34 MOMENTUM • LATE FALL 2021
Talking to Your Community about Your Microschool:
An Interview with Catholic School Principal Mike Domico
NCEA Senior Vice President for Programs Jill Annable met with Mike Domico, principal of St. Edward Catholic School in Chillicothe, IL to learn about his microschool and its recent focus on multiage instruction.
What is unique about St. Edward Catholic School?
In my nine years at St. Edward, I have seen it grow in different aspects of education over time. We are a preschool through eighth grade school with 119 students. Last year at this time, we had only 101 students. The backbone of our school has been its size and the quality of the teachers, who constantly promote the school. Our teachers knock the socks off our parents when they ask questions about our multiage instruction. The community is very supportive of St. Edward. Our reputation as a high-achieving academic school has always been LATE FALL 2021 • MOMENTUM 35
our motivation and what truly sets us apart. We are proud of that. Our parents are strong advocates to new families considering St. Edward as their school of choice. We are an educational giant in our community.
How does your pastor contribute to your school’s success?
Our pastor, Father Matthew Deptula, came to us three years ago with a deep understanding of business and budgets. He is completely on board with the microschool model. In addition, he teaches religion class one day per week to all classes. He and I work in tandem with one another, and our relationship and message makes all the difference. We have families returning to the parish because of him, and I see us rising up out of the ashes like a phoenix. I consistently hear about the positive ‘word of mouth’ comments made about our parish and school; our parents, teachers and parishioners are St. Edward’s biggest cheerleaders.
Describe a typical tour
when a prospective family visits St. Edward
When we give a tour, we first bring the prospective student to their classroom to be with their future multiage class for 30 – 40 minutes while we introduce the parents to every teacher in the building. The family can see and feel everything that is happening at St. Edward that day. When we enter each classroom, the students stand to greet us; families are enthralled by that impression, 36 MOMENTUM • LATE FALL 2021
along with the welcoming climate and atmosphere. While we walk through the halls, we talk about the highlights: our building is safe, clean and secure. We walk through the church and explain that all students attend weekly Mass and daily religion class. We discuss available activities for students. The last thing we do is pick up their child from class. The prospective student always wants to stay in the class and nine times out of 10 we end up enrolling the family. We spend a lot of time with each family who tours, and that makes a big impact on their decision.
What has been your school’s experience with multiage instruction?
Two years ago, Father Matt and I introduced multiage classrooms to the faculty, parishioners, families and the community. We worked to insure the faculty was ready for multiage instruction. We focused on this concept throughout our professional development. Our staff remained with us throughout the transition.
This is now our second full year with intentional multiage classrooms. We have “rewired” classroom life from single grades to multiage. We can now see as a faculty that single grades had as many different achievement levels as a multiage class, but until now, we had never addressed it this way. Now we can. Our classrooms are ability-based. The students set the pace and express their interests in topics of study. Moving into our second year in this model, we increased our instructional staff to support and address the needs of every student.
What will be your indicators that your teachers are confident and successful with the multiage model?
This is a long-term development process. It takes time to break habits and build new ones as a teacher. We have learned and now use Gradual Release of Responsibility (Fischer & Frey, 2014) and an observational tool that leads my teachers to self-reflection and growth. My general observations of classrooms show increased success of guided instruction, collaboration and group work, and I know that’s success on the surface. Beyond those observations, our focus this year is to create. We are focusing on creating experiences and projects and establishing student evaluations that reflect academic mastery. While we previously only examined academic achievement, our NWEA student growth assessments will provide data three times per year, helping to identify student needs. Combined with our professional goalsetting and observations, our instructional paths and targets will continually evolve. Our next step is to observe and network with successful multiage schools, enhancing our effectiveness in instruction in our classrooms.
How do you tell your community about your multiage approach?
We announced the change to the multiage program in January 2020. As we prepared to announce the program, we were dedicated in making sure we could discuss our multiage approach with confidence. We were not sure how families would digest this news. Our third- and fourth-grade classrooms have been in a multiage setup for approximately
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10 years, with total acceptance. I was confident in our preparation, but to convert the entire building was like jumping into a pool of cold water. After the stages of preparing teachers and informing parents, the Diocese of Peoria presented a Q&A session that built momentum and confidence in helping us moving forward.
In the spring 2020 semester, all of our diocesan schools were closed due to the COVID pandemic. To build on the momentum we’d created, I began publishing what I called my “Multiage Friday Facts” each week. I wrote approximately 13 articles, each covering a specific topic of multiage instruction: what a multiage classroom looks like, why multiage works at different development ages, how a classroom is structured, how peers conduct group work, what collaborative learning is, our student outcomes in multiage classrooms, how is grading conducted, the social-emotional learning advantages of multiage and how multiage “gains ground” in the first days of school. I even included the approach of the one-room schoolhouse. I identified the sources and notations and used data I knew our parent community could relate to. If parents submitted a question, I was able to answer them and use that question as part of a new article.
How did your community react to the Multiage Friday Facts?
Initially, parents were waiting to see my reaction, as well as our teachers’. They had questions, simply because they didn’t know enough about a multiage classroom. My Friday Facts articles were a major building block in gaining their acceptance, confidence and trust. As a staff, we worked hard to answer all of their questions. We did not lose any families during this transition to our multiage classrooms.
What made you passionate about multiage instruction in your microschool?
I am a convert to the multiage approach. However, in my previous life I was a band director. When I look back and reflect on the success of my band program, I realize that my instruction was rooted in a multiage model, with freshmen and seniors sitting side-by-side in the band room. Each member of the band needed something different from me as their director, yet in the end, they learned and depended on each other and were extremely successful. That type of thinking permeates through every facet of schools. As academic as St. Edward has been, I am convinced that the multiage approach will expand our potential, create new avenues of learning and prepare each student for high school and beyond.
Jill Annable is the NCEA Senior Vice President for Programs.
This article originally published at https://read.nxtbook.com/ncea/momentum/latefall_2021/talking_to_your_community_abo.html