Welcome Back August 2019

Welcome Back August 2019
Posted on 08/28/2019

So it’s that time once againtime for us to savor what we have learned from this past summer, to reflect upon both the expected and the unexpected occurrences that have unfolded in our lives as we begin the process of preparation for another year of standing together as the Putnam Avenue Upper School community. We are humbled by what we have become over the past eight years as well as by what we have accomplished this past school year. We are a community that is rich in diversity of ideas, religions, beliefs, ability, race, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and perspective. We openly stand for and wrestle with the notion of being socially just. We are a community of tremendous growth, learning, and reflection. We are a community that supports and celebrates all of the various identities that comprise the beautiful mosaic that is Putnam Ave. We are unapologetic in being our authentic selves as opposed to seeking the approval of others. We have the courage to tell our own stories and to be the authors of our own narratives no matter how others may perceive us. We prioritize and champion equity, in particular racial equity. We strive to ensure that all learners in our community see themselves reflected in and through our incredibly diverse staff.

One exciting highlight from last year was the number of learning visits that Putnam Ave. hosted in order to showcase our school community and our work as practitioners in regards to going beyond access, restorative practices, cultural proficiency, story of self, and family engagement. Our visitors included leaders and administrators from Boston University/Wheelock’s Aspire Institute, the Center for Artistry & Scholarship, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Sharon Public Schools, Monomoy Regional School District, and the Dartmouth Public Schools. Participant feedback was overwhelmingly positive and they pledged to bring back their learning to their respective schools and organizations.

We were also amazed to see our students’ courage in sharing and celebrating their respective journeys and stories during our first annual School-Wide Story of Self Day, which was held last December and was attended by approximately two hundred family and community members. Moving forward, this special day will be one of our cornerstone events.

Another new practice that was instituted last year was the development of staff intensive courses. In the spirit of lifelong learning, our staff were able to enroll in the following “classes” during our staff’s professional development time: Design Thinking; Neurodiversity and Cool Teaching Stuff; Race, Gender & Intersectionality; Restorative Practices through Cogenerative Groups; and Universal Design for Learning and The Inclusive Practice Academy. Our staff intensives were taught by members of our school staff as well as district leaders and community organizations.

Two years shy of a decade have 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 activities outside of school, 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 across the country and commonwealth, as well as School Committee Members, the Mayor, and Central Office to observe our classrooms and examine our practices.

This year we will continue to unpack and explore the core value of ownership. We began this work last year and although we made great strides, there is still much work to do. In addition, we will also be exploring and unpacking the core value of balance. Our school-community-based definition of ownership states:

“A great school relies on a strong sense of ownership, and we demonstrate ownership through reflection and planning. 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 continuing to revisit the strengths of our community and our practice and 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 the implementation of the “Going Beyond Access” framework, which is grounded in and inspired by the scholarship and research of Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum (Spelman College), Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot (Harvard University), and Dr. Christopher Emdin (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 the work we are committed to, we will continue to:

  • Examine and confront our unconscious, implicit biases. Last year, our entire staff engaged in a year-long exploration of Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by exploring what neuroscience has discovered about how culturally responsive practices motivate and engage all learners. This year we will engage in a year long exploration of inclusive practices, Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a means of exploring how to remove barriers and provide greater access to all of our learners.
  • Revisit and refine our 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 students 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.
  • Continue to engage students 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 students 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 that 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 students, for themselves.
  • Revisit and refine our annual Story of Self Day by working during Advisory time to help students fine-tune their personal narratives and public speaking skills as well as to continue to foster a sense of pride in our students’ identities.
  • Emphasize the importance of literacy and a love of reading. English teachers will spend the month of September establishing an independent reading program with our students. Students 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 students 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 events, 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, Kunjal Shah, a former Putnam Ave. parent, leader of the Putnam Ave. Family Association, and a member of our School Council. She will be with us part-time and will focus exclusively on being accessible in the community.She plans to gather the voices, thoughts, and ideas of our families and community members, while also being of assistance in sharing information about the school.
  • Cultivate a welcoming environment that attracts and supports an incredibly diverse workforce. We are still proud of the work that we have doneand continue to doto 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 students. We are still the most diverse school staff in the city of Cambridge and one of the most diverse in the Commonwealth!

Just as I do each 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 students see themselves in the work, and is the work authentically relevant for students? 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 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 students new to our school quickly take on the identity of being Putnam Ave. students. This speaks to the love exuded by Putnam Ave. educators and the greatness of Putnam Ave. students. It is our sincere hope that all Putnam Ave. families, community members, and stakeholders feel this same sense of connectedness with our school. To best support all of our students, 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, and have some fun. More details to follow.

We will also continue to work with our Putnam Ave. Family Association to develop institutional partnerships and sponsorships to further enhance the Putnam Ave. 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, we extend a huge and heartfelt welcome to the 2019-2020 school year.

Best regards,

Mirko & Pam

P.S. We look forward to seeing you at our annual Back to School Night/Community Cookout on Thursday, Sept. 26th from 5 - 7PM. As usual, we had over 400 folks in attendance last year, and we are hoping that this year’s will be even bigger and better!


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