Public schools to focus on personalized learning, building updates

By Angie Hilsman | Aug 21, 2017
Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools/ Facebook Dartmouth Public Schools faculty pose during their beginning of the year training.

Heading into her third year as superintendent of Dartmouth Public Schools, Dr. Bonny Gifford has more on her plate than managing the 3,620 students. This year’s goals include more personalized learning and rolling out a preschool program in the north end of town.

Public schools start on August 30, and Gifford is ready to build on last year’s social-emotional health focus with new team members. Both Dartmouth High and DeMello Elementary will welcome new principals, and Gifford has recently hired an additional social worker for the high school. She’s also posted an opening for a student guidance director to oversee all elements of student support.

Personalized learning includes more relevant instructional practices — like projects instead of worksheets — and allows kids to choose some of the projects they’re working on, Gifford explained.

“It tries to meet kids where they are, gives kids a voice in the classroom… it’s a lot of project-based learning,” she said. “By doing that, we grab more kids’ attention. They’re more interested, more apt to stay motivated and in school.”

District-wide technology specialists are a huge part of this effort, said Gifford. A new technology specialist will be dedicated to Dartmouth Middle this year, making the high school the only school without specific tech support. Last year, Gifford hired two technology instructors to support Potter Elementary, and DeMello and Cushman schools.

“It’s a support that can help teachers design lessons, and helps teachers learn how to use those tools with expertise and excitement,” said Gifford.

Science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) programs that began last year — such as the before- and after-school iSTEM clubs — will continue as well, Gifford added. Technical skills will also be strengthened through engineering and robotics classes, and students will have access to dual-enrollment through Bristol Community College.

“We want to meet kids who aren’t going to a two- or four-year college and get them into technical classes. It’s a little quicker avenue to employment,” Gifford said.

Also upcoming this year, North Dartmouth residents will have access to the district's early learning program as it extends from the Cushman School and into Potter Elementary.

The School Committee budgeted $105,613 for a new preschool classroom at Potter, which will be complete with a playground space and a parent drop-off/pick-up area.

"It's still limited to what we can take in, but we'll see where it goes," said Gifford, adding that the preschool classrooms average 15 students each.

In order to fit the space, classroom rearrangements were required. On August 28, the School Committee will look at other spatial needs via a facilities audit. A draft report will provide long-term options for improving everything from ventilation quality to increasing collaborative learning areas. Such a master plan has not been completed in the past 20 years, Gifford added.

"How do you retrofit a very old, 1950s building with learning space?" she asked. "In the middle school basement, we have classrooms, but there's pipes sticking out. It's a basement."

The master plan will also tackle funding solutions for necessary updates.

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