After 31 years in Lower School, the biggest change I have seen at USM is the number of resources that are available to faculty and staff. In 1985, there were three telephones in the Lower School; one in the nurse’s office, one in the Lower School office, and one in the preprimary workroom. My junior kindergarten teaching partner and I were responsible for answering the preprimary phone, and with the many different types of calls we received, the term “don’t kill the messenger” took on a whole new meaning for us!
Classrooms were outfitted in a hodgepodge of furniture and supplies. Many items were brought from a teacher’s home, donated by parents, or were well-used pieces from predecessor schools, and each classroom looked different. Formal curriculum was not documented, and teachers often taught what they were passionate about—particularly in the areas of social studies and science. Little thought was given to how the curriculum evolved across divisions, and professional development opportunities were sparse.
Today, the resources available are exemplary. USM has embraced technology, as desktop computers (and phones in every classroom!), designated computer labs, and multiple computer carts evolved to a highly effective 1:1 technology program starting in grade three. The curriculum is finely tuned. The school’s Curriculum And Review Process (C.A.R.P.) systematically examines curriculum across divisions and is responsible for updating curriculum in every area. Instructional research is thoughtfully and thoroughly done.
The professional development available to teachers at USM is stellar. Substantial budgets in each division support ongoing high-quality professional development that deepens teachers’ content knowledge and skills. In addition, several generously endowed grants fund experiences and learning opportunities that employees in other places can only dream of.
Happily, there are many things that have never changed at USM. What attracted teachers to USM decades ago continues to attract teachers today. There is a shared, School-wide approach to pedagogy, and a culture of learning and creativity persists within the School. Teachers feel supported and appreciated by their colleagues. The ability to lead is not reserved for just a few, but available to all those with passion and purpose. Throughout the School, adults know the children well and look out for them, and there is a sense of community among all employees that creates a welcoming atmosphere.
However, the essence of USM is not the beautiful buildings and landscape, the abundant supplies, or the professional development opportunities. While enhanced resources have added to the environment, the real resources here have always been the people who work here. The vision that faculty and staff have for students, the polite interactions between everyone, and the expectation for both adults and students to be their best in every way is the core of the school.
Being in education for forty years has been very satisfying, and working at USM has been the highlight of my professional life.
Kathy Choren has served as the Assistant Head of Lower School since 2004, and is retiring after 31 years as a teacher and administrator at USM.