WILMINGTON, MA — New Wilmington Middle School Principal Alexander Phillips was recently in front of the Wilmington School Committee to present his school’s 2019-2020 handbook. Discussion primarily focused on changes made to student homerooms, along with the addition of “launch pads.”
“[Under the old system], at the beginning of every day, there were seven minutes for which every student stayed in a classroom and received announcements and attendance, then they’d go and transition to another classroom for their first period.” explained Phillips. “[Under the new system], we’ve essentially merged homeroom to our first period classroom.”
“It used to take roughly 2-5 minutes to transition from a homeroom classroom to a first period classroom,” continued Phillips. “We asked ourselves — could we maximize that time differently? Now, with the first period teacher taking attendance, we’ve hopefully added an additional 5-10 minutes of instructional time each day, by avoiding having kids make an extra classroom transition…. The idea is teachers can capture an additional 20-30 minutes of instruction every week, which adds up.”
“‘Launch Pads’ is a term we created as an organizing unit for times where we might want to group kids in different configurations on special days that don’t follow the normal academic schedule,” noted Phillips. “For example, during the first two days of school, we had students grouped in ‘launch pads’ to work in small groups with teachers, focused heavily on social-emotional, relationship school building.”
In response to a question from School Committee Member MJ Byrnes, Phillips clarified that ‘launch pads’ would be used rarely — just on days where students have an alternative schedule. Byrnes asked Phillips to add clearer language in the handbook explaining how and when ‘launch pads’ will be used.
School Committee Chair Jennifer Bryson asked Phillips how he though the first two days of the “launch pads” went, noting four of the School Committee members have children that attend the Middle School.
“I’m looking for opportunities for kids to connect and share a little bit of who they are and build relationships with each other and staff,” responded Phillips. “By and large, folks seem pretty happy. It’s always awakward at the beginning, especially for 6th graders, but we’re breaking the ice and having pretty good conversations [via the launch pads]. Those things set a tone. I feel positive about what’s happening. We haven’t started soliciting feedback, since it’s only been a day and a half.”
“I have to say I understand [launch pads] much better when you explain it than when my daughter tried to explain it,” joked School Committee member David Ragsdale. “She didn’t seem to have the same depth of understanding.”
“What we want to be doing is creating a place that is humane and making kids feel cared for,” added Phillips. “[Launch pads] are one small thing, but hopefully it’s symbolic.”
What Hasn’t Changed
“There’s been no change in schedule, start time or end time of the school day,” stressed Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand. “We’ve tinkered with the homeroom. Structually, from the scheduling standpoint, everything else remains exactly as it was. 7:10am is entry start. Students have to be in their classroom at 7:20am.”
School Committee member MJ Byrnes expressed concerns about the school opening at 7am, but the first period not beginning until 7:20am.
“From 7am to 7:10am, we have two areas for kids to come in and wait — the cafeteria and the auditorium,” responded Phillips. “At 7:10am, students are dismissed from those locations to their first period class. They have from 7:10am to 7:20am to go to their locker room, use the bathroom, and whatever else they need to do is to get set at end of day. Teachers are officially on duty at 7:10am. Before 7:10am, they’re not on duty, so we have kids in places where we can adequately supervise.”
Superintendent Brand agreed that the administration will eventually need to take a careful look at issues surrounding the Middle School schedule, including the practice of allowing students to enter the building at 7am with staff not officially on duty until 7:10am. Brand also praised Phillips for recognizing the need to change the homeroom situation, noting he’s been principal for less than two months.
Phillips also made changes to the Middle School Handbook to reflect the district’s new vaping policy and revised bullying policy, along with the inclusion of new school-wide expectations.
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