Monday, January 30, 2017

The Importance of Being "Known"

I shared the following thoughts with my staff this morning. I wanted to share them with all of you as well.

I am keenly mindful, as I’m sure many of you are as well, that the events in our country and around the world may be impacting families, students, and staff members in our district. I’ve had some good conversations with several of you recently about the challenge of remaining politically neutral in a school setting while being able to advocate and support those among us who may be feeling targeted for a variety of reasons in the current climate.

We do not wear buttons, march, or carry signs in school, nor do I believe that we should. Our role is not to further polarize. However, we work in a diverse school community where right now some of our students who do not speak English at home may feel vulnerable, students with family members abroad may be worried that they will not be able to come home, and some students may feel that they, or their families, do not have voice in our country right now. Regardless of political affiliation, our job is to make sure that all of our students and staff members feel respected, welcomed, and known here. What we do everyday in our micro-level interactions with students makes the greatest impact as to whether or not they feel valued and safe.

I had the privilege of joining a social studies class on Inauguration Day and listening to our students talk about the speeches and the issues, and I was so impressed with their ability to listen, disagree, and learn from each other in the face of some deep divides.

Regardless of the divides in our community and in our country, I am asking you to please make a special effort in the coming weeks to really see your students and connect with them. I believe so strongly that the sense of community we create within our school does make a difference outside of our walls.

Thank you for your continued partnership,

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Glimpse into Midyear Week

Peer Leaders and Principal's Advisory Students provided a surprise ice cream social during midyears today

We are halfway through midyear week, and as I've talked with students over the past two days, they have shared that the pace of the week feels calm and manageable overall. As you know, this is our second year of providing a "pause" in the school year with a midyear week, and we have incorporated feedback from students, parents/guardians, and staff to try and make this week as balanced and productive as possible for everyone.

What I like most about this week is seeing students having downtime together between assessment periods. They are able to use the fitness center, both upper and lower gyms, and several study spaces throughout the building. Given our focus on wellness, it is great to see them taking advantage of the time and opportunities to relax and have fun together during the day.

As promised, we will be asking students for their feedback about the two-week pilot assessment calendar, as well as how the midyear week feels to them overall.

Thank you all for your flexibility yesterday with the weather-related late start. I know lots of students were happy to sleep in!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Community Service Recognition and Family Learning Opportunities

Students representing Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) present their annual grants

We recognized 763 students this past Wednesday evening for their service of at least 25 hours to our community during 2016. It is always one my favorite events of the year, as it is done in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King and represents students giving of their time to individuals and organizations that are meaningful to them. Thank you to staff members Melissa Dempsey, Kay Steeves, Shannon Dandridge, Glenn Manning, and all who contributed to make it a successful event.

YIP advisory Sara Clinton and students presenting this year's grant awards

Three upcoming ABRSD Family Learning Series events may be of interest to you:

January 25, 2017: Pamela Katz Ressler on Mindfulness
Audience: Grades PK-12
RJ Grey Auditorium

Please take a few moments to check out the ABRSD's January Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter, which focuses on mindfulness.  ​Author Patricia Jennings defines mindfulness as "attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance."   

This month’s newsletter contains a variety of resources about mindfulness: how it appears in our schools, video resources, apps, books, and more.  We hope that you will find some of these useful.

February 6, 2017:  Dr. Josephine Kim
Let's Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child
Audience: Grades PK-12 and students grades 6-12
ABRHS Auditorium

February 13, 2017: Chris Herren
Rebound: The Chris Herren Story
Audience: Grades 6-12 and students ages 13 and up
Location: ABRHS Auditorium
If you haven’t had the chance, I encourage you to spend some time on our district's AB Wellness website, created by Assistant Superintendents Dr. Dawn Bentley and Deborah Bookis to learn about our efforts to support our long-range strategic plan, which focuses on wellness, equity, and engagement. This positive, proactive approach to social and emotional learning and wellness will continue to be our district's focus.

In continuing support of our high school students, our counselors and psychologists have now visited all 10th and 11th grade classes to share a presentation and discussion about depression, suicide, and how to ask for help on behalf of themselves or on behalf of friends about whom they have concerns. The therapy dogs are with us at least once each month, and we will be offering our students a variety of wellness-oriented activities during Midyear Week. Beginning this month, our extended Advisory lessons are focused on community building, anti-bullying, building empathy, and mindfulness. 

Our high school staff continues to keep in their thoughts the staff members, students, and families who have been most impacted by the death of an elementary school student last weekend. I met with my Principal's Advisory seniors on Tuesday, and I was heartened by the care, concern, and perspective they held for others during this difficult time. We talked about the influence of social media during times like this, and they made me very proud with their clear and firm stance that negative, critical messages are not helpful as we work to support each other within our school community. Their positive leadership continues to inspire.

I hope you are enjoying the long weekend~

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Year of Change for Good

Faculty and student "Festive Music Flash Mob" 2016

I hope that you've all had a relaxing, peaceful, and fun vacation week. Our week leading up to the break had some lovely moments with staff and students, culminating in our annual "Festive Music Flash Mob," organized by English teacher Sara Mann. Staff and students play instruments (Mr. Csorba on saxophone!) and sing as students enter through the main entrance. It was a great way to end the week.

As we look ahead to 2017, we remain committed to the three areas highlighted in our commitment to Challenge Success in a high achieving high school: School Schedule, Homework and Workload, and Family Engagement/Communication. I'd like to update you on our School Schedule process here.

We began to focus our thinking about our school day schedule approximately a year and half ago as part of our professional learning work related to student wellness and learning. While our current schedule has some positive aspects, it also requires many transitions, dictates that our students have homework in every class most nights, and does not allow for collaborative planning time for staff.

Our plan was to begin a collaborative process to a new schedule this past October, but we needed to shift our focus to our student and community wellbeing at that time. Beginning this month, we will engage in a comprehensive process to transition to a new high school schedule with the goal of a fall 2018 start date. Changing a school schedule can be an emotionally-charged issue for many people. Some love our current schedule and don't want it to change. Any change to a school schedule requires compromise. Teachers will be afforded time and support in the 2017-2018 school year to work on shifts in curriculum and planning in advance of a new schedule. We will prepare our students and families with what to expect as well.

Throughout the process, we will remain mindful of the many opinions out there. Ultimately, the decision about a schedule change will be made by our high school leadership team (LT), which consists of our five administrators and our department leaders, in conjunction with our district's central office leadership team. We will keep the best interests of our students at the center of this process.

I am sharing a draft of our timeline for this process (click here), and you will see that we plan to include focus groups and feedback from students and parents/guardians as we look at potential schedule models. I hope that you will consider participating in this process.

Like many people, I was grateful to see the calendar shift to a new year. Regardless of the challenges that 2016 may have brought us, I am hopeful for what will be in 2017. Our staff is engaging in difficult, important conversations about what it means to teach and learn in a healthy way on behalf of our students. We continue to focus on the relationship between assessment practices and homework load, and I believe that we will be able to make shifts to our practice that will improve engagement, wellness, and balance for all, staff and students alike. We will also continue our efforts to educate our students about depression, mental illness, and how to ask for help for themselves and on behalf of others.

Our country remains divided post-election, and schools are often a microcosm of larger society. Please know that our students' intellectual, physical, and emotional safety remain priorities for us, particularly as we approach the inauguration ceremony. We know that if our students don't feel safe, they can't learn. It has been particularly tricky for some during this election season to remain neutral in a school setting when respect for individuals and groups has at times been in question. My message to staff will continue to be that we do our best to honor the diverse beliefs, perspectives, and experiences of those in our school community while making respect for self and others the core of our work together.

I was fortunate to be able to spend a few days in Disney World with my son over the break to meet family there. While I am typically an awful photographer, both in front of and behind the camera (I'll never be known as the "selfie queen," for sure), I was able to capture this moment:

I hope for many moments of joy, for all of us, this year~