Monday, March 2, 2015

Principal Notes
February 27, 2015
By Douglas Lyons

Today is the 104th day of the school year.  It now looks like we will be getting out of school on June 25th, unless there are additional snow days.  We just completed our first full week of school in a month.  It feels good to have less snow and be back to work with students.  With the additional snow days, we will be moving our third quarter progress reports and reports cards out a week.  The new dates are: Progress Reports 03/11, Third Quarter grades close 04/10, and Report Cards posted to Edline on 04/16.  If you have any questions about the calendar and upcoming events, please refer to the Weekly Preview or drop a note to Brendan Norton or me at brendan.norton@reading.k12.ma.us or douglas.lyons@reading.k12.ms.us.         


The 2014-2015 Heroes Among Us Assembly

On Friday, January 30, 2015, Ms. Cristi and student leaders at Parker Middle School presented the fifth annual Parker Hero’s Among Us Awardto Ned Coltman.  What makes this award special is that students decide who is most deserving in the community to receive the award.  The award was created by the Parker Student Leaders to recognize a person (or persons) in the community who they think makes a difference in the Parker and Reading community.  The difference can be an act of service or simply a decision in their life that made a positive impact on others.     

The presentation of the Heroes Among Us Award this year was terrific; student leaders interviewed Ned Coltman, wrote their own speeches, and co-planned the entire event.  Mrs. Cristi coached and guided students through the preparation and her efforts clearly paid off based on how the students performed, they even surprised themselves.  It is great to have Ned Coltman (Parker Alum) a recent graduate of Tufts University back to receive this honor.  Ned Coltman was chosen by students this year for his efforts to enact change in the Scouts organization and their practice of excluding people.  Ned participated in scouting and believes deeply in the values of the organization, but really felt like the organization needed to be more open.  As a protest,  Ned rescinded his affiliation with the scout’s organization and returned his badges, including his prestigious Eagle award.  Due to the organized protest of Ned and other scouts, the scout organization is now more open to all people who want to participate. 

Ned’s inspiring speech and challenge to students focused on social justice and inclusion.  Ned challenged students to “…reach out to include another student who may not be part of your friends group, who may be alone at lunch or in classes…”  Additionally, he asked students if they have recognized when someone has reached out to include another student to back them up…nice words indeed!   Special thanks to student leaders and Mrs. Cristi for a memorable presentation. 








Parker 8th Graders in Cost Rica

This year, twenty 8th graders made the trek to Costa Rica.  The week was filled with activities that included white water rafting, a trip to Arenal and the Poás Volcano, an outing to an organic farm, and a walk in the Monteverde Cloud forest Reserve.  The highlight of the trip, according to our students, was a stop at a local elementary school where students visited students and teachers.  As part of Eco Club, the Parker students presented a gift to the school donating school supplies for students.   




Students used technology to chronicle their trip on the Parker in Costa Rica blog which can be found at: http://parkerincostarica.blogspot.com/.  An excerpt from the Parker Costa Rica blog is below.  The reflections of students are often heart felt and inspiring… worth a look.


Ava R.


“It blows my mind that today is the last day of this unique and inspiring trip. This week has definitely been a life changing experience, from the dancing and the singing night at a mountain top restaurant to the thrilling ride down a crazy rive ... What was also so new to me was seeing and hearing Spanish wherever you go. Which gave us a bit of a game of trying to translate and talk to others in Spanish. On Sunday one of the first days we were out in public at a store, alike to target I remember us spotting candy and going up to the cashier to buy it. But by the time we were up there the lady only spoke Spanish and on the screen the amount was in colónes. So we had at least ten kids surrounding her trying to figure out what she was saying and how much it was in American dollars. That after about five minutes of attempting we just had to put away the candy and meet up with the adults. But today I definitely believe we have all improved greatly in Spanish because we had to adapt or it would have been more than difficult to get around. This experience was rough at some points but I know that I will always remember this amazing trip.” 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Principal Notes
by Brendan Norton

It has been a busy few weeks since our return from Winter Vacation, with three separate events in the first week alone.  The annual Parent Visitation Day, on January 8th, was a remarkable success, 223 parents came into the building to visit their children’s classes and hopefully left better sense of what is it is like being a student at Parker Middle School.  In addition to Parent Visitation Day, twenty-nine 8th grade girls were invited to UMass Lowell for a Health and Fitness Informational day that ended with a UMass Lowell Women’s Basketball game.  The girls who went on the field trip had a wonderful experience.


On Friday January 9th, students returned to homerooms to complete a peer led core values activity. The peer leaders were members of our A World of Difference Group and our Parker Leadership and Service group .  The activity, called “footprints,”  asked student to write about a time when they had stood up for someone else or when they had witnessed someone standing up for another person.  Students wrote about these experiences inside of a footprint cut out which were then displayed in the performing arts center at the high school during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. 

                The following week a group of sixth grade Parker Leadership and Service students visited Lasell College for a conference. This conference was a part of the MIAA You Lead campaign for teaching students how to be leaders in creating a culture against teen drug and alcohol use.  Students returned from this trip eager to meet with me and discuss how they could share their experience with the rest of the school. Friday was a “Patriots” day with students coming to school in their New England Patriots gear.  This clearly had a significant impact on the outcome of the game, so students should be prepared to come to school decked out again on the 30th.   We also had our annual school wide Geography Bee last Friday.  It was a very close contest this year with 7th grader Nicole Boyer winning for the 2nd year in a row. 


As we move to the end of January and into February we are planning several events lead by our Parker Leadership and Service members including, Hoops for Hearts, Pennies for Patients, and the Shriners Can Top Drive.  Please look out for information about these events in the coming weeks.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pictures of the Week

Abe and Antonio looking very sharp before the Winter Concert
Mrs. Martinson' students working on poems  connected to Tuck Everlasting


Principal Notes
December 18, 2014

First, we want to thank parents and the community for supporting our efforts to teach and support your children at the middle level.  We are grateful for your trust, guidance, and feedback.  To parents and families, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  Best wishes to you and your families in the New Year.  As always if you have questions or we can help with anything please drop us a note. 

A snapshot of English Language Arts in grade 7…

Our seventh grade students are finishing up the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol.  The entire seventh grade from Parker and Coolidge attended the musical at the North Shore Music Theatre yesterday.  The language and the themes in the original work that the students are reading present some challenges.  Most of our seventh graders are focusing on close reading to fully capture the central ideas and supporting details in the text.  Most students know the story line and have seen one of the many movie versions of the story, but to see and hear student’s read and reread to make meaning of the text is exciting.  To see them make connections to the themes of kindness and community and connect to opportunities to practice these values are exceedingly very nice to watch play out.  The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future still capture our thinking about the possibility and power of change.  Students and teachers seem to be genuinely engaged and learning with and from one another as they work through this wonderful story.             

Two of our groups attending "A Christmas Carol" on Wednesday, 12/17/2014

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and A World of Difference Program
The ADL, a leader in anti-bias education, was here at Parker working with a cohort of thirty six student leaders as part of our World of Difference Program.  The two-day training led by a facilitator from the ADL is designed to help students: recognize bias and the harm it inflicts on individuals and society, build understanding of the value and benefits of diversity, improve intergroup relations, and most importantly confront racism, anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry.  This training comes at an ideal time for us here at Parker, as some of you may know or have read my recent e-mail that reported an incident of graffiti in one of our student bathrooms.  In the process of our collaborative work interviewing students to find out more about the graffiti, it is clear that we need to do some meaningful work with our students in how they talk to and refer to their classmates and friends.  Some students give little thought to using words that are derogatory, and in some instances simply intimidating.  With the help of our faculty coordinators, Julie Merrill and Taylor Moroso, we are planning an all school Core Values activity in January. 



  

Student Leaders Participating in ADL Training

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Principal Notes
11/24/2014

The Thanksgiving Break starts this Wednesday, 11/26.  Students are dismissed at 11:00 a.m. and are certainly looking forward to the time off.  Mr. Goldstein and a group of volunteer students have taken what was our traditional food drive for the Reading Food Pantry before the Thanksgiving break, and has reenergized the entire school community with a hat-day and a homeroom challenge to increase the amount of food brought into Parker.  The challenge has not only reenergized students and teachers but has reminded us that that many of our students and their families not only donate, but benefit from the effort and services of the Reading Food Pantry.  In a season when we are all seemingly more busy than we ever have been, the need to support our students and their families has never been greater.  If you have an opportunity, we would encourage and be grateful if you would support the Reading Food Pantry, located at the Old Methodist Church, on Salem Street, open on Mondays 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. and Fridays 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.  If you are interested in visiting or finding out more about the Food Pantry please contact Kerry Valle at 781.942.6659.  Thank you all for the help and support and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!      

Antonio and Finn bringing donations to the Reading Food Pantry
Grade 6 Students Finn and Antonio make a delivery to the Reading Food Pantry
There are too many students, parents, and teachers to thank who have participated in our food drive.  But special thanks need to go to Eric Goldstein, Chris Copeland and Vonda Gauthier, as well as all of the student volunteers who participated in this service opportunity.


The Festival of Trees – December 6th and 7th, 2014
The Reading Education Foundation (REF) has graciously invited all members of the community to attend this year’s Festival of Trees.  The Festival of Trees has become a tradition that is fun for all members of the family.  It is also a great place to catch up with friends and members of the community.  Parker teachers will be donating trees and always comment that during the setup they enjoy seeing former Parker students, some at the high school, others home from college and just jumping in to help out.  The two-day fundraiser has become a significant part of the REF fundraising efforts and directly benefits all of the schools.  If you are interested in finding out more please check out http://readingef.org/ .



Monday, October 6, 2014

Principal Notes

We would like to welcome students and families back to school.  Mr. Norton and I have been preparing for students to return through July and August and always feel a sense of accomplishment and calm when students finally arrive.  The building is a better place with students here participating in their leaning.  In addition to welcoming you back to school, as we progress though the year, if there is anything that you have a question about or we can assist in any way please do not hesitate to be in touch.  Our e-mail addresses are douglas.lyons@reading.k12.ma.us and brendan.norton@reading.k12.ma.us .

New Faculty Joining Parker in 2014
We had a few positions to hire for this past spring and summer as we have had a retirement, and some moves that have created some openings.  We have been fortunate in hiring sixth grade science teacher, Matthew Williams.  Matthew is a Parker/RMHS Alum and has been teaching fifth grade in Melrose for the last nine years.  He is a graduate of Curry College and Fitchburg State University.  If you would like to welcome Matthew back to the Parker community his e-mail address is matthew.williams@reading.k12.ma.us.   We welcome Ann Rose who will be a substitute for Mrs. Favazza, who is out on leave.  Ann is a graduate of Holy Cross and the University of South Carolina.  If you would like to be in touch with Mrs. Rose, her e-mail is ann.rose@reading.k12.ma.us.

Caitlin Carter - 8th Grade Special Education Teacher

We also welcome 8th grade special education teacher, Caitlin Carter.  Caitlin has been teaching for the last few years at the Dr. Franklin Perkins School in Lancaster, Massachusetts.  She has experience in elementary and middle school, special education and counseling.  Caitlin is a graduate of Boston University and Salem State University. 



We also welcome paraeducators, David Hart and Kristin Mahoney.  They will be working in the seventh and eight grades.  David Hart, is a substitue for Peter Dolan this fall.  Mr. Hart recently returnd to the U.S. after teaching at the international school UCSI in Malaysia, and will be working on his Massachusetts teacher certification this fall.  Kristin Mahoney has several years experience working working in special education at the Mary Lyon School, in Brighton.  Ms. Mahoney will also be working on her Special Education and Humanities teacher certification this year.  We are fortunate to have such accomplished new faculty.    

Teachers Teaming and Taking on the Marshmallow Challenge

We opened school this year focusing on the theme of relationships and core values.  The focus on relationships is simple, we feel teaching and learning is relational work.  If we are able to learn about our students as young people, engage them in what they are thinking and presenting to us in the form of work, we will have the best opportunity possible to be effective teachers.  Our core values of Kindness, Community and Personal Best guide us here at Parker in this work.

To get off on the best foot and to put teachers in the position that students are in as learners, staff participated in the “Marshmallow Challenge” at the close of the two professional days to start the school year.  The challenge requires teams to create a free standing structure, with a fixed amount of resources, in a fixed amount of time.  The structure must support a marshmallow at the top of the structure.  I know it sounds easy, but really isn’t. The fun part is watching highly effective, professional teachers struggle to communicate, develop a plan and execute that plan.  The take-aways are many, but in hearing from teachers in the debrief, it was clear that they were thinking and talking more about how this process relates to the learning process and also to activities that teachers are asking students to participate in, in their classes.  The process was a great way to end our professional days and to remind teachers of how challenging teaching and learning can be.   
  




This design-build activity is an actual activity that is done in professional groups around the world.  If you are interested in finding out more or seeing this process in action check out http://marshmallowchallenge.com/TED_Talk.html.   

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Principal Notes
03/12/2014

Grit – The New Word

The new word in Education that is being used and studied in education research centers all over country is “Grit.”  The word is often used to describe a student’s ability to sustain effort and attention over time, to persevere, to achieve a goal.  Or in the case of teaching and learning, the ability for students to participate actively in an engaged manner that requires that they extend themselves, persevere, and learn to work through challenges in their classes.  You may read this and think, OK, what’s new here? This is common sense…I would argue that what may present as common sense is not always common.  Students sometimes have difficulty staying engaged when things do not make sense quickly.  There is a fine line between challenging a student in their learning, and overwhelming them so they become disengaged.  We see this in classes when students are unsure, due to a lack of experience, confidence or sometimes readiness, they pull back or disengage.  Which raises the questions: Can you teach grit?  Or can you teach students to develop the skills and experiences that will allow them to persevere, to work through challenges.  We think yes!  But it takes time for teachers to learn about the students in their classes and to also gage what is challenging and what is too much.  This takes great skill, a problem that is challenging to one student is not always challenging to another.  Our teachers often know how to provide feedback that is measured, and just right for each student to keep them engaged. 

To do this effectively, we also need to change how we (students included) think about failure as a critical part of the learning process.  Failure is not an end point in the learning process, but rather a formative feedback point to think about what you could have done to get a different result. Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, writes: “..People who have a growth mindset...view struggle or failure as a natural part of the learning process and an opportunity to improve.” 

A critical point here is that teaching students to persevere or to have “grit” takes time and an attention and understanding of how students learn.  This is a difficult undertaking as all students learn differently and have different thresholds on which to be challenged.  Most importantly, these ideas and research in education highlight the fact that there is no quick path or “magic potion” to high achievement; it takes time and a commitment to the work of challenging while supporting students in their learning.  I think we are on the right track and committed to learning about learners.          



United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan visits Reading
I had a moment to reflect on the opportunity we had to meet with the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  I believe the opportunity came about because of the collaborative work we are doing around teacher evaluation, the new Massachusetts State curriculum frameworks as well as our work on District Determined Measures (DDM’s).  The fact is that all districts are in this space in some way, shape or form, but few have the relationships and the level of trust between students, teachers, administrators and the parent community that we have here in Reading.

Paul Toner, the Massachusetts Teacher Association, President, commented and then asked, “…I would love to be able to bottle what you have here.  What is the district’s secret to this collaboration and trust? …”  This is a difficult question, one that researchers and policy makers are searching for, in the hope that they can “fix” school cultures, and replicate structures and outcomes.  Dr. Doherty was most gracious communicating to our guests that our success is due to the work that happens at the school and community levels. 

It was an exciting day one that I won’t soon forget. I was very proud to be a part of this roundtable discussion and especially to represent Parker and the hard work of our teachers. 

After our meeting Secretary Duncan Tweeted:
         
Arne Duncan @arneduncan 

MS student in Reading MA on transition to higher stndrds,"I'm learning more frm peers than frm teacher & I've never understood math so well"

Administration, union, principals & teachers in Reading, MA have built a culture of trust and collaboration other districts can learn from.


Education Fellowship and Learning more about Leadership
As part of the Massachusetts Educational Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP); I and a group of EPFP Fellows attended meetings the week before last at the State House where we met with the co-chairs, Representative Peisch and Senator Chang-Diaz, of the Joint Committee on Education.  The co-chairs shared how they balance staying true to their ideals while representing the values of the people in the communities that elected them.  Representative Peisch was clear in letting us know that each bill put forth has merit, but significant research is done before legislators make decisions or cast votes.  She also added that collaboration and compromise are critical skills, and it is not about charting wins and losses, but more about making decisions that can serve and help students, teachers, schools and communities.  The meeting was a great opportunity to learn about education policy, education leadership, compromise and the pragmatic skill that it takes to be a legislator.   


The DA’s Office and Internet Safety

On March 6th, we were fortunate to have Assistant District Attorney, David Solet come to Parker to talk to students about internet safety.  His message was clear, the internet and social media apps are amazing tools that helps us in so many ways; the virtual world is a space for people to learn and to connect over all sort of interests.  He cautioned that it is also a place where you need to be careful and protect yourself.  ADA Solet shared practical ways that students can keep themselves and their identity private while on-line.  We welcome all parents, from the middle and high schools to come to Parker on March 27th at 7:00 p.m. to hear ADA Solet do a follow-up presentation for parents.  If you have any questions about the presentation please drop a note.