Credit: Needham Public Schools

Mitchell Elementary School principal Greg Bayse outlined at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting how the school has created an adaptive learning environment using data-backed approaches.

This has been the first year since the COVID-19 pandemic that Mitchell has been fully staffed, which Bayse said helped immensely with morale and student services. This was partly due to an increase in the school’s budget, which allowed for the hiring of more counseling and special education staff. This helped the school tackle “an imbalance of caseload” and provide individualized care to students, he said.

Like other schools in the district, Mitchell is also shifting toward using data to plan and analyze its curriculum. Staff at the district level developed a database program that collects data on curricula, which assists them in changing their practices based on their findings.

The improvement plan requires schools to implement social and emotional learning (SEL) into their curriculum. Broadly, SEL is a process where students are taught to regulate their emotions and develop social awareness to foster healthy relationships. 

To help implement SEL, Mitchell created a “scope and sequence” for staff. The scope lays out the required topics for developing SEL skills, and the sequence provides a general guide on how to teach them.

Bayse said the school has been struggling to instill values of SEL in the older grades due to the “changing role of technology in the lives of students.” To prevent students from viewing potentially harmful content, Mitchell is piloting software called Securely. The program monitors students’ device activity and alerts staff if they view troubling or age-inappropriate content. The school can then contact parents to inform them of their behavior. 

“I think that’s a great example of looking into how we can use technology to ensure safety for our children instead of just viewing technology as a tool that is potentially unsafe,” Bayse said.

Central to the improvement plan is a learning environment where students feel they have agency over their learning, and tailoring the curriculum to different students’ learning styles.

For years Mitchell has been using What I Need (WIN) blocks, through which students get extra support in subjects they struggle with. Bayse said this year the school changed its approach to focus these blocks more on data instead of intuition. 

Like other schools in the district, Bayse said Mitchell has used aspects of universal design language (UDL).

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