It’s That Time of Year Again

May 20, 2016 by

That’s right, it’s that time of year again!

Most of the students in grades 3-12 are taking or are preparing to take the Virginia Standards of Learning tests; otherwise known as the SOLs.

SOL tests measure the progress of students from 3rd grade to 8th grade, as well as certain high school classes. Virginia SOL test results provide actionable data that help parents, teachers, and students improve academic performance in reading, math, writing, science, and history/social studies. SOLs are also used in evaluating each school’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

SOL assessments are criterion-referenced tests aligned with and based on the challenging Virginia Standards of Learning. These Virginia state standards define what Virginia students should learn in every grade. VA SOL scores measure how well students have mastered grade-specific skills and report achievement in each subject using the following three levels:

  1. Pass/Advanced
  2. Pass/Proficient
  3. Fail

Achieving proficient or advanced levels is considered passing the SOL tests.

The best preparation for SOL testing is to steadily build skills. Children who master math and reading fundamentals, such as phonics, reading comprehension strategies, and facts and formulas, will be prepared for more complex questions and concepts, and will ultimately perform better on tests.

But even a well-prepared student can feel pre-test anxiety. Encourage your child to relax and to view the test as a chance to show what they have learned. Reassure them that it is natural to feel a little nervous and that the important thing is to try their best.

Still anxious about SOL testing?  Here are some tried and true test taking strategies that may help in the testing clinch!

  1. The Day Before:  Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep. Test scores can be greatly affected when a child hasn’t gotten enough rest.
  2. Test Day:  A good breakfast the morning of the test is a terrific brain booster. Nutrients help to stimulate the brain.
  3. Remind your student to pay close attention to directions, and emphasize that they can highlight or underline any words that may assist them in answering questions.
  4. When taking the reading comprehension test, which can be very lengthy, it may help your student to start by previewing the questions prior to reading the assigned passage so they know what they are looking for when they read the text.
  5. In multiple-choice questions, if stumped, remind your student to first rule out answers they know are incorrect. It will then be easier to figure out the correct answer.

In parting, if you want to change your child’s performance on standardized tests, don’t over-focus on short-term test prep, as it only builds pressure which is generally counter-productive. The best on-going strategy is to stay involved in your child’s education, and to keep in mind that standardized tests, while giving insight, are not the final say on how much your child is learning or how well they will do in life or even in future academics. Remember, it takes months and years to build skills and knowledge, and many factors can impact test performance on any given day.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, focus on the fact that summer break is right around the corner!

We Don’t Allow That Here!

May 6, 2016 by


Imagine you are allowed only one bag for all of your possessions.  A soldier holding a rifle orders you to quickly board a cattle car.  The door locks and the train pulls out slowly.  You have no idea where you are going or when the train will stop.

Earlier this week, MHS students had the opportunity to listen to motivational speaker and Holocaust Refugee, Captain Alex Keisch.  Captain Keisch filters through his personal perspective of the Holocaust to teach a simple, but not simplistic approach to systematically stop the epidemic of bullying.

Captain Keisch, the son of Jewish Partisans, was born in the waning days of WWII on the site of the Nazi work camp Plaszov, near the city of Krakow, Poland.  Through his very personal commentary, Captain Keisch detailed his family’s experiences during that traumatic time bringing authenticity and raw emotion to the atrocities of the Holocaust unachieveable through normal textbook study.

The facts of the Holocaust are staggering:  6 million Jews murdered for the crime of being born a Jew; the largest murder of a people in the entire history of mankind; an estimated 1.1 million children murdered during the Holocaust.

A number of social agencies and organizations are beginning to teach the Holocaust as a means of demonstrating what can happen if bullying is allowed to escalate into stereotyping, prejudice, racism or worse. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new and especially alarming phenomenon. Through social media such as Instagram, Snapchat and MySpace, kids can now bully other kids anonymously and even recruit their friends to help. Teen suicides as the result of cyber-bullying are on the rise.

Bullying is repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It is a person or group with more ‘social status’ attempting to lord over another person, over and over again, to make him or her miserable.  The single greatest strategy to reduce bullying is through the power of peer pressure and peer advocates. In the middle of the struggle between bully and victim there are dozens of bystanders who might be able to make a difference if they had the insight, strategies and courage to intervene.  We cannot fully protect any child from hurt feelings and upsetting experiences, but we can teach our children to notice when someone else is feeling left out, to reach out in kindness when a classmate is being taunted, and to use their power to speak up on behalf of others.

That is the core of the Holocaust Center’s UpStanders: Stand Up To Bullying initiative. It is a central lesson of the Holocaust, where a few brave rescuers were willing to save the lives of Jews in spite of the risk to their own safety and comfort. It’s the Golden Rule. It is what we want our kids to learn young and carry into adulthood. Whether you call it bullying or just plain unkindness, we want our kids to know that it is wrong, and that people who perpetuate these acts of unkindness should be answerable for their actions.

The mantras of ‘We Don’t Allow That Here!’ and ‘Do Your Little Bit of Good’ reinforce Captain Keisch’s message that, in many ways, the Holocaust embodies the characteristics of school bullying. Just as many kids stand by while others are victimized, groups of people and even countries stood by and watched as millions of people were killed by the Nazis. Having an anti-bullying program tied to an event about the Holocaust teaches students that the choices they make and the actions they carry out every day can make a huge difference.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”   -Elie Wiesel

Hello, 911?? We Need Help!

April 27, 2016 by

There is nothing like it…

The crack of the bat, the swoosh of the net, the amazing catch in the end zone, the roar of the crowd!

The torn ACL, the dislocated shoulder, the shin splints, the concussion!

Yep, that’s right!  The reality is high school athletics, or any athletics for that matter, can bring both exhilarating joy and…excruciating pain!

Playing high school sports exposes our children to increased risk of injury.  Middlesex High School does not currently staff an athletic trainer although one was requested in next year’s budget.  Whether or not it makes the cut has yet to be determined; however, the importance of a qualified individual certified to establish preventative measures to decrease sports-related injuries who is readily available to accurately assess those that do occur is without a doubt a crucial element that we can no longer ignore.

Athletic trainers are recognized by the American Medical Association as health professionals who evaluate and monitor athletes and help them maintain peak physical fitness as well as prevent and treat injuries. They are often one of the first health care providers on the scene when an injury occurs; and therefore, they must be able to recognize, evaluate and assess injuries and provide immediate care when necessary. They know how to prevent an injury from occurring initially, prevent further injury from occurring and prevent the recurrence of an injury.

Athletic trainers educate athletes on how to avoid placing themselves at risk for injury. Quite simply, they help make sports safer. In addition, athletic trainers advise athletes as to the proper use of athletic equipment and protective products such as tape, bandages, ice and braces which help manage an injury.

One cannot pick up a newspaper during football season without seeing a headline on the dangers of concussions.  The disastrous long-term health consequences of concussions including ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or severe cognitive impairment are frightening and should not to be taken lightly by parents, coaches or athletes.  Certified athletic trainers play a key role in the identification and initial sideline screening for concussions in high school sports, as well as the critical “return to play” decision.  They are on the front lines in the concussion safety battle.  The presence of an athletic trainer can dramatically increase the chance that a concussion will be correctly diagnosed and in a timely fashion, both of which are necessary to avoid not only a more lengthy recovery but the risk of permanent brain damage.

At a recent MHS sporting event, an athlete laid injured on the playing field for over ½ hour waiting for the volunteer rescue squad to arrive…coaches and adults on the scene afraid to move the athlete for fear of causing additional injury.  What if this athlete’s injuries were life-threatening and immediate assessment and action were necessary? Thankfully this was not the case; however, one never knows when an emergency situation will occur, and an athlete’s life will hang in the balance.

Some states have introduced legislation requiring a licensed athletic trainer be on staff at every high school.  Perhaps Virginia will follow that lead and appropriate funding for the hiring of athletic trainers.  Better yet, let’s hope that MCPS is given the necessary funds for next year’s school budget to hire a certified athletic trainer, reaffirming that the safety of our high school athletes is a priority…before one of those athletes becomes another statistic in an alarmingly growing list of athletic-related fatalities.

NOW is the Time for Action!

April 14, 2016 by

When school districts face budget cuts, teachers, students and school programs are the usually the ones who take the hit.  As money becomes scarce and school boards grapple with diminishing funds, tough decisions have to be made. For some schools, the cuts may result in little or no pay increases for teachers, fewer opportunities for teacher professional development, a reduction in classroom materials & supplies, larger student/teacher ratios, and a decline in student enrichment activities. While these are not choices most schools want to make, what other options do they have when the money simply isn’t there?

Teachers feel the brunt of educational budget cuts in many ways. In a field where in good times about 20% of teachers leave the profession in the first three years, budget cuts mean less incentive for educators to continue teaching.  As the cost of living increases, but teacher salaries remain the same, what is the motivation for continuing to teach?  Many teachers leave the profession for positions in other fields where they can earn more money and have greater opportunity for upward advancement.  Healthcare rates are continually on the rise, and when a small raise is not enough to offset an increase in health insurance premiums, the net effect results in a decrease in take-home pay.  Many school districts including MCPS pay for at least part of teachers’ benefits. The amount that school districts are able to pay typically suffers under budget cuts. This too, in effect, is like a pay cut for teachers.   

Less school funding can also result in fewer teacher professional development opportunities.  While this might not seem like a big deal to some, the truth is that teachers, just like any professional, can become stagnant without continual self-improvement. The field of education is changing and new theories and teaching methods can make all the difference in the world for new, struggling, and even experienced teachers. However, with budget cuts, these activities are typically some of the first to go.

Dwindling funds also impact the already shrinking discretionary monies that teachers receive at the beginning of the year to pay for classroom supplies & materials including photocopying paper, classroom manipulatives and other learning tools.  As budget cuts deepen, the pressure to purchase these necessary items is felt in the teachers’ or even the parents’ pocketbooks, and when teachers’ salaries barely cover their cost of living, teachers are less willing and less able to subsidize school funds for classroom materials & supplies.

To put it simply, budget cuts that negatively impact teachers in turn negatively impact their students.

But the effect on students does not just stop there.  Some budget cuts can result in larger classes.  Research has shown that students learn better in smaller classes.  When there is overcrowding, there is a greater likelihood of disruptions.  Furthermore, it is much easier for students to fall through the cracks in large-numbered classes and not get the extra help they need and deserve to succeed.  Another casualty of larger classes is that teachers are unable to do as many cooperative learning and other more complex activities. They are just too difficult to manage with very large groups.

With school districts struggling to keep their noses above choppy budget waters and voters howling about taxes, should schools really be funding athletic programs, the Future Business Leaders of America, the concert band, and the Lego Robotics Club?  As it turns out, maybe they should!  True, there is not a straight line between the chess club and an Ivy League education, but a growing body of research says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from high school, going to college, and becoming a responsible citizen.  Students who have a significant involvement in an extracurricular activity have a capacity for focus, self-discipline and time management that is sometimes lacking in students solely focused on their GPA.  Extracurricular and enrichment activities introduce children to new ideas and interests, teach them to study more efficiently, develop their social skills, and expose them to caring adults.

NOW is the time for action!  Let your voice be heard!  There is a Middlesex County Board of Supervisors public budget hearing on Thursday, April 21st at 7pm in the Board Room on the second floor of the Historic Courthouse, 865 General Puller Highway, Saluda, VA.

Challenging Great Minds

April 6, 2016 by

MCPS OM TEAMS 2016.jpgMiddlesex OM Teams Head to State

Saturday, March 19, 2016- Middlesex County students matched wit and whim at Lancaster High School with students from neighboring counties in a day of problem-solving at the Rappahannock Regional Odyssey of the Mind competition. Odyssey of the Mind promotes creativity by challenging students of all ages to solve divergent problems working through teamwork. Middlesex County teams competed in three of the five possible problem categories.

The Middlesex Elementary School Something Fishy team including Victoria Dunham-Quigley, Elliott Austin, Gracie Wynberry, Owen Wynberry, Abigail Smiley, Alexis Alley, Hudson McMinn, and Coach Stephanie Shelton placed fourth in their division; the Furs, Fins, Feathers and Friends team including Catie Lowe, Chessa Lowery, Ella Hodges, Carina Bednarczyk, Hali Valadez, Courtney Harrow, Sara Hale, and Coach Kendra Reiley placed FIRST in their division and will advance to the state competition.

The St. Clare Walker Aesop Gone Viral team including Gabe Smith, Dean Tennant, Sara Paige Murray, Madeline Hurd, Nikki Adams, Julia Young, Samantha Wright, and Coach Kate Messner placed fourth in their division; the Something Fishy team including Mikayla Dunham-Quigley, Natalie Cutler, Delaney Ruark, Lillian Taylor, Ryan Mahr, Peyton Bishop, Emma Hale, and Coach Claire Evans placed second in their division; the Furs, Fins, Feathers and Friends team including Wyatt Evans, Kaydence Congleton, Autumn Satterly, Jordan Hershberger, Dominic Buzzell, Eddie Tennant, and Coach Kathy Ruark placed FIRST in their division and will advance to the state competition.

The Middlesex High School Furs, Fins, Feathers and Friends team including Emma Barnhardt, Kimani Robinson, Celia Moore, Alyssa Deel, Mackenzie White, Will Fochtman, Noah Cannon, and Coach Grace Smith placed FIRST in their division and will advance to the state competition.

The Odyssey of the Mind state competition will be take place at Menchville High School located at 275 Menchville Road, Newport News, VA 23602 on Saturday, April 16, 2016.

The Great Dress Code Debate

March 23, 2016 by

No-one likes being told what they can or cannot wear including many of today’s elementary, middle and high school students.

School systems across the nation have adopted dress codes including Middlesex County Public Schools. Supporters of school dress codes argue that strict dress guidelines have a positive impact on students, promote school safety, improve self-esteem and are in the best interests of the student. Even the U.S. Department of Education has weighed in on the topic and acknowledges the benefits of school dress codes. There are even cases where a student has gone as far as to sue the school district over a matter of dress, stating that dress codes are unconstitutional. Clearly, the adoption and administration of school dress policy is a hot topic for families everywhere.

Whether a proponent or an adversary, dress code confusion can pit parent against child in an uncomfortable battle that can set an unpleasant tone for the school day. There is a reason this conversation is so difficult; it involves issues of self image, freedom of expression, and gender politics all wrapped up in an argument at 7:00 in the morning.

The dress code debate is not a new one. Back in the sixties, dress codes choices were sometimes politically motivated such as black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. Such attire was protected under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. In the early seventies, girls were required to kneel down on the floor to ascertain if their skirts were long enough to touch the ground. As society changed, we developed new norms. Gone are the days when schools forbade girls from wearing pants and required boys to press their trousers. Today, more than half of American schools have some sort of dress code; however, those policies vary drastically between schools, districts, and states. This can be especially confusing for families that change schools. To complicate matters, there is no gold standard for what is acceptable attire in school. For most of today’s students, dress code grievances are probably not politically motivated, but are more certainly driven by their desire for self expression, which is a trickier line to navigate. Some students try to express something with their clothing choices, but it’s not like they are shouting in a language that everyone understands. Boys may choose baggy pants and hoodies because they are comfortable and want to express their fondness of hip hop, but to others those outfits scream ‘thug.’ Girls run into a similar disconnect between what they feel they are portraying with their outfit selection and how their peers and adults perceive them. In an ideal world all people could dress any way they want to, but dressing in a certain way can send out messages that puts students at risk. While a student’s choice of attire should not drive anyone’s actions toward that individual; unfortunately, it does have an impact on the way others perceive them which can lead to undesirable results.

Supporters of a strict dress code argue that without it inappropriate clothing will be worn in school. This can cause unnecessary distraction that is counterproductive to learning. They feel a school is not a club; it’s a place for education. Students should dress appropriately for the opportunity to learn. The same outfit on two different individuals may yield two totally different connotations. A detailed dress code removes the subjectivity of the rule enforcer whether it be a parent, a teacher or a school administrator and makes it easier for him or her to determine what the student is allowed to wear.

But even enforcing a detailed dress code is a sticky situation for adults. For example, the school says that shorts must extend past the tips of the fingertips, but your daughter insists that nobody follows the rules. Families with boys are not necessarily spared these arguments either as many want to wear saggy pants while the school requires that waistlines be hitched firmly above the hips. To their credit, students are not always wrong when they say that others get away with breaking the rules. Many schools employ the fingertip rule for skirts and shorts, and yet they also permit cheerleaders and volleyball players to wear extremely short skirts and shorts to games. This contradiction in rules can raise eyebrows and irritate students and parents.

School dress code policies often fluctuate from year to year as administrators attempt to keep up with ever-changing fashion trends. The popularity of skin-tight leggings, for instance, has prompted some schools to write new rules that spell out whether or not girls will be permitted to wear them as pants or if they need to wear a long shirt, skirt, or shorts over them. That means that an outfit that was permitted last year, may not be acceptable this year. Again, students and parents feel out of the loop as to what is and is not allowed.

Opponents of strict dress codes feel schools ought to consider what issues they are really trying to address and critically examine whether or not policing attire will realistically accomplish those goals. Many schools say that their policies have been constructed to promote respect and minimize disruption in the school environment. Some feel schools should focus more on discussion of respectful actions rather than spending time policing attire. They feel if schools are working to prepare children to become functional members of society, shouldn’t school policies simply mirror the unwritten public dress code. We already have public standards of decency and indecent exposure. Why shouldn’t those same standards apply in the school system?

We must remember that our youth gleans societal messages from many different sources. A survey of acceptable outfits worn around town to the local mall, the gas station, and football games will produce one image of what is acceptable attire versus the constant flood of images of scantily clad pop and movie stars that follow our children everywhere they go and paint a very different picture of the allowed norm. Those messages from pop-culture ring much louder for children than any implied public code. School enforced dress codes can help to alleviate some of the pressures that children feel to dress a certain way and can offer parents some guidelines to fall back upon.

And so the Great Dress Code Debate rages on…

The MCPS dress code can be found on pages 40 and 41 of the MCPS 2015-2016 Family Handbook.

Memo to My Younger Self

March 7, 2016 by

Last week during my travels I had the unique opportunity to visit each of the schools in our division.  Sometimes enlightened, sometimes inspired and sometimes discouraged by what I witnessed, I feel compelled to impart some advice as if I could turn back the hands of time and once again be an elementary, middle or high school student.

  • Remember that test, that breakup, that late assignment, that bad grade, that missed foul shot is just a piece of a whole, and tomorrow is another day filled with opportunity.
  • Be true to yourself, and people will like you…but…if perchance someone doesn’t like you, that’s okay too.  The world is full of people who you aren’t going to like and who aren’t going to like you.  Just remember to respect everyone, and never intentionally hurt anyone.
  • See the beauty in every day just in case it is your last.
  • Cherish what you have now and work hard for what you want in the future.
  • Always speak the truth and listen intently to what’s being said to you.
  • Surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you feel better about yourself.  Move on from the negative people who drag you down. Find positive people who will inspire you.
  • Don’t over think.
  • Don’t care too little.
  • Speak up.  Talk more.  Look people in the eye.  Be clear about what you want, what you don’t want, and what you need.  People will respect you more, and you’ll be a whole lot happier too.
  • Be consistent.  Being wishy-washy doesn’t just impact your relationships; it impacts your self-esteem and anxiety levels.  When you say you’re going to do something or be somewhere, follow through.
  • Share better.  Smile.  Smile lots.
  • Sometimes, believe it or not, your parents are actually right.  It may be virtually impossible to convince you to take the advice your mom gave you over dinner one night, but chances are she learned the hard way.  Learning your own lessons is very important, but feel free to skip and move ahead once in a while by learning from people who have “been there, done that”.  You’re not always right so listen to advice from other people.
  • Keep pursuing your dreams, and never give up.
  • Don’t be afraid of not succeeding.  Be more afraid of NOT trying and living with regret.  If you fall, pick yourself up, and keep moving forward.
  • Worrying about what other people think of you is a waste of time and energy.  Don’t let someone else’s perception of you (unless it’s absolutely fabulous!) become how you see yourself.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself all the time.  Don’t get caught in the trap that everything needs to be perfect, or nothing will ever get done.
  • Believe in the impossible.
  • The most deserving person does not always receive the accolade or win the award, but sometimes they do.  Be grateful when you are given a chance to shine and be introspective and reflective when you are not.  You will find yourself in both situations many times throughout your life.
  • Sometimes less IS more.
  • Walk tall no matter what!  Especially when you are afraid or insecure.
  • True friends are the ones who are there for you, who listen to you and who support you.  True friends will tell you when they think you are wrong and empower you to grow.
  • Don’t give away your power of choice.  Taking ownership over the choices you make in life will save you from a lot of healing work in the future.
  • Your brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 24.  You’re going to make mistakes, a lot of them.  Consider the possibility though, that your mistakes are actually lessons.
  • Don’t rush to grow up.  One day, you’re going to be married, have kids, and comment on how your dog is so lucky that it doesn’t have any responsibility.  Just enjoy this time you have to be young and (hopefully) carefree.
  • Everything is going to be okay.  You’re going to lose people, get your heart broken, feel alone, and totally depressed.  Nothing is ever permanent, so next time you’re wrapped up in thoughts of how awful everything is – visualize the way you want things to be instead.  Eventually, the tide will turn and life will be more amazing than you ever thought possible.
  • Embrace change.  Don’t try to control what you can’t.  Let some time pass and see what develops.  Something fabulous might be right around the corner.
  • Surround yourself with excellence, and remember to be patient and cut yourself some slack.  Rome wasn’t built in a day!

The Value of Public Education in Middlesex County

February 26, 2016 by

What do we want public education in Middlesex County to look like? How does Middlesex County value its public schools? These are the two central questions that drive our budgeting process each year.

The answer to the first question is easy – our school system strategic plan “Navigation 2020” informs us that we want to build better learners, citizens, and leaders to make Middlesex County an outstanding place to live, work, and learn. Navigation 2020 also promises that we prepare our students for life after graduation with peerless knowledge, understanding, and skills, where they can be ready to aggressively and confidently tackle the challenges of tomorrow. The singular goal articulated in Navigation 2020 states that “by the year 2020, all of our students will be on a path to graduate on time, prepared to become productive citizens in tomorrow’s local and global economies.” This is not a pipedream. This is our reality, and we have made tremendous incremental progress every year toward this goal. Where our on-time graduation rate in 2012 was 91.6%, today 95.7% of Middlesex High School students graduate on time. Our students are achieving at high levels and are growing academically each year because we have exceptional teachers and staff that support them on their learning journey to prepare them for leadership in the world of tomorrow. Our students are growing up to be the citizens that we want as next-door neighbors. We have a lot to be proud of – we are leaders in the region and in the state at providing a high quality education for our students.

We are also leaders at providing that high quality education at a low cost to taxpayers, winning recognition for efficiency at the state level.

Unfortunately, the answer to the second question lacks the same level of clarity as the answer to the first question. Recently, officials in county government explicitly said that our county’s public schools are “overfunded.”   And according to what the state “requires” localities to match financially, this is true (legally). The sad reality is that this is not the whole truth. By this measure, every school system in Virginia is “overfunded” because the basic state-financed requirements are inadequate to actually run any school system. In the last fiscal year, Middlesex County ranked 110th out of 132 school systems in Virginia in funding beyond what is “required”, funding 34% over the state’s minimum required funding – this is nothing to brag about. By comparison, Mathews County was ranked 99th in the same fiscal year out of 132 school systems and only funded 52% above the state’s required minimum.   Candidly, what the state requires as the “minimum” is not nearly what is actually required to run a school system.

Adding insult to injury, our teachers and support staff are the lowest paid in our region (the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula). All of our administrators could take demotions and be paid more in neighboring school systems for doing less work and to have less responsibility. The method that the state currently uses to calculate the required local effort from local governments to finance public education is missing a lot. For example, the state does not recognize the need for non-special education transportation, adequate maintenance, assistant principals for a school system our size, adequate staffing for instructional support and technology, gifted education teachers, technology hardware and software replacement cycles, school nurses, school construction/renovation, and a myriad of other resources that we have grown to expect as essential to the operation of our schools.

Regardless of what the state has not included in their so called “Standards of Quality”, there are many other regulations that come from the state that demand that we have these resources. In short, because of numerous unfunded or under-funded mandates from the state, it would be impossible for our school system to meet requirements set forward by the state without funding beyond what is minimally “required”. We provide the services listed above (and many more) so that we can meet expectations and advance the best learning opportunities for our students. To do any less would be immoral and completely unethical. Understanding the pressures of balancing the county’s many needs, the school system is still not requesting additional operational funds beyond what was provided last year.

As our county considers its budget priorities in the coming months, my hope is that our citizens and our public school community impress upon the Board of Supervisors the value of public education in Middlesex County. Today’s students are our county’s future EMTs, restaurateurs, physicians, watermen, firemen, nurses, mechanics, and tax base. Investing in our schools is an investment in the future of our community.

Published by guest blogger, Dr. Thomas Taylor, Superintendent Middlesex County Public Schools

O School Spirit, Where Art Thou?

February 11, 2016 by

‘The administration doesn’t care about school spirit, why should we?’

‘There is no support from parents.’

‘I tried to get something started, but no one was interested in helping.’

‘No one has school spirit…really, what’s the point?’

Over the past two weeks, I have heard numerous comments and complaints from students, teachers & parents about the lack of school spirit in our school division.  Whether a misconception or a reality, the decline of school spirit is something we should want to prevent at all costs.

Some say there is a lack of parental support, and the kids don’t care.  Some say the teachers have enough on their plates to do anything else, and some say the administration is doing a lousy job promoting school spirit.  Maybe it’s a combination of all these elements, but whatever the case, our lack of school spirit is cause for alarm.

Spirit or pride is an integral part of being connected to a team, an organization, or a school.  It shows that, despite our diversity, we are united and proud to be so.  It promotes togetherness and creates energy and a sense of community.

School spirit is a surprisingly powerful phenomenon.

Recently at an especially exciting varsity boys basketball game against Charger rival, the West Point Pointers, I was disheartened by the number of spectators more intent on what was happening on their cell phones rather than what was happening on the court in front of them.  Didn’t they just pay money to watch a sporting event?  Could there be anything more interesting than the nail-biting battle that was evolving right before their eyes?  At one critical juncture, a single boisterous fan determined to generate some kind of school spirit stood up and began waving his arms encouraging the crowd to follow his lead.  The fans miraculously came alive pounding their feet and yelling in unison ‘Defense!’.  Cell phones forgotten, the crowd poured all of their energy into school spirit.  There was suddenly a 6th man on the court, and the team responded!  They stopped the ensuing offensive attack, and for a few brief seconds the entire home team side of the gymnasium was in complete harmony with the power of school spirit.  Breathless and heart pounding, when it was over, I was proud to be part of that enthusiasm, that unity, that awesomeness…even if it was just for a fleeting moment.

Unfortunately those incredible school spirit occasions seem to be becoming fewer and fewer and farther between as we grow more and more disconnected from each other and less and less interested in keeping school spirit alive.

The best way to tackle the lack of school spirit is to pinpoint some of the reasons for it. Perhaps, for students, it is the desire to be ‘cool’. If it is perceived by a few popular students that caring about and being spirited about anything is ‘uncool’, a vicious cycle begins:  school spirit is deemed uncool, fewer students have spirit, thereby making it even less cool, and so on. Perhaps the lack of school spirit stems from not enough time and too much to do.  There are only so many hours in the day, and teachers and administrators are working hard on daily job responsibilities.  Students have so many distractions and other extracurricular activities to divide their attention, focusing on school spirit is not a high priority.  Perhaps it is the fact that society as a whole is disconnected from each other as we form and sustain virtual relationships rather than physical ones.  Alas, none of this helps the school spirit cause.

Figuring out to generate school spirit and sustain that enthusiasm for an entire school year is a daunting task.  Even those few individuals passionate about trying to reignite the flame of school spirit can become burnt-out and give up, adding to its slow painful extinguishment.  Weekly pep rallies, bonfires, spirit booster buses, school songs, dancing mascots, cow bells, air horns, foam fingers, painted faces, varsity jackets and school dances are all sadly becoming a thing of the past.

I’m not sure who needs to change the tide:  administration, teachers, students, parents or community…but I do know one thing for certain…if you are reading this blog, you fall into one of these categories, and you CAN make a difference.  So stand up, be proud, get rowdy and show off your school colors!  Why not make your mark?  I say school spirit has to start somewhere, why not with YOU?

The Modern Student

February 5, 2016 by

Quite simply, the modern student does it differently.

The world of the modern student is an exciting, fast-paced one filled with state-of-the-art equipment, instant access to information, and a virtual persona created through social media.

Gone are the days of textbooks, overhead projectors and chalk & blackboard lessons in the classroom. We have graduated to handheld devices, Smartboards, on-line classes and electronic textbooks. Students at MCPS are no exception.  In virtually every classroom from pre-school to 12th grade, MCPS students and teachers have a wide variety of cutting-edge equipment and software available to them.  Android devices, iPads, iPad minis, high-speed laptops, touch recognition Smartboards, on-line instruction tools and of course, the all-powerful internet are readily available throughout our school system. Students communicate with teachers using apps on their phones, and parents have immediate access to their children’s grades…sometimes a blessing…sometimes a curse… depending on who you ask. In some instances, even something as “young” as e-mail and texting has gone by the wayside being replaced with the trendier Edmodo and Google Classroom. As our children navigate the waters in this quick-paced, ever-evolving learning environment, some can become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Parents can feel lost and confused and even unsure how to help. Teachers and administrators need to stay on top of their game so they can continue to present core curriculum and effectively use the technological resources available to them. All these players working together are an invaluable component to the success of the modern student.

But unfortunately exposure to innovative technology does have its pitfalls.

The introduction and influence of social media has put increased scrutiny on our school system and our teachers’ and students’ lives. Cyberbullying is a real and dangerous enemy that many of our students face on a daily basis. A reputation which takes years to build can be destroyed in an instant with no justification and with a simple graze of a touch screen. Although there can be a real benefit to a strong virtual presence, we must be always conscious of our social reputation. Using social media to communicate information, promote our accomplishments and accept our criticisms is an important piece of a modern school environment offering a unique opportunity for every student, parent and community member to “weigh-in” on a posting and provide important feedback, necessary assessment, and raise relevant questions. But social media postings are also a possibility for misinformation, conjecture and opinion from both friends and foes.  Both an opportunity and a curse, students, teachers and even school systems must walk a thin line and form a thick skin to be able to withstand such constant scrutiny. Adults must be aware of this environment and help students avoid the pitfalls and benefit from the advantages that social media presents.

Whether the modern student is better or worse off than a traditional student is not even a viable question. To be successful in today’s world, students, teachers and school systems must adapt and evolve as the world around us does. MCPS is constantly striving to offer our students a safe and nurturing learning environment with appropriate use of technology and watchful consideration of our most important asset…our future…our children.


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