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Superintendent Search: Thomas Harwood – Grosse Pointe Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Labor Relations

March 14, 2011

I have sent each Rochester Community Schools superintendent candidate questions about Advanced & Gifted Education. Here are the questions and Thomas Harwood‘s responses. Other candidates’ responses will be added when they are received.

1) What advanced and gifted programs are currently offered in your school district?

2) What do you believe the ideal advanced and gifted program would be?

3) For Rochester Community Schools, what advanced and gifted program should be implemented based on your understanding of the surrounding community, the current finances, and the needs of RCS students?

4) What would your timeline be for implementing these programs?

5) Are you a supporter of the International Baccalaureate program and would you work to convert one or more elementary, middle, and high schools in RCS to the IB program?

————–
I am very thankful for the upcoming opportunity to interview with the Rochester community as a candidate for the superintendent of schools.  As the discussion occurs tonight, you will find that my work has involved addressing the unique educational needs of all students and providing each and every student the ability to meet their potential and expand their skills for future success.

 

I appreciate your passion, commitment, and depth of understanding in the education of students with academic skills that are more advanced and that require a rigorous program of learning that expands their capabilities and enhances their knowledge and overall academic growth.

 

As I proceed in answering the questions that you have presented to all candidates, I am very proud to be a daily active member of a leadership team in Grosse Pointe that has always been a “lighthouse” district in establishing the vision, framework, and direction for a standard of academic excellence for all students.  We take a great deal of pride and effort in the academic offerings to our students so that they can and will be competitive in a global marketplace and obtain personal, social, and academic success throughout their lifetime.  As educators and educational leaders, our work is constantly evolving as we “polish the stone” of success in reaching new initiatives, new programs, and new levels of achievement.

 

Question #1:  What advanced and gifted programs are currently offered in your school district?

 

In Grosse Pointe, we begin very early in the process of looking at the learning profile of the students that come to our school.  Students enter our schools with a different set of skills and we begin in the early years (kindergarten) to help establish a program that differentiates these skills to initiate a foundation of learning opportunities that can best meet the child’s needs.

 

As you will find on our website, the following is a wonderful description of our elementary gifted program  in Grosse Pointe:

 

 

The Elementary Gifted Program
As part of our commitment to differentiation, the Grosse Pointe Public School System offers a continuum of educational options for very able students at the elementary school level.

 

For kindergarten and first grade students, teachers differentiate instruction with flexible groups of students depending on student readiness. In January of each school year, students in grades one through four may be nominated for a gifted identification process, resulting in the identification of students who may need significantly differentiated instruction in their second through fifth grade placement.

 

Along the continuum of services beyond differentiation, the Grosse Pointe Public School System offers additional instructional options.  Students who are achieving significantly beyond their grade level are “clustered” based on advanced skills in language arts and/or math.  Cluster grouping is offered at grades two through five at all nine elementary schools in the district.  Cluster grouping provides students with learning partners as they are brought together for lessons or units in their area (s) of strength.  Following along the continuum is the Magnet Program.  The Magnet Program, located in two elementary buildings, was developed for students who differ significantly from mainstream students in their capacity to approach learning in greater breadth, depth, or pace, and who also require a degree of differentiation beyond what can be provided in the grade-level classroom.  Instruction is usually above grade level and emphasizes higher order thinking skills.  The Magnet Program provides an educational setting that nurtures and responds to the unique cognitive, emotional, and behavioral characteristics of gifted children and recognizes divergent thinkers.

 

As identified in this description, we have magnet classrooms at two of our elementary schools (Ferry and Defer).  At each of the elementary schools, we have a 2nd grade/3rd grade split Magnet class and a 4th grade/5th grade Magnet class for students nominated (by parent, teacher, or both) and academic performance reviewed that demonstrates a higher academic skill level and performance.  For some students, another option is to have them remain in their neighborhood school and receive higher level academics in a cluster format in the area of Language Arts and Mathematics.  And, we have been fortunate to have Dr. Susan Allan, a national expert in the field of differentiation of instruction, serve as our assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for several years in the district.  Her leadership and staff development has improved the instructional practices and curriculum offerings across the district.

 

At the middle school level, advanced students have several educational opportunities to engage in a class with advanced rigor to effectively meet their learning style and challenge the student academically.  The following contains the course offerings available to the honors middle school student:

 

English:                       Honors Narrative English Language Arts (6th grade)

Honors Informative English Language Arts (6th grade)

Honors English – 7th grade

Honors English – 8th grade

 

Math:                           Honors Algebra I

 

Science:                       Honors Science – 7th grade

Honors Science – 8th grade

 

Social Studies:            Honors Social Studies – 7th grade

Honors Social Studies – 8th grade

 

The middle school students also have the opportunities to begin their day with courses available to them at the two high schools.

 

At the high school level, the Grosse Pointe Public School System offers 20 advanced placement courses where students may earn credit at the college level.  The district also provides the option for dual enrollment in courses available at the universities.

 

Question #2:  What do you believe the ideal advanced and gifted program would be?

 

The ideal program for any student is one that provides the appropriate connections for learning.  Students have different profiles in how they learn.  From this profile, a program of studies that connects and aligns the student’s academic, personal, and social needs is one that would best serve the student.  This is why I believe that teachers work best when they are provided with quality, effective, and accurate information on their assigned students so to establish an instructional program and curriculum that would meet the needs of all of their students in the classroom.  This differentiation of instruction is a sound professional practice that that helps to insure that instruction is in concert with the learning style and profile of the student.

 

With students who bring to the school setting a set of skills and talents that are more advanced than the norm, these students would need an environment that challenges their learning, advances their knowledge, and engages them in a level of higher order critical thinking.  I believe that we need to continuously explore good and effective programs that meet these needs and provide quality outcomes for the student.

 

Question #3:  For Rochester Community Schools, what advanced and gifted program should be implemented based on your understanding of the surrounding community, the current finances, and the needs of RCS students?

 

As a long time member of the Rochester community (over 21 years) and a parent of two children in the RCS system (a 7th grader at West MS and a 2009 graduate from Adams HS), I have grown to appreciate that the school system is the heart of this community and that the parents are connected to their child’s education.  It is a community that demonstrates a commitment that their dollars, time, and energy are effectively utilized to provide an environment conducive to learning and a foundation for future academic and personal success.  In RCS, the vision and mission of the district has always been reviewed by the Board, staff, and parents to ensure that the direction of the district is still on the appropriate compass toward student success and growth.  In regard to advanced and gifted programs, I have the necessary training and experience to know how to effectively analyze programs to determine an alignment of studies that will best meet the overall student needs.  The student learning is at the core of our responsibility as educators and an advanced and gifted program would be central to that core.  Given the district financial picture as impacted by state funding reductions, the community will demand that we revisit how we restructure our programs in order to best meet the needs of all students.  This presents many challenges but also a window of opportunity to reassess and consider all possibilities.

 

Question #4:  What would your timeline be for implementing these programs?

 

The timeline would be established by beginning with open discussion and dialogue with Board members, students, staff, and parents so as to better understand the needs of the students and the needs of the district and community.  Discussion and historical perspective would be a key element. As a candidate for the Rochester superintendent position, I would still need to have a depth of dialogue with key stakeholders to determine what is best for the students in RCS.

 

Question #5:  Are you a supporter of the International Baccalaureate program and would you work to convert one or more elementary, middle, and high schools in RCS to the IB program?

 

I am a supporter of continued dialogue and discussion to find the creative ways to implement programs that advance the learning and skills of all of our students.  The IB program provides an educational process that extends learning and conceptual higher order thinking, knowledge, and understanding for more advanced learners.  I would support the need to continue the discussions of all the RCS programs of studies so that we are insuring an alignment of offerings that meet the needs of students today in a global world of connections and opportunities.  We need to keep pace with the world of knowledge and information in a very technological society and the IB program may provide a strong foundation for this to occur.

 

I thank you for the chance to review these areas of interest and to have an opportunity to meet you in the near future.  I look forward to present and interview with the community this evening.

 

Tom Harwood

Any members of Rochester SAGE, please take the time to introduce yourself to Mr. Harwood if you attend Monday’s interviews.

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE!
Rochester Supports Advanced & Gifted Education!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 14, 2011 11:53 AM

    Red Flag: “This differentiation of instruction is a sound professional practice that that helps to insure that instruction is in concert with the learning style and profile of the student.” Could’ve been written by Rochester Schools PR dept.

    Grosse Pointe does indeed have some great programs. A good follow-up question would be to ask what involvement this candidate had in the creation or expansion of those programs.

    I don’t know Tom, but have heard good things about him.

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