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!

Becky Fortier

Great Falls Principal

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