From the Principal August 16, 2021

Dear Newton South Students, Families, Staff and Community Members,

It is with great joy and excitement that I introduce myself to you as the new principal of Newton South High School, as well as a new member of the Newton community. Over the past decade, I have been privileged to work and learn in diverse communities, and I am excited to continue to support building a robust culture of achievement where all students are affirmed to achieve at high levels here at South. While I look forward to getting to know each of you more deeply in the coming weeks and months, I want to share with you more about myself and my background.

Why I am committed to Newton South

I am my mother’s daughter: my mother grew up in the slums of India, but proved her excellence by earning a state-funded medical degree because she was one of the top 50 scoring 16-year-olds of millions in the state. She used this opportunity and her own excellence to serve the Untouchables (“lowest” people within the Indian caste system), and open hospice services for both people who were terminally ill from cancer, as well as for AIDS patients at a time no one else would touch them. She did this in Mumbai and London.

Just like my mother, I believe that education is the foundation of success, and that the definition of success is varied and unique to each individual. I do this work because the responsibility of a leader is to deliver on opportunities so every student can demonstrate their excellence. My mother constantly messaged to myself and my three older siblings that we are the only people who could define our own excellence, and this we did. My siblings and I have put in the hours and hard work to ensure success from our mother’s sacrifice and commitment to our achievement. Growing up in an 800 square foot apartment, we did not have many luxuries, but what we did have deeply embedded in us was the importance of education and the access that a good education gives you to the world. This instilled belief is the foundation from which I have been able to achieve at high levels and demonstrate success. My mom would often say, “Reach for the stars, and you’ll at least land on the tree-tops.” I still aim for the stars in everything I do, and I believe that every one of our students should believe they can do the same.

My experiences and perspectives

As a student, I experienced varied educational systems. I did my elementary through college schooling in India, and then left home at age 20 to pursue my advanced degrees in the United States. I received a Masters in Education from Boston College, and went on to teach various levels of science at Greater Lawrence Technical School and Lawrence High School. My first paying job, however, was right here at South! I taught summer school Chemistry to a group of wonderful Juniors and Seniors. I was also a student teacher at Newton North for one year while working on my Masters Degree. While a full-time teacher and Science Department Head, I also went on to earn a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies from American International College. I have also recently completed a rigorous Principal Leader Fellowship through Lynch Leadership Academy at Boston College. I most recently completed four years at Haverhill High School as the Assistant Principal to the Class of 2021, where I focused on keeping equity as a throughline for all students, and success at the forefront for all.

These varied experiences have given me a unique perspective on what opportunity and success mean, and how they differ from person-to-person based on lived experience. As an educator, I have worked in diverse public schools that had a common, consistent, and committed belief. These beliefs were communicated in theory, culture, and practice both directly and indirectly through the words and actions of staff and peers that all students can be successful and achieve at high levels. I hold a deeply embedded belief that, when afforded the right access, opportunities,

and support, all students have the ability to achieve at high levels. Starting with my initial touchpoints and interviews with staff, and the privilege of starting my journey in Newton on July 1, I clearly see the passion that so many have for this community, and for our students.

Learning about the Newton South community

As a new member of this community, it is important to me to learn about your interactions and experiences with South. I want to learn about the important work that we need to preserve, and the ways in which our partnership can continue to grow to support the needs of our students and neighborhoods. I would like to leverage our individual and collective strengths so we can continue to make meaning of our passion and desires together on behalf of our students. It is important to learn about your experiences with our schools and the ways in which our school can continue to grow to support the needs of all students.

Through my variety of lenses, it is clear that Newton is actively working to dismantle systemic inequities, and ensure that all students thrive. I am humbled and honored to continue this equity and excellence-centered work with the help of passionate staff and community members committed to positive, holistic growth and success for all students.

Over the summer months, I have been engaging in conversations with multiple stakeholders and will continue to do so in the coming months. I will be engaging with community members through outreach to a wide range of people affiliated with Newton South High School. This includes scheduling a series of focus groups and 1-on-1 interviews with diverse stakeholders, both inside and outside of our school. I want to learn from our successes, and better understand what is working across programs as the foundation to continuing to evolve. I will also be connecting with families to learn their perspective on supporting high achievement. Together, I know that we will continue to make South a place where every student has the opportunity to become their best self and flourish as such.

For the month of September, I would like to invite parents and family caregivers to come and meet with our new vice-principal and myself and to share your experiences at Newton South during the following days and times:

  • –  Wednesday, Sept 15, from 6:00p.m.-7:00p.m. Virtual session, details TBD
  • –  Tuesday, Sept 21, 2021 from 6:00p.m.-7:00p.m. In-person session, details TBD
  • –  Thursday, Sept 30, 2021 from 6:00p.m.-7:00p.m. In-person session, details TBDI am excited to begin this shared journey with you. Please reach out as you have questions, and look for additional communication in the coming days.

    Additional Information:

    Health and Safety-The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted each one of us profoundly. Unfortunately, we are not past this pandemic but in a different phase of it. I know you are all eagerly awaiting communication on what the fall will look like. Please find Superintendent Fleishman’s August 11th communication about back to school here and please find our vaccine encouragement letter here. I know more Health and Safety information is also being presented this evening at the Newton School Committee meeting and you can expect to receive more health and safety updates in the coming days.

    School Council-The Newton South School Council is a representative school building-based committee comprised of teachers, parents, students and community members. The council advises the Principal on improvement plans and other issues of general interest. School Councils are required at schools pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 71, Section 59C. Please find the bylaws here.

If you are interested in participating in the NSHS school council please fill in your name and contact information here.

Follow me on twitter for updates on all the wonderful happenings at NSHS: @StrasPrincipal

Logistical Information-I also understand that all of you are eagerly anticipating important information and dates that pertain to the events for the upcoming school year. Please know that we are working diligently to solidify these dates and communicate this information with you as soon as possible. Please be on the lookout for an email from our new vice-principal with all the important logistical information that you and your child will need for a successful school year.

I cannot wait to see all your children on September 9, 2021, and am excited and energized for the halls of South to once again be filled with joy and laughter from our uniquely talented and capable students.

Go Lions!
Tamara (Tamii) Stras