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Grey Matters, February 26, 2018; Volume 6, Number 24

posted Mar 4, 2018, 9:55 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from February Break!  Our family was fortunate to spend the first half of the break on a trip to a warmer climate, and was ultimately a vacation that I would comfortably call a success.  Just to clarify, my bar for what constitutes a successful family trip is not on the more ambitious end given that the primary conditions that need to be met are (1) avoiding visits to the ER by any member of the family (this was included after Thanksgiving 2009), (2) not having any restaurant staff celebrate our departure from their establishment, and (3) not having our children glued to technol-

ogy for more than 50% of the day.  While I know that an important part of good parenting is letting children handle conflict on their own and not referee every single argument, I’ll admit that a big contributor to the extended moments of a cease fire between the siblings during this trip was our establishing an order and sequence to almost every aspect of our vacation that involved some element of choice and variation.  It all starts, of course, with figuring out who was going to sit in which seat, and next to which sibling, on the plane? That was decided in advance and involved a scheduled switching of seats halfway through the flight home to Boston, somewhere over North Carolina.  Picture in your mind that practice of rotating turns with a specific pre-set order to every restaurant seating, taking showers each day, and picking what’s playing on the television, and you will have witnessed a healthy portion of our vacation.  The “activity” where this strategy played the most prominent role, strangely enough, was in the hotel elevator.  If an alien observed our children fighting over who got to press the button for the desired floor (and subsequently, the button to hold the doors open), they’d think that pressing these buttons offered a host of prizes and riches beyond your wildest imagination.  In reality, it just created another public moment, in a tight enclosed space no less, where other hotel guests could witness the unconditional love that our three children have for each other, as evidenced by the swatting of arms, hip checks into the elevator wall, and exchange of verbal tongue lashings.  So we created a pre-set sequence of turns for that too which was “effective” to some degree, but also eventually led to each of them vying to be the last to exit the elevator so they could have the satisfaction of pressing the “door close” button and claiming whatever victory they conjured up in their minds.  Elevator drama notwithstanding, there were a decent string of moments where we all co-existed peacefully in the same space, and partial credit goes to the shared excitement that all of the kids had for the Winter Olympics, particularly the figure skating competition and even a bit of interest in curling, which was aided by the surprise gold medal run by the US men’s curling team.

Another reason I would consider this past vacation a success is the progress I’ve personally continued to make with 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 mentioned this important goal in a Grey Matters two years ago because I was fairly sure that many of our families, including our students, have also experienced that ongoing challenge. In that posting I 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.

Here’s some reminders and updates as we prepare to enter the month of March:

Don’t forget that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Monday, March 12. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis ( with any questions.  

Before February Vacation, the Superintendent Search Committee announced three finalists who would be presented to the School Committee.  Since that time, one of the candidates has withdrawn his application, and there are public interviews scheduled for the two remaining finalists, Peter Light (click here for resume), and Anthony Parker (click here for resume).  The parent/community forum for Mr. Parker is scheduled for this Wednesdays, February 28 at 6:30pm in the Junior High Library.  The parent/community forum for Mr. Light is scheduled for this Thursday, March 1 at 6:30pm, also in the Junior High Library.  If you are interested in meeting the two finalists and engaging in a conversation about their candidacy, I would encourage you to attend one or both of those scheduled sessions.  Information about the search process can be found here.

We have no scheduled early dismissals or days off of school until the end of the month, when all schools will be closed on Friday, March 30 for Good Friday.  

In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing with students and families the sign up and/or

tryout schedule for our Spring sports programs (likely to start in late March/early April).  We will continue to have teams for baseball, softball, girls volleyball and Spring track.  Stay tuned for more information.  

Don’t forget about the community screening of the documentary film Screenagers which is now scheduled for 7pm on March 29 at the Junior High Auditorium.  Click here for more information and to register for the event.

The end of the Winter Trimester is this Friday, March 2nd, and we estimate that report cards will be emailed to families on or around March 14.  Also starting later this week and through 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.  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 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 Grey Matters that I sent before February Vacation, I made mention of our Blue & Gold Day assembly plans for that Friday, and some of the traditions that have become a part of the event, including some form of competition amongst teachers that usually has me silently wondering what our school’s liability insurance does and does not cover.  I am pleased to report that no one was injured this year, except for maybe a few cases of wounded pride.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there was decent chatter amongst students that found its way to your homes about how this year’s teacher competition eventually led to a fierce battle between two Social Studies colleagues, Ms. Mazonson (8 Gold) and Mr. Balulescu (8 Blue) for bragging rights and the giant stuffed bear that would go to the last one standing.  If you couldn’t already tell from the above photo, Ms. Mazonson emerged victorious (again) and the entire school was able to witness the more competitive side of their teachers (Exhibit A: dragging a colleague along the floor of the gym, which also happened three years ago).  

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not re-direct this week’s Grey Matters to a more serious topic and address with all of you the school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida on February 14.  I mentioned earlier that I avoided being consumed by work during the vacation, which is mostly true. However, the situation at Stoneman Douglas High School and the ensuing national dialogue has very much been at the forefront of my mind - both as a school leader and a parent of school-aged children.  Along with the pain we feel for the Parkland community, I would imagine that a good deal of your emotional energy is focused on thoughts related to the safety of your own children, and to our school community here in Acton-Boxborough. I hope you trust and believe my sincerity when I express to you that the physical and emotional well-being of your children has, and continues to be, our most important work, and at the core of our mission.  We continue to be vigilant about not only our safety procedures and protocols as it relates to things like building access and security, but also the vital importance of developing meaningful relationships between and amongst students, staff, and families within our school. While none of us can provide absolute guarantees about everything, we can truthfully reassure our students that at RJ Grey (and all throughout our two towns), they are surrounded by people who care about them, and that we are a community of individuals who will always look out for each other.  

As we prepare to return to school on Monday it is clear that there are many students, educators, parents, and community members who want to advance the conversation about school safety and gun violence beyond the usual platitudes.  I am aware of different plans that are being proposed and planned both locally and nationwide and we’ve received messages from students and others in Acton-Boxborough who want to join, organize and participate in upcoming events that might take place within our community, including proposals for activities on our campus.  We support the rights of students to speak out and engage in active citizenship, and we want to be thoughtful about how we can ensure a safe environment on campus for all students and staff - both in terms of sheer logistics as well as knowing that a diversity of opinions and viewpoints likely exists within our school community.  There are quite a few things we are going to think through and discuss, and please rest assured we will provide updates and information when there is something to share.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.