An Emphasis on Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills This School Year
At press time of The Rye Record’s annual Back to School issue, we are eagerly preparing for the first day of school, Wednesday, September 6. This summer has been a busy one in the school district. Top of mind for myself, the administration, and the Board of Education is to ponder where we are heading as an institution of teaching and learning. It’s clear that the world is changing, and our graduates need different skills than they did in the past, including the ability to think critically, collaborate with others, communicate effectively, and problem-solve. Of these, perhaps most pressing is critical thinking.
Society is facing complex challenges that cannot be solved without critical thinking. Finding ways to imbue critical thinking into everyday teaching and learning continues to be the District’s top focus for the 2023-2024 school year. Two professional development classes offered over the summer, “Building Thinking Classrooms” and “Next Level Classroom Instruction,” provided teachers with practical tips for incorporating critical thinking exercises in the classroom. For the remainder of the year, the majority of our in-house professional development at Superintendent’s Conference Days and faculty meetings will center around how to develop critical thinking skills through classroom instruction.
Artificial Intelligence is much in the news these days. Its effects are being felt everywhere, from Hollywood to academia, and our schools are no exception. As is the case with most technology, there are good and bad sides to AI. AI can be a good teacher tool. It can be used to find examples and succinctly summarize a concept. It can be used to provide an outline for students who struggle with classroom note-taking. The District has been working with department coordinators (heads) to learn about AI and how to talk to students about what it is and when to use it. With any new technology, there is a lot of unknown and we need to be thoughtful about the risks associated with such an emerging application that has not been researched thoroughly.
Alternatively, AI tools can be used to complete writing assignments, in effect, to cheat. While AI writing is becoming more sophisticated, most teachers are able to differentiate between a student’s usual writing and an assignment completed with the help of AI. In addition, teachers also have a number of tools (please forgive me for not being transparent about what those are) to detect the use of AI in student writing. Nonetheless, it is clear that our teachers will need to adjust their assignments, and they will also need to explicitly tell students whether the use of AI to complete a particular task is acceptable or not. In addition, the high school’s Academic Integrity Policy is being updated to provide guidelines around the use of AI.
The mental health of students continues to be a driving concern. The Covid pandemic resulted in increased depression and anxiety among school-aged children, and its effects are still being felt. The District is in year three of a partnership with Effective School Solution (ESS), which provides two clinicians who support students with mild to moderate mental health challenges. The District is also in the process of opening a mental health clinic in conjunction with Westchester Jewish Community Services. The clinic will offer school district families expanded access to mental health, trauma, and substance use treatment for children, adolescents, adults, and families. Through the support of County Legislator Catherine Parker and County Executive George Latimer, funding was secured to create the clinic. We received approval from the New York State Office of Mental Health over the summer and anticipate an early fall opening with the clinic operating three days a week.
Almost 100 of our faculty and staff took advantage of professional learning opportunities over the summer. Forty-two teachers and administrators attended the second annual two-day SEL (Social Emotional Learning) Institute in late June to learn how to foster student growth while prioritizing student well-being. The focus this year was on using writing as a means for reflection and using literature and read-alouds to promote empathy. Teachers left with a toolbox of practical ideas and strategies to use with students.
For the second year, a group of elementary school teachers began a year-long course focused on incorporating grammar into the classroom. A group of K-2 teachers took a course on the new writing units of study which incorporate phonics, decoding, spelling and grammar. Thirteen K-8 teachers took a class on building thinking classrooms that provide strategies for promoting critical thinking as part of daily classroom instruction. Another group of teachers took a class on how to use the new Promethean boards.
We will begin the school year with fully functional secure vestibule entrances that were completed during the last school year and are in use at all five schools in the District. We are continuing the process of upgrading the PA (public address) systems at the elementary schools and installing SALTO electronic smart door locksets on all classroom doors. Curiously, there is a lingering pandemic-related door deficit. The District has been waiting to receive new classroom doors for several years now. Midland’s door installation and SALTO hardware installation are complete. Osborn’s is in process, with 14 doors arriving this month. Milton’s doors have been on order, and we await delivery. Osborn’s new Public Address system is complete; Midland and Milton’s are installed and undergoing testing.
The Rye Police Department held a three-day tactical training session at the Rye High/Middle School campus during the second week of August. These drills give our police officers the invaluable opportunity to familiarize themselves with the school building layout. We are grateful for the RPD’s partnership as we work to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe.
Rye residents may have noticed some construction taking place at school buildings over the summer. In addition to routine cleaning, painting, and maintenance, the District has been busy making important upgrades.
At Rye High School, we’ve been working with Con Edison to complete installation of a high-pressure gas system. The High School cafeteria has new flooring and a fresh paint job. The main corridor of the school also received a much-needed facelift with new flooring from https://factory-flooring.uk and paint. Many classrooms and hallways are freshly painted.
At Rye Middle School, we’ve removed all the carpeting in the 6th-grade wing, replacing it with new flooring that can stand up to many middle school feet. The RMS hallway has a new ceiling and lighting, and the staircase has been revamped to bring it up to fire code.
At every school, the District has been busy installing new interactive Promethean board display panels in classrooms. These whiteboards allow teachers to project images from a computer, tablet, or external camera. A big thank-you to the Rye Fund for Education for providing the funding for 28 boards. There are now three at Midland, three at Milton, five at Osborn, and ten at the High/Middle schools. Twenty more are on order and will be installed as they arrive.
Over 8,000 square feet of flooring was replaced at Milton and Osborn schools, and Midland classrooms received a fresh coat of paint.
Fall Sports and Extracurriculars
The fall sports season is already underway. The Football team reported for practice on August 19 and all other high school fall sports kicked off this week. At RMS, Modified Sports begin on September 7. Extracurricular activities and clubs generally begin a few weeks after the start of school to give students a chance to settle into their schedules.
Due to the reclassification of both the Rye and Harrison Varsity Football teams, by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the 96th annual Rye-Harrison football game could not be played in the course of the regular season. Classifications are determined by the size of a school’s population. Rye High has been reclassified as a Class B school and Harrison is a Class A school for the purposes of football.
The Game will take place on Saturday, September 2 at 1:30 p.m. at Harrison. Alternating fields between Rye and Harrison is part of the tradition. We recognize this is not ideal timing for those families who plan to be away for Labor Day. Unfortunately, September 2 is the only date that worked for both teams.
We hope you will be able to join us in person or watch the matchup on Local Live. Go Garnets!