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Grey Matters, March 9, 2015; Volume 3, Number 25

posted Mar 8, 2015, 1:17 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 6, 2015, 6:51 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

I’ve made references in the past to the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, and I know many of you are also fans.  For those who share with me an admiration for the 6-year old and his tiger, here’s a Wall Street Journal article from last week that offers some thoughts about why the series was so profound. As I’ve gone back and read the comics again, it’s interesting how I now see different dimensions of the story (whether Bill Watterson intended it or not), especially since I currently have front row seats to my own 6-year old’s (Bacon Boy) unbridled sense of mischief wonder, and am witness to moments where I haven’t been inclined to laugh, and tempted to raise my hands in surrender.


My favorite excerpt from the WSJ article was towards the middle, “[Calvin’s] favorite sport is “Calvinball,” in which he is entitled to make up the rules as he goes along.  Day-in, day-out, Calvin keeps running into evidence that the world isn’t built to his (and our) specifications.  All humor is, in one way or another, about our resistance to that evidence.”  I get the feeling that the universe wanted me to come across this quote as encouragement to exercise a bit more patience with, and acceptance of, Parker who, when I asked if he would behave himself at his school if I were the Principal replied with a deadpan face, “I can’t make promises.”  

The last three performances of this year’s Junior High musical, Once on This Island, took place this past weekend, and I hope many of you had the opportunity to attend.  I was part of the audience on Friday night, and we were all on the receiving end of a wonderful performance.  Kudos to all of the students on the cast and crew who spent countless hours rehearsing, building, and performing.  One observation that perhaps I am the only one to make.  In the Drama Club’s Fall production of Miss Nelson is Missing, Connor Spaulding was cast as the school principal.  In the musical, he was cast as Papa Ge, the “Demon of Death” who is feared by all the island people.  Wondering if during casting someone thought, “hey, Connor’s already had experience with a similar role, he’ll be great.” I might need to talk to Ms. Miller and see what she says….

I am about to spend a good bit of time sharing some thoughts on our upcoming MCAS testing period.  Before that, here’s a number of reminders and items to note:

  • The Winter Trimester is closing today.  Report cards will be sent home with students early/middle of next week.  

  • The schedule for Spring sports is not on our website yet.  We are still finalizing plans and thinking of adjustments that we might need to make given that snow may still be on the ground come Independence Day.  We hope to have details (including dates) within the next week or so.  As a reminder, our Spring sports includes: Baseball (one 7th/8th grade team; tryout sport); Softball (one 7th/8th grade team; tryout sport); and Track (no-cut sport).  

  • Kristina Rychlik, chair of the School Committee, has crafted a letter to families that provides an update about our budget process and upcoming dates/meetings to note.  You can view her letter by clicking here.  

  • Remember that Michael Thompson will be speaking to the AB Community on April 1st at 7pm in the High School Auditorium.  Click here for a flyer that you can print out and tape onto your refrigerator.  For a reminder of the useful and relevant topics that Dr. Thompson will speak on, click here for a description of his work and areas of focus.  

We are now in the midst of our 2nd annual “March Madness” event - at RJ Grey, instead of being about college basketball, it’s a “Battle of the Books”.  Our librarian, Louisa Latham, has again put together a bracket of popular young adult fiction titles, and students and staff have been encouraged to vote for their favorite titles, and in a few weeks one title will be crowned the winner.  Students are also encouraged to complete an entire bracket, which makes them eligible for a drawing where a few participants will be awarded an iTunes gift card.  You can see a picture of the bracket board, and can learn more about the library by visiting the library website.  If you visit RJ Grey this month, be sure to check out the “Battle of the Books” bracket that is in the lobby (you can’t miss it), to see what books have made the next round.  

I had lunch with our latest round of Everyday Leaders.  Along with getting some feedback about how things are going, and exchanging ideas about what changes each of us might make to the Junior High, we discussed how awesome it would be if we could install new lockers that use a fingerprint scanner to secure and unlock each student’s locker.  For any School Committee members who may be reading this, be prepared for this to be front and center in next year’s budget presentation.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this round’s Everyday Leaders group:  Michael Li, Laura Hunt, Jade Mello, Reana Mahbub, Taylor McGinty, Molly Harer, Jason Horovitz, Katherin Zhang, Kelsey Maira, Morgan Banta-Ryan, and Syndey Antes.  

An important reminder to parents of 8th grade students.  Students on each team will participate in presentations this week about 9th grade course registration.  Our counselors will be providing an overview, and then representatives from the High School will be visiting on Thursday to share additional information.  In next week’s Grey Matters, I will post links to any documents and handouts that are used during these presentations.  

MCAS! I am sharing with everyone some thoughts about MCAS, and a good portion of it is re-used from the past two years, since my/our thoughts on it haven’t really changed, along with our suggestions for how families and students should view MCAS testing relative to other aspects of the educational process.  

If the weather cooperates, we begin the English/Language Arts portions of the MCAS state assessments on Tuesday, March 24.  Specifically, this is how our upcoming schedule currently looks:


March 24

7th Grade, ELA Long Composition


March 25

8th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 1


March 26

8th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 2


March 27

8th Grade Make Up Day


March 30

7th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 1


March 31

7th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 2

Wednesday & Thursday

April 1+2

7th Grade Make Up Days (Reading Comprehension and Long Composition)

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.  Finally, the Math and Science portions of the MCAS assessment takes place in May, and I’ll be sure to send out a reminder at that time that addresses the schedule for those days.  

At RJ Grey, we want to continue to express and balance two messages to students about  MCAS.  First, we hope that students do take their participation in MCAS seriously, where they try their best and respond to the questions thoughtfully and to the best of their ability.  At the same time, we want students to know that how they perform on these tests does not define them as individuals, and as students.  It’s one type of measure (given at one point in the year), and like any single assessment, can not truly capture all that there is to know (and needs to be known) about a student’s growth as a student, and all of their other talents and strengths.  

MCAS results are provided to individual families to be reviewed; and as a school, we are responsible for addressing areas of concern that the state may identify based on our results.  So we certainly pay attention to, and we work hard to prepare students for the MCAS, along with our other assessments. However, we never want students to experience anxiety or distress over the MCAS, and to know that there is much (much) more to one’s development as a thoughtful individual than is reflected in this particular set of assessments.  Last year, I posted a link to a then-recent New York Times article entitled,  “How to Get a Job at Google” (click here) that highlighted Google’s approach and philosophy to recruitment and hiring, notin a de-emphasis on test scores and GPAs as a predictor for the qualities that they seek, and instead “cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” In last week’s Boston Globe Magazine, a Williams College psychologist presented her ideas about how our schools’ efforts might benefit from a re-orientation of our standardized assessments around skills and qualities that, interestingly, have much overlap with the Google article.  While the author didn’t specifically make reference to Google, it was hard not to see the similarities found in her “7 Things Every Kid Should Master” (and should therefore be the focus of assessments) as she emphasized reading, collaboration, conversation, flexible thinking and use of evidence, inquiry, and well-being.  Just some food for thought as we enter this season of state assessments.  

In an effort to support students during these testing days, we hope to work with families on establishing some routines that will deliver that dual message that I describe above. We begin MCAS testing about 15 minutes after homeroom so we can provide some time to make sure that all students have a chance to settle down and, quite frankly, have the chance to eat something.  If you have time at home, please think about making sure your child has a good breakfast before leaving -- taking a 2+ hour test on an empty stomach can be tough for some (count me as one of them).  If you don’t have time, please feel free to send your child in with some food that they can eat during that brief period before testing begins.  To repeat my plea from previous years, in the interest of avoiding a mess, please don’t send your kids in with a Grand Slam Breakfast from Denny’s, but some water or juice, a muffin, fruit or yogurt.  We will also be providing each room with enough food (juice boxes, breakfast bars) for students who didn’t have the opportunity to eat at home, or able to bring something on their own.

It’s the second straight week of a fairly lengthy Grey Matters, but March is a busy month, and I hope the above information proves useful (and that the included comic strip provided a little levity to the day).  

Have a great week, everyone.