easier!

Step 3:  You will see the list of available time slots your student’s teacher has available.  If someone else has already selected a time slot, you won’t be able to check the box and the time slot will be red.  Check the time you would like for your conference. Reminder emails will be sent out closer to the conference.

Please make sure to contact us if you run into any difficulty with this process.  We don’t anticipate that you will, but we are, of course, happy to help. Great Falls takes pride in having a very high participation rate in Parent-Student-Teacher Conferences. We look forward very much to seeing you around school when you come in for your child’s conference!

Sincerely,
Becky Fortier

Great Falls Principal

Thursday, September 21, 2017

JumpRope Grading and Reporting System


September 21, 2017

Dear Parents & Guardians,

As part of our work toward Proficiency Based Learning, for the past three years Gorham Elementary Schools have been piloting an online grading and reporting system called JumpRope.  This year, report cards will look differently as we have fully transitioned to using JumpRope.  We believe that you will find this new format to be much more informative than in the past.
You will receive your child’s JumpRope report card at the end of each trimester via email.  The email address(s) utilized for this purpose will be the one(s) that were provided to the school during opening days and are now listed in Infinite Campus.  These are the same email addresses that are used to send home Blackboard messages.  If you need your email address updated, please contact your school’s secretary as soon as possible.  If you have requested hard copies of school notices, then your child’s report card will be printed and sent home.  
Teachers will be prepared to walk through an example of a JumpRope report during the Parent/Teacher Conference window later this Fall.  Additionally, we will be offering a parent/guardian informational session on November 13, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. @ Village Elementary School Library.  In addition, online tools to assist parents in interpreting and understanding these reports will be located on our Gorham Schools website under the Proficiency Based Learning tab.  

Sincerely,
Becky Fortier, Great Falls Principal

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Dear Parents/Guardians,

Formative assessments play an important role in education. A formative assessment is a tool for evaluating student learning during teaching in order to gauge whether students are understanding material at that identified time. It is a learning tool, not a final evaluation of mastery. Formative assessment helps teachers alter their approach to the learning objectives if students are struggling with or exceeding grade level standards.

Over the next few weeks, we will be using Star 360 as a formative assessment in grades 1 through 5. The Star 360 assessment will provide more intuitive information that will help to plot the course for what each student needs in their learning. This assessment is only one of several methods used to monitor progress and achievement over the year.

Star 360 assessments are computer adaptive and automatically adjust each question based on how the student answered the previous prompt. This reduces testing time and limits frustration and boredom. We encourage students to try their hardest and do their best, while recognizing that any assessment is an in-the-moment snapshot and not the final word on a child’s understanding or skill. Certainly a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast will go a long way toward minimizing test anxiety and we appreciate your support in this regard.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the Star 360 assessment.

Sincerely,
Becky Fortier, Principal