Yesterday was a big day in our house, as our 6-year-old had his first day of first grade at Macdonough School.
At an all-school assembly, Principal Jon Romeo read students a storybook about "First Day Jitters", with the illustrations projected on a big screen. In the book, it turned out that it was a new teacher who was nervous about the first day, which was particularly apt as there are new teachers in three of the twelve classrooms at Macdonough this year. The Principal presented them with their official keychains, assembly t-shirts and -- as is Macdonough tradition -- a picture book.
The PTA provided donuts and coffee for about 30 parents after the school day officially began. Marilyn Dunkley, the new PTA president, introduced herself and told parents about our plans to put the focus on parent involvement, not fundraising. Instead of asking the kids to sell things from catalogs, we hope to raise donations through direct requests (we all know it is the parents who buy all that gift wrap and cookie dough anyway!). And we plan to entertain and engage family members who come to Macdonough's frequent school assemblies. First PTA meeting is next Thursday, September 11th, right after school!
Here are a few brief observations about Macdonough -- it's unique among Middletown schools because it is primarily a walking school that serves the surrounding streets (we have just two school buses from Newfield Street.) So, pickup and dropoff times are not just a line of cars, but a gaggle of parents and neighbors, who often bring their dog, their other kids, and hang out to chat or touch base with their kid's teacher. The school usually has about 220 students, and in addition to the regular classroom teachers (usually 2 rooms per grade), there are a number of other grant-funded staff who give extra help in academic subjects or run various programs like the Family Resource Center and the school health center. There's also a preschool in the lower level, which is run by Middlesex Community College, and frequent student volunteers from Wesleyan's campus, nearby. Physically, the school could use some work -- but it has had some upgrades this summer, particularly in the library.
In terms of school spirit, it was hard to go through last Spring's fight at the Board of Education to keep Macdonough open -- and we all hope that doesn't come up again any time soon. This is my eighth September as a Macdonough parent, and I've never been so optimistic about the potential of this school to capitalize on its assets (small size, proximity to Wesleyan, nurturing atmosphere and strong leadership) and address its challenges (high rates of poverty and transition, delayed maintenance and a perception of mediocrity). For the first time last year, our test scores went up significantly in several categories, and I hope that trend will continue.
As for the First Day of First Grade, when I picked my son up, he twirled through the hall saying "That was the best day of school ever!", which was a nice reward for the staff who happened to hear him.