Conclusion of a two-part story
AYER/SHIRLEY -- Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School Assistant Principal Roberta Buratti-Aikey explained that much of her work in reading involves phonological awareness, which consists of skills typically developed gradually and sequentially through preschool.
"Because it is something that has to be built from the beginning, if younger kids are struggling in reading, we need to have spot-on diagnostics to find out what is going on and target those specific things.
"That is why in this district we are doing a fantastic job of identifying those struggling readers in kindergarten," she said, praising the special-education and classroom teachers, as well as the reading specialists.
Tools the middle school uses to help meet the needs of all students include an autism spectrum disorder room, functional academics for students with low cognitive abilities, a transitions room for students with behavior issues that places them in a therapeutic setting, and a language center where students with learning disabilities can study English language arts and math, subjects that affect them across the curriculum.
"When I came here there wasn't really an assistant principal at the middle school," said Aikey. There was a succession of five different principals before current Principal Rich McGrath took the helm, and Aikey, with her longevity and understanding of special education, became the go-to person.
Then two years ago,
"The staff bonded right away," said Aikey, "but now the kids have really come together, and I sense it with the parents as well. It's our middle school; it's the middle school. And it's nice that the leadership positions have been filled by a blended community."
Haas is now principal of the district's high school in Ayer; his assistant principal, Al Varga, was already on staff there. McGrath came from Ayer, while Aikey is a veteran of the Shirley School District.
"I love this position, because it gives me the opportunity to work closely with kids every single day -- with kids who sometimes don't make good decisions. But I say to them, 'Let's figure out what happened and figure out how not to get back into this office every day.'
"It is about restoration, not punishment. It is about, 'You can do this. You can do what you want in this place. You have your whole life ahead of you.' And I would instill that into every kid I have taught.
"I tell my master's degree students at Framingham State University, 'Listen, you have the most incredible opportunity. You are doing brain and heart surgery every day. You are restoring kids to believe in themselves every day. You have the ability to change a student's life forever. Forever. Think of what an opportunity that is.'
"So when a student walks in that door, I think, 'Yes, here is another opportunity.'"
New opportunities that she, McGrath and the faculty are working on for next year include the addition of chorus, and extended activities for students who scored "advanced" on the MCAS.
There will also be some new foreign-language courses offered, thanks to Youth Venture students Lee Wilson and Edmund Carnevale. The duo have raised the funds to make available three different Rosetta Stone DVDs, the subject of which will be determined by a survey of students at the beginning of the year. The school already offers French and Spanish.
In addition, more core teachers will be offering enrichment this year, so some new fun courses may also be made available.
A bridge to the community
Aikey acknowledged that to be an assistant principal, you have to be tough. "But the number one thing is to get to know the kids. I want to develop those relationships with them. That's how you reach them.
"Kids need to feel like their voices are being heard, and we need to empower them. We want them to feel like this is their school.
"When they are part of building something, they feel way more engaged with it. If they love the school, then they are going to make sure the halls are clean, people are not writing on the walls, and they are treating people right. It is their home."
And how does it feel to have moved into the role of an administrator in that home?
"It is an honor to serve as a bridge to the community," she replied. "It has been my life and my passion. I look up to Burt, and would like to be a servant to the community in the same way."