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

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 .

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 and .

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   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

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   

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Principal Notes

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.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Principal Notes

January, February and Snow Days…
The second quarter is in the books, report cards have been uploaded to Edline and Progress Reports are due out on March 4th.  Teachers have been administering the second half of their District Determined Measure (DDM) assessments; the administrators are getting ready for MCAS and the PARCC Pilot; and we could have a snow day…again?  I know most kids love snow days and teachers do as well.  But we are not so excited when it comes time to making up the day in June.  We are feeling ready for the warm weather.     

5 school days until… High School Musical Jr.
The cars have been lined up in the evening at Parker to pick up the cast and crew members from rehearsals.  We are so excited for the show, it seems like there is higher demand for tickets this year than in years past.  I don’t know if it is due to the familiarity of the show, or the fact that students are having so much fun preparing.  Either way, you will see a lot of familiar faces at the upcoming shows.    

Cyber Safety
We have always worked to communicate and reach out to the Parker parent community, not to alarm, but to keep you all informed about what we are seeing at the middle level.  In the past months, we have seen an increase in the use of social media sites and aps that we think are difficult to monitor, and may be unsafe.  The sites are, Snap-Chat, Kik and Vine., often confused by adults as the site, the two sites are very different products. is a virtual question/survey space that allows followers (or students in our case) to ask any question with complete anonymity.  Students can log onto anyone’s site and make a comment, or start a chain reaction of comments that are often very hurtful. 

We have seen instances like, student Jane Doe has a run in with a friend and gets onto and writes “OMG I so hate …”  this post has no name attached to it and it allows for readers of the post to also log-in and make a comment.  By the time Jane Doe’s friend gets to school the following day, there could be 40 comments that are considerably less than kind or helpful.  This makes learning very difficult while a student is trying to deal with this public provocation and Jane Doe could be facing a school consequence (or worse).  This is obviously a simplified version of how technology can be used in a way to hurt another student.  We would encourage you to look on the web to find out more about 

Snap-Chat is a photo messaging application that allows students to send pictures and text that can be viewed for a few seconds until the picture and message pixilate and disappear, giving the person viewing the message the impression that the picture and text are gone forever.  We have seen students using this ap, that is sending or receiving pictures/text, taking chances that they wouldn’t normally take because they believe what the send or see disappears and there is no evidence.  This is not the case of course, but student’s behavior certainly indicates that they think it is completely anonymous. 

Kik is a messaging ap and Vine is a picture/video sharing ap that allows students to send and share videos.  We hear from parents that there is very little oversight or adherence to safety rules and regulations on these sites and often content is shared anonymously and isn’t always appropriate for middle school students. 
I strongly suggest that you search the web to find out more about these products.  To teach students more about cyber safety and cyber bullying, we will be hosting a presenter from the Middlesex Partnership for Youth on March 6th.  If you have questions about the aps listed above or about our upcoming presentation please drop a note.      

Thinking about Makayla
This past Monday, one of our eighth graders, Makayla Griffin lost her father, Dennis Griffin, to liver failure.  Dennis was 41years old.  I do not normally report or write about loss or family matters, however in this case there are so few people that know about Makayla’s situation that I think it is important to let the community know.  Makayla is a remarkable young lady, she presents like every other eighth grader.  She loves music, school and especially her friends.  Few students know that she has lived with and taken care of herself and her dad for several years. I am particularly grateful for the support and guidance that Ms. Ketlak has been able to provide for Makayla during this difficult time.  Makayla is back to school and her attitude is so upbeat and positive it is remarkable.  We will rally around Makayla and provide her the support we can to help her through this very difficult time.   

Please keep Makayla in your thoughts.        

Monday, January 27, 2014

Principal Notes
January 26, 2014

We are closing out the second quarter, starting the third quarter/second semester, we have had our first snow days of the year, and the Arctic temperatures have certainly tested our school’s heating system.  With all the cold weather and the changes in the schedule, the students have been exceptional.  They have worked hard participating in their classes, service projects, winter concerts and many are participating in this year’s school musical. 

Parker’s Annual Production – High School Musical

This year Parker students will be performing Disney’s High School Musical Jr., February 27th to March 1st.  We are adding a show this year performing a total of four shows.  Our productions have taken on a quality and level of participation that seems very professional.  Mrs. DiMuzio and Stephen MacDonald are an exceptional team.  The number of students participating this year may reach 140 students, between the cast, set and technical crews.  There is such a buzz around the preparation for this show, students are humming the very familiar songs and talking constantly about the production.  You and your families are welcome to come and join us for this year’s production.     

Parent Visitation Day 2014
This year we had three hundred ten parents attend Parent Visitation Day on January 9th.  It is one of my very favorite days of the year.  It gives parents an opportunity to come into the world of the middle school that their children experience every day.  It is an opportunity for us (teachers and administrators) to reconnect with returning parents and also meet and share with new parents what the ins and outs of middle school life is like.  Several parents stopped off to share that they are most pleased with the learning experiences that their children are having, with a few parents talking very candidly about how they wished this was what their middle school or junior high experience was like.  I would like to thank the teachers and parents for taking time out of their day to attend.  Special thanks to student leaders who helped direct parents around the building and watched smaller children so parents could attend classes.                                               

The School Reform Initiative (SRI) Winter Meeting
The week before last, seven teachers from Parker and Coolidge Middle Schools attended the SRI Winter Meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The SRI Winter Meeting is unique because it is a working conference where teachers, administrators, curriculum coordinators, and university professors get together to share their work.  This involves using protocols to candidly discuss challenges of practice whether it be challenges in the classroom, challenges of leadership, research or even curriculum initiatives.  University professors from local colleges and from around the country presented their work and research on what they believe really makes a difference for children in schools.  Their research is connected to adult learning, facilitative leadership, and the need for learning groups to lead and collaborate at the school and district level to affect change.  Special thanks to Assistant Superintendent, Craig Martin and the PTO’s for supporting this learning opportunity. 

Transition Calendar for Grade 5 and 8

It seems we are starting earlier and earlier each year, planning and thinking about students transitioning from grades 5 and 8.  In grade 5 we have started compiling names of students coming to Parker and Coolidge.  We are talking to elementary principals about the spring calendar, meetings with fifth grade teams as well as potential dates for parent meetings.  As soon as we get dates and times worked out we will get a separate e-mail and notice out letting you all know about upcoming events.  In grade 8, the transition meetings start this week with Future Freshman Night happening this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at the RMHS Fine and Performing Arts Center.