Category Archives: From the Principal

Principal’s Letter 11/24/2021

Dear NSHS Community,

In the spirit of the season, I want to extend my sincere gratitude to the Newton South community. I have had the honor of working with you all for about half a year now, and every day, I am humbled by the privilege and responsibility that you entrust me with your children. In my first few months as principal, I have had some amazing experiences with our students! One of the highlights of my time here is interacting with three seniors on Denebocast. This was a unique opportunity that allowed me to connect with some of our Lions on something they are passionate about! This sentiment was also visible at the Three Musketeers play, the Girls’ Soccer State Tournament, all of the athletic events, and each classroom and club I have had the opportunity to visit so far. The best times of my day are when I interact with students during lunches, in the hallways or in classes. I want to emphasize how incredibly impressed I am with each and every one of your children. They have shown incredible resilience, ability to adapt at short notice, and tremendous patience. While our young people have certainly missed experiences over the past 18 months due to Covid, they have responded with grace, effort, and enthusiasm, so for this I am incredibly thankful. Our community has so much to offer, and I see the potential that fills these halls each and every day; it spills out onto our athletic fields, auditorium, and into our many extracurriculars. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work in a community where both excellence and equity are a throughline. I am looking forward to the challenge of ensuring all our students get the education they require to experience success as they navigate their post-secondary endeavors, while also being mindful and intentional of the negative impact that inequity and lack of access can have on all students. I cannot wait to continue working with all of you as we dive further into this year to create success for all our children. When I consider how to express my gratitude that so many contemplate at this point in the season, I have found the best answer involves keeping it simple. So with this in mind, I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to work with your community. Thank you for being supportive of each other through what continues to be a difficult time for many. Thank you for putting the education of our students first. Lastly, thank you for being supportive of myself, my administrative team, and my teachers as we continue to put the academic and social-emotional well-being of all students at the top of our priority list. There is always more work to be done and progress to be sought, but I am thankful and grateful beyond belief for you all. I hope you all have the chance to rest and recharge the next few days, and enjoy family company whether this is in person, FaceTime, or however it may look this year. Thank you all for your commitment to education and our young people, and persevering through a truly difficult time.

Go Lions!


Tamara (Tamii) Stras

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

Capitol Event Response from Principal Aronson

Dear Families,

This morning we gathered as a faculty to discuss the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. and how best to address all of our students’ varied needs and concerns.

As a school, we encouraged staff, at their discretion, to create a space for all of our students to share their thoughts and feelings regarding this event. In our history classes, teachers taught lessons putting the attack into historical context while providing a civics lesson. The South Human Rights Council also hosted open lunch forums for students and staff. As always, when significant events occur, counselors were available as a support for your students.

Here is a copy of a video that was shared with your students this afternoon.


Mark Aronson
NSHS Interim Principal

Outside of Class Work (OCW) Update

Good Evening Students and Families,

Below you will find a link to a slide presentation on outside of class work (OCW) that was shared with our staff on Wednesday. Hopefully by viewing the slides you will gain an understanding of our thought process, guiding principles and expectations as we move forward with OCW.

Enjoy the sunshine,
~ Mark Aronson, NSHS Interim Principal

Principal’s Message

I wanted you to know that I shared the following message with students and faculty today.


Dear Newton South students,

I am writing to share that yesterday the faculty of Newton South High School met, and committed to addressing and discussing with you the events unfolding in our country over the past several weeks.

Of course it’s not just the past several weeks. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are only the most recent Black Americans that we know of who were murdered, but their names are echoes of other names that we have heard over the years: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner… 

This is why we say, here and now, Black Lives Matter. It’s atrocious that we would need to, and yet vital that we do so.

This next paragraph is for those of you who do not understand why we are not saying “all lives matter.” I saw someone explain it this way – when a house is on fire, we don’t ask the fire department to pour water on every house on the block because all homes matter. We respond to the fire. We say “Black Lives Matter” because Black Americans are being killed and murdered in our country. It does not mean that White lives don’t matter. Being anti-racist is not the same thing as being anti-White.

Dr. Martin Luther King said: “a time comes when silence is betrayal.” In classes, we will be talking about not only what happened, but what we can do next. What you can do, and what we can do together. Dr. King also said “True peace is not merely absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Some of us may be tempted to want to move on if/when the images of violence and tension ebb from our media feeds. But Dr. King makes it clear that in order to have a community where all are free, we must actively pursue equity and justice for all of us.

We practice these concepts often in our school: whenever you put the team’s goals before your personal goals; whenever you consider the impact of your actions on others; whenever you stand up in support of what is right rather than remain silent and let it pass. Choosing Kindness, Listening First, Showing Respect, Taking Responsibility. We must now turn these skills into action: we must learn what it takes to build a fully anti-racist Newton South, so that you are ready to take these lessons to your communities after you graduate. It’s never been more clear: this is urgent. If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

So as you discuss and ponder what may be uncomfortable topics for you, remember that we all have a role to play, and that this work will never be over.  Being anti-racist is not a state of being, it is continually taking action.

Thank you, Newton South, for your energy, care, and attention. I know that you will rise to this occasion, as you have before.

As for me, I acknowledge that even these words are a product of who I am, and my experiences as a 51-year-old White male. My words here are not perfect, and they may never be, but I must not be silent – that much I know.

I am very proud to be principal of a school with such caring, thoughtful, and passionate students and adults.

My best,

Joel Stembridge


Updated Thursday/Friday Schedule

A quick note to let you know that due to feedback from students and teachers that the Thursday and Friday class meetings were not long enough, these times have been extended by 10 minutes. Class meetings on Thursday and Friday will be 30 minutes each starting this week, and will continue through June 18.  Tuesday and Wednesday meetings will continue as before.

Newton South High School

Updated Thursday/Friday Class Meet Schedule

Effective May 14 onward

Thursdays (All 1/3 Blocks) Fridays(All 2/4 Blocks)
10:00-10:30 A13 A24
10:40-11:10 B13 B24
11:20-11:50 C13 C24
12:00-12:30 D13 D24
12:30-1:15 Lunch
1:15-1:45 E13 E24
1:55-2:25 F13 F24
2:35-3:05 G13 G24


4.30.20 Message From Principal Stembridge

I am saddened and incredibly disappointed to share with you that today one of our biology classes experienced two virtual intruders during the middle of class. The teacher was able to remove the intruders, but not before the class was subjected to a verbal attack, including foul language and the use of the n-word. Our deans are investigating, and we have shared this information with the Newton Police Department and the ADL.

Our students say it better than I could: “One would hope that awful racist attacks on those we care for would end as we try and stand together against a pandemic. But people can be awful so here we find ourselves, bewildered, hurt.” I share their hurt.

In the aftermath of our last incident, we developed a NSHS human rights council to help us prevent and respond to incidents of hate, and I will be meeting with this group tomorrow to plan a response. We are also directing faculty to only allow into classrooms students who have authenticated their NSHS identification through the use of their NPS student gmail, a security protection that just came available for our use today.

These hateful attacks are an attempt to thwart the very things that we need more of right now: connection, understanding, grace. I applaud our students and faculty who once again are showing tremendous resilience in these challenging times.

As always, thank you for your partnership.


April 3 Update from Principal Stembridge

I hope you are well on this blustery Friday.

I shared the following message with NSHS students via Schoology today, and I’m sharing this with you so you can review this information with your NSHS student.

We will share additional information this weekend, including organizational ideas and tools.

As always, thank you for your partnership.

Best regards,

Joel Stembridge – Principal, Newton South High School



April 3, 2020

Hello Newton South students,

I hope you and your families are well, and that you were able to engage with some schoolwork and see many of your teachers and classmates online this week.

I also hope that you were able to read through Dr. Fleishman’s email and the NPS Long Distance Learning Plan document. It was very dense, with a lot of information. Below I will try to provide just the basics. We will be sharing additional information, including some organizational tools and strategies, this weekend.

I imagine that you have a ton of questions, and I hope that this document will answer some of them. The truth is that we don’t have answers to all of your questions. In fact, I don’t have answers to all of my questions either. We are making decisions as we go, and I am confident that some of the information below will change over time based on feedback from you and your teachers.

As we transition from enrichment options (phase I) to more structured learning (phase II), I ask that you keep the following in mind:

1) Our primary goal is to help you develop skills and connect with peers and your teachers. We are not replicating NSHS classes. This is different, and will feature different approaches and different types of learning. Give yourself permission to engage the best you can, and to grow into this new style of learning. Above all, STAY ENGAGED, keep trying, and communicate with us.

2) All of us have new normals. So do your teachers. They are trying things they have never tried. However you and they are feeling is a perfectly normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Be kind to yourself, to your peers, and your teachers (oh – and your family members too!).  We are all in this together.

3) This is a marathon, not a sprint. Think of Monday a bit like the first day of school. It will take some time to get used to the new environment. Some of you will feel very comfortable with this kind of learning. Others of you may struggle some at first. Again, keep trying, and keep communicating!

4)  Above all, know that we are trying to get this right for all of you, and that we care about each and every one of you. 

OK – here are some basic details about the structure of our work; your teachers will share details particular to your classes.

We will continue to operate on a weekly cycle: 

MONDAY – each of your teachers will share weekly work for their class on Monday, using a common template. The most important thing for you to do Monday, before you start any of the work, is to read through and understand what each teacher is asking you to do, and then to create a plan for yourself for the week. We will be providing some organizational help, if you need it, as well as some planning tools.

TUESDAY/WEDNESDAY – All teachers will provide “office hours” for their students, within the times on the chart below. Your teacher will notify you of the exact time that your section will be meeting, and will provide a link to the meeting. Some classes will have a specific 30 minute time frame where you will meet with your teacher and your classmates. Other classes will be offered pooled support from a group of teachers over a longer time period. Your teacher will let you know when you are expected.

TO BE CLEAR: you will not be online for the full two hours for each department – this is just the master schedule for the times within which your teacher will schedule the office hours for your class – your teacher will tell you exactly when you are expected.

                                             Tuesday                                                              Wednesday

9:00 – 11:00 Science Tech Engineering  English
11:00 – 1:00 Math World Language
1:00 – 3:00 Fine and Performing Arts History
3:00 – 5:00 Family&Consumer Science/Business PE Health Wellness


Class meetings – your teacher will share with you the link for the meeting. You are expected to attend. (Please note, Friday, April 10 is a holiday, and many teachers will be absent from school on Thursday, April 9. Teachers will share with you their plan for the week of April 6 on Monday)

Thursday Friday
10:00 – 10:20 A13 Block  A24 Block 
10:30 – 10:50 B13 Block  B24 Block 
11:00 – 11:20 C13 Block  C24 Block 
11:30 – 11:50 D13 Block  D24 Block
1:00 – 1:20 E13 Block  E24 Block 
1:30 – 1:50 F13 Block F24 Block 
2:00 – 2:20 G13 Block  G24 Block 

Credit and Grading

  • The goal is for students to receive full credit for the year; grading will support students, and will be accessible to all of our students.
  • There will be 3 grading periods for the year: Term 1, Term 2, and Term 3 (no Term 4).  Term 3 will cover the period from mid-January to the end of the school year.
  • T1 and T2 will have letter grades. T3 is Pass/Fail only.
  • Final Exams are cancelled.
  • Final Grade:  
    • Final grade is either a letter grade or P (pass), as below
    • If T3 grade is P, then final grade is average of T1 and T2, or P (student choice by class). 
    • If T3 grade is F and student passed T1 or T2, then final grade is P (no option for letter grade)
    • Teachers may consider major assignments and assessment grades from mid-January to March 12th (or make-up work for this period submitted after March 12th) in the students final grade if the grade helps the students overall grade.

April Break

As you may have heard from Dr. Fleishman’s email last night, or from classmates, April break has been cancelled, and the “snow days” that we used in March will be made up. We are doing this to provide continuity and momentum as we get started. (Seniors, please ignore this next sentence) I am confident that you would rather have those four days of summer back rather than being cooped up at home in April while physical distancing, right?)

End of Year Events (such as prom, graduation, semi, etc.)

We just don’t know. If we can figure out a way to hold them, we will hold them. We can plan for an event very quickly; it all depends on when the distancing guidelines are relaxed. For now, everything is postponed. As we get closer to these events we will hear your ideas and share our ideas for what is possible. Again, we are all in this together, and the adults want these events to happen every bit as much as you do!

Thank you for reading this far! I’m happy to answer questions that you may have. I’m looking forward to this next phase of Newton South. 

Again, I hope you and your family are well.

Best regards,

Mr. Stembridge

Principal, Newton South High School



Night Under the Stars – Online Auction

Due to the recent events, we are sadly unable to host the Night Under the Stars Gala that was intended to raise funds for the Help Light the Way campaign to purchase and install permanent lights on our sports complex.

We will still host the auction in an online-only format. 

People who have already purchased tickets to the event may either receive a full refund for the ticket price or convert ticket purchases into a donation towards the Help Light The Way fundraising campaign.

The online auction started Friday, March 13, 2020 and will run until Saturday, March 28, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.
Our goal is to raise $50,000 and we are confident that we can do so with your participation.
The following link will take you to the event platform where you can register for the auction and make donations. Please remember to log back in tomorrow!
We are also planning a large community celebration that will take place once the lights have been installed on the sports complex. More information will be sent out once a date has been finalized.
Please reach out directly to Bella Gelman and Penelope Nam-Stephen if you have specific questions.

Ghana Exchange Fundraiser

Please consider joining me this Thursday, February 27, at 6:30 in the NSHS auditorium to support NSHS’s inaugural exchange with a high school in Ghana!

This April a group of NSHS students will travel to Accra, Ghana, to participate in an exchange with the Tema International School (TIS).  Students will shadow counterparts at TIS and will participate in learning excursions with their Ghanaian hosts. Then, in October, we will proudly host a visiting group of students from TIS here in Newton.

In addition, our fundraising event will benefit Luke’s Lights, which you can read more about here:

Thank you for your support!