Holding true to what is important…

Last spring, the staff sat in a fairly crowded room and asked if we, as a progressive school, with so many wonderful resources available to us, could engage in a campus-wide experiment. What would it look like if we focused on something that we are already known for? If we all, from kinder through 8th grade, focused on the importance and value of community? How do we interact with one another, with the school, the town, the state, our country? Why is interpersonal communication important and what does it look like? How do we work with one another when we have different ideas and beliefs?

The excitement in the room grew from the seed of an idea into full fledged units this fall. Students all over campus explored these ideas and engaged in conversations that had the ancillary benefit of building the community we live and work in.

We also brought the adults together for a powerful discussion on the same topic at our All PFG meeting in October. The transition to Thanksgiving seemed perfect as we had time to reflect on the good in our lives and spend time celebrating this with family and friends.

Welcome back! We are so glad that you are here. The winter months in California can be fickle, but when the weather gets cold it tends to bring people inside and create opportunities for conversation and inside time together. There are also a number of wonderful things to do outside when the air is crisp and frosty.

What are some activities that your family cherishes during the winter months? Would you share them with us? If you’re open to it, please drop me an email or a quick note in the office and I will share them in our next newsletter.

From time to time it is important that we stop, reflect, and refine our practice. This is a pillar of progressive education. At McAuliffe, our faculty engages in this practice on a regular basis. We consistently seek to improve the learning experiences for your children individually, as grade level teams, and as a whole faculty. The Community unit was an example of this on a macro level, but reflective practice occurs daily with your teacher as they reflect on what learning took place each day, and what they and the aides will need to facilitate student learning for the next meeting. They then plan for those conversations and identify those needed resources to be ready for the next day. It’s daunting work and a work of passion because we know just how much our teachers care for your children.

In addition to the exciting learning taking place in your child’s classroom, our faculty is also engaged in the essential work of evaluating and revising the Learning Targets for students at each grade level. Learning Targets delineate what we want students to learn and be able to do.  As we complete this work by grade level we seek to integrate multiple content areas, including social-emotional learning and the progression of learning from grade to grade. As we develop and refine our targets we will share that with all of you and I will provide regular updates on our efforts.

There is much to celebrate and a million things to do.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Rick

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Happy Thanksgiving

Dear families,

Thanksgiving break is just around the corner and to be honest, I can’t think of a better time for us to reflect on the good in our lives.

The following is the Online Etymology Dictionary’s derivation of  Thanksgiving:

1530s, “the giving of thanks,” from thanks (n.) + present participle of give (v.). In the specific sense of “public celebration acknowledging divine favors” thanksgiving dates from 1630s (the first one in America was held October 1621 by Plymouth Colony Pilgrims in appreciation of assistance from members of the Massasoit tribe and celebration of the first harvest); though Thanksgiving Day itself is not attested until 1670s.

So that may be the origin of the phrase, but here’s the thing…gratitude has a place in every culture, in every time period since the first society, so it isn’t the origin of the concept. Can you imagine the first tribe? People looking at each other, figuring out a way to communicate, and somehow expressing, “It’s just good that you are here.”

And it’s really good that YOU are here. You, your work, your caring, your dedication, and your energy make our school a fantastic place to learn for all of us. We’re glad that your family chose our school and we hope that your child thrives and grows in their time with us.  

“I see you.” This is an interesting phrase that has popped up on social media and in the news over the last few weeks. But as I consider the phrase, I am deeply touched by the power of it. We all, in some way or another, want to be seen as valuable for who we are as a human being with a place in this world.

I strive to see all of our students for who they are, to see their strengths, to see their possibilities. I also seek to understand their shortcomings and support them and help them find their voice. Our staff and faculty do this every day and they do it much better than I. We are truly fortunate to have them in our lives and in the lives of our children.

Sometimes, I fall short. There have been days this year, when I found myself so busy with the work of “running the school” that I missed a chance to listen to a student, a parent, a staff member, a teacher. If that person was you, I’m truly sorry I missed that opportunity.

Everyone has a story. I will continue to do my best to listen to them intently and because I don’t have enough time in the day to hear everyone’s story, I need your help. Please help me to be sure that every child and adult is heard on our campus and in our small community, that every adult and child is seen.

Over the years, I have shared Dave Isay’s StoryCorps. Dave asserts that “Asking questions and listening intently to the stories that emerge is one of the most powerful forces in the world.”

Thank you in advance for your support in this effort. As we move into this wonderful week of celebration and giving thanks, enjoy your time with your family and friends. Laugh, dance, sing, run, explore, play, eat, share your stories, and make new ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rick

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Community is more than a unit of study at McAuliffe.

Hi Everyone,

This has been an eventful week filled with opportunities for us to come together and learn and grow as a community. We started with a celebration of Diwali Luncheon help for our faculty by members of our community. It was heart warming! The conversation and time were filled with joy and caring. The food was delicious!

At our All PFG Community Meeting, last Tuesday, we continued the focus on Community. Conversations in each of our break out groups were lively and open. The big questions were “How does “community” support learning?” and “What’s My Part in the McA Community?” Each of us has a role, a voice, and the responsibility of making our community a better place. The conversation was excellent. And the singing toward the end of the night was impressive. If you haven’t completed your flag for the community, please be sure to do so and turn it in next week! We will be putting them up around

We continued our community focus yesterday with a school-wide disaster drill entitled the “Great Shakeout”. (http://www.shakeout.org/california/) This is a large scale earthquake drill. While it usually occurs in the morning, we mixed it up this year and held the event in the afternoon. We did this because we realize that a major event can occur at any time and want to be prepared for it.

During today’s Learning Day the staff spent the morning focused on emergency preparedness and completed a training on the Incident Command System. This afternoon we will examine our math program and discuss changes to the MARS assessment.  

In the week ahead, we will see several classes heading on expeditions around the bay area and beyond.

Halloween Parade October 31

I’ve had a few inquiries about Halloween Costumes. First off, Thank you! For being proactive!!  

Our Halloween Parade will be held on October 31. The general expectation that we use for costumes is that they will not scare other students or adults. Here are our guidelines:

  • All Costumes should be age and event appropriate
  • No face paint that is overly scary, bloody, or gory
  • Costumes should not be overly scary, bloody, gory or violent, (this includes costumes for adults… and adults are encouraged to dress up!
  • Masks should not completely obscure the face. Non-bloody/gory masks can be worn on top of the head to complete the outfit with teacher’s permission. Otherwise teachers recommend face paint, noting the above regarding face paint
  • If your costume includes an additional accessory, such as a light saber, you must check with the classroom teacher.
  • All adults should be readily recognizable

Please be sure to have your child speak with their teacher BEFORE Halloween if they have questions about their costume. It would be unfortunate if a student failed to do this and was unable to wear their costume because it didn’t meet our guidelines.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Conferences already?!?

I really enjoyed dropping in on a few conferences yesterday. In addition to the positive tone and great conversations, I couldn’t help but notice the keen look on our parents faces. In a student-led conference, (which start at the 4th grade at McA), the parents seemed to radiate pride and joy as they listened to their son describe a math problem and the approach he took to achieve it.  In a first grade conference, it was fun to watch the parents reading their child’s work. Conferences are an amazing time and a wonderful opportunity to further the discussion of your child’s learning.

You are here each week and see aspects of what the kids are learning. You attend monthly parent meetings to hear about the month ahead, reflections of the past month, and learn about and discuss some of the developmental aspects of your child. You are an integral part of creating exemplary learning experiences for your child(ren) and all of our students. You see the fruits of your labor in the interaction with the students in class and around campus, and yet, when it comes time for teacher-parent conferences we often can run into a road block.

What do we ask? What do I need to know? How can I help?

Edutopia offers a range of resources for educators and parents and it’s a worthwhile site to visit. Each year they put out a list of questions for parents. I’m sharing a portion of it with you here. If you are at a loss for what to ask I would  recommend that you pick no more than 1 or 2 and be open to the conversation.  Last but not least, enjoy this time as an opportunity to get to know another side of your child and to share insight you have with their teacher.

5 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would (Probably) Love to Answer

  1. What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
  2. How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  3. What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
  4. How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom?
  5. What am I not asking but should be?

Abridged from Edutopia’s 19 Questions which you can find here http://edut.to/1oh7hoZ

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Ask me anything…

I started “Ask Me Anything” two weeks ago in a class meeting, so wanted to also ask you to ask me anything. I may not be able to answer them right away but I can answer them soon or in my blog:

  • Status of lower grade kitchen cabinets?
    • New ones are up but locks aren’t yet in most places. Need to do that.
  • If we want to plan a social event the first Friday in November on the blacktop would there be any problem vis-à-vis the track?
    • We can probably work around it.
  • 2nd and 3rd grade teachers and having PE from 8:30-8:50— will this be implemented in other grades as well (because it is a great idea)?
    • Would need to check on this and get back to you. Jackie: For the 4/5s half the class does PE in the morning and half the class does math so that they have small math groups. Middle school we have our morning meeting first thing. Community is what we’re focused on this year and that’s a great community activity, but every class and grade level may be doing something different to meet those needs. Rick: there is a state mandate– two required subjects in public schools, K-12: PE and English language development, and it’s 200 minutes every 10 days so you could do it any way you want. Parent-led PE does not count under the state mandate. A teacher needs to supervise the activity for parent-led PE to count.
  • As a parent of a new high schooler, with regards to bringing back high school kids to talk to middle school kids about the transition, aside from the public part of it, it could be a good opportunity for faculty to ask them separately about how the transition was, what was difficult, what could have made it easier as a middle schooler?
    • There could be opportunities to do a better job on this. 
  • If you could ask Jambi (the genie from Pee Wee’s Playhouse) for two wishes for the school what would those be? I’ll get back to you on that.
  • Is there a firm date for track completion? Can we get the spec and drawings?
    • Yes and yes. Haven’t yet received the drawings but when it happens will send copies to the PFG Presidents.
  • Will the backstops go away or be retained?
    • We were going to get rid of them last year but there has been staff discussion lately suggesting we may hold on to one of the backstops. Before we make a decision we need to take a look at the drawings. They are only used for kickball and our emergency planning drill. We wouldn’t want to keep those backstops and sacrifice the football field and the soccer field. Once we get the schematics you’ll get a chance to look at that; if you want to keep one we can keep one. I don’t think we have a need for more than one.
    • UPDATE – Plans are available for viewing in the office.
  • Why is PFG paying for the track? The District agreed to take on the maintenance for it, but other parents might be curious about why the PFG is paying for it.
    • The track update was not part of our original bond measure.
    •  The track was something we’d been talking about for a while; we priced out options six years ago and found that it was very expensive to install and maintain a regular repair and replace schedule with a rubberized track.
    • In the last year, the faculty recommended to PFG that we should spend a portion of our funds to upgrade the track to reduce safety hazards and provide an ideal learning environment for our K-8 students. The PFG supported this move now, to benefit students directly, rather wait for the possibility that the district might include track replace/repair in a future bond.
  • The important thing is that the District agreed to take over maintenance of it as well.
    • Yes, the PFG is funding it, and it’s done hand in hand with the District.
  •  Melissa: If the District ended up doing a bond for tracks could we ask for something else?
    • We could advocate for something else.
  • I heard we were getting a shed on the playground somewhere. Update?
    • We haven’t made any decisions in that regard. The biggest concern is loss of play space for our students. We don’t want to add sheds/containers unless we really need to. We’ve increased our number of students by 40.
  • What would it take for McAuliffe to become K-12?
    • Great question! The challenge with that is that our District is only K-8. One alternative might be a charter school that would be in line with our philosophy for grades 9-12. They could go be run out of any number of districts in the area but it wouldn’t be on our campus.
  • Update on Science Lab? We have asked for an AppleTV projector to bring us into the 21stcentury with our math and science.
    • Ahh…I thought you were going to mention the eyewash. They took out the eyewash during modernization so that needs to be replaced. In terms of the AppleTV and overhead projector, I think we’re OK moving forward with that. The challenge was that there wasn’t, an immediately obvious, good spot to put it. If we can identify a good location then we can move forward.Don’t add any additional shelving or take any shelving down because those are considered hot (with asbestos).
  • Is the district preventing us from installing the projector?
    • No. The district is supportive of us installing and utilizing technology that enhances the learning experience for our students. The comment to the contrary at our last PFG meeting was incorrect. The reason for the delay in installation has been identifying the ideal location in the room.

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Ask me anything: Take 1

  • Do you ever go off roading in your Jeep?

Yes! I love the being out doors and traveling to places that aren’t necessarily easily accessible because of the journey and the destination… There is something wonderful and rewarding for me about going to a place that few have travelled or experienced.

I’ve taken my Jeep to Hollister a few times. On the way to Tahoe there are several spots near Nevada City that are just a bit off the main drag and so scenic.

And I once took it on the emergency flood evacuation route near Mendocino when a downed tree blocked Hwy 1…which I did not know existed…and that was an incredible experience!

I still have a lot to learn about off-roading! I was surprised to learn that most of the roads we travel, including many dirt roads, are best ventured with 2 wheel drive and not 4. It’s good to be able to let the air out of your tires when off road…and even to have the ability to fill them back up once you are back on the blacktop. Who knew that off roading was a dirty business? Sooo much dust every time we go…. It’s AWESOME!

Who will you root for at the 49er v. Packer game tonight?

Well that was last week and I can tell you that I rooted for both teams (though I’d hoped that the 9ers would have more to cheer for!).

Growing up here, I love my Bay Area sports teams so you may wonder why I also have a soft spot in my heart for the Packers. As an adult, I have long appreciated the work ethic that Brett Favre and his teammates conveyed with a no whining, “get out there and play for the love of the game” kind of attitude. Not everyone gets to work in a career that they absolutely love and so I consider myself fortunate to be love my work and I recognize it and respect it in others!

But that isn’t why I chose the Packers…as a kid, I rooted for every team with green jerseys…A’s…Packers…

And the old Atari hockey game had a team in green. I thought it was Edmonton, but it may have been the Minnesota North Stars.

  • When did I first become a Harry Potter fan?

I read a friends pre-released version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s  Stone in early 97 and have been hooked ever since…Yes. I read the Cursed Child and yes it was mind blowing in terms of possibilities.

  • How do I magically show up at just the right time?

I’m not sure how to answer this one…Maybe its that there isn’t so much a “right time” at McAuliffe.  Good things tend to happen all over our school community, all the time. So if good things are happening all the time, then any time is the “right time”. I do what I can to catch some of the wonder and joy in learning both from kids and adults and love being able to share in it and share those experiences with others. The good news is that there really is a lot of incredible learning taking place on our campus and we are ALL responsible for and, an important part of, making that happen.
Look for the next edition in a few weeks.

Have a wonderful three day weekend!

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A brand new year!

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back to a new year at McAuliffe. It’s been wonderful seeing so many familiar faces and meeting our new families. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spent time in each classroom and visited several class meetings and I have to say that the classes look fantastic! There’s a tremendous amount of positive energy and we are already engaging in learning and our school-wide Community focused unit of study! This year promises to be filled with great experiences for all of us.

Last night, I went out on a limb and invited parents in several class meetings to ask me any question that came to mind. Here are a few that came up:

  • Do you ever go off roading in your Jeep?
  • Who will you root for at the 49er v. Packer game tonight?
  • When did I first become a Harry Potter fan?
  • How do I magically show up at just the right time?

I’ll be sharing those answers on my blog next week…and will periodically open up questions in a “Ask Any Question” to our parent and student community.

We still have some things to be done to wrap up this round of modernization and a few repairs of things that were installed last year and those are really par for the course. More updates on this to come…

At the start of each year, I visit each class to talk about our expectations for ensuring that all students have a safe and engaging learning experience.  We discuss the importance of being kind to oneself and to others, having fun, speaking kindly, being helpful and responsible, and helping one another learn. I’ve met with just over half of our classes so far and the conversations have been excellent!

Last but not least:

  • Enjoy the year ahead. Time always seems to speed up in August and again in May/June. Breathe.
  • Make time in your day to spend with your children. They grow up so fast and this is our time to celebrate them.
  • Ask questions. We are learning together at McAuliffe and asking questions accomplishes two things. One, we’re able to gain clarity on topics that are unclear to us, and we are modeling for our children that asking questions is not only okay, but completely appropriate in the world we live in.
  • Make McAuliffe a better place for everyone. All of your children will benefit from this.

Cheers!

Rick

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