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Grey Matters, February 22, 2016; Volume 4, Number 23

posted Feb 21, 2016, 7:33 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:27 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from February Break!  Our family was fortunate to spend the first half of the break in South Beach, Miami which, based on all the news alerts we were seeing about the unbelievably frigid temperatures a home, turned out to be the most well-timed trip in our family’s history.  In an exchange of texts with some friends, I noted how the temperature in Miami during our stay was not completely pool/beach-friendly since it was “only in the mid-70s,” and I received a series of colorful responses that will stay private amongst friends. Or at least I think we’re still friends.  

Speaking of temperatures, one observation I had of the area where we were staying was the significant number of patio heating towers that lined the busy retail areas since most of the restaurants had outdoor eating spaces.  It seemed like for every ten people on the street, there was one of these heating apparatuses.  On our first night in Miami, we took a walk along Lincoln Road, which is a major outdoor shopping and dining area.  While everyone else was looking at different menus and deciding where we might want to eat, I was semi-hypnotized by these towers of fire and excitedly thinking to myself, “how can I bring two of these back to RJ Grey and set them up in the parking lot for morning drop-off?”  

Temperatures aside, our time away was great for all of us and where, save for a few brief email replies, I completely disconnected from work.  I’ve slowly gotten better at separating work and play, and it’s a been a process that has required some deliberate effort (mentally) on my part to untangle those worlds.  I share that struggle because I am fairly sure that many of you, not to mention your kids/our students, have also experienced that ongoing challenge. Earlier this year a friend of mine shared a Washington Post article from a few years back, that summarized an interview with Brene Brown, about how shifts and demands within our society in general, and workplace cultures specifically, have impacted our ability to prioritize a balanced and healthy life.  Entitled, Exhaustion is Not a Status Symbol, the section of the interview that generated in me the longest pause and hardest reflection was the following:

One of the things that I found was the importance of rest and play, and the willingness to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. A lot of people told me that when they put their work away and when they try to be still and be with family, sometimes they feel like they’re coming out of their skins. They’re thinking of everything they’re not doing, and they’re not used to that pace….That happens not just in work culture, I see it even with teenagers who now have four and five hours of homework and go to bed at one in the morning. We don’t know who we are without productivity as a metric of our worth. We don’t know what we enjoy, and we lose track of how tired we are.”

While not the only reason, some of the tendencies highlighted above contributed to our commitment of not assigning homework over school vacations, and I hope many of you have seen some positive outcomes from that shift.  Again, our discussions about developing healthy (school)work and life balance for students and families can’t and won’t be limited to just vacations, though it’s certainly an important part of the equation.  To that end, I hope all of you found opportunities to use last week for something meaningful and perhaps different from your daily routines.

We are nearing the month of March, and that is always a time when things get a bit busier for everyone.  We’ll do our best to keep everyone up to date on important dates, events, and tasks - such as MCAS testing, 9th grade course registration, and Spring sports tryouts (only to name a few).

The end of the Winter Trimester is March 9th, and we estimate that report cards will go home the week of the 17th.  Also starting the week of March 9th, our 8th grade students and families will begin the process of learning about 9th grade courses at the high school. Before the February break, the High School held an orientation meeting for families of current 8th grade students, and provided an outline of the registration process. I believe that within the next few days, they’ll post the presentation slides for families who were not able to attend.  On Thursday, March 10, a group of High School staff will be visiting every 8th grade team to explain the high school schedule and provide each of them with an orientation packet that describes the registration process.  Starting that week (through the following week), 8th grade teachers will also begin individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal (directions will be included in the orientation packet) when the portal opens in late March.  In next week’s Grey Matters, I will provide more detail and information about the above process, and offer some perspective specifically on the conversation that teachers will have with students about course and level recommendations.  

In the next week or two, we’ll be sharing with students and families the sign up and/or tryout schedule for our Spring sports programs (likey to start in late March/early April).  We will continue to have teams for baseball, softball, and Spring track.  In addition, we are also excited that our league of middle schools is introducing a girls interscholastic volleyball program that will begin this Spring.  Like the other programs, it will be a single team for both 7th and 8th grade students.  Similar to baseball and softball, the girls volleyball program will require a tryout process, whereas Spring track will continue to be a “no-cut” program.  Stay tuned for more information.  

The School Committee has recently reviewed and updated the school calendar for next year (2016-2017).  Along with listing the early release dismissal days for professional learning and conferences, the School Committee also voted to not have school on Tuesday, October 11 due to the fact that no school was already planned for Monday, October 10 (Columbus Day), and Wednesday, October 12 (Yom Kippur).  We wanted to make sure families were aware of this change knowing that it may lead, require and/or inspire many of you to explore travel plans or child care arrangements.  You can download a copy of this updated calendar by clicking here.  With no snow days, the last day of school next year would be June 19.  

Dr. Brand has asked each school to remind and/or share with parents that the District is in the process of developing a Master Plan for our school buildings that will “serve as a guide in the development of options for the longer term capital improvement repairs, renovation and possible future construction of our schools.” As the attached flyer notes: Over the next several months we will be holding three visioning workshops in an effort to understand the views around the long-term vision for our educational spaces, building usage, and design. Glenn is hoping to include two (2) parent/guardians from the Junior High to participate in these visioning workshops.  If you are interested, please review the flyer which includes specific dates and times, and then send me ( a note by March 9 letting me know you’d like to be considered for this work. I’ll pass along your interest to Dr. Brand’s office, and someone from his office will follow up.  

Another reminder that on March 7, Nancy Frates will be speaking in the High School auditorium at 7pm. Nancy Frates’ son Peter is the inspiration behind the Ice Bucket Challenge that captivated the nation last year, and the Frates family has continued to be active in the effort to promote awareness about ALS and raise money to support research that will increase understanding about the disease.  As the announcement notes, this is a talk that uses the story of the Frates family to highlight themes of resilience and resourcefulness.  Sponsored by the ABPTSO, Danny’s Place Youth Services, and the AB United Way, this event is free to the public, and donations will benefit the ALS Association.   

Finally, many of you may have noticed that there’s been a stomach bug that has been sticking around our community, and we’ve had a number of students who have had symptoms that include vomiting and diarrhea.  Our nurses would like to offer a friendly reminder that it’s important for students to stay home and rest when their illnesses really do rise to this level. It’s not good for their recovery, and it also contributes to the recycling of these germs!  Also, we have experienced a number of cases where students who aren’t feeling well will circumvent going to the nurse, and call parents on their cell phones.  We obviously want to communicate with parents about students who are feeling ill, but it’s important for students to go to the nurses’ office first where they can receive assistance.  Thanks in advance for your help in conveying these messages, and hopefully time away from school last week also helped to clear out some of the germs!  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.