At Montecito Union, our vision is to set a global standard of educational excellence. We strive to give our students the academic foundation to creatively solve complex problems, to apply interpersonal and collaborative skills, and to demonstrate a genuine sense of curiosity in a student-focused and supportive environment. We seek to help our students be empowered thinkers who positively impact and adapt to our ever changing and diverse world.
Although there are many methods of measuring success, one accomplishment we are proud of is being a “10/10” school. The state of California ranks schools on a scale from 1-10 based on their annual standardized test scores. The first 10 indicates that we are among the top scorers of all California schools. The second 10 indicates that when compared to schools with similar demographics, we are still among the best of the best. Another marker of our success is our API score of 950, well above the state benchmark of 800.
There are many factors that help us achieve these exceptional results. Guided by our Strategic Plan, MUS has embarked on a journey with Project Zero out of Harvard University. Our staff has been, and continues to be, extensively trained in the tenets of Visible Thinking. With the support of the Montecito Education Foundation, we’ve had the fortune to send our staff to Harvard University to better understand how to help our students think and understand. Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students' thinking with content learning across subject matters. An extensive and adaptable collection of practices, Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students' thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them on. When you walk into any of our classrooms, expect to see students being asked: Why? What makes you say that? Tell me more? Students are regularly asked to provide evidence for their answers, to engage in dialogue with each other, to connect to each other’s thinking, and to apply their understanding to novel situations. Students are taught thinking routines and curriculum maps and throughlines help students make connections from facts, details and formulas to patterns, trends and ideas. We firmly believe that teaching students to think will empower them both on high-stakes tests as well as in their future studies and careers.
Another key component of our curriculum is focused on the work of Lucy Caulkins and the Reading Writing Project. Our primary teachers had the opportunity to study at Columbia University in New York, learning to not only teach our students to read, but to love reading. Through mini-lessons, making connections and supporting students with an abundance of leveled reading, our students love to read and read to learn.
Behind the scenes, much is happening to solidify and expand upon teachers’ professional development. The staff meets in grade levels bi-monthly to develop common throughlines, activities and assessments. They analyze student work together and talk about their practice to become better teachers. The entire staff collaborates bi-monthly as well, practicing thinking routines, developing common expectations, and attacking “big picture” issues in teaching and learning. The following structures are in place to support continued exploration and growth in these and other areas:
Bi-monthly grade level professional learning community meetings
Bi-monthly whole staff professional learning community meetings
Monthly Teacher Learning Collaborative meetings to reflect on and refine our works towards implementing the Strategic Plan
3 non-student staff professional development days aligned with our summer work
5 release days to plan as teams and work with outside consultants
Regular observation by the Chief Academic Officer with feedback
So often, educators attend trainings and are momentarily inspired only to forget what they learned as the latest fad hits the spotlight. The structures of grade level and school-wide professional learning communities along with the fact that teachers have all shared a common experience have helped build momentum and commitment to implementing change and working together towards a common vision of embracing a thinking curriculum.
Small class sizes averaging around 17 students per class across the grade levels as well as having instructional assistants in each classroom help us ensure that we provide each of our students with the time and attention he or she needs. An organized and articulated set of common benchmark assessments helps us celebrate student successes while also enabling us to quickly identify students who are struggling. Regular child study meetings are held where a committee of diverse stakeholders (special educators, classroom teachers, specialists, administration and parents) comes together to create individualized plans for student intervention and achievement. In addition to a resource teacher, speech therapist, counselor, and psychologist, we also employ reading and math specialists to provide individual or small group intervention when students are struggling to have their needs met in the regular classroom. These structures and systems help ensure that no student falls through the cracks.
In addition to our strong focus on language arts and mathematics, we also believe that our students benefit from development in the arts, language and other areas. Students enjoy weekly visits to our well-equipped music and art rooms as well as a state-of-the-art computer lab. Each second and third-grader is assigned a violin for two years of string study with our music specialist. Each fourth, fifth and sixth grader is assigned an Apple laptop for composition, research and presentations and receives instruction from our technology specialist. Our art teacher displays the students’ amazing works of art in our professionally designed art gallery. Our physical education teachers help support healthy living and sportsmanship through bi-weekly outdoor sessions for each class. Our Spanish teachers visit classrooms twice weekly as well, encouraging cultural awareness and language acquisition. Our science specialist coordinates our new science lab with interesting equipment and materials as well as engaging activities to support classroom science units. A full time librarian is on hand for weekly classroom visits as to help connect students to over 18,000 books housed in our library.
Students at Montecito Union receive an enriched education through many other activities supported generously by our PTA. Individual grade levels partake in residencies, bringing in experts for extended study of African drumming, dance and movement, poetry, storytelling, colonial experiences, primitive living, and much more. Numerous field trips help bringing learning to life, helping students make connections to discussions and text in the classroom.
All of these incredible attributes of Montecito Union help us to provide our students with our vision of a global standard of educational excellence. We prepare our students to think, to be good citizens, to appreciate and understand the arts, and ultimately to fulfill our mission by providing a comprehensive educational foundation, cultivating a passion for learning, honoring the unique qualities and strengths of our children, and challenging them to attain their full potential.