Wednesday, June 28, 2017

NewsNotes 6/28/2017

- As we all can attest, June is a month of closure, transition, and quite frankly, insanity…for the Nardelli family, this spring was no exception. Of particular note, Eliana graduated from middle school, and we are now faced with the prospect of finding the right program for her in high school…no easy task for a child who has to work a lot harder than those around her to accomplish what some might consider to be mundane tasks (like riding a bike!)…

Moving beyond Eliana, the entire month of June is filled with a variety of culminating events that take place in school and in the variety of activities that our children are engaged in. We scramble like mad to get to sporting events, dance recitals, school concerts, graduations, and a hundred other things. We write cards and offer gifts and say our goodbyes, and it can be a very emotional time for everyone….
And then all of the insanity just stops.

I know for me, each year represents a form of loss, and it takes some time to acknowledge the changes that are taking place. Now that the dust has settled a little and I actually have some time to think and breathe, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the school year:

  • First, I want to offer a tremendous thank you to our PTO Board for their efforts this year. John Oliver, Adam Brown, Sarah Arcese, Jacqueline Freeman, Karen Solari, Sharon Russo, Melissa Vaughn, Jon Mendicina, Susannah Wardly, and Sandy Malec. They’ve all been tremendously supportive, and proactive, and they are staunc advocates for our school. In particular, I want to thank John, Sarah, Karen, Melissa, and Sandy for their efforts over many years to make Horace Mann the strong community that it is. Best of luck to all of you as your children move on to life in middle school.
  • I also want to acknowledge all of the parents who helped in some other fashion: room parents; event coordinators (like the Auction, Mystery Dinner, Talent Show, or International Night); families who donated time (to our library, the Book Fair, field trips, Newton Serves Day, etc); as well as those who donated funds to support programs like Creative Arts and Sciences or technology purchases. Horace Mann is a better place because of the work we do together…
  • We’ve made progress this year in our efforts to become a more culturally proficient school, and we are ready and excited to do more. We will continue to...
    • Insist on the importance of building relationships with students and families to ensure they feel connected and welcome.
    • Build on our efforts to hold family welcome events, workshops and discussions.
    • Modify our curriculum, our classroom/school libraries, and our instructional practices to be more reflective of our diverse population.
    • Expand our efforts through all-school assemblies and school-wide events to create a school culture that fosters kindness and respect for all.
    • Build on opportunities for staff to learn and grow as culturally responsive educators.
    • Persist in our efforts to hire and recruit a diverse staff of exceptional educators.
  • Academically, we have made progress as well. There is emerging evidence that our literacy interventions and our co-taught classrooms are sound practice. Across the board, we have fewer students below benchmark in reading than in any other year since we began this work. Additionally, because we’ve been able to provide supports in a proactive way, we have seen the number of students in special education decline dramatically. Two years ago we had over 100 students on IEPs. This fall, we will have 55 students receiving services in special education. A heartfelt thank you to our classroom teachers and our literacy team for their tireless work.
  • In addition, we are finding success for students who need social/emotional supports. In a year where there was a vast increase in referrals, we are the only school in Newton who did not request support from the district for students who struggled behaviorally and emotionally. In large part, this is due to the work our teachers do to be flexible, the effectiveness of our behavior intervention model, and the innovative efforts of our mental health team.
Reading Lists - For this of you interested, I’ve included some summer reading titles that might help you to understand the work we are doing. 

A Dedication
- During the last week of school we celebrated the Newton career of Jenny McGowan as she prepares to move on to the Dedham Public Schools. As a community, we wanted to recognized Jenny’s dedication to inclusion, her advocacy for families, and her deep knowledge of special education. We thought the perfect way to do this would be to dedicate something permanent to the HM community, and we’ve decided to donate something called a Buddy Bench.

The idea of the Buddy Bench was started by a student as a grassroots effort. Here’s an article detailing how this idea came about (I should also credit Somchay Edwards for sharing this ideas several years ago):

Here's a quick summary of the Buddy Bench idea:

Horace Mann will install a new bench, decorated by students, aimed at fostering inclusion during less structured social times. Students can go to the bench for a variety of reasons, including:
  • A student new to Horace Mann may use the bench as a way to signal that they would like to meet someone.
  • A student may want to try a new activity at recess.
  • A student who would like to offer their support to new friends may use the bench to signal their efforts to reach out.
  • Students may use this as an area to meet and brainstorm ideas for an activity.

As a staff we’ve connected with other schools who have this in place, talked about how to model appropriate behavior, and talked about how to minimize any potential stigma associated with this concept. More details about that will come out in the fall.

For anyone interested in donating to the Buddy Bench and acknowledging Jenny McGowan’s career at Horace Mann, you can send a check for any amount to our address at 687 Watertown St. Checks can be made payable to the “Horace Mann PTO” (please make a note that you would like the proceeds to go to the Buddy Bench). All donations are tax deductable.

We will install and dedicate the bench to Jenny in the fall. Thanks in advance for your support.

Hiring/Staffing Update - We have several important roles to fill this summer and we’ve already begun the process of doing so. In particular, we are looking to find a new Team Specialist, and new Behavior Interventionist, and an additional Inclusion Facilitator. I will keep you all posted on our progress on those important initiatives.

I hope you all have some time to spend together as a family this summer. Read books, get outside, play games, and try to take advantage of a slower pace to life (I hope). I know that I’m already thankful that we don’t have to pack lunches every night, hustle to after-school activities, get homework done, etc. Thanks again for all your support!

Best wishes for a safe and healthy summer!


Mark Nardelli