May 30, 2017
Dear Parents and Guardians,
As we near the end of our first year at Our Lady School, I would like to update you on a variety of things that are going on to further develop our school in its mission. In March, Mrs. Natalie Kohrman attended a School Leaders Conference through the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education at St. Jerome Academy in Maryland. As you may know, St. Jerome Academy has garnered national attention for its switch from a school on the verge of closing to a vibrant academic community with a waiting list. The impetus for this change was its adoption of a classical curriculum. In many ways, St. Jerome and its plan were influential in the founding of Our Lady School. (For more information on the St. Jerome Education Plan, please visit: www.stjeromeacademy.org).
Teachers, principals, and diocesan school staff members from across the country attended the School Leaders Conference. It was reassuring to see that other classical schools deal with similar issues, such as, how to advance our mission as a classical school while also fulfilling the requirements put forth by our diocese and our state and how to train our teachers in the classical methodology while also ensuring that they are proficient in the areas of classroom management, pedagogy, and service to students with special needs.
Perhaps, what was most exciting about this conference, however, was that one day of it occurred while school was in session. It was inspirational to see the students engaged in a classical curriculum: second graders debating whether it was right, even though it was legal, to whip a slave for stealing, sixth graders sharing their insight on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and students in fifth through eighth grade rehearsing their American History recitation. (To view the recitation in its entirety, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/stjeromeacademy/videos/1411438885617728/)
The School Leaders Conference has provided a link to diocesan schools across the country that will prove invaluable in the future. However, it seemed proper to visit other schools as well. Classical education, while it has foundational elements that must be included, such as leading to students to identify and choose what is good, beautiful, and true, can be approached in a variety of ways.
Therefore, in March, I toured two classical liberal arts schools. The first was Seven Oaks, a Barney Charter Initiative School in Ellettsville, Indiana, that, like us just opened its doors in August of 2016. I was privileged to meet the Headmaster and review the school’s curriculum and materials.
My next visit was to Highlands Latin School in Louisville, Kentucky. Michelle Tefertiller, a former teacher, current parent, and author for Memoria Press Classical Curriculum, gave me a personal tour of the school’s K-12 campus. Highlands Latin School began as a homeschool co-op founded by a Catholic mother who wanted more for her children than the schools in the area could provide at that time. Since then, Highlands Latin School has expanded and now has two campuses in Louisville.
Their success is demonstrated by an average ACT score of 30, by being the number one school in all of Louisville, and by having students who score in the top one-percent in the nation on standardized testing. Recently, the third Highlands Latin School campus opened in Carmel, Indiana. Furthermore, the materials developed by Mrs. Lowe, the school’s founder, and Mrs. Tefertiller are now published and available for purchase through Mrs. Lowe’s company, Memoria Press. In fact, we use many textbooks and materials from Memoria Press at OLS and will continue to do so in the future.
The academic success of Highlands Latin School was impressive indeed, but that is not the only purpose of our school. Our mission includes developing and offering a curriculum that lends itself to helping students in their formation as true disciples of Jesus Christ. The materials and methodology used Highlands Latin School and available through Memoria Press are able to aid us in this endeavor.
While Highlands Latin School is not exclusively a Catholic school, it integrates Jesus Christ in all subject areas. I was able to observe second graders practicing their recitation of the books of the Old Testament with ease. I observed middle school students studying for a test on the timeline of our world focusing on the Middle Ages. Their knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ life, the saints, and the major events in the time period they were studying was phenomenal. In seventh grade, the students I observed were reading The Odyssey and integrating their knowledge of the Greek language, which they were beginning to study in addition to Latin, to decipher the vocabulary in the text and aid in their comprehension. First graders, while eating their morning snack, were discussing a piece of artwork and the techniques the artist used. The students were completely engaged in their learning in every classroom I toured throughout the seven hours I was present. It was very inspiring to observe what a school can achieve in less than twenty years.
While Memoria Press offers a wide array of classical textbooks and resources, there are other solid, Catholic materials out there. Therefore, at OLS we will be using texts and materials from a variety of publishers as well as original texts and documents as necessitated by the classical model. If you have been in the school office over the last few months, you have probably seen boxes and boxes of books. We have been reviewing books to determine if they fit with the academic and spiritual goals of OLS. Some books have been put into the hands of our teachers right away, so as to address an immediate need in the classroom. Others are being set aside for next year and still others have not been deemed a proper fit for OLS.
Another helpful benefit of these visits was gaining first-hand experience with each school’s curriculum or educational plan. The goal of a curriculum map is to give a broad overview of topics, texts, materials, and lessons that address the learning objective for each grade level. A link to St. Jerome’s Education Plan was included above and more information on Highlands Latin School can be found on the school’s website: https://thelatinschool.org.
The initial idea for OLS was to use the St. Jerome Educational Plan as a guide this first year, as other schools around the country have successfully done. However, this idea is being re-evaluated as we determine how to meet both diocesan and state standards while employing our classical methodology. The teachers and I have been working diligently on this and are developing rough drafts of a curriculum map for each grade level. At the Family Picnic on June 1, I will have examples of books included in the current drafts of our curriculum maps for you to peruse. Also, as required by the state and the diocese, we will be purchasing an Indiana state-approved reading program for grades K-3. I have narrowed it down to two choices, Reading Wonders 2017 and Journeys 2017: Catholic Identity, and will be making the final selection soon. Teachers are also in the process of reviewing a variety of math textbooks.
Another aspect of the classical curriculum is nature studies in which students are encouraged to investigate and use the scientific method to understand the world around them. To this end, we hope to make better use of the science lab and the school campus. We have purchased more Foss Science Modules that provide the necessary items for experiments and hands-on learning. These materials, however, need organized so please contact me if you are interested in helping with this task. We also hope to make some headway outdoors. Ideas for gardening projects and improving the trails in the woods have also been tossed around.
Textbooks and materials are only part of the equation though. Our visits to other schools proved that the heart of classical education rests in our teachers. Teacher training is a huge priority and so we are so incredibly grateful for the additional funds brought in by the Gala that make it possible for the teachers and me to attend a variety of trainings this summer.
At the end of June, Mr. Stevens and Miss Haimbaugh will be attending a five-day conference at Aquinas College in Nashville hosted by the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education entitled the “Spirit and Craft of Teaching”. The agenda for this conference includes a review of the Church documents on education, a discussion of The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory, tips on classroom management, and workshops on Mimetic and Socratic instruction. (Information on Mimetic and Socratic instruction is included at the end of this letter).
In July, the classroom teachers, our resource team, and I will be attending a three-day training through the Classical Latin School Association at Highlands Latin School in Louisville. The teachers will have the opportunity to attend grade-specific tracks as well as specialized sessions in the areas of Latin, Literature, Logic and Rhetoric, Art and Music, Classical Composition, and Math and Science.
We are also having teachers participate in local trainings focusing on lesson planning, differentiated instruction, and NWEA formative testing which provides student data around which teachers can tailor their instruction to meet an individual student’s needs.
Soon, I will be posting a position for a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd instructor. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which is a Montessori approach to teaching the Catholic faith, will be taught in kindergarten and first grade next year. It will be located in what is currently the computer lab. Seeing how successful it was in our parish Religious Education program this year, we are very excited to offer this program and know that is was a draw for many families when considering OLS.
Concerning technology, we were gifted a new firewall and have new a filter up and running. Again, thanks to funding raised by the Gala, we will be soon purchasing two mobile laptop carts. Having this new firewall and laptops will allow students to use computers more conveniently. For example, our eighth graders wanted to use the computers in our current lab to do research on saints for Confirmation. However, because of the whitelist that we used prior to the filter, they were unable to use the lab computers to do so. Our new filter and mobile laptop carts will allow for research to occur more easily whether on saints, Ancient Rome, or the history of the American Revolution.
In addition to advances in the adoption of our classical curriculum and teacher training, we hope to address some issues with the school building itself in the near future. If you have walked through the school lately, you have surely noticed that some tiles are missing due to our leaky roof. Mr. Kohrman is getting quotes on a roof for the school. He will also be addressing the muddy area at the front of the school this summer. We are hoping to purchase picnic tables that will be placed in this area for the teachers to hold class outside occasionally. Please watch for emails and texts with information about volunteer opportunities over the summer.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who helped, donated, and participated in Our Lady School’s “Bridge to Italy” Gala. It was so enjoyable and a very good fundraiser, which, as I have already mentioned, is allowing the school to be able to develop the curriculum, purchase materials, train teachers, and make needed repairs to the building. Thank you for supporting the students and staff of Our Lady School.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me. I look forward to seeing everyone on June 1, for our year-end celebrations.