Thursday, April 13, 2017

PTO and Classroom Assistants

Hopefully by now you’ve seen the fact that the Conant PTO has reached their fundraising goal for the year. This doesn’t mean they can’t raise more but they have hit an important goal. I want to thank the PTO board for all of their hard work and the Conant community for their generous support. The PTO supports the school by bringing in amazing enrichment activities, helping teachers buy classroom materials, funding student scholarships for field trips, running community events to bring us all together and a large portion of their fundraising also goes towards paying for assistants in the classrooms.

Parents have been asking why there is a need for classroom assistants and what they do. We have many types of assistants at Conant. Some work with students with IEP’s helping students meet their academic goals and access the curriculum; some monitor our lunchroom and playgrounds and others (the assistants funded by the PTO) assist teachers in classrooms. While the work done by our Special Education assistants and Lunch/Recess monitors are widely understood, I’d like to inform the community about how our classroom assistants help in the learning process.

A very small portion of classroom assistant time is dedicated to helping teachers with class preparation like copying papers. A majority of their time is spent with students. Classroom assistants help with reading groups and class projects. They sometimes help struggling students develop conceptual ideas or work with a large portion of the class so teachers can reteach topics to students who need more direct instruction to understand a topic. Classroom assistants also cover classrooms so teachers may attend meetings about students. Their presence allows teachers to better differentiate instruction to meet the needs of the many types of learners present in the classroom. We all know that the one-size fits all approach to teaching is not effective and the presence of assistants helps classroom teachers offer the curriculum in a variety of ways to smaller groups within the classroom to ensure an opportunity for success for all children.

The school district does provide funding for assistants every year but without our PTO support, the number of assistant hours available would drop significantly. This is why support of the PTO both financially and with your time is so important. This cannot happen without people! Currently, there are many open positions on committees that run our most successful events. For example, the largest fundraiser, the annual Conant Craft Fair needs a chair or several co-chairs. Without someone stepping in, the event could be lost and other Acton PTO’s would love to take this event over. Is it a lot of work? Yes…but many hands make light work and much of it can be fun if you work with a group. In the simplest terms I can use; we need people to step up.

Below is a list of the PTO positions that are open. Please remember, no one job requires a person to work alone, chair positions can be held by a group to make it more fun and share the work.

1.-Craft Fair- Many openings. We are sending physical copies, using news flash and our web site as well.

2.-Grants committee

3.-Cultural Enrichment- 2 positions

4.-Games night- co team leader with Mrs. Wilcox

5.- Kidstuff Coupon Books


Please consider getting involved. If you have questions contact the PTO or better yet, come to a meeting and meet thee wonderful people involved and ask questions. You’ll be glad you did!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

MCAS is Coming!

As St. Patrick’s Day and spring approach we think of the warm sun, flowers growing and MCAS. Yikes! MCAS is right around the corner. Parents often ask me how they can prepare their child, how to study for the exam, or how to ensure their child scores in the advanced category. My answer is very simple; let your child know that as long as they try their best, you’ll be proud of the results. Also, make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast but we’re hoping those are daily events anyway.

MCAS should not be looked at as an end all and be all measurement of a child’s progress. It is a snapshot of how a child performed on a particular test over the course of a few days.  We find that the assessments performed regularly in our classrooms are much more valuable in tracking individual student progress and informing our instruction than MCAS results. We do get some great data from our aggregate results of MCAS. We look at our curriculum to ensure we’re covering necessary topics and check to make sure our programming is effective for our students. Occasionally we’ll look at individual results to determine if they match the types of student results we’re seeing in the classroom to better help us understand the strengths and areas of potential growth areas for individual students but often we find our classroom assessments much more informative.

Although MCAS receives a great deal of attention publicly, and we do get some great data from the results, its importance is consistently overrated. Children just need to know they should try their best, come to school with a full tummy and be well rested. That is the best way to help them prepare. The rest has been taken care of by our wonderful teachers, strong curriculum and the many life experiences you’ve provided to them as you’ve watched them grow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Safety First

Safety is something the school district takes very seriously. There have been many changes instituted over the past few years to try to ensure student safety; and the work continues. I am on the Superintendent's Safety Committee and we are continually assessing our safety plans, equipment and technologies to improve our preparedness and response capabilities. Sometimes our steps may seem like a small inconvenience but when it comes to the safety of our children, we never want to cut corners.

Some recent events made me start thinking about the important roles our families play in our overall safety plans. In fact, in many cases, parents are the most important part of keeping children safe on a daily basis. I'm not talking about a major tragic event but the day to day operation of our schools. Every year, parents need to complete their Online Emergency Card to access their classroom assignment and class list. This Online Emergency Card tells us how to contact you in case of an emergency. It also lists other emergency contacts in case you are not available. This document also communicates with our Blackboard Connect system which we use to notify you of weather related cancellations or district emergencies. Unfortunately, many people do not take the time to actually update this information. Emergency contacts are left blank and phone numbers and email addresses are not updated when they are changed. This makes it impossible for us to contact you in case of an emergency or illness. We need accurate information; please make sure your information is up to date.

We know life is hard with busy families and work schedules. We try to offer child care for families so that they can get to work and know their children are safe. Unless your child is in extended day, they should not arrive to school before 9:05. The school cannot be considered a 20 - 30 minute free child care option which is increasingly becoming the case. Staff is not available to supervise children until 9:05. If you need to drop your child off before 9:05, you must sign up for extended day.

As I mentioned the Online Emergency Card provides the information for our Blackboard Connect system so we can notify you of school closings, delays or emergencies. This Tuesday, we had numerous children delivered to school at the regular time when there was a two hour delay. Parents must make sure they are receiving notifications and adhere to whatever changes are made. If there is a two hour delay, students cannot arrive to school until 11:05. If the parking lot is empty, do not leave your child; find out what is going on. This sounds blunt, I know, but I cannot think of a more unsafe situation than a child left at school when no one is there to receive him/her.

Our parking lot is a bit tight right now with the snow and if we get a big storm it will be even tighter. A great majority of you all do a fantastic job of following safety guidelines and we really appreciate it. Please remember, when the bus has its red lights flashing, you cannot pass it. Also, remember to sign in at the office anytime you enter the school. We want to make sure all visitors receive a visitor's sticker. If you don;t have one, you'll get sent back to the office to get one.

Safety is a partnership. We will continue to do everything we can to prepare for and prevent a tragedy. We will also continue to adjust our practice to ensure no little problems catch us unprepared. Finally, we look forward to a continued partnership with all of our parents to provide the warmest, safest learning environment possible.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Winter is here and preparing to hit us all right in the face with severe cold. We can complain and worry or bundle up and face it. I personally prefer the latter. This is what makes us all hearty New Englanders! We get to experience the fun and excitement of extreme weather. Wouldn't 68 and sunny all the time get boring? We have snow to play in, ice to skate on and I guarantee Hot Chocolate tastes a lot better here than in Los Angeles at this time of year. And if we head outside and are freezing...well we can go back in, throw on another layer and get back to the wintery fun!

This is the resilient outlook we want our students to learn. They need to see the positive in things. Too often, they worry about grades and final products without enjoying the process or feeling good about hard work. Children need to feel that bumps in the road (a low test grade, a failed experiment, a troubled relationship with a friend) are things they can learn from. They need to be able to move from "I can't do this" to "This may be difficult but I will work hard and get it" or "He's mad at me, we can't be friends anymore" to "We had an issue, we'll work it out soon".

You may hear the term Growth Mindset from your child. Teachers are working diligently this year to try to instill this way of thinking. Based on the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, students are learning how to move from a fixed mindset (people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort Dweck ) to a growth mindset (people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment Dweck).

You can help by praising and modeling effort and resilience. So here's to the resilience of us hearty New Englanders and the growth mindset we can instill in our children to make them truly successful in the future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! (take a break)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I know that personally I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a wonderful family. I get to work in an amazing school with dedicated and talented teachers. I am surrounded by smart, kind and inquisitive children every day and have the chance to interact with wonderful families on a daily basis. I hope that as we all pause for a few days we can all take a moment to reflect on things to be thankful for.

Over this short break. I encourage everyone to get out and make some memories. Put away the homework, and electronics; get out and play together or create something together and have some fun. The stress of work and the holidays will still be there on Monday but if you take a little time to recharge your batteries, it won’t seem so bad! Now that my children are 16 and 13 years old, I realize how fast time passes. Take advantage of this time and enjoy the surprises that come from unstructured, silly family time before time gets away from you.

Travel safely, eat a lot and enjoy the break!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Helping Stressed Students

The mental health and well being of our students has been a topic of study and discussion for us all due to recent tragic events within the town. As a staff we chose to make this the focus of our November faculty meeting. Although these tragic events took the lives of high school students, we all feel strongly that a focus on student mental health is vitally important at all levels. Unfortunately we are seeing more young students with high levels of stress and anxiety and often wonder about how we can help.

Some of the steps we’ve taken here at Conant to help minimize student stress are focusing on homework to ensure it is high quality, purposeful and not overly time consuming. Planning together as grade levels to ensure due dates for projects and assessments for different classes do not all happen at the same time or on the same day, and encouraging students to realize strong effort and resilience is more important than perfection in a final product. We are not, however, lessening our high academic standards or saying a robust curriculum is not important. It is our belief that a strong curriculum can coexist with a balanced, child centered approach to learning that includes play and unstructured downtime, which are necessary for healthy overall child development.

While we will continue to explore ways we can help our students develop academic strengths and healthy minds and bodies, we also realize the most important and influential people in a child’s life are their families. We’d like to share the following ideas with you as we partner to help all of your students reach their full potential.

  • Reward Strong Effort - We all often get overly concerned with a final grade when we should be looking at how much effort was put into a project. Perfection should not be our focus. Effort, resilience and determination are truly the characteristics that make people successful. Although a good grade is a nice outcome, strong effort and the ability and willingness to deal with difficulty should be praised more so than the final grade.
  • Encourage Play - Busy lives make it hard to just let kids play, but play is the work of a child. Anytime you can, send the kids outside and tell them to play or set up some board games and bring some friends over. Join them if you can, it’s good for everyone!
  • Allow Downtime - Sometimes, children just need time to recharge batteries. In a typical school day, children are learning complex material, learning about social situations, and working very hard. Unstructured downtime is a way kids can process their day, build memory and solidify learning (both academic and social). Kids need a little screen time, some time to read, or draw or talk. Constant engagement in activities is very stressful for developing minds.
  • Maintain Balance - Our students are involved in many engaging cultural, academic and athletic activities. We all see the value in what they learn through these exciting opportunities. Sometimes, however, these pursuits become the only focus of out of school time. It is important that children are not over-scheduled with activities or outside homework. Over-scheduling is often reported as the main stressor for children. Finding balance is key to healthy development!

We thank you for all you do in support of your child’s education and our school community. We hope to partner with you to ensure our students not only excel academically but also develop the work ethic, social skills and persistence needed to truly succeed in our ever changing world. A well balanced, age appropriate education and opportunities for children to play and explore the world on their terms are paramount in developing healthy individuals. We will continue to keep you informed about our own discoveries as we refocus on the whole child, after all, that is the whole idea!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween Parade Tips

The children are clearly excited for next week. Halloween is certainly one an elementary student's favorite days of the year. As you know we'll have our Halloween Parade on Monday at 1:45. I felt it was appropriate to offer some tips as it only happens once a year and some things are easy to forget.

  • Have students bring their costumes in a bag. It is hard for them to concentrate during the day in their costumes and unless your teacher has told you something different, they will have time to change into their costumes before the parade.
  • Please remember, no fake weapons or bloody/gory costumes. We have little ones who could be frightened.
  • Parking will be tight. Please carpool if possible. 
  • Please park in safe areas. There may be children on the playground and in the back fields when you arrive, those places will not be available for parking. 
  • Often, classrooms plan special activities after the parade so plan on letting your child go back to class after the parade and take their normal bus or ride home after dismissal.
  • Please limit the amount of candy children bring to school during the week for snack. One small piece per day is appropriate with a healthy snack and lunch.
  • Have Fun!!!
The PTO is also hosting a Pumpkin Fest on Saturday from 3:00 - 5:00 in the back field. We look forward to seeing you all and wish you a wonderful weekend!