Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Some College Search Musings

Great presentation by MHS Guidance staff at the Junior/Senior Parent Breakfast earlier this month! It led to some personal observations as our family goes through the process for the third time:

·      *    Setting realistic expectations early is really important (which is why discouraging a top pick can be useful although sometimes challenging). What can the family afford, and if your child gets into his/her top pick with no aid, is that still a go? Are you comfortable having the child a plane ride away or are you happier with closer geographic proximity? Do you have strong opinions on attendance at a very large vs. very small school? Have the discussion and set the boundaries early so you can focus on the schools that meet your family’s needs – and resist applying to any school where your child truly would not go. Helping students find good quality matches and supporting their understanding that they can be happy and successful at any school to which they apply is helpful to the wallet and the psyche.

·      * Colleges and universities are businesses that employ adults. Their number one goal is to stay in business and they do that by selecting students who will faithfully pay tuition, become engaged enough and be academically successful enough to stay and graduate, and ultimately bring honor to the school’s name (and hopefully donate!) post-graduation. Keeping in mind the college’s interests while thinking about how your child can be successful may be a useful thought process. Is the tuition (along with any financial aid) truly affordable without sinking you or your child with debt? Is the school rigorous enough to challenge your child to think in new ways, but not so rigorous that he/she would really struggle academically? Does the school offer high-quality courses in which your child is interested as well as the kinds of extra-curriculars that will keep him/her engaged? How effective is the career office and alumni network? Exploring a school’s characteristics (in books like Princeton Review or Peterson’s, or in web databases like collegedata.com or Naviance) will give you a sense of who they are and what they value.

·      *  Some opinions on acceptances: 1. If your family funded the <fill in college’s newest big building here>, you’re in; 2. If you’re an international student who can pay full ride and the school wants to diversify its student body in that way, you’re a good bet; 3. If you play the tuba and all the tuba players in the band graduated, your chances just improved; 4. If your academic record is trending consistently upward, even if freshman year wasn’t stellar, your chances improve; 5. If 60% of the student body is girls (not uncommon these days – especially at medium rigor/small/liberal arts schools), boys may be judged more favorably so the school can achieve a more even gender mix; 6. If you meet all the school’s academic standards on paper, but a whole bunch of kids with a very similar profile applied and were accepted before you, you may be wait listed or denied. My point? There are many great schools out there where your child can and will be successful – just because he/she was denied at a school doesn’t necessarily mean he/she couldn't have been accepted or wouldn’t do well there – it just means that while there are many things in a student’s control, there are many others that aren’t.

While the college search is time-consuming and a little anxiety provoking, it’s a wonderful way to spend quality time getting to know your teenager better (even though he/she may sleep for awhile on those car trips!). Each and every child is unique and special, and helping them tease out their authenticity in preparation for their next big adventure is incredibly exciting. Best of luck to all!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Parent - Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conference time is upon us and each of our schools is or will be reaching out to families to make those connections. Conferences are an excellent time to talk with your child's teacher about what is working well for him/her, and how families and the school can partner to continue to support high-quality learning for your child.

The Harvard Family Research Project, self-described as "...help[ing] stakeholders develop and evaluate strategies to promote the well being of children, youth, families and their communities" offers some very helpful suggestions on how to make the most of this important meeting in their guide "Parent Teacher Conference Tip Sheets for Principals, Teachers, and Parents." Pages seven and eight are devoted to tips for parents and can be found here: http://www.hfrp.org/var/hfrp/storage/fckeditor/File/FI-ConferenceTipSheet-111810.pdf. 

Wishing you thoughtful, productive communications with your child's teachers! 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

School Committee - October 14th

Two substantive presentations with discussion on Tuesday night that encompassed initial impressions and evaluations by Fine and Performing Arts Department Chair Deb DiFruscia and MVMMS Principal Brent Conway. (You can catch their presentations either on MMTV or from their web site.)

Ms. DiFruscia said she was impressed by, and then spoke to, the amount and types of fine and performing arts opportunities that are afforded in the curriculum and in extra-curricular activities by grade (for elementary) and by level (for middle and high school). She teaches two sections of Music Theory in addition to her administrative duties, and talked about a couple key changes to programming this year: the opportunity for group band instrument lessons in 3rd grade, down from 4th grade (consistent with group lessons for string instruments); and the addition of recorders for students as part of the elementary music curriculum. Ms. DiFruscia indicated that her wish list would include the ability to teach music technology and/or music composition.

Mr. Conway had the good fortune to spend time with outgoing MVMMS Principal Brow in the spring to see the middle school model model in action in Melrose. His three-page memo to Supt. Taymore on pp. 85-87 of the packet (on IQM2) details his initial findings as well as some considerations for next year. If you have a 5th through 7th grader, you can see what your child might study next year here:http://2xw9sk1hupt936lwl12eccwk14x5.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2014/08/Melrose-Veterans-Memorial-Middle-School-course-descriptions-14-15-as-of-8-13-141.pdf. 

We covered a lot of personnel policies and began discussion of policies related to students, and also voted a self-evaluation tool for this year (with that process occurring on November 18th with a summary submitted on December 9th). We voted to sell some 6th grade math textbooks that had been purchased a short time ago since a newer edition was published and provided to the district at no charge. (There was a very short time window between our initial purchase and the republish). Finally, we voted on elements of Supt. Taymore's evaluation; we'll do a mid-year and then end-of-year evaluation of her work in the district.

Hope you are having a wonderful fall and getting those apples and pumpkins picked and enjoyed!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Citywide PTO of October 14th

Supt. Taymore kicked off this month's meeting with some facilities info: all schools are clean and looking great after summer efforts; work on the MHS HVAC system continues with the heat in and functioning, and the air conditioning in place and ready for next spring; unexpectedly (but happily!) Winthrop School was painted this summer and looks excellent; summer programs will now alternate between Lincoln and Roosevelt so that each can get a really thorough cleaning at least every other year (since it can't be done with children in the building during summer). She also spoke to comments by the new Visual and Performing Arts Chair who has indicated that our schools have an impressive array of programs; to the spring PARCC exams; and to the technology audit that will include upcoming surveys and focus groups involving parents (with the final report expected in January).

Safe Routes to School State-wide Coordinator Erin Reed, in conjunction with Melrose parent and liaison Liz Foulser spoke to how they are partnering to advocate for students walking and biking to school, as well as how to mitigate traffic challenges around our schools. City Wide representatives explained the issues particular to each of their schools, and Erin and Liz offered suggestions and considered how they could help those situations. Some interesting comments: the construction updates on the Mayor's blog have been helpful to parents who need to drive students to school; and PhotoVoice - a tool used in conjunction with the Melrose Mass in Motion grant - was employed this summer by five of our creative students (check it out here: http://mimmelrosewakefield.com/ai1ec_event/melrose-photovoice-gallery/) to help identify some safety concerns.  

Notes: Horace Mann Pumpkin Fest this weekend, MAAV walk this Sunday at 4:00, ECC Cradles to Crayons fundraiser during October; Hoover PTO voted to fund Chromebooks for the school (with appreciation to City IT Director Jorge Pazos for clearly explaining the details); Melrose Kitchen Tour to benefit Robotics/VEX on 11/16; MHS Alumni reception before this Friday's last home game of the season in the MS cafe. Special thanks to Whole Foods and all who participated in the September fundraiser that generated enough money to greatly reduce assessments paid by school PTO's to pay for the accounting necessary for them to remain non-profit organizations (and help keep school money at each school!).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Taking Advantage of (and Celebrating!) Adolescence

If you haven't read Karen Weintraub's excellent interview with Psychology Professor Laurence Steinberg in the G section's Q&A spot of October 6th's Boston Globe, it's well worth the five minutes of time it will take. He says "I think we should really be thinking about adolescence as a time when people can thrive - as an opportunity and not as a problem." Steinberg posits that the part of the brain that's particularly malleable at this time in a person's life is the part that supports advanced thinking and planning, and is also key in self-regulation and self-control (which he contends is "the single most important trait a person can have for happiness and success in life"). A great question asked by Weintraub: "What can parents do to help their kids get the most out of adolescence?" Answer: "Encouraging your child to take challenging classes and not just classes where she can get A's is important - easy classes are maybe going to strengthen her transcript, but they're not going to do anything for her brain. Encouraging them to get exercise, to get adequate sleep, to get engaged in activities that are challenging and novel and stimulating. While kids are still developing better self-regulation, parents need to provide it for them. Parental monitoring is a really good deterrent against risky behavior." Food for thought!

Read the entire interview here:   http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/10/05/the-joys-adolescence-passage-life-celebrated-not-endured/HMOt1X2TaQ6E2mPI4oYgoJ/story.html

Monday, October 6, 2014

Parents of High School Seniors: "Worrying Productively"

Thanks to my friend Michelle for pointing to a great article written for parents who are earnestly tackling the college search process with their children. Penned by Daniel Porterfield, President of Franklin and Marshall College, the article coaches us on "worrying productively." My favorite is #6: "...despite all the unknowns of the moment, remember that your child has the ultimate power - the ability to create a great education at any college he or she attends. We often forget this fact. Education is active, not passive. It is pursued, not purchased. Growers grow. Learners learn." How very true........

(You can read the entire article here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dporterfield/2014/08/14/worrying-productively-six-ways-parents-can-help-with-the-college-search/)