Newsletter #5 December 2, 2013
It seems like yesterday that school started up again, and now we are almost to our winter break. This Friday is the end of the first term and the school has many projects launched that will continue to keep us busy throughout the remainder of the year. The following are updates on our current situation and future plans.
Ms. Joanne Rekydal from the American School of Madrid will visit the school on Friday, December 6, to get a feel for the school and to meet with those people who put together our application for accreditation. She will be the leader of the visiting team from Middle States Association that will review the results of our Self-Study, which will be implemented beginning in January, 2014 and which will run for about a year. This will put us on track to have secured accreditation by the spring of 2015.
The school has just finished a set of five meetings over a three-day period conducted by Deborah MacArthur, a management consultant who lives here in Morocco and who also teaches at Al Akwayn University. Twenty-eight people, including parents, teachers, alums, administration, and trustees participated in these meetings that were designed to help the school begin to set a pathway for planning for the next three to five years. Among the areas discussed by the different (mixed) groups were values propositions (What do we deliver? For whom? What problems do we solve? What needs do we satisfy?), our relationships with our stakeholders, and when we will feel like the school is a success? The Board of Trustees is reviewing Ms. MacArthur’s initial report and will discuss the next steps at the December Board Meeting on December 3.
Tentative plans call for more meetings in January, February, and March to work out the details of the plan, which will be presented to the Board for final approval in April. Many thanks to all who have participated thus far; please be assured that the school will be bringing in more people from our school community to help develop this plan.
Rediker and MAP
AST has been training with the Rediker professionals in multiple meetings over the course of the fall. The training sessions have been mostly technical for now, with only the administrators being involved, but in the new year the teachers and other staff will be brought into the sessions to learn how to use its features.
Some of the same kind of work is being done with the MAP testing system, as training sessions for the administrators have taken place over the course of the fall, including some teacher sessions as well. The school is hopeful that we can begin testing sometime around the end of January.
Mr. Fillman is working with two parent trustees and a group of parent representatives to discuss the best ways of supplying books and other learning materials to our students. He is also working closely with publishers and agents to reduce shipping costs and to otherwise facilitate the procurement of all materials that we need to order from outside the country. The committee is meeting this week to begin to solve these issues.
While we have accomplished the big jobs of our Phase One plan for the upgrading of our facilities, there are still a number of smaller projects that are moving forward. Water fountains, hot water heaters, air conditioning for the 1st and 6th grade classrooms, and some drainage issues will be dealt with in the next few weeks. One not so small project that will take place over the winter break is the installation of a new phone system that we hope will mitigate some of our communication issues.
AST has just hired a full-time nurse. Basma Boudarat started on November 19 and has already been administering aid to our students. Basma’s duties include taking care of all medical situations that arise during the day, caring for sports injuries, accompanying the teams to games where there is no medical assistance, maintaining our health records, and providing health and wellness instruction for our students and faculty. She has jumped right in to the life of the school and promises to be a good fit.
UNE is rushing to complete their brand new facility located “down the hill” from our upper campus. While the formal opening ceremonies will not be until April, Anouar Majid, the director of the project, is confident that he will have the campus up and running in January. AST is already talking to UNE about bringing student teachers from the UNE College of Education to work in our classrooms, and the leader of the College of Education is actively recruiting now in Maine for at least one position at our school. Anouar visits Tangier regularly, and has hired an on-site manager to help run the campus. We are eagerly looking forward to our collaboration.
The seniors have been doing a good job of working on their college applications throughout the fall. The new Senior Seminar, led by Lisa Gregoire, provides the opportunity for the seniors to get help with every aspect of the college application process, from filling out the application forms to applying for financial aid. During the second trimester it will focus on the student service learning projects, and in the third they will be working on presenting their projects to the school community.
Lisa and I have just returned from the Council of International Schools Forum on Admissions, in Monaco, that brings together college counselors and college admissions representatives in a conference designed to promote information sharing and networking. We renewed old contacts and made many new ones at this two-day event, which will benefit our students as we work on placing them in appropriate universities.
Newsletter #4 November 5, 2013
Thanks to everyone who participated in our Parent/Teacher Open House on November 1! Most teachers saw most of their parents over the course of the afternoon, and the general response was that the conferences went very well. Parents who were unable to attend the Open House are welcome to call and make appointments with their teachers if they so desire.
Parent Class Meetings
The regular class meetings are going forward according to
schedule. In these meetings we have been
presenting updates on all the projects going on at the school, from
accreditation to MAP testing and many other things. Soumaya and Sophie have been calling parents
to set these up; so far we have met with all the Kindergarten classes, the
Grade 2 and the Grade 3 classes, and we will continue with the meetings
throughout the year.
Naomi Sears Woolsey, from the US Office of Overseas Schools, spent three days with us (October 28-300 to meet with teachers to discuss our standards-based curriculum and effective ways of assessing student work. She was able to spend a lot of one-on-one time with teachers, looking at and commenting on what they have done to make the move to the standards. The following is the final paragraph of a report from Naomi at the conclusion of her time at AST:
“In closing, it has been a pleasure to work with the staff this week. The work the teachers have accomplished in a short period of time is commendable. Their conversations with me were on target and revealed a genuine interest in building a strong curriculum. I’m confident that they will continue with these efforts for the remainder of this year, and beyond. In addition, the leadership provided by the school administrators has provided the focus which is critical to maintain the effort and continue to move forward. I have enjoyed my time here and hope to continue our partnership in the future.”
In further Professional Development news, Mr. Lanjri, Ms. Dinaully, Mr. Fillman, and Mr. Lussen went to the MAIS (Mediterranean association of Independent Schools) annual conference in Rome from Novemeber 6-10, where they took part in workshops and training sessions on a variety of topics, including an all-day seminar on accreditation hosted by the Middle States Association, our accrediting agency.
At the Open House we were able to talk to many parents about signing up to serve on the various parent committees that have been created. While we got quite a few signatures, we still need the help of more parents. Early next week we will post the list of committees with explanations for each, and then work to fill out each committee’s membership.
Thanks to the generous donation of Jamie Creel, on of our Trustees, the school will be purchasing 12-14 short-throw digital projectors that have the capability of changing a regular white board into an interactive interface between the class and the computer. It is gratifying that our trustees are showing this kind of support for the school, and we hope to continue to elicit this sort of confidence as we move forward.
The administrative offices were beset by legions of spooks, witches, and superheroes this past Thursday as the school celebrated Halloween. The kids looked great and appeared to be having an excellent time.
November 25-27: Strategic Planning meetings
December 6: First Accreditation visit
Check the Sports Calendar on the website for AST sporting events.
October 9 Newsletter #3
I am happy to report that the school is moving forward on a variety of fronts. We have a number of important projects currently under way, as follows:
Accreditation visit scheduled
In the previous newsletter I announced that AST’s candidacy for accreditation had been formally granted. The next step is the scheduling of a visit from a representative of the Middle States Association, who will meet with students, parents, board members, faculty, and administration and then advise us on our self-study, the next step in the process. The visit has been scheduled for December 6, when we will arrange meetings with those who have been involved in the preparation of the candidacy application.
New Server, computers, and a modern data base
Thanks to money saved on our summer construction projects, the school has moved forward with the purchase of a new server to support the new Reddiker school data management program, the MAP program, and increased computer demand at the school. This program will allow us to consolidate attendance procedures, record-keeping, file-sharing, communication and eventually admissions and billing under one software umbrella. Along with the purchase of the software and the server comes the purchase of 33 computers to update our capacity throughout the school, as the current generation of computers was about seven years old and deteriorating.
I am happy to report that the implementation of MAP testing (Measure of Academic Progress) is underway. Macarena Ventosa has taken on the administration of this project, which is moving forward nicely. I will be devoting time in the Class Parent meetings to a detailed explanation of MAP testing as well as writing about it in the Head’s Blog.
We are planning to do some preliminary testing in November or December, with a full rollout taking place in the spring.
As promised last spring, the Board of Trustees is working on the development of a strategic planning process that will chart the course of the school over the next five to ten years. This plan will go beyond a long-term budget to include Philosophy and Mission, Governance and Leadership, School Improvement Planning, Financial Planning, Facilities Evaluation and Planning, IT, and School Climate and Organization evaluation. Jim Ambrose, the President of Search Associates, has already come and met with students, parents, faculty, trustees, and admin about the school’s current status and the timeliness of a strategic planning process, and Deborah MacArthur, another planning consultant, will visit the school in November to move the process along.
Class Parent Meetings
Class parent meetings will start up again during the week of October 21. These meetings are held in your children’s classrooms and include updates from the class teacher and the administration. We will be focusing at least in part on explaining how the MAP testing works as well as going into detail on some of the items covered in this newsletter.
The trustees and the administration are developing a plan to organize a more efficient system for the procurement and distribution of books and other classroom materials. We know that there are widespread parental concerns about the availability of books (we are still waiting for the arrival of our book order from last year) and are moving forward on solving that problem.
The school has undertaken an extensive review of the AST Security, Safety, and Emergency procedures, guided by the recommendations of the Regional Security Office of the US Embassy. Last Friday plans for emergency building evacuation and lockdown procedures formed the focus of the professional development day for the faculty. In the next couple of weeks the school will be training the students in these procedures, organizing walk-throughs, and finally having an unannounced drill.
The school is now actively planning for a modest renovation of the kitchen and cafeteria area and is once again talking to local restauranteurs about providing food services for the school. An architect has been consulted about the redesign of the space and will be providing us sketches soon. We will have an update on this in the next newsletter and more information by the time of the class meetings.
Naomi Sears Woolsey and the Office of Overseas Schools
Last year some of you attended a special information session for parents on our standards-based curriculum given by Naomi Sears Woolsey from the US Office of Overseas Schools, who was here to deliver professional development seminars to our faculty. She will be returning to AST later this month to give more training sessions to our faculty, this time on unit planning and assessment. Bringing her here gives us more bang for the professional development buck, as she will be working with all faculty over three days. Her work will include a curricular review of what our teachers have done over the past two years with the curriculum as well as working with grading rubrics and assessments. This is the kind of professional development that improves AST’s capacity to deliver high quality instruction to your children.
Math Professional Development
Nada Beroual and Souad Belcaid have just returned from the third in a series of five math teaching seminars sponsored by MAIS and the Office of Overseas Schools in Madrid. Irma Anderson, a consultant with OOS, has been leading the seminars. Nada and Souad will be teaching our lower school teachers how to use this new approach to math, which will be the subject of a future Head’s blog.
The new floor has been installed and some painting has been done to brighten up the gym. The new scoreboard has been ordered and is on its way from Barcelona. These improvements came from the school’s endowment, provided by the legacy of Joe McPhillips. The next gym project will be the design, funding, and outfitting of an exercise room, which will bring our gym up to modern standards.
UNE is rushing to complete their brand new facility located “down the hill” from our upper campus. Anouar Majid, the head of the project, is optimistic that UNE can start bringing students here as early as January. While the formal opening ceremonies will not be until April, he hopes to have the campus up and running in January. AST is already talking to UNE about bringing student teachers from the UNE College of Education to work in our classrooms, and the leader of the College of Education is actively recruiting now in Maine for at least one position at our school.
Lisa Gregoire and the seniors are hard at work on the college application process. Seniors are now developing their lists after a series of meetings between seniors and their parents and Mr. Lussen and Ms. Gregoire, who will be taking over the College Counseling duties full time next year. The work has been facilitated this year by the creation of the Senior Seminar, which in the fall is focused on the college admissions process. The seniors so far have given the Senior Seminar good reviews, as it forces them to work on their application process in a classroom setting where they can get advice and help as they make these important decisions.
Every two weeks I publish a Head’s Blog on the AST website, in which I deal in some depth with issues and developments at the school and abroad in the world of education. You can access the blog by going to the website at www.ast.ma and clicking on the “Head Blog” button on the right.
Newsletter # 2 September 18, 2013
School is up and running! The kids are climbing all over the new playground equipment and the new upper court is used every day. It is a relief for everyone to be back in the second story of the Upper School, and two days ago the new gym floor was completed! Many thanks to Karim Benzakour and the AST staff for getting the school ready and for overseeing all the work that was done this summer.
AST was just informed that its application for accreditation was received and approved!
The documentation for this was submitted on September 9, and we expected to hear from the Middle States Association some time in November, as they can take up to 60 days to reply to the formal submission of documents. The turnover in this case was a few days!
We are now waiting for Middle States to assign us a Visitor, who will come to observe the school and to start us on our Self-Study. Watch for my blog on accreditation, in which I will explain the entire process.
As of this writing, AST has 346 students enrolled, up from about 322 last year. Most of our classes are full, and average class size is 22.5, not including pre-K.
New Equipment and new software
The Board of Trustees authorized the purchase of 33 new computers and a second server to meet our hardware and data needs. These are arriving over the course of this week and Aziz and Khalid are working hard to get them all set up. The new server gives us the capacity to use a new school management program that will consolidate our data system, allowing us to help students more effectively and to improve our communication within the school and to parents.
We have now initiated the process to introduce MAP testing at AST. MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) is an external testing regimen that is geared to the AERO and Common Core standards that we have aligned our curriculum with. It will give us an external read on our students’ progress and needs, allowing us to identify more precisely what kind of help a student might need. As soon as our new hardware is installed, we will begin the organization for the trial testing that will happen later this fall. The program has been purchased and the training for it has begun.
Water Problem Make-up Day
As everyone knows, we made the decision to close the school on Friday, September 13, because of the water cut-off in the city of Tangier and the problems of sanitation and health that arise from such a situation. We have set the make-up day for Thursday, April 10, 2014, which was scheduled to be the first day of spring break. Please change your calendars now!
The seniors are already hard at work on their college applications. The new Senior Seminar, led by Lisa Gregoire, provides the opportunity for the seniors to get help with every aspect of the college application process, from filling out the application forms to applying for financial aid. Individual meetings with the seniors and their parents will begin soon.
We are still waiting for our book order to arrive from the US, which should help with some of the book problems we have. We are currently studying several different proposals from parents, staff, and trustees to address this perennial problem. The scope of our study will include a close look at digital/ebooks, as these are dramatically cheaper than the traditional hard-bound books.
We are happy to report that our attendance procedures are off to a good start, thanks to better reporting by teachers and by great cooperation from parents and students. Please keep up the good work!
Pick-ups for PreK and K1 classes
Just a reminder: please do not block the entrance to the school when you go to pick up your child. You need to park down the street where parking is available. The entrance must be kept clear at all times!
Richard E. Lussen
Head of School