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WE Collaborate: Mountainside HS Planning Team

Talk with anyone on the Mountainside High School Planning Team and two key words will come up time and again: collaboration and joy.

The 20-member team has been meeting every two weeks since August 2016, working collaboratively to open the District's 6th comprehensive high school. From schedules to curriculum, activities to athletics, and staff to student culture, it takes a lot of work to plan the details many high school staff, parents and students take for granted. "My intent was to have a group of high-quality, very hard working professional developers," says Mountainside Principal Todd Corsetti.

Team members recognize they're in a unique position. "The idea that we may be able to institute best practices in instruction, curriculum and assessment from the very beginning is both daunting and appealing. I think we're headed in the right direction," says Middle Years Programme Coordinator Jeremiah Hubbard.

The group is divided into four areas: staff culture, student culture, four-year planning and schedules. "Each is a project team that works on their individual content. Then they come back to the group with recommendations. As a whole team, we discuss and vote on the recommendations," says Corsetti.

Hubbard says he's been pleased with the process. "We almost always come to a consensus about what's best for the students and the community. It's really been a model of civil discourse."

A great example of this process was the decision to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) school, which would serve freshmen and sophomores at Mountainside. "It took a lot of thinking and processing. We brought in a panel of teachers from across the District to talk about it and what it might look like at Mountainside. In the end, we had a unanimous decision to go for it," says Assistant Principal Cindy Russell. Juniors and seniors at Mountainside can continue on to receive an IB Diploma.

Corsetti is confident the team has laid the groundwork for future collaboration. "We will have a really strong foundation to start off with and then, as we add more staff, we'll be able to talk to them about why we made the decisions we did, as well as bring them into the decision making," says Corsetti.

"So many educators discussed the goal of having students feel welcome and happy at the school, to find value and joy in what they were learning, and to be able to have opportunities to participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities," says Hubbard. "Thinking about how to create a rigorous and joyous academic experience has pushed us to think of things from the student perspective."