Starting as a grassroots movement, Cypress Hills Community School in Brooklyn, New York was built on a foundation of culture, inclusivity, and collaboration. From families to educators, Cypress Hills makes sure all stakeholders have a voice. We recently met with the administration team to learn how Otus fits into their school community.
Irene Leon has been the acting principal for 17 years. Assistant principals Sara Siddappa and Berky Lugo-Salcedo have both worked at Cypress Hills in various capacities for 19 years. In the fall of 2020, Sara led the charge to bring Otus to Cypress Hills because student performance data was getting lost in Google Classroom. With Otus, they sought to have more transparency into how learning was being measured.
When Sara was first introduced to Otus, she learned about our integrations with third-party data like NWEA. She also saw similarities to Google Classroom, the platform they were previously using. Sara explained, “We knew it would be a heavy lift to take on Otus, but I kept saying to everybody, ‘It’s like a super Google Classroom!’ because it would allow us to integrate various pieces of information.”
Irene added they also needed to monitor student progress. She explained, “We needed something that would help us track student progress in a way that we couldn’t…that’s been really wonderful, being able to have that comprehensive system.”
Otus + Morning Coffee
Irene, Sara, and Berky are up and at ‘em every morning checking in with teachers, making sure classes are running smoothly, greeting students, meeting about data…the list goes on. “I go into Otus a lot more now because everything is in one place. I want to be informed, so I dive into classes, lessons, student profiles, etc. If I’m meeting with a teacher, I can say ‘Oh, well what I see in Otus is …’” Berky shared.
When explaining how she uses Otus, Berky said, “I don’t want to say I have to use Otus. I use Otus. It’s become something we do, just like doing schedules or reading emails.”
Lessons as Playlists
In the summer of 2020 when Cypress Hills was planning for the fall, they really looked at lessons being delivered as “playlists.” Teachers are able to upload videos, link to resources, attach worksheets for students, add assessments, and so much more using lessons in Otus.
Sara shared an example of their art teacher, who designs social-justice-oriented lessons aligned to standards through the lens of different artists. She introduces the lesson with a video and attaches a set of slides for students to independently work through. Next, she links to the artist speaking on the topic and includes an activity for the students to reflect and create their own art pieces. “It’s a really clear progression of the learning activities. The way that it displays and the ease of navigation through a playlist like that, is just more sophisticated than other platforms we had used.”
The “Standards-Based Grading” Lens
Transitioning from traditional points-based grading can be difficult, but Otus helps school communities ease into grading using standards. Our standards-based gradebook lets educators switch between points and standards.
Sara explained, “Certain standards are critical to certain grade levels. How many times are students given an opportunity to work through a particular standard? What are the various ways they’re being exposed to the standard and given the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding?”
Because all this data is increasingly captured in Otus, the team is learning how to support teachers with prioritizing teaching points and assessments and using the data to strategically re-engage students.
The Student Profile
Cypress Hills is student-work and process-oriented. Irene shared, “What we’ve been able to do with Otus is adapt some of the practices we’ve used historically.” In the past, Cypress Hills had a portfolio binder for each student that traveled with them from Kindergarten through eighth grade.
As part of the graduation process, students would do a portfolio presentation and reflect on their work throughout their years at Cypress Hills. They would use the portfolio as examples of how they’ve grown and their growth mindset.
Now, students are able to reflect on their work directly in Otus. Students can record videos in Otus, teachers can facilitate conversations and record students, all in one place. Irene shared, “We have various ways in which we document student reflections. It’s really beautiful to see how students were able to talk about and celebrate the work they’re doing, even in this challenging time.”
Cypress Hills, like many schools, has their own way of operating and refining processes. “In the last couple months, we all met with teachers to ask ‘What are your practices right now with Otus in terms of monitoring student progress?’” Sara shared. Periodic meetings with teachers to check-in, reflect, and create next steps regarding progress monitoring, ensures the team is collectively making the best use of the tools Otus has to offer to serve the needs of their learning community.
Sara shared they’ll be moving to 100% digital student portfolios next school year. They also want to take a deep dive into how the tools in Otus can engage their younger learners. When students respond with video, educators can really see them think through and elaborate in a way that sometimes can get lost when writing reflections.
In its origin, Cypress Hills is a very collaborative community—everyone has a voice in the decision-making process. Irene, Sara, and Berky are passionate leaders who work and persevere every day to support students and families both academically and personally. Berky shared, “Servicing the whole child is something we are constantly doing. For those new to the country, this school becomes a home for them, and we’re all proud of that.”
Otus is one K-12 learning platform to teach, grade, analyze, and plan. Interested in bringing Otus to your school community? Request a demo below, and let’s chat.