Dear Staff and FMS Families,

Years ago we had a tradition at FMS that I, as Head of School, write a State of the School Address. Like traditions sometimes do, it fell by the wayside. Who knows why, but I felt compelled to revive it lately. I am sure it has something to do with the “crackle in the air” we have been feeling at FMS this year. What crackle is that? It is the energy that comes from new ideas, revived idealism, a renewed sense of who we are and what our purpose is, and all of the many beautiful and productive things going on. This is my opportunity to share some of those “goings on.”

We started out the year talking about who we are as a school. We have been around now for 13 years, and it was time to take a look back and a look forward and make sure we stayed in line with our true purpose for existence. Our guiding quote is: “We will not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to end up where we began and to know the place for the first time” (T.S. Eliot).

We talked about what we were designed to be at our founding: a school that was a leader and not a follower. Then and now, we are proud to be a group of people who think in terms of the big picture, observe children and are driven by them and their needs in our world, rather than by political climate or trends in education, and who are not afraid to think outside the box to meet those needs. In short, we want to think like the founder of our curriculum and framework, Maria Montessori.
We wanted to be a school dedicated to being the best school a child could ever attend — best because it met the needs of the child in as many meaningful ways as possible.
Big goals to be sure. But, when we started off with these grandiose goals, we somehow managed to defy all reasonable expectations and achieve many of them — so why not keep shooting for such goals and see what the next 13 years will bring?
We call such goals our “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.” To keep these goals before our minds as we go about our tasks, we installed “Big Hairy” around the school. Big Hairy is a doll that looks much like a sasquatch. You may have seen him in the classrooms.
Another symbol of our vision is the gyroscope. We talked about the fact that a gyroscope defies gravity and does amazing and unexpected things when it is spinning around its core. We have our vision at our core, and our teachers are the parts that spin. We started giving out monthly Gyroscope Awards to teachers doing some extraordinary “spinning” in the eyes of their peers.
This way of thinking has generated many new initiatives at the school — most still in the development stages — and renewed and improved several existing endeavors. For the sake of brevity, I will share only a few of these with you.

Gyroscope Award

Collaborating at a teacher in-service.

Ms. Vickie talks to the staff at a teacher in-service.

“Big Hairy” the Sasquatch hangs out in a classroom.

1. A school driven by the knowledge, passion and observations of our teachers.
Those that are doing the spinning around the core need to be listened to, challenged and encouraged. You don’t get to any BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) without a team of talented people pointed toward a purpose. To that end, we have improved and revisited our mechanisms for working as a team. Here are some ways we have done that:
  • Used a system of committees to run many of the areas of the school. We have Teacher Liason Committees for developing our curriculum; for special needs support and improvement; for developing inservices; for new teacher mentoring; and for school-wide bonding.
  • Held weekly Grade Level Head meetings to coordinate, plan and develop their levels as well as provide support for their teams of teachers. GLHs also meet weekly with me via Skype to develop improvement initiatives based on their teams’ input.
  • Grade Level Heads also spend time analyzing, discussing, and exploring ideas and educational theory, and then making decisions and improvements in specific areas (see #3 below for details).
  • Have increased professional development opportunities with carefully planned inservices, webinars, trips to Montessori conferences, high caliber guest presenters and specific yearly improvement initiatives.
2. A school willing to think outside the box.
We have explored the internet, book stores, blogs, Ted Talks and more to identify ideas and concepts worth considering.
  • For example, we held a school-wide viewing of the documentaries Race To Nowhere and Waiting for Superman which discuss traditional education systems and how they are affecting children.
  • Our Grade Level Heads held an informal book club to discuss excellent books on education, both mainstream and alternative.
  • We attended a national convention on language development attended by all the current “gurus” in the field. Our teachers share ideas regularly from these sources and many others, stimulating on-going conversations on how we can improve and stay cutting edge while holding true to our original core principles.
3. A school tackling big improvement initiatives in collaborative and innovative ways.
Our initiatives this year were to improve in the areas of reading instruction, testing and parent-teacher communication.
  • We worked on our reading instruction goal by instituting a Fontas and Pinnell leveled reading instruction program with on-going support and training.
  • Our committees, after much discussion, decided on ways to streamline testing methods and to improve our testing efficacy using the MAPS program as well as to add third grade to that program.
  • We improved communication by adding teacher blogs, streamlining teacher emails, and using the website more as an information source for our in-house families than as a marketing tool by constantly updating it to include reminders, links, photos, and parent education that our own parents might need and appreciate.

We are working on some of next year’s initiatives already which include the following: Making sure our cultural curriculum is rich, deep and drives our classrooms; improving our writing instruction through special and in-depth teacher training and a school committee to analyse our levels of competence and student performance; improving our use of technology and technology instruction in meaningful, carefully considered and out-of-the-box ways; improving parent-teacher communication with a focus on one-on-one communication and frequent personal communication.

The challenge with a letter like this is to keep it short enough for everyone to want to read! There is so much going on and so much that I could elaborate on. Hopefully this snapshot gave you a sense of our purpose, mission and passion. And, as I renew an old tradition with this address, it is fitting that I do so by way of a new one: our first FMS e-newsletter. We hope that this and other initiatives will help give you a glimpse into our exciting and evolving world — we have much more in store for 2013-14. If you haven’t already, make sure to take a moment to subscribe to the school blog and to each of your children’s classroom blogs. It will help you feel connected (isn’t technology great?).

We need to remember that at FMS, we have a unique opportunity inherent in being a non-traditional, small, independent private school with a rare and precious asset: an incredibly qualified, highly trained staff. This allows us to educate not just as well as others, but to embrace with enthusiasm our ability and opportunity to be leaders in the field of education; to be creative problem solvers and collaborators; and to do what we set out to do and to “follow the child” toward the meaningful Big Hairy Audacious Goal of being the best school a child could ever attend.

Thank you for being with us on this journey.
Leanne Jorgensen
Head of School