August 29, 2015
Dear Putnam Ave. Upper School Community,
As the days of summer fade and we prepare to rejoin our wonderful school community, I am thrust into reflection about who we are, where we’ve come from, and what lies ahead. I continue to be enthusiastic about our potential and the promise of what we will accomplish this year and am proud to be the leader of the Putnam Avenue Upper School.
This summer was a productive one for me. I had the opportunity to dive into a passion project of my own–writing the first draft of a memoir about my relationship with my father. This is a book I have been wrestling with the notion of writing since his passing in 2001. I am the child of immigrants, a first generation Haitian American citizen, and it was powerful to be able to commit to the written page reflections and anecdotes about this experience through the lens of the unique, challenging, and special relationship that was fostered between my dad and me. Much of the content revolves around the exploration of identity as well as that of social justice and academic excellence, the latter of which are essential components of our school-based definition of the core value of passion. Coincidentally, it is also the core value of passion that will frame much of our work for the 2016-2017 school year, but more on that later.
Entering into our fifth year of existence has led me to take inventory of all that we have accomplished. I am filled with pride when thinking about the journey that we have been on and all of the hard work that our school community has put into building the Putnam Avenue Upper School. We are a wonderful and unique community of committed educators, students, parents and caregivers, and community partnership organizations who believe, above all else, that our students come first. We know that our students are all capable of not only striving for, but of attaining the “good life,” the best possible quality of life in adulthood.
In years past, we’ve celebrated our students by journeying to Camp Becket in the Berkshires, to Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Gettysburg, to Washington D.C., and to the Holocaust Museum in New York. Our 8th grade teachers and students have had their work featured in local media and on NPR. We’ve held successful and fun school dances, amazing School Council and PAFA meetings, great community events (STEM Night, International Potluck/Report Card Pick-up Night, Math and Literacy Carnivals, fabulous concerts, plays, talent shows, a musical, powerful portfolio presentations, to name a few) and have successfully moved to our new home at 100 Putnam Avenue in the middle of the school year! We also have a wonderful staff that reflects the diversity of the students we serve, more than any other school that I have ever worked at. Our staff is comprised of 50% people of color, who hail from all over the globe and bring to the table a wide range of experiences, knowledge, wisdom and expertise that allow us the privilege of learning from one another as we collectively strive to encourage, inspire and educate our young scholars.
This year, the staff and I will continue our work with Jon Saphier’s Research for Better Teaching by participating in an extended version of the Skillful Teacher Course, and we will continue to ensure that our work on Cultural Proficiency stays at the forefront. We will also be looking to incorporate restorative justice practices in broader ways.
What’s more, and a true testament to the power our work, our community has had a great impact outside of our school building. We have supported the aspirations of several of our former staff members who are currently serving in leadership roles within this district and across the state: from Assistant Principals and a district Health and Wellness Coordinator to a Director of Curriculum and Instruction, a Math Data and Instruction Specialist, a district-level Coordinator for Targeted Programs, and a district Program Specialist. We have also heard of the successes that our alumni have had in their transition to CRLS and how our core values and core value portfolio helped to make them feel prepared and ready for high school. What we are doing as a community is leading to change, and I am both humbled and honored to be a part of this work.
Although it’s important to reflect on our past accomplishments, I am even more excited about the promise of what lies ahead. We are no longer building a car while driving it–we are driving it. We have a strong sense of who we are and of what our school community is all about. We know our core values and recognize our strengths and the areas in which we need to continue to grow. We also now have a brand new building that symbolizes our community, our creativity, and our commitment to providing a top-tier education for our students. My passion for the work I do and for constant improvement leads me to the idea of refinement. This year, we will dig into refining our work with the goal of accomplishing at even higher levels. We are no longer building–we are now engaged in the reflective and evaluative practice of fine-tuning and improving what we do well. This does not means we will step aside from identifying and addressing what has not worked, just that there will be an increased focus on refining what has been successful as we continue to grow.
As a first step in this direction, I am asking our school community to spend the year engaged in the process of unpacking the core value of passion. Our school-based definition for the core value of passion is the following:
“It is passion that drives our community towards excellence. More specifically, our passion is for the pursuit of academic excellence through effort and the pursuit of social justice through recognizing the different experiences that come with race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. We believe it is our responsibility to use our knowledge to better the world we live in.”
Emphasis is placed on the notion of “the pursuit of academic excellence through effort and the pursuit of social justice through recognizing the different experiences that come with race, class, gender, sexual orientation and religion.” Through open and honest dialogue and deep reflection, we will commit to exploring what this core value, passion, looks like in practice. And as usual, we will need your help, your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, feedback, reflections, and presence as we engage in this work.
Now that we have settled into our lovely new building, we will also be expanding our efforts to engage with the community and partner with our families. We know this is work we can only do in partnership with you, the families and community that we serve. We are working on developing a rich partnership with the Cambridge Community Center that will allow us to offer additional after school options and opportunities for our students. That said, we need your help in identifying and connecting with additional organizations that can enhance our students’ experience. We also need your help identifying ways in which we can become more accommodating and welcoming to the families of all of our students. One successful system that we have in place towards this aim has been through offering “rolling conferences.” By contacting your grade level teacher leader or your child’s advisor, you can request and schedule a parent/teacher conference with all of your child’s core academic teachers, whenever you need one. We know there is more we can do, and we welcome your ideas, ingenuity, and willingness to share with us.
We have come a long way and have accomplished much; however, part of being a strong community is the constant acknowledgement of the fact that we still have a long way to go. I continue to be proud to be the leader of this phenomenal school community, and I am looking forward to another great year of growth, challenge, and progress.
Head of School
P.S. I’m looking forward to seeing you at our annual Back2School Night/Community Cookout on Thursday, September 15th, from 5 - 7PM. There will be syllabi, academic information, information about after school, free food, games, live entertainment, and fun. This is one of my favorite events of the year!