September 16, 2014

Elyria
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Franklin Elementary teachers preparing for start of 5-year program

Michelle Kleinhenz, a kindergarden teacher at Franklin Elementary,  puts up a bulletin board display in the remodeled preschool room. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Michelle Kleinhenz, a kindergarden teacher at Franklin Elementary, puts up a bulletin board display in the remodeled preschool room. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Franklin Elementary is a school in transition.

Backed by a $1.25 million grant from the Stocker Foundation — the largest single gift the Elyria-based nonprofit has bestowed on one project — the Elyria elementary school has 15 days to reassemble the parts and pieces and be ready Aug. 25 to open its doors for day one of the New Beginnings initiative.

The reform plan crafted for Franklin for the next five years will focus on a new preschool program, early education, literacy, technology and parent involvement.

If ever there was a school that could use a reboot, Franklin is that school. Franklin in 2013 met none of the state benchmarks that signal academic achievement in math, reading and science.

The one bright spot on the school’s report card was its ability to ensure students learn more than a year’s worth of curriculum in a year. Referred to as value-added, the measurement looks at math and reading scores to determine whether students are making significant gains from year to year.

A new preschool

Elyria Superintendent Paul Rigda long has had his sights set on preschool. Early education is the strongest indicator of future academic successes, Rigda has said numerous times.

So it is not surprising that Franklin is gaining a preschool.

Two classrooms are being renovated for up to 36 4- and 5-year-old students — the first group of youngsters to attend the nearly all-day program at the school on 11th Street.

The children come from the neighborhood and the preschool is being made available at no cost to parents.

“I know this initiative has a lot of emphasis on preschool. But I don’t look at this as a pre-K initiative,” said Franklin Principal Lisa Licht. “It is a pre-K through grade 5 initiative that will do great things for our building. It’s a lot of new changes, but we are ready. We are excited for something new.”

Before students and teachers return to the classrooms, the building must prepare aesthetically for what has to happen academically.

Erin Neale, a fourth-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary, gets her room ready for the new school year.

Erin Neale, a fourth-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary, gets her room ready for the new school year.

That’s why Ann Schloss, the district’s academic services director, likes to show off the new preschool classroom “flower tables.”

It’s what she calls the small tables made with indentations that resemble petals on a flower. Atop each one sits six LearnPad tablets with a set of rainbow-colored headphones attached.

“These have got to be the coolest things in the classroom,” Schloss said. “They are tablets, but the teachers have the ability to use individual (quick response) codes to create lessons for students. A child can grab a piece of paper with their QR code, come over to the flower table and start a lesson — it can be colors, shapes or numbers — that is designed just for them.

“What we are trying to do here is nothing new. We have been using tablets in classrooms and giving teachers the leeway to incorporate technology into lessons for a while,” Schloss added. “This approach is more about comprehensively meeting the needs of our youngest students.”

The decor of each room features red, blue, green, yellow and purple tables with matching chairs, cubicles for personal belongings, an alphabet rug and handmade curtains.

The preschoolers also are getting a gross motor skills play room. Other spaces in the building are being transformed into a computer lab and multi-purpose room for all students and their parents.

Involving parents

While this summer has been mainly about the outward look of what New Beginnings will be, Licht said she is already thinking about expectations — what kind of growth students can make and what teachers can learn from this first year.

“There are so many people looking at this idea and going ‘Can this work?’ ” Licht said. “We think it can because we’re excited. We know we won’t hit everything in the first year. Like with teacher development, we want them to learn a few things well this year and build upon that.”

Kleinhenz places new Learn Pads in the remodeled preschool room.

Kleinhenz places new Learn Pads in the remodeled preschool room.

When the five-year plan was unveiled in February, Patricia O’Brien, executive director of the Stocker Foundation, said the foundation’s board members would not have made such a sizable commitment if it did not have faith change could be achieved. No one is expecting overnight miracles, but incremental successes, she said.

Those gains will include parents, O’Brien said. The building now boasts a community computer lab and all-purpose meeting room.

“We put it in because we felt that if we can’t get the parents involved in the education of the child and all the changes we are planning, it is going to be that much harder for everyone involved,” Schloss said. “We are getting students younger, so we want to build a positive relationship as the foundation. It will only grow for the years to come when they are with us.”

Schloss said teachers will work with parents in the first year to understand how important it will be for their children to attend preschool every day.

So far, 27 children — and their parents — have committed to the program.

Schloss thinks it will be easy to fill nine remaining slots and likely will need a waiting list for other interested parents.

The interest is showing the district that it is taking the right step with Franklin. Next up: Roll out the welcome mat.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

New Beginnings at Franklin

  • Two preschool classes for 4-year-old children residing in the Franklin neighborhood. They will attend classes 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. four days per week.
  • All other students will attend class 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., which equates to 45 minutes of additional instruction time.
  • Arts and technology will be heavily incorporated into the classroom.
  • The building will be wired for WiFi. A technology lab for students, parents and community members will be built.
  • Tablet stations and carts will be available throughout the school and a full-time technology coach will be hired to help staff members embed technology into the curriculum.
  • Students will spend more time in core subjects.
  • Teachers will work with parents once a week to address student needs. Parent workshops will be facilitated by teachers with support from Lorain County Community College.
  • A Franklin-based home liaison and school counselor will assist parents.