Category Archives: From the Principal

Technology Announcement

This year, as part of the district’s ongoing commitment to increasing access and use of technology in our classrooms, we piloted a program in which 50 of our high schools students were given a laptop computer  for use in the classroom and at home. Through this “1:1 technology program,” we sought to learn how technology might enhance our academic program, as well as how access to a personal device would impact a student’s learning experience.

After observation, review, and feedback from both faculty and students who participated in the pilot, we have made the decision to expand the 1:1 technology pilot program to all sophomores in the Newton Public Schools. This means that every 10th grader (rising 9th graders) will receive a Chromebook to utilize next year. Our goals for the program are as follows:

  • Encourage student collaboration
  • Improve access to a wider variety of resources
  • Provide additional ways of teaching creativity and critical thinking skills
  • Challenge students to adapt to new learning environments

Importantly, providing every student with a Chromebook supports our district goal of equity by ensuring that every student has access to the same technology and tools both at school and at home.

While there are many excellent classroom practices that do not require technology, we expect the access to technology to foster continued innovation in teaching and learning. The district will provide our faculty and staff with ongoing professional development so that they may take full advantage of the resources available to our students via the new program.

The 1:1 technology pilot program is expected to begin with our 10th graders mid-year, allowing the district time to establish the back-end systems necessary for managing and deploying the devices. We will provide you with more detailed information this fall. In the meantime, please visit our 1:1 district webpage for a list of commonly asked questions: www.newton.k12.ma.us/laptop.

We look forward to partnering with you as we launch this exciting new initiative in our high schools.

Friday’s School Shooting in Texas

It was just February 27th when I wrote:

On School Safety

It is unbelievable to me that I am writing again about another mass shooting at a high school not three months later.  In my February message I wrote at length about safety, and the importance of making positive connections with each and every one of our students.  In the wake of yet another tragedy, it is important that we continue to work to build our school community.

On Monday, we will observe a moment of silence during homeroom out of respect for the students and teachers in Texas, as well as other school violence victims across the country who have not made the front page news.

As always, please let us know if you have concerns about how your child is doing, and please know that our guidance counselors will be available to support students who may need to process this latest event.

 

Student Voices

As we continue to struggle with civil discourse and respect for all in our national dialogue, I write to share with you my pride in NSHS students for the many ways in which their leadership, actions, and voices are making positive impacts on our school culture.

I’ve written before about my worries of the lack of civility in our public discourse in this country.  It’s particularly troubling when these patterns have been echoed in the halls and classrooms here at South. Like the greater society, we have experienced an increase in anti-Semitic, homophobic, and racist incidents over the past several years.

Three years ago, we (the NSHS administrative team) made a decision to focus more on developing and building the capacity of our students to help construct a positive, healthy school environment where students themselves are able and expected to take a stand against hateful speech.  For us, this represented a shift from the adults primarily creating and maintaining an inclusive and respectful school environment to one in which we entrust and empower students to help create and mold our school culture.

Here are a few of the initiatives that we have developed to encourage student leadership, action, and voice:

  • ADL Peer Leaders: 30+ juniors and seniors trained by the Anti Defamation League to implement lessons to freshman English classes on hate speech and microaggressions (these lessons will occur next week)
  • Courageous Conversations on Race: a different group of juniors and seniors trained by our own staff to engage Sophomore students in lessons about what it means to welcome and respect all students (occured in Chemistry classes during term 3)
  • “Roar”-ums:  Student moderated school-wide discussions during J block, on topics chosen by students

The above initiatives work in conjunction with some long-time, student-led events that have taken on more significance given recent events, including:

  • Aware Day, Multicultural Day, T’BGLAD Day, and others: Student designed and led day-long programs featuring speakers and panels to explore and inform on issues of mental health, cultural awareness, sexual and gender identity, and other issues
  • Clubs: A wide variety of community service and social activism, often focused on the world outside of the walls of NSHS
  • WISE: senior year projects that students choose for themselves

While I am proud of our school for the progress we have made, I am aware that this work is never complete.  I ask you to support our efforts by talking to your children about the values of inclusion and respect that are the foundation of this work and by reaching out to school staff if you are aware of any instance where these norms are violated.

I do know that I feel good about our future when I see our next generation developing the skills necessary to engage in respectful dialogue and accept people of all backgrounds. These are the essential skills they will need to be successful in the world today.

GELF Dinner – Fundraiser for Newton High School Students

I am writing to personally request your support for our Jennifer Price Global Education Leadership Fund (GELF)’s annual benefit dinner. For those of you who don’t know about the GELF, it’s a fantastic scholarship program that supports Newton students from low-income homes in participating in the many life-changing international travel learning opportunities offered through Newton North and South. Students who return from abroad speak often about the pivotal role these experiences have played in their personal and academic lives. Please help us convince our students that no one needs to tune out when educational travel opportunities are announced!

On Saturday, May 5th, GELF will hold its annual dinner/fundraiser from 6:30-11:30pm at Newton North High School. The evening is a not-to-be-missed community event, featuring an amazing 5-course gourmet meal (cooked from scratch on-site!!), paired fine beers & wines, dancing (with a great live band), 150 like-minded community members, table service by Newton principals, and an auction.

This year alone we have funded:

  • Nearly $30,000 in grants to
  • 15 students for
  • 9 different international trips

We need your support! Please buy tickets online here  (scroll down to the bottom for the PayPal button) or send a $150/person check (made payable to Newton Schools Foundation with GELF in the memo line) to Newton Schools Foundation, 100 Walnut Street, Newton MA 02460.

Whether you are coming or not, please consider donating to support a teacher to attend the event ($100/person) or making a tax-deductible donati0n, all possible here.

If you would like to support GELF but cannot donate, there are many other ways to help out. Please email Samantha_mandel@newton.k12.ma.us or take GELF’s volunteer survey to find out more.

Thank you very much for your support.

On School Safety

I am so saddened to be writing another community letter in the aftermath of another horrific school shooting. Certainly, our hearts and thoughts go out to those impacted by this terrible tragedy. The first of these that I remember was in Thurston, Oregon, in 1998, followed a year later by Columbine in 1999. One lesson that educators learned from these incidents is the most likely perpetrator of violence on a school campus is not from a stranger walking in off the street, but someone who knows the school well, and is known. It led to a further important realization: it is critical that we meet the needs of – and are connected to – each and every child in our school.  Crisis research also emphasizes the importance of prevention in any safety plan.

Over the past week, I have received many emails from parents, asking what are we doing to ensure that Newton South is safe for their child. This is the right question to be asking. We have an active school safety team that includes teachers, administrators, counselors, youth officers, secretaries, custodians, school psychologists, and our nurse meeting throughout the year to plan and prepare for a wide range of emergency scenarios. The team will meet next week to consider implementing additional steps, such as locking more doors during the day. We will work closely with the Newton Police Department and Central Office staff to develop our safety plans while maintaining the the open campus that is core to our educational philosophy and architectural design at both high schools. Yet any technical security changes we make will pale in comparison to the importance of our work directly with our students.

My worry, in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting, is that some would like the conversation in education to be about reacting in the moment of crisis (arming teachers, active shooter drills, metal detectors, etc.) rather than on all the things that we can do to prevent the crisis from happening in the first place. By a wide margin, the most important action we can take to make our school safe is to ensure that each and every student is connected to, known by, and supported by a caring adult in our building. This is why we try our best to do school “one child at a time.” We want each child and family to feel that the school is here for them, and we want them to form positive, supportive relationships with the people in the school, including both other students and adults.

This is also why our school-wide effort on strengthening our welcoming, inclusive building culture is so important. The phrases that the students and faculty created to summarize our values (show respect, listen first, take responsibility, choose kindness) are not just words, but a road map to a safe school. I fully believe that when all students feel connected, respected, and listened to, events like the one in Florida are far, far less likely to happen.

I also understand that there are national calls for high school students to protest and walkout.  As we have with previous student protests, we will work with students who wish to organize a rally.

I will share changes that our safety team decides to make with you. Below you will find a resource to help you have conversations with your student about gun violence. Additionally, if your student is struggling with the impact of this event, please contact their school counselor for support.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/02/resiliency-after-violence?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=&utm_term=&utm_content=beth sw

As always, thank you for allowing us to partner with you to raise the next generation. It is a humbling responsibility that we take with heartfelt intensity.

January Updates

We are into second semester with no reports of frozen pipes for two weeks (as of this writing)!  The cold weather continues for some time, of course, and students should still be prepared for evacuating into the elements in case the pipes freeze in the near future.

I am writing to share some updates for ongoing projects:

A)  Our newest addition: indoor plants!  Before and after pictures of the area formally known as the “L” bench.  Wonderful to walk by and get a burst of oxygen!

Before:  

 

After: 

Thanks to the many clubs, science students, and science teachers for securing funding and designing an indoor atrium featuring non-pollen producing leafy vegetation.

B)  High School Schedule

The Newton North and South High School Schedule Committee has been meeting since the Spring of 2017.   Since that time the committee has made a lot of progress in learning about the values that are most important within the school day such as time for students and teachers to meet for extra help.  Additionally committee members have visited area schools and learned about the pros and cons to their high school schedules.  This spring possible schedule options will be presented to the NNHS and NSHS faculty.   More updates to follow…

C)  Pep Rally

Led by our senior class officers, our student leadership council has been hard at work designing and planning our upcoming spirit week (February 5th – 9th), culminating in a pep rally on Friday!  I’m excited about some new ideas and old favorites, and look forward to sharing our day with you.

 

2017-18 NSHS Lip Dub Video

I am so proud to present our lip dub creation!

http://bit.ly/nshslipdub2017

Thank you to students, faculty, and staff for making this possible.  I especially want to thank all-student production team, including the director, videographer, editors, and choreographers!

Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Another interesting day: 2 more bursting pipes, one evacuation (at 1 pm for about 10 minutes – thankfully the outside temperature was warmer than yesterday), and then sprinkler system testing during J block.

The challenge with a California style school building (actually several buildings, low and spread out, with connectors) is that certain spaces are very challenging to maintain sufficient heat to not freeze the pipes in the ceiling that service the overhead sprinkler system.  With the extreme cold of this coming weekend, I would not be surprised to experience another pipe burst next week when the building warms up, which will result in another evacuation.  Students should plan their attire for next week accordingly.

I want to specifically thank our wonderful custodial team – all three shifts – for being so quick to problem solve and mitigate water damage.  They have been awesome, and are deserving of our praise and admiration!

Update on Building Status (and Happy New Year!)

Greetings – may your 2018 be healthy and joyful!

What started in the morning as a major water leak due to a frozen, split coil in a heating unit became in the afternoon a short in an electrical box in the basement boiler room due to the water leak, prompting the fire alarm system to sound and forcing an evacuation into the cold weather around 1 pm.  Students were outside for 10-15 minutes while the fire department assessed the situation and determined that it was safe for students to reenter all other parts of the building except for the part with the boiler room (the 9000 building).  Eventually, this was cleared too, and students and teachers in 9000s were also allowed to return to their classroom prior to the end of the school day.  Students and staff responded promptly (if reluctantly) and the evacuation was very smooth.  In the end, it was painful, but hopefully there are no lasting effects from being outside in the cold.  In case you were wondering, had the fire department not been able to allow us to re-enter we would have moved all students to the middle schools and dismissed from there.

Later, during our after school activities, we were asked again to evacuate the building by the fire department so that the facilities folks could assess and repair the damage from the water leak – we were thankful that students and staff were allowed to stay in the field house rather than outside in the cold.  We also had a pipe burst in the second floor of the 3000s after school, and our custodial crew is at work cleaning that up too.  It’s been an eventful day!

In the unlikely event that we do not have school tomorrow, we will contact you by phone and email by 5:30 AM.

On a positive note: earlier in the day, the senior class officers shared the completed NSHS Lip Dub with the class of 2018 during advisory.  In my opinion, it looks amazing!  Terrific work by the production crew (all NSHS students) and Lip Dub team!  Next Tuesday, we will share the video with the class of 2019 during advisory, after which time we will make the video available for all to see.  I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

Lip Dub!

We are getting excited about Newton South’s first Lip Dub, which will take place during the last part of the half day on Wednesday, November 23rd (we are moving the pep rally the we normally hold on this day to February).   During a “lip dub,” student lip-syncers are videoed walking through the school as other students cheer, dance or do other things showing school spirit. Our lip-syncers (all self-volunteered) have been practicing their moves to Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Some students plan to stand with a team or club during the video, others have chosen to stand in larger schoolwide groups, and some have volunteered for our production crew. Club presidents, team captains and class officers have been planning hallway decorations and attire for the day for each of their groups. If your child is not planning to stand with a particular club or group, please encourage them to wear any South “swag” that they have, or blue and orange clothing. We have also made some separate arrangements for students who may feel uncomfortable in a large group so they have an alternate place to hang out during that time. We are looking forward to coming together for this exciting school wide activity!