Every spring as the school year draws to a close, there is a particular topic that begins to permeate the conversations of our Dawson students, teachers and parents alike: class placements.
The topic is understandable. Before our families depart for summer break, the anticipation of a new school year with a new teacher and classmates is already building. Add to this anticipation the “unknown” (e.g., Who will our teacher be? Will this teacher meet my child’s needs? Will my child have any friends in class?) and what should be an exciting prospect becomes fraught with anxiety and tension.
As parents, providing our children with a smooth path to success is instinctual. We know the stakes are high, so we want to ensure they are given every opportunity to thrive and achieve in all aspects of life, and especially in school. At Dawson, we understand this deeply and begin setting our students up for success each school year with our class placement process. I often ask families to “trust the process,” but I realize that’s difficult to do when you may not know how we arrive at a specific class list. I want to take this opportunity to demystify and clarify Dawson’s class placement process so your family can feel confident and trust that the decisions we make always have your child’s best interests at the core.
First, let me take you through the nuts and bolts. The process itself takes about 10 weeks, beginning with an initial draft of class rosters created by each grade level. Over the course of several grade-level team meetings, teachers continue to review their lists, striving for balance in personality types, academic needs, learning styles, boy/girl ratios, and social-emotional needs. The next step is teacher placement, where, conversations focus on family needs and values.
Once there is a consensus on student dynamics and teacher placement, the counselors, teaching and learning specialists, directors, and the coordinator of student services review the rosters. They make changes based on the perspectives they hold as individuals who specialize in meeting specific student needs.
Every year we get to welcome new students and families to Dawson, and we know that joining a new community can cause extra worries. The intentional class placement process is a key step to how we make the transition as smooth as possible for our newly-enrolled students.
The in-depth application process, which provides a portfolio of information for our Admissions Committee, gives us important data that is utilized when placing each student in their academic classroom homes for the year. The documents we receive – including progress reports, teacher recommendations, student interviews and the application – are considered at length and help the team make the best decision possible to place students with academic peers and others who have similar interests or passions.
Once our newest students are added to the rosters, another evaluation of dynamics occurs until everyone involved agrees the final outcome is best for all of our students.
A Professional Partnership
The way Dawson approaches class placements is the result of the professional partnership between the teachers, administrators, specialists, and counselors who have taken the time to get to know not only our students but also their families and what they value. There is no dominant voice at the table; class placements involve thoughtful and deliberate discussions over the course of many weeks with a group of experienced educators who share the same goal: to create an optimal and balanced learning environment that helps all students reach their individual potential.
Contrary to popular belief, this process does not exclude parent input. In fact, it is a major factor in these decisions. Rather than allow the process to be guided by only one perspective, however, we combine the parent input with that of the team of educators who can give specific and detailed insight into the social and academic needs of each child.
Trust the Relationships
In the course of writing this article, I had the realization that perhaps it isn't "trust in the process" that I am asking for but rather trust in the relationships with the many people on campus who come to know and care for your child as an individual. I often hear from families who are appreciative that their child is surrounded by adults who know them on a deeper level, and we know that it begins with this thoughtful and in-depth process.
By Roxanne Stansbury
Head of School
The Alexander Dawson School