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Grey Matters for November 7, 2016; Volume 5, Number 10

posted Nov 6, 2016, 11:47 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 18, 2017, 11:03 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Election Day is less than 48 hours away.  This election cycle has certainly been... unique and I will continue to avoid sharing any commentary about either of the candidates for President. However, I do want to take this opportunity to announce that I’ll be forming an exploratory committee and considering a run for President in 2020.  My campaign will be narrowly focused and I’ll be addressing a single issue.  Specifically, if elected President, I plan to change it so Halloween is from that year forward always scheduled for the last Saturday of October, rather than the last day of the month.  Based on some initial polling of parents who are also exhausted from starting last week with Halloween (in between bites of the candy that we all stealthily stole from our kids’ stashes and now regret eating but somehow couldn’t stop ourselves), I think I may be on to something.  Exhaustion aside, I do hope everyone had a fun and safe time last Monday, both during and after school.  We had a great time welcoming students to school that morning and seeing the informal parade of costumes and outfits.  Par for the course, we also had a number of staff members dress up as well, their costumes ranging from farm animals to the graduation cap and gowns worn by our Main Office staff (and accompanied by a graduation cake).  Congratulations to 8th grader Sophie Cooke (8 Orange) who won this year’s costume contest (see photo).  

Here’s some reminders that I’d like to bring to your attention this week:

  • There is no school for all students in the District this Tuesday (Election Day), November 8.  Staff will be participating in professional learning during the day, including a presentation by Dr. Denise Pope (more on that below).  For those who vote at the Junior High, please remember to use the gym entrance (to the left of the building if you’re facing the front of the school).  
  • There is also no school for all students on Friday as it’s Veteran’s Day.  Many thanks to those in our community who have served, and continue to serve, in our military.  
  • Last Friday I sent an email to families of 8th grade students that provides some information for those whose children may be applying to private schools.  If you haven’t already, please take a moment to review that message.  
  • On Monday, I will be sending all families an email about the annual parent-teacher conference sessions that we offer during three early release dates in December and January.  That email will provide families with an overview of the conferences and some things to consider before signing up.  On Wednesday, families will then receive an email from us that includes the link to the form that you should complete if you wish to schedule conferences with some (or all) of your child’s teachers.  
  • Thanksgiving Break is coming up and I know that many are looking forward to that annual holiday and the opportunity to spend it with family and friends.  And depending on the election results, participating in lively debates with some visiting relatives about the direction in which our country is headed.  Thanksgiving Break also marks the end of the Fall Trimester for RJ Grey, and grades close on that Wednesday before the break.  

After we return from Thanksgiving Break we’ll also be shifting into Winter-oriented activities, including Winter sports programs. Stay tuned for more information on those activities, and also make sure that your child has an updated green form which is a requirement for any student who wishes to participate in our athletics program.  I mention the green form (it’s not really green anymore, but it used to be hence the name) because it involves updated physicals and I know that this is something you can’t get overnight, AND no exceptions can be made regarding the submission of this form.  

Also, an initial and exciting Save the Date! Announcement regarding our annual Junior High musical.  This year’s musical is Once Upon a Mattress (the story of the Princess and the Pea), and performances will be on December 1 through December 4 (the week after we return from Thanksgiving).  The RJ Grey musical is not only a great annual event for members of our school community, but is always a wonderful event from other members of our larger Acton-Boxborough community.  Next week I’ll be sharing additional information about purchasing tickets.  

I hope that my efforts over these past two months to highlight and talk-up Dr. Denise Pope’s visit to Acton-Boxborough pays off and that I’ll see many of you at her presentation this Tuesday evening at 7pm in the High School auditorium.  I’m pretty confident that whether you end up agreeing or disagreeing with some of her conclusions and observations, most of you will at least appreciate the opportunity to engage in some purposeful conversation about issues and topics that we’ve all thought about and continue to contend with as invested parents.  In last week’s Grey Matters, I offered a bit of a teaser with some data about extracurricular activities from the Challenge Success survey that our students took last Spring.  This week, I offer another teaser that perhaps has a bit more sizzle to it, and a subject that I know is a perpetual topic of conversation at dinner tables: homework and workload.  First, here is a link to the District’s monthly newsletter about our Challenge Success work, which includes some of the survey results to questions that asked about homework and workload.  The newsletter also includes links to a few different articles and videos that look a bit more closely at some of the questions that typically orbit around this topic.  In addition to the information that’s provided in the District newsletter, I wanted to provide all of you with a bit more specific information from the survey.  Below is a chart that shows the responses of (last year’s) 7th and 8th grade RJ Grey students when asked about average nightly school-assigned homework during weekdays (Monday thru Friday):

April, 2015

RJ Grey

7th Grade

8th Grade

Less than an hour



1 hour



1.5 hours



2 hours



2.5 hours



3 hours



3.5 hours



As I have mentioned in previous messages, our staff continues to look at our homework practices from a number of different angles, including but not limited to nightly workload and how best to support our students in their efforts to engage successfully with homework that is assigned.  The information above can be (and has been) looked at a variety of different ways.  Big picture, I am comfortable sharing with families that I’m fairly pleased to see that a significant percentage of our students report spending no more than 1.5 hours on homework on average (with many students reporting closer to an hour).  I think that’s a healthy place to be  -- where students are asked to engage in academic work outside of class, but not to the point where the workload creates what would essentially look and feel like a second shift of school.  

Given what I shared above, I’m particularly interested in the cohort of students who did report two hours or more of work nightly and learning a bit more about their experiences and what might be contributing to this outcome.  I would speculate that there are likely a number of different factors that are involved, and will vary among students.  [side note: if your child is consistently spending well over two hours on homework, please consider letting his/her teachers and counselors know] Over the course of this year we’re going to collect additional information about workload and looking more closely at specific parts of the homework experience.  While I don’t think Dr. Pope is going to be able to spend a majority of her presentation unpacking all the layers that usually accompany the topic of homework, I’m sure she’ll have some useful things to share.  Please come Tuesday night!

Finally, we had a guest presenter for our most recent edition of Poetry Fridays.  Ms. Vicki Weeks, English teacher on 8 Green made a visit to the Principal’s office and read “Shoulders” by poet Naomi Shihab Nye.  Some of you may remember that Ms. Nye visited Acton-Boxborough in 2013 when she accepted the Robert Creeley Poetry Award.  It was nice to have her “revisit” us last Friday to end the week.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Come see Dr. Pope on Tuesday!