Category Archives: From the Principal

Friday, September 16, 2022

 

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.

 

The Aleksander Xhoja Band, including Aleksander Xhoja, Jude Seiner and Ben Pistiner from the NSHS Class of 2023 did an amazing job playing on August 31st during the Superintendent’s Opening Meeting for NPS staff. Their music welcomed all of Newton’s educators back to school!

 

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.

 

The Girls Varsity Soccer Team has just been honored in an articleby TeamUp4Community, an organization that works with the MIAA to promote social responsibility and community giveback through athletics.

 

Our 9th grade play has also begun recruiting. Check out some of their efforts here!

 

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.

Respectfully,

Josepha Blocker

Acting Principal

Principal Stras

Newton South Families and Community:

I hope you all are having a great, well-deserved, restful summer! Please see the attached announcement from Principal Stras – she and her husband are excited about the new addition to their family!

As a reminder, Principal Stras is currently on maternity leave and plans to return on November 1, 2022. Josepha Blocker will be Acting Principal during this leave, and she and I will have more updates for you regarding the opening of school in the coming weeks.

For now,  enjoy your summer and you will be hearing from us soon!

Sincerely,

Jason Williams (he/him/his)
Vice Principal
Newton South High School
140 Brandeis Road
Newton, MA 02459
617-559-6700

Birth Announcement & August Update from Principal Stras

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