At Neelsville Middle School in Germantown, Principal Vicky Lake-Parcan said she sees students facing obstacles to their emotional well-being.
Some students have been in seven or eight schools before reaching Neelsville Middle. Others have parents working two or three jobs. Still others come from families experiencing housing issues.
In an effort to help these students and others, Lake-Parcan said, the school has joined nine others in Montgomery County Public Schools’ new Interventions Network, in which the schools will work together and with the school system’s central office staff to address each school’s specific needs and close achievement gaps.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr announced the first 10 schools to enter the network during the county Board of Education’s Aug. 21 meeting, with participating elementary schools including Damascus, College Gardens in Rockville, Dr. Charles R. Drew in Silver Spring, Meadow Hall in Rockville, Twinbrook in Rockville, Waters Landing in Germantown and Whetstone in Gaithersburg.
The network also includes Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Burtonsville and the John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents in Rockville.
The school system plans to expand the network to 60 schools by the 2014-2015 school year, and to all schools by the 2015-2016 school year, said Dr. Monique T. Felder, the school system’s interventions director who will oversee the network.
Felder said the school system will work with network participants to answer two main questions: how the school is responding when students are “not learning” — those who might need more time and support — and how they respond when students are “demonstrating mastery” — those who could delve deeper into the lessons.
“We know we have students in both camps,” she said.
Representatives from the 10 schools and central office staff will meet every six to eight weeks to help develop their intervention efforts and toss ideas around.
Among other approaches including personalized learning plans and professional training, Felder said schools will also incorporate a system in which they can identify struggling students at an early stage.
“It’s not about waiting for students to fail,” she said.
For Neelsville students, Lake-Parcan said, the emphasis lies in “a need to build this kind of foundation in terms of their emotional well-being and feeling comfortable to be here in school.”
Helping the students mentally and socially will also have a positive impact on their academic achievement, she said.
The school already has a psychologist working with the students once or twice a week.
“We’re looking for that same type of support on an ongoing basis for our students,” Lake-Parcan said.
In addition to mental health services, she said, the school also wants to take advantage of network resources to help it build parent groups and help them become more involved in their children’s education.
At Damascus Elementary, Principal Sean McGee said there is room for growth when it comes to the school’s math instruction.
The school’s leadership team was “intrigued” when it heard about the network, he said, and jumped at the chance to gain exposure to new ideas.
McGee said that while schools meet in clusters at times, the network provides a unique opportunity for schools from across the county to meet and pick each other’s brains.
While he thinks the school does a good job with its reading instruction, McGee said the network will provide the school a chance to “steal ideas” that can help them with their math instruction.
The elementary school is currently shifting from whole-group math instruction to a model involving smaller groups of varying levels — and it wants to do more.
“You’ve got a wide variety of elementary schools and middle schools that are looking at different strategies,” McGee said.
“We’re trying to kind of piggyback on what they’re doing,” he added.
Among the 10 applications the school system received, Felder said, one common thread was a desire to expand the expertise necessary to help students.
“I’m encouraged by it,” Lake-Parcan said of the network. “I feel like it’s a good avenue for us to not only talk about the challenges that we as a school are facing but get more heads at the table to talk about what the options are in terms of possible solutions.”