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Grey Matters, December 18, 2017; Volume 6, Number 16

posted Jan 1, 2018, 7:39 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

This is the week before the upcoming Winter Break, and that’s always a reason to be excited given the opportunity to rest, maybe travel a bit, and find moments of connection with family and friends.  Before we part ways, there are a few things I’d like to share with you and the first part will admittedly not fit the traditional mold of a cheerful holiday message. That’s because it starts by naming and speaking to the ongoing collision of differing values we are presently witnessing in our country today.  However, my hope is that despite the sobering beginning, the remainder of this opening message offers all of you reason to head into the holiday season feeling confident about the work and efforts taking place at RJ Grey regarding school climate.  

In November of last year, I sent a message to families that addressed the post-presidential election landscape. The tenor of the national discourse at the time left many in our community feeling vulnerable, and it was important to reaffirm to families our commitment to inclusion, human dignity and respect for every member of our community.  Since then, our nation has continued to struggle with a rise in acts and speech that are rooted in ignorance, bigotry and bias. There is also the long overdue spotlight on misogyny and sexual harassment that extends beyond any one setting, and is clearly a more ubiquitous problem experienced by many, including young people. Schools everywhere have experienced an increased frequency of incidents that mirror these issues and violate expectations prohibiting harassment towards others based on, but not limited to, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation and religious affiliation.  At RJ Grey, we are not immune to the difficulties that other schools face, and the hazards and problems that ail our society.  We too have needed to address and respond to students whose actions, words, and choices have been in direct contradiction to our school’s norms and values.  

Since the challenges I describe above may not be a brief flare up, and might instead be a bit more chronic in nature, I see value in revisiting the topic of RJ Grey’s school climate with our families and restating to everyone our commitment to the immediate and long-term work that is needed to ensure a safe environment for our students, staff and families.   A couple of specific points on this subject:

Teachers at RJ Grey work hard to provide opportunities for students to listen to opposing viewpoints and wrestle productively with areas of disagreement.  This is central to developing habits that are at the heart of being decent people and engaged citizens. There is a broad landscape where lively disagreement is acceptable and there also exists clear and explicit boundaries in our school when it comes to certain types of words and actions.  Allowing for objectivity does not require us to abandon our school’s expectations regarding respectful behavior, and Acton-Boxborough has explicit policies pertaining to harassment and bullying behavior that all schools must uphold. As I mentioned last year, we do this not simply because it’s policy, but because it’s central to our work as educators of young people.  

When we encounter incidents that violate our norms and values, especially as it relates to incidents of harassment, we communicate with the families of the students involved and ideally work together to address the concern.  Along with any discipline that may be appropriate for a specific incident, we continue to consider meaningful learning opportunities that can be included when appropriate.  To that end, I am currently working with a group of teachers to develop assignments that students may be required to complete for situations that merit this additional restorative and educational measure. Beyond our response to individual situations, an aspiration for our curriculum is to introduce students to a diversity of life experiences and identities that reflect the world in which we live.  As the world around us continues to change and evolve, we know that our curriculum and our direct engagement with students should continue to be responsive and adapt to different priorities.  Our English Department, as one example of this work, is currently reviewing additional texts that might offer more mirrors through which our increasingly diverse student body can see and explore their own lives, and windows through which they can become more familiar with experiences and circumstances that differ from their own.  This is work that will require time and effort that extends well beyond this current school year, but please know that this work has begun.

I also want to ask all of you to continue partnering with us in modeling for our children the behaviors that we hope they adopt and practice.  Along with our work and conversations within the classroom, many students will benefit from discussions and direct guidance from parents and guardians about the power, impact and history of certain words and symbols, and to be clear about what ethical, kind, and respectful behavior looks like in day-to-day settings.  From the harm caused by casual pejoratives to understanding the boundaries they should establish in terms of welcome and unwelcome attention, young people will at certain times, and for certain topics, need explicit direction and guidance.  One resource that recently arrived in my Inbox and worth sharing is a brief article by Dr. Richard Weissbourd, from the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.  Focusing specifically on sexual harassment and misogyny this piece offers parents strategies for inviting their children into a conversation that can be tricky to initiate.  If and when I have other materials that could be helpful for parents on any of these difficult subjects, I will be sure to make them available through Grey Matters or other platforms.  

While there is likely a diversity of opinions within our community when it comes to the many topics dominating the national and political landscape, I hope that the goals and expectations I have articulated above are ones that you accept and endorse as important for all of our students.  Thank you for the efforts you’ve already made towards this work, and for the ones that you will take moving forward.  

OK - now on to the other chapters of this week’s Grey Matters.  First, a few important reminders heading into the Winter Break:

  • Last Thursday the School Committee voted to change the school start times for our District and to go into effect next school year.  Start and end times for next year are: Junior High (8:00am to 2:36pm), High School (8:07am to 2:47pm), and all six elementary schools (8:50am to 3:20pm).  I’ll share more thoughts on these changes after we return from the Winter Break.  

  • The next set of parent-teacher conferences is this Tuesday, December 19.  That means that all students will be dismissed at 10:40am.  Please be sure to confirm with your child plans and expectations for after school as they will not be able to remain in the school building.

  • We have a full day of school on Friday, December 22, and then the Winter Break begins!  If you and your family are beginning your break a bit before that (or a lot before that), please be sure to let our front office know so we can take accurate attendance (email Katy Frey at  It would also be important to have your child speak to each of his/her teachers about missed work and assignments.

  • School resumes after Winter Break on Tuesday, January 2 (translation: don’t send your kids to school on Monday, January 1 - we won’t be there! We have our final set of parent-teacher conferences scheduled for the evening of Thursday, January 4.  There will be a full day of school on that Thursday of conferences, and then a half-day of school the following day (Friday) where students are dismissed at 10:40am.  

  • Save the Date: The Winter Band Concert is the evening of Tuesday, January 9, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is the evening of Wednesday, January 17.  

  • Don’t forget that Yearbook sales are currently underway, and students and families can order a copy up through January 19.  Click here to review the options for ordering a yearbook.  

We have many students participating in the Ski and Board Club when we return from the Break.  Please remember that ski and board gear can not be brought on AB buses in the morning, and that means on Tuesdays Ski and Board Club members are dropped off in the morning with quite a bit of gear.  The first session of Ski and Board Club is actually the Tuesday we return from Break (January 2).  For those of you planning to drop off kids and gear in the lower parking lot, it would be immensely helpful if the gear was organized in a way that supported a speedy drop-off.  The best case scenario is if you have those ski bags that package everything up all nice and are easy to carry. Believe it or not, some of our 13-year olds throw their equipment all over the trunk before leaving the house (I know, hard to imagine), and then everyone in the parking lot gets to watch them and me get tangled up in boots, poles, and helmets.  I’ll do my best to help kids with getting gear out of the trunk, and anything that you can do in advance would be much appreciated.  There are also some families who choose to drop off their child’s ski/boarding gear later in the day and bring it to the auditorium where it is stored.  

We had our latest round of Everyday Leaders take place two weeks ago. It was great to spend some time with a number of our students and see how the year is going, and to also get some of their initial feedback on different parts of the RJ Grey experience.  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Henry Haines, Mariella Laria, Bridget Bartlett, Caitlin O’Connell, Yousef Khan, Amelia Kim, Andrew Zeng, Paul Michaelidis, Zoe Onken, Biz Brooks, and Cam Beaudoin.  

I want to acknowledge and highlight our school’s Speech team, which hosted a tournament for their league this past Sunday.  An event of this magnitude couldn’t be offered without the commitment of our students and the guidance of Mr. Spencer Harvey, 7 Blue Social Studies teacher.  Additionally, we appreciate (again and again) the volunteer work of our many parents and teachers who also spent their Sunday at the tournament.  

We finished last week with another edition of Poetry Fridays that highlighted a very brief but poignant excerpt of the poem Out Beyond Ideas by 13th century poet Rumi read by 8 Red student Tahlia Kamieniecki.  Click here if you’d like to read it as well.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a wonderful Winter Break.  Remember that as part of our homework practice there will be no homework or studying assigned to students for this period of time.  Please encourage your child to disconnect from school for the duration of the vacation, and focus his/her energies and time on other interests, friends, and family.  Safe travels to those of you who might be making a trip out of state.    

Have a great week, everyone.