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The 2016-2017 school year was another amazing year for our Suzuki students!

Each year they continue to amaze us with their love for learning, their mastery of new skills, and their enthusiasm in building independence. 


PRIVATE SCHOOL RESULTS:

We are extremely pleased with private school acceptances for the 2016- 2017 school year! The faculty and students have once again demonstrated their strong commitment to a lifelong love of learning and we are thrilled to announce a very strong acceptance rate again this year despite an increasingly competitive private school admissions environment.

Private School Data:

This year, a total of 70 children applied to private schools, 64 from Primary and 6 from Pre-Primary.  The trend data regarding applicants by year in Primary is as follows:

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  • In total, 170 applications were submitted across Pre-Primary and Primary.

  • In Primary, of the 64 students applied, 164 applications were submitted (on average 2.5 applications per child). Of these, 27 applied to only one Private School.

  • All 6 Pre-Primary students applied to a single program and were accepted.


 

Each year we are asked “did all the students applying to area private schools get accepted into at least one school”?

  • Of the 70 students who applied to private schools, three were not accepted/waitlisted with at least one school. All three applied to a single, highly competitive school. Please bear in mind that we do not recommend that a student only apply to a single school, particularly ones with large applicant pools. In addition, of those three students, one had a summer birthday. Most private schools have an early summer birthday cut off; therefore, children with summer birthdays typically have a low acceptance rate.

Aggregate Acceptance Rates by Private School:

  • This year, the children maintained the bar for excellence yet again! We consider acceptances to be those children who were accepted outright (or who cleared the waitlist by the time we reported statistics), or who remain on the waitlist. To clarify, students placed on a waiting list are accepted and are waiting until space opens up to enroll.

    As of May 31, of the 170 applications submitted in Pre-Primary and Primary, 80% of the children were accepted or waitlisted. Of the remaining 20%, sixteen percent of the applications were declined and four percent are unknown (we never heard back from the parents as to the status).


 

The following list shows acceptances across all classrooms and campuses:

 

1. The Lovett School (24 applied, 19 accepted, 0 waitlisted)

2. Pace Academy (23 applied, 11 accepted, 6 waitlisted)

3. Atlanta International School (20 applied, 16 accepted, 3 waitlisted)

4. The Westminster Schools (19 applied, 5 accepted, 5 waitlisted)

5. The Trinity School (16 applied, 11 accepted, 1 waitlisted)

6. The Children’s School (15 applied, 14 accepted, 0 waitlisted)

7. Paideia (14 applied, 7 accepted, 3 waitlisted)

8. The Galloway School (11 applied, 10 accepted, 0 waitlisted)

9. Woodward Academy (6 applied, 6 accepted, 0 waitlisted)

10. Cliff Valley (6 applied, 6 accepted, 0 waitlisted)

11. Holy Innocents (5 applied, 5 accepted, 0 waitlisted)

 

In addition to tracking total acceptances by year, we also track year over year acceptances at each of the private schools. If you have questions about trends in acceptances by year for a particular school, please meet with your campus director.

We hope that you are as encouraged by these acceptance rates as we are. We’d like to thank the teaching faculty for their efforts this year and for each family partnership. We know that these have played important roles in our success rate.

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Redesign of the Foreign Language Program:

The Suzuki School has offered foreign language instruction since its inception in 1976. Over the last 20 years, it was offered twice a week for children Pre-Primary age and older through use of outside vendors.  For the 2016-2017 school year, we decided to restructure the program so that Spanish was offered daily through in-house specialized teachers or by native Spanish instructors in the classroom. In addition, we retained a Chinese Instructor and French instructor for families with an interest in these languages.

We have been pleased with the Spanish Instruction this year, and believe that the daily exposure is increasing learning.  We recognize that we need to do more work in creating measurable ways to assess progress and this is a priority in the next school year. We do plan to keep foreign language instruction as an in-house program rather than outsourced as previously offered.

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Introduction of New Assessment Tools:

In the spring of 2016, we conducted extensive analysis of the appropriate assessment tools for a Montessori environment with a focus on ensuring that those tools are age appropriate. There is a tremendous amount of debate as to the appropriateness and effectiveness of assessment tools for children under the age of five, so we wanted to make sure that our direction was "best practice" for young learners.

Based on this research we decided to change the assessment tools in the 2016-2017 school year:

Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ): for children in the Infant-Toddler Program

ASQ implementation: In September 2016, we began using the ASQ to assess development leading up to our Fall 2016 conferences. It was a useful way to engage and educate parents. We continued the assessment in Spring 2017 in the weeks leading up to conferences. Our teachers have found this tool useful in guiding discussions with parents. Surprisingly, we found that parents tend to score their child lower than their teachers, meaning they do not see the full scope of what their children can do!

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) is an assessment focused on developmental milestones in the areas of Communication, Gross Motor, Fine Motor, Problem Solving, Personal-Social. While the ASQ can assess developmental milestones of children as young as 1 month and as old as 66 months, we have used the tool only in our Infant and Toddler program. The assessment itself is on paper and requires adults to choose between three options—Yes, Sometimes or Not Yet—with regards to milestone the child has reached. ASQs are completed by teachers and parents in the few weeks leading up to conferences so that they may compare observations and discuss.

Montessori Executive Function Scale (MEFS)

MEFS implementation: We found that MEFS provided much more meaningful and actionable    information for faculty and parents on the primary aged children. After administering MEFS in the fall of this year, we will start to evaluate longitudinal data about the progress and mastery of our students.  The data provided with this assessment validates the fidelity of the Montessori curriculum in our classrooms and the fostering of executive function skills in children. It has also been helpful during parent teacher conferences in helping parents understand their child and his or her progress.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT MEFS

The Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFS) is an assessment developed by psychologists at the University of Minnesota and normed for children between 2 years and 7 years old. The assessment itself is an iPad app version of a card sorting game to assess a child’s level of comfort using his/her executive function skills. Measuring and tracking a child’s executive function skills has been proven to be the most accurate way to predict future success, even more so than the IQ test. Executive functions include skills like attentional control, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, working memory, reasoning, problem-solving and planning. To put it simply, executive function skills are the foundation to learning!

In the MEFS assessment, Primary-aged children are given directions by their teacher on the rules of the card sorting game. The children use simple drag and drop motions to sort cards based on colors and shapes. The MEFS engages children with a fun app that adapts to a child’s level quickly so the child does not know how well they are performing on the assessment. In September 2016, we began with a baseline assessment for all Primary children and followed up with a second assessment in the Spring 2017. Our launch of these new tools this year was a success.

In addition to Ages and Stages, and MEFS, we developed an in-house observational tool we named OWL (Observation of Working Life). The OWL is a web-based tool to guide administrators’ observations in a classroom. The tool focuses on the overall classroom environment including Effective Child Interaction, Hygiene and Hazard Protocol, Teacher and Associate Roles, and Child Engagement in Lesson. The information collected by OWL is being used to identify the focus areas of instruction in the classroom, the types of work that the children are engaged in, and the areas in which we need to focus training efforts with our staff.

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Ramping up of Parent Education:

Over the last year, we have recognized that there is a genuine interest by parents in more parent education workshops. During the last year, we experimented with a variety of training options – breakfast meetings, lunch training, and even evening training with wine and networking. Our Montessori faculty were very involved in this training, as well as administrators and outside consultants who are considered to be subject matter experts.

The topics have ranged from Positive Discipline, toileting, successful graduation and transition, separation anxiety, cooking and eating healthy, to list a few. We plan to continue to grow this focus area since the feedback from our families has been so positive!

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Introduction of Parent Interviews to Ensure Philosophical Fit:

In January, we started the process of interviewing all incoming families, as well as current families who started with older children and are now enrolling an infant.  We started this interview process to better identify families who are ready for a school environment, and to assess their understanding of Montessori and how it affects independence and self-help skills to make sure it matches their expectations. 

We are finding that these interviews have helped with the on-boarding process for both the families and the school, in particular regarding independence, transitioning, and child readiness for a group environment. Our initial results are also showing that the acclimation process for parents is much smoother since a relationship with the Directors has already been started, and new parents are better informed. If you have feedback on this process, please let us know!

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Increase in Trained Montessori Teachers:

Starting in 2014, the school and faculty have made a major investment in growing our base of trained Montessori faculty.  Before we launched our (now AMS-accredited) "Montessori Teacher Education Institute", there were no training centers in the city which provided Montessori Infant-Toddler training and therefore there was not a pool of trained Infant-Toddler Montessori teachers in Atlanta. The closest training institute offering Infant-Toddler training was in South Carolina. Furthermore, before we opened the Montessori Teacher Education Institute there was not an accredited AMS training program for Early Childhood in Atlanta.

Our inaugural training cohort started in January of 2014, when many of our teachers started with us on a journey to launch an accredited training program.  As a result of these training investments, we have increased our trained teachers significantly:

 

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We currently have 18 more Suzuki faculty completing training over the summer and fall, and will start new training courses later this year. 

An industry challenge we will face is that we will need to continue to train new teachers each year, since many of our teachers are in a transitional period in their lives. Fortunately, the Training Institute provides a meaningful and internationally-accepted Montessori Teacher credential which is attractive for those teachers interested in the Montessori System of Education.

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New Ways to Improve Teacher Engagement:

Our faculty are the backbone of the school so it is important that they continue to have opportunities to grow and be engaged members of our community.  As our faculty are graduating from training, they are seeking new ways to grow and have their voices heard.  In response to this need, we have found ways to engage them in the leadership of the school in a variety of ways, including: 

  • Train the trainer: Many of our faculty have taken additional training so that they can train other faculty in areas like Positive Discipline.  Other areas include teaching at the Montessori Training Institute, inclusion, and our assessment tools.

  • Faculty Leadership Opportunities: The faculty have taken ownership and implemented a wide variety of other trainings including leading associate training sessions, leading parent workshops, and more to come in the next year! Our faculty are getting creative – they have become more involved in recruiting, parent tours, writing blogs, and even creating Art Walls!  We love having dedicated faculty who are consistently looking for ways to innovate and get involved in the workings of the school.

  • Faculty Advisory Groups: Each campus has developed their own type of faculty advisory groups that are actively engaged and meet monthly. This has been successful in that issues and solutions are developed through the work of these committees.

  • Community Involvement: The Suzuki School has developed a relationship with The Atlanta Children’s Shelter, a non-profit established in 1986 by The Junior League and the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, which provides a NAEYC-accredited early childhood program for homeless children, as well as providing counseling, employment, and housing assistance to those children’s parents.  Robert Charles, Suzuki's CFO, is a board member, and this year we began an informal teacher visitation program, where interested Suzuki teachers visit the Shelter preschool, and teachers from the Shelter preschool come to Suzuki, to observe how the classrooms work. We are very proud to support this very worthy non-profit!  For more information about the life-changing work done by the Atlanta Children's Shelter, you can go to www.acsatl.org.

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Best Practices Review and Comparison:

Over the last several years, we have reached out to area Private Schools, or visited preschools in other markets, to identify trends, best practices, and to gain a better understanding of how expectations and needs are changing in this field.

During the 2015-2016 school years, our efforts were focused on Atlanta's private schools where we send many of our children, as well as the wonderful public schools in the area. Not only did we visit these schools, but we held focus group sessions with them.

During the spring of this year, Suzuki representatives visited fifteen highly-respected Montessori or private schools in Miami and New York City.  The schools were selected based on the strength of the recommendation or because they had a unique focus such as music or foreign language.  These tours were extremely helpful in gauging where the Suzuki School is in its Montessori Journey, as well as in developing new programs or changes that may improve our programs or curriculum. Some of our observations from these visits included seeing how other schools use Developmental Specialists, noticing the absence of Assessment Tools in most other school environments, and recognizing that we are blazing new trails in the Montessori world!  We also gained some insight as to how we can better incorporate the Suzuki Music Method and increase Parent Engagement.

We are also planning to visit two more markets in the fall – Charleston and Dallas. The results and ideas from these tours are being incorporated into our strategic plan discussions and some have already been implemented!

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Ground Work for Update to Strategic Plan:

We have spent a great deal of time this year reflecting on the direction of the school. This was done in a variety of ways including the Best Practices Reviews, as well as the listening tours with our faculty. In the months to come, we will be surveying our constituents and hosting focus group sessions with our stakeholders, focusing on parent and faculty feedback, as well as hosting focus group sessions with the private and public schools.

You will be hearing more from us in the next two months and we will be actively seeking your perspectives.  Some of the initiatives and/or topics we want to address with our community include:

  • Staff recruitment and retention: this is a growing challenge in early childhood in the metro area. We believe that we will have to implement some new strategies in this increasingly tight employment market.

  • Development Specialists: Over the last two years, we have retained an outside Developmental Specialist to help us with children who need additional support. In our tours of other schools, we have identified a best practice to incorporate these specialists more into the school community to support the families and to provide parent education.

  • Movement and Nutrition:  There has been a tremendous amount of research in recent years on factors that are important for optimum brain development in children.  Maria Montessori developed her research and pedogogy based on the needs of the children in the early 20th century when their physical world was very different. We want to make sure we are meeting the needs of the children in the 21st century and assess if our movement and nutrition program are on target.

  • Private School: Competition for admissions continues to increase with the private schools as the city grows.  Although our children do very well during the acceptance process, we recognize that we need to stay ahead of the curve.

  • Enrichment: we are internally restructuring enrichment with movement, foreign language, and music to improve quality, develop measurable results, and improve parent communication.

  • Faculty Replenishment Plans: Our faculty have physically and mentally demanding jobs and we are concerned about “institutional fatigue”. We have been talking internally about how to balance their needs with the needs of working parents and want to hear your perspective.

We realize this is a lot to digest!  Please be on the lookout for more information in the coming year on the positive changes we’ll be making.  As always, we want to hear from you!  Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have ideas, questions, or concerns. Most of all, thank you for sharing your family with us.  We are continually thankful for our school community!

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