Category Archives: From the Principal

April Update 2022

Dear NSHS Community,

As we enter into April break, I wanted to reach out and provide some updates on the happenings at South over the past couple months. As we enter into the spring months, we begin to look forward to what next school year brings and how we plan for it. This happens in parallel with some of the amazing experiences our students have been participating in within our community that I have been lucky enough to share and experience with them!

Incident Updates:

As you all know, the month of March was particularly difficult for the Lion community as we had multiple acts of hate and harassment. Fortunately, our last act of hate ended with us finding the perpetrator, and consequencing that student appropriately. The investigation into the first two acts of hate, however, remains ongoing. I urge you to speak with your student, and for them to come forward if they have any knowledge that could help assist our deans in these investigations. In addition, the incident in the weightroom is close to being concluded; all directly connected parties will be contacted with the appropriate findings. Consequences will also be issued where necessary. I want to thank you all for your patience and trust in our process to ensure that South is a safe and welcoming place for all.

I am especially grateful to all community members who have reached out in support, and have offered resources and time as we continue to educate our students. I would like to extend a special thank you to the Israeli American Council, the Lappin Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League and various other allies including local rabbis. I am grateful for our South Human Rights Council, our Jewish Student Union, our Jewish Staff Affinity Group, and all our faculty and students for their support in helping us through this difficult time.

I truly believe that this partnership between the school and community is what strengthens us and makes us better than we were yesterday.

Budget Updates:

The budget for next year has been a shared concern over recent weeks. As many of you are aware, the school committee approved a budget that does have cuts after much discussion and negotiation. While I understand the idea of budget cuts is a distressing one, I assure you we will continue to provide top notch education and programs to continue with our goals of equity and excellence for all. We will have some cuts to make based on enrollment projections, but they will not be as painful as previously thought, and will be shouldered by larger departments to ensure that these cuts will bring little impact to your student’s South experience. Class sizes will be

similar to this year, and most courses will have the ability to run. Each department will consider student interest data, and will decide which courses in their department run based on this data. I am once again incredibly thankful for the advocacy that you, as a community, have shown on behalf of our school department, as well as the advocacy by the Newton Teachers Association and the district as a whole. This is a prime example of a partnership that works together to ensure that all students receive the quality of education that they deserve.

Culture Updates:

While South has seen some challenging times over the past few weeks, it brings me joy to highlight some amazing things that your students have been engaging in within the building! Tertulia, the annual Newton South student talent show, took place on Thursday April 7th. Always among the most fun and spirited days of the year, Tertulia was originally founded more than twenty years ago in honor of Newton South student Maxine Celeste Chansky. Over the years, it was led by the inspiring stewardship of emeritus NSHS World Language teacher Viviana Planine. This year, Tertulia ran all four blocks of the day in the Van Seasholes Auditorium, with over 150 student performers! The vast diversity of our school community was on display: everything from Indian dances to punk bands, improv comedy to hip-hop, and classical piano to martial arts. Together, we celebrated our school and the renewal of spirit through the return of this important South tradition to the stage!

In addition to our annual showcase of talent, our wonderful Asian Students Organization (ASO) also showcased their talent on Friday night at a well-attended and delightful event. Asian Night is an annual event hosted by the ASO with student performances celebrating both traditional and modern Asian cultures, dance, music, martial arts, and fashion. We have held Asian Night every year in the spring since 2003! It was so exciting to bring back Asian Night live this past Friday evening! Asian Night proceeds are donated annually to worthy AAPI organizations supporting the local Asian American Pacific Islander community. This year’s proceeds will go to Boston Asian YES , an organization that provides direct services to youth whose lifestyles, personal, and family situations have put them in high-risk situations. They strive to employ youth with knowledge, skills, values, resources, and opportunities through supportive peer and adult training mentorship.

In the month of March, we had the pleasure of hosting our first fully in-person events in quite some time: the grade eight parent night and grade eight sports night. Both events were very well attended with over a thousand members of our South community! These events are pivotal for our rising ninth graders, and ensure they are part of our vivacious community. In addition, our athletics department hosted their spring Lions Pride day to welcome all spring athletes and guide them through team building activities. This event truly highlights what it means to be a student

athlete at South! I also had the pleasure of attending the 47th annual Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) conference where our Athletic Director, Patricia Gonzalez, was recognized for her work around unified sports. South was asked to highlight this during this conference! Mrs. Gonzalez, the co-chair of the MIAA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, presented the history of our teams, underscoring the initiative of our students and the support of our school and our district to open sports experiences for all our students with the presentation “When Inclusion is Real, Unified Programs at NSHS”. Included in the presentation was the role of Lions Pride Day, ninth grade workshops and our coaches professional development in creating the foundation of an equitable and inclusive environment. The connection between the Special Education programs, the Unified Theater options, Dreamfar and athletics as a conduit for inclusion made our school a recipient of the National Banner. We are truly lucky to have an incredible Athletic Director who is committed to excellence, inclusion, and equity in sports for all of our South students.

All of these events occurred simultaneously with school, of course! Our students continued their learning and engaging with challenges in their classes. Every day I am impressed by what our students are capable of, and what they have and continue to accomplish. I am thankful to work in a community that encourages students to think and be independent in their decision-making skills.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy update and I wish you all relaxation and good health over April break!

Sincerely,
Tamara (Tamii) Stras

Update to yesterdays communication from Principal Stras

Dear NSHS Community,

 

I want to follow up on my communication regarding the image of the swastika found in the lobby of the field house bathroom at South yesterday. We have completed our investigation and have determined how it happened. While I cannot share the details of the investigation, I can assure you that appropriate consequences and corrective actions are in process for the individual responsible. I can also share with you that this incident is not connected to the antisemtic slur found last week, which is still under investigation. We have shared all of this information with the Newton Police and we are currently working with the Anti-Defamation League. 

 

As you know, we take these incidents very seriously and are now focused on helping the community heal and move forward. Not every student knows or understands the very real and harmful impact the image of a swastika has for members of our school community. As a result, we are working with the Jewish Student Union on a responsive lesson to be shown during advisory in the next few weeks. In addition, we will continue to utilize supports here in the building through our South Human Rights Council.

 

I am so thankful for all the supportive emails and additional resources we have received over the past few weeks. Your partnership with the school and making this an inclusive and safe community is truly appreciated. We will continue to work together to help students learn so we can honor and celebrate each other and come together in solidarity.

 

Sincerely,

Tamara (Tamii) Stras

Incident at South March 28, 2022

Dear NSHS Community,

 

I wish that I was writing with better news. I am devastated to share that we found a set of swastikas drawn on a toilet seat in our boys’ bathroom located in the Field House lobby. As you know, this is the second incident of antisemitism in as many weeks. I cannot express the anger and frustration that we all feel.

 

As always, we are conducting a full investigation using our Non-Discrimination protocol. We have also contacted the Newton Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League to ask for their assistance.

 

We will continue to offer space during our Advisory block on Monday, as well as during WIN blocks throughout the week for students to process this incident. Our South Human Rights Council, in conjunction with our Jewish Staff Affinity Group and the Jewish Student Union, will be taking the lead in facilitating this work. We will share more specific information about these opportunities with students and staff in the coming days.

 

I want to assure you that we as a school and district are deeply dedicated to addressing issues of hate and discrimination and to educating our students to stand up against hate. To that end, an important part of our 10th grade History curriculum is Holocaust and antisemitism education. We are also engaging with the Lappin Foundation, who will be helping us to deliver a five-week Holocaust Symposium during some upcoming WIN blocks. All students are welcome to sign up.

 

I know today’s news is quite upsetting, and it saddens and angers me to have to even communicate this information. In fact, before sending this, I paused, because I do not want these emails to desensitize us. However, I decided to bring this to the forefront because I believe that we must actively call out hate in all its forms, in order to work towards an inclusive environment where everyone is welcome.

 

A few of you contacted me last week to extend your support, and I deeply appreciate it. I am counting on your partnership as we continue to work through this; if you so choose, please check in with your South student about what happened and reinforce the ongoing negative impact of antisemetic and hateful symbols on our community and the world. We will do the same. I will continue to keep you informed, as I am able, as we move through our process.

 

Sincerely,

 

Principal

Tamara (Tamii) Stras

On Friday March 18

Good Afternoon NSHS Community,

 

On Friday March 18, in conjunction with faculty, our Gender Equity Club is holding a ‘white shirt’ day. Our student leaders in this club are encouraging South students and staff to wear white. I plan on wearing white to support the cause of gender equity. I am proud of these student leaders and their efforts. This event is particularly timely given recent concerns that have been raised by students about gender equity and harassment. The students organizing this intend for this to be a time to express solidarity.

 

I am also aware that some students within the South community have planned a peaceful walkout for tomorrow afternoon during school hours. In speaking with one of the student organizers, their goal is a peaceful walkout from the building for the purpose of empowerment. While this event is not organized or sanctioned by the school, I understand that some students may choose to walk out of their classes and onto the school fields during F block.

 

Please know that the students anticipate a large crowd. To ensure the safety of all, the Newton Police Department has been notified and will be present, as well as administrators and other faculty members. I also encourage you to have a conversation centered around safety in large crowds with your child should they choose to participate in the walkout.

 

Our students continue to inspire us with their activism and enthusiasm for social justice. We are proud to work with and learn from young people who care about being better citizens in this world.

 

Sincerely,

 

Tamara (Tamii) Stras

Incident at South March 16, 2022

Good Evening South Community,

 

Unfortunately, I write to report to you a disturbing incident that has occurred here at South. At 4:00 p.m. today, a student brought to our attention that there was toilet paper hanging in the shape of a noose in a stall in one of our boys’ bathrooms. We want to acknowledge the responsibility of the student who was thoughtful enough to bring this to an administrator, who then immediately removed it.

 

Our administrative team has launched an investigation and is currently reviewing camera footage. We encourage any student who has information to contact their dean, counselor, or another trusted adult. We notified the Newton Police Department of this possible hate incident as soon as it was reported to us. Our investigation will also consider the possibility that it could be a student who is reaching out for mental health support. We will continue to follow all possible leads as we investigate this incident.

 

This is extremely upsetting, to say the least, and comes at a time when our community is working diligently to address issues of discrimination, harassment, and hate. We stand firm against acts like these that are harmful to the entire community and reiterate our commitment to be a safe and welcoming place for all students.

 

We ask families to have conversations with your children about the impact and historical context of this imagery, as a noose is one of the most powerful symbols of hate against the African American community. In addition, I also worry that a student may be reaching out for help. Please have open and honest conversations about these extremely important issues with your children. We are working with our Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for support and will engage our South Human Rights Council to create opportunities to process and heal. We will share more information as appropriate with students and families in the coming days. 

 

Sincerely,

 

Tamara (Tamii) Stras

Hate Incident at South

Dear NSHS Community,

At the end of the school day today, we found a swastika carved into a wrestling mat that was located in our gym. This symbol of hate is tremendously upsetting, a day after International Holocaust Rememberance Day and on the heels of the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas. I know some members of our community are also aware that two swastikas were found in the boys bathroom at Brown Middle School earlier this week. We recognize the pain and suffering that this image represents and invokes and I am horrified that this happened in our school community.

We have contacted the Newton Police Department and are conducting a full investigation. We take this incident very seriously and are following all of our established protocols and procedures.

In addition, we will be offering spaces for students and adults to process this incident through our advisory block on Monday as well as our WIN blocks throughout the week. Our South Human Rights Council, in conjunction with our Jewish Staff Affinity Group, will be taking the lead in facilitating this work. We will share more specific information about these opportunities with students and staff.

I want to assure you that we as a school and district are deeply committed to addressing issues of hate and discrimination. I know this act of anti-semitism is quite upsetting, and it saddens and angers me to have to even communicate this news. I am confident our South community will come together during this difficult time and hold steadfast in our values of listening first, showing respect, taking responsibility and most of all choosing kindness.

Sincerely,

Tamara Stras Principal

Letter from the Principal January 21, 2022

Dear Newton South Community,

 

As we head into the weekend, I am thinking of our Jewish families and students, as some of you may be returning to synagogues for the first time since the horrific events in Colleyville, Texas last weekend. We all deserve a chance to worship freely without fear, and we want you to know that we stand with you and are here for you.

 

It is not lost on us that these awful events serve as another reminder of the increased antisemitism that is happening worldwide and across the United States. We recognize how important it is for us to remember the needs of our Jewish students, staff, and community members during this moment. To that end, earlier in the week the Newton South Human Rights Council provided resources for educators to work with students to discuss this event and the rise of antisemitism more generally.

 

We stand with you, and offer thoughts of peace, strength, support and compassion. If any student would benefit from additional support, we encourage them to connect with their guidance counselors and deans.

 

Sincerely,

Tamara Stras

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!

Sincerely,

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.

Best,

Mark Aronson
NSHS Interim Principal