Category Archives: From the Principal

One-to-one Technology Pilot

Technology has become an integral part of the teaching and learning experience in Newton. This year, as part of the district’s ongoing commitment to increasing access and use of technology in our classrooms, we will be piloting a one-to-one program in each of our high schools. Through this pilot, we aim to learn more about how technology can further enhance the academic program in Newton, as well as how access to a personal device impacts a student’s learning experience.

After careful review and consideration, we have selected two classes in each high school to participate in this pilot program.  We are excited to provide this opportunity and look forward to learning from our experience.

All students in the selected classes will be assigned a personal laptop to use throughout the school day and to take home with them each night. Each student will be assigned either a MacBook Air (Apple) or a Chromebook (Hewlett Packard). Students will be able to utilize the computers throughout the school day and outside of school hours.

Our hope is that we learn how to best support a full one-to-one roll-out should the district choose to so in the near future.

Stay tuned!

New Flooring for Field House

On behalf of our operations and public buildings departments, I would like to share information with you regarding the upcoming replacement of the flooring in the South Field House.

As many of you know, the flooring in the Field House is quite worn. It is unusable in some spots and is quickly becoming a safety hazard. We had hoped to complete the work in the summer, but due to several different variables, could not. We are anxious to install new flooring in advance of the winter sports season for the safety of all of our athletes, as well as the students in our health and wellness classes.

The contractor has informed us that the flooring installation can begin in the middle of October. We expect the process to take approximately six weeks from start to finish. The Field House should be open and usable again soon after the Thanksgiving holiday.

In anticipation of this event, our athletic staff and coaches have been working hard to develop a plan that will minimize disruption to our sports teams and class schedules. We will utilize alternative spaces, such as Gym B, Brown Middle School, and outdoor fields, to conduct practices and classes for our fall athletes and classroom students. Matches and games with other districts have already been adjusted to accommodate the floor replacement. Your student’s coach will provide more specific information, if they have not done so already.

We are fortunate to have the opportunity to install the new flooring this year. I know our operations and building departments will work to ensure it is done as quickly and efficiently as possible. I am confident our athletic and classroom staff can make the necessary adjustments to minimize impact to our students. Thank you for your patience.

Our Values

Our first week of school is complete and we are off to a great start here at Newton South. Students and faculty alike are excited and enthusiastic about the year ahead.

Yet we begin this year in the context of a national climate that is divisive, challenging, and ever-changing. As Superintendent Fleishman shared in his opening remarks to faculty and staff, there is no doubt that events and actions at the national level impact our school community by way of policies, conversations, and relationships. However, when such events are handled well by experienced and knowledgeable educators, they present real opportunity for learning.

It is incumbent upon us to prepare our students to listen (especially to perspectives different than their own), engage in well-reasoned debate, and stand up when they see injustice. Quoting Richard Weissboard of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr. Fleishman shared “educators need to confront dilemmas at the heart of our democracy, dilemmas that we rarely take on squarely in schools at any level.  These conversations require teachers to navigate among basic human and democratic rights. Important as it is for teachers to promote the right to free speech and encourage multiple views, teachers also need to promote students‘ right to freedom from discrimination.” 

How do we have these conversations in a way that is productive, respectful, and most importantly, equips students with essential skills for life beyond high school?

To answer this question, last year our faculty and students, in separate meetings, developed a near identical list of 4 values that we are committed to here at Newton South.

They are:

Choose Kindness

Show Respect

Take Responsibility

Listen First

These are not rules, but guidelines that will help us navigate our conversations, statements, and actions.  These phrases are posted throughout the school, and teachers will refer to them in their lessons.  We will be working with each other to discover the many nuances of these four concepts, and to hold each other to these standards.

It is critical that we go toward difficult conversations rather than shying away from them. It’s even more important that we have the tools to ensure that our work together builds a stronger community.  We believe that our four values are a good place to start.

Thank you for your support and involvement.

Ashley Anderton Memorial Fund

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.

Welcome back, and some information…

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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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!

Global Education Leadership Fund

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.

February Update

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.

 

Suicide Prevention Training

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!

Parking Changes!

The parking lot construction has reached its conclusion, and we will soon return to normal.

Effective immediately:

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.

Update on Our Day Today

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.

New Link

As always, thank you for your partnership.