It is with deep sadness and many fond memories that I share with the Newton South community the passing of Ashley Anderton, our beloved English teacher, on June 22 of this year. Her husband Derek Van Beever, Newton South science teacher, and their family have created a memorial fund in Ashley’s name to benefit cancer research and to provide scholarships for Newton South students.
You can find information about the fund here:
For all of Mr. VanBeever’s current and former students, he knows you support him and his family (including his eldest son who joins the South community this year), and they want to begin this fall in as normal a way as possible and focused on the year ahead.
Thank you for your understanding, and for your support.
Happy “not-yet-the-end-of-summer-but-almost” last week of August!
It’s been wonderful having students return to our school and liven our hallways again, and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting many of our incoming parents at one of our many events this summer.
I am writing to share the following:
- Road construction. Brandeis road will be closed for paving on Friday, September 1. Anyone needing to access the school should park/drop-off on the Brown and Oak Hill side of our property and take the path through the athletic fields.
- L-Bench. Our L Bench, (it’s more of a U, really) which has been a fixture at South since the renovation in 2004, is no longer. Demolition of the bench is making way for an atrium with plants that will be maintained by our biology program. As we increase in size (we will have more than 1900 students this year, the largest ever enrollment in the history of Newton South, and we are predicted to grow to 2000 soon), we have found that many students congregating so close to several classrooms is not good for our learning environment. While it is true that recently we have had some poor decision-making from students in this area, this change is more related to proximity of classrooms and noise than any specific student behaviors. Traditionally, this bench has been an area where juniors tend to congregate, and we will work with this year’s junior class to find a different space for a home base.
Thank you, and we look forward to seeing all of our NSHS students back in our classrooms on Tuesday, September 5!
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 should tune out when opportunities are announced!
On Saturday, April 1st, GELF will hold its annual dinner/fundraiser from 6:30-10:30pm 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 (featuring Sam Adams beer pairings, a major hit last year!), dancing (with a great live band featuring our own Katani Sumner), 150 like-minded community members, table service by Newton principals, and a raffle.
This year alone we have funded:
- More than $30,000 in grants to
- 20 students for
- 8 different international trips
We need your support! Please buy tickets online here: http://www.newton.k12.ma.us/Page/2289 (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, ATTN: Diane Greer, P.O. Box 590020, Newton Centre, MA 02459.
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: http://www.newton.k12.ma.us/Page/2289.
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 to find out more.
Thank you very much for your support.
Our work to build a supportive, safe, and respectful school climate continues in earnest. Below you will find our most recent updates.
Classroom Work – School Climate
Over the past few weeks, students have used video to share their experiences with hurtful speech in our school. Both teachers and students report that the videos have sparked important and powerful conversations. After February break, we will return to English classes to begin our next series of conversations. Again using video, we will ask students to share examples of when they felt included or experienced someone stepping in to support them. The goal of this next step is for students to understand the importance of “active up-standing” rather than “passive by-standing” when they see behavior that does not represent our school values.
School Climate in Hallways and Common Spaces
As I wrote to you earlier, we are especially interested in ensuring that the climate in our hallways and common areas is welcoming and safe for all students. At a recent meeting, faculty reviewed our school values statement and developed the following guidelines for hallway climate:
- Choose Kindness
- Show Respect
- Take Responsibility
- Listen First
Independently, a group of 50 student volunteers created the following guidelines for hallway climate from a student perspective:
- Encourage Positive Environment
- Show Respect
- Take Responsibility
- Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive
I was delighted by the similarity! I am proud of our students and faculty for actively participating in our school dialogue, and for standing up for each other.
Student Group Programs and Activities
In addition to our school-wide conversations about hurtful speech, several student-led initiatives are generating understanding and respect for diversity here at South.
- The Feminist Club sponsored an Empowerment Day, which culminated in a “Speak-Out” in the cafeteria highlighting positive examples of female student empowerment at South.
- Our Black Student Union and Students For Political Action clubs have joined together to develop a program they have named “Courageous Conversations.” In this program, older students will visit Sophomore advisories to engage in peer-to-peer conversations about race, with the goal of helping all students better understand each other.
- The GSA sponsored a Transgender Day of Remembrance with guest speakers and discussions designed to raise awareness of the high number of trans people killed in hate crimes each year. The GSA also hosts a T’BGLAD (Transgender, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Asexual) Awareness Day in support of the wide variety of issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community.
- Our AWARE club hosts a weekly small and friendly lunch for students interested in meeting new people and taking a break from the larger cafeteria. Later in the year, the club will host AWARE Day, featuring presentations for students and faculty on health and emotional awareness. The AWARE students are also planning to engage in peer-to-peer conversations during advisories, in which older students will visit freshman advisories (with adult support) to discuss a healthy approach to teen responsibilities.
- The Asian Student Organization will host a cultural event this spring open to the entire community. It will be a fun evening to learn about Asian culture through cuisine, games, and conversations with peers.
- Our Environmental Club organized South support for a rally for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dakota Access Pipeline in Boston.
- The Black Student Union will celebrate African-American Culture Day by hosting panels that highlight the accomplishments and challenges of being an African American in the United States today.
I am proud that our students are so active in the creation of our school culture. It is through these efforts that we will succeed in building a community that is safe and supportive for all students. Of course, we can’t do it alone. When schools and families build strong partnerships, we know students will be successful. We look forward to continuing our work together and appreciate your help and support.
I’m writing to share some important information about this year’s plans for suicide prevention training with our students.
For the last several years, we have provided suicide prevention training for every freshman and junior at our two high schools in the form of the Signs of Suicide (SOS) Curriculum and the Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression (BSAD). This program has been used by thousands of schools over the past decade. It has proven successful at helping students concerned about themselves or a friend. It is the only school-based suicide prevention curriculum listed by SAMSHA in its National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices that addresses suicide risk and depression.
This year 9th graders will receive the full SOS program in January in Health and Wellness classes, and 11th graders receive the “booster” portion of the SOS curriculum in March in English classes.
We will host one district-wide parent SOS preview and Q&A session with the wonderful practitioners at Riverside Trauma Center on January 5th, at 7 pm at Newton South High School in the lecture hall.
As always, if you have concerns or worries about your son or daughter, please contact their guidance counselor.
The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Depression and Suicidality from Riverside Trauma Center, as well as contact information and hotline numbers, is available here.
And again, thank you for being our partner in this very important effort!
The parking lot construction has reached its conclusion, and we will soon return to normal.
1. Student permit parking will be located in the parking lots off of Brandeis Road in the designated yellow lined spaces only. The white lined spaces are reserved for faculty and visitor parking only; any student vehicle parked in white lined spaces will likely be towed.
2. The diagonal spaces on the grass adjacent to the tennis courts are now off-line.
Over the next few weeks:
1. The additional on-street parking on Brandeis added for this project will be removed. While this on-street parking has presented fewer problems than I anticipated, Brandeis is still barely wide enough in most areas to allow a row of parked cars in addition to two-way traffic. While the fall weather has allowed us to make-do during the construction, the advent of winter snow requires that this parking be removed.
2. The on-street parking on Brandies by the playing fields closer to Greenwood will remain, as these spots were in existence prior to the parking lot construction.
3. One strip of on-street parking on Brandeis closest to Parker Street will remain for now. We think there is room on Brandeis for these particular spaces, 2 lanes of traffic, and snow – but we will be observing this area during our winter season to determine if there is indeed sufficient space.
Thank you for your patience during our construction, and for your attention to these changes over the next few weeks as we return to normal.
I am writing to reflect on what was thankfully a normal day here at Newton South. The increased police presence on campus, the result of a vague online post on an anonymous social media app, did not disrupt our school day or distract us from our academic programs.
Newton Police continue to investigate the incident. I will provide any relevant updates as they become available.
It was disheartening to see a higher-than-normal number of absences in school today, likely due to this social media post. Therefore, I do want to take this opportunity to ask you to talk with your children about their use of social media and review with them how to make safe, healthy choices in online environments. Social media sites and apps, especially those that allow anonymous posts, can spur disrespectful and hurtful posts that negatively impact students, schools, and entire communities.
Please see below for a Washington Post article about one such anonymous site.
As always, thank you for your partnership.
As many of you know, our current Special Education Department Chair, Kathy Farnsworth, will be retiring at the end of December. On behalf of the entire Newton South Community, I extend congratulations on a terrific career and we are especially thankful for her steady, thoughtful, and caring leadership at South over the past 6 years. She will be missed!
I am also pleased and excited to announce that Melissa Gamble, our current Assistant Special Education Department Chair, has agreed to be our next Special Education Department Chair!
Throughout our process, Melissa impressed with her passion for students, her understanding and interest in meshing general and special education services and professionals, and her strong commitment to the entire NSHS community. It’s especially exciting that Melissa knows us so well (and we know her!), and so I anticipate a smooth transition in January.
I want to thank Kathy Farnsworth for her support in this process, as well as the faculty and parents who participated in our search and interviews. This is a big win for South, and for our special education families in particular.
We are saddened to hear of the recent death of a former Newton Public Schools student who attended Brown Middle School and Countryside Elementary School and had deep connections with many Newton South students.
Our faculty and staff have been reaching out to many students and families directly impacted by this tragedy.
If you would like additional support for your child, please let us know by contacting your child’s guidance counselor or Dean.
Should you wish to have a conversation at home, our counseling team recommends the following resources:
As I shared last week, the South community is undertaking a broad effort to ensure our community is inclusive and welcoming to all. Our first steps, the analysis of student survey results and a series of lessons taking place in history and English classes, has sparked rich conversations as students grapple with the impact, rather than the intent, of their words.
Students have been reaching out — to faculty, administrators, and one another — as they seek to make meaning of these lessons and conversations. In turn, we have been working with students to address specific issues that have surfaced, with an emphasis on education and repair. I am heartened that our students are undertaking this conversation with such honesty and that they are willing to engage openly as they examine our community, and the role they play in making it safe and supportive. As they listen to one another, they question. This is a sign of a healthy community that is striving to understand our differences, and to create room for all to feel included.
Our faculty is listening closely, and looks forward to tailoring our remaining workshops in response to student voices. As one teacher wrote to me: “I hope that by shining a light on these issues that have been in the dark for far too long, we are making steps toward building our community into the kind of place we all want to see.”
We encourage you to continue the conversation with your child about how he or she is experiencing South, and to offer support as he or she develops an understanding of how to contribute to a rich, vibrant and nurturing community. If you have any questions or if you feel your child needs any additional support, please contact his or her Dean or guidance counselor. I look forward to continuing to update you on these important efforts.