St. James' News Update
Friday, September 14, 2012
Hello, dear friends…
It was wonderful to see so many of you here for back to School Night this week! The “big school” was hopping with activity; and the happiness we’ve seen on the kids’ faces was reflected there on yours Tuesday night. Thanks for taking the time to join us and for joining the celebration. And that standing ovation will stay with me forever. Thanks for your support and for your love. It’s mutual!
And speaking of celebration, this week also saw the long-awaited opening of our brand-new pre-school. From its cheerful blue exterior and colorful shade sails, to its cozy classrooms and state-of-the-art furniture and learning materials, the new site was the realization of a year-long dream. Led by the intrepid Jeff Lane, newly appointed vice-president of the Board, construction began mid-year and the final finishing touches were made over Labor Day weekend. Licensing from the state took a few days longer than we’d hoped but in the end they came through and Monday’s opening was a delight. Kids crawled all over the various play structures and ran about the turf as if they’d always been there. Now we’re trying to figure out how to get Katarina Matolek and her extraordinary staff a few days of holiday to make up for their very long summer unrelieved by any hiatus at all. Not only did they work every day in preparation for their opening, they did it in an un-air-conditioned building at the height of the summer’s heat! Your Preschool Class Party starring the dynamic, hilarious, brilliant author Dr. Tina Bryson was just so much fun. We were thrilled to see the looks on your faces when you heard we were giving you a rebate for your first three days of the school year to make up for the delay in opening our new building! Thanks for your patience and your endless understanding. And welcome to Saint James’.
Communication was a hot topic around here this week and since expressing your concerns and opinions appropriately can be quite an art form, I thought I’d go over a few important rules of the road with you. Remember these are the formal channels; and life sometimes gives us less formal ways of talking and resolving small issues before they become large ones…and we should always try to use those little gifts to everyone’s best advantage:
1. Always try to resolve issues at the lowest possible level first. So, if you have an issue with a classroom teacher or a question about her homework policy or his discipline standards, please always meet with the teacher directly first. Make an appointment and don’t just walk in when the teacher is supposed to be teaching a class! Then after you’ve discussed it thoroughly, give the situation some time to improve. 99% percent of the time, you will not need to go any further than that. But if that doesn’t work, go to step two.
2. After you’ve tried and failed to resolve a problem at the classroom level, you should make an appointment to see the administrator. Angelina Arrington, our assistant head of school, will meet with parents from 3rd through 6th grade. I do the same for the Kindergarten through 2nd grade families. Katarina Matolek will meet with Preschool parents.
3. If you fail to resolve your issues at the assistant head of school level, you may go to the Head of School. Feel free to call or e-mail for advice or make an appointment to come in. Drop-in’s are welcome but you can’t be guaranteed a meeting that way. The Head’s door is almost always open and hundreds of parents have simply dropped in to see if I have time to chat about an issue. As long as you’ve spoken to the teacher first, I’ll try to make time to meet with you whenever I can.
4. Sometimes the Head of School will require both you and the teacher to be present for the discussion and will want both of you to participate in the resolution of the conflict. At other times she may attempt to work out a compromise or she may clearly identify a right course of action and make a decision on what course of action to follow.
5. Last year, and every other year from now on, you can voice your candid opinions in the professionally designed and tabulated ISACS parent satisfaction survey. It’s the only time that anonymity is encouraged and approved around here. The school analyzes the data that is returned to us and makes plans for improvement based on your opinions as well as educational research, the vision of the Board, and the experience of the faculty. Our math program was high on the list of items you thought were not working well, and after a lengthy study, we selected a new math program which we are implementing at the K-2 level this year and in each successive grade one grade level per year, until the whole school is in Singapore Math. We also created the position of Math Specialist to make parents and teachers feel even more comfortable with the math program we offer here. Both initiatives reflect feedback you gave us in that survey. You are all invited to an evening meeting on October 4th to review the results of the ISACS parent satisfaction survey, to view our progress on the ERB tests, and to hear what we will be doing to improve our satisfaction in your eyes by the next time we distribute that survey.
6. From time to time we also hold focus groups to discern your opinions on topics that we know are heating up. One such group last year discussed problems with the hot lunch program. As a result of that focus group we formed a committee of parents and teachers to thoroughly study the hot lunch situation, establish criteria, and interview the city’s most popular school caterers. The result was a brand new hot lunch program with the stamp of approval and support of a broad-based committee of parents…and it’s now up and running here at Saint James’. We love having you as partners, and our work together on the hot lunch committee serves as a testament to what we can do when we “unite to fight!”
Most of all, I think it’s good to note that 90% or more of my conversations with parents are rich exchanges of ideas and understandings, insights and knowledge. They are often just playful sessions in which we laugh and get to know one another or plan our next event or celebration. Please don’t think you have to have “issues” to be heard in the Head’s office! On the contrary, no one enjoys kicking around ideas, exploring philosophy, and just sharing funny stories more than this Head of School. So, come on in…anytime.
Save-the-Date…two wonderful events
Preschool Back to School night is scheduled for Monday, September 24th from 6:00-7:30pm. Please come visit your child’s classroom and hear from our wonderful faculty about the year ahead. The preschool is unable to provide childcare for this event.
Preschool Grand Opening Celebration
Thursday, October 4th, from 9:00-10:00am. Come join us as we celebrate the opening of our new preschool campus. Continental breakfast will be served plus you won’t want to miss a special performance by our wonderful students.
Contacting the Preschool Staff by Phone
Thanks to everyone for their love and support as we transitioned to our new Preschool Campus. Going forward, if you need to contact the preschool classrooms, please use: 213-738-0919.
For Katarina Matolek, please use: 213-738-7871
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ANNOUNCEMENTS
St. James’ Elementary School - Attendance Policies and Procedures
In an effort to be absolutely sure we have accounted for every student every day, the following procedures will be put in place beginning this Monday, September 17th. Thanks in advance for your cooperation!
• Parents will email email@example.com by 7:30 a.m. to notify the school of absences. In your e-mail please state your name and relation to the student, the student’s name, and the reason for the absence
(cold, flu, poison ivy, bad cough, severe headache, etc.)
• Jennifer Sohn will update attendance on Filemaker based on these emails.
• Teachers will input student attendance by 8:45am each morning, indicating the reason for the absence in the notes field on Filemaker.
• At 9:00 a.m., Jennifer Sohn and Nurse Kelly will review the attendance report from Filemaker.
• In the case of the students with no reason listed for their absence, Nurse Kelly will call the parents to request that information and will add it to the database in Filemaker.
• Absences for which parents give no reason will be marked “unexcused absence,” so please be sure to give us the reason for the absence in your e-mail and/or be sure to respond to Nurse Kelly’s call with the information.
• By no later than 10:00 a.m., Filemaker should have up-to-date attendance records, and a printed attendance report for the day will be available for teachers and administrators to view.
For Students who are dismissed early
• Parents must always sign students out at the front desk.
• Jennifer Sohn will go into Filemaker, mark the student as “Dismissed Early” and indicate the reason for the dismissal.
• If the student returns to school, Jennifer will write in the notes field “returned” followed by the time.
Service Learning Update
Wednesday was the “official kick-off” to Pop-Tuna Month our school wide service learning project for September. Students can bring their donations to their classroom any day during month. We will be sharing our gifts at All School Chapel on October 10.
Also on Wednesday I met with both sixth grade classes about service learning outside of school. I am encouraging them to find a project or organization they are interested in, and then volunteer some time. Students will then write and reflect about their experiences.
Speaking of service learning outside of school, are you looking for a VERY unique way for your whole family to help out in our community? The Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita needs help! They are looking for volunteers to help clear brush for fire prevention, making sure that the apes in their care are safe. The center is located at 19100 Eguerra Road, in Santa Clarita. For more info you can contact Alan Mootnick at Alan@gibboncenter.org. You can also find more info on their website at gibboncenter.org.
Director of Service Learning
Kindergarten through Second Grade Parents: Introductions to Singapore Math
Please join us for one of the following Singapore Math introductory sessions with Mother Elizabeth Thayer to hear about our wonderful new math program.
September 18th, 8:30am…
…in St. James’ Hall, a presentation will be made to show parents about the foundations of Singapore Math. Parents will be given a chance to “try out” some of the techniques used, to learn about vocabulary they will be hearing, to hear of plans for further parent training and have an opportunity to ask questions.
September 25th, at 6:00pm …
…in St. James’ Hall, this is a repeat of the presentation given on September 18th.
We hope you can join us for one of these two sessions.
Looking forward to seeing you soon.
Mother Elizabeth Thayer
Will Having a Math Specialist End Our Need for a Tutor?
Well, you’ll have to read on to get your answer to that one!
Meet our Math Specialist: Mother Liz Thayer, an Episcopal priest who has spent a lifetime teaching and coaching math. Her first and most important role at Saint James’ is to ensure the full and correct implementation of Singapore Math in Kindergarten through 2nd grade. To do that she has to work closely with our six primary level teachers who received an intensive dose of training this summer in a weeklong program of professional development. Liz herself, whose understanding of the program is already in the advanced category, attended a week of higher-level classes in Singapore Math this summer in Worcester, Massachusetts, so she’s well-equipped to be our teachers’ at-elbow support throughout the implementation process.
Mother Thayer is ready to begin the next phase now, which is training parents in the use of Singapore Math in a series of meetings scheduled for both mornings and evenings here at school. One of our school’s greatest difficulties with Everyday Math was the result of not properly inviting parents along on our journey. Singapore Math experts have written and researched extensively on what parents can and should do to help their children with math. Mother Thayer wants to share that with you and help you become a part of this dynamic movement that has so galvanized our teachers. They’re really excited about its benefits and are anxious to have you share their enthusiasm. You can choose between meetings on September 18th at 8:30 a.m. or September 25th at 6:00 p.m. Both sessions will contain the same information for Singapore Math parents, and both will be in Saint James’ Hall.
Her next level of responsibility is to teach our 5th grade math classes. In 5th grade we still use Everyday Math which if you attended out Cracker Barrel meeting last spring you know has actually been remarkably successful for us as measured by our ERB scores and the reception our students receive in their respective middle schools. Students from 3rd through 6th grades will continue n Everyday Math until they graduate, while the students in grades K-2 will continue in Singapore Math straight through their years at Saint James’.
Liz is also assigned the task of assessing which teachers could use her help in differentiating instruction for those students who are struggling with math as well as those who need further challenges, enrichment and extension. By mid-November we will introduce small doses of Kahn Academy to 5th graders to both reinforce and extend concepts for the students who can use that kind of help. As many of you know, Marlborough School for Girls established a pilot class of students in grades 7-12 who used Khan Academy all of last year. After observing the program and talking with the teacher, I decided we would use it in a more limited and targeted fashion here. So, once Mother Thayer has all her other plates spinning (Singapore Math, Everyday Math, parent training and differentiated instruction) then she will introduce elements of Khan Academy into her 5th grade program and after that, we’ll all determine its viability for other grades as well.
Will our new programs and specialist preclude the need for all outside tutoring? No, probably not. Some of our families just love tutoring; and their choice has little to do with remediating their children. Some kids simply enjoy after school math the way others love soccer or ballet or the violin. But there will certainly be far greater support for all math learners here on campus than we have ever has before. And once Khan Academy is added, we will have a whole new level of individualized instruction to challenge those with an appetite for mathematical puzzles and higher level thinking; but we’ll also more support and repetition for those who need to strengthen basic skills as well. That may very well mean that you won’t have to seek outside tutoring. Just remember that Mother Thayer is one person addressing the math needs of 359 students all a once. But she’s one more person than we’ve ever had here before. So, three cheers for the brand new Saint James’ Math Specialist!
GENERAL HOUSEKEEPING ANNOUNCEMENTS
If you have a change or update on your carpool and pick-up arrangements, please send all notes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have a change in your contact information, phone, email, mailing address, etc., please send contact information updates to Stephanie Kim at email@example.com.
Join us after school for a simple supper provided by our parish chef Julia Rhoton at St. James’ Café, located in the Parish Hall on Wednesdays from 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. All school families are invited. We look forward to seeing you there! Suggested donation $5.