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Grey Matters, December 11, 2017; Volume 6, Number 15

posted Dec 10, 2017, 7:26 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

What I should be doing at this very moment is pulling on my winter gear and clearing last night’s snowfall from our driveway and walkway.  That’s easier said than done when it’s much warmer in the house, and I can use the unfinished task of writing this week’s Grey Matters to convince myself that there are more pressing things that demand my attention.  The first snowfall of any school year always feels like it sneaks up on you even though this has in recent years been the time period when we get our first real accumulation of snow.  Besides checking weather records from previous years, a less scientific but still accurate marker of this trend is that mid-December is also when I usually start to feel like I’m surrounded by countless references to San Francisco, which I have long viewed as my ideal escape from the New England winters. I know that this is an example of observational selection bias - the tendency to feel like the increased appearance of things or events must be more than a coincidence - like buying a new car and then believing that you now see that same car everywhere. RJ Grey parents who have been with us in previous years are likely familiar with my obsession interest in the Bay Area for, among other things, its weather and food.  Unfortunately, the real estate market is a bit out of my price range.  When I mention to others that our family could probably only afford a one-car garage, they politely note that a home with a garage for only one car is perfectly fine.  That’s when I clarify that what I meant was what we could likely afford is the garage itself, without any house attached to it.  Besides the astronomical real estate prices, my wife usually ends my efforts to bring up San Francisco and annoyance with snow and ice dams by noting that Boston doesn’t sit on the San Andreas fault line and that snow won’t lead to the ground shaking and/or opening up beneath us.  Game-set-match to Melisa. Now that we are entering the winter season, a friendly reminder that any changes in the school schedule, such as a delayed start or a snow day, will be communicated via an automated phone call to home and/or cell phones (and also posted on news sites).  This will typically happen between 5am and 6am.  Current weather forecasts are indicating that we might experience some messy precipitation on Tuesday morning, so you may or may not get a call that morning.  While probably not a popular sentiment amongst our students, I am hoping for ZERO snow days this year.  

Some useful reminders for the next two weeks before the Winter Break:

  • Report cards for the Fall Trimester went home with students last Friday, and were also emailed directly to parent/guardian email addresses listed in the student’s emergency card.  If for some reason you didn’t get your child’s report card - either from your child or in your email account, feel free to send me an email and we can generate another copy for you.  

  • Our first set of Parent-Teacher conferences is scheduled for this Thursday (December 14).  That means we have an early release for all Junior High students, and dismissal will be at 10:40am. Be sure to coordinate with your child expectations about where to be after school (they can not stay at school).  For those parents/guardians who have conferences this Thursday, please be sure to double check your times ahead of Thursday.  Please know that at this point options for re-scheduling conference times are extremely limited, and more than likely not available.    

  • Thru next week, RJ Grey will be collecting toys this holiday season to donate to local families.  Our teachers and students have coordinated this Toy Drive as an annual holiday effort, and it’s always been a wonderful opportunity to offer some holiday cheer to children in and around our community.  Toys must be new, unused (and unopened) and may be dropped off in the collection box in the main lobby.  All toys will be donated to families in the Acton, Boxborough, and surrounding towns.  If you have any questions, you can email Gabrielle Berberian at  

  • The Acton-Boxborough Regional School District has engaged the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) to assist them in the search process for a new Superintendent of Schools. An integral part of the process involves parent/guardian and community participation in focus groups. The groups are designed to obtain participant input about the attributes, experience and knowledge that the new superintendent should possess. The groups also provide an opportunity for participants to identify immediate tasks which the new superintendent should address. Focus group sessions for parents, guardians and Acton Boxborough community members will be conducted this Wednesday, December 13 at 12:30 in the Sargent Library in Boxborough, and on Monday, December 18 and Wednesday, January 3 at 7:00 p.m. in the R.J. Grey Junior High School Library. Each group will last approximately 1 – 1 ½ hours.

  • Our last day of school before the Winter Break is Friday, December 22. Please know that this day is scheduled to be a “regular” full day of school.  If you have plans that involve your child being absent towards the end of that week because of winter break plans, please be sure to communicate that with the Main Office (Katy Frey, and your child’s team teachers.  

As we near the Winter Break, I also want to take a moment to include this annual reminder about guidelines for giving gifts to school staff members.  First and foremost, please know that no family should ever feel that gift giving is expected. My experience has been that simple expressions of thanks that are sent along to teachers by students and families are “gifts” that are greatly appreciated by our staff.  For families who choose to provide a gift to a member of the RJ Grey staff, I do need to direct your attention to state ethics laws that limit the gifts that teachers, coaches, and staff are permitted to receive.  There’s actually a whole series of details about this (because it tends to get a little complicated at the elementary levels with class gifts, etc.), but to keep things simple for us: staff can not accept gifts from a single family that exceeds $50 in value for the entire school year. For those who send in homemade desserts and treats and want to know what monetary value is placed on those, the answer is of course priceless.  I share the above info about gift giving as a friendly reminder about important guidelines that we’re obligated to follow and to take this opportunity to thank all RJ Grey families for the many ways that each of you supports the school and our teachers throughout the year.  

In addition to the above updates and reminders, I want to direct your attention to two other items - each different from the other but I think both have value to you as Acton-Boxborough residents and parents.  First, an update on our District’s conversation about school start times.  This Thursday evening’s School Committee meeting includes this topic as an agenda item where our leadership team will provide an update on our work towards a possible shift in start times for the Junior High and High School, and a single shared start time for all six elementary schools.  This presentation will include information about our continued focus and support of a model where the Junior High shifts to an 8:00am start time, the High School to an 8:07am start time, and all elementary schools to an 8:55am start time.  Many of you may have been following the recent announcement by the Boston Public Schools about their decision to shift many of the start times of their schools for next year- with many middle and high schools scheduled for later starts, and several elementary schools now scheduled for much earlier starts. Here is a Boston Globe article about the decision, and here is a follow-up article about the feedback and discussion that has emerged from that decision.  On the subject of start times, there are certainly a number of considerations, competing interests, and challenges that are shared by, and common to, the schools in Boston and here at A-B.  There are also a number of variables that are more specific and unique to each community and District (beyond sheer size) and so what’s unfolding in Boston can be instructive for our efforts, but not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison.  I am personally looking forward to the next steps that we are hoping to take for our school district.  

Second, at the risk of giving you a bit of unintended whiplash, I now direct your attention to something completely different from the above.  Specifically, to an emerging trend called vaping (also referred to as “juuling”) - which involves the use of electronic cigarettes.  I don’t have a sense of how familiar members of our parent community are with this activity and so I wanted to make an effort to at least provide a baseline of information by mentioning it here. The Boston Globe recently wrote a very thorough story on vaping and its growing prevalence amongst teens in the area and if you aren’t terribly familiar with this trend, I’d encourage you to spend a few minutes reading the article.  Included in the article is this concise description of vaping and the use of e-cigarettes: “Electronic cigarettes are devices that utilize stored electricity to heat a liquid into vapors, which are then inhaled by the user….the liquid can be anything from a flavored water-type mixture to liquid nicotine to THC, the principal active element of marijuana.”  As the article notes, this trend has become more widespread amongst adolescents and has added another layer of complexity to our work as parents and educators in terms of navigating the terrain of substance use and abuse. I am highlighting this topic not in response to any specific incidents at RJ Grey, or current challenge that we’re facing with our students.  If this was already a significant problem that we’ve been dealing with at school, I’d tell you.  However, I also believe that like other trends and challenges, we won’t be immune to this issue. While this new terrain is complicated by the fact that current technologies make them more readily available and easier to mask, the human temptation to experiment with substances, especially when presented as a safe and risk-free endeavor, is a longstanding reality of adolescence that parents and educators will need to address through education and engagement with our kids.  To that end, I again encourage you to read the Globe article I referenced above, familiarize yourself with this trend, and consider engaging your child in a conversation about it.  

Don’t forget the early release this Thursday.  

Have a great week, everyone.