Friday, December 11, 2009

It's 10 o'clock. Do you know what's on your kid's cell phone?

Last week, the topic was texting. This week the topic is sexting. Don’t recognize the word sexting? Neither does the spell-checker on my computer so don’t feel bad. Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit pictures, videos, or text messages via cell phone.

According to a CNN News report: “The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, a private nonprofit group whose mission is to protect children, and CosmoGirl.com, surveyed nearly 1,300 teens about sex and technology. The result: 1 in 5 teens say they've sexted even though the majority know it could be a crime… In many states, like Florida, if a person is convicted of a crime against children, it automatically triggers registration to the sex offender registry. Thirty-eight states include juvenile sex offenders in their sex offender registries. Alaska, Florida and Maine will register juveniles only if they are tried as adults. Indiana registers juveniles age 14 and older. South Dakota registers juveniles age 15 and older. Most states allow public access to sex offender registries via the Internet and anyone with a computer can locate registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods.”
http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/07/sexting.busts/index.html

The APS Board of Education is very concerned about this disturbing trend and has proposed procedural directives on what to do in the event that a student is found to have sexted or is suspected of doing so. This is part of a larger proposed policy concerning the use of cell phones at middle schools. Briefly, the proposed policy prohibits middle school students from using cell phones at any time during the school day. Currently students at Taylor may use cell phones outside of the school building before school and after school and during lunch. The new policy would not apply to “students who have a special medical condition for self or family member or if the student is using the cell phone or electronic device for an educational or instructional purpose with the teacher’s permission and supervision.”

I encourage you to talk to your kids about sexting and find out if they have been a victim of this. If they have, please report it to the police and school officials immediately. We want your children to be safe at school.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Textual revolution?

Did you see the Zits comics in Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal? If you missed it, it starts with young Jeremy looking quizzically at his cell phone while his parents stand nearby.

“Seriously you guys. Something is wrong with my phone” he says.
“Can you still make calls with it?” his mom asks.
“Why would I want to do that?” Jeremy asks incredulously.

I enjoyed this strip so much because it cleverly points out how age effects how we see our cell phones. To me, it’s a phone. To kids, it’s a digital telegraph.

I was visiting with a parent yesterday about how kids use their cell phones more for text messaging than for talking. She shared how she noticed her son was becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative. His grades were dropping and his attitude was less than stellar. Her solution: let him keep his cell phone but remove the texting option. The result: his grades improved but more importantly he became more communicative.

This conversation got me to wondering: Are their negative effects of text messaging for middle school students? My cursory research found:
• Teenagers average over 80 text messages a day
• Repeated texting can lead to pain in thumbs, neck, and shoulders
• Since many teens keep their phones by their beds at night, constant texting can cause teens to interrupt sleep or never settle into a deep sleep.
• Habitual texting can lead to inability to shut down outside communication. Texting puts kids in instant contact and there is societal pressure that makes kids think they need to be in constant contact all the time. A text message demands a response as soon as possible. Plus since teens often feel an innate need to know what is happening there is added pressure to constantly check for new texts.
• Decreased attention span can result when teens are more focused on secretly texting during class than on the teacher’s lesson.

Science is just beginning to assess the effects of text messaging on our youth. But you don’t need to be a scientist to know that kids love to text. In fact I rarely see our students talking on their phones (except to their parents).

Do I think that texting is bad for our students? It depends on each child’s maturity and each family’s situation. I do think that parents should be aware of the potential hazards of texting, both physical and social, and have a conversation with their kids about it. I also strongly encourage parents to check their child’s messages, pictures, and videos to find out who they are texting and what they are saying. Remember, texting is an option and kids need to be reminded it can be removed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving thoughts

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving - such a sweet time of year. A time to count your blessings and give thanks. At the risk of getting a little “out there” I want to share my thoughts about what Thanksgiving means to me.

The desert fathers of the 3rd century described seven cardinal sins, one of which was greed. In their struggle for spiritual perfection, these early monks found that one antidote for greed was thanksgiving. More about that later. Many authors have written about greed’s effects on humanity. But no author captured the powerful pull of greed more poignantly than Leo Tolstoy in his story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”

Written in 1886, the story tells of a man named Pahom who complains that he does not own enough land to satisfy him. He sets out to acquire more land but the more he acquires, the more dissatisfied he becomes. Finally he meets the Bashkirs and is told they are simple-minded people who own a huge amount of land. He approaches them to take as much of their land for as low a price as he can negotiate. Their offer is unusual: for a sum of 1,000 rubles, Pahom can walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak, marking his route with a spade as he goes. If he reaches his starting point by sunset of that day, the entire area he marked out is his. He is delighted believing he can cover a great distance and thinking he has stumbled upon the bargain of a lifetime.

His journey starts well. He covers a great deal of land but he is not satisfied and decides to walk even farther extending his boundaries as he goes. As the sun is setting however, he realizes his error and runs back as fast as he can to the awaiting Bashkirs. He finally arrives at the starting point as the sun sets. The Bashkirs cheer his return saying “Ah, that’s a fine fellow. He has gained much land!” Unfortunately, Pahom, exhausted from the run, drops dead. Tolstoy concludes: “His servant picked up his spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from head to his heels was all he needed.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said the same thing in fewer words when he said: “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

And so this Thanksgiving season, I pause to reflect on the much that I have rather than the more that I don’t have (and don’t need). The much I do have includes a loving wife and family, my faith, good friends, great coworkers, good health, a sound mind (mostly), a sense of humor (usually) and a great place to work. Concerning Taylor, I give thanks every day for the opportunity to work in such a fine school set in stunning surroundings working with great people educating wonderful children.

Like William Shakespeare in Twelfth-Night, I can honestly say:
“I can no other answer make but thanks,
And thanks, and ever thanks!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Report cards and honor roll

As a child, my parents religiously checked my report cards at the end of each nine weeks. Report cards then were the old-fashioned hand written kind (think “Leave It To Beaver” era). My parents had high expectations when it came to my grades – A’s were expected and B’s were tolerated but anything less was cause for a serious discussion. But when I did manage straight A’s or mostly A’s and one or two B’s, my parents applauded my efforts and life went on. I don’t remember my school recognizing my efforts but I very much remember the look on my dad and mom’s face when I showed them my grades. This recognition was important to me, perhaps too much so in retrospect. Nonetheless I have come to realize in my years as a father, teacher, and principal that recognition matters. Each of us regardless of age wants to be recognized for doing something well. So we have chosen to recognize students who demonstrate academic excellence.

We were pleased to honor our straight-A and honor roll students this week. The following table shows the number of student earning honor roll recognition out of a student body of 640 kids.

4.0 3.5 - 3.99 3.0 - 3.49 Total
6th Grade 19 62 57 138
7th Grade 27 61 50 138
8th Grade 25 41 48 114
Total 71 164 155 390

This is an outstanding record – one which I hope our students will equal or exceed next grading period. But what if your child didn’t make the honor roll? Here are some tips that might help:
1. Set clear, reasonable, and achievable expectations for your child’s grades. “I want you to raise your math grade from a C to a B by winter break.”
2. Make sure your child agrees that the expectation is both reasonable and achievable. A student who has all C’s is probably not going to achieve straight A’s but they might be able to raise the C’s to B’s.
3. Set short-term goals. Help your child set a reasonable goal that you know she can achieve. Then set a new one.
4. Praise progress and effort. If your child is trying, let her know you notice even if she doesn’t meet ALL her goals.
5. Keep an open mind. Be willing to revisit and adjust any goals that seem out of reach. If she can’t reach it, there may be another explanation.

Grades matter but they aren’t the only measure of your child’s success at Taylor. While I am delighted that over 60% of our students made the honor roll, I am equally thrilled when I see our students serving the community, raising funds for worthy causes, and demonstrating good character. And for the record, students do not become honor roll students in isolation. Academic success starts at home with the support of parents, grandparents, siblings, and guardians. By providing a quiet place to study, encouraging reading and checking your child’s agenda every night, you contribute to your child’s success. Thanks!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Praying for snow?

Yesterday’s brief snow shower was a wonderful foretaste of the delights of winter in New Mexico. If we do have an El Nino winter it is likely we will days of snowy weather. School closures and delays are the purview of APS leadership and not of school principals although I had a number of excited students ask me if I was going to declare a snow day on Friday. It was a joy to see the excited looks on the faces of students and staff alike at the prospects of a snow storm. It was a reminder to me that no matter our age, a snow storm still evokes a child’s sense of excitement and wonder.

That being said, in the event of snow, most parents know to turn on the local TV or radio stations to check for closures or delays. If we have a two-hour delay, we will use our abbreviated day schedule which is on page 4 of your student’s agenda. The cafeteria will begin serving breakfast at 10:00 am. The first bell will ring at 10:15 and classes will begin at 10:20. All classes will be 34 rather than 50 minutes long. Each class will meet. Lunches will be 30 minutes long as usual. Students will be dismissed at the regular time of 3:08.

Whether we have any snow days remains to be seen. What is certain is that even though our highest courts have told us prayer is forbidden in school, yesterday there were more than a few Thunderbirds praying for snow. “The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” -- J.B Priestley

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who could ask for more?

Pssst, can I let you in on a little secret? You have to promise not to tell anyone. Okay here it is – I have the best job in APS and I think I am extremely lucky to have it.

Here’s why I believe this: I get to work with gifted and talented kids from wonderfully diverse backgrounds who continually amuse and amaze me with their crazy ideas, savvy insights, and wacky sense of humor. I enjoy the camaraderie of a caring and compassionate cadre of educators who continually challenge me to be the best leader I can be (nice alliteration, no?) I have the privilege of dealing with concerned parents and community members who want our school to be better today than it was yesterday. Finally, I get to represent you on occasion to our legislators and local officials. It was in this last capacity that I received a phone call today from State Representative Ben Rodefer, (D – Corrales).

Rep. Rodefer, a Taylor alumnus, called to let me know of his strong support for public education and his opposition to cuts to schools in the upcoming special session. We had a wide-ranging discussion about the budget crunch and the hard choices he and his colleagues would be faced with. I shared with him our hopes for funding of construction of a new classroom wing to replace our 12 portable classrooms. I invited him to visit Taylor after the session was over to take a tour of the campus. Whatever the outcome of the special session – whether we have to make cuts or not – I was impressed that our state legislator cared enough about our school and our children to call and listen. So I guess I have one more reason that I feel lucky to be at Taylor – a state representative who takes the time to care for his alma mater. Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New staff added to our school

I am pleased to announce three new additions to our Taylor staff.
• Valerie Ortiz who is our new automatic substitute. Valerie came to us from Taft MS where she was the autosub last school year. She has her BS in Secondary Education from NMSU and is endorsed in language arts. She is pursuing a master’s in degree counseling from NMHU.
• Jana Rupp joined us this week as our newest math teacher. She will filling in for Mrs. Muxworthy for remainder of the year during her maternity leave. She has a BA in math from Benedictine College and an M Ed from Framingham State College. She has eight years teaching math teaching experience and is HQ in math.
• Sam Smith has joined our science department as Bonnie Bissell’s partner under the STEMS program. He and Bonnie will be reconfiguring her classes once he becomes acclimated. Sam has his BA in chemistry from UNM and is pursuing an M Ed in education from UNM.
• We have interviewed for the new Trans Math position this week and hope to be able to fill the vacancy by today.
Finding just the right teacher or staff member is always a challenge and we feel we have been extremely fortunate this year to have been able to hire some great new teachers. Research shows that the key to success in classrooms is the teacher. Great teachers make learning fun and challenging for all learners. This is our goal at Taylor. Have a great weekend and I hope you all get a chance to enjoy the beauty of our lovely North Valley during Balloon Fiesta.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Quality of Education Parent Survey Observations

Principal’s Corner with Mr. Bateson

I look forward to seeing our school’s parent survey results each fall much like a proud parent looks forward to seeing his child’s report card. Parents can find the survey on the APS website under schools and then under School Report Cards. Follow the link to Quality of Education surveys.

In many ways, the survey is our report card. Granted only 25% of parents completed the survey but I have to believe it is a fairly accurate representation of your opinion of Taylor. So the first thing I do is look at the percent that agree and disagree. The next thing I do is compare our results with aggregate results for all APS middle schools. This is like the kids in class who upon receiving their tests back from the teacher ask “what did you get?” The results were intriguing and I want to share some observations about how we did:

Questions with significant differences between Taylor and APS:
Q 2: When asked about the school building, 72% of Taylor parents said they agreed the building was in good repair and with sufficient space compared with 80% of all APS middle school parents.

Q 7: When asked about school-sponsored extracurricular activities, 61% of Taylor parents agreed they were adequate compared with 71% of all APS middle school parents.

Q 12: When asked about improvements in the school, 66% of Taylor parents have seen improvements compared with 57% of all APS middle school parents.

Q 15: When asked about preparation for life after high school, 56% of Taylor parents agreed their child was well prepared compared with 68% of all APS middle school parents.

Questions with significant similarities between Taylor and APS:
For the remaining 11 common questions, the responses were virtually identical varying by 1 to 5 points.

The final five Taylor-specific questions raise further questions:
• For question 16, only 61% agreed that the amount of homework was appropriate. Does this mean those who disagree think we assign too much or too little?
• For question 17 about dress code, 26% disagree that it supports campus safety. Maybe some think it too lax; others that it makes no difference and should be scrapped?
• Question 18 indicates that 80% of parents felt welcome. That statistic bothers me a little and I wonder what we can do to make it 100%?
• Question 19 shows 76% of you thought your communication from teachers was timely. Why not more?
• Question 20 shows 70% of you opined that your child found the learning environment fun. How can we do better here?

So how do I think we did? I see areas where we shone (teaching math and reading, high expectations, safety, welcoming climate) and areas we need improvement (extracurricular activities, preparation for life beyond 12th grade, homework). I invite all parents to attend our monthly PTO meetings and share ideas for improvement. Taylor is here to serve our community and we need your ideas to get better.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Preventing the flu at Taylor

Principal’s Corner with Mr. Bateson

I want our parents to know the steps we are taking to prevent an outbreak of H1N1 flu here at Taylor. We are in the process of distributing Purell Hand Sanitizer to every classroom, office, and area where students and staff work. We have ordered disinfectant spray for each classroom and reinforced for our custodial staff the importance of wiping down doorknobs and frequently touched surfaces. In the meantime, I want to share with you information from the NM Department of Health and APS about parental responsibilities regarding this flu outbreak:

1. Make sure your contact information (e.g. phone numbers) at school is up-to-date and correct. Information that is not correct causes delays in getting your student care. Give the school nurse other emergency numbers to call if you cannot be reached immediately.
2. Have a family plan about who is going to be able to pick up your student if he or she becomes ill during the school day or the school is closed. It is important that your student be picked up quickly and that you telephone your provider about how to care for your child.
3. Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effec¬tive. Please supervise children while they are using hand sanitizers.
4. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder; not into your hands.
5. Stay home if you or your child is sick for at least 24 hours after there is no longer a fever or signs of a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medicine such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen). Keep¬ing sick students at home means that they keep their viruses to themselves rather than spreading them with others.
6. If your child was sent home from school one day, your child may not return to school the next day (must be without a fever 24 hours or more without the use of fever reducing medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never give aspirin).
7. Get your family vaccinated for seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu when vaccines are available.
8. Call your healthcare provider for instructions regarding making arrangements for your child to be seen. Do not go to the provider’s office without calling first.

If your child or children are at high risk for flu complications from getting sick with the flu:

1. Make sure your child’s hands are washed for 20 seconds with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often and especially after coughing or sneezing.
2. Have your child cough and sneeze into a tissue or into his or her elbow or shoulder if a tissue is not available.
3. Keep your child away from people who are sick.
4. Clean surfaces and objects that your child frequently touches with cleaning agents that are usually used.
5. When there is flu in your community, consider your child’s risk of exposure if they attend public gatherings. In communities with a lot of flu, people who are at risk of complications from flu should consider staying away from public gatherings.
6. If flu is severe in your community, talk to your doctor and child’s school to develop a plan on how to handle your child’s special needs.
7. Get your child vaccinated for seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu when vaccines are available.
8. High risk students such as preschool, medically fragile, or pregnant students should be held out of school for a minimum of 7 days and until they are without symptoms and without a fever or signs of fever without antipyretics for over 24 hours, whichever is longer, if there is a case reported in their class or site.

If you have any questions about our response to the flu please don’t hesitate to contact me by phone or email. In addition you can contact our nurse Evelyn Martinez Martinez_ev@aps.edu

Friday, September 18, 2009

This and that from Taylor

This week’s column is a little bit of this and that:

The APS Education Foundation asked us to nominate two outstanding 7th/8th graders for recognition. This is part of the Foundation’s celebration of the “Month of the Early Adolescent” in October. Our teachers nominated several students based on the following criteria:
• Exemplary behavior;
• Excellent grades;
• Evidence of leadership/initiative—volunteerism, elected positions in organizations, in-class leadership; and
• Dependability.
We nominated two outstanding students for this award: Neda Mirmesdagh (8th) and Ben Duck (7th). Neda is the daughter of Reza and Lori Mirmesdagh. She has volunteered her time at the Roadrunner Food Bank and Watermelon Ranch Animal Rescue. Ben is the son of Roberta and Ken Duck. He has volunteered his time with the Officer McGrane Street Survival Training program and was a leader in organizing last year’s school-wide fundraiser for the Officer McGrane Foundation. In addition to their volunteer efforts, both students have excellent grades and are acknowledged student leaders. Congratulations to both students.

There has been much ado made about federal economic stimulus monies and their impact on the economy. I want to report on how Taylor is using our stimulus funds.
• We received $3,000 for the Special Education department which we divided up among our teachers. Each teacher received $200 which they will spend for classroom materials and/or books to enrich their classroom library.
• We received $5,000 for use in our two Autism/Social Communication classrooms. Each classroom is being outfitted with a new digital projector, document camera, projector screen, laptop computer, and a shared laser printer.
• Special education teachers have received professional development in research-based math and reading interventions to help them differentiate instruction.

As principal, a paramount concern is the safety of your child while at Taylor and coming to and from home. We work really hard as a school staff to supervise our students and to address student conflict before it escalates into bullying. But, sadly, bullying happens. When it does and we find out about it we discipline the bully. Unfortunately most bullying goes unreported because oftentimes students are afraid of the repercussions from the bully for reporting the original offense. While I fully understand this reluctance to come forward, parents must understand that we can’t address the bullying if we don’t know about it. And we aren’t just concerned about protecting the victim; we also want to help the bully improve his or her behavior. As we know most bullies have been victims of bullying themselves. So while we want to respond to bullying forcefully we also counsel the bully and try to get them some help. Bottom line: bullying is not okay at Taylor and if you are a victim, please let us know so we can help.

Finally, just a building and staffing update: The district is installing new energy efficient lighting in the main gym and mini-gym. The new lights will produce more light for less money. They will mount flush with the gym ceiling which will be safer. In addition to new lights, we also installed new mini-blinds in every classroom over the summer to replace antiquated Venetian blinds. We added two new portable classrooms over the summer to accommodate our growing student body and we just got authorization to hire a new special education math teacher to help us lower our pupil teacher ratio in our transitional math classes.

Have a wonderful weekend and I hope to see you next Thursday night!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Believing is seeing!

Conventional wisdom tells us that seeing is believing. But I had an epiphany recently after watching a video produced by National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones. His premise is that believing is seeing. He told of story of a young teacher who was advised that her new class of students was intellectually gifted. She set her expectations accordingly and proceeded to teach them as though they all had high IQs. When she got her standardized test results back, sure enough the students all scored well above the school average. She was later told that in fact she had been a part of an experiment and that her kids IQs were very much average. What made the difference? She believed they were gifted and so she began to see them as gifted. Her behavior toward them (how she saw them) changed based on what she believed. By believing in them, she saw them through a new lens. By believing in our kids - by believing they can achieve - we can affect whether they do achieve and succeed. Henry Ford said “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are right!” So how do you look at your child’s achievement at Taylor or on the soccer field or around the house? A recent article from Psychology Today explored the power of parental expectations:
“Self-fulfilling prophecies—ideas that become reality simply because someone believes them—do not usually have strong effects. But a study shows that expectations may come to pass when many people hold the same beliefs—if those beliefs are unfavorable. Stephanie Madon, an Iowa State University psychologist, investigated parents' expectations about their children's alcohol use. She discovered that when both parents believe that a child will abuse alcohol, in fact, the child is likely to drink more than expected. This holds true even when signs, such as past alcohol use and friends' behavior, suggest a teenager is at low risk. The findings support the social theory that prophecies are especially self-fulfilling for stereotyped groups. But Madon notes that her study also offers hope. If one parent has positive expectations about a child, the child is protected from the other parent's negative belief.”
Here at Taylor, we are striving as a school community to believe each child can learn, come prepared for class, do his or her homework, and achieve at a high level. Sometimes can be a challenge at times because we may have a stereotypical view of a child or even a whole subgroup of children because of our experience or upbringing or cultural bias. But we are working hard to see each child through a lens of possibilities rather than limitations: the proverbial glass half-full. So when you see our marquee asking “Do you believe?” you will know what we aren’t promoting religion or an X-Files fan club. We are asking a core question: Do you believe your child can achieve? Do you believe your child will succeed? We hope the answer to both is “yes!”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Our reading and math scores continue to rise

Taylor student scores on the spring 2009 NM Standards Based Assessment (SBA) increased in eight of eight reading category and in five of eight math categories. We take great pride in the fact that our overall reading proficiency rate rose from 59.8% last year to 61.8%. Our overall math proficiency rate rose from 42.9% last year to 43.4%. These gains reflect the tremendous efforts of students and staff alike last year as we work together to increase learning.

Our goal as established by Superintendent Winston Brooks is for 69.8% proficiency rate in reading and 52.9% proficiency rate in math. This will require a gain of 8% in reading and 9.5% in math. This is an ambitious but goal but it is achievable! Here is what we are doing to reach these goals:
• Math: We have increased our math instructional time from 84 minutes last year to 100 minutes this year. We are also implementing two new intervention programs: Math Navigator and Ramp Up to Math. Navigator will be used in every regular and accelerated math class. Ramp Up will be used for students needing intensive math intervention. When implemented with fidelity, we believe they will help us soar.
• Reading: We have brought Read 180 to Taylor. Ms. Sikes is teaching three 100-minute Read 180 blocks to help those students who most need reading interventions. Mrs. Beller-Hudgins is also teaching three 100-minute reading intervention classes for students who need support to improve their reading skills. We believe these veteran teachers will help our struggling readers become better readers.

In spite of our tremendous gains, this marks the fourth consecutive year that Taylor has not made AYP. This places us in the category of schools in need of restructuring. We will be sending home letters to all parents explaining what this means for you and your students. For now, please be advised that we continue to make improvements in our curriculum and instruction to help our non proficient students reach proficient status. If you have questions about this, the PED website has much information about NCLB and corrective action

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More staffing changes at Taylor

I am pleased to announce two important staffing additions here at Taylor.

The first is the addition of Lisa Padilla-Barnes to our Social Communications Program where she will be teaching our 7th and 8th grade autism students. Mrs. Barnes worked most recently as an inclusion teacher at Chelwood ES and Apache ES. She is a Corrales resident and an Albuquerque native. We are glad to have her on board.

The second big change is the transfer of Christy Green from the Language Arts Department to be our new Instructional Coach. Christy is the current Language Arts Department chair as well as chair of our Instructional Council. She replaces Lindsay Estes who has moved to a consultant position with district office. Joellen Beller-Hudgins has graciously agreed to assume responsibility for Christy’s classes for next year. This means Joellen will teach the accelerated language arts classes Christy was to have taught. We will now begin recruiting for a lang-lit intervention teacher to teach the Joellen’s previously scheduled reading intervention classes.

I would also like announce that Helen Maloney has decided to accept an instructional coach position helping math teachers across the district. This is a great honor for Helen and while we are going to miss her positive energy and can-do spirit, we also recognize that she has tremendous instructional skills that will benefit a great number of APS students. She has assured me that she will continue to visit frequently and perhaps even help with volleyball. We all hope so.

These changes now create two new vacancies that Pam and I will be interviewing for: (1) 6th-7th grade lang-lit intervention teacher, and (2) 7th grade math teacher. If you know of any outstanding teachers who want to be a part of a great team, encourage them to call me or email me. We want to hire these teachers as soon as possible.

Congratulations to Lisa, Christy, and Helen on their new ventures. Also kudos to the Taylor teachers who attended today’s Data Director training at Montgomery.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

One more outstanding teacher added to Taylor!

We are happy to welcome Barbara Humphries to Taylor Middle School. Barbara has accepted a position in the Social Communication Program. She will primarily be working with 6th grade students, and is replacing Jane Johnston, who will be supporting the school with additional Wilson reading classes as well as inclusion Language Arts.

Barbara comes to us from EG Ross Elementary where she taught within an ED classroom. She has a great deal of experience working with developmentally delayed individuals along with behavior challenges students.

She holds a degree from Cabrini College in Science, Special and Elementary education and graduated with honors. She aspires to gain a masters in neuro-psychology and is highly skilled in writing and implementing Behavior Intervention Plans and Functional Behavior Assessments. In addition, she has received training in Sensory Processing Disorders and Interventions, Math U See, Fundations, and in De-Escalation techniques.

Barbara is a welcome edition to Taylor Middle School. Welcome!

New Math and Social Studies teachers added.

We are pleased to announce the addition of two outstanding young teachers to the Taylor staff.

In the math department, we interviewed several outstanding candidates and were fortunate to be able to offer the position to Annette Caro. Mrs. Caro is currently teaching 4th grade at Atrisco ES. She has a very strong math background having minored in it in college. She has her BS from Angelo State University in San Angelo TX with endorsements in reading and math and graduate hours in bilingual education with bilingual and TESOL endorsements from College of Santa Fe. She is well versed in A2L and continuous classroom improvements and has implemented PDSA at Atrisco. She has taught with APS since August 2004.

In the social studies department, we again interviewed some stellar candidates for this short term position. Again, we had several outstanding candidates from whom to choose. We agreed that Melissa Navarro was the best candidate. Ms. Navarro received her BA from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. She has graduate hours from UT San Antonio in history. She has taught 6th grade social studies for the past three years Texas, most recently at Camino Real MS in El Paso. She has coached volleyball, basketball, track, softball, tennis, and was a yearbook sponsor. Like Annette, she is well versed in the use of short cycle assessment date to drive and inform instruction.

Melissa and Annette will be the third and fourth new teachers we have hired this summer. As I wrote two weeks ago, we also hired a pair of STEMS interns from UNM to replace Nichole Pennington. Bonnie Bissell and Tobi Camilli will be teaming in this capacity. Like Melissa and Annette, they are smart, vibrant, and highly motivated women who have a passion for teaching.

We are very excited to have added such bright and dynamic young teachers to our staff.

Two new teachers added to our staff

We are pleased to announce the addition of two outstanding young teachers to the Taylor staff.

In the special education department, we interviewed several outstanding candidates for the open gifted position vacated when Laura Hurlbirt moved to New York. We were fortunate to be able to offer the position to Sarah Resnik. Sarah is currently teaching gifted language arts at McKinley MS. She has a very strong language arts background in addition to her work with gifted student. She has her BA in speech communications from Middle Tennessee State and a MS in curriculum and instruction from College of Santa Fe. She is a Highland HS graduate and was recognized as a Golden Apple Scholar in 2006. Sarah has endorsements in gifted education. She is well versed in continuous classroom improvements and has implemented PDSA at McKinley. She has taught with APS since August 2006.

For the position of ISS monitor, we again interviewed some well qualified candidates for this position. One gentleman stood out however – Michael Williams. (Yes we know that makes two Mr. M. Williams at Taylor). Michael has his bachelor’s degree in health education from Mount Saint Vincent College in Riverdale, NY and an associate’s degree from Queensborough CC in computer programming. He was the TIPS EA at Cleveland MS last year and we were very fortunate to pick him up from Cleveland. He is a licensed Health teacher and in addition to his duties at Taylor, he will be an assistant football coach at Valley HS. He has worked with behaviorally and emotionally challenged children in New York since 1995 and we feel very lucky to have hired someone with his depth of experience.

Sarah and Michael join four other outstanding young teachers we hired this summer:
• Bonnie Bissell – science
• Tobi Camilli – science
• Annette Caro Castilla – math
• Melissa Navarro – social studies

We are still interviewing for a social communications teacher. We expect to interview for this in early July.

We are very excited to have added such bright and dynamic young educators to our staff.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

End of year musings

A year ago yesterday, I was introduced to the Taylor staff and parents for the first time. I commented to my wife that I was impressed by the warmth of the welcome and I expressed a hope that I would not disappoint them. For whatever reason, it seemed to me at the time that expectations were sky-high and my biggest fear was that I could not meet those expectations.

A year later, it’s safe to say that I probably exceeded expectations for some folks and did not measure up to the expectations of others. That’s to be expected (no pun intended). I will say this: I have absolutely loved my first year as your principal and am as thrilled to be the principal of Taylor Middle School today as I was on May 12, 2008. In reflecting on the past 183 days of school, I have learned (and occasionally relearned):
• Parents, kids, and teachers expect the principal to consistent and fair at all times, but I also learned
• One size does not fit all kids, teachers, parents, or anything else that comes along.
• Math, reading, science, and social studies are important subjects that every student should master, but,
• Visual art, live music, and poetic expression make life beautiful and meaningful and cannot be ignored in building a middle school curriculum
• Kids are strong, bright, and eager to learn
• Except when they aren’t. And this is where we as a school community need to pull together to help those students who can’t or won’t succeed find a way to succeed.
• Middle school parents want to be involved in the life of the school and that we have a solemn responsibility to involve them.
Teams achieve success because key players make plays. I want to conclude this BPM by acknowledging some key players on our team for their contribution: Pam is the best assistant principal I have ever worked with; Officer Steve is a great guy and a heck of a cop; Suzanne, Ellen, and Angela are as good an office staff as exists in APS; Lindsay is a superlative instructional coach who almost single-handedly made data dialogues work; Christy is a courageous and courteous IC chair; Peter and his crew (Jose, Albert, Patty, and Anna) do an outstanding job of keeping the school and grounds beautiful; Michele, Evelyn, and Melissa run a safe, supportive, and efficient health suite. Joellen and Theresa are exceptional teacher coaches; Helen helped us focus on student success; Vince and Peggy kept our network running; our teaching staff is second to none and their contributions to our school’s success were heroic; our educational assistants did the really heavy lifting day in and day out and we owe you a lot – thanks! And we can’t forget our dedicated cafeteria staff that makes the best bread in town, thanks. The staff of Child Find and Audiology has been a great support. Lastly, I want to thank you, the parents, for your help and support this year: Tanya, Cheryl, Jean, Mariette, Dennis, Kathy, Jason, Tiana, Barbara, Mary Ann, Jennifer, Sarah, Monica, Karen, Becky, Rez, Sef, George, Nancy, Nora, Tom, Carmen, Renee, Heather and the many other parents who work tirelessly to make Taylor a great school. I appreciate you all and thank you for your service. I look forward to continuing our partnership next year and beyond.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Great moms!

Last week I wrote about three great teachers who shaped my life and contributed to the person I am today. This week during Teacher Appreciation Week, I was grateful to our dedicated PTO for recognizing our great teachers at the Teacher Day luncheon. I also want to thank the kind and caring staff of our Audiology and Child Find Departments for spoiling us with a variety of chocolate delights on Monday. That being said, I am confident that our teaching staff felt honored and appreciated. Thank you to all who participated in honoring our teachers.

This week, I want to share with you about three other profound teachers who shaped my life but not one of them had a teaching degree. Not one was a licensed teacher. Not one graduated from a college of education. Yet every one was or is a superb teacher. I am talking about three special mothers and on this Mother’s Day weekend, I want to share with you how these ladies contributed to my success as an adult.

I was fortunate to be born into a family which valued education – often, perhaps usually, more than I did. My paternal grandmother graduated from Willamette University in the years preceding the Great Depression. Her father was the superintendent of the Oregon School for Boys (a reform school) and he doubtlessly passed on to my grandmother the importance of a college education. She married my grandfather (an English teacher) and they spent the early 1930’s teaching English in CCC and WPA camps in Idaho and Montana. My grandmother was a strict grammarian who delighted in correcting my errant subject/verb agreement, dangling participles and split infinitives. She was relentless in her search for grammatical errors, a nasty habit I am afraid I acquired. She was however a delightfully witty and erudite gal who taught me that words were fun (when used properly of course) and I owe her a great deal.

The second woman who shaped my life was my own dear mother. She was born to good Danish stock in the Salinas Valley of California in the early years of the Depression. Mom was by all accounts a straight A student who parlayed these good grades into a scholarship to Stanford where she met my dad. I can’t begin to describe the many things she taught me but the thing that stands out is the importance of family. Confidentially, I was not the best of students in high school and I am certain that poor mother wondered why I didn’t inherit her academic scholarship genes. I muddled through high school graduating in the top 50% but she never called me a slacker, and was always there to tell me and show me how much she loved me. She passed away in 1986 and I honor her on this Mother’s Day. I miss you mom!

The third woman I am related to by marriage. She has the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the charity of Mother Teresa. She has taught me that people are more important than things and that faith, hope, and love are the true virtues to strive for (or is “for which to be strived”?). My dear wife Lynn has been my best teacher and best friend. I particularly honor her this Mother’s Day. Not everyone has been as blessed as I have been to have been taught by such strong, noble women who loved me unconditionally. But I do believe most of us have someone in our lives worthy of honor and recognition on this Mother’s Day. I especially want to thank all of the Taylor moms, grandmas, aunts, and motherly figures who support our kids and school. Thanks also go out to all the moms who work at Taylor and make it a caring, compassionate place. I hope you all have a blessed Mom’s Day!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Great teachers in my life

Have you ever had a great teacher? I have had numerous great teachers in my life. The first one was my tough-as-nails eighth grade teacher. Her name Miss Grace Klampe (not Ms, Miss thank you very much). She was as stern as a dried prune and as demanding as a drill sergeant but she could TEACH. She demanded respect and got it. She actually had to use the ruler across the knuckles for yours truly on one occasion when I was less than stellar in my behavior. But to this day I respect her. She wasn’t warm and fuzzy but she taught me important lessons like personal responsibility and being accountable for my actions.

The next great teacher was my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Harmon. She was young, sweet, and beautiful – the antithesis of Miss Klampe – but she was also smart and literate and engaging. Where Miss Klampe made learning a duty to be honored, Mrs. Harmon made learning a journey of discovery to be relished. Of course I fell hopelessly in love with her in the way that only a 13 year old teenager can. Despite my boyhood crush, she did instill in me a love for English and it occurs to me that she may have influenced my decision to become an English teacher.

My final great teacher was my major professor and advisor in the graduate program for educational leadership – Dr. Ernest Noack. Ernie was Princeton-smart and Montessori-kind. He anchored many of his leadership courses around the work of Stephen Covey and he taught us that it is core principles that guide us in life. And like all the great teachers, he walked the talk. He made us feel like we could succeed as school leaders by his words spoken and written on the countless essays and projects we were expected to write. Never did he utter a discouraging word. Like all the great teachers in my life, he instilled confidence. There were many more influential teachers including my parents but that’s next week’s topic. I honor these great teachers because next week is Teacher Appreciation Week. We have great teachers here at Taylor and we will honor them at our PTO Appreciation Luncheon on Tuesday May 5. I invite you to take time this week and recognize the teachers who have positively influenced you and your children- especially those here at Taylor. Forget the old saying that those who can't do teach. I say, those who can teach others to do.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Meeting the Guv

On Monday, my wife Lynn and I had the privilege of meeting with Governor Bill Richardson as he signed a proclamation proclaiming April as ALS Awareness Month in New Mexico. We were there at the invitation of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It was an emotional and moving meeting for the Governor and the rest of us present. Lynn and I very much appreciate the support we have received from all of the Taylor community as we deal with her illness. Thankfully though, she remains strong and has begun to volunteer her time here at Taylor on Wednesdays working with several students. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Parent concerns and a stinky visitor

One of the most important facets of my job is listening to parents and students. Some weeks I receive as many as one call a day. Other weeks, I don’t get any calls. One call this week stood out and I share it with you to illustrate a point.

The parent began by saying she was quite concerned with her son’s grade (an F) in a core class. The parent expressed serious reservations about the boy’s performance in the class and shared information with me that the child had told her about the teacher and class. She felt the teacher was targeting her son and said she was considering asking to have him moved to another teacher. I listened and then asked “Have you visited with the teacher about your concerns?” The mother allowed as how she had not because she believed her child’s statement about his grades and other issues. I asked if she wanted me to meet with the teacher. “No but you can have her call me if she wants to,” she replied. I passed the message along to the teacher who promptly called the mother.

Lo and behold, the child had not told the mother the entire story. The child had a B, not an F. And the other concerns the mother had heard about were also not as bad as the child had led his mom to believe. In the end, the parent and teacher agreed to work closely together to help the boy succeed. A partnership was forged for the benefit of the child. Thank heavens the mother didn’t just rely on adolescent misinformation but had the gumption to call me and complain. And thank goodness the wise teacher was courageous enough to call an unhappy parent and respond to her concerns. The moral: don’t believe everything you hear and if something sounds funny or weird or wrong, call me or call the teacher and check it out.

On an unrelated note, we removed an unwelcome visitor from Taylor this week. This fellow had taken up residence under one of our portables. And when he was removed on Tuesday, he made a real stink! Can you guess who it was? Yep, a skunk.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A surprising first day of school

You might not realize it but our new school year does not begin August 17; it starts April 22 at 8:15 am. “Huh? That’s impossible”, you say. “I have seen the district calendar and school begins on August 17.” Yes and no. We do begin the official 2009-2010 school year on August 17 but our instructional year starts April 22, the day after testing. This is one of the unforeseen consequences of No Child Left Behind: the start of the instructional year has shifted from fall to spring. We no longer have the luxury of having a relaxing April and May easing on into a three-month summer vacation. Then when we return in August we take three weeks to review and then begin teaching new material after Labor Day. No my friends, those days are long gone replaced by the hard reality that our school is measured by how well our kids score on standardized tests. And to perform well on these tests, we have to use every available minute to help our students master the content standards spelled out by the NM PED. Do I miss the halcyon days of my youth when the warm days of spring were a time to coast into summer? I suppose that Norman Rockwell place in my memory is nostalgic for it but that Vince Lombardi place in my gut tells me that for our kids to compete, we had better not waste the moments we have to teach and learn. With that in mind, I encourage you to challenge your child to be proud of his or her efforts on the SBA and to represent Taylor well because the new school year starts sooner than you thought.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A cause greater than oneself

Last week I expressed my pride at how successful our PED – APS visitation was. This week, I want to share with you how proud I am of three groups of Taylor students who are making a difference in Albuquerque and the world.

Our 6th-7th Grade Orchestra students under the guidance of Ms. Stefanova have started a special project to help the community and other children through music. The idea started as a 6th grade class discussion. Students will be playing at the McDonald House – part of UNM Hospital. The event will take place on April 24th.

Students are raising money for the Deputy James McGrane Officer Survival Training program. Thanks to the initiative of 6th grader Ben Duck and his mom, all monies will go to help this worthy effort. The class that raises the most money will get a K9 demo from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. For more information, go to www.deputymcgrane.com.

Eighth graders in Mr. Williams’ science class are going to be selling Otter Pops starting mid-April to raise money to help water purification efforts in the Third World. Funds raised will help purchase PUR packets as explained in the 2-27-09 issue of Current Science magazine. It was developed by Proctor and Gamble toxicologist Greg Allgood. One $1.50 packet purifies 10 liters of dirty water.

One thing which helps students feel connected to school is participating in a cause greater than themselves. I applaud the efforts of our community-minded students and sponsors. I invite parents and guardians to financially support these worthy efforts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's a great day to be a Thunderbird!

I am bursting with pride at the outstanding report we received this afternoon from the Corrective Action Study Team made up of Public Education Department consultants and APS staffers. The four member study team spent all day visiting classrooms, interviewing teachers and parents, and reviewing documents. The visit’s purpose was to assess our progress toward completing our Educational Plan for Student Success. The team visited twenty classrooms and observed student and teacher interactions. The team met with the Instructional Council after school to present their preliminary findings. The following were quotes from the exit meeting:
• “Taylor has an amazing parent component. The parent representative who was interviewed (Tanya Lattin) really did a good job. She obviously likes Taylor.”
• “You have a wonderful student body. The students were very well behaved in class and in the hallways. We did not see students having to be redirected once by the teacher.”
• “There is a strong foundation of respect by the students. “
• “Student work is being honored throughout school.”
• “The school is very student centered.”
• “We are impressed by how much the staff cares about the students.”
• “We saw lots of good things. In chorus class the kids were having a ball.”
• “You have an amazing instructional coach (Lindsay Estes) and the job Ann Hawks did with her class was incredible.”
• “The work you are doing with Monday’s Data Dialogues is really quite remarkable. Your staff is to be complimented for their willingness to collaborate.”
• “Taylor right now ranks somewhere between good and very good with the possibility of being great.”
In addition to the areas of strength, areas of improvement were noted. We were advised to continue to zone in on improving the curriculum and scheduling. We were reminded that teachers need to differentiate instruction to address the individual needs of students – particularly those with disabilities and language differences. The study team, headed by Dr. Patricia Woodard, APS support principal for Restructuring Schools, will deliver their final report on the visit to us sometime in late April. Copies will be made available at that time. My thanks to all of you for the work you did to make today’s visit a resounding success.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Is your child getting enough sleep? Are you?

I don’t know about you but the time change to Daylight Savings kicked my rear end this weekend. You wouldn’t think losing an hour of sleep would matter but it sure did for me. This got me thinking about sleep needs of our students and it led me to an article in the New York Times by Perri Klass, M.D. published March 9, 2009.
“ “The literature really strongly suggests the average early to mid-adolescent needs 9 to 9.25 hours a night,” said Dr. Judith Owens, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, who directs the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. “It’s a bell-shaped curve,” she said, with just 2.5 percent of the population needing significantly less sleep than average. “The problem,” she went on, “is that 95 percent of us think we’re in that 2.5 percent. You should assume until proven otherwise that your kid needs that much sleep.””
“As children move into middle school, Dr. Owens said, they still need plenty of sleep, but it gets harder for them to follow the schedule that the world demands.”
““Sleep needs don’t change all that dramatically from late elementary through middle school into high school,” she said. “What changes is the circadian rhythm of sleep and wake, and typically as you go into and through puberty your sleep and wake time shifts by as much as two hours. They simply can’t fall asleep as early as they did when they were 7 or 8 years old.” That is why many experts say the high school day should start later.”
“Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown and the director of chronobiology research at E. P. Bradley Hospital, says that in the sleep lab, researchers can assess a child’s sleep drive by looking at EEG recordings of the brain, and monitor circadian rhythm by testing saliva.”
““We assess the amount of melatonin that’s produced, an excellent marker of brain timing: when we see the melatonin signal turn on, that’s telling us it’s nighttime for the brain. We’ve measured that signal at different developmental stages,” she said, and “as kids are passing through puberty, we see this push for nighttime to be later.” “
“Even as we’ve come to understand more and more about the importance of sleep, for brain function and learning, for mental and physical health, the world has gotten to be a harder and harder place for a child to go to sleep. The basic advice pediatricians give to parents of young children about bedtime routines — turn off the television, take her on your lap, read a book — is important for older children, too: spend time together, wind down, turn off electronic devices, read a book.”
“Let’s face it, even if you keep the television out of the bedroom (which you should absolutely do), the nursery is now pretty fully wired in many families, and most children are aware of entertainment and communication possibilities that go on all evening long. I may have let my children stay up too late (O.K., I did let my children stay up too late), but at least I pushed hard for reading, being read to and just plain hanging out. And as we try to take account of the new research on the importance of sleep, the bedtime routine may remain every bit as important as the bedtime.”
So I hope you will make sure your student gets a good night sleep tonight. If in doubt, consult your pediatrician for specific sleep needs. Now if you’ll excuse me (Yawn!) I have to get to bed because it’s past my bedtime. Sweet dreams.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ten reasons I would enroll my child at Taylor

Business Week just released their list of the Ten Unhappiest Cities in America. I was surprised to see my old hometown Portland, Oregon ranked #1 as the saddest city in the US. But as I read the summary, I remembered the 222 cloudy days per year, the unending rain, and the high divorce rate and understood. We all love top ten lists so I compiled my list of the Ten Reasons I Would Enroll My Child at Taylor MS. In no particular order, they are:

Reason 1: Small and personal: Compared with our neighboring middle schools west of the river, we have a fraction of the enrollment. With an enrollment of 630 students, we are big enough to offer excellent programs but small enough where I know most of the students by sight.
Reason 2: Positive behavior is supported: The Great Kids recognition is but one example of how we are trying to “catch kids being good”. Our Celebrate Success Committee has been instrumental this year in creating a framework for recognizing student academic success.
Reason 3: Outstanding teachers EA, and support staff: Taylor has great teachers. I have worked in a number of NM schools and we have some of the best teachers in entire state. Our EAs are simply superb!
Reason 4: Strong Parent Teacher and Band Parent Organizations: Our parent organizations are there to serve the school as volunteers whether selling Candy-grams or restocking our uniform pantry. They are selfless in their service of our school.
Reason 5: Small town community feeling: Taylor doesn’t feel like an urban school. To me, it has an almost “Our Town” feeling. I am always refreshed when I drive down Rio Grande and turn toward Taylor.
Reason 6: High academic expectations: Our teachers expect excellence from their students. Toward that end, we are upping our expectations even more next year with the creation of Pre-AP courses.
Reason 7: Strong instructional support: The school leadership team believes our most important task is to support good teaching in every classroom. Our instructional coach, CLC coaches, literacy leaders, instructional council, and grade level teams collaborate weekly to make sure we improve student learning.
Reason 8: Safe well-maintained campus: We aren’t the newest school around but we are one of the best maintained. Our full time campus deputy constantly monitors our campus to ensure safety.
Reason 9: Up-to-date technology: We have invested thousands this year in computers, Elmos, and clickers this year to make sure our teachers have the tools they need to teach effectively.
Reason 10: We are a school on the rise: Sure I am biased but I think we have made and are making changes that will lead to improved instruction and student success in the years to come. Watch us SOAR!

Friday, February 27, 2009

No means no!

According to a New York Times article (May 1, 2008) “More than a third of middle- and high-school students may be victims of sexual harassment by their classmates…The emotional toll of sexual harassment by school kids appears to be even worse than physical bullying… “It happens in gym, on the school bus and when kids change classes,” said Susan Fineran, associate professor in the school of social work and women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. “And it’s who you’re sitting next to, who’s sitting behind you and in front of you.” To study the issue, Dr. Fineran and coauthor James Gruber from the University of Michigan in Dearborn surveyed 522 children between the ages of 11 and 18 about their experiences with bullying and sexual harassment at school. Overall, 35 percent of kids reported they had been victims of some form of sexual harassment. Boys and girls reported equal levels of harassment, but girls and sexual minorities were far more upset by it, suffering from lower self-esteem, poorer mental and physical health, and more trauma symptoms. Sexual harassment by classmates can be both physical and verbal. Walking through school hallways or in classrooms, girls said they must fend off boys reaching out and squeezing their breasts or grabbing their crotch or bottom. But girls also verbally harass each other, making lewd comments and writing sexually-charged allegations on Web pages or in text messages.”

I choose this topic because today I suspended two students for just such behavior. I only found out about the behavior because the victim was brave enough to report it to the counselor who in turn reported it to me. As I told the two harassers, such behavior is illegal and will not be tolerated. I explained to the harassers that “No means no!” And even if the other party does not overtly object or tell you to stop, the offender needs to know that it is still objectively wrong in the eyes of civil society and the law.

Parents can help us end sexual harassment by talking to your child about it. If your child has been a victim, help them to come forward and report this to me or another school staff member. Once we have identified the harasser, we can discipline accordingly. Parents can also educate their child about why harassment is wrong and what they can do to stop it. While I do not believe it is a widespread event at Taylor, I do want to do everything in the school’s power to end it. Your help in this is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some interesting research on rumors

One of the more humorous aspects of working in a middle school is listening to the rumors that pop up. The more uncertain the times or circumstances, the more prevalent and wild are the rumors. “Rumors have been described as public communications that are infused with private hypotheses about how the world works (Rosnow, 1991), or more specifically, ways of making sense to help us cope with our anxieties and uncertainties (Rosnow, 1988, 2001). There is even a Basic Mathematical Law of Rumor which states that rumor strength (R) will vary with the importance of the subject to the individual concerned (i) times the ambiguity of the evidence pertaining to the topic at hand (a), or R ≈ i × a.” (Source: Psychological Science Agenda Volume 19: No. 4, April 2005)

According to Wikipedia, “A Psychology of Rumor" was published by Robert Knapp in 1944. Knapp identified three basic characteristics that apply to rumor: 1. they're transmitted by word of mouth; 2. they provide "information" about a "person, happening, or condition"; and 3. they express and gratify "the emotional needs of the community." Based on his study of the newspaper column, Knapp divided those rumors into three types:
1. Pipe dream rumors: reflect public desires and wished-for outcomes
2. Bogie or fear rumors reflect feared outcomes.
3. Wedge-driving rumors intend to undermine group loyalty or interpersonal relations
Knapp also found that negative rumors were more likely to be disseminated than positive rumors.

I raise this issue because with the arrival of spring comes the arrival of:
• Rumors among students about other students (these are often wedge-driving rumors)
• Rumors among teachers and staff about a variety of topics like salary (these are most often bogie rumors)
• Rumors about legislative approval of the funding formula (these are pipe dream rumors I am afraid).

What do you do when you hear a rumor? Do you spread it or gather facts and data to prove or disprove it? If you gather facts to confirm or disprove the rumor, you are part of the solution. If you further spread or distort the rumor, you contribute to the problem.

While I do my best to laugh at some of the rumors I hear around school, I also understand that rumors often spring from anxiety and fear. My recommendation to those who hear a rumor is to:
1. Find out if it is true or false
2. Not spread it any further
3. Educate the rumor monger that the rumor is true or false
Please help us with rumor control. By doing this, you will contribute to making Taylor and the world a safer, happier place.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Principal's Corner

One sign of a healthy school is the fact that parents want to enroll their children in it. As I have written in the past, we have lost students to private and neighboring public schools. We have taken steps to reverse this tide including:
• adding pre-AP and accelerated classes,
• increasing our gifted electives,
• creating a schedule that targets interventions to struggling students
• providing lockers
• creating a safe climate with consistent and immediate student discipline

At our 5th Grade Open House last week, we shared these changes with parents and students with the hope that we would attract more students. I am pleased to report that the results have so far borne fruit. I have received well over a dozen phone calls from parents who want to transfer their incoming 5th grader from their neighborhood middle school or a private school to attend Taylor. I also received the following emails from parents in response to our open house. The first was forwarded to me by our evening’s speaker, Rep. Heather Wilson:

“It was good to see you at Taylor Middle School. (My wife) and I were a bit skeptical and not sure if we would send Aaron to Taylor Middle School before we went to the open house. After visiting the school, meeting the teachers and hearing your testimonial about the school, we left feeling very positive and will be sending Aaron to Taylor next year. Thank you for speaking about the school, as it helped us make our decision and Aaron like the school very much. A couple of his friends will be joining him there too.”

This email to me arrived several days later:
“I got your email address from the literature from the open house on Thursday that my family and I attended because we have a 5th grader that will be attending Taylor next fall. My wife was very impressed with the presentation because she felt it was very genuine and it was something that you and your staff seemed to be very proud of. I had my doubts because my oldest boy attended Taylor 8 years ago and to say the least it was very challenging. We have high hopes for our son’s education at Taylor and we feel that you and your staff will get him headed in a positive direction and keep him challenged while he is at Taylor.”

We are encouraged by these unsolicited testimonials. I expect great things from our teachers and kids this school year and in the years ahead. I am particularly eager for the NM Standards Based Assessment in April because it will be an opportunity for our talented students to “show what they know.” I will be writing to you in the future about what you can do to help us shine. For now, thank you for your support of Taylor.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Building your child's vocabulary

Vocabulary skills are critical to success in school and life. The type of language we use influences what jobs we get, where we attend college, even who we eventually marry. Even if parents don’t read to their middle school child every night like they used to in elementary school, you can still help with vocabulary development. The following article which appeared in the SEDL Letter October 2007 contains some tips that can help parents help their kids in school. (Note: Where the author uses “teacher” substitute “parent”.)

““Text talk” is an approach to vocabulary instruction developed by Drs. Isabel Beck and Margaret that focuses on teaching words from stories and poems read aloud to students. It takes advantage of young readers’ listening and speaking competencies to boost vocabulary development. Just reading aloud isn’t enough to improve vocabulary, but teacher-student discussion about the story, book, or poem can improve both comprehension and vocabulary. Teachers can help students understand what new words mean by providing student-friendly definitions, discussing the word in the context of the story, and relating the word to situations with which students are familiar. Teachers can also ask open questions that allow students to make connections among ideas presented in the reading and conduct activities that enrich student understanding—in other words, provide opportunities for children to reflect on what is happening in the story or with the language. Beck and McKeown (2001) noted that teachers also should encourage children to use the words after the initial discussion: “If children do not think about and use a word after initial instruction it is unlikely to become part of the vocabulary repertoire” (p. 18). An example of a text talk lesson that focuses on vocabulary follows:”

1. Read aloud the story Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
2. Contextualize the word within the story. * In the story, Wilbur was enthusiastic about making new friends.
3. Provide a student-friendly explanation of the word.
* Enthusiastic means you are happy or excited about something.
4. Have children say the word. * Say the word with me, enthusiastic.
5. Present examples of the word used in contexts different from the story context. * Someone might be enthusiastic about seeing a new movie, or someone might be enthusiastic about going to Disney World.
6. Engage children in activities that get them to interact with the word. * Share something you would be enthusiastic about. Try to use the word enthusiastic when you talk about it. You could start by saying something like
“I would be enthusiastic about __________________.”
You could then say to a student, “Show us how you might act if you felt enthusiastic about ___________________.”
You could ask students: Would you be enthusiastic if
• You could get a puppy?
• You had to go to the doctor for a shot?
• Your best friend was coming over to play?
7. Have children say the word again. * What’s the word we’ve been talking about?
Based on the work of Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Cucan, Bringing Words

Teaching vocabulary is not a difficult process and it shouldn’t be entirely left to the teacher. You can do it while watching TV, driving down the road, or while at a restaurant. Every new word you help your child learn improves his or her odds of being successful in school and life. Thanks!

Friday, January 30, 2009

New schedule coming to Taylor next year

When I began teaching high school history in 1990, my school had a seven-period day with 50-minute periods. I had my students for both semesters. In 1994, the district decided that it would be more effective to switch to a 90-minute block schedule in which teachers would have students for one semester only. There were good reasons that supported going to the block including extended time to go into greater depth of study and fewer classes for students to focus on. There was however little research that indicated that it really increased student learning. Like many reforms in education, it worked well for some kids and for some teachers but not for all.

NCLB and RTI:
Several years ago, Taylor too adopted a block schedule with four 84-minute classes. Again, it worked well for some kids, some teachers, and some subjects but not all. Since then, things have changed: things like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Response to Intervention (RTI). NCLB has caused many schools to narrow their curriculum to make sure that all students can read, compute, and write proficiently. The good news is that it has forced us to pay attention to students who might have previously been underserved: minorities, the poor, and the disabled. The bad news is that it has led to some cuts in elective programs. More on this point later. RTI, like NCLB, also is forcing us to pay attention to every student who is not proficient in math and reading. This is the good news. We must now devote extra class time and teacher resources to helping these students become better readers and mathematicians. I absolutely agree with the intent of this. The problem is that we have to provide these additional services with no additional money, staff, or instructional days. We have had to get creative.

Schedule redesign considerations:
This was the dilemma facing us when we asked our teachers to help us design a master schedule that would do the following:
• Provide extended blocks of time for math and reading interventions for non-proficient students
• Allow every teacher to see every kid every day
• Provide accelerated classes in all core subjects
• Organize teacher prep times by content area
• Not significantly reduce elective course offerings
• Maximize teacher instructional time

New Schedule Proposed to Instructional Council:
We held several meetings to discuss how to best design our schedule to meet these objectives. After listening to staff input, the school leadership team came up with a new design for next year with the following features:
• Move from four 84-minute blocks to seven 50-minute periods a day.
• Every teacher will see every student daily.
• All math students will have two 50-minute math classes each day: one for core instruction and one for either remediation or enrichment.
• All students who are not proficient readers will have two 50-minute classes each day: one for core instruction and one for either remediation
• Pre AP and accelerated classes will be offered in all core subjects.

We presented a draft of the proposed schedule to the Instructional Council in mid-January for discussion. Council members took the proposal to their various departments and teams for further discussion. I am pleased to report that the Instructional Council approved the proposal at their meeting on January 28th. We are now moving forward with implementation for next school year.

What will this look like for my student?:
For a regular or advanced student, her schedule will have: Math (2 periods), Language arts (1 period), Science (1 period), Social studies (1 period) and Electives (2 periods).

For a student who is not proficient in reading, the schedule will be: Math (2 periods), Language arts (1 period), Reading (1 period) Science (1 period), Social studies (1 period) and Electives (1 period). Once a student progresses in reading to proficiency, he will be able to leave remedial reading and add a second elective class.

Changes in instructional time:
This new schedule increases the total time every student has math from 380 minutes per week to 500 minutes per week. It increases the amount of time non-proficient students have language arts/reading from 380 minutes per week to 500 minutes per week. The number of minutes that all students will have for science and social studies increases from 210 minutes per week to 250 minutes per week. We were actually able to increase the time in elective classes from 210 minutes to 250 minutes per week. To accomplish these increases in core instructional time, we reduced teacher prep periods from 84 minutes to 50 minutes. Unfortunately one casualty of these shifts was the beginning Drama classes in the 6th grade exploratory wheel. In their place we hope to offer creative writing. Other elective course offerings did not change. We are hoping to add advanced drama if funding allows.

I am grateful to our staff for their creativity and professionalism in this design process. I am convinced it will increase student learning next year. Thanks to all!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Some reflections on sewing and scarcity

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the works of Stephen Covey. I began with his best-seller Principle- Centered Leadership, moved on the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and most recently read The Eighth Habit. In his books, Covey draws from the wisdom of the world’s great religions as well as his own insights. Two particular Covey principles have really helped me be a better principal and I’d like to share my thoughts about them as they relate to our school.

Principle 1: You reap what you sow:
The basic premise is simple. If you plant potatoes in your garden in January, you will harvest a crop of potatoes in July. In school, it works the same way for students, teachers and staff, and parents. For example, a student who sews seeds of disdain for school rules or towards her teachers will soon enough reap a harvest of phone calls to parents and referrals to the principal’s office. Conversely, a student who sews seeds of diligence in completing homework will reap a harvest of good grades and recognition. For school employees it works the same way. A teacher who sews seeds of respect towards his or her students will harvest respect. An EA who sews seeds of kindness toward her disabled student will reap kindness.

Sewing and reaping. It is elemental and it applies to parents and school as well. For example, I know parents who have the mindset that if a kids hits his child, his child is expected to hit back. When this seed is planted, it is no surprise that it often bears fruit in the form of fighting and physical aggression – often under the guise of self-defense. This happened recently when a girl got hit and she promptly turned around and punched the other girl in the nose. Bad seed. Bad fruit. How much better it would have been if the parent had planted different seed such as getting help from adults or even walking away. And so I ask myself on a regular basis, what kind of seed am I sewing? Do I plant seeds of hope and encouragement or do I plant seeds of anger and pessimism? I don’t really get to decide what kind of harvest is reaped. That is decided by the kind of seed I sew. This leads to principle #2.

Principle 2: Abundance versus Scarcity Mentality
Here is what Covey says about these two mentalities.

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people. The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flow out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”

For schools, the implications of this are huge. No more grading on a bell curve. If every student mastered the assignment, then every student deserves a high grade. For parents it might mean that they don’t need to be stingy with their praise of their child’s grades. After all, success breeds more success. And for students, it might mean that there is room in their social group for a new student or a student who seems odd. All of which ties back to sewing and reaping. If you sew the idea that there is enough good stuff for everybody, then you will tend toward generosity and magnanimity. This is my vision for Taylor – that we become a school where every kid is recognized for his or her strengths and not chastised for his or her weaknesses. With your support, I think we can get there.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The importance of Algebra

The Principal’s Corner with Mr. Bateson

Did you know that?
• 78%of adults in the U.S. cannot explain how to compute the interest paid on a loan
• 71% cannot calculate miles per gallon on a trip
• 58% cannot calculate a 10% tip for a lunch bill
(http://www.sedl.org/bulletins/sedl-monthly/december2008.html)

This worries me but not nearly as much as I worry about how well our students are able to use math, especially algebra. I have excerpted the SEDL article below because it succinctly expresses the concerns I and many APS educators have:

“The National Mathematics Advisory Panel released its final report after nearly 2 years of hearing testimony and examining more than 16,000 research publications and policy reports. The panel noted that there is a “vast and growing demand for remedial mathematics education” at community colleges and 4-year colleges nationwide and also discussed the disparities in mathematic achievement related to race and income. According to the panel, “Success in mathematics education matters at the level of individual citizens because it opens options for college and career and increases prospects for future income” (p. 4)… The importance of algebra was emphasized in the report because, as the panel reported, “The sharp falloff in mathematics achievement in the U.S. begins as students reach late middle school, where, for more and more students, algebra course work begins” (p. xiii). The panel discussed other findings linked to the study of algebra:
• The probability a student will enroll in a 4-year college correlates substantially with completion of high school math beyond Algebra II.
• The majority of workers who earn more than $40,000 annually have two or more high school credits at the Algebra II level or higher.
• Two-thirds of the students who took Algebra II in high school reported they were well-prepared for the demands of the workplace.”
At Taylor, our math department is seriously looking at ways we can both engage our students mathematically while at the same time emphasizing the importance of math in adult life. Parents must be partners in this effort. If you feel inadequate to help your child with her math homework, plan to attend our MATH Night on the 27th. Our math teachers are here to help not just our kids but also our parents. It’s never too late to become better at math!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Three Myths About Taylor MS

Each year, a significant number of 5th graders from our feeder elementary schools opt to attend private schools or neighboring schools rather than attend Taylor MS. This bothers me. I firmly believe that the educational opportunities we offer at Taylor rival those of private schools and neighboring public schools. After visiting with parents and staff, I am aware that several myths persist about Taylor among certain segments of the community.

Myth 1: Taylor has rampant fighting and bullying:
I don’t know what happened in the past but I can tell you that fighting has been virtually eliminated this year. This has been accomplished by increasing staff supervision in the hallways, cafeteria, and playground. Consequences for fighting are severe and immediate. Incidents of bullying that are reported to the principals or SRO are promptly investigated and the offenders dealt with per the school discipline matrix.

Myth 2: Taylor is a gang-infested thug school:
The handful of students from gang backgrounds (fewer than five according to BCSO) are on a very short leash and are monitored very closely. The school dress code against sagging and gang symbols is strictly enforced. Closed circuit TV cameras are closely monitored by our full-time School Resource Officer Steve Aldredge. Gangs are not tolerated.

Myth 3: Parents are not welcome at Taylor:
I heard this from a parent who sent her children to Lincoln MS. She explained to me that when she visited Lincoln, they made her feel right at home. She said that when she visited Taylor, no one reached out to her or made her feel welcome. Again, I don’t know what happened in the past but I believe that if this mother visited Taylor today, she would find a warm, welcoming, and open school where parents feel like partners in their child’s education.

I believe in Taylor MS and I am committed to continuing to spread the truth about our school. Toward that end, I am going to Alameda, Los Ranchos, and Corrales ES in the next two weeks to visit all 5th grade classrooms to talk to our incoming class about Taylor. (The Sister School Program with James Monroe MS ends this year and we will no longer accept students from out of district except by transfer request). We are also having our 5th grade parent night on Tuesday, February 3 from 6 to 7:30 so all potential students can see the great opportunities that exist here. If you would like to help us host this parent night, please get in touch with your PTO officers or drop me an email. Together we can dispel the myths that hold families back from attending TMS.