Eye on the Junior High

Recent Posts

Good afternoon,

Tomorrow is Pajama Day at RJ Grey, so if your child leaves the house in their PJs, it is in fact okay! In the nine years I’ve been here, I’ve never dressed for Pajama Day. But I do think a long-sleeved t-shirt and sweatpants might feel good tomorrow...in the name of school spirit! 

Tomorrow is also a pivotal day for our main office staff. I had previously mentioned that Mrs. Frey is vacating our main office support position to move across the street for a new position. Tomorrow will be her last official day with us - though we’ll rely on her to train our new hire whenever that person comes on board. In the meantime, we are getting by with the help of a lot of important people - Anne Chandler, Lena Jarostchuk, Debbie Brookes, and Sandy Carter - all women who work very hard behind the scenes to keep us moving forward. I’m incredibly grateful for their commitment to us and making it seem like we’re operating at 100%! We’re in the process of reviewing applications and doing interviews for this position. When we have a resolution, we’ll share that info with our families.

We’re also losing another member of our team tomorrow. Mr. Anthony Zeese has been at RJ Grey for four years. Since mid-August, he has been acting as an Interim Assistant Principal for our 8th graders. When we hired Mr. Zeese for this short-term position, we knew we were getting a hardworking, intelligent, competent person who likes kids. It turns out that we hit the jackpot when we brought Anthony onto our admin team for these 8 weeks. He has a future in school leadership whenever he wants to take the plunge. Starting Monday, he’ll be back in his position as the 7 Red Social Studies teacher. I think he’s ready to rejoin the somewhat more predictable routine of being a teacher. Huge thanks to Anthony for being an excellent school leader this fall. We are very fortunate to welcome back Cathy Boege to the 8th grade AP position starting on Monday. Cathy has been away on maternity leave since June. She joined us on Tuesday to get caught up on our ongoing work - she’s excited to be joining us again and we’re happy to have her back with us!

Our district continues to look for applicants for positions in many areas, but specifically, Transportation and Food Services. The district has increased salaries and has offered retention bonuses, too for these departments. Please see the flyers linked above for details - also reach out to me if you’d like more information. If you are interested, or if you know someone who is, please share these resources with them. We’re eager to increase our staffing in these two specific departments in the near future!

Our photo packages from our school picture days have arrived. If your family ordered prints, your student will be bringing home any purchased photo packages this week. Our photo retake day is scheduled for the morning of November 1. Throughout the morning, we’ll call down students to have their pics re-taken, or taken for the first time if they didn’t have a picture taken in September. Contact info and ordering info can be found on this flyer from Lifetouch.

Here are some upcoming dates at RJ Grey:

-Friday, October 15: Pajama Day;

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Monday, October 25: Last day of PE/Health Rotation #1;

-Friday, October 29: Halloween Dress-up Day;

-Monday, November 1: School Picture Retake Day;

-Monday, November 1: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Tuesday, November 2: No School - Professional Learning Day

-Thursday, November 11: No School - Veterans’ Day

Have a great night,

Jim Marcotte

Posted by jmarcotte  On Oct 14, 2021 at 5:07 PM

Good afternoon,

In college, I was a Resident Assistant (RA) for a few years. When I tell people who know me that fact, they usually respond by saying, “yeah, obviously!” If you attended a college in the US, you’ll recognize the term as the person who gets a reduced-rate for housing in order to keep the shenanigans under control in the residence halls. You’ll remember that I was an assistant principal for 13 years. Being an assistant principal and an RA are pretty similar! An RA is also the person who promotes community in the residence hall and brings people together, too. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do in this new role. As an RA and a college student, we were always told to divide our year into short chunks...thinking about making it to Thanksgiving or the end of the semester was sometimes daunting. Making it from late August to Columbus Day was a much more realistic milestone to arrive at! The same holds true for educators - we’ve made it to (what we now call) Indigenous Peoples Day. While there have been other days off this fall, this one is always a marker for me that the year is proceeding. From our point of view, it’s proceeding well. I hope your experience thus far indicates the same. 

Since we’re now into the hard work of the year, I wanted to point out a resource that you may or may not be aware of. Each of our teams maintains a homework document, outlining the nightly homework, assessments, and when appropriate, the longer-term projects. You can find your child’s team homework doc by checking out our website (grade 7 / grade 8). You might choose to bookmark the specific doc for your child’s team. This doc will help you have a handle on two things: 1 - were they telling you the truth when they said there was no homework? And 2 - you can have a general sense of what might be happening in class when the answer to your question “what did you learn about today?” is “nothing.” 

Next Friday, October 15th, is the due date for our teachers to submit “interim reports.” We’ll then collate those reports and email them to families the following week. At RJ Grey, not every student will get an interim. Interims will come to families as a heads up for a few reasons: low grades, poor homework completion, classroom behavior, or other reasons that our teachers want to make you aware of. Receiving an interim is not the end of the world. All it should do is alert a family and student that something could be going differently before our trimester ends in late November. We ask our teachers to include a narrative as part of the interim and we hope they are able to offer suggestions to improve whatever the situation might be. Whenever you have a question about what’s on an interim report, or if you want to check in about something specific, I ask you to reach out directly to the teacher.

Switching gears, but still focusing on communication, I hope some of us will connect over the Apple TV show, Ted Lasso. Tomorrow, the final episode of season 2 comes out - I’m hoping for some resolution to a few plot points! (the picture on the right is of the sign in my office). I’ve been talking about this show since last year when I sent this message to our staff as part of a weekly update: If you have access to Apple TV, watch Ted Lasso. It’s a great show about a football coach who ends up coaching soccer in the Premier League in England. He’s a happy guy with a quick wit, who has a tagline that I started to pick up on: “I appreciate you.” He uses it a ton to random people he encounters, but when you get to know him, you know he means it. I mean it - I appreciate you and I hope you have a good weekend.”

Last year I was writing that particular message (in March) to our hardworking staff who were making the best of a really challenging year. We’ve carried our own internal momentum into this year and I’m not quite sure if I’d say this year is any easier than last year. If I could pass on a request to you, it would be to reach out to some of your child’s teachers telling them that you appreciate them. It may not be now, and it doesn’t have to be a long message, but if you appreciate your child’s teachers this year...they’d love to hear it. 

Here is a preview of things to come at RJ Grey:

-Monday, October 11: No School - Indigenous Peoples Day;

-Friday, October 15: Pajama Day;

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Monday, October 25: Last day of PE/Health Rotation #1;

-Friday, October 29: Halloween Dress-up Day;

-Monday, November 1: School Picture Re-take Day;

-Monday, November 1: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Tuesday, November 2: No School - Professional Learning Day

As we head into this milestone-worthy long weekend, I hope you get a chance to relax with your friends and families. 

Take care,
Jim Marcotte

Posted by jmarcotte  On Oct 07, 2021 at 5:06 PM

Good afternoon,

A few weeks ago, as one of our daily community questions (via the morning announcements), I asked students what their favorite month was. I stopped into the ASC that day to learn that many students love October! Some loved it for Halloween or because it was a birthday month for one of them. I have to agree that October is pretty great. My wife is an English teacher and a lover of anything related to Anne of Green Gables. A famous quote by the author of those stories (L.M. Montgomery) speaks to this well, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” I tend to agree with Ms. Montgomery. If you are like me, you are extremely grateful that the humidity of this past summer and fall are behind us until next year. Bring on October!

As the weather turns a bit cooler, I did want to point out that we will still allow students to eat outside for much of this month. Rain does keep us indoors, but I’m hoping that not much else will keep us inside this month! This week the bees were a bit of a problem, but we’ll keep an eye on that. So please encourage your children to dress for the weather - including outdoor lunch. It might also tend to get a bit brisk in our classrooms at times until the heat is turned on later this fall. One of our Covid mitigation strategies is to have as much ventilation as possible. So even when it’s chilly outside, we’ll have our windows cracked to allow for greater airflow. Asking your student if they have a sweatshirt or another layer before they leave the house in the morning would be helpful for us all.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our School Council election last week. I am grateful to the parents and guardians who put their name out there to be considered for a place on the council. We ended up electing some great new members. This year’s parent reps on the School Council will be Cathy Brooks (grade 8 returning), Kate Nelson (grade 8 new), Brian Andrew Smith (grade 7 new) and Kerry Lewis (grade 7 new). While these are members who will show up each meeting, I want to invite any interested parent or guardian to join our School Council meetings. We’ll start the year by meeting via Zoom, and as things progress this year, we may move to in-person meetings. The planned dates for our School Council meetings are below (all at 7pm), and I will be updating our RJG website with this info as well:

Monday, October 4, 2021

Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday, January 3, 2022

Monday, February 7, 2022

Monday, March 14, 2022

Monday, April 11, 2022

Monday, May 16, 2022

Zoom address: https://abschools.zoom.us/j/6927495552

If you receive our daily announcements (and I hope you do), you’ll have noticed that many of our clubs have started up over the past two weeks. We have updated our list of clubs and activities on our school website. If your child is looking for some way to become involved at RJ Grey, I’d recommend taking a look at this link for some ideas.

Lastly, I shared with our staff today that Mrs. Frey, who works in our main office, is moving on to a position in the central office this month. If you know Katy Frey, you know that she is a breath of fresh air and a huge asset to our school and admin team. We wish Katy the best of luck in her new position, but we will temporarily grieve her loss! We will be looking to replace Mrs. Frey in the main office soon. The position interacts a ton with students, with families, and with teachers. If you know someone who likes kids, is calm and patient under pressure, can communicate clearly, and can be a pleasure to work with, please encourage them to consider applying. The posting will be available on our
district site soon.

Here is a preview of things to come at RJ Grey:

-Monday, October 4: 8th graders will have a virtual visit from the staff at Minuteman High School to explain the Minuteman offerings and admissions process;

-Monday, October 11: No School - Indigenous Peoples’ Day;

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Friday, October 29: Halloween Dress-up Day;

-Tuesday, November 2: No School - Professional Learning Day and Election Day

Take care,

Jim Marcotte

Posted by jmarcotte  On Oct 01, 2021 at 5:35 AM

Good afternoon,

I had really high hopes that this would be the week where we’d have five full days of school without significant interruption. An early release due to a power outage was not on my radar for the week, however! Thank you to all our families for their flexibility and patience yesterday. I am sorry that families did not hear from the district until about 15 minutes before our students were actually released. That was not the plan. Turns out that communication gets complicated when we don’t have power, and so our colleagues in the Central Office were delayed in getting out the message about the early release. We know that it wasn’t an ideal situation, but I certainly appreciate the flexibility that you showed us yesterday. I’m hoping for smooth sailing the rest of this week into next week.

As we continue to transition back to school this year, one topic has cropped up a few times this week from our staff: proper mask-wearing. By and large, our students are awesome at wearing their masks. The issue we currently face is that some students think it’s okay to wear their mask just below their nose. As part of the morning announcements yesterday, I reminded everyone that we are working to build a community here at RJ Grey. I went on to say that being part of a community means that we all pull our weight, and that includes wearing our masks to cover our mouth and nose because it helps protect all members of our community. I pointed out that “if we can see your nose, you’re wearing it wrong.”

When I say “the issue we currently face...,” I’m talking about approximately 20-30 students. This is not the typical behavior of most of our students. Our message to teachers when a student isn’t wearing their mask correctly is that they should remind the student to wear it correctly. If we need to continue to talk about it, the teacher or another adult will contact the student’s family to help reinforce that message. So if you get a call or email from a staff member here, this is the context whereby that call might be made.

The context of mask-wearing becomes important when we consider that RJ Grey has had two positive cases over the past week. While we are in much better shape with vaccinations than other areas of our state, and certainly our country, we know that mask-wearing, ventilation, and hand hygiene are all good mitigation strategies to keep the virus from spreading. 

There has been a shift in how we communicate with families when their child is considered a close contact. Starting last fall, when we would identify close contacts, our nurses would make calls to any family whose child was considered a close contact. Starting this past week, as a practice across the district, we will send an email to families whose children are considered a close contact. If a child is a close contact and then needs to quarantine or do additional testing at school, the family would also receive a text message that would alert them to the email. This practice, we hope, will keep the job of contact tracing manageable and will allow for our messages to be translated appropriately for families. We will always let families know who to contact if there are follow-up questions. For RJ Grey, that’s likely me, and I’d defer to our awesome nurses for medical-related questions. While we do hope for a small number of positive cases at RJ Grey, I wanted you to be aware that this is our protocol this year. The total case numbers for the district can be viewed at this site

And while I continue to share info on this topic, I’ll reiterate that having your child vaccinated is one of the best ways we’ve seen to keep your kids and our community safe. 85% of our current student body is at varied stages of vaccination (either one or two shots). If you are looking for resources to get your child vaccinated, I’ll direct you to this site. And if you have questions about vaccinations that we can answer, I direct you to our nurses, Erin Doherty or Joanne Chadwick. We are very fortunate to have really great school nurses at RJ Grey. Please reach out to them if you have questions related to your child’s health.

The last thing I wanted to share is that your children have likely already started, or soon will start, the iReady diagnostic assessments in their math and English classes. The Junior High is entering its second year of using iReady, which is an online program for reading and math that will help our teachers determine your student’s needs, personalize their learning, and monitor progress throughout the year. The goal is to help us identify areas of need for some of our students to then direct instructional practices to help improve those areas. We’ll do our iReady assessments three times this year in order to track progress. The students are not given a grade on these assessments - results won’t be calculated into term averages - but they will provide our staff with data and areas of focus as they continue to provide strong instruction.

Here is a preview of things to come:

-Monday, September 27: Early Release at 1 pm for staff professional learning

-Thursday, October 7: Back to School Night virtual resources shared with families

-Monday, October 11: No School for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm for staff professional learning 

That’s it for this week - I hope your families are well and that you enjoy a nice September weekend.

Take care,

Jim Marcotte

Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 23, 2021 at 3:34 PM

Good morning,

I hope you are all having a good week, and if you are observing Yom Kippur, I hope you have an easy fast. This has been another good week at RJ Grey. On Monday, our students were released at 1 pm to allow for staff professional learning. We ran about 10 technology sessions (taught by our teachers) and allowed the rest of our staff to choose which session to attend based on their own proficiency level and interest. Our hope is that our staff was able to find ways to increase their own technology prowess so as to create some engaging learning experiences for their students. We also spent quite a bit of time unpacking the draft of our school improvement plan. More on that in the next few weeks!

Jim in 8th grade

I wanted to highlight a few things going on here and appeal for some help from you, too.

--School Picture Day is coming up next week. 8th graders will be photographed on Monday, September 20th and 7th graders will be photographed on Tuesday, September 21st. School picture day is a fun thing for us to observe - students who usually wear a hat or come to school with not completely styled hair look just a bit more spiffy on this day! We welcome these changes and encourage you to remind your student about the picture day. I shared my own 8th grade picture with our students at the start of the year as a reminder that we’ve all been in 7th or 8th grade once! I pulled down my mask during that assembly to show them that I still have big cheeks, the same smile, and a rather large forehead that in this pic is covered by my then-stylish bowl cut 

--This is an appeal to anyone who might be interested in becoming a more active part of our school community. We are in need of adding some daily substitutes to our pool! If you are interested in coming to work with us on a temporary basis, we’d welcome you to fill out an application to become a substitute teacher at RJ Grey or any of the other AB schools. Our staff has a very good attendance record, so this is not to say we’re in dire straits. However, we can always beef up our pool of adults who are willing to come in and sub throughout the year. If I can answer any specifics about being a sub, please let me know - we are a pretty great place to work! We are also looking for a teaching assistant in our Academic Support Center. If you or someone you know is interested in working up to 19 hours in our ASC, please reach out to me!

--And finally, I wanted to highlight a pop culture trend that I fear has made its way to RJ Grey, at least for a day! Yesterday I got several texts and emails from teachers who were alerting me to a tiktok trend where students were purposely stealing items from bathrooms in their schools. I normally think we’re above the tiktok national trends, but this does fit with our experience yesterday where in about 6 (boys) bathrooms, one or more individuals had removed the bag of soap from the soap dispensers and put them in the toilets. Lots of things are wrong with this situation. While we’re in the middle of a pandemic, removing soap from the bathroom is a problem on its own. It was quickly replaced! And it’s a problem for our custodians who have to respond and fix the situation. And it’s a stand-alone problem that affects our community here at RJ Grey. We’re in the middle of tracking down yesterday’s responsible parties by use of our hallway video cameras. So while we’ll certainly work with our students on their understanding of what’s appropriate here at school, I thank you for talking with your own kids about the disruptive nature of these behaviors and how they damage the community that we’re attempting to build here at RJ Grey! I’ll get off my soapbox for now, but thank you for your help!

Here’s a preview of some upcoming dates:
Monday, September 20: School Picture Day for 8th graders --Tuesday, September 21: School Picture Day for 7th graders --Monday, September 27: Early Release at 1 pm --Thursday, October 7: Virtual Back to School Night resources shared with families

That’s it for this week’s version of Eye on the Junior High. I hope you have a good weekend,


Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 16, 2021 at 10:06 AM

Good afternoon,

I hope you all had a chance to enjoy some downtime over this recent long weekend. I always embrace an anticipated long weekend! This was a good one for my family - we spent the day at the beach on Saturday and hosted our families on Monday for a combo birthday party for two of my daughters (5 and 3). When the long weekend ends, though, you realize that the same amount of stuff now fits into 3 or 4 days when it’s ideally designed to fit into 5! This is one of those weeks where it feels busy and feels far removed from the slower pace of summer. I hope your students are still feeling good about their experiences at RJ Grey this week even as the pace picks up.

I wanted to highlight a few events that have happened this week, and I’ll preview a few upcoming events, too.

On Wednesday, we had our first fire drill and evacuation drill to the Parker Damon Building. We’ll have 4 fire drills this year - the first happened on a nice sunny day - we’ll hope for the rest to be the same. In a fire drill, we exit the building, line up in our front parking lot, take attendance and in most cases, return to the building immediately. On Wednesday, we continued the drill to the Parker Damon Building (across Charter Road) where we again took attendance. We would only ever use this plan if we needed to leave RJ Grey for an extended period of time, or if we needed to escape inclement weather. Our drill was a success and we were able to get back to our routine a short while later.

Last week, I zoomed into each homeroom to talk to students about other safety protocols, including our ALICE procedures. ALICE procedures are designed to keep people safe during dangerous situations involving an armed intruder. The ALICE protocol is widely accepted in schools across the country, and is used at schools in Acton-Boxborough. Next week, we’ll have our first ALICE drill at RJ Grey. While this drill can seem shocking to some, we emphasize that practicing and preparing for situations like these makes it far more likely that we’ll respond appropriately if ever faced with an emergency situation. You’ll see another email from me (to all RJ Grey families) shortly about this upcoming drill.

Lastly, and on a more positive note, we hosted a brief social this afternoon for our students who are new to our district. I mentioned last week that there are areas where staff have recognized that we could do better. And today we did better! The brainchild of Elizabeth Broadwater, an assistant principal here, this was an easy, low-stakes opportunity to get our new students together again after about 6 days of classes. We had some easy snacks and the space for kids to talk to each other, and with us, about how they’re adjusting to RJ Grey. In talking to a few tables, I learned that our cafeteria food is pretty good (true), that everyone has been helpful in giving directions to classes (true), everyone has been welcoming (happy to hear), and that our teachers are really nice (also true)! If you are the parent or guardian of one of our newest students to AB, thank you for sending your child to our school, and please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help with the adjustment. And if you’re the parent or guardian of a student who has been at AB for several years, thanks for raising children who are welcoming to newcomers! 

Here are some upcoming dates to be aware of:

  • Monday, September 13: Early Release at 1 pm

  • Thursday, September 16: No School for Yom Kippur

  • Monday, September 20: School Picture Day for 8th graders

  • Tuesday, September 21: School Picture Day for 7th graders

  • Monday, September 27: Early Release at 1 pm

Take care,

Jim Marcotte

Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 09, 2021 at 4:45 PM

Good afternoon,

Thank you for signing up for weekly communications from me - the principal of RJ Grey Junior High School. If you’re still on this list because your child used to be a member of RJ Grey, or if you signed up without knowing it, I will not have hurt feelings if you choose to unsubscribe by following the directions at the bottom of this email. If you are in the right place, welcome! Please stay and read on about the recent happenings at RJ Grey Junior High School.

My name is Jim Marcotte and I am the Interim Principal of RJ Grey this year. Our former principal, Andrew Shen, was (is) an excellent writer and communicator -- something I can only hope to be! His weekly message series as the RJ Grey principal was called Grey Matters. In no way do I want to be compared in wit, intelligence, or writing quality to Andrew, so I purposely changed the name of this weekly message series to Eye on the Junior High. In these messages, I hope to focus on some of the things that are happening every week, give a bit of a preview of what’s to come, and highlight how our ongoing work connects to our school and district goals. 

We’ve had quite an excellent first week at RJ Grey. For the first time since March, 2020, our hallways and classrooms are full and we feel the positive energy in the building that only comes from having lots of kids here with us! The staff and I are very impressed by your children and we have strong feelings that this will be a great year. We welcomed our 7th graders on Monday. Despite the heat and humidity, we had a great day and our students had a chance to explore our space without all of our 8th graders. On Tuesday we welcomed our 8th graders - over 75 of them were in our remote sections last year, so for them, this was the first time that they’ve experienced in-person learning at RJ Grey. I have gotten some positive feedback from our students; they report that they’re happy to be back in-person, every day. I hope your own children have been happy with t
heir first few days with us.

I had the chance to speak to all of our students on Monday and Tuesday over the course of four assemblies. Instead of having a single assembly for an entire grade, we invited two teams at a time and kicked off the year with a focus on our school’s work this year: Building a joyful, inclusive community of engaged learners. I started by asking our students why we chose to say “Building...” and not “We are a…” Several students in each assembly volunteered the correct answers…”it’s because it’s a work in progress.” They were right! As I talked with each of them about those three elements: joy, inclusive community, and engaged learning, I named the areas where our staff recognizes we have room to grow. I asked our students for their support in these three areas and I challenged them to consider how they’ll help contribute to a joyful, inclusive community of engaged learners. I bet many of them have some awesome ideas about this and I look forward to hearing from them and seeing those ideas in action.

For now, we’re heading into a long weekend. We won’t be back in school again until next Wednesday (9/8) after we get some time off to celebrate Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah. The choppiness will continue throughout September, so please take a look at this brief preview of upcoming important dates:

  • Friday, September 3 - No School

  • Monday, September 6 - No School - Labor Day

  • Tuesday, September 7 - No School - Rosh Hashanah

  • Monday, September 13 - Early Release at 1 pm

  • Thursday, September 16 - No School - Yom Kippur

  • Monday, September 20 - School Picture Day - details to come

  • Monday, September 27 - Early Release at 1 pm

We ended our assemblies this week by reciting a poem together. I remember coming across it a few years ago, but it ended up in my twitter feed this past weekend and I stopped cold when seeing it.  I think it perfectly describes what we’re building here at RJ Grey. I asked all of our students to recite it with me (and they did!), and so I wanted to share it with you.

May This Be a House of Joy

By Lucille Clifton

May this be a House of Joy.

May we be open here to dreams,

and to each other.

May all who enter in these magic walls

feel love and feel respect

for learning and each other.

May we be always friends to life.

May we walk in that friendship.

May learning live in this house.

May it never leave.

I hope your family has experienced a smooth transition to RJ Grey Junior High School! And if it takes a few extra days of adjustments for your child, that’s also fine. If you think there’s something more  to consider regarding the transition with your child, I invite you to reach out to our teachers and counselors and share some of your child’s experiences so that we can help.

I look forward to working with your kids, and you, this year. I wish the best for a relaxing and enjoyable last weekend of summer!

Take care,

Jim Marcotte

Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 03, 2021 at 7:27 AM
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