Thursday, November 1, 2018

November Letter from the Principal

November 1, 2018

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 shared her September 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 grade book, to track student progress to the performance indicators. To learn more about Jump Rope, check out the online resource found at K-5 Parent Jumprope Video. The 1st-trimester report cards are scheduled to be emailed to parents on Friday, December 7th.

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.  

Kind regards,
Becky Fortier, Great Falls Principal

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Day in the Life of a 3rd Grade Student



There are many, many aspects of my job that I absolutely LOVE and I have to say that closing the computer, putting down the phone, and postponing emails to spend time in the classroom has to be my all time favorite part! Last year, I shadowed a 5th grade student and was able to get a completely new perspective to teaching, learning, and the experiences we create for our students. Given the success & insight gained, I decided to do it again this year!

 
Selfie with my buddy for the day!

Today I shadowed Brayden, a 3rd grade student in Mrs. Kelly-Brewster’s classroom and the experience was just as valuable! Brayden is such a sweetie and I was thrilled to be seated right next to him. I also had my own cubby for the day which made me feel very welcomed.

 

The day began by listening to what is typically the morning announcements I give over the intercom. New learning… the class saying the pledge over the intercom is faster than the actual class full of students. Also, the announcement comes over the speaker very LOUD and clear. I may have to keep my voice level in check for future announcements… or not. Along with the pleasant welcome, I was thrilled to see a daily schedule and found it so helpful to be ready for learning.

 

The benefits of taking the time at the start of the year to develop clear expectations, classroom routines, the understanding of procedures, and developing norms that students own is amazing. Today was the 22nd day of school and this class has it going on! We are often eager to dive into the curriculum and get to the deep, rigorous content but there is a lot to be said for building a solid and strong classroom community. Our students are on a 175 day journey and it is important that members feel welcomed, that they have a connection to others, and that they are valued. 

 

Schools and classrooms are where children spend a significant amount of time each week, and teachers have an opportunity to help their students make the most of that time together by developing a classroom community each and every day. Brayden valued that his classroom climate was positive, respectful, and calm. I did too! What was so impressive was that students were playing such a huge role in the functioning of the classroom. Students took attendance, recorded the lunch count, and set up materials for activities. They enjoyed being involved and active participants in their classroom. It really felt like THEIR classroom.

 

I attended music class and was able to participate in the singing of various patriotic songs as well as a group stick activity that served as a way to learn the beats of the Star Spangled Banner. The students were excited, engaged, and very participatory. Ms. Doak balanced the 45 minute block of time with full class involvement, direct teaching, modeling, use of technology, and the hands-on activity. The class flew by and Brayden (and I) were not ready to stop. Creative arts are clearly an important part of the day for learning, engagement, and activity.

 

Brayden and his classmates are learning about the brain and how to develop a positive mindset. Their current essential question is, “How does your brain get stronger?” Mrs. Kelly-Brewster facilitated a very impressive fishbowl activity! The students were presented with a scenario and they were prompted to think about feedback they would give the student in the scenario. Volunteers were welcome to enter the center of the circle and share with each other the advice they would give the student in the scenario while others watched, listened, and thought of potential feedback to add. Wowzer! The students are reaching outside their comfort zone to take risks. Clearly their€™ basic needs such as their sense of safety, are met.

Students shared advice such as:
Never give up!
Ask a classmate or an adult for help getting started.
Try… even if you make a mistake, that’s ok.
You are not alone and there are other students feeling the same way.
Mistakes lead to new learning.
You are not there yet, but with hard work you can do it.

 

Students who feel safe in their classroom environment will be able to develop skills and become more resilient. Brayden and his peers volunteered to lead their group in a project, challenged themselves to more rigorous tasks, and participated frequently to respond to a question from Mrs. Kelly-Brewster.

Brayden, who appears quiet and shy, was excited about learning and willing to participate because he felt included in his classroom community. He enjoyed working with his partner during math- me! and especially liked the times Mrs. Kelly-Brewster offered choice and turn & talk with your group opportunities.

There is no doubt that fostering a sense of community is hard work but my experience today as a 3rd grader was evidence that it is well worth the effort. Nurturing the positive learning environment happens on a daily basis at Great Falls and we should be very proud of our community!

 
Lunch time was such a fun chance to be social with my 3rd grade friends!

My Top 5 Reminders from A Day in the Life of a 3rd Grader

⭐Students want a feeling of ownership of THEIR classroom.

⭐Creative arts experiences are just as important to our students as academic experiences.

⭐Providing student choice increases student engagement.

⭐When students feel safe, they will take academic risks AND when students feel connected in their learning environment, behavior issues decrease.

⭐My greatest reminder of the day!
"Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be." Rita Pierson

đź’™Special thank you to Brayden, Mrs. Kelly-Brewster, and the entire amazing group of 3rd graders!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

October Letter from Principal


October 1, 2018

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 24th and the full day on Friday, October 26th. 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 Wednesday, 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 13, 2018

September Letter from the Principal

Great Falls Elementary School

September 13, 2018

Dear Great Falls Families,

I love September! The weather, the smells, the air, the energy ...and I especially love the start of the school year. For our staff, there is no better time to reflect on their practice than during the summer and then return for the new school year with fresh ideas and a renewed passion for teaching and learning. It is amazing to watch!

With new beginnings comes change and we have lots of staff additions at Great Falls. We are also very fortunate to have a strong and positive relationship with the University of Southern Maine and have several ETEP interns in our building as well as many undergrad students completing their education and internship requirements. At last count, our staff reached 93 educators, which includes our kitchen staff, custodians, ed techs, and interns.

Our staff is growing and, of course, our student population is also growing. At this time we have (6) Kindergarten classes averaging 17 students per class, (5) 1st grade classrooms averaging 20 students per class, (6) 2nd grade classrooms averaging 19 students per class,  (4) 3rd grade classrooms averaging 21 students per class, (4) 4th grade classrooms averaging 22 students per class, and (4) 5th grade classrooms averaging 23 students per class for a total of 564 amazing students currently enrolled at Great Falls.

Given the growth, we shifted some of our instructional spaces and are currently using 3 of our 4 common rooms for teaching and learning. The staff has done an amazing job setting up rooms to best meet the needs of all learners. Kudos to our facilities department for moving, assembling, and setting up new spaces. They also have done a tremendous job completing all of our building projects including improving our security system and making sure our spaces were ready for day 1.

Another huge improvement has been the update to our school’s wireless network. Thanks to our technology department and all of their behind the scenes work this summer, our network is much more reliable and connectivity has been strong and consistent.

The opening days were positive and busy including a welcome back social, team building activities, and time to set the stage for the upcoming year. The days also included information sharing such as behavioral expectations, school safety reminders, and Nurse Merrill’s medical training. It was a great, positive start to the year!

Great Falls is beginning a new cycle of our school leadership team. We will continue to advance the work outlined in the Great Falls Comprehensive School Plan. The team held our opening meeting on the morning of Friday, August 24th. During this time the team participated in a welcome back activity and reviewed the goals of our work for the year ahead. I am greatly encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm of the group as their PLTs (Professional Learning Teams) will continue to meet weekly with the focus remaining on advancing teaching and student learning. This time is for educators to work together as a team to gather evidence of student progress, develop strategies to improve teaching and learning, to implement strategies, analyze the impact on student learning, and apply new knowledge. The cycle is important as the Great Falls staff continue to improve collaboration to benefit all students.

Great Falls Response to Intervention (RTI) meetings will continue to be held on a rotating schedule every Thursday and Friday morning. The purpose of this time is to monitor student progress according to student personal learning plan goals and objectives.

Professional development morning forums will continue for Great Falls staff. This is a time to work on professional goals outlined in staff goal setting documents as well as from our school and district focus areas. Topics of focus this year will include, but are not limited to: supporting social-emotional learning in the classroom and beyond, health and wellness for staff and students, Chromebooks, google classroom, executive functioning, literacy resources, and more!

Our students amaze us with their ability to transition into the school routines within a few weeks. Although transportation is always bumpy to begin, our students are doing a fabulous job learning the routines, their bus numbers, and the systems we have in place to keep them safe. Tremendous thank you to my office staff as it truly takes all hands on deck to get the new school year running smoothly.

Once again this year we have had a tremendous response to our Student Ambassador program at Great Falls School! Our 4th & 5th-grade students are eager and excited to develop their leadership skills to serve our school in a variety of jobs and mentoring opportunities.  We are proud to have 73 Great Falls Student Ambassadors this school year! They will be our new bus buddies, morning greeters, recess helpers, buddy bench monitors, birthday club kids, and library helpers.
We’re also thrilled to begin two new programs with our Student Ambassadors leading the charge!  A select group of our leaders will comprise our Civil Rights Team. These students will work alongside several teacher leaders and meet regularly to work on projects to engage the school community in thinking & talking about issues related to race, national origin & ancestry, religion, disabilities, and gender.
Our second new endeavor is Secret Agents of Kindness.  The mission of this group is to secretly perform random acts of kindness within our school and Gorham communities.  Our secret agents will complete various assignments throughout the school year encouraging kindness & compassion all without revealing their secret identity!   Great Falls School is most proud of the continued success of our Student Ambassador program and the values it instills in our young people.

Classrooms are focusing on establishing positive cultures for learning. If you were to walk through our halls and rooms, you would definitely see lots of monarch caterpillar homes but you would also hear and see lots of conversations based on the Code of Conduct. Teachers are reading books, sharing social stories, and developing communities with a focus on being mindful, kind, tolerant, and accepting of all. In fact, this year we are starting Mindful Mondays with Mrs. Fortier, a time when the whole school listens to mindful music or sounds and takes a moment to be centered and ready to start the day. The first Monday was a success.

Great Falls is completely ready for another positive, successful year!


Sincerely,
Becky Fortier

Great Falls Principal

Friday, August 31, 2018

Back to School Letter from the Principal


August 31, 2018

Dear Great Falls Families,

Welcome back! We are officially in full swing and loving every moment! Every staff member, student, and parent has been working hard to get Great Falls up and running for a productive and successful year! Check out the school calendar at School Calendar 2018-2019.

Teachers and staff members have been visiting Great Falls throughout July and August to prepare their physical spaces, while also attending workshops and trainings. A lot goes on behind the scenes and throughout the summer months to prepare for the start of the year! The office staff has completed many new registrations, mastered student bus destinations, and prepared all the documents necessary to collect information to effectively communicate with our families. Please check out the Top 10 Things to Know From the Office to help keep our students safe and our procedures running smoothly.

The Great Falls staff has ensured that their instructional techniques and strategies are on target to help all students meet grade-level standards. Teacher teams continue to work collaboratively to implement quality lessons that are thoughtful, engaging, and tied to our curricular goals. Character education is always a priority and staff will continue to focus on addressing the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of our students through pro-social education. Character education and establishing a positive classroom community are always a priority during the first few weeks of school. Our staff does a fabulous job at setting the stage for a collaborative, productive year to come. Be sure to peruse staff websites, blogs and more under school information at Great Falls Staff Email and Websites.

We could not do what we do without the continual support from you! Thank you for attending the Kindergarten Orientation and Open House! Please connect with our school community by checking out The Great Falls Parent Connection Facebook Page. Please consider volunteering in our school by completing the annual registration form at Volunteer Information. Join us for volunteer orientation on Monday, September 10th at 9:00 a.m. in the Great Falls cafeteria. Our parent community makes it possible for the Great Falls staff to successfully teach our students
.
You shopped for supplies, new sneakers, established nighttime structure, packed healthy school snacks and lunches, made after school childcare arrangements, and completed many school forms. You have instilled in your child a positive attitude about school and learning. Through clear communication, at home support with routines and homework, participation at school events, and more, you help to establish a positive home/school connection that is necessary for the success of our students. Please note that September is Attendance Awareness Month. Every day is important in a child’s learning and we thank you for sharing this message with your children and supporting us in reducing absenteeism.

Thank you today and thank you every day for supporting Great Falls in achieving our district vision…
“Prepare and Inspire!”

Our students are the heart of our work! They are our focus as we aim to prepare and inspire! It has been such fun watching our students become reacquainted with old friends while meeting new ones. The returning students have been wonderful role models and guides for our Kindergarten students. The lively conversations happening in the cafeteria, on the playground, and during team building activities are energizing and amusing. Every incredible child walking through our school reminds me every day of why we do what we do. Our kids are the reason and are at the center of every decision we make and every action we take!

At Great Falls School, we are dedicated to success.  We value skill, knowledge, and excellence in all areas. Our mission is to prepare and enable all learners to grow every day.  Our sights are set on being ready for the world of today and of tomorrow. In an environment that fosters kindness and safety, we work to ensure that all children and adults will reach high standards of scholarship, character, and citizenship.

We are ready! Please feel free to reach out to us at any time with questions and feedback. We are available through email at becky.fortier@gorhamschools.org and stacey.sawyer@gorhamschools.org or by phone at 222-1050.

Happy Back to School!

Sincerely,
Becky Fortier, Great Falls Principal
Stacey Sawyer, Great Falls Assistant Principal

Monday, May 14, 2018

May Letter from the Principal

May 2018


Hello, Great Falls Parents,


It’s been a great year! We would like to thank you for your trust and commitment to the vision of Great Falls Elementary School, “Succeeding today to be ready for tomorrow!” It is your belief in our values that help us to sustain our vision. We will continue to put your child first in everything we do!
This was a very busy year and you, as partners in education, played a great role in making it a success! Although it is a hectic time of year, it is the time when we most realize how blessed we all are to be part of this amazing school community. Parents and teachers commit their time and energy every day toward creating a nurturing environment in which children can thrive!


We accomplished a ton this school year!  Below are some highlights of the wonderful events from 2017-2018:


Kids’ Clubs: Our sessions of Kids’ Clubs were a tremendous success!  The morning session was very well received by parents, teachers, & kids. Club offerings included: Legos, Arts & Crafts, Perler Fuse Beads, Spanish, Paint Party, Pillow-Polo-Hockey, Learn to Sew, Animal Refuge League, Walking, American Sign Language, & Homework club.
Student Ambassadors: We had over sixty fourth and fifth-grade students who have volunteered to be student ambassadors this year. These students were required to fill out an application and obtain a reference in order to be selected.  Students served in a variety of roles including Reader Leaders, Math Mentors, Morning Greeters, Lunch/Recess Buddies, Dismissal Monitors, and Books-On-the-Bus readers.
Socktober: Great Falls participated in our annual sock collection for those in need.
Jump Rope for Heart: Every student enjoyed an assembly showcasing our third,  fourth and fifth-grade jump roping talent. Every student participated in this campaign through their PE classes, and Gorham Elementary Schools donated over $7,000 to the American Heart Association.
C.O.C. : We continued with our school-wide focus on the Code of Conduct!
6th Annual Empty Bowl Project: The Empty Bowl Project is an international grassroots effort to fight hunger. The basic premise is simple: students create handcrafted bowls. They are asked to keep a bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. The money raised is donated to an organization working to end hunger and food insecurity. All K-5 students created a pottery bowl during their recent 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 extremely well attended Family Movie Night! Great Falls donated $1,500 to the Gorham Food Pantry and contributed over a 1,000 pounds of food.
Art of Literacy Night: Students and families came together to celebrate literacy as the culminating event for Read Across America week. The school community enjoyed decorations, art projects, reader-theater presentations, music, and face painting all connected to themes of our One School, One Book Project.
One School, One Book Project: Great Falls Elementary completed our 3rd annual One School, One Book project. The book that we chose to read was Mr. Poppers Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.
The Teamwork for The Taylor’s Event was a huge success! The Gorham Teachers’ Association supported the TEAMWORK FOR THE TAYLOR’S event on Sunday, March 4th at Great Falls. GTA members and other staff donated more than $4000 for the Taylor family allowing the GTA to apply to the MEA Partnership for Caring for $1500 in matching funds. The event began with a very competitive staff volleyball tournament consisting of 5 teams. Although the championship was a close showdown between the Great Falls’ team and GHS, the high school claimed the victory! We had a ton of laughs, delicious food, and the Taylor family was overwhelmed with the kindness, love, and generosity of the district.
Great Falls Family Fun and Wellness Fair 2018: Great Falls held our 7th annual Family Fun and Wellness Fair for 300+ staff, students, family members, and health and wellness vendors. It was a spectacular event bringing together the Gorham business and service community with our school community.
GHS Mentor Project: Gorham High School student mentors hosted their buddies for a day at the high school. The students had a great experience. The power of mentorships is amazing!
Mindfulness: Jaime Tardif and Stacey Sawyer completed a 12-week training course by Mindful Schools over the summer. They piloted the program in K and other classes that expressed interest. Mindful Schools curriculum is designed to help children develop awareness in order to improve attention, focus and self-control and the concept has been greatly endorsed.
Learning Beyond the Classroom Experiences: Each grade level participated in two field experiences to enhance grade-level content. In addition, our whole school community enjoyed The Power of Yet assembly as well as multiple author visits, both in-person and via Skype.
Backpack Program: We continually accepted new enrollees into the Backpack Program for families experiencing food insecurity. Food bags were delivered each week for the student to take home prior to the weekend.  
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 and donated many loaves to the Gorham Food Pantry.
The MELMAC Education Foundation is committed to supporting high-quality initiatives that serve the purpose of increasing educational opportunities for Maine people. The Foundation believes that Maine people and the State of Maine will thrive in the new economy by providing access to the appropriate education, skills, and training at all levels. Exciting news… Great Falls has joined forces with Gorham High School on a special Adopt a Classroom project through GHS’s MELMAC work in an effort to promote college and career aspirations. Research shows that college and career aspirations start in elementary school. Every Great Falls’ class experienced 3 visits by a pair of GHS students. One student will have college aspirations and one student will be a participating VOC or PATHS student with career aspirations. The final session will end with our annual Great Falls’ Career Fair!


Phew! … and that was only a few of the many AMAZING things your children and our staff took part in during this school year! We truly appreciate your ongoing support and partnership in all that we do. We look forward to continuing these and many other opportunities to build community and enhance the positive climate & culture at Great Falls next year! My June letter will cover all of our end of year events.


As always, please feel free to reach out to us at any time with questions and feedback.
Kindly yours,

Becky Fortier and Stacey Sawyer     

Monday, April 2, 2018

April Letter from the Principal


April 2018


Hello, Great Falls Parents!

It is hard to believe that spring is here and that it is time to think about class placements for next school year. Great Falls recognizes that placement requires a thoughtful review of any child’s social-emotional and academic needs. We take your child’s placement very seriously and spend a great deal of time doing our best to create balanced learning environments.

The K-5 admins are confident with our extensive placement process. Our teachers know our learners well and take great care in creating balance classrooms while considering the social, emotional, and academic needs of all of our students. Because of this consistent K-5 placement process in determining the best groupings that will maximize both teaching and learning, we are not formally requesting parent input on the placement process. There will not be a formal parent placement form sent home. If, however, you have information that you feel is important for us to consider, you may share this information with your child's teacher as they will be conducting the placement process.

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/.

Happy Spring!
​Kindly Yours,​



​Becky Fortier