What’s New at Cabin John Middle School?

What’s New at Cabin John Middle School?

Unlike most middle schools in the county, which feed directly into one high school, Cabin John has a “split articulation” in which 40 percent of its graduates track to Churchill High, and 60 percent track to Wootton High.

Paulette Smith, who is beginning her third year as principal at Cabin John, said administrators work closely with both schools since they have different specialty programs for students to transition into. Teachers from both high schools visit eighth-grade classrooms to observe instruction and give feedback for a smooth transition into secondary education.

For the first time this year, foreign language courses in Spanish, French and Chinese will be offered to sixth-graders at Cabin John. Another change is the use of Edline, the school system’s new online service that allows students and parents to see grades and other information from teachers about classes.

“We used to do paper interims, but the frustration with that was that sometimes by the time the parent received it, it was too late to help with progress,” she said. “With the new Edline, parents will receive an access code and can see what assignments are due, and if there child has done their assignments. It gives us the opportunity to give more frequent feedback to students and parents.”

Another goal for the current school year is more targeted use of data in order to “see where we need to go academically and to help close the achievement gap,” said Smith.

Double periods of both reading and math provide reinforcement for sixth-graders and for struggling seventh- and eighth-graders. Teachers also meet after school individually with students who need additional help. (Sixth-graders enrolled in foreign language can opt out of the double reading block.)

SUZANNE WEISS of Potomac is beginning her third term as PTA president of Cabin John. She previously served as coordinator of the Churchill cluster, and she has two children in the school system.

Weiss said that the Cabin John PTA strives to keep parents informed and involved with news at Cabin John and changes that are occurring at middle schools throughout the county. The PTA Web site, www.cabinjohnptsa.org, was redesigned last school year and won an award from the county.

“I think that the Cabin John parents are extremely aware of news that potentially affects their families,” she said. “I send out a color-coded weekly e-mail with a lot of information, and we’ve brought a lot of people in to work on different committees that work with other schools across the county. So we take it out of the ‘my backyard type’ of feeling and help everyone realize that secondary schools across the county are experiencing a lot of the same things, and we can learn from their good experiences and their mistakes.”

One of the biggest services that the PTA performs is compilation of the student directory, which is distributed to parents at Back-to-School Night. The directory includes student listings, the bell schedule, the school calendar, the staff list and “everything we think that our parents need to start the year right.”

This year, Weiss successfully lobbied to make Cabin John a pilot school for a new countywide cell phone policy for middle schools. It applies the high school policy, whereby students can bring phones to school strictly for communications with parents after the last bell rings.

“The bottom line is that we’re going to be able to improve communication,” she said. “The big difference in what we’ve experienced in the past is that middle school students had to have a signed waiver on file to actually possess a cell phone, and then they couldn’t use it until after they got off the school bus.”

The Cabin John PTA sponsors the Walk to Help the Homeless in October and International Night in April, and the parent group’s major fundraiser is an annual magazine subscription sale.

Weiss said that in her last year at Cabin John, she hopes to make the PTA more welcoming for parents.

“I think that people think it’s a closed group — that PTAs are like cliques,” she said. “But we’re very much looking for people to become more involved. … My emphasis is on communication and empowering parents.”

The PTA recently added a teacher representative and a student representative as committee chairs in order to include more of the Cabin John community.

Cabin John Middle School PTA Calendar

* Walk to Help the Homeless – Oct. 13

* PTSA meetings – Nov. 14, Dec. 12, Jan. 9, Feb. 13, March 13, April 10, May 8, at 7:15 p.m. in the media center

* International Fair – April, 6:30-8:30 p.m., date to be announced