Celina Primary School a Transformative Opportunity

Celina Primary School a Transformative Opportunity
Posted on 02/03/2017

To say that Celina ISD is on the threshold of growth and change would be an understatement. As with any change comes some degree of discomfort and dissatisfaction. The CISD Board of Trustees and Administration have the difficult task of making decisions that we feel are in the best interest of all students, staff, programs, facilities, and community stakeholders given the proper amount of time and resources available. It is imperative to note that these decisions are not done in haste or taken lightly as they directly impact our entire learning environment. The people making these decisions have a combined 150 plus years experience as teachers and/or principals at both the elementary and secondary levels and include members of the CISD Central Administration Team.

CISD has been identified as a “Destination District” and with this identity comes the opportunity to become a transformation district that not only enhances its current programs but also allows us to become an innovative district that meets all stakeholder needs. Part of this transformative opportunity is the district’s decision to implement a “Primary Campus” that would house our PPCD, Pre-K, and Kindergarten students.

The long-term goal of this configuration is to offer as many opportunities for students to develop skills that will successfully prepare them for learning now and in the future. The Celina Primary Campus curriculum will focus on academic learning and innovative enrichment activities that prepare Pre-K and Kindergarten grade level students for first grade by exposing them to learning concepts in more concrete ways.  Our students will be challenged to grow both socially and academically. Academic curriculum will include learning to read through phonics instruction, science through inquiry-based exploration, independent projects, math, technology through the use of the campus computer lab, exposure to iPads, learning through music and art, and last but not least, learning through play, which is in support of brain-based research.

A community-wide meeting was held on February 2, 2017 to share information with those in attendance in regards to a recent demographic study, new campus configurations and boundary mapping to address new attendance zones.  It was during this meeting that several questions arose concerning program details that could not been fully addressed due to different planning variables that were not finalized prior to the community meeting. Several CISD parents of this particular student group expressed their concerns over the implementation of the Celina Primary School configuration. It is our sincere hope that this communication will offer some clarification addressing those concerns and to speak directly to several of the talking points being shared by our parents.

QUESTIONS and ANSWERS:

Q: Why did CISD create the Primary School?

A: The programs that will be served at the Celina Primary School campus have been in existence at the current Celina Elementary School for quite some time. CISD has always been known for creating successful programs that have high expectations and that other districts want to emulate. We have the perfect opportunity to create a premier program with the primary campus that no one else in this area has produced. Due to enrollment growth over the next several years, the district has seen the need to bring all early learners to include kindergarten together on one campus focused solely on early education. The development of the Celina Primary Campus provides community spaces needed for play based learning strategies, which are vital in helping young learners build the skills necessary for critical thinking and leadership. It is important to create well-defined spaces where these young learners can play in large groups to include dramatic play and block areas. The campus provides large areas for cooperative classroom activities, storytelling, and spaces for music and movement. The campus configuration allows for the flexibility to create “self-service” art centers, science/discovery centers, writing areas, and STEAM-focused activities. CISD students currently transition from one campus to the next every two years. With the new campus configurations set for the 2017-2018 school year, CISD has eliminated many of the campus transitions that currently exist. It is also important to note that under the proposed configuration, both elementary campuses will reach capacity by 2020, while the primary campus will not reach capacity until 2025.

Q: What schools were sampled with this same configuration?

A: As stated before, there are not many districts that have this type of configuration. Site visits to the Kaufman and Anna Independent School Districts were scheduled to evaluate existing programs within these districts. Even though the demographics of these two districts differ in comparison to CISD, it gave our team an overview of the programs offered and addressed their strengths as well as their weaknesses in regards to this type of campus configuration.  The CISD Team consulted with Region 10 Early Childhood Directors and Program Coordinators to help determine the pros and cons of such a configuration. Online research was conducted and produced several successful kindergarten programs in NW Houston and Sugarland, Texas. This information was not originally shared at the February meeting but covers programs that follow research –based effective practices recognized by the National Association of Education of Young Children. The new Celina Primary Campus Principal, Mrs. Nancy Alvarez, collaborates on a regular basis with Woodson Kindergarten Center Principal, Jessica Cabeen on best practices that support students and families in navigating transitions from early childhood to elementary school.  The Woodson Kindergarten Center, which is a part of the Austin Public School System located in Austin, Minnesota is a very successful full day kindergarten program that was originally established in 2005.  It is the goal of the Celina Primary School to learn and incorporate best practices from established, successful programs while also creating a “one of a kind” program that is dynamic and prepares our young learners as they transition through their educational career. 

Q: Who will CISD Kindergarten students model after in regards to behavior, socialization, and maturity?

A: According to the NAEYC, “young children gain knowledge of their world from teachers, family members, peers, and even the media. Children take such input, along with what they learn in the course of their own experiences, and work out their own understandings and hypotheses about the world in which they live. They try these out through interactions with adults and other children, physical manipulation, play, and their own thought processes while observing what happens, reflecting on their findings, imagining possibilities, asking questions, and formulating answers. When children make knowledge their own in these ways, their understanding is deeper and they can transfer and apply this learning to the contexts of their own behavior, socialization skills, and maturity”. Through the use of possible programs such as PALS, campus visitations, and the ability to connect through the use of technology, early learners will have the opportunity to build relationships with older peers.

Q: How long will kindergarten grade level students be removed from the elementary campuses?

A: First and foremost, people need to understand that this is not a short-term solution. It is an opportunity to implement and develop a premier program like no other in this area, the State of Texas, or even on a national level. Celina ISD has the opportunity to maximize every facility, which allows our district to offer creative and innovative programs that will foster success for all students for years to come. 

Q: How will Kindergarten teachers be able to collaborate with older grade level colleagues?

A: Collaboration with off-campus colleagues will be offered through established planning days throughout the school calendar to ensure grade level alignment both vertically and horizontally. A strength of CISD staff is that the district is still currently small enough that our teachers know one another very well and communicate on a regular basis.

Q: How does CISD plan to ensure that all TEKS requirements are being met at the Kindergarten level? In addition, how will P.E., Art, Music, and Technology be staffed and taught appropriately?

A: CISD Kindergarten teachers are all Rock-Star teachers that will continue to track what TEKS they have taught during the school year through the use of checklists and assessments that are strategically aligned with the curriculum. TEKS will be covered in all academic areas required to include the following; English Language Arts and Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies,  Health, P.E., Art, Music, Theatre, and Technology Applications. Both the elementary and primary campuses will have access to all appropriate instructional materials as well as access to on-campus library resources that contain leveled readers that are appropriate in assisting students to better prepare for the Texas Primary Reading Inventory assessment. CISD is currently in the process of budgeting for certified staffing in the areas of fine arts and technology that will continue to provide our students the highest quality education and allow our kindergarten teachers the opportunity to focus on the core academic areas. The increase of appropriate staffing will obviously increase the operating budget of the ISD. However, these staffing needs are going to be required for the near future as our student population continues to grow.

Q: How will the Primary Campus create and foster parent/community/student relationships to create a stable base of support and volunteers?

A: Under the guidance of Mrs. Alvarez, implementation of parental involvement strategies will provide opportunities to foster the parent/school connection. Mrs. Alvarez and her staff will be reaching out to parents through several communication platforms prior to the school year to help better support them and understand what it means to prepare their child for Pre-K and Kindergarten. Celina Primary School will be providing partnership opportunities with students and the community through the use of technology and visitations to the campus, giving our primary students the ability to connect with community members, parents, and to foster relationships with older peers from other campuses.

Q: How will CISD ensure the safety and security of the students at the Primary Campus?

A: Over the past few years, CISD has taken steps to upgrade the safety and security at all of our facilities. Updates to our campus security systems and procedures take place on a yearly basis to ensure the safety of our students and faculty. The CISD Transportation Director and CISD Police Chief will continue to monitor traffic patterns to better facilitate the safety of our youngest students during arrival and dismissal times. Existing playground equipment located on the northeast end of the campus is not conducive for primary age level students and will either be modified as appropriate for their use or will not be used at all. The playground at the south end is designed for the younger age group and will be secured with additional fencing and upgrades for a safer play environment.

Q: Who will lead Celina Primary School and what qualities stood out in the selection process?

A: Mrs. Nancy Alvarez was chosen as Principal of the new Celina Primary School and brings 15 years of experience as a Head Start Team Leader, Bilingual Teacher, Second Grade Teacher, Instructional Coach, and has served as an administrator on an early childhood campus. Mrs. Alvarez is considered an expert in the contexts of early childhood practices. She is a recognized speaker and has presented at Texas AEYC, TCEA State Conference, No Excuses University National Convention, North Texas Visioning Conference, TCEA Regional Conference, Tots and Technology, and TechnoPalooza to name a few. Her experiences and relationships with state and national leaders have given her the tools to make the Celina Primary campus a “Destination Primary School”.  Mrs. Alvarez played a huge role in the successful implementation of the Lawson Early Childhood School in McKinney ISD in 2009. Her administrative responsibilities include mentoring new teachers, writing and revising curriculum, differentiating learning and assessment activities to meet the wide range of learning styles while meeting the needs and strengths of students with special needs. As an administrator and former Instructional Coach, Mrs. Alvarez is well versed as an RTI Coordinator to include modeling lessons, co-teaching, co-planning, and observing teacher lessons while providing constructive feedback. Mrs. Alvarez not only brings a strong background in early childhood leadership but exhibits a deep passion for these young students by providing a solid foundation that challenges them to grow socially and academically.

It is the desire of CISD to always do what is best for the students and staff of our district given the proper time and resources available. Change is difficult and it takes an entire district and community working together, even though we can agree to disagree at times,  to provide the positive change that is beneficial to all. Please know that we ALL want the same things for ALL our children. If after your review of this information you still have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact or to schedule a meeting with Superintendent Rick DeMasters at 469-742-9100 or rickdemasters@celinaisd.com