Thursday, May 27, 2010

It was a very good year!

One of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs is “It Was a Very Good Year.” I love how Sinatra goes through the progressions we encounter as humans from young love to middle age to “the autumn of life”. One thing that helped make it a very good year for our school was the wonderful parent volunteers who helped in so many ways including Cheryl Howard, Tanya Lattin, Kathy Vargas, David Vargas, Frank Wirtz, Mary Ann Kay, Gary Cosper, Tiana Crollett, Anna Garcia, Marcos Diaz, Carlos and Sarah Torrebiarte, Sarah Sherk, and the countless band, chorus, and orchestra parents who volunteer their time to help our programs.

While I think this year was successful, I think another Sinatra lyric - “The Best is Yet to Come” - expresses my hopes for the future. Next year, we will:
• Combine 6th grade parent night with the 7th-8th grade parent night to have a single “Meet the Teacher Night” in late August- (Date TBA).
• Create a Parent Resourced Center in our Library where parents can access the Internet and a library of resource materials
• Use Title One monies to pay for fingerprinting and criminal background checks for 20 parents who want to volunteer here at Taylor.
• Create more signage in both English and Spanish.
• Use Title One Parent Involvement funds to provide food for two parent nights during the school year.
• Offer conversational English classes for parents who want to improve their English skills.
We want all parents to feel welcome at Taylor. We are your community school and we are here to be of service. Thanks to Title One funding, we are going to be able to offer new services we could not provide this year. We will share more information about these ideas at registration.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happy teacher appreciation week and Mother's Day

One of the singular joys of being a middle school principal is seeing new life emerge at your school. To wit:
• The newly planted elm, ash, and desert willow trees sending forth leaves and providing the first shade on our western quadrangle.
• Our newly reestablished girls’ soccer team finishing the regular season undefeated and then coming within a whisker of winning the Metro Middle School Soccer Tournament before losing in the last minutes to Cleveland.
• Seeing new clubs and activities such as Builders Club, Razzle Dazzle, and AVID be made available to our kids.

A bumper sticker on the back of a Taylor teacher’s car reads as follows: Those that can DO; those that can do more TEACH! Growing up, I heard the version of this saying that said that those that can’t do teach. I now realize that this is a grossly unfair and ridiculous statement. Teachers really sow the seeds of democracy in our children and lay a strong foundation, in cooperation with parents, for civil society. I would like you to consider some quotations about teaching and teachers:
• “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well”. – Alexander the Great

• “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”.—Victor Hugo

• “A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others”. – Author unknown

• “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”. – Henry Adams

• “Smartness runs in my family. When I went to school I was so smart my teacher was in my class for five years.” – George Burns

Speaking of the importance of teachers, it is commonly acknowledged that mothers are their children’s first teachers. Children who grow up with strong maternal support and instruction generally become stable productive adults.

Interestingly when a student ends up in the principal’s office with a discipline referral, 9 times out of 10 they want me to call their mom (or grandma or auntie). Why? Because they know mom loves them and will ALWAYS love them. As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, I encourage all of you to reflect on the important role moms play in our lives and in our society. Thank you to all Taylor moms, grandmothers, aunties, great grandmothers, and foster moms for the powerful impact you have on our students.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

No news is good news

There are times in life when it is wonderful to see your name in the paper but believe me there are times when it is nice to not see your name in the paper. Wednesday was such a day. This was the day when the Albuquerque Journal published the list of APS principals who had been reassigned to different schools. Several parents called frantically to say they had heard a blurb on the Tuesday evening news about principals being transferred. They asked if Pam or I was on the list. I was pleased to report to the parents that we were to remain at Taylor next school year.

The good news is this will allow us to provide leadership continuity into next school year as we move to the new six period schedule. We have made strides this year to increase extracurricular activities and we hope to continue to make improvements each year. We continue to believe that Taylor is the best middle school in town and we want to become even more responsive to the needs of our students and parents.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Planting trees for the future

Have you scheduled your child’s student-led conference yet? I hope so because these conferences are important to your kids and to us. By way of explanation, the APS Board of Education directed all APS schools to have fall and spring conferences at which the student leads the conference. We had our first conferences in October. Our spring conferences will be next Thursday and Friday. Students will not attend classes these two days. Your child’s advisor should have already contacted you to arrange a convenient time on one of these two days.

During the conference your child will share with you his or her academic progress report, test scores, areas of career interest, and (for 8th graders only) the Next Step Plan. In addition, each child is asked to put two pieces of school work of which s/he is proud. Finally, we have asked teachers to write a personal letter to the child describing his or her strengths and an area that needs growth. Conferences will last 30 minutes and will be conducted in the advisor’s classroom.

Warren Buffet said “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” There are a lot of applications of this sage wisdom but I like to apply it to how we work with our kids and their education. Planting a tree could involve helping your child learn a difficulty math skill. Or planting a tree could be sharing a love for poetry or chemistry or geography.

I once heard a speaker say that love is spelled T...I…M…E…and this nowhere truer than with our kids. The time you devote to helping your children succeed in school is a tree that will shade your grand kids and beyond. So make time for your child’s student-led conference. You’ll be glad you did.

Leadership in a time of crisis

“A leader leads by example, whether he intends to or not.” –Steve Jobs

My middle school principal colleagues and I spent an hour on Tuesday morning with APS Superintendent Winston Brooks discussing the budget crisis facing our district. During our meeting, Winston spoke frankly about the difficult choices facing the Board of Education and his leadership team. He patiently explained the options on the table and the impact of each choice on middle schools and the district at large. He calmly delineated the pros and cons of each alternative and he thanked us for our help in leading our schools in the midst of arguably the most difficult budget year in several decades. He did not point fingers, make excuses, or scapegoat. He explained that tough decisions had to be made – the toughest of his career – but that we would get through the crisis if we all worked together. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with his honesty and humility. I believe all of those principals present understood just a little better how truly difficult it must be to be in his shoes.

When asked when we might know what our budget amounts were for 2010-2011 we were told we may get them as early as next week. But Mr. Brooks indicated that he wanted to be certain every avenue was explored rather than releasing the budget too early. At this point, I do not know exactly what our budget for Taylor MS will be for next year. It is my sincerest hope that we do not have to cut staff. I will do everything possible to economize in other areas before we cut people. Once we have our budget amounts, I will work with our school leadership team including our instructional council to prepare a budget that maintains electives, keeps class sizes at manageable levels, and supports the high quality of education you have come to expect at Taylor.

In the midst of the gloom surrounding the budget, there are more than a few rays of sunshine. Consider:
• The Taylor girls’ soccer team was unbeaten in conference play and will be the #1 seed entering tournament play. The Taylor boys’ team had a winning record and also qualified for tournament play.
• The Taylor track team is undefeated and has been simply stellar according to our coaches.
• Our landscaping project is complete and looks magnificent. All that remains to be done is the final district inspection. Please drive by and check it out.

Finally, I strongly encourage parents, grandparents, and guardians to attend our spring student-led conferences April 29 and 30. Your child’s advisor should be in contact with you in the next week to arrange a conference time. There won’t be school those two days. I believe you will find these 30 minutes to be time well spent. Thank you!

Quality of education survey

Each spring, APS surveys parents about the quality of education in their child’s school. The survey is 20 questions long and we get to choose five of those questions. Surveys were sent home with your children on Monday and we hope they arrived home. If you did not get one, please call the office and we will arrange to send you another one. The specific Taylor questions are: (agree/disagree)
1. I would recommend that parents send their child to Taylor Middle School.
2. My child feels good about attending Taylor MS.
3. My son or daughter has opportunities to challenge him/herself at Taylor.
4. I would like students to be able to wear jeans more than one day a week.
5. I feel welcome at Taylor.
All surveys are due back to the office by April 23. Thank you in advance for your participation. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Is your child at risk for suicide?

When a young person takes his or her life, we all cringe because we immediately recognize the tragedy. Today’s paper had a brief article about a James Monroe MS student who attempted suicide in the boy’s restroom at school. Thankfully school personnel were able to revive the student and transport the child to UNM Hospital. But the article reminded me that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As pressures build on our children, sometimes the problems become overwhelming and suicide emerges as a workable solution in their minds.

According to the 2007 NM Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) students in grades 9-12 reported:
Survey Question APS Students NM Students
Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness in the past 12 months. 29.2% 30.8%
Seriously considered suicide. 18.1% 19.3%
Made a suicide plan. 13.4% 15.1%
Attempted suicide. 12.9% 14.3%
Injured in a suicide attempt. 5.4% 4.8%

Consider these facts:
• Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds nationally and in NM. The first two leading causes are accidents and homicide)
• New Mexico has the 3rd highest suicide rate in the nation for 15-24 year olds.

Adolescent depression is a increasing at an alarming rate. Recent survey data indicates as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. This is a serious problem that calls for appropriate treatment. Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because we adults may expect teens to act moody. This is compounded by fact that many teens don’t feel comfortable discussing their feelings with adults.

Symptoms that may indicate depression, particularly when they last more than two weeks include: poor performance in school, withdrawal from friends and activities, sadness and hopelessness, lack of energy or enthusiasm, anger or rage, overreaction to criticism, or substance abuse.

If you suspect your child may be depressed or at risk for suicide, take action. Remember suicide is the number one preventable cause of death. You should consider:
• Having an honest discussion with your child
• Have them see a physician or psychologist
• Speak to your school counselor

Suicide is not a victimless act. My family suffered when my father took his life at the age of 53 after his clinical depression went undiagnosed and untreated. Had we known back in 1983 what we know today, we might have been able to prevent it. If you suspect your child may be at risk, please get him or her help. Don’t wait until it is too late! May you all enjoy a blessed Easter weekend.