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South Hills

West Jefferson Hills school transitions to intermediate as school year nears

| Tuesday, July 24, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

Jefferson Elementary School’s switch to Jefferson Hills Intermediate School is about more than just a name change.

As the school transitions to a third to fifth grade only school for the 2018-19 school year, board members on June 26 approved a name change for the school to Jefferson Hills Intermediate School.

The district’s two other elementary schools — McClellan and Gill Hall — will become kindergarten through second grade only buildings. All three schools had previously been K-5 buildings.

“One thing that’s going to be different is there’s not going to be the younger kids there,” Superintendent Michael Ghilani said. “So for some of those kids it means they’re not going to be with their younger brother or sister anymore.”

The district hosted a Rise Up Jaguar day at the end of the 2017-18 school year to familiarize students with their new schools.

With nearly 700 students (up from a little less than 500 in 2017-18), an assistant principal was added at Jefferson.

Jodi Merwin, who had served as an assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson High School, is now the assistant principal at Jefferson, working alongside Principal Chris Very.

“We thought it was an opportunity for her to grow,” Ghilani said, adding that Merwin has “a lot of skills in scheduling and data” and administrators felt that she and Very would “make a very good team.”

With the building only having third to fifth graders, Ghilani said programining will look a lot different, because it will be focused on the higher grades.

“In third grade we should be transitioning them into the intermediate school and by fifth grade that program should look a little more like what the middle school’s going to look like,” he said.

In all three buildings — McClellan, Gill Hall and Jefferson — there are more changes than just students grade level.

“There’s more of a developmental focus,” Ghilani said.

Principals and teachers will be “more focused and specialized within their disciplines,” he said.

“We didn’t just change the grade configurations, we changed every teaching position in the district — K-5. And really, the focus was to allow teachers to be specialists.”

Teachers will be “specialized” in the area they teach, so they can be the best, Ghilani said. Many of them are teaching what they have been for years. The district, however, will offer professional development (that’s what some of those two hour delays are for!)

“We now have teachers focused on being the best writing teacher they can be, focused on being the best S.T.E.A.M. teacher they can be,” he said.

“And we’ve really utilized the efficiency that we have in the schedule to give more kids time to really personalize the learning process for them and meet kids where they are to ensure their growth over the academic year.”

That means changes to the schedule.

“Our overarching goal was to personalize learning for every individual kid,” he said.

Students will receive small group instruction at their level of learning in English and math everyday. This allows teachers to focus on the individual needs of the students.

Matthew Patterson, assistant superintendent of elementary education, created the scheduling with the goal for students to grow academically and socially/emotionally.

“We are very intentional and data driven when it comes to the small group instruction the kids are receiving everyday,” Ghilani said.

“And it’s very flexible, I mean. Kids can move by day. So when you’re in a group, you’re not stuck in that group for a six weeks or a nine weeks or even a week. If you demonstrate that you’re ready for a different group because of where you’re at from an achievement perspective, you can be moved by that team of teachers at any time.”

Students also will have time dedicated to learning STEAM. That is new, Ghilani said.

The district also is working with the parent teacher groups to ensure programing offered is centered on the grade level of the schools.

A social and emotional curriculum, Second Step, also now will be taught to all students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. This will teach students things like empathy, grit, resilience and respecting boundaries, Ghilani said.

The district also will be using benchmarking which should point to red-flags if a students is not developing the way they should be in those areas, the superintendent said.

Ghilani said he hopes all of this helps students feel engaged.

“Kids should feel that the teaching and learning is meeting them where they are academically,” he said.

“They shouldn’t feel lost, they shouldn’t feel left behind. They should feel supported. And parents should see the effects of that when kids come home. We want kids to be happy. And if kids feel supported and they’re being successful and they’re working with material that is fitting for where they are at that point and time, they should come home happy.”

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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