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
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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

Thursday, March 1, 2018

March Letter from the Principal



March 1, 2018

Hello, Great Falls Parents!

It is just about time for Parent-Student-Teacher Conferences! The general purpose of conferences is to connect in a one-on-one setting with your child’s teacher, as well as receive an update on academic progress and “skills for life.” These progress checks include student sharing of their work products, as well as 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.

Conferences are held on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 14th and the full day on Friday, March 16th. 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 Monday, March 5th at www.PTCfast.com.

Great Falls takes pride in having a very high participation rate in Parent-Student-Teacher Conferences. 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. 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

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!