Saturday, October 29, 2016

Seniors Speak and Thoughts on Questions in the Community

Dr. Campbell (bottom row, L) with her Principal's
Advisory Group

Last Tuesday, I met with my Principal's Advisory group for the first time this year. Each year, I ask counselors and administrators to recommend a group of seniors with diverse perspectives and experiences who meet with me monthly.  My PAG is my sounding board and a way for me to stay connected to the senior class. Our meeting came at the perfect time. I needed to hear their thoughts and voices and to have a sense of the their perspectives.

I asked them to respond anonymously in writing to the prompt, "I am feeling..." with anything they'd be willing to share about how they are doing. As to be expected, they expressed a range of feelings. Some wrote about stress leading up to the November 1st college application deadline, sadness about the loss of two members of the senior class, the need for more communication, feeling overwhelmed by school work, sports, and other activities. They also wrote about hope that our community would come together during this difficult time and the desire to be part of that effort. And they felt many of these things all at once:

I am feeling stressed about getting into college and empowered to make A-B better.
I am feeling a lot of different emotions at different times.

Similarly, in the hours and days following Thomas Zarola's death, I began receiving a range of feedback, questions, and suggestions from members of the parent/guardian community. Due to the volume of these emails and our need to continue our focus on supporting students and staff in the coming weeks, I thought I'd share some information here to address the themes that emerged.

Supporting our Students
Our Counseling Department currently provides ongoing education and support for students at various grade levels related to mental health and suicide prevention. With the recent events at the high school, our Counseling Department Chair Todd Chicko and Chairperson of Psychological Services Susan Root have partnered with Dr. Larry Berkowitz, Director at Riverside Trauma Center, to adapt an existing curriculum. In the coming weeks, members of our counseling department staff will visit classes to do a presentation and talk with students in all grade levels about mental health including signs of depression, how to ask for supports, and how to help a friend who is struggling.

In Advisory this coming week, we have asked Advisory leaders to do a check-in activity with students to gauge their current needs and to have a sense of their questions and concerns so that we can continue to be responsive to them.

Dean of Students Maurin O'Grady and I met with a group of senior leaders on Friday and will continue to partner with students to be responsive while maintaining the routine at school that many students need to feel supported.  In partnership with student leaders, we are putting into place some additional ways for students to have voice in a constructive, empowered way.

Student leaders continue to step up and will be leading positive, community-building activities both in Advisory and informally over the coming weeks. They are remarkable in their desire to have a positive impact and help us all to feel more connected during this time.

For our Community
I hope you have seen Dr. Brand's recent email regarding upcoming presentations for adults in our community, and we hope that you will participate in these opportunities to learn together.

Thursday 11/3  7-8pm      Dr. Robert Evans, Mental Health: Keeping our Kids Safe Details Here

Tuesday 11/8  7-8:30pm    Dr. Denise Pope The Well-Balanced Student  Details Here

Monday 11/14 7-8:15pm   Maria Trozzi Five to Thrive: A Conversation about the Stresses of                                                         Parenting Kids Today Details Here

Tuesday 11/15  1pm          Danny's Place Youth Services Talk Saves Lives program by the
                                            American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Details Here

On November 8th, our entire district will come together for a day of Professional Learning related to our Challenge Success partnership, which continues to be our priority this year in helping our students to have healthier, more balanced lives. For more information on the district's Wellness Committee update on school start times and other aspects of student wellness, click here.

Thank you to the members of the community who have sent messages in support of our staff during this time. Your kind words have been sincerely appreciated.

I was struck by the response of one of my Principal's Advisory seniors who wrote, I am feeling more fine than I think I should be feeling. And I have heard this sentiment expressed by other students as well. Completely as to be expected, our students are in a wide range of places emotionally, and it is important for them to feel validated and supported. We will continue to put our focus on the wellbeing of our students and staff in the coming weeks. Thank you for your continued support as we work together to do so.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

AB Families Learning Together

It seems truer than ever that it does take a village to raise a child. Families are navigating through the complexities of social media, adolescent development, health and wellbeing, relationships, school, and the balance of other activities in our students' lives.

We continue to look for ways for our community to learn together. Last year, our district developed the Family Learning Series. The series was created by Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Deborah Bookis in partnership with district and school leaders and with generous support from community organizations including ABRSD PTOs, PTF, PTSO, AB Special Education Parent Advisory Council, Danny's Place Youth Services, and AB United Way (essential members of our "village"). This year, the series is designed to support our district's work in the areas of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), health and wellness.

Upcoming topics include Dr. Denise Pope's "The Well-Balanced Student" (November 8th), as well as Pamela Katz Ressner on Mindfulness (January 25th), and Chris Herren on Substance Abuse (February 13th). A complete schedule can be found here. I hope that you are able to take the opportunity to attend one or more of these events.

As we further our Challenge Success partnership across the district in helping our students to have more balanced, healthy lives, the Family Learning Series presents another opportunity to learn and grow together in our efforts.

Monday, October 10, 2016

How Do We Expand Our Notion of Success?

In the course of the last few weeks, I and other members of the district and high school leadership teams have received questions in different forms from members of our community centered on two distinct areas of interest:
What is the high school doing about mental health issues? 
What is the high school doing about student stress and academic pressure?

While the tone of the discourse related to these topics has varied widely, I am encouraged by the interest in having a better understanding of the work we have already begun at both the district and school levels, as well as a willingness to partner with us on the work going forward.

Beginning in 2013, ABRHS began a 3-year Professional Learning plan centered on Mental Health, Wellness, and Learning. During the 2013-2014 school year, we focused on mental health and wellness. We trained our staff on the impact of depression, anxiety, and trauma on learning. We strengthened our Student Support Team (SST) to include a case-study model that increases collaboration among administrators, counselors, psychologists, nurses, and other staff to support our students. We trained staff on Signs of Suicide (SOS) and partnered with key community organizations to bring the William James College (MSPP)  mental health referral and support services to families in Acton and Boxborough. Each year, our new staff members will be trained in the above areas to maintain common understandings and build capacity as we welcome new staff to the high school.

During the 2014-2015 school year, we transitioned to looking at learning and specifically examined practices related to homework and workload. We used a year-long, cross-disciplinary model similar to one used by Newton South High School to articulate individual department purposes for homework, pilot 30 minute "in class" homework assignments, review current practices, survey our students, and read and learn together as a staff. Some of the results of that year included the pilot of our midyear week and a better understanding of what is most stressful for our students as reflected in the survey: Assessment.

Given our students' feedback, we decided to look more closely at our assessment practices and the relationship between assessment and instruction during the 2015-2016 school year before making decisions about any potential revisions to our homework policies. A committee with cross-disciplinary representation is currently leading the high school as we learn together. We plan to pilot an assessment calendar this year as well as to continue to look more closely at our school day schedule and the impact it has on student learning and overall workload. The high school will also continue to examine Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) at the secondary level, including models and practices.

As you are well aware by now, our district decided in the spring of 2016 to partner with Dr. Denise Pope's organization Challenge Success based out of Stanford University. This partnership complements the work already begun a the high school and across our entire district and offers great potential to partner with the parent/guardian community in advancing this work with a PK-12 lens.

I strongly encourage those who have posed the questions I shared above and who are interested in helping us all to expand a notion of success for our students that more fully encourages wellness, balance, and overall health to remain informed about this partnership. Dr. Pope will be with us on November 8th for an evening community presentation. I hope that many of you will attend her presentation.

To encourage ongoing connection with you in the course of our Challenge Success work, our district leaders will provide monthly updates and resources. Below is the October communication with a link to the newsletter. Please take a few minutes to read and browse the videos and other resources. Our ability to expand our notion of success for our students will be directly determined by our willingness to partner in making it possible. Thank you, as always, for your support in our work together.

Expanding Our Notion of Success- October
A few years ago, the district began work to support health and well-being, including social emotional learning (SEL), for all members of our learning community.  Please take a few minutes to read the October installment of the AB Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter at:, where you will find a variety of resources, including websites and short video clips, to support our continued efforts to develop engaged, well-balanced learners.