Williams Elementary School is part of the Messalonskee School System that houses 220 students in grades 3-5 in Oakland, Maine. They have 57% free and reduced lunch and have a special education population of 16%. There are 25 classroom teachers all of whom firmly believe in the vision, “All students belong.”
When asked what makes your school great, Principal Kathy Harris-Smedberg says, “We have worked very hard to have a collaborative professional culture, where information and knowledge is shared daily. Staff are required to meet weekly, but most grade levels meet daily. We share resources through technology, at formal and informal meetings, and even in passing. It is common to hear, ‘I found this and thought you might like to use it.’”
“Every teachers' meeting is professional development time, led by rotating staff members. Over half of the staff has less than three year’s experience and the high level of collaboration makes it appear that they are far more veteran than their years suggest. Every teacher has presented at our meetings. We have made a culture where it is okay to share questions and blips and where we all band together to help one another succeed. For example, in the first month of school I had a brand new teacher presenting with a veteran teacher - both were recognized as experts in that area. We truly are a team while maintaining our individualism,” claims Mrs. Harris-Smedberg.
Additionally, we house the district behavior program with students blending in so seamlessly that it would difficult to determine who accessed the program. Staff are adamant that all children belong and we meet every child where they are at.
I had the pleasure of speaking with several students at Williams Elementary. Here are just some of their responses as to what makes their school great:
- “I am new to this school. I really enjoy it here. The teachers are very positive.”
- “Look at our mural in the cafeteria! They really care about us here.”
- “The teachers are fun, nice and make project fun. I really like ‘Math Movement!’”
(Math movement is an opportunity for students to go to the gym and “play” using math skills. The integration of movement and learning motivates the students to learn. They also use this strategy with literacy.)
- “I was in Title One for reading and math. The teachers really cared about helping me and now I’m at my level. It’s really cool!”
- “We all learn in a variety of ways and the teachers get that. I use to be in Title One, but now I’m not. I’m at my level!”
The staff knows where each child is academically in the school. Because of this, they can customize learning for each and every child. It was refreshing to see that the staff have individualized instruction for the students and the students recognize that it’s okay for them to be where they are. They are proud of the work they have done and recognize the importance of learning.
If you want to see Mass Customized Learning and individualizing instruction for students in grade 3-5, Williams Elementary School is one I highly encourage you to visit!
Contact: Williams Elementary School, 55 Pleasant Street, Oakland, ME 04963 207-465-2965
Principal Kathy Harris-Smedberg