Hello Newton South!
It has been such a joy to welcome our students back to Newton South. We have begun the year with a palpable positive energy. Our 9th graders have gotten to know our building, and are learning the My-Flex Learning system for our “What-I-Need” or WIN blocks. Our 10th graders and 11th graders are reveling in being upper-class students and our seniors have already decorated Wheeler Commons (sometimes referred to as “Senior Commons”) with Class of 2023 spirit. Below, I also included a few other highlights and updates from our opening weeks so far.
Our student athletes began their year with Lions’ Pride Day on Friday, September 2nd. This day is an important tradition, wherein our student athletes learn about what it means to be a Newton South Lion. Athletic Director Pat Gonzalez, and many of our team captains led our newer athletes in team building exercises around our four core values: Choose Kindness, Listen First, Show Respect, and Take Responsibility.
As a school, we have begun our year’s work on social-emotional learning, excellence in instruction and equity of access to our curriculum. Below, I wanted to highlight some things that are underway.
Social Emotional Learning
As each class starts the year, teachers begin with a process of developing a healthy and welcoming learning community. This is essential for our students to feel comfortable taking academic risks and reaching for higher levels of academic growth as the year continues. This process takes many forms, and includes a classroom collaboration on setting the norms of engagement in the class; this is also one way in which we integrate our anti-bullying curriculum into classrooms in an age-appropriate manner. Students of all grades have also had grade-level meetings with their deans recently where they have been able to ask questions about the year ahead.
In WIN blocks, our flexible blocks that allow students to sign up independently for support and activities to meet their needs each week throughout the year, we have started the year off by pre-scheduling all of our students into some key orientation and team building activities. One of those activities is the first September edition of the House Cup, a friendly house-based competition wherein advisories earn points throughout the year by working together to complete a variety of challenges. Of course the house that wins also gets bragging rights and some year-end treats! (I’m not biased or anything, but I am compelled to mention that Cutler House was last year’s champion 😉
Our 9th graders spent one of their WIN blocks this week with all the deans learning about substance use and abuse and how it impacts school. This assembly is an important part of our health and wellness curriculum, and I am proud of the way that our students conducted themselves, by showing respect and asking good questions.
Continuing our work on social emotional learning, next week we will be hosting two separate WIN-block grade-level assemblies for the 9th and 10th graders on social media use and its impact on teen development. The 10th graders will also be meeting by house in smaller groups, including their deans, counselors, and advisory teachers to engage in a workshop on mental wellness and positive coping strategies. As we progress through these activities, we encourage you to ask your child about how they experienced these assemblies, and to reach out to your child’s dean or counselor if you have any questions or concerns.
South Human Rights Council
As a community, Newton Public Schools have always valued diversity, equity, and inclusion. At Newton South, the South Human Rights Council (SHRC) helps lead this work. In the past, they have collaborated with our staff and student affinity groups to support cultural days of awareness and celebrations. Last year, the SHRC, in partnership with other schools in Newton, hosted a No Place for Hate Walk that affirmed our commitment to this work. Importantly, the SHRC also partners with administration to respond to incidents of bias and racism when they occur.
Unfortunately, we did have an incident his past Saturday during the ninth grade football game. Someone from a different school community directed an anti-Asian slur at one of our student athletes. Our student told his coach immediately, and swift action was taken by Athletic Director Pat Gonzalez. The adults from the other community were equally appalled at the behavior, took steps to hold their student accountable and to repair with the Newton South community in the moment. I was impressed with the actions taken by our students and the members of our athletic department. I was also appreciative of the way in which the other community addressed this incident and took immediate steps to hold their students accountable. Unfortunately, incidents like these will happen; however, I am heartened to be part of a community that does not stay silent when they do. I plan to continue partnering with the leaders of the SHRC and others in our school community, to respond to this incident and any act that violates our community values.
The New Attendance Standard
The deans have been hard at work answering your questions and students’ questions on our new attendance standard. I want to acknowledge that there are a wide variety of opinions on this pilot process. We have also recently become aware that there is some misinformation out there. To that end, we have prepared this FAQ on attendance to help address some of the questions that we have heard.
Many of you have quietly mentioned to us that you are appreciative of the clarity and boundaries that this standard is providing to your adolescents – that the policy is reminding them that class attendance is essential to learning. Some of you have also commented that the new attendance standard is helping to reset the students’ mindset after the pandemic changed school dynamics for the past few years. Others of you have expressed concern that this standard will unfairly impact students who are sick or get COVID. I want to assure you that we are using this policy to get kids to class – not to unwittingly punish kids for necessary illness-necessitated or religious absences. As always, we will work with you on issues that arise going forward. We will also be collecting data along the way, and bringing that back to the attendance committee so that they can consider any unintended consequences as we move through implementation. We appreciate your feedback and patience as this progresses.
We enjoyed seeing many of you last night at Back-to-School Night. It was wonderful to, once again, be in person. It was great to feel that energy again, and I am looking forward to our continued partnership in support of all of our students.