Silver Hill Prioritizing STEM, ‘Social-Emotional Learning’ in First Post-Charter Year

Principal Margaret Shepherd tells WHAV Silver Hill's staff is focusing on science and technology and “social-emotional learning” this year. (File photograph)

Change is happening at Silver Hill Elementary School ahead of Tuesday’s first day of school—but not in the way many in Haverhill might think. For the first year reintegrated into the Haverhill Public system, the former Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School has big plans. Chief among them: STEM and “social-emotional learning,” Principal Margaret Shepherd tells WHAV.

Going into her sixth year as head of the kindergarten through fifth grade school, Shepherd anticipates a smooth post-charter transition.

“We’re really excited about going back into Haverhill Public, to be honest with you,” Shepherd told WHAV. “I don’t think people are going to see much of a change. The name of the school is changing, but the people in it aren’t. What we do as educators is not going to change.”

While most of Shepherd’s teaching staff of more than 40 are veterans, children and families will meet new Assistant Principal Brendon Parker on Tuesday’s first day. Parker graduated from Haverhill High, and brings a wealth of knowledge about the education framework called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, says Shepherd.

Prioritizing PBIS in all areas of study at Silver Hill, teachers WHAV spoke with during a recent visit say it’s important to foster children’s emotional wellbeing in addition to academics. Several instructors told WHAV they make time each day for internal feeling check-ins and quiet time for yoga or breathing exercises.

Shepherd explained the PBIS approach in more detail, adding that her staff received two years of training from the May Institute.

“For us, it’s huge that the kids feel supported, that it’s a safe learning environment. We integrate that throughout the school. You teach kids about being respectful, what is the right way to work together in a group.”

Silver Hill also has a renewed focus on science and technology, having benefited from a grant obtained by Kevin Higginbottom for professional development and classroom materials. The school also leans heavily on teachers including Math Coach Jennifer Donais, who was honored this summer with a Presidential Excellence teaching award.

The approach comes after what Shepherd calls a “very difficult” 12 months with “lots of tears” after the teachers’ union opted not to renew the school charter. Calling the situation “unfortunate,” Shepherd hopes those passionate families who wanted to renew the charter still infuse that passion into the Silver Hill community.

“It’s wonderful to be passionate about trying to keep a charter, or the Innovation School—which I did not support—but it’s way more important to put that passion and energy into the kids in Haverhill," Shepherd said.

Haverhill’s first day of school is Tuesday, Aug. 28.