Gov. Deval Patrick teased the 5-year-old students at Thursday afternoon, saying he was sure they were third graders.
Then he visited what last year would have been called a third grade class where students shared with him about hexagons, trapezoids and other quadrilaterals they were learning in math. The governor praised the students, saying he was impressed with what they were learning in the third grade, only to find out that at Carlton, he was wrong about both classrooms.
Starting seven days ago, there is no third grade at Carlton. There is no longer a kindergarten class for the 5 year olds.
Carlton is an Innovation School, one of 44 in the commonwealth and the reason for Patrick's visit along with Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Education Secretary Paul Reville and other dignitaries, including state Rep. John Keenan D-Salem, Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and School Committee member Dr. Brendan Walsh, a champion of the innovation school.
Under the new innovation system, traditional grades built on age groups are gone. Carlton students now progress according to their own pace. The 5 year olds, who listened intently as Murray read them a story, are now in the P-1 class.
The old first and second grades are now called P-2. The old third grade is called E-1, and former fourth and fifth graders are in the E-2 class.
The governor caught on quickly when Principal Jean-Marie Kahn explained how the innovation school works.
"This is very individualized," the governor said. "You are meeting kids where they are, bringing them all up to a love of learning."
In a released statement, Murray said, “Innovation Schools are a new and exciting way for community members to build a school tailored to the unique needs of students.”
Driscoll, who also chairs the School Committee, said Kahn had popularized a phrase that at Carlton students "own their education."
Kahn told the governor and other officials that when the teachers believe that a student is ready to move up a grade, a meeting is held with the student, the parents and the teachers to discuss the student's progress. "The student runs that meeting," Kahn said.
That prompted a laugh from the governor. "Oh, I have to come back and see that," he said.
A major part of Patrick's Achievement Gap Act legislation in 2010,the Innovation School program uses inventive strategies and creative approaches to accelerate student achievement. Innovation Schools are given more autonomy and flexibility with regard to curriculum, staffing, budget, schedule, professional development and district policies.
Using a $45,000 grant from the federal government, the 235-student Carlton School has adopted a rigorous assessment system that started this summer for 86 of the students. The students came voluntarily to "Assessment Camp," where they were tested for two hours one day six weeks ahead of school opening.
The results of that testing can be found on the wall in the teacher's lounge. There the teachers see the students' results daily and discuss once a week how to help students who are not progressing, Kahn said. They can also be found on the iPads that each teacher carries.
Carlton has also adopted a trimester system, which gives the teachers more flexibility in moving students as they progress, she said.
"How did you come up with that?" the governor asked when meeting with the faculty and parents.
The New Zealand Model
Kahn said it was the way schools operated in New Zealand, when she lived there. She said she modeled some of the innovation plans for Carlton after the New Zealand's schools because they are among the best in the world and the population has the highest literacy rate in the world.
Planning for the innovation model has taken two years with parents joining the faculty in designing the new system, the governor was told.
When he asked why Carlton had wanted to be an innovation school, one teacher said, "Our scores were low and we were on the verge of being rated at Level 4 (poor performing)."
The governor said he was excited by what he saw at Carlton although the program is so new, "you can still smell the paint," he said. "We are trying new ways, seeing what works."
Patrick created a lot of excitement and awe among the students, who readily asked him questions.
Joshua, an E-1 student, asked if his job was hard. "Everyday," the governor said. "But then somedays I get to come see schools like this one. I get to meet you."
One student said she had seen him on television. "I look taller on television," he joked.
"And thinner," the mayor said.
E-1 class teacher Susan Morgenstern told the governor about "Bubblegum Math." As the students master each math workbook, they earn pieces of bubblegum.
Keenan said the governor uses Bubblegum math in rewarding legislators during the state budget process.
In the P-1 class, the students were asked what cooperation means. Five year old Nadia explained as if to other 5 year olds, “You have to work together. And you have to share.”