AP NEWS

Western Middle School adopts new magnet theme

April 1, 2019

GREENWICH — Western Middle School has received approval it needs to move forward with a new magnet theme, which could be fully implemented by the 2020-21 academic year.

“We’ve been doing this all along, but this gives us the stamp to let us be who we are, and move forward with professional development and what an AVID Schoolwide looks like,” Principal Gordon Beinstein said. “Now we can just go and do the work.”

The school currently offers an AVID elective — a college-readiness program for students who are in the academic middle and individually determined to succeed, who represent a race or ethnicity that is underrepresented on college campuses, who come from families in which no one has gone to college or who come from an economically disadvantaged background.

AVID Schoolwide will expand elements of the program to all students, though an intensive will still be offered as an elective.

“This program gives kids wings to fly,” said Western parent Katie Yu. “A large part of the success at Western is the strength of the AVID program, the passion teachers have for it and the buy-in from parents.”

“We’ve had the AVID Schoolwide strategies in place, but there are other categories, culture and leadership, that we have to tease out,” Beinstein said. “That’s the work coming in the summer.”

This year, 12 teachers will receive funding to attend the Summer Institute, where they will be trained in AVID, he said.

The school board approved the move on Thursday. School board Chairman Peter Bernstein endorsed the program, with a few tweaks: He suggested keeping the traditional Washington, D.C., trip for eighth-graders, rather than switching to college tours.

“You’ve caught lightning in a bottle, you’ve shown cultural change, but you might lose me if you drop the Washington trip,” Bernstein said.

In the new proposal, the team changed the eighth-grade trip to focus on college-readiness. Bernstein also suggested they continue to work on the program’s name. The proposal had changed the name from AVID Schoolwide to “Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders” or “Western Middle School - A Leadership Academy,” because the school board had recommended rebranding the program to widen its appeal.

As for costs, the program had a price tag of $40,000 when school officials initially presented their plan to the district in January. Beinstein said he anticipates the cost will go down as more teachers train other teachers in the strategies.

But board member Peter Sherr objected to retaining the elective when going Schoolwide, saying it would create a school-within-a-school that admitted students based on accidental characteristics such as race or economic status. “How can we implement this program and eliminate racial biases?” he asked.

Other board members questioned why Sherr was raising these concerns now, because the district has already implemented the AVID elective at Greenwich High School, as well as Central and Western middle schools.

The AVID elective program is for students who want an additional challenge, while AVID Schoolwide recognizes certain strategies are useful for every child, such as the one-binder organization method, Deputy Superintendent Ann Carabillo said.

“It may be like a child at the high school decides to take Honors or AP courses,” Carabillo said. “If they want to take the elective, they can apply. It’s not more two-tiered than what we already have (at the high school) with AP courses, Innovation Lab and Honors programs. It’s another opportunity for a child to have what they think they need.”

Beinstein reminded the board that AVID is not an intervention for students who need extra academic support.

“This is not a remedial course,” he said. “This is for students who would otherwise not have exposure (to college).”

Board member Lauren Rabin threw in her endorsement as well.

“I support this, and I would like to get the note-taking taught at a future professional development board meeting,” Rabin said.

Bernstein appreciated the quip: “We can have somebody do a train-the-trainer,” he said.

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com