Friday, June 9, 2017

Congratulations Class of 2017

We have all heard the familiar phrase, “perception is reality.”  While this statement accurately illustrates the fact that your point of view is dependent on your experiences, I find it to be a bit vague and, I admit, disappointingly passive.  Is reality really this changeable?  Are your perceptions really the result of circumstances beyond your control?  Tonight, graduates, as you begin your journey forward, a journey that will challenge many of your current perceptions, I would like to offer some advice.

First, understand that there is a world around you.  David Foster Wallace, in what Google has intimidatingly dubbed the greatest commencement speech of all time, stated “A fish doesn’t know it’s in water.”  This thought-provoking quote captures the very crucial idea that your environment can, in fact, be invisible to you.  As a fish swims, it cannot be aware that its world is an aquatic one.  In fact, devastatingly for the fish, it only becomes conscious of its environment in the absence of it.  The outcome, here, I’m afraid, is rather tragic.  Be mindful of your surroundings, relish in the details, and embrace new experiences.  

Second, recognize that you are a part of this world!  You can influence it, affect others in it and, in your absence, it will be, even in a small way, different than it was the moment before.  Engage in the world, but be cognizant enough to appreciate that you are not the center of it.  That your actions have impact and with this comes power to make change.  Let the beating of your fins generate current that will ripple into the world outside of you.  We are all connected.

Lastly, accept that the world will continue to change.  This is a certainty.  Don’t live life by default.  If ever you feel that you have mastered your reality, that you are fully sentient, know that, in that moment, you have become complacent.  This complacency will mean, first, stagnation and, quickly thereafter, irrelevance.  It will mean a decline of creativity and an ignorance of possibilities.  Fish, to survive, must keep moving, pushing water through their gills, consuming that which surrounds them.  Be adaptable, in every change there is opportunity.

If a simple grammatical modification is applied, the meaning of “perception” changes quite dramatically.  While “perception” requires mere awareness of the environment, to be “perceptive” you must have “sensitive insight.”  You must have intuition that is dynamic and engaged, curious and searching.  Be perceptive, class of 2017.  Instead of perception being your reality, have the courage to perceive the reality which you desire.  And, maybe then, you will be a fish, perhaps even a salmon, that leaves its aquatic home behind and flies.

Friday, May 26, 2017

An Open Letter to Our Seniors

It has been a week.  There were some high points...

Jumping in the pool on Monday was a really special moment.  Not only was it impressively well-coordinated, but it was also kept quite quiet.  We only got a couple minute jump on things happening down in the admin office - extraordinary, really, when you take into account the number of folks in on the "secret."  Well done.  But, the most special part about this was how incredibly inclusive it was.  Almost all the seniors were at the pool, in pool gear, and happily engaged in celebrating the end of four amazing year at Miramonte.  This is community-building.  And, as I stood nervously on the pool deck, wary for any potential emergency, I thought that this was the best of our school.  I was proud to be there and be a part of it.

Another great moment occurred yesterday when you miraculously assembled into a perfectly symmetrical photograph wearing your "Destination Day" shirts.  The smaller photos of college-alike groups and elementary groups were really very special and fun to watch.  It reminded me that many of you are not only moving on from Miramonte, but from 13 years of school together!  

There were also, however, some low points...

The movement of the picnic tables, while not entirely destructive, created a safety hazard in the form of exposed metal bolts and will require many hours of work for our maintenance personnel to fix over the summer.  While I am fairly certain this was not taken into account at the time of the prank, our actions have impact.  And, as young adults, you need to start thinking about this.  Even if it was not intended, if there is an impact that adversely effects someone, you are responsible.

Which brings us to today.  

Today should have been fun.  For some of you, it probably was.  But, for others at our school, and this school is comprised of a lot of folks who are not seniors, it took a step from fun and into "unfun."  Think about the optics.  Friends chasing friends, laughing as they lob water balloons looks like fun to a casual observer.  Underclassman running into classrooms looking for sanctuary looks more like an emergency.  Hence, unfun.

So, this is what I will ask of you in your final weeks.  Remind those looking up to you (the underclassmen) and those who have mentored you (your teachers) how much it has meant to you to be a part of this community.  If you love Miramonte, and I believe a fair number of you do, preach this message as you finish your final days.  Make your love for this place visible to those around you, to those who will continue to  be here after you have moved on to your next destination.  And, in doing this, you will leave your mark here in a far more meaningful way than any prank can achieve.  

Go Mats.

Friday, November 18, 2016

New Schedule: Coming Soon

Next year, we will have a new schedule. This is a big deal. And, it is the result of over a year of work by students, staff, and parents to rethink how we do school. While a new schedule, in the most technical sense, is really just a rearrangement of instructional minutes, it is my belief that our new schedule speaks volumes with regards to our shifting priorities as a school district. These priorities include a greater emphasis on skill development and deep learning of essential standards, an awareness of the social-emotional needs of our students, and a focus on providing support within the school day to help meet student needs. Allow me to explain...

First of all, this is our new schedule (effective August 2017):

Instead of merely listing the attributes of the schedule, let's discuss in terms of our priorities listed above.

1.  A greater emphasis on skill development and deep learning of essential standards.

Our new schedule will have 45-minute periods on Monday and 90-minute periods for Tuesday through Friday. This really just a rearrangement of time, but the genius, is in how the minutes are dispersed. Think about your average beginning and end of class. Transition time. Five minutes to come in, take attendance, take out work. Another five minutes to shut down. This is instructional time that gets lost everyday. With fewer transition periods, we gain time for more productive work. Then, there is the learning itself. Often, our textbooks are created to package lessons into neat, 45-50-minute blocks. This isn't because these blocks represent the optimum time periods for learning, but rather a function of traditional schools. There is no pedagogical reason why a lesson in math on linear formulas, for example, has to be broken into two sections - one for whole numbers and one for fractions. The only reason this exists is to make sure that one topic can be adequately divided into two traditional blocks. Mind blown.

In 90-minute blocks, our teachers can give direct instruction and, then, let students apply it. This means more time for active engagement, conversation, and hands-on work. When you add in the outstanding technology that we have on campus, the possibilities for project-based learning and redefinition of curriculum is endless. While this is already happening in many places on campus, the 90-minute block will truly lend itself to rethinking learning outcomes.

2. An awareness of the social-emotional needs of our students.

You may have immediately noticed that three days, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, don't begin until 8:30. Three late start days. The research on the adolescent mind is clear that sleep is essential for development and that early start times are not conducive to the needs young minds. 8:30 is not a lot later in minutes, but in terms of readiness for class, it can be significant.

In addition, you may have already taken a look at the end of the day. While many of our students (about 60%) have seven periods, many choose to take only six classes, particularly in the upper grades. While getting out after lunch may seem tempting, I would urge you to consider taking 1st period off instead. 1st period off would mean start times between 8:30 and 9:30 every day.  That extra sleep might be worth it.

Lastly, the passing period. This one is a little hidden. The passing periods on block days will be 10 minutes long. Students could stop by their lockers. They could check in with teachers. They could even use the restrooms. These passing periods just seem more humane. Slowing down the rhythm, giving brains time to transition from social studies to math. The whole flow on campus will change.

3. A focus on providing support within the school day to help meet student needs.

This is my favorite part. Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, situated in the mid-morning, students will have 60 minutes of Academy (this is our new name). Academy is built in time within the school day for students to get extra support, finish assignments, access extension and enrichment, or just take a few minutes to refresh and recharge. You see, at Miramonte we believe that all students can learn at high levels. We also acknowledge that not all students learn in the same period of time, nor do all students learn the same way. So, instead of making time a factor, we are creating more of it for students to get the extra support and instruction that they need. Right in the day. Not after school. Not at lunch. In the school day.

There is still a lot of work to be done on this new Academy time. I can tell you that it will be a combination of required support and student choice. For example, if you fail a math test, we will direct you to math class. Why? Because we do not want to let you fail. And, we know you need something more to achieve at high levels. But, other times, things might be going just swimmingly. During these times, you may choose the library for quiet studying, your Latin class for extra Latin practice, the track for a mile make up, or a mindfulness session for enrichment. 

Are you getting excited?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Changes: Graduation Requirements

There are some great changes coming our way.  I'm excited.  And, since there are too many new things to cover in one blog post, stay tuned for a series that will (hopefully) cover the highlights and get everyone up to speed.

In this post, I want to address the changes in our graduation requirements.  That's right, students, the list of what classes you need to graduate will be changing - for our freshman class.  If you are a sophomore, junior, or senior, the old requirements still apply.  Freshmen, however, will have some slightly different boxes to check.  See below:

Currently, students are required to take 20 credits of math to graduate from Miramonte (two years, with one year above algebra 1).  As it turns out, our research shows that an overwhelming number of Matadors are already taking three or four years of math.  For those upper classmen already intimately familiar with the A-G requirements for college, this might seem obvious; since colleges require at least three years and math through algebra 2, most students are already aiming higher than the minimum.  The freshman class will be the first class with 30 credits (or three years) required in math.  Not a huge math fan?  Don't worry.  Computer science is a great alternative math option for folks who are looking for another path.

The four-year English requirement is here to stay, but the options will be changing.  Starting as early as next year (juniors, this pertains to you), schools in our District will be offering alternative English 4 classes.  At Miramonte, students can already choose from English 4, AP English Literature, or WISE.  In the future, there may be more options.  Stay tuned.

Visual and Performing Arts
Arts are crucial to a well-rounded education.  And, you already know it.  99% of Miramonte students take one year of a visual and performing art (VPA).  Now, under our new requirements, we make VPA an official requirement.  All of you get to take one year to graduate (and, hopefully, fit in a few more).  Good news for choir, instrumental music, crafts, video production, digital photography, public speaking, 2D art, and drama classes!

Breadth Requirement
This one is a little wonky, so stay with me.  The new requirement will be that students must take 20 credits (two years) in any of the following areas: World Language, American Sign Language, or Career Technical Education (CTE).  That means two years of a world language, or two years of a CTE class (architecture or foods, at MHS), or one year of each.  You have some options here.  

Starting with next year's sophomores, all students will take a semester of health during 10th grade.  This was previously embedded in PE 9, but we are shifting in order to provide a much-richer curriculum around all things health related.  The course of study is in the works, but we envision a class that covers a lot of interesting topics and one that will be really relevant to student needs.  More to come.

Since this class is a semester, it will have to be paired with another semester class.  Again, still a work in progress.  But some of the emerging options sound fantastic!

This one is a big change.  Starting next year, students who pass 5 out of 6 tests on the Fitness Gram in PE 9 (that is our state physical fitness test), will have the option of deferring PE.  Deferring is not waiving; all students will still need 20 credits (two years) to graduate.  The change will be in how these 20 credits are completed.  

So, to recap, if you pass 5 out of 6 tests and you play a school sport, you can log your hours in a school sport to accrue credits in PE.  The details are pending, but, basically, two seasons of a sport over your sophomore, junior, and seniors years will earn you 10 credits.  

If you pass 5 out of 6 tests, but you do not play a school sport, you still must complete a PE class (10 credits) at MHS.  However, you can choose to take this in the 10th, 11th, or 12th grade.

If you do not pass 5 out of 6 tests, you must take PE during your 10th grade year.  

Not super clear yet?  Don't worry, freshmen.  We will get you up to speed before you pick classes.  And, there is more information on the Graduation Requirements and Frequently Asked Questions on our District website.

So, that is a summary of the things to come.  Next week, we will discuss the NEW SCHEDULE!  This is a big deal.  

Go Mats!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Farewell Class of 2016

It is indeed a particular honor to stand before you today as your Principal.  You are a graduating class with outstanding academic merit, amazing aptitude, and remarkable energy.  I have been impressed, over and over again, with your accomplishments.  Your baccalaureate, truly, was a demonstration of the diverse abilities that distinguish the Class of 2016.  From musical performances, to riveting speeches, to NCS titles, you excelled and exceeded expectations time and time again.

It would, therefore, not be difficult for any of us to imagine that, within this graduating class, there will be respected professionals, renowned innovators, future leaders of industry, and creative geniuses.  Your talent, tenacity, and, as Ms. Hofinga mentioned in her speech, your “willingness to speak your truths,” will undoubtedly lead to great success.    

But, Class of 2016, will this be enough?

Popular author Stephan Covey stated, “Life is not accumulation, it is about contribution.”  Think about it this way: each of you has an individual capacity for happiness.  You can, throughout your life accumulate experiences, relationships, and financial assets that will make you feel happy.  But, at some point, there is a threshold for your content; a point at which additional experiences, better relationships, and more financial gains cease to increase substantially the feeling of satisfaction.

So, what if, rather than merely accumulating, you chose to contribute?  You contribute your time, your skill, your energy.  And, with all this time and skill and energy, you make an individual, a cause, or the world just a little better.  That small investment outside of yourself then generates more happiness for another – a happiness that you can share in because you helped to make it happen.  Then, that threshold for content that was once contained in just your singular being, multiplies exponentially.

My hope for you, graduates, is that you will choose to be contributors.  That when you “speak your truth” it is a truth that builds bridges, improves the lives of others, and, as a result, adds to your own sense of purpose and self-worth.  In a class of such talent, I am humbled to think of what our future could be if each of you followed this path.

Go Mats.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Picnic with Parks

Today we had our first "Picnic with Parks" and had a small, yet enthusiastic crowd, gather to ask questions about Miramonte.  The purpose of this event, which I hope to do monthly, is to provide students with an open forum to discuss issues impacting Miramonte, concerns, or, simply, just catch up on topics of interest (if anyone cares to discuss either CrossFit or Game of Thrones, I am always happy to weigh in).  So, after gathering some publicity ideas for next month, I am hoping to see increasing numbers of students come by on these days to check in.

I did feel that summarizing some of the topics discussed today might be beneficial.  I have included some of the questions, and their corresponding answers, below:

Is it true that we are having a block schedule this year?

It is!  For the last two weeks of May we will have a block schedule.  The purpose for this is two-fold.  First of all, we have Smarter Balanced testing (the state testing in math and literacy) for all 11th graders during this time and, with a block schedule, we can accommodate more instructional minutes for each student.  Let me explain. If we shorten the day for most students (9th, 10th, and 12th graders) to accommodate testing for some students (11th graders), everyone looses instructional minutes (duh).  If we block the time to create longer periods, students needing to test (11th graders) can test during some instructional time, while all other students (9th, 10th, and 12th graders) continue to have the same number of minutes, missing zero instructional minutes.  While some would undoubtedly have been ok with the reduced school time, this is a far more ethical approach (after all, student learning is kind of a priority around here).  

The second reason for the block schedule is to give a little trial to the idea of block schedule.  Some of you may be aware that there is a District committee looking at the concept of having a block schedule.  There is a lot of interest in this right now.  The committee is comprised of students, parents, teachers, and administrators.  We have been making visits to similar schools with block schedules and bringing back data to share.  We are on schedule to make a recommendation to our Governing Board.  Stay tuned.

Do we have to take Smarter Balanced test?

The good news is that the Smarter Balanced test is only given to 11th graders.  That's right.  With the old STAR test, kids were tested 9th, 10th, and 11th grades.  Now, under the new standards and new testing systems, 10th graders still take the relatively short life science test and only 11th graders take the literacy and math tests.

Now, if you are an 11th grader, I realize that this is still something extra.  However, I am very happy to report that last year we did extraordinarily well!  I'm certainly not surprised, but it was great to see that our scores are much higher than the average for the state (although, of course, we still have work to do).  

Taking this test allows us to show what we know, and identify the areas that we need to work on.  For example, our lowest "strand" on the literacy test was in listening and speaking.  This is not particularly shocking, as this was an entirely new area for testing.  However, knowing this has led our teachers to consider other forms of instruction that allow students opportunity to exercise their skills, like Socratic Seminars, debates, and presentations.  We use these scores to grow our practice.

In addition, this next year our scores will count toward our Academic Performance Index (API), the score our school gets that ranks us in the state.  This is an important data point for us as a community.

So, do you need to take the test?  Yes, because it is the right thing to do for you, your school, and your community.

What are you doing over spring break?

Playing with my kids (I have two boys, ages 6 and 3) and probably going to a lot of CrossFit (see, I got this into the discussion, after all).  I'm hoping all of you have a really restful week and enjoy the great spring weather.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Recommitment Ceremony

So, we have heard you.  And, now we are listening.

Student took the time to take a survey for us back in December, giving advice for parents, staff, and even each other with regards to stress reduction.  The data, behind the scenes, has been fueling our discussion and dialogue in Site Advisory Committee, Department Chair Meetings, Staff Meetings, and Parent Education.  A frequently asked question: when are you going to do something?

Let's talk about the change process, shall we.  Change is, well, slow.  And, admittedly, this can be a bit frustrating (especially if you are feeling a sense of urgency to "get it done").  Sure, there are shortcuts to making change.  These might come in the form of laws, rules, or top-down directives.  But, I am sure that many of you may agree, these tactics may not always result in the type of outcomes that are desired.  Although folks may follow the law, or the rule, or the top-down directive, they may not actually believe in it.  This can lead, I'm afraid, to people finding loopholes, halfheartedly adhering to policy, or outright refusal to comply.  Perhaps students know a little about this.  We want to do better than that.  When we develop plans, we want there to be consensus among stakeholders, a true belief in the reform, and investment in the outcome.  Sounds idealistic, right?  Perhaps.  But, I think we can do it.  It just takes a little time.

Back to the topic: testing days.  This has been a topic of much discussion this year.  When testing days were first developed, five or six years ago, they were quite progressive.  The idea behind the testing days was the same as that which exists today; students often felt overloaded with tests on a given day and were requesting to spread things out so that they could prepare better. Makes a lot of sense.  And, when this was developed, my understanding was that there was a lot of support behind the idea.  Here comes the tricky part.  Time went on and old agreements weren't renewed.  And, on top of that, it became increasingly difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, constituted, a test.  Were all assessments, tests and quizzes, in this category?  How about projects?  Presentations?  Papers?  It gets a little complicated when you think of it that way.

This was exactly the type of conversation teachers have been having.  For some departments, it was simple.  They didn't have many tests or had agreement around testing days that they felt they could work with.  Other departments had a difficult time.  Frequent checks for understanding are a good practice.  Do testing days mean we can't do this?  Papers might be works in progress over several weeks.  If the assignment was a long term assignment, would it have to be due on a testing day for that class?  We grappled with these questions, and more.  We grappled with them because it is deeply meaningful for us.  If we commit, we want to be able to commit well.

So, this is what we came up with.  For the month of March, we are going to recommit to testing days.  With fidelity.  Does that mean that you won't have a quiz on a non testing day?  Not necessarily.  Defining a "test" was a cumbersome, and somewhat confining task.  Our agreement is to exercise common sense.  High stakes assignments or assessments are tests.  Conceivably, therefore, you could have a quiz on a non testing day for a class or a presentation that is part of a project that has been in progress for a long time.  Does that make sense?

In addition, we want to gather information.  We need to know if testing days are actually helpful to the student experience.  We know that you think it will be, but we want to understand this even better.  At the end of the week, you will receive a survey in your loop mail.  It will ask you to identify the number of tests you had on each day this last week.  We want a baseline.  So, keep count.  We need that data.

And, on another note, give your teachers a thank you.  They really care a lot.  I know that testing days seem easy, but planning is often done months in advance.  Letting them know you see their efforts means a lot.