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From Mirko Chardin

I love the summer: the smell of barbecue grills, the warm sun, soothing afternoon or early evening breezes, days at the beach, the aroma of fresh salt water, the rumble and murmur of waves. I love the summer and all that it brings with it: longer days, the opportunity to be outside more, the vibrance of neighborhood children playing, the melody of adults engaged in conversation while enjoying their stoops, porches, yards and local parks. Again, I love the summer, but it is not my favorite season. My favorite season is the fall, a transition that will quickly be upon us. The days will gradually get shorter, the air--particularly in the mornings--will grow crisper, shorts will no longer be worn daily, and the world-renown, New England foliage will engage in its annual display of spectacular artistry. As a career educator with seventeen years of experience in urban public schools, the return of the fall signifies the bubbling joy, excitement, and expectation of a new school year and all of the learning, love, challenge, and adventure that it will bring. 

This fall marks the beginning of the Putnam Avenue Upper School’s seventh year of existence. More than half a decade has passed since we first committed as a community to the core values of Passion, Pride, Ownership, Balance, and Perseverance. Our families, staff, and students came to a consensus and determined that our Passion was for social justice and the pursuit of academic excellence, that our Pride was in our identities and the positive impact that we would have on each other, that we would display Ownership through careful goal-setting, planning and reflection, that we would be committed to Balance by engaging in extracurricular activities and/or sports, and that we would show our Perseverance through having the courage to face our challenges, overcome them, and reflect on the process. We have proud alumni who have graduated from CRLS and are now in the midst of their undergraduate journeys. We have sent staff members off to become Principals, Assistant Principals, Curriculum Coordinators, and Content Coaches in our own district as well as all throughout the state of Massachusetts. We have welcomed educators from other districts, universities, and the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, as well as School Committee Members, the Mayor, and Central Office to observe our classrooms and examine our practices.

This year we will be committed to unpacking and exploring the core value of ownership, just as in the past two years, we have focused on the core values of passion and pride, respectively. Our school-community-based definition of ownership states: 

“A great school relies on a strong sense of ownership, and we demonstrate ownership through reflection andplanning. By committing to goals, developing clear plans for achieving those goals, and regularly reflecting on the progress we have made towards reaching our goals, we are accountable to ourselves and to our community.”

We will honor exploring the core value of ownership by revisiting the strengths of our community and our practice and by providing refinement where it needs to be as we own our work, our progress toward our goals, and our plans. We will continue to honor implementation of the “Going Beyond Access” framework, which is grounded in and inspired by the scholarship and research of Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum (president emerita of Spelman College and visiting scholar at Stanford), Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot (Harvard University), and Dr. Christopher Emdin (Teachers College, Columbia University). This means that our school community will continue to commit to:

  • Valuing the impact of our work on and in the lives of students over adult intentions, 
  • Ensuring that all of our students see themselves represented in our work and school, and
  • Providing authentically relevant content and tasks for our students.

Building off of the work we started last year, we will continue to:

  • Examine and confront our unconscious, implicit biases. Last year, our entire staff engaged in a year-long exploration of Glenn Singleton's second edition of Courageous Conversations about Race; this year, we will extend our learning by engaging in a year-long exploration of Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain as a means of revisiting our learning from last year and refining our practice by exploring what neuroscience has discovered about how culturally responsive practices motivate and engage all learners.
  • Implement a school-wide organizational system to address executive functioning in order to ensure that there is one universal system that will be utilized in all classes. This means that you and our young scholars will only have to learn and keep track of one system rather than several.
  • Honor our "Intensive Choice Course Program” (formerly referred to as electives), which provides the opportunity for students to dive deeper into core academic content as well as visual and performing arts and physical education by increasing their frequency to twice a week. Intensives are based on need as well as choice and allow us to embed additional supports and challenges within our schedule.
  • Engage scholars in one, 100-minute long block of core academic instruction in each core content area (Math, English, Social Studies, and Science) weekly in addition to the typical 50-minute offerings.
  • Build relationships with scholars in our advisory program, which will continue to revolve around students, staff, and families exploring their individual and collective identities as well as the impact that we have on each other by utilizing Marshall Ganz’s 
    framework, which emphasizes: the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now. We will expand upon this work by having a whole-school community event to celebrate our stories of self in the winter.
  • Revisit and refine our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Core Values Portfolios--a major component of advisory, which supports students in thinking critically about themselves and the core values, as well as how they will reach the “Good Life”--the best possible quality of life in adulthood, as defined by our scholars, for themselves.
  • Emphasize the importance of literacy and the love of reading. English teachers will spend the month of September establishing an independent reading program with our scholars. Scholars will be expected to read nightly for homework and will be provided time to read within the school day, including in advisory. We want all of our scholars to spend more time reading and have set 20 books per student per year as a minimum goal.
  • Engage our community in conversations about identity and and diversity. Building on the success of our Community Conversations on Identity and Diversity, we will continue to partner with the Morse, Kennedy Longfellow and Martin Luther King Jr. Schools to deepen this work.
  • Respect and value the voices in our community. We have hired a new family and community liaison, Shayna Jones, who will be with us part-time and will focus exclusively on being accessible in the community, and gathering the voices, thoughts, and ideas of our families and community members, while also being of assistance in sharing information about the school. She will be establishing a series of family and community cogen groups to help with this. According to Dr. Emdin, “Cogens are simple conversations with a goal of co-creating/generating plans of action for improvement…. They allow folks of different backgrounds to bridge their cultural divides before addressing Issues. They should been seen as structured dialogues about the inner workings of the social field people cohabit. A social field is any location where humans interact under rules and/or hierarchies; for our purposes, we are referring to our school community. Cogens welcome self-expression and value the voice as well as critiques of the space” (2016, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, p. 66).
  • Cultivate a welcoming environment that attracts and supports an incredibly diverse workforce. I am still proud of the work that we have done--and continue to do--to ensure that Putnam Ave. has a faculty that is more than 50% people of color and that we have always been a school that can be both a mirror and a window for our scholars. 

Just as I did last year, I will ask you to hold us accountable and encourage your children to hold us accountable by regularly asking: Are we authentically going beyond access? Are we valuing impact over intentions? Are we ensuring that scholars see themselves in the work, and is the work authentically relevant for scholars? That said, be patient with us; these shifts are still emblematic of the beginning of a journey and will take time to complete. Additionally, I want you to help hold us accountable by requesting a rolling conference so that you can meet and chat with your child’s teaching team.

As usual, the teacher leaders, Ms. Chu-Sheriff, Dr. Farese, and I spent time together this summer to engage in our annual leadership institute to support and ground our work as leaders. The vast majority of our staff will also be voluntarily reporting a week early, as they have annually done, to begin the process of preparing for the new year.

Our community is a welcoming and warm one. We are thrilled that scholars new to our school quickly take on the identity of being Putnam Avenue scholars-this speaks to the love exuded by Putnam Avenue educators and the greatness of Putnam Avenue students. It is our sincere hope that all Putnam Avenue families, community members, and stakeholders feel this same sense of connectedness with our school. To best support all of our scholars, we know that it takes all of us working together towards a vision of excellence. In the spirit of community and strong communication, we will host a few parent/caregiver networking events at off-site locations in the community. The purpose of these events will be to give parents and caregivers the opportunity to mix, mingle, get to know each other, and have some fun. More details to follow. 

We will also continue to work with our Putnam Avenue Family Association to develop institutional partnerships and sponsorships to further enhance the Putnam Avenue scholar experience. I also welcome your thoughts and ideas in this area! 

The first day of school is right around the corner. There is nothing more exciting than meeting new students and families and welcoming back returning students and families. With that, I extend a huge and heartfelt welcome to the 2018-2019 school year. 

Best regards,

Mirko

P.S. I look forward to seeing you at our annual Back to School Night/Community Cookout on Thursday, Sept. 13th from 5 - 7PM. We had over 400 folks in attendance last year, despite an unexpected rain shower, and we are hoping that this year’s will be even bigger and better!