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~