Sandra Trach is the Principal at Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, MA, United States of America.
Estabrook School is a Grades K-5, 500 student school in historic Lexington, Massachusetts. The school is one of nine schools in the Lexington Public Schools, Massachusetts (U.S.) proudly serving a diverse student body with comprehensive and rigorous curriculum, achieving at a 98th percentile and speaking 27 languages.
Interview with a 21st century principal - Sandra Trach
Joseph Estabrook Elementary School is ranked as #1 in the State of Massachusetts, out of 855 public schools. That is not what impressed me the most about this school. Their approach to 21st century education, including a big focus on Ecoliteracy, a Silver LEED building, their commitment to Social/Emotional learning and their implementation of amazing Project-Based Learning is what impressed me! Here's our interview:
Sandra - We just visioned, designed and built a new, state-of-the-art school that is LEED Silver (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. The new school has green design features throughout, such as the daylight harvesting features that keep natural light prominent throughout the school. The wood in the school comes from sustainable forests. Water conservation is a major focus, including low flow water sources, bio-retention ponds, and water sensor irrigation for the school field. The roof is an ecosystem in itself – including a ‘white roof’ concept coupled with a green 'vegetated' roof, as well as solar panels that run 24% of the school’s electricity. As a staff, we designed our own LEED project-based learning curriculum. It is a ten-month curriculum that connects our green school with the beautiful conservation land that surrounds us. Other unique building features include two greenhouses (one indoor, one outdoor) and a roof garden with sustainable plantings.
There are many examples of the many green learning experiences at Estabrook School.
For example, the students have a green cooking club, a worm composting program, a schoolwide recycling program, eco-conscious ways of traveling to school, horticultural learning experiences in the greenhouses; wildlife, forestry and ponding experiences around the school, a natural water duct on site via the bio-retention ponds, and Big Backyard walks that help them learn bio-diversity. These are only a few of the ways we practice being “green.”
Sandra - The school schedule is organized in blocks that provide for coherence and consistency of learning kindergarten through grade five, allowing for time and rigor that support learning, as well as consistent common planning each week for teams of teachers.
We are an inclusion school. The majority of our instructional work is conducted in the classroom, with only some small group pull-out instruction as needed. We have one districtwide placement program for students with emotional disabilities, and that program is also fully inclusive. There is no sub-separate special education programming at our school.
The school schedule allows for flexible learning opportunities that change frequently. On Thursdays, which are half-school days each week, the teachers typically conduct longer project-based learning experiences, which integrate science, social studies and social competency curriculum. We also hold morning meetings and closing circles, as well as monthly schoolwide celebrations of learning.
Most importantly, learning is personalized for each student. All students have personalized learning goals, and many students have their own personalized learning plan. There is diversity and richness of learning at Estabrook School, characterized by rigor, differentiation, affinity and choice-based options for learning.
Sandra - High performance teamwork is at the heart of our school. We practice PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and RtI (Response to Intervention), along with PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports). We also have data teams that meet every six weeks to monitor student progress and design personalized learning plans. Our Child Study Team (CST) and Positive Behavior Support Team (PBST) are also important teams that strategize and support learning for students.
Sandra - A favorite PBL unit… it is hard to choose just one! I am thinking of ‘home design’ as one of my favorites. Students are challenged to create energy efficient model homes using a combination of series wiring and solar energy. Students appreciate firsthand the challenge of design thinking and energy efficiency.
I also enjoy the "seed to seed" project, where our students grow flowers from seed, study the life cycle and plant life, gift the flowers to their parent(s), and then use the seeds from the flowers to begin anew. It's a beautiful life cycle experience.
Another favorite project-based learning unit is the ice-cream unit. Students must study and design a team-oriented, ice-cream business of their own, and take into account the many factors of starting a small business. At the end of their start-up, they must present their small business plan to a local ice-cream shop owner in town for feedback. It is a favorite learning experience at Estabrook School.
We have also conducted a similar unit with bridge building, where students attempted to design and construct a bridge within a specific budget and design parameters, and at the same time, against many odds that happen in the building industry.
I also enjoy our immigration simulation, where students assume the identity of an immigrant, and then enter Ellis Island. Students encounter inspectors, and then proceed through a series of experiences as if they were an immigrant of that era. Students also listen to real-life testimonies of those who went through Ellis Island and study their own family history. It is a moving experience.
I can’t choose just one! I have many favorite project-based learning moments at Estabrook School! Indeed, I am very proud of Estabrook School and our hands-on approach to authentic learning experiences.