An Interview With FASPS's Middle School Head

Posted by Kyle Lewis


Kyle: Good morning, Stacy. Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your busy day to chat with us.

Stacy: My pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Kyle: This is your second year as the head of our Middle School. Tell us briefly what the trajectory was that brought you here.

Stacy: First and foremost, I just really want to spend my career in schools that are bilingual or international. I think I became more directed towards bilingual schools because I have two bilingual children, and I’m married to a man who is French. The importance of a bilingual education is something that I believe in personally, and I love using my French as well, being in a workplace where I get to be bilingual. I also really appreciate the balance that the French pedagogical approach brings to the American program. I think the two educational systems create a nice balance for each other, and particularly to FASPS.

When I interviewed for the position, I was really excited about the innovative spirit that we have here. I wanted to work in a school where everything wasn’t controlled by tradition, where we were encouraged to take risks in the classroom and be thoroughly responsive to what we were hearing from students, to what teachers found worked and didn’t work, and also to what parents felt their children needed; I really wanted to be part of a community that operated on that principle. Then, when I started last year as the interim head, I found out what a fantastic team of teachers we have here; it’s been so exciting to be able to work with such a dynamic set of people who also share that educational pursuit of innovation, who strive to bring out the very best in every student. With regards to the students, it was such a pleasant surprise. The students here are respectful. They’re creative. They’re excited to be at school, and they really want to learn. Working with students like that is a gift.

Kyle: How is this year going to be or how is it already different from your first year?

Stacy: Well, last year I did a lot of observing. I was a newcomer, so it was really important to watch and see what was already working, and I was really excited about what I saw happening in the classrooms. I think for the most part the teachers do feel empowered to make changes. I also think that there are lots of aspects of traditional education that I would never want to lose; if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I do think that the Deep Learning that we’re embarking on this year as a whole school is a really important direction to take. While our students are already collaborating, doing lots of creative learning, and while we have lots of creative and well-engineered assessments, we could share our practices with each other more. We could be more intentional about exactly how this sharing happens in our school. That’s the kind of work that I’m excited about doing. I’m really excited to have the educational leaders and to have time to work with Emeric Lefebvre and the other educational leaders to talk about how honing some of what we’re already great at can become clearer to parents and students so that the intentionality of what we’re doing is actually shared by all.

Kyle: What exactly is an educational leader at FASPS?

Stacy: We had coordinators last year who did a great job. This year we restructured the position to provide them more time to make an even greater difference. The three educational leaders are also a support to each other. They understand each other’s strengths and can share their projects accordingly.

Kyle: They’re all teachers?

Stacy: Yes, they are teachers. We have three educational leaders this year. We meet weekly. We have a very clear agenda about the roles that we will take together as a kind of a think tank for the school educationally, and also the roles that we might take across different sectors of the school. Emeric Lefebvre is part of the whole school think tank and also supports, for example, our educational meetings. Every Tuesday we work closely together to design the topics and areas to address. As a think tank we’re comparing and talking about what to implement or how to apply our assessment policy, what it looks like to support faculty and students with learning beyond the classroom, and other initiatives.

Kyle: Who are the other two educational leaders?

Stacy: Annette Hynes and Pierrick Le Roux. Annette is our reading specialist for the Lower School, and Pierrick is a Grade 5 teacher.

Kyle: Talk about the movement away from homework to what we're calling learning beyond the classroom.

Stacy: I’m really excited about that. There’s a lot of conversation in education and in our school about why have such a hard stop between the school day of learning and everything that happens after the 3:30pm moment when the school day ends. When you start unpacking that, and also when you start thinking about how differentiation in the classroom works, you start realizing that what’s happening after school needs to be clearly informing what’s happening in school, and what’s happening during the school day needs to inform what’s happening outside of school. At the Middle School in particular, we need to have greater collaboration with all the different teachers about how they’re designing their vision of after-school so that the experience for the kids makes sense. Philosophically, that’s where we’re going.

This affects the way the kids might view their careers one day too. To extend this even further, if you want to have a career that you’re passionate about, you must develop a love of learning, and you have to really enjoy that area of focus or direction. You have to really want to pursue that interest and stay with it for a sustained amount of time. So why wouldn’t we also start modeling that as well with what students are doing beyond the classroom? It might involve extensions of their personal interests. It might involve the students planning their time slightly differently based on the student and what they're doing outside of school. None of that means that we don’t still believe that practice isn’t an essential part of learning. There will be things that we will ask students to do beyond the classroom that are traditional. They could have a series of math problems to practice in order to consolidate learning. It could be reading, sometimes assigned reading, and other times the reading might be a free-choice option based on an interest. The idea is that there should be a greater flow back and forth between the school day and after-school, and what we’re doing as learners is building our skills and developing our interests.

Kyle: Talk a little bit about differentiation at FASPS.

Stacy: Differentiation works in a variety of ways. Sometimes we’re differentiating in the classroom according to ability, but not always. Sometimes we’re differentiating according to learning style, or, even more commonly, what I see in the Middle School is we’re differentiating according to interest. Because so much content is available online, there are so many ways to learn beyond the classroom. You can, for example, choose to go to a museum instead or make the link between something we’re doing as an after-school activity and how we might bring that interest into the classroom. More and more the teachers are combining project-based learning with traditional forms of learning, which might mean that sometimes you’ll have a group of students who opt to study their own choice of a content area. Let’s say students are working on a project on population, or a project on World War II, or a project on autobiographical writing, for example, they might then choose to isolate a particular area that already adheres to their interests or to a group’s choice of an area of interest. That interest might connect to something meaningful they did over the summer in terms of travel or because they had a particular experience on a sports team. All of these are options should be able to find a way into the classroom and find a way back out of the classroom so that the student that graduates from FASPS is a student who has a clear set of interests, who wants to discover, who has curiosity, and who also possesses the strong learning ethics and habits to sustain being able to achieve those passions as concrete goals in high school and beyond.

Kyle: It’s so much more than just segmenting a class into beginning, intermediate, and advanced sections.

Stacy: Absolutely, but teachers might do both at the same time, by the way. They might let a group choose their own topic for a project-based learning task that could span potentially three weeks, and at the same time offer what’s called a rubric, which is a table that describes certain areas for development. Within that group, they might highlight for individuals a goal or a particular areas of focus, perhaps as an extension because the teacher believes that the child might need to be pushed further or as a reinforcement to highlight where special attention by the child will be needed. When teachers set slightly different goals for children within a group, that’s based on ability. We might challenge a group that had a really hard time coming up with a topic differently than another group that shows great time-management skills but not enough creative thinking. Teachers set slightly different goals based on areas for growth. It’s possible to differentiate in very multi-faceted ways. The class sizes that we have here make it possible for the teachers to be able to have that type of investment toward the students every day.

Kyle: Let’s talk about next Tuesday. Every year we have a Middle School Open House, which is an opportunity both for our fourth and fifth grade families and families from other schools to come to FASPS in the evening to discover our Middle School, to talk to our teachers, to learn about differentiation, learning beyond the classroom, etc. For those families that will come next Tuesday, can you describe what the evening will look like?

Stacy: The teachers are kind of like me, I think, in that if they have an opportunity to talk about all the things they’re doing in their classrooms, they could talk a really, really long time very passionately about teaching and learning at FASPS. We’ve tried to design the evening to be respectful of the teachers’ desire to share lots of information about the great things that they’re doing while also being respectful of the parents and students who will attend the evening and might have other commitments as well. What we’re going to offer is three different glimpses into the Middle School. We’ll have a brief introduction. I’m going to talk about some of the larger, overarching structures that are part of our Middle School. We’ll give some basic information about bilingualism. We have students with different levels of French and English, so we need to accommodate the different language levels while still keeping English and French as our languages of instruction. We’ll also share about advisory, social-emotional learning, and what we offer in terms of after-school learning, athletics, and activities. Then we’re going to offer a student panel with two students from our sixth, seventh, and eighth grades; they’re really excited to talk about the Middle School. They will try to cover key pieces of what middle-school life is like. Then we’ll open it up for some questions. After that, we get to go upstairs where we’ll enjoy a first round of presentations with the teachers. Then we’ll break, have a bite to eat. Then we’ll go in for a second round of presentations. Then after that, if our families would like to stay and ask some specific questions of the teachers, the teachers will be available for questions in a more social style at the end of the evening.

Kyle: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about that we haven’t covered?

Stacy: I do hope that our fourth and fifth grade families will check out Room 202 at the end of the hallway when they visit the school. I’m being careful not to call it the Art Room anymore because it’s a much more multi-functional room this year. It is definitely still the Art Room, but it’s also a regular classroom where we teach humanities as well. We did something really interesting with the design where, if we need to, we can remove the furniture and use it as a large space. We’re excited about how we might use that room. We’re excited too about the new after-school learning design overall, which allows the students to have a break before they go into our office hours or after-school learning program. We are also enjoying having the students eat lunch together all at the same time this year to continue building a sense of community. They now have time for their friendships outside of the classroom but during the school day. There are a lot of exciting changes, and we can’t wait to share them with everyone.

Kyle: Thank you again, Stacy, for taking the time to talk with me about our amazing Middle School.

Stacy: You’re very welcome.