New Ottoson Structure Increases Personalization to Drive Community and Achievement
Ottoson’s Advisory Program Web site.
Excerpt from the September 2014 Superintendent Newsletter
Middle school is a time of great change, as young people cross the line from childhood to adolescence. It is a time of heightened and unstable emotions, and a period when students grapple with issues of self-concept and self-esteem. At Ottoson we recognize the need for a supportive instructional environment where learning is based on each student’s experience and learning style. With the enrollment set to exceed 1,100 students this fall, we need to do all we can to prevent individual Ottoson students from feeling lost and overwhelmed. Research has shown a direct link between how connected a student feels to school and higher grades and test scores. Students who feel connected are more likely to take ownership for their own learning.
In order to better meet the needs of our middle school students, we are implementing two important programs at Ottoson this year: Smaller Learning Communities (grade-level houses) and Advisory. These programs are part of the work we have been doing to create a shared vision of instruction, student learning and school culture. This effort, led by Principal Tim Ruggere, is made possible thanks to a School Improvement Grant awarded by the Arlington Education Foundation.
Ottoson has been divided into three Smaller Learning Communities, each consisting of all the grade level teachers and an assistant principal co-located on the floor with the students. The assistant principals will facilitate grade-level Learning Team meetings to increase the focus and efficiency of the student support process. This change will enable us to achieve several important goals:
- Increase the personalization of the educational experience for all students
- Improve the professional community and personalization for teachers and specialists attached to each grade level
- Boost the time for grade-level meetings
- Provide more time for teachers to work with administrators to meet student needs
- Strengthen communication between teachers, administrators and students and building stronger bonds
- Increase accountability for all adults and students
The Advisory Program is another way we will be increasing the personalization of the Ottoson experience. Catherine Ritz, Director of World Languages for Arlington Public Schools, led the Advisory Team that developed the program over the summer. Every teacher, as well as Principal Ruggere, will lead an Advisory–a 30-minute weekly meeting of 11-13 students with their advisor. The Advisory Committee developed thematic units for the year and lessons to support each theme.
The goal of the Advisory Program is to create a sense of community through team building and reflective practices in a small group setting, where each child is supported and known. Improved communication and a greater sense of safety and belonging should result. Advisory also provides the opportunity to build grade-level skills through activities and discussions, and allows teachers to experience a different approach to supporting student growth.
The new structure strengthens Ottoson’s commitment to the whole-child middle school model. By making this large school “feel small”, we will be able to better address the needs a student population that is increasing in size and diversity, which, in turn, will improve the quality of the educational experience and academic achievement of each student.