KEY DESIGN ELEMENTS
To achieve its mission, RRCS will implement the following key design elements:
1. Focus on Student Achievement
● Rigorous Curriculum: RCCS teachers will design curriculum to support students’ mastery of the New York State Learning Standards (NYSLS), as well as students’ mastery of knowledge and skills. We believe the NYSLS reflect the skills required tosuccessfully enter higher education and demanding careers. RCCS will work with its authorizer to establish and be held accountable for ambitious yet attainable (absolute, comparative, and growth) outcome measures that meet or exceed state performance standards in English language arts, mathematics, and science on the New York State Testing Program (NYSTP).
● Emphasis on Literacy: Integrated literacy will serve as the foundation for content-area learning with 180 daily minutes (grades K-2) and 120 daily minutes (grades 3-6) dedicated to supporting the development of a strong foundation in literacy. A key feature of the primary literacy curriculum will be the powerful combination of a structured approach to teaching phonics, combined with phonetically controlled (or decodable) readers. Content-based lessons will build students’ literacy skills as they learn about the world through the deep study of compelling topics and explicit skills instruction, while also honoring learners’ need for song, movement, stories, and imagination.
● Project-Based Learning: Lessons will be designed to connect students to the real world. RRCS students will be engaged in a learning environment in which authentic problems and challenges are both created (through risk-taking) and solved to connect academic standards to the real world and their daily lives. Students will gain knowledge, skills, and understanding by working for extended periods to investigate and respond to complex questions, problems, or challenges.
● Engaging, Inquiry-Based Instruction: RRCS students will engage in real inquiry as they learn: to ask their own questions; how to develop their own hypotheses through a search for resources to discover solutions; how to effectively dialogue about their scientific, mathematical, and historical ideas with their peers, their teachers, and with the greater community; and how to take informed action. RRCS educators will be culturally and linguistically aware of strengths and challenges of the inquiry approach and will intentionally build scaffolds and differentiated instruction into instructional design.
● Frequent, Balanced Assessment/Data-Driven Approach: RRCS will use a variety of formal and informal assessments, including formative, summative, and project portfolios to measure student progress toward goals and confirm mastery of skills and concepts throughout the year and as learning happens. RRCS will assess students often and use results as diagnostic tools to address students’ areas for improvement. Analysis of a growing collection of qualitative and quantitative data will be used to monitor each student’s achievement levels, to make instructional adjustments to enhance daily learning, to maximize support for diverse learners, and to drive performance on the NYSTP – ultimately ensuring that students demonstrate proficiency and graduate college- and career-ready.
● Extended Learning Time: RCCS will offer an extended school day. The additional hour of instructional time each day will provide classrooms with more individualized instruction, supplemental literacy instruction, and project-based learning. The student schedule has been created to yield greater academic gains for students in need of acceleration. Teacher schedules have been developed with the belief that effective teaching requires teachers be given dedicated time to build their skills, collaborate, plan, analyze data, and customize learning opportunities for their students.
2. Student Empowerment & Shared Responsibility in a Safe, Purposeful Learning Environment
● Collaborative Learning: Beginning in kindergarten, RRCS students will practice critical thinking skills and creative problem solving through active, collaborative learning opportunities that encourage them to discover and develop individual passions and talents as they solve problems, share knowledge, and work toward a common goal. Teachers will create opportunities for students to learn together in diverse classrooms so they recognize that they are connected, supportive, and responsible for each other, and understand the value of positive interdependence and individual accountability as interpersonal skills are built.
● Diversity and Inclusion: RRCS classrooms will be filled with diverse learners. Our students will represent a range of learning challenges, demonstrate varied background knowledge and learning preferences, and will be culturally and linguistically diverse. This diversity will be addressed in an inclusive setting in which students learn how to effectively and compassionately work together to meet high standards. Necessary instructional supports and scaffolds will be embedded into the classroom with an emphasis on differentiation and targeted interventions to rapidly increase student achievement. Our instructional team will present information (content) in multiple ways, allow students various ways to respond, and engage students through a variety of means (based on the Universal Design for Learning) in order to maximize each student’s growth and individual success.
● Restorative Practices: RRCS students (as well as teachers and staff) will develop the inner resources and practical skills needed to build community and create a non-violent, sustainable, and just school culture that is consistent with our belief in Humane Education. Through application of “authentic dialogue, coming to understanding, and making things right,” students will learn to value and use proactive positive behaviors.
● Community Service/Learning: RRCS students will make connections with the community and share resources for a more just and equitable world. RRCS will provide students with opportunity to practice good, active citizenship and create positive impact, as well as build leadership skills and become advocates who learn from, and care for, the community.
3. Recognition of Interdependence of all Living Things
● RRCS is based on the principles of Humane Education, including human rights, environmental stewardship, animal ethics, and cultural concerns. In partnership with the Institute for Humane Education, RRCS will be driven by the motto “More Good, Less Harm.” Students will learn that change starts when they attain practicable tools needed to face global issues, improve both our planet and personal lives, and recognize the interdependence of all living things. Elements of the Humane Education philosophy will inform curriculum development, instructional practices, school culture, and service projects – the entire “being” of the school.
● Vegan School Nutrition & Wellness Program: RRCS students, families, and staff will develop healthy brains and bodies through a vegan school nutrition program. RRCS students will be additionally encouraged through the development of mindfulness practices; support for physical education habits that will garner a lifetime of wellness and ultimately bolster academic success through improved focus, attendance, and learning. Students will develop positive, joyful relationships with other people, animals, and the planet. Further, RRCS will likely become the nation’s first public school to provide an all-vegan, plant-based menu.
● Use of River and/or Natural World Projects: RRCS students will master standards by investigating the challenges faced by the Rochester community and waterways of Western New York. The Genesee River, Lake Ontario, Erie Canal, and the Finger Lakes, and the thousands of species that make these waterways their homes, are invaluable natural resources. Teaching students through relevant and compelling standards-based projects grounded in the intersection of science, technology, the arts, mathematics, literacy, and history will ensure joyous yet rigorous learning.
4. Sustainable Educational Community
● Teacher Residency Program: RRCS will serve as a unique teacher preparation model that will benefit the school community and serve as a catalyst for recruiting and adequately preparing aspiring teachers and lowering the teacher-to-student ratio. Such a program will also build an internal pipeline to ensure high quality teacher talent, given the vital effect teachers have on student achievement outcomes. Our Teacher Residency Program will ultimately also benefit the local district as we reach full capacity and are unable to hire teachers who complete the program. In partnership with local universities and foundations, we will establish the first Teacher Residency Program in Western New York. (The founding team anticipates securing funding and university partnerships to implement the Teacher Residency Program no later than the beginning of the third year of operation.)
● Ongoing Professional Growth will nurture Healthy and Learning-Focused Adult Culture: Educators at RRCS will work together to create a school that is itself a continuously learning organization through the incorporation of the Residency Program, as well as a commitment to professional growth. We will prioritize (in schedule and calendar) regular opportunities for coaching structures, professional learning communities, and intensive summer institutes designed to build relational trust, refresh curricula, build new projects, and adopt new pedagogical practices. Such initiatives will empower teachers and provide rich leadership opportunities.