Monday, March 11, 2013

Open letter from Marshall area therapist and psychologist

Kristin Tenney-Blackwell, M.A., LLP, IMH-E, has been working with children, families and educators for over fifteen years.  As a Consultant, she is passionate about promoting young children’s social and emotional development in an effort to support resiliency. She has been active in providing consultation and guidance for organizations such as Vanderbilt University, the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, ZERO TO THREE, the Devereux Center for Resilient Children, Head Start and other early childhood programs on issues related to early childhood mental health and school readiness. Her portfolio includes work in early childhood education and mental health initiatives, design and delivery of professional development, and evaluation of early childhood projects.

It is fascinating to be part of a time where science and practice are coming closer together! While we have a great deal more to learn in an effort to create environments that support children’s ongoing skill development and learning, it’s wonderful when we see ideas in place about how to help children feel safe, successful, and competent and experience joy. Nurturing children to experience these things is not something of chance. It requires dedicated individuals who are committed to research based practices and are able to set egos and agendas aside in order to keep the greater good in mind; the greater good being children.  We know early experience matters. The question today is not whether early experience matters, but rather how early experiences shape individual development and contribute to children’s continued movement along positive pathways.

Research has shared that the true foundation of quality teaching and learning is engaging interactions and environments. Only then do efforts in ongoing child assessment make connections to and guide curricula and teaching practices that truly make a difference. I am concerned this very foundation has been left out of recent discussions.

Our elementary schools are neighborhood schools; therefore, reflections of the community. I’m unsure how we expect to solve school issues and challenges without first examining and taking into account our community, in addition to reflecting on what school readiness for all children truly means. I’m unsure how we expect children to thrive and feel safe, successful, competent and experience joy without first considering developmental needs, as well as the impact of engaging interactions and environments (which includes relationships with teachers, adult caregivers and peers).

How we support transition for children into kindergarten and during early elementary years is of significance. Its success has a lasting effect on children’s school success in later years (Pianta, & Cox 1999; Ramey et al. 2000). Clearly, educators, schools, and communities must work together and it is well worth the effort to find ways to support children and families during these crucial transitions.

Transition is a process and according to Pianta and Kraft-Sayre, “most important for the transition process are the relationships—those between children and teachers, parents and teachers, children and their peers, and children and their parents” (1999, 52). Effective practices should be planned locally and take into consideration community characteristics and the developmental needs of young children. By using what we know about young children and transitions, we can adapt strategies to promote children’s successful transition to kindergarten and school success in the years after.

Many of us know the transition from home to school has been found to be one of the most difficult transitions for children and can lead to children’s ongoing worries and anxieties if not supported appropriately. In the book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky highlights that most of our stress today comes from mental processes; in other words, from worrying about things. High levels of worry in childhood can produce very serious and long-lasting negative effects including physical, psychological and neurological. In fact, research has shown that levels of stress impact areas of the brain. The part of the brain most affected from early stress is the prefrontal cortex, which is directly involved with self-regulatory activities, both emotional and cognitive. As a result, children who experience varying levels of stress early in life generally find it more difficult to concentrate, harder to attend, sit still and follow directions. When you are overwhelmed, distracted and worried, it’s difficult to learn the alphabet and how to divide.
Brains and bodies are the most sensitive to the effects of stress during early childhood.

Asking young children to experience multiple changes and transitions during their early years is not supportive of their developmental needs, nor does it support their readiness for school and lifelong success. Schools’ readiness for children is conceptualized as providing an environment in which all children are ready and able to learn. High quality classrooms with integrated learning contribute positively to student outcomes, in reading and math for example(Rimm-Kaufman, Fan, Chiu, & You, 2007). We also know that research and theory strongly suggest that children’s initial academic and social success at school can lay the foundation for their long-term adjustment and progress, leading to a cycle of achievement and success (Fabian & Dunlop, 2007).

Multiple changes and transitions, teacher capacity, systemic issues without trust, communication and understanding, large class sizes, high teacher-child ratios, and lack of an individualized approach to learning does not equate to schools’ readiness. It simply fails to provide an environment, which enables all children to learn effectively. By holding tight to what we know children need, we have the opportunity to stay connected to the ultimate purpose of developmental research which is to improve children’s lives.

Children entering kindergarten and through second grade (roughly age 7) increase in identity formation and gradually begin to see the world as a place with its own rules and customs, about which he/she must learn and into which he/she must assimilate. The child shifts from seeing himself as at the center of the world to realizing that the world is complex and that he must find his place in it. Children during this developmental stage need:

·      Ongoing support for language and learning skills as they enter an academic setting;
·      Continuation of nurturing, sensitive, responsive relationships with family and other important adult caregivers;
·      Safety;
·      Consistent and supported social experiences that help them to develop peer relationships (coached for success); and,
·      Help in organizing their life story, social contexts and increasingly complex worlds.

Children ages 6 ½ to 8 are asking themselves, “How am I the same and different as other children?” While truly two different and separate developmental stages, there is also an overlap in tasks of normal development during this short period of time.  Children entering these stages of development are rigid in defining what is normal and what standards they use for group inclusion. This is an age of mastery and social development: finding one’s place, cooperating with groups, and accomplishing tasks. Children during these developmental stages need:

·      Safe, consistent, and nurturing environments;
·      Experience-rich environments that help them to develop a sense of mastery with consistent support through trusting relationships;
·      Social successes giving them friends and a fit with their peers;
·      Building of moral development and empathy; and,
·      Consistent environments and structure in order to move smoothly through the cycle of the day.

Asking children to cope with stress and conditions that do not match and offer what they need during specific stages only increases the risk their development will be compromised. School-age children respond with anxiety to some of the same situations that are troublesome in early childhood: separation, worry about losing control, fear of body damage, and confusion about reality. In summary, some the overall tasks of middle childhood development (6-12 years of age) are:

·      To develop and utilize a sense of calm and self-control (supported by consistent adults and environments)
·      To develop real-world skills and a sense of competence
·      To establish oneself in the world of peers
·      Rituals symbolizing attachment persist
·      Proximity seeking is activated in situations of severe stress or during transitions
·      Attachment needs are increasing expressed in teacher relationships and in friendships with peers
·      Attachment remains salient as children move through preadolescence
·      Play continues to be an important source of pleasure and release, but becomes increasingly ritualized into games
·      Increasingly accurate perception of reality
·      Improving understanding of cause and effect
·      Internalization of values, expectations, rules and social norms fosters self control
·      Desire to receive approval of peers sets limits on impulsive behavior
·      Identification with important adults and peers as role models
·      Capacity for self-control influences self-esteem and self-concept

Transition is a process…an ongoing process…not a one-time event for children. Children’s transition to school presents a critical time and unique opportunity to lay the groundwork for their long-term academic and social success, as development is truly the outcome of transactions between a child and his/her environment. At critical points, determined by periods of developmental change or by external influences, junctures appear and the child may move off the path he/she was traveling and onto a different path. How and whether development may be affected by increased risk or opportunity depends on the timing of external factors in relation to current developmental tasks. Developmental capacities that are currently emerging or have very recently been achieved are most vulnerable to disruption to stressors.

Adults who continue to learn about children make the best parents, teachers, administrators, etc. Quality teaching and learning has a foundation in engaging environments and interactions. Adults learn from observing children, planning activities that support their development and then evaluating and planning the next activities and experiences. High quality education programs work when administrators, teachers and families act as researchers – observe children and then reflect on what works and what does not work. We are constantly learning and assessing what we do so that we can do better…do better for children.

Remaining consistent is that children need to feel safe in order to learn. If children are fearful and stressed, they are less able to pay attention, to remember and to develop self-control. The security in consistent, nurturing and responsive environments make it possible for children to feel safe, try new things and learn new things; it’s going to provide just the kind of support children need to be able to master what is being offered.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

More data for your consideration....

Please click on this LINK to see more information that should be considered when looking at reconfiguring our elementary schools.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Parents: Want to do your own research? Check this out.....

There is a lot of information out there about how the number of transitions your children experience during their early years in school can negatively affect their later academic years.  There is research that has been done on how different school configurations have different outcomes.

As a parent, it is our jobs to do our own research and draw conclusions based on what is best for our children and their academic careers.  Here is a place to start:

The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities

Red Binder Contents

Each elementary school office has a red binder.  This binder contains information supplied by Dr. Randy Davis in regards to the elementary school reconfiguration proposals.  This binder is updated after each work session.  This information is very important for parents, community members and teachers to review.

You can read the contents of the "red binder" HERE

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Don't forget, tonight's parent meeting will be held in the middle school cafeteria at 7 p.m.

See you then!

Looking for info? Check this website out.....

Here are some great professional journal articles and studies done on Grade Level Configurations.


Monday, February 25, 2013

School Board meeting TONIGHT

Don't forget there is a school board meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in Marshall Middle School.  Childcare is available on site if you need it!

While the elementary school reconfiguration is not on the agenda the 2013-2014 budget IS!  This is crucial information to have and to understand.  It will shed light on why the proposals are being made and what other areas are being explored.  A link to the agenda is HERE

There will be a time for public comment at the end of the meeting for non-agenda items.  If you wish to address the school board about the elementary school reconfiguration please make sure to fill out a request to speak form at the beginning of the meeting and limit your comments to three minutes.

We have received information that a more interactive community forum is being planned for March 20th (that date is tentative, but you may want to pencil it in now).  Until then we are encouraging people to read the red binder that is located in your elementary school office (it will be posted on this blog soon), do research online, talk to other parents and send your questions and concerns to your school board members!  A link to their email addresses is HERE.

See you tonight!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Next PARENT WORK SESSION-Thursday February 28th 7 p.m. Middle School Cafeteria-CHILD CARE & SNACKS PROVIDED

The next Parent work session will be held on Thursday February 28th at 7 p.m. in the Middle School cafeteria.  Childcare and snacks will be provided.  All are welcome and encouraged to attend!  We as parents need to be sure we are educated and understand all configuration options that are being presented.  Spread the word! Bring a friend!

Next BOARD meeting MONDAY FEBRUARY 25TH- Childcare and snacks provided

The next Board of Education meeting is Monday, February 25th at 7 p.m. at Marshall Middle School.  If you would like information regarding what was presented at the last work session please ask your building principal to see the red binder.  This binder contains all information discussed at the meeting and will be updated after every meeting. We will also be posting that information on this website in the coming days.

Please come out and hear what is being proposed for your child's future education.  Child care and snacks will be provided.

Monday, February 11, 2013

School Board Work Session TONIGHT 7 PM Middle School Community Room

Don't forget!  School Board Work Session TONIGHT at 7 p.m. in the Middle School Community Room.  These are great meetings to attend to hear discussion between Board members and hear about reports that may not be covered in detail during regular board meetings.

See  you there!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Meeting time and location: INPUT NEEDED

Please comment below and let us know when a good time to meet would be.

  • Do weekends work better than a week night for you?   
  • Would it be easier to meet if you knew there would be childcare available?  
  • Would you be more comfortable meeting at a church, fellowship hall or other neutral location? 

Please leave us some feedback so we can better meet your needs and reach everyone that wants to be involved!

Thank you!  :)


Don't forget there is a parent meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Middle School.  This is a meeting called and organized BY PARENTS.  Please come and bring your questions, concerns and comments.  It is time to take action.  Be a part of the solution and make your voice known!  This will affect the future of your children's educational experience!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

iPetition has been created to voice concerns over proposed changes

Click HERE to sign a petition to let the Board of Education know your feelings in regards to the proposed changes outlined at the meeting on January 14th.

Mark your calendars.....

Work SessionsBusiness Sessions
February 11, 2013February 25, 2013
March 11, 2013March 25, 2013
April 8, 2013April 22, 2013
May 6, 2013May 20, 2013
June 10, 2013June 24, 2013
July 22, 2013 (Combined Work/Business Session)
August 12, 2013August 26, 2013
September 23, 2013 (Combined Work/Business Session)
October 14, 2013October 28, 2013
November 11, 2013November 25, 2013
December 9, 2013 (Combined Work/Business Session)
January 13, 2014 (Annual Organizational Meeting and Combined Work Session)
January 27, 2014 (Business Session)



The next meeting for interested parents will be Tuesday, January 29th at 7 p.m. in the Middle School cafeteria.  Please share this and bring a friend!  See  you there!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

School Board meeting schedule

Here is the link to the Board of Education page on the Marshall Public School's website:

Next meeting is Monday January 14th at 7 p.m.

Articles in regards to transition and case studies on grade level configurations

  • How do grade configurations affect transitions?
    The division of elementary schools into configurations that include fewer grades requires that students make several transitions from one school to another. Researchers note that transitions can be stressful for students:
    Alspaugh (1999) found a significant achievement loss during each transition year. He also found that some students regain what is lost in the following year, but it would seem that students who make fewer transitions need fewer years to make up for achievement losses caused by transitions.
    Another study found that each time students switched schools, their feelings of anonymity increased. Researchers who found that sixth-grade students in both elementary and combination K-12 schools outperformed students in middle schools or junior high schools considered the number of transitions a significant factor. This study considered 8 schools with 7 different grade spans with student populations of 82 to 1,200. The schools were located in both urban and rural settings in 5 northwest states. The number of grades in the schools ranged from 1 to 11 (Paglin & Fager, 1997).
    Another research study found that girls in early adolescence suffered from a drop in self-esteem, extracurricular participation, and leadership behaviors when they made the transition into middle school or junior high, but not if they remained in an elementary school setting. This study found that the effects of this transition lingered throughout the school years. For boys, the study found similar negative effects in extracurricular participation and grades, but not in self-esteem, when they made the transition into middle school or junior high. The authors concluded that the relatively protected elementary school setting made the entry into adolescence less stressful for both boys and girls. The students who had not had the stress of the earlier transition seemed to cope better with the transition into high school than did other students (Simmons & Blyth, 1987).
    Franklin and Glascock (1996) found that sixth-grade boys experienced more suspensions in middle schools or junior high schools than in elementary schools, possibly related to the effects of the transition, the school organization, or school size. This study was based on information gathered from all Louisiana public schools during the 1992-1993 school year.
  • Alspaugh, John W. (1999). The interaction effect of transition grade to high school with gender and grade level upon dropout rates. Montreal: American Educational Research Association. (ERIC Document No.ED431066)
    Bickel, Robert; Howley, Craig; Williams, Tony; & Glascock, Catherine. (2000, November). Will the real "Texas miracle in education" please stand up? Grade span configuration, achievement, and expenditure per pupil. Randolph, VT: Rural School and Community Trust. (ERIC Document No. ED447995)
    Franklin, Bobby J., & Glascock, Catherine H. (1996, October). The relationship between grade configuration and student performance in rural schools. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the National Rural Education Association, San Antonio, TX. (ERIC Document No. ED403083)
    Hopkins, Gary. (1997, September . Grade configuration: Who goes where? Education World [Online]. Available:
    Howley, Craig. (2002, March). Grade-span configurations. American Association of School Administrators [Online].Available:
    Lounsbury, John H. (1996). Key characteristics of middle level schools [Online]. ERIC Digest. Champaign, IL.
    ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (ERIC Document No. ED401050). Available:
    National Center for Education Statistics. (2002). Directory of public elementary and secondary education agencies, 2000-2001 [Online]. Available:
    Paglin, Catherine, & Fager, Jennifer. (1997, July). Grade configuration: Who goes where [Online]. Available:
    Editor's Note: this url is no longer active.
    Reents, Jennifer Newton. (2002, March). Isolating 9th graders. School Administrator[Online]. Available:
    Editor's Note: this url is no longer active.
    Simmons, Roberta G., & Blyth, Dale A. (1987). Moving into adolescence: The impact of pubertal change and school context. Hawthorne, NY: de Gruyter.
    Web Resources
    Should Sixth Grade Be in Elementary or Middle School? An Analysis of Grade Configuration and Student Behavior (2007)
    The Academic Effectiveness of Small-Scale Schooling (An Update)

Current building configurations

Current Building Structure
16 classrooms total
13 General Ed Classrooms
(Resource Room, Music or Art would have to be displaced in order to have enough classrooms to house 14 classes)
(7/grade level x 2 grade levels=14)
Would also need to add a CI classroom








1-Resource Room

1-Art Room

1-Music Room/Nurses Office

13 classrooms total
12 General Ed Classrooms (1 currently housed in the purposed music room)
Music and Art as well as the technology computer lab would have to be displaced in order to have enough classrooms to house 14 classes
(7/grade x 2 grade levels=14)
Would also need to add a CI classroom








1-Music/Art Room (Music was already displaced from it's bond money space due to 5th grade)

1-Resource Room (Housed at the Shamrock Preschool side due to displacement from 5th grade)
21 classrooms total
18 General Ed Classrooms, CI classroom is smaller than a purposed classroom, 4 Classrooms would sit empty

3-K (1 in the purposed resource room due to 5th grade)







1-Resource Room

1-Music Room

1-Art Room (resource room shares this space when art is not there due to 5th grade)

This clearly indicates that 2 of our schools cannot possibly house the number of students we currently have enrolled, while the third wouldn't be utilizing all of the space that it was intended to use.

List of "cons" compiled by parents at December 18th meeting

This is a list of the potential negative impacts that parents compiled during the December 18th meeting:

  • Larger class sizes
  • No exposure to older students thus eliminating the role model/mentoring skill set that is currently in existence.
  • Fewer resources (for example: the library would only contain books up to a certain level.  How do we accommodate 2nd graders that are reading at a 5th grade level?)
  • There is a level of security staying in the same building for 5 years.  The front office staff knows all the families and the children.  Transitioning to a new building every other year would take some of this security away.
  • Transitioning to a new building every other year could be very disruptive to some children.  Some 3rd grade students struggled with the transition to different classrooms for core subjects within the same building.
  • Transportation concerns for parents with children in all three buildings.
  • Transportation concerns in regards to younger children on the bus without older siblings to watch over them.
  • Lose instruction time due to doctor, dentist, and the like, appointments when families are spread between buildings.
  • Loss of parent involvement and PCO's due to families trying to be involved at multiple buildings.
  • How do parents attend celebrations (i.e, Mother's Day, Christmas, Halloween, etc.) when families are split between buildings?
  • Research has shown that an increase in transitions correlates to an increase in high school drop out rates.
  • Enrollment declines due to large number of districts close by that do not split families between buildings at the elementary age.
  • Question the safety of a central bussing hub or zone.
  • Concern for time with children in transit-lose educational time.
  • "Guinea Pig" students in an unproven model
  • SPED staffing and SPED programming
  • Lack of continuity in relationships between staff and families
  • Staffing for specials
  • Child anxiety
  • Detract from the neighborhood school-ownership and community
  • Will lose familiarity with K-5 teachers and across differing grade level collaboration
  • Students will get lost in the pack.
  • What are the chances the board will bump up class sizes and cut teachers anyway?
  • How would parent/teacher conferences work?
  • Behavior issues INCREASE with more of the same age peers
  • Lack of diversity (not a broad range of age levels)
  • Lose the potential of mentoring across grade levels in the same building between teachers.

List of "pros" compiled by parents at December 18th meeting

This is a list of the "pros" compiled by the parents that attended the December 18th meeting.

  • Other buildings may gain more resources for CI students
  • Teacher placement (more options for students)
  • Eliminate the division of district lines.  Students will establish more relationships before middle school.
  • Ability to categorize students into skill level-teach more to ability and beyond core standards and benchmarks.
  • Staff development and more common planning time than already provided.
  • Cost savings
  • Improve educational delivery

Questions generated at the December 18th parent meeting

Here are a list of questions generated by the parents that attended the December 18th parent initiated meeting at Marshall Middle School.

  • How will the school district accommodate the ebb and flow of enrollment?
  • Where does the money come from to increase the security in our schools?
  • Where other areas are being explored to save the $1 million the district needs to cut?
  • What is the cost savings of this new configuration?
  • How will this look for our special education students and classrooms?  Won't we need to add more special education rooms as we will need one per building?

Original email from Randy Davis

Good morning, all. Over the past two years we have bantered about in informal and formal conversations the idea of restructuring our elementary schools. We have done some preliminary research into the “reconfiguration” of grade levels, and it is time to move this conversation forward and public.

We will be exploring the feasibility of restructuring our elementary schools from three buildings housing Kindergarten through 5th grade, to three “centers” that focus on developmental and age-level groupings. Initially, we are looking at a pre-K through 1st grade building, a 2nd and 3rd grade building, and a 4th and 5th grade building. This concept is driven first and foremost by the desire to continue our efforts at improving teaching and learning in our District. We have learned a lot from the synergy and progress all of you have made with the establishment of Professional Learning Communities, common planning at grade level, the alignment of our curriculum with Common Core Standards, and the implementation of our Learning Design Model. We also realize that operating three elementary buildings creates opportunities for variation of instructional practice and resources, despite our best efforts for continuity.

There will be a number of studies performed over the next month to bring a fundamental concept for the Board of Education to review in January, and then for our community to consider and provide input and feedback. Frank (Facilities Director) will be studying our three buildings relative to square footage of classrooms, numbers of classrooms relative to our enrollment, general attributes of the buildings relative to the proposed configurations, and the logistics of relocating a majority of our teachers. Mike (Transportation Director) will be studying the logistics of routes, pick up and drop off times, and the use of our bus fleet and city transportation. Don (Technology Director) will study our short and long term plans for the addition of technology devices and infrastructure to support such a restructuring. Scott (Director of Operations) will be studying our enrollment trends, budget implications of remaining in our current state versus restructuring, and the overall financial commitment such a move would require. The three Building Principals (Andrea, Linda, and Paul) will continue to research with me the potential impact such a restructuring would have on student achievement and instructional practice, and the timeline in which this could/should occur.

Nothing has been set in stone. The feasibility study will indicate whether we should move forward or not with a dialogue with our constituents. Please do not listen to rumor that the ideas are set and we are moving forward. It would not be respectful of our stakeholders (students, teachers, staff, Board, community) to act in isolation without input. There will be all sorts of ideas generated from this study. My hope is that we will be able to act with intention and fidelity to what is in the best interest of our students and this organization. Realizing even the consideration of making such a change of this magnitude can be rather daunting, we may discover along the way another step toward reaching our organizational objectives.

Please contact me with questions you may have. Talk with your peers and administration. Be open to possibilities, and direct with your concerns and ideas. Thank you for everything you do for Marshall.



This site has been created as a way to easily communicate and distribute information to all Marshall Public School elementary school families in regards to the proposed changes to the elementary school configuration.  This site is not "for" or "against" the proposed changes and is maintained as a clearinghouse for resources so parents can read as much, or as little, about the topic as they wish.

You can check this blog for school board meeting reminders, links to resources including articles, meeting minutes, agendas, etc.  We will also post meeting announcements for the parent group that held its first meeting in December to begin the open dialogue.

Please subscribe to this blog so you are alerted when new posts arrive.  This will be easier than maintaining an email chain and will allow others to join in!

Negative comments will not be tolerated on this blog and will be deleted immediately.  Please keep your comments civil, polite and on topic.

Thank you for taking an interest in your children's education!