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.