Grey Matters

Grey Matters, March 20, 2017; Volume 5, Number 27

posted Mar 19, 2017, 12:31 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Mar 19, 2017, 12:31 PM ]

Hi Everyone,

For those of you who were pleased that we had a snow day last Tuesday, my guess is that you’re under 18 years of age and perhaps had a quiz or a test that was originally scheduled for that day.  My wife’s students had a long-term research paper due that day and they all received a much-appreciated extension because of the weather. I’m happy for everyone who benefited from the day off and I look forward to seeing them all on Thursday, June 23rd, which is now the scheduled last day of school for the year (how’s that for bursting everyone’s bubble).  I will acknowledge that I may be a bit cranky from the day, partially because of what happened to my mailbox that evening (see photo to the right).  I now join the fraternity of homeowners who have experienced the demise of a perfectly fine mailbox at the hands of a snowplow, and will have to wait until we truly enter Spring before I can actually replace the post.  And to add insult to injury, having a snow day on March 14 means that our school missed out on Pi Day (3/14) and all of the fanfare and hoopla that comes on that day.  To the credit of the 8th grade math teachers, they made up for it the next day as I saw Ms. Kelly coming in early that morning with boxes of mini blueberry and chocolate cream pies to assist in the celebration.  The Colorado Rockies (a major league baseball team), however, took home the prize for most clever Pi Day tribute with this photo posted on their team Twitter page.  I did discover later on that the numbers were photoshopped, but the gesture was nonetheless a clever one and, as the Washington Post stated, a “delightfully nerdy” photo to celebrate the day.  

Here are some useful reminders and updates for you to review for the upcoming weeks:

  • Report cards for the Winter Trimester went home with students last Thursday.  If your child’s report card is for some reason missing in action, you might want to ask him/her about it. If he/she reports that it got lost in transit or perhaps spontaneously combusted, let me know and we can generate another copy for you.  

  • The Signs of Suicide (SOS) lessons will be delivered this week, Monday through Thursday - one 7th grade team each day.  Thank you for sending in your consent forms indicating the level of participation for your child.  Two important reminders:  (1) any student whose family did not submit a consent form will participate in the lesson, but not the screening tool; and (2) any family whose son/daughter does have a follow up conversation with a counselor or staff member from Riverside Trauma Center will be contacted.  There will be some students who are asked to meet with a counselor simply to provide feedback about what they thought of the lesson, and we will let their parents know of that conversation as well.  

  • We have students at RJ Grey who have organized a drive to support Cradles to Crayons  with donations of gently used or new clothing and shoes to support programs that assist families that are homeless.  Please consider donating sizes infant to adult medium for clothing, and shoe sizes 0-10. The drive will start March 27th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  

  • There is an 8th grade dance being planned by the Student Council, and scheduled for Friday, April 7 from 7pm to 9pm. Stay tuned for announcements throughout that week for purchasing tickets.  Please note that this is separate from the annual end-of-year 8th grade celebration which is a more elaborate evening event in June.  

  • Don’t forget that Thursday, April 6 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 10:40am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  

  • Poet Marie Howe, this year's Robert Creeley Award recipient, will read from her work at ABRHS on March 30. There will also be a community event the night before, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the ABRHS Auditorium. The evening event is free and open to all members of the community. For a brief introduction to Marie Howe and some of her work, visit

IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR 8TH GRADE FAMILIES: The parent portal for 8th grade families to begin registering for 9th grade courses at the High School opens tomorrow (Monday, March 20).  All students have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations.  If you’d like to review the presentation that was delivered to 8th grade students, you can view the powerpoint by clicking here.  As for the actual instructions for course registration, you can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  You can also review the High School’s Program of Studies by clicking here.  I strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  

For current 7th grade families, you will be receiving in the mail during the week of March 27 the scheduling/registration form regarding your child’s 8th grade year.  This form includes math level recommendations, confirmation of current world language choice, and a space to indicate preferences for Grey Block (when students take elective or have a study hall). I’ll send out some additional notes and reminders about this process at the start of that week.  

The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are all set.  Before I get into those details, a friendly reminder that our after school clubs and activities welcome new members throughout the year.  The Ping Pong Club is back in action, as is the Fit Club (email Katy Frey, to sign up for Fit Club), just to name a few.  For those who are interested in baseball, softball, girls volleyball or track, you can review the tryout and sign-up schedule by clicking here.  You can always go to the RJ Grey Athletics Page to review that information and also download Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request forms.  Please remember that no student may participate in tryouts without a valid/updated Green Form.  This is an MIAA regulation and no exceptions can be made.  

Finally, I hope by now most of you are at least somewhat aware that we have been studying our District’s long-term building needs, including the possibility of proposing the construction of a new school building and/or renovating existing school buildings. To this end, our District has recently been conditionally accepted for state funding for a school building project.  We are at a critical juncture where the School Committee is seeking input from the community about what might eventually be proposed. There are a series of meetings that have been planned starting with one tomorrow night at 7pm at Sargent Memorial Library in Boxborough.  Click here for a downloadable flyer that lists all of the forum dates.  Important questions such as how many schools should be used, the number of grade levels at each building, and whether an early childhood center should be included are part of this dialogue.  Shockingly, my request for a retractable and heated dome for the morning drop-off area in the Junior High parking lot was not included as part of this work.  Rest assured an online petition about that glaring absence will be forthcoming.  All kidding aside, this is the time to reflect on our long-term educational vision for our school community because we want the form (the school buidling) to fit the function (educating your children).  Your voice matters and I hope you’ll find an opportunity to participate.  

Have a great week, everyone.  



Grey Matters, March 13, 2017; Volume 5, Number 26

posted Mar 12, 2017, 10:40 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

I mentioned earlier this year that, like Tom Brady, I will soon be turning 40.  Unlike Tom Brady, I am not launching my own $78 per box meal-kit delivery service.  As the date gets closer and closer the Universe continues to harass prepare me with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders of this pending milestone. The first reminder came in the form of a recent Boston Globe story written by a reporter who turned 40 last May and had a hit ‘em over the head title of, The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men Isn’t Smoking or Obesity. It’s Loneliness.” I started reading it with the idea that it might be good for a few laughs, and ended up finishing it because it did have some interesting food for thought.  The other two reminders came during a car drive up to my parents’ house this past weekend with my two oldest kids.  About six months ago I shifted to listening primarily to classical music while driving.  Growing up with a classical musician for a mother, that was the music of choice for all of our time in the car.  I’ve been feeling like I think better and am more at ease while driving now that I’ve been listening to music that I’ve largely ignored for about twenty years.  Addison has not had the same level of exposure to classical music and so about ten minutes into our drive she asked me if I could change the station to one that played music.  I calmly explained to her that we were already listening to music.  She calmly replied, “Yes, but I want to listen to real music. Songs that actually have words.”  Shortly after that conversation we got to talking about the offseason activity of the New England Patriots and the recent trades they had completed.  At the end of that conversation, my oldest son (who will remain nameless to protect him from the Patriot fan base) blurts out, “I’ve decided not to be a Patriots fan this year and will cheer for another team.  Winning all the time is getting real boring.”  Fortunately for me, unfortunately for him, we had about fifteen more miles on 93 North for me to explain to him what being a Boston sports fan was like during the 1980s and 1990s and, save for a few great years for the Celtics, things were quite different when it came to winning (see inserted photo of Mr. Buckner from Game 6 of the World Series).  It was an interesting reminder that all of our kids born after 2000 really have had quite a different reality when it comes to our Boston-based sports culture.  

Many of you are probably following the weather forecast for this week which still includes predictions of a possible snowstorm on Monday night through Tuesday and estimated snowfall hovering around 12 to 18 inches.  We will see what unfolds and families should stay tuned to any messages from Dr. Brand about plans for school on Tuesday.  In the meantime, I will continue to try and figure out why the left wheel of my snowblower refuses to engage, leaving me doubly nervous about what might arrive later this week.  

Here are a series of announcements and reminders for families to review.  After that, I spend a bit of time providing context about the current 9th grade course registration process and the level recommendations that students may be receiving from their teachers.  I also give a preview of the Spring athletics program and this year’s MCAS testing schedule.  

  • Thank you to all of the 7th grade families who have submitted their Signs of Suicide (SOS) consent form and indicating the preferred level of participation for your child. The lessons are still scheduled for the following week - March 20 through 23.  We are still collecting the consent forms so please do not hesitate to send it in to school.  A final reminder that (as stated on the consent form), students without a consent form will be scheduled for Option 2, which is participation in the SOS lesson but not the screening tool.  

  • On Monday, March 20, the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open.  By then, all students will have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations (see my comments below on that).  You can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  You can also review the High School’s Program of Studies by clicking here.  I would strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  

  • It’s likely that Winter Trimester report cards will be coming home with students this Thursday.  Grades are being processed right now, and Thursday is our target.  If anything changes, I’ll let everyone know.  

  • Thank you to Debbie Ahl and the Student Council for organizing last Friday’s student basketball tournament.  We are appreciative of the parent donations of food, and the additional on-site support.

Starting last week, 8th grade teachers began having individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for 9th grade course level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal (see above info) when the portal opens on March 20.  

During the conversation that takes place with a student, the teacher will explain some of his/her observations about the student’s strengths and areas for growth, and what level placement may be most appropriate for next year.  In many of these conversations, students also share with teachers their thoughts on next year, their level of interest in the subject, and their own reflections on the progress they’ve made this year.  To be sure, a teacher’s recommendation is influenced by a student’s performance thus far (trimester grades being one measure), along with a variety of other observations about a student’s approach to the subject.  There are certainly variations that come with different areas of study.  For example, English and Social Studies teachers are asked by the high school to give particular weight to writing, reading comprehension, and critical thinking.  To that end, a teacher in one of those disciplines may place emphasis on a student’s growth on certain types of writing assignments, along with other factors.  

In all of the subjects, a teacher will often review with a student his/her observations about specific student skills, such as time management and self-discipline, and consistency of work.  In addition, teachers are asked to consider level placement with the hope that students will both enjoy the class and have the time to pursue other interests, including extracurricular activities. During this process, it’s important to remind ourselves that these recommendations aren’t meant to serve as a final verdict or prediction for how a student will perform for the rest of their academic lives. It’s feedback based on what a student has demonstrated this year, and using that as a guide to thinking about what a student would be prepared to take on next year.   Some students may have hit their stride this year, and for others it may be their sophomore year when all of a sudden they develop a passion for a certain subject or they figure out that whole time management puzzle.  As I have mentioned in previous years, my parents needed to wait until I was about 20 to witness me figuring those things out.  I won’t speak officially for the high school, but I am confident that the high school also recognizes that things can and do change over time for adolescents and that there’s always a path for students to take that suit their interests and strengths.  

For many of you, the recommendations made by the teachers may align with your own leanings, and even your child’s. If there are situations where you feel you would benefit from some feedback from the teacher, please ask.  In addition, it’s very useful to discuss with your child what all of you might view as a healthy and appropriate course load for next year.  For example, while a student may have the ability to be successful in a number of accelerated courses, it may not be in his/her best interest to be taking them all at the same time (on top of participating in sports, and/or the school musical, and community service).  Finally, in those instances where you and your student would like to enroll in a course level that is different from the teacher recommendation, there is an “override” application process that is managed by the high school.  Within the registration instructions, there is a description of the steps that the high school would like you to take to pursue those requests.  

Our Spring sports season is around the corner.  We need a little bit more time to finalize the schedule for tryouts and sign ups for our Spring sports programs - Baseball, Softball, Volleyball and Track. Those will be up on the website shortly and we’ll include mention of it in our daily announcements. In the meantime, please remember that all students must have a “Green Form” in order to participate, and can be downloaded on the Athletics page of our website.   There are still tryouts for baseball and softball, tryouts for the girls volleyball program, and track continues to be a “no-cut sport.”  In other words, any student interested in participating is welcome to join.  For the last few years, we have averaged somewhere between 200 and 250 students participating in the track program, which is always sight to see (especially during the track meets).  

In terms of participation in the track program, we plan to continue providing an option for students (and families) who are interested in the track program, but not prepared to commit to the full practice and meet schedule.  Not attending each practice or meet, as you can imagine, can create some challenges given the need to organize and schedule things like relays teams, practice plans, and logistics for away meets.  With this in mind, we offer students the choice to sign up for one of two options: (1) students who can commit to at least three practices per week, including all home meets, should sign up for the Blue Team.  Please note that the two non-practice days for students on the Blue Team needs to be the same from week to week.  (2) Students who wish to travel to away meets (in addition to home meets) and be eligible for relay teams and field events can sign up for the Gold Team.  Gold Team members are expected to attend all practices and all meets, without exception (unless the student is sick and absent from school).  It is entirely up to the student (and his/her family) to choose the best option that makes the most sense for him or her.  Please note that the participation fee is the same for either option. The above options will be explained to everyone at the first Track meeting (date forthcoming) so they can make an informed decision.  Remember that all important information about Spring sports can be found at our school’s Athletics page.  

Assuming that we don’t get any additional surprise snowstorms in April, we begin our MCAS testing this year on Monday, April 3.  One of the biggest differences this year in the MCAS testing process is that the 8th grade MCAS assessments are computer-based, which means that students review questions and submit responses via computer (in our case, on one of our many Chromebooks).  The 7th grade MCAS will still be a “paper-based” version and so the elements of administering that test are a bit more familiar.  Rest assured that we will be giving our 8th grade students some training on how to engage with the computer-based testing platform prior to April 3.  

As we get closer to the MCAS testing dates, I will be sharing more information about how we organize the testing days (and constant reminders to make sure your kids eat a good breakfast), along with some thoughts about the role MCAS should, and shouldn't, play in the academic lives of our students.  In the meantime, here is a link to the MCAS schedule for the Junior High.   If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.

I had lunch with our latest round of Everyday Leaders last Thursday and I had great conversations with both the 7th and 8th grade lunch groups including, but not limited to, a lively discussion about installing new lockers in the Junior High that are secured by a fingerprint scanner and have chargers for phones, and mini-fridges for lunches.  Hopefully they didn’t mind breaking bread (in this case, pizza) with me that day and spending a little time in my office.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this round’s Everyday Leaders group: Jalal Elsallal, Benvinda Gueye, Zach Taylor, Sydney Smith, Lindsey Vaillancourt, Fayad Bashir, Enzo Lando, Nina Robbe, Tamara Salant, Balaji Ganapathi, and Bobby Sweet.  

Finally, we had a wonderful series of activities as part of Foreign Language Week.  Each morning a different student offered a greeting to the school in a different language.  Thank you to Aryan Ranade (Hindi), Nicole Wei (Mandarin Chinese), Yusef Khan (Portuguese), Alisa Khomiakova (Russian), and Amna Aboushhiwa (Arabic) for making each morning a little more special with their messages of welcome.  We also ended the week with a special Foreign Language Week version of Poetry Friday, starring student Nathan Ramondeau who read “Le Cancre” by French poet Jacques Prevert.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters for March 6, 2017; Volume 5, Number 25

posted Mar 10, 2017, 10:56 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

I hope last week’s re-entry from vacation proved to be relatively smooth and painless.  The warmer weather certainly helped, and I’m definitely not complaining about this week’s forecast that includes a few days with temperatures in the 50s.  I want to express my appreciation to our families for your support and words of encouragement last week after I had shared with all of you news about the incident that occurred right before the February Break.  I also hope you had a chance to read the letter that Dr. Brand also sent out at the start of the week regarding our District’s commitment to a safe and welcoming environment.  You can click here to review that message.  With a week filled with some tough conversations, I was extremely fortunate that Douglas School’s annual Read Aloud Day was scheduled for last Tuesday, and that I was invited to be a guest reader in Mrs. Shamah’s 1st grade classroom.  It was not only the highlight of my week, it may have been some of the most fun I’ve had in a really long time.  Asked to share my favorite children’s story, I came to Douglas with The Day the Crayons Quit, a story that some, but not all, of the 1st graders had seen before.  We had a wonderful time talking about our favorite colors, whether the sun should be colored with yellow or orange crayons, and all laughed at how the peach crayon wouldn’t leave the box because his wrapping had been removed and he was embarrassed at being nude.  I don’t know if our shared laughter at peach crayon’s nakedness is a sign that some things are universally funny or if my own sense of humor just hasn’t progressed since I myself was 7 years old (it’s probably a bit of both).  Finally, I was able to finish the week by opening a package on Friday that included illustrated thank you letters from all of the students in Mrs. Shamah’s class (see embedded photo).  There is a sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit so I’m angling for a possible invitation to return and read that book with them.  

We have now entered the month of March and this is typically one of the busiest months of the year in terms of school-related events, deadlines, and transition activities for next year.  I’ve got quite a bit of information to share with all of you, so I’m going to delay discussion of my youngest son’s decision that our family’s next dog (which we’ve agreed to pursue this June) must be a Bernese Mountain Dog (which grow to an average of 85 to 110 pounds) and will be named after his best friend Alex.  I’m also going to wait a bit to share more information about annual state MCAS testing because this year the testing period has been moved back (for elementary and middle schools) from mid-March into April and May.  There are quite a few changes related to MCAS testing and I’ll explain all of that within the next few weeks.  I’m also going to offer details about our Spring sports programs in next week’s Grey Matters, including tryout and sign-up dates for baseball, softball, girls volleyball, and track.  In the meantime, if you haven’t completed a “Green Form” this year (click here), it’s important to get on that task now as it is required for all students who wish to participate in the District’s athletics programs.  

First, here are some important reminders about upcoming events, deadlines, and special schedules:

Thank you to the many 7th grade families who have already submitted their signed consent forms regarding our upcoming plans to present the Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and screening tool to our 7th grade teams.  We had about 40 parents/guardians attend last Monday’s information session with Dr. Larry Berkowitz and I hope those in attendance found it useful.  The signed consent forms are due this Friday, March 10 and please don’t be alarmed if we check in with you over the course of the week to offer some reminders about submitting the form.  Please also remember that students who don’t submit the consent form will be scheduled to participate in the lesson but not the screening tool.  We are scheduled to deliver the SOS lesson on March 20, 21, 22, and 23 (one team per day).  

Please also remember that the Junior High and High School have a late-start scheduled for this Friday, March 10.  That means that for Junior High students the day starts three (3) hours later at 10:30am.  This late start allows us to provide our entire staff with an important suicide prevention training that we have scheduled for that morning.  Riverside Trauma Center will be conducting this training for our staff that day, and for elementary school staff on Thursday, March 30.  For students who take the bus to school, the bus routes will be scheduled exactly three hours later than usual.  For example, a normal 6:45am pick up will instead be at 9:45am.  Parents/guardians dropping off their children can not bring their children to RJ Grey earlier than 10am (the school won’t be open since we’ll be at the High School).  We will have “regular” dismissal at 2:06pm.  

Here’s a couple of more notes about upcoming dates and activities:

  • The Winter Trimester ends tomorrow (Monday), and report cards will likely come home with students on or around March 16.  

  • Over the next few weeks, all 8th grade students will participate in an information session with their current school counselor about transitioning to the High School.  Specifically they’ll be discussing the High School schedule, extracurriculars, and instructions for how to register for classes using the parent portal.  They will receive various forms and handouts that will prove helpful for parents/guardians as well.  The parent portal will be open to 8th grade parents/guardians on Monday, March 20 for them to review course recommendations and work with their children on developing a schedule for next year.  Between now and March 20, 8th grade teachers will be meeting with students to share their feedback about course and level recommendations.  Next week’s Grey Matters will include a lengthier segment on that process with some thoughts to keep in mind.

  • For parents and guardians of current 7th grade students, we haven’t started the registration process of 8th grade classes, so you haven’t missed anything.  You’ll likely receive materials at the end of this month about recommended math levels, and the form that you are asked to complete that summarizes world language enrollment, math level, and your child’s Grey Block elective requests.  Once the form goes out, I’ll send out a reminder in that week’s Grey Matters.  

  • A friendly reminder that the Junior High’s Stageworks theatre program (our version of a Drama Club) has scheduled auditions for their Spring one-act plays for this Tuesday, March 7 and Thursday, March 9, from 2:15pm to 4:00pm in the auditorium.  The performances of the one-act plays will be May 11 and 12.  For questions, please contact Cheryl Miller ( or Bethany Dunakin (  

  • Acton-Boxborough’s Challenge Success newsletter for March is now available!  The focus of this newsletter is on the issue of sleep and includes last year’s student responses about their sleep patterns.  It also includes a link to the presentation that Dr. Kirsty Kerin gave earlier this year on the science of sleep.  You can view it by clicking here.  

  • Minuteman Technical School has asked me to pass along information about their Spring Career Pathway after school program for students in grades 6 through 8.  There are a few sessions in late March and early April with 19 course offerings, and transportation is provided.  If you want to learn more about this program, click here to view their brochure.  

This week is National Foreign Language Week!  The goal is to bring awareness of the importance of foreign language study through celebration of languages and cultures. Our eight World Language teachers have put together a great series of activities and looking forward to the many ways that students will be featured throughout the week.  Students will be greeting the community in a variety of languages during morning announcements, and a 7th grade student will be reading a poem in French for our Poetry Friday selection.  There will also be trivia questions that are read in the morning and students can submit answers throughout the day and be entered to win a pulsera (bracelet) that was handmade in Nicaragua and part of the Spanish Club’s pulsera fundraising project.  Many thanks to our World Language department for taking the lead on this effort.  

This month’s organized chaos of events and activities also involves what art teacher Ms. Haskin has termed March Mural Madness.  Ms. Haskin and I met earlier this winter and discussed ways that we could work with students in the 8th grade Art Elective to begin the process of replacing and complementing some of the murals that currently adorn various hallway spaces throughout our building.  We see this as a great opportunity to give our students an opportunity to put their mark on the school (literally and figuratively), and think about themes and aesthetics that would be appropriate for public spaces in our building.  With Ms. Haskin’s guidance the students researched a variety of options for mural designs and came up with a number of exciting ideas.  They voted on their favorites, created planning sketches and then developed their final plans.  Starting last week the students have begun painting their murals and it will be exciting to watch these murals take shape over the next several weeks.  

Finally, we ended our week back from February Break with an edition of Poetry Friday that featured Physical Education teacher, and AB alum, Ms. Brenna Sacra.  Ms. Sacra shared with us a piece that was written by a fellow AB alum, the late Jenna Agule (AB ‘06) whose birthday would have been last Friday (March 3).  A nice way to end the week by honoring the memory of an AB alum, and sharing a piece that offers a hopeful message for our community.  Click here to read “Blessed” by Jenna Agule.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, February 27, 2017; Volume 5, Number 24

posted Feb 27, 2017, 3:48 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from February Break.  As we continue to partner with you on promoting a healthy schoolwork and life balance for students and families, I hope many of you found opportunities to use last week’s homework-free vacation for something meaningful and different from your daily routines.  In my “welcome back from break” editions of Grey Matters I typically offer some highlights and minor fiascos that usually result from spending a whole week with my children, and I definitely have a few worth sharing.  However, I am going to postpone sharing those for another Grey Matters because I want to instead direct everyone’s attention to a more difficult matter.  Please do me a favor and read the below message carefully and in its entirety.

I need to notify all of you about an incident that occurred right before we left for the February Break.  On Friday (before Break) we learned that a swastika had been drawn into the snow on the campus football field the evening prior. There were no other symbols or writing that accompanied the drawing.  Before we could disclose news of this with the broader community, we needed to spend that day working with School Resource Officer Detective Campbell on completing an investigation and meeting with the parents and students who were involved.  I also met with Superintendent Brand to ensure that he was aware and involved in our deliberation.  As we return from the Break, I am able to share some additional information with all of you.  

We know that a small number of RJ Grey students were responsible for this because they self-reported the incident to their parents and came forward to school administrators on Friday to explain what had been done and to express remorse.  In accordance with student privacy laws, we will not be sharing details of discipline-related outcomes that may have resulted from this incident.  What I can share is that we see this action as a clear violation of school policy, and more importantly our community’s core values.  It is one that demands a response that is both consistent with our student discipline code and includes a meaningful educational component for those involved.  Many thanks to Detective Campbell for his support and involvement as we determined the appropriate course of action.  

As I mentioned in late November, now more than ever students are constantly exposed to imagery and behaviors that run counter to our school’s values and norms, in particular through social media.  For students at such an impressionable age, there will be the temptation to mimic slogans or punchlines or to repeat provocative statements on a bus or playing field.  Parents and educators alike have the important ongoing responsibility of modeling for our children the behaviors that we hope they will adopt and practice. I would again encourage all parents and guardians to be proactive on this front and not hesitate to have conversations with their children and participate in some appropriate supervision of their children's social media activities and connections.  

It is also clear that we are currently witnessing an escalation in expressions of bias and bigotry that seem to have found fertile ground in the current political and social landscape.  The ongoing collisions between competing definitions of inclusion and acceptance have very tangible consequences for many.  It’s likely that our students are going to look to you and us to help them navigate this new and shifting landscape. Regardless of these potential shifts, there are some commitments and ideals that will remain unchanged at RJ Grey.  In particular, we will continue to devote ourselves to the goal of helping students elevate beyond the notion of mere tolerance and develop an ability to exercise and model empathy, compassion and sincere acceptance. We consider this aspiration central to Acton-Boxborough’s mission as an educational institution, and we pursue this work through our daily engagement with students, through the curriculum, and in our ongoing efforts to create a safe and optimal learning environment for all.  The foundation of our 7th and 8th grade Social Studies curriculum is built around that goal and serves as an anchor in this endeavor.   As we prepare for a return to school and have this recent incident also on our minds, I have plans to connect with members of our staff to discuss effective ways to continue our efforts and to provide over time the professional learning that can assist our whole staff in this work.  

This recent incident will surely be upsetting to those in our community, and the history of the swastika and what it has historically represented means that this particular situation, regardless of intent, may also generate additional emotions for members of our Jewish community.  With this in mind, I met with Rabbi Mintz of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton on Saturday to share with him a preview of what I am sharing now and received helpful counsel from him.  We have agreed to keep in touch and I want to thank him for his time.  

Thank you again to all our parents and guardians for your ongoing support of our school community, and the patience and partnership that you continue to offer us in our work with your students.  

If you’ve got it in you, I do have some other fairly time-sensitive reminders that I want to make sure I put in front of you and ask that you review.  I promise to keep it relatively short.  

  • An important reminder to parents and guardians of 8th grade students that the High School’s postponed Information Night regarding transition to 9th grade is scheduled for tonight (Monday, February 27) at 7pm in the High School Auditorium.  Please remember that this session is for a parent/guardian audience only and will end at 8:30pm.  8th grade students will participate in an information session on March 14 that will be co-led by High School and Junior High counselors and administrators.  

  • I hope 7th grade families have had a chance to review the letter that I sent to parents/guardians before the February Break regarding our plans to conduct the Signs of Suicide lesson and the Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression to students in 7th grade in late March.  We require every family to return a signed consent form (included with the letter and also sent via US Postal Mail) from every student’s parent/guardian indicating the student’s level of participation.  Please send that form in with your child as soon as possible.  If you need another copy of the consent form, please let me know.  

  • For parent/guardians who would like to learn more about the SOS lesson and preview the materials that are included in the lesson, please consider attending the Parent Information session that we have scheduled for this Tuesday, February 28 at 7pm in the Junior High Library.  This session will be led by Dr. Larry Berkowitz, Director of Riverside Trauma Center.  

  • A friendly reminder that the Winter Trimester closes next Monday, March 6.  Report cards will likely be ready on or around March 16.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.



Grey Matters, February 13, 2017; Volume 5, Number 23

posted Feb 12, 2017, 12:53 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

It feels like it’s been two weeks between this Grey Matters and the last Grey Matters with so much having happened in the interim.  Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was certainly an interesting way to start the week.  I may not have been a fan so dejected by the score that I started to do laundry during the 3rd quarter when the score was 28-3, but I will admit that I started bracing myself for the pall that I assumed was going to hang over the greater Boston area for a bit of time if we lost the game.  Instead, the Patriots pulled off an incredible victory and I was gifted with a highlight video that I have now watched a few dozen times during my morning runs on the treadmill (and I’m still not tired of it).  The late night celebration did make for a long day on Monday, especially since our District had the event with Dr. Josephine Kim that evening in the High School Auditorium.  We’re thrilled that over 200 parents (and a few students) joined us for the event despite being equally spent from post-Super Bowl celebrating.  Then there was the parade on Tuesday where I’m going to assume that at least a few students in the Commonwealth may have risked having their own Ferris Bueller moment by attending the parade during a “sick day” and risked an unplanned appearance on local television.  We of course ended the week with the first snow day of the year, along with a two-hour delay the following morning.  I personally think that one snow day per year isn’t the worst thing in the world, and actually might be a nice interruption to our regularly scheduled programming.  When we start entering the world of multiple snow days within a short period of time, that’s when I get a little cranky and start to wonder if our children can survive being within such close proximity to each other for another stretch of time.  That’s why this evening’s likely snowstorm is not my favorite bit of recent news.  Dr. Brand will obviously be monitoring the situation and will provide any updates when it’s appropriate.  That may or may not happen by the time you all receive/read this edition of Grey Matters, so stay tuned later this evening or early tomorrow morning for any news about plans for Monday.  

Here’s a couple of reminders (mostly repeats) for this upcoming week:  

  • Don’t forget that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Monday, February 27th. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Vicki Weeks ( with any questions.  

  • February Vacation starts at the end of the school day on Friday, February 17.  Please note that February 17 is a full day and will end with our annual Blue & Gold Assembly (more on that below).  If your family has travel plans that will involve taking your kids out before this date, please take a moment to inform the Main Office ( and your child’s teachers.

  • Weather permitting (so stay tuned to updates), the Chris Herren event will be on Monday night at 7pm in the High School Auditorium. Chris Herren is a former professional basketball player who grew up in the Boston-area, and whose personal and professional life was consumed by substance abuse for several years. Mr. Herren will tell of his descent into addiction, recover, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use. This event is recommended for parents, guardians and students 6th grade and older.   

  • Please remember that the High School’s Information Night for 8th Grade Parents/Guardians has been re-scheduled for Monday, February 27th at 7pm in the High School Auditorium (the Monday we return from Break).  

Last Friday all families should have received a letter from Dr. Brand regarding our District’s upcoming efforts to bolster existing preventive measures in the area of mental health (click here to review the letter).  Along with the proposed addition of a Late Start Day on March 10 (so staff can participate in a training that morning), we are also in the process of finalizing plans for our counselors and health education staff to deliver the Signs of Suicide lesson to all 7th grade students in late March.  My focus right now is on confirming some important logistics within the next few days and then send all 7th grade families a separate follow up letter that includes details of our plans and an important consent form that needs to be returned to the school.  That letter will also include confirmation of a date when we plan to hold an evening information session for any parent/guardian who would like a preview of the lesson and video that is used as part of the discussion.  

On Friday, we will enter the break by having our annual Blue & Gold Day assembly, which has traditionally served as a celebration of school spirit, and where we gather as a whole school (which only really happens a few times a year).  For the past few years the assembly has involved RJ Grey staff participating in various competitions that involve challenging mind, body and soul.  A few of these events have revealed the more competitive sides of our teachers, and with me cowering on the sides hoping we avoid injuries.  Some of you think I am exaggerating but that’s because you didn’t witness Ms. Frey dragging Mr. Harvey across the gym floor a few years ago.  As usual we’ll be sure to post the best photos of the event on our Twitter feed, and it will make for a great start to the February Break.  An important reminder that there will be no homework assigned for vacation period.  We hope that everyone uses this time as an opportunity to disconnect from school and devote time to other interests.  Safe travels to those who are using the break as a chance to get away.  

Have a great week, a great February Break, everyone.



Grey Matters, February 6, 2017; Volume 5, Number 22

posted Feb 5, 2017, 12:03 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

All three of my kids were home sick for some part of last week (my daughter being out three days), and now my oldest is once again struggling with a cough that has returned with some vengeance.  That means we’ll need to cancel our plans to watch the Super Bowl at a friend’s house, which actually isn’t the worst thing since I tend to be one of those people who yells at the television during big games and that might best be done in the comforts of my own home.  Rest assured, I only yell words of encouragement and praise during these games.  I share news of my sick kids because there are many of you who are also currently nursing your own children back to health.  I know this because last Thursday we had 93 students absent due to illness, and then by the end of the day Friday we had 130 students out sick or dismissed early due to illness (about 14% of our student population).  There were also a number of RJ Grey staff members who were felled by sickness and were out at some point last week, and some for the entire week. An article in last Thursday’s Boston Globe notes that reports of flu-like illnesses are up, particularly in suburbs west of Boston, and reminded readers that it’s not too late to get a flu vaccination. Along with encouraging all of you to heed that advice about getting a flu shot,  I am hoping that some time apart this weekend will help with clearing out whatever bug has been traveling back and forth within our community.  If your child does become ill, please keep in mind the District’s guidelines about returning to school:  students should stay home if they have a temperature of 100 Fahrenheit or above, and should not return to school until their temperature has been normal for at least 24 hours (without assistance of Tylenol/Advil).  For stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea, students should stay home until symptoms have resolved for at least 12 hours.  We know there are other illnesses making the rounds, but fever, sore throat, and vomiting have tended to be the most frequent culprits lately.  Depending on how tonight’s Super Bowl goes I anticipate some additional cases of sore throats - hopefully due to shouts of celebration rather than anguish.  Please mention to your children that any sore throats due to the game, and not from actual illness, will not be accepted as a reason to miss school on Monday.  

A couple of quick reminders to bring to your attention:

  • Don’t forget that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Monday, February 27th. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Vicki Weeks ( with any questions.  

  • February Vacation starts at the end of the school day on Friday, February 17.  Please note that February 17 is a full day and will end with our annual Blue & Gold Assembly (more on that next week).  If your family has travel plans that will involve taking your kids out before this date, please take a moment to inform the Main Office ( and your child’s teachers.  

One final reminder about tomorrow night’s event with Dr. Josephine Kim!  This event is at the High School Auditorium tomorrow night at 7pm.  “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child” is Dr. Kim’s platform for supporting families bridging the cultural gap that oftentimes exists between immigrant parents and their children.  With a focus on Asian American families, Dr. Kim’s presentation will create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children.  I’m optimistic that we’ll have a good turnout and look forward to seeing many of you there.  

I mentioned earlier in the Fall some of the different ways that our school implements strategies and programs intended to address bullying prevention and prosocial behavior.  Similar to previous years, we will continue to incorporate speakers and presentations that we feel can complement and expand our work in this area. For 7th grade students, we have again scheduled a great presentation by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) specifically on cyberbullying and internet safety.  The presentation by MARC will take place for 7th grade students this Friday, February 10th and will again be led by Meghan McCoy (from MARC) who has worked with our school for several years, and is very familiar with our student audience.  

The February edition of “Expanding Our Notions of Success”,  the District’s Challenge Success newsletter is out, and you can access it by clicking here.  The focus of the February newsletter is the concept of “engagement” - specifically student engagement in school.  To complement the newsletter I wanted to share links to two recent articles in The Atlantic that look at the idea of student engagement from very particular (and different angles), both raising some questions that certainly overlap with our District’s ongoing work.  The first article tackles the concept of “growth mindset” which is based on the work of Carol Dweck.  A simplified explanation of growth mindset -- the idea that abilities can be developed and is the result of plowing through difficult challenges and new concepts.  Maintaining a growth mindset means believing that working through difficulties and setbacks is how you “get smarter”, as opposed to the belief that one’s intelligence is a fixed and static condition.  What’s become a concern for Dweck is how her work has has often been misinterpreted in a way where encouraging a growth mindset centers around focusing solely on a student’s effort (regardless of outcome) and offering what she ultimately sees as empty praise.  “How Praise Became a Consolation Prize” is an interview with Dweck where she tries to offer some clarification and redirection for those who are interested in the work around growth mindset.  The other recent Atlantic article explores the work of Harvard professor Richard Weissbourd, the founder of the program Making Caring Common.  Entitled, “Ending Extracurricular Privilege”, this piece looks at Weissbourd’s concerns that the college admissions process has contributed (perhaps heavily) to an unhealthy fixation on achievement to the detriment of other important priorities such as developing a sense of caring, and commitment to the well-being of others as central to a meaningful life.  This article also provides a summary of a report, Turning the Tide, authored by Weissbourd and his colleagues, that offer recommendations for reforming the college admissions process - and some well-regarded colleges and universities are starting to listen (read the article to hear about responses by MIT and Trinity College).  Here’s a quick excerpt to perhaps get you interested in the piece:

The report aims to revamp how students spend their time in school by asking colleges to de-prioritize the “long brag sheets” kids are typically encouraged to accumulate, Weissbourd said. The report warns against “overcoaching” and piling on too many Advanced Placement classes. Students “should feel no pressure to report more than two or three substantive extracurricular activities,” it says. The report recommends that some colleges consider making standardized tests optional. All schools should emphasize that it matters less whether community service was performed in a distant location than whether students “immersed themselves in an experience.”

Finally, we had our recent installment of Poetry Friday at the end of last week.  Mr. Malloy, Chairman of Poetry Friday, read “Theme for English B” by one of my favorite poets Langston Hughes.  Mr. Hughes was an American writer whose poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of working-class African-Americans in America.   Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 30, 2017; Volume 5, Number 21

posted Jan 29, 2017, 11:01 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Last Tuesday’s delayed school opening ended up being a slight hiccup for my plans to shadow David from 7 Orange.  Fortunately I was able to clear the deck on Thursday so I could spend that day experiencing the school through the eyes of a student.  Full disclosure: I didn’t do the homework that was assigned for later that evening. I gave myself that liberty as a reward for successfully resisting the temptation to check my phone during the whole school day.  I’m glad that we have several staff members participating in this exercise of shadowing students, and it was an incredibly rewarding and revealing experience for me.  I’ve got pages of notes and observations from, as one 7 Orange student put it, “stalking David all day.”  I’m going to spend some time reflecting on those notes in anticipation of our April staff meeting where those of us who shadowed a student will share those observations with our peers as part of our discussion about possible changes to our schedule. In the meantime, here are eight moments and initial observations from my day, in no particular order, and with no particular themes in mind:  

  1. Time moves slowly when you have the last lunch period of the day and have had no snack. I may have checked the schedule 20 times to verify that lunch wasn’t going to happen earlier.  

  2. Students are doing a lot of sitting during the school day, and in chairs that aren’t particularly comfortable.  Maybe my not-so-limber 39-year old body contributed to the level of discomfort I experienced.  Regardless, I was longing for my office chair after about two periods.  

  3. One of the non-sitting moments came in French class when Ms. Gilfix had us perform the song, “Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes….” in French and complete with all the movements and tapping of body parts throughout the song. She had us repeat the song a number of times and started to speed things and we reached a pace where I started wondering if this was what Crossfit felt like.  Despite being out of breath, I appreciated how Ms. Gilfix mixed things up a bit and gave us the opportunity to be out of our seats.

  4. Seven periods a day is a lot - a lot of transitions, both physically and mentally, from one subject and classroom, to another subject and classroom.

  5. I rejoiced when I finally made it to the cafeteria and bought lunch.  I can confirm that there is enough time to chew and swallow your lunch.  There was perhaps a brief moment or two to enjoy the company of your friends, but not much more beyond that.  Before I knew it, it was time to head back to class.  

  6. Several of the classes on 7 Orange were starting or continuing some really creative lessons and in-class activities, which was great to experience.  All of them ran out of time, often when the momentum is just picking up, and planned to continue the exercise the following day.  

  7. We ask students to do a lot of listening, and the teachers give them a lot of (useful) directions throughout the entire day.    If I’m a student who might struggle with attention, or is perhaps learning English as a second language, it’s a long day.  

  8. The teachers have done a great job of creating classroom routines to help students feel grounded and ready for the class.  In each room that I visited, students knew where to get materials for the day, and where to look for instructions about the day and what might be assigned for homework that night.

Many thanks to David, his classmates, and the 7 Orange teachers (and Mr. Charig and the PE teachers) for welcoming me as a student/classmate for the day.  

Here’s some updates and reminders for everyone to keep in mind:

  • We have an early release for students this Thursday, February 2.  Students will be dismissed at 10:40am, and teachers will be remaining to participate in professional development.  Please be sure to connect with your child about after school plans.  Buses will run their normal routes at dismissal.  

  • Apologies for including in last week’s Grey Matters the wrong date for the upcoming 8th grade information session that is being hosted by the High School.  The correct date for this event is Thursday, February 9th at 7pm. The goal of the evening is for parents to get an overall feel for the high school - including the class offerings available to ninth grade students. The night will begin in the high school auditorium and will end promptly at 8:30pm.  Please also note that this event is geared specifically for a parent/guardian audience, and not for the students themselves. In early March, the 8th graders will participate in a series of workshops that provide them with a comprehensive overview of course registration, requirements, and opportunities. Rest assured that I will send out additional information about that process, most likely after February Vacation.  

  • The R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Monday, February 27th. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions.

We’re about a week away from the next installment of our Family Learning Series with Dr. Josephine Kim who will be speaking at the High School Auditorium on Monday, February 6 at 7pm.  “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child” is Dr. Kim’s platform for supporting families bridging the cultural gap that oftentimes exists between immigrant parents and their children.  I recently had an opportunity to exchange a few emails with Dr. Kim and shared with her some insights about our community, and what I think would be areas that deserve some attention on her part.  With a focus on Asian American families, Dr. Kim’s presentation will create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children.  I look forward to seeing many of you there.  

Finally, I want to wish those in our community who celebrates Chinese New Year a happy and festive new year as we enter the Year of the Rooster.  For those who may share my delight in the culinary aspects of different cultures and holidays, you may want to set aside 10 to 15 minutes to scroll through this recent article in the Los Angeles Times that profiled foods for a Chinese New Year feast.  Even if you never plan to try any of the recipes included in the article, you can get full (or insatiably hungry) by just looking at all the photos of the dumplings, noodles, and soups featured in the story.  And if that’s not enough, you can go here and watch a brief video of Tom Brady (my fellow 39-year older) take a break from his Super Bowl preparations to wish everyone a happy Chinese New Year in Mandarin Chinese.  I give him an A for effort and for putting himself out there, and I take great comfort in knowing that the outcome of next week’s game will not depend on this particular skill.  

Have a great week, everyone.  



Grey Matters, January 23, 2017; Volume 5, Number 20

posted Jan 22, 2017, 9:52 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

A few years ago I included in an edition of Grey Matters mention of cognitive biases, which refers to some common tendencies that many of us have when trying to make sense of information that comes before us.  For example, there’s the gambler’s fallacy which is where someone flips a coin and it lands on “heads” five times in a row, and so he might have the inclination to believe that the law of averages means there is a greater chance that the sixth coin flip will be “tails”.  The reality is that each coin flip is an independent event, and so the chances of landing heads or tails will never change from being 50-50.  If this has piqued your interest, here is a 2014 article from Business Insider that summarized 58 cognitive biases.  I am returning to this topic of cognitive biases because I think I am experiencing what is known as frequency illusion.  This is the illusion in which “a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one’s attention seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards.” Right now, everywhere I turn and everything I read, seems to be strategically placed to remind me that I’m going to be turning 40 later this Spring.  The most recent occurrence of “you’re getting older, deal with it” happened this morning when I came across a feature article in the Boston Globe about Tom Brady.  As part of the build up to tonight’s AFC Championship game, the Globe decided to look closely at how Brady, also 39 years old, has been able to delay the physiological decline that typically happens to the rest of us.  Tom Brady had a statistically incredible football season competing with athletes almost half his age.  Me? I eat a bagel and it feels like I’ve got a bowling ball in my gut.  Clearly intended to make me feel wonderful about myself, the article “Tom Brady: Ageless Wonder”, describes in detail, body part by body part, “what science suggests the average 39-year old human encounters” and how Brady defies those expectations.  Despite my less than enthusiastic response to that article, I will of course join all of you in cheering on Brady and the Patriots tonight and in two weeks when they (hopefully) play in the Super Bowl.  

Here’s some useful updates, notes and acknowledgments to bring to your attention:  

  • Interim reports for this current Winter Trimester will be mailed this Tuesday via US Postal service.  If your child is receiving one or more interims from his/her teachers, it’s likely to arrive at your home on Wednesday or Thursday.  If you have any questions about those interims, please start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.  

  • Many thanks to those involved with organizing and supervising last Friday’s Summer Fun in Winter event!  We had a lot of students attend the event, and many seemed to enjoy themselves.  Ms. Ahl and the Student Council officers put a great deal of work into the preparations, and thanks also to the many parents who donated food.

  • A friendly reminder to families that we have our next early release scheduled for Thursday, February 2.  This will be a professional learning session for staff, and students will be dismissed at 10:40am.  Please plan accordingly.  

  • Congratulations to our students in the Chorus and String Ensemble programs, led by Chris Charig and Katherine Greene on their wonderful concert last Wednesday.  

  • Our Exploratory rotation (i.e. Art, Music/Drama, Minuteman Tech, Digital Literacy) will be switching this Thursday. Students were enrolled in two of the four Exploratories for the first half of the year, and now they will switch to the other two for the remainder of the school year.  

  • Here’s my weekly reminder about our February 6 event with Dr. Josephine Kim who will be delivering her presentation, “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child”.  This will start at 7pm and be held in the High School Auditorium.  Parents and guardians, and students in Grade 6 and higher are invited to attend.  Here’s a link to a downloadable flyer.  

  • The following Monday, February 13, Chris Herren will be returning to Acton-Boxborough to engage with our community about his descent into drug addiction, his recovery, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use. This event will be in the High School Auditorium, and begin at 7pm.  This event is also recommended for families, including students in Grades 6 and higher.  

Last week I provided 8th grade families a “save the date” note about the event on February 11 for 8th grade parents that will provide information about the transition to the High School.  A few more pieces of clarification for those planning to attend:  this particular event is geared towards parents and guardians, not for the 8th graders themselves. Also, please know that the event will be from 7pm to 8:30pm (at the High School).  In early March, the 8th graders will participate in a series of workshops that provide them with a comprehensive overview of course registration, requirements, and opportunities.  These student sessions are led jointly by our counselors and staff from the High School.  

Our District just presented our proposed budget for the next school year (2017-2018) at the annual Budget Saturday marathon event.  The School Committee voted unanimously in favor of supporting the proposed budget as a preliminary figure.  As we enter the Spring and prepare for the town meetings in Acton and Boxborough additional conversations will naturally take place and then the citizens of both towns can vote (up or down) on the school district’s request.  Our proposed budget does include a request for new staffing positions and programs that we believe reflects areas where student (and family) needs continue to expand and merit additional investment.  For example, our request includes an additional elementary ELL (English Language) teacher, a social worker for the high school, and an expansion of our new string ensemble program to include fourth grade students next year.  If you’d like to see the presentation slides from Saturday’s event, you can click here (and then scroll to the bottom of the page).  Those slides will provide additional context and data regarding our plans for next year.  

A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned that our staff is beginning to look at how we organize the school day and considering options for a revised schedule. First, just to be clear, no changes would go into effect earlier than the 2018-2019 school year.  Changing school schedules is a pretty substantial endeavor that usually takes the better part of two school years to design and test drive, and since we’re a two-grade school it’ll be our current 6th grade students who may experiencing the day at RJ Grey a bit differently.  Like the High School our motivation for considering some changes to our school schedule is borne partially from our ongoing attention to the health and well-being of our students and thinking carefully about how our structuring of the day can address both our academic goals and overall wellness of our students. To be sure, our work this year with Challenge Success and reflecting on expanding notions of success and wellness contribute to our work in this area.  Speaking for myself, I enter this process wondering a few things, including whether we can make some adjustments that reduce what can often feel like a frenetic pace to the day.  A committee of RJ Grey staff has been formed to lead some of our work on this issue throughout the Spring, and to identify specific areas of interest that might be worth exploring.  Additionally, we plan to gather feedback from our students on their day-to-day experiences.  Along with a student survey that we’ll likely administer to all students in the Spring, a number of staff will be participating in a program where they shadow a current student for an entire school day.  My shadow day is this Tuesday and I’ll be joined at the hip with David on 7 Orange.  So for those of you with kids on 7 Orange you may hear about how Mr. Shen was in their classes all day and was having trouble answering any of the questions that Ms. Paone asked him in Math class (let’s not all forget the D+ I got in math when I was in 7th grade).  I look forward to providing all of you updates on this important scheduling work, and whether I survived the day not being allowed to check my cell phone.  

We had our latest round of Everyday Leaders take place last week. I spent a good deal of time last week preparing for our District’s budget presentation on Saturday, so having lunch with this group of students was a welcome distraction for me (hopefully it was fun for them too).  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Luca Centrella, John Goguen, Marie Danzig, Nikila Surapanini, Caitlin Laska, Hana Chytil, John Hennessey, Lipika Hedge, David Corrigan, Anthony Oullette, and Caleb Straayer.  

Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week, with guest reader Ms. Kellie Carter, Social Studies teacher on 8 Red.  She offered all of us a reading of the poem “The Guitar Maker” by Alfred Nicol of Newburyport, MA.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem as well.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 16, 2017; Volume 5, Number 19

posted Jan 16, 2017, 12:38 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

In recent years, escape rooms have become a very popular physical adventure game for groups of people to attempt.  For those not immediately familiar with the concept, here’s an excerpt that describes it well: “they vary in design and style, but the basic premise is the same: People are trapped inside a space for a specific amount of time and need to solve a number of puzzles to get out.”  Here’s a recent Boston Globe story that describes the craze.  I am pleased to share that seven friends and I successfully escaped from “The Apartment” this past weekend, with one second remaining (photo to the right).  We’re now 2 for 4 in our efforts to escape.  Most of the credit this time around goes to a few others in our group, and I ended up playing more of a supporting role.  Whenever I do these escape games I often think about what it would be like to bring teachers from RJ Grey as a work event given that we utilize a team-based model at school.  If I’m feeling a bit more daring, and want to risk the ire of the whole staff, we could also go up a few notches and travel to Survival Systems USA in Connecticut.  For $950 a person, Survival Systems USA is now converting their training exercises that were originally intended to provide aquatic survival tactics for aviators and military agencies and offering it as a team building activity to increase morale in the workplace.  From simulating plane crashes to replicating hurricane-like weather, participants go through a whole series of high-risk challenges that make me realize I should have taken my childhood swimming lessons more seriously.  Here’s one of my favorite lines from the New York Times article about this emerging trend:  “Now, the classmates jumped without hesitation from a 14-foot platform into the pool. Life vests inflated, they were given the duration of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to find a way to stay warm while floating.”  It’s unlikely that your child’s teachers and Principal will find themselves giving this a go, but it’s fun to think about.  If by chance any of you have ever participated in something like this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.  

Here’s a couple of reminders and notes I want to bring to your attention:

  • This year’s Winter Chorus and Strings Concert is this Wednesday, January 18 at 7pm in the Auditorium.

  • I made reference last week to our Cooking Club.  This program will likely get started up in the first week of February, so I’ll have more information in the next week or two about signing up for students who are interested.  

  • Our next round of Fit Club is also getting finalized in terms of dates and meeting location. Stay tuned on that as well.  

  • Our school district is currently going through its annual process for building a proposed budget for the following school year (2017-2018) and presenting it to the School Committee and the community at-large.  Dr. Brand has already made a few initial presentations that outline include the requests for new positions and programs that we’d like to include as part of next year’s budget.  If you’d like to review some of that information, you can review these materials that were presented at the December 15 School Committee meeting.  Our efforts to provide the budget story for next year always culminates in Budget Saturday, which is a daylong presentation to the School Committee that includes details of the proposed budget and reasons behind new requests.  Budget Saturday will be this coming Saturday, January 21 from 8:30am to 2:30pm in the Junior High Library and is open to the public.  

  • The next edition of the District’s Challenge Success newsletter is now up.  January’s edition is focused on ideas related to mindfulness and highlighting different ways that mindfulness practices are being incorporated into classrooms within our schools. It also includes an important reminder about the January 25 presentation by Pamela Katz Ressler about mindfulness for those who would like to learn more about this topic.  

An important Save The Date message to 8th grade families regarding the transition to the high school: On Thursday, February 9th at 7pm the high school will be hosting an evening for the parents of 8th graders. The goal of the evening is for parents to get an overall feel for the high school - including the class offerings available to ninth grade students. The night will begin in the high school auditorium with a welcome by principal Dr. JoAnn Campbell followed by a brief presentation by each department leader focusing on the classes available to ninth grade students. Immediately following the presentation parents may join department leaders in the East Commons where they will be available to answer questions.

We’ve got some great community events coming up in a few weeks as part of our Family Learning Series.  Last week I introduced Dr. Josephine Kim to all of you, as she will be speaking at the High School Auditorium on Monday, February 6 at 7pm.  “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child” is Dr. Kim’s platform for supporting families bridging the cultural gap that oftentimes exists between immigrant parents and their children.  With a particular focus on Asian American families, Dr. Kim’s presentation will create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children. Dr. Kim plans to engage with the audience about how cultural expectations and differences manifest in daily interactions, and strategies for improving communication on these topics.  This event is open to parents/guardians and students in Grades 6 through 12.  To be sure, the focus of this event is geared towards Asian and Asian American members our community. Nevertheless, this presentation is like all of our community events and open to everyone in Acton and Boxborough who may want to attend.  Click here if you’d like to download/print a copy of the flyer for this event.  

On the following Monday, February 13, our next Family Learning Series event will be one where we welcome back Chris Herren to Acton-Boxborough.  Chris Herren is a former professional basketball player who grew up in the Boston-area, and whose personal and professional life was consumed by substance abuse for several years. During Rebound: The Chris Herren Story, Mr. Herren will tell of his descent into addiction, recover, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use.  His visit to Acton-Boxborough in 2013 was a powerful event for those who attended and we’re looking forward to his visit next month.  Many thanks to Acton-Boxborough United Way, Acton-Boxborough PTSO, Danny’s Place Youth Services, and the Acton Health Department for co-sponsoring this event.  This event will take place at 7pm in the High School Auditorium, and you can download the flyer/press release for this event by clicking here.  

Last April we took about 100 RJ Grey students on a trip to Washington D.C. A few of us chaperones are still in the process from recovering from that trip, so we’re probably going to offer this as an every other year adventure.  One of the highlights of the trip for me and three other chaperones was getting to watch the last few minutes of a Supreme Court hearing (after waiting outside in a line for three hours).  While the case itself wasn’t terribly exciting for us - it was about insurance fraud - just being in the courtroom was exhilarating.  I spent some time this week thinking about those ten minutes at the Supreme Court because the Court just finished hearing arguments about a topic that is very relevant for our work in public schools.  Specifically, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is a case that asks the Court to offer a more specific interpretation of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the standard to which public schools can and should be held when determining the services and supports that should be provided to children with disabilities.  I am sharing information on this case not to provide commentary but to direct your attention to this development, as whatever interpretation of special education law the Supreme Court establishes through this case will have significant impact on how schools and families move forward when addressing the educational needs of students who receive special education services.  If you’re interested in reading more about the case, you can read this recent New York Times article or this article from the Los Angeles Times.  

"Life's most persistent and urgent question: what are you doing for others?"

-- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the day we devote to the memory and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems more than appropriate that we highlight the importance and value of community service, and how it is encouraged and recognized within our District.  I want to once again make special mention of our new community service recognition efforts at the Junior High through Rise to the Challenge.  Congratulations to the students who have already submitted a record of their service hours and participated in this program.  This program is ongoing throughout the year so it’s definitely not too late for any student to get involved (learn more by clicking here to visit our website).  As I mentioned in a recent Grey Matters, 8th grade students and families should remember that starting January 1, students can record community service activities and hours that can also be counted towards the High School’s “Accept the Challenge” program, which recognizes students for their commitment to, and engagement in, community service.  To learn more, you can visit the High School Community Service website, and also review some of their literature by clicking here.  

Finally, I want to briefly touch upon the difficult and incredibly sad week our community had with the recent death of a McCarthy-Towne student.  I hope that all of you had an opportunity to read the message that Dr. Brand sent to families, and perhaps you also availed yourself of the resources and supports that were included in his message and/or last Wednesday’s presentation by Maria Trozzi.  I can appreciate that some parents may also be curious, perhaps even concerned, about the absence at RJ Grey of any school wide statements to our students about Tylen Cunningham.  Our approach up to this point has been to follow the District’s protocol outlined by the Good Grief program which advises that we not initiate all-school announcements and activities given that Tylen was not a student at our school. Instead, the protocol in which we’ve been trained outlines action steps for offering responses and language to individual students who may have questions or comments, and for supporting students who are themselves vulnerable for one reason or another. We’ve been heavily focused on those measures, and appreciate the support that many parents have provided as part of those efforts.  All of that being said, I also know that the overall accumulation of what has transpired over the course of this year, and the tremendous loss that our community has experienced, may make things a bit atypical. Therefore, we might have to consider some additional measures to support our students as we continue to move forward.  I’ll be attending some meetings in the next few weeks that are focusing on this very topic, and we’ll be looking at this from a couple of different angles and see what makes sense.  I don’t know what that might be but I do want you to know that it’s on my mind as well.  Many thanks for the kind and supportive words and gestures many of you offered to us this past week.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 9, 2017; Volume 5, Number 18

posted Jan 8, 2017, 9:58 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

I’m still pretty shaken from the “snowmageddon” that we experienced a few years ago but I was pretty comfortable and even somewhat pleased with the snowstorm we had this past weekend.  The snow was pretty light so clearing the driveway wasn’t too taxing, and there was enough accumulation where the kids could entertain themselves with a variety of activities.  Granted, I had a temporary moment of concern/curiosity when I saw my kids pushing our wheelbarrow towards the hill in the back of our yard because my kids are indeed the ones who would actually consider careening down a hill in a wheelbarrow and consider themselves geniuses for coming up with that plan.  Their daredevil-ish tendencies are also why we make each of them wear ski helmets whenever they go sledding despite some initial protests about that particular non-negotiable rule.  Having the opportunity to send them out into the snow also provided me a temporary reprieve from a recent tendency of my oldest son to offer me all sorts of critical “feedback” that he feels empowered to send my way because he generously starts it off with the qualifier, “Dad, no offense, but…..”  This expression appeared out of the blue (which probably means there’s a classmate at his school I have to thank for this) this week, and has been heard way too often, at least with me being on the receiving end. “Dad, no offense, but I really didn’t think the noodles you made me were that good.”  “Dad, no offense, but that decision you made to attack the Eastern United States (while playing the board game Risk) was really bad.”  I suppose when they all become teenagers and the unsolicited feedback is still offered without the “no offense” qualifier I’ll probably look back longingly at these moments.  

Here’s some updates and reminders to put on your radar:

  • We have no school next Monday, January 16 as it is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  

  • We have completed our parent-teacher conference sessions for the year.  The next early release day for the Junior High is Thursday, February 2 for a professional development session.  

  • The calendar for the 2017-2018 school year has been voted by the School Committee and is now available to view.  Please note that the early release schedule for the elementary schools (and to a lesser degree for the Junior High and High School) have not been finalized as part of this calendar.  But this current version does have dates for the start of school, holidays, and vacations.  Click here to view the calendar.  

  • Our anuual Summer Fun in Winter will take place on Friday, January 20th from 2:30-4:00. There will be a volleyball tournament, lots of food, music and prizes. All students may attend the event for $4.00. If you would like to enter a team consisting of 6 students, please pick up a form outside Room 327 and return it with payment to Ms. Ahl no later than Tuesday, January 10. Many thanks to our School Council for organizing this event.  

Before the start of last Thursday’s conferences we had our annual Staff Appreciation Luncheon which was hosted by our amazing PTSO.  Educators are no different when it comes to our stomachs being the quickest way into our hearts.  Par for the course, the food that was made and donated by our families was much appreciated and quickly consumed.  Many thanks to parent Elizabeth Bruce for taking on the coordination and planning of this event.  Additionally, much gratitude to Kate Imhoff, Linda Vittum, Anne-Marie Smith, Marie Klinkmueller, Zhu Xao, Angie Tso, Hong Ye, Kayo Aoki, and Kathleen Erikson who led the set-up and clean up process.  Finally, here is a very long list of the generous families who made this luncheon possible (and tasty).  

I want to provide everyone an update and reminder about our great extracurricular program that is available to students.  For those who have completed Fall activities that don’t continue into the Winter, there are all sorts of clubs and activities that students can always join as a new member.  You can see a description of most clubs by going to this page on our website.  We are continuing our Yoga Club and Fit Club programs, with the next round of Yoga beginning this Thursday, January 12 at 2:30 (until 3:30pm).  If your child is interested in participating, please email Katy Frey at, or have your child speak to Ms. Frey directly.  Last year we also started a wonderful Cooking Club program (which I affectionately call Iron Chef RJ Grey) led by our Health teacher Ms. Rimpas in partnership with staff in our Food Services Department.  This program will launch again soon and we’ll be sure to send out sign-up information given that space is limited due to safety considerations (i.e. supervision in our kitchen).  I am also pleased to share that this Winter we will be launching a Junior High version of the student group Common Ground.  Common Ground has been a longstanding student group at the High School that is AB’s version of a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA).  Our efforts to create a Junior High version of this student group is motivated by thoughtful feedback we received from current high school students who shared with us how valuable this type of school group would have been during their time at RJ Grey. The addition of this group also contributes to our ongoing efforts as a school to develop and support space and opportunities for all of our students to feel connected, engaged and affirmed within our school community.  Led by two veteran teachers, Mr. Lewis and Ms. Berberian, Common Ground at RJ Grey will be a space for students to support one another and talk about issues that are important to them.  The goal will be to provide a safe place to socialize and create a comfortable and welcoming environment where students can build respect for LGBTQ people.  Details about meeting times and locations are still being finalized, and will be shared soon by the club’s advisors for those who may have an interest in attending.  

We’ve often talked about the benefits and challenges that accompany the increasing diversity of the Acton-Boxborough community, and how the demographics of our community continue to evolve in many ways including, but not limited to, socio-economic diversity and racial and cultural diversity.  To be sure, one prominent dimension of our changing demographics is the continued growth of our Asian American community.  This year our Asian and Asian American student population from Kindergarten through Grade 12 is well over 30% of our overall enrollment. Our school district is committed to expanding our work to include resources that support the experiences and needs that may be particular to specific groups within our larger community, including our Asian American students and families.  With this in mind, we are pleased to be adding another event to this year’s Family Learning Series featuring Dr. Josephine Kim, Ph.D.  On Monday, February 6, Dr. Kim will be visiting Acton-Boxborough and presenting “Let’s Talk! 

Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child”.  Dr. Kim is a licensed mental health counselor who teaches at Harvard University, and is also on the faculty at the Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Her research and practice focus on bridging the cultural gap between immigrant parents and their children, with a particular emphasis on Asian American families.  Through her presentation, Dr. Kim looks to create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children.  Included in this dialogue will be an examination of intergenerational conflicts and varied perceptions and comfort with issues related to mental health. Dr. Kim plans to engage with the audience about how cultural expectations and differences manifest in daily interactions, and strategies for improving communication on these topics.  This event on Monday, February 6 will begin at 7pm in the High School Auditorium, and is open to parents/guardians and students in Grades 6 through 12 are also encouraged to attend.  Parents and guardians may of course come alone, and this is certainly appropriate for parents who have younger children, but not for those younger children to attend.  As one can tell from the description, the focus of this event is geared towards Asian and Asian American members our community. Nevertheless, this presentation is like all of our community events and open to everyone in Acton and Boxborough who may want to attend.  Many thanks to the Acton Chinese American Civic Society (ACACS) for co-sponsoring and partnering with the schools on this event.  I hope many of you will join me for this event.

Finally, we finished last week with another installment of Poetry Friday.  Ms. Vacca, 8 Orange English teacher, introduced the school to the poem Naming of Cats by T.S. Eliot.  Check it out if you’ve got a spare moment or two!  

Have a great week, everyone.



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