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

posted Jan 22, 2017, 9:52 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 18, 2017, 11:10 AM by James Marcotte ]

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.