What Are You Reading?

Reading, like piano, soccer, ballet, or chess, requires practice in order to learn the fundamentals and to get better at it!  Improvement in reading (as in the other activities), not only comes from practice but also from modeling by those who are already experts.

Parents know and do this for their toddlers.  The adults are rhyming and reading, teaching letters, sounds, and words along the way.  As students get into school, reading aloud becomes a bit more complex.  If you have a young student (K-1), this article, Seven Things You Should Be Doing as You’re Reading to Your Child, has some worthwhile tips you might not have thought of as you’re reading together.

As students become more independent readers, parents typically back off and let the student read.  This is great, but not enough!  The child still needs a good model, especially if the book is more challenging than the student is ready for.  Independent reading for elementary school students should not be frustrating!  Research has proven that it’s much better to have a student read and re-read easy books, as that is where automaticity and fluency are solidified, and comprehension built.  Think about Rajon Rondo practicing his free throws.  He’s shot them a million times, and makes them most of the time, but even he still needs repetition and practice!

Reading aloud with your child provides access to materials that are above his or her reading level.  Jim Trelease (author of The Read Aloud Handbook) says, “A consistent mistake made by parents and teachers is the assumption that a child’s listening level is the same as his or her reading level. Until about eighth grade, that is far from true; early primary grade students listen many grades above their reading level. This means that early primary grade students are capable of hearing and understanding stories that are far more complicated than those they can read themselves.”  So, if your child is anxious to read, The Hunger Games, before the movie comes out in late March (and you think they can deal with the subject matter) then that book becomes a great read aloud for you together, not something for him or her to tackle independently.

Need some suggestions?  The local librarians always know what’s new (and sometimes more importantly, what’s hot!)  Also, there are numerous sites on-line (including Jim Trelease’s website which I linked above.)  Others include:

March is typically one of those long, boring months where winter activities are winding down and spring things haven’t yet started. There are no holidays, no long weekends, and the weather is quite unpredictable. It’s a great month to choose a book to read together.  There is a time for independent practice, and a time for modeling, I hope you can fit in both!

Tech Information for Parents

Last night I was happy to co-host an information night for parents about elementary school technology. Working with Principal Conway of Lincoln, Principal Strasnick of Horace Mann, Gr. 4 teacher Mrs. Acevedo (Lincoln), and Mark Kelsey our elementary technology integration specialist, we put together a presentation on what is happening in classrooms across the district with technology, and how it can be linked to home.

The primary focus of the evening was the wealth of resources available to families that tie into the curriculum students are learning during the day.  Please see the presentation for more information, however for program information by grade, availability, and whether a user id and password are necessary, you can also refer to this matrix created by Principal Conway.

Internet safety (and digital literacy awareness) are concerning areas for our young students, and a family Internet contract is a great place to start!  Mr. Kelsey presented on these topics and provided a handout for audience members to bring home and discuss.  This stimulated a good deal of discussion about “locking things down” vs. teaching safety and awareness, and I think everyone agreed we need to be doing both!

Superintendent Casey, along with the city’s Information Technology Director, Jorge Pazos, were also available to answer questions and provide insight on the future of technology in Melrose and the need for sustainability.

Technology can never replace a good teacher, and we are proud of the efforts our teachers are making to integrate technology into the existing curriculum.  We know it will simply get better when students connect what happens in their day to what happens at home!

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” ~ John Dewey

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Lunch Time Woes

Since we returned from the holiday break, I’ve been spending more time in the lunch room at Winthrop.  What I noted to be a small issue in the fall seems to be growing bigger and bigger each week – students not eating lunch!  This phenomenon isn’t restricted to our almost-middle-schoolers, there were even students in Kindergarten today who told me they weren’t hungry, or didn’t like what they had brought.

It’s understandable not to be hungry from time to time, but I stress to students that food is the fuel that allows their brains to work for the rest of the day.  While I certainly want their bellies to be full, I’m more concerned about their brain power for all the learning that takes place each afternoon!

They seem to know and understand this, but it doesn’t result in that many more kiddos eating what they brought.  Many students simply complain that they don’t like their lunch.  There are numerous ideas on how to pack a great lunch around the web, but a few I thought worth checking out are: netmoms, webmd, familyfun, and nhs.  However, the best suggestion I can give (as the principal, and as a parent of a 17-year-old) is to involve your child in the lunch packing process.  We have many students who bring a thermos and can tell me what’s inside before I even help open it.  That tells me they were involved in the creation of their lunch, and are invested in eating it.  Don’t get stuck in the “_______ isn’t lunch food” fight.  If they like it, will eat it, and the item(s) has some sort of nutritional value, it can be lunch!

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~ Virginia Woolf

We’re on Facebook!

In the fall, I began speaking with the PTO about the possibility of creating a Winthrop Elementary page on Facebook.  Facebook is another way to foster communication between school and home, and will be specifically geared toward the learning that takes place here all day long!

  • The e-Notice is a great way to know about all the events and happenings in our school and in our community, and is delivered straight to your mailbox each Monday.
  • The website has specific information you may need (forms, notices, calendars, etc.)  However, you have to go to website and search for what you want.
  • My blog contains more detailed information about activities going on at school, or in the educational community.   You can subscribe to my blog and have it delivered directly to your in-box, or online reader.  The other option is just checking it when you’re interested in a topic.
  • Now, with our Facebook page members of the school community can “Like” us and have little bits of daily learning posted directly on their Facebook wall!

For those of you already on Facebook, a page is quite different from a personal profile.  There are no friends on our page, and you can’t see any one person or personal information.  Individuals can “Like” our page and therefore see what is posted.  They then have the ability to respond to posts.  The Winthrop Facebook page will never have student pictures, but will have posts that contain photos and explanations of student work, experiments, or places in our school where a great deal of fabulous learning is taking place.

For those of you not already on Facebook, consider joining.  It’s just one more way to stay connected with your children and Winthrop Elementary School!

Big News in Massachusetts!

 Press Release

 For immediate release

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Contact: JC Considine 781-338-3112


Massachusetts Granted Flexibility from Portions of No Child Left Behind Act to Focus on Innovative Methods for Ensuring All Students Achieve at High Levels

State will build on nation-leading high standards and successful turnaround strategies; cut proficiency gaps by half by 2017

MALDEN – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) today announced that Massachusetts has been granted flexibility today from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Massachusetts has an unparalleled commitment to high standards and the waiver granted today will allow the state to move away from the broken pieces of NCLB that are no longer useful in identifying schools and districts most in need of intervention, and focus efforts on those innovative strategies already in place for turning around underperforming schools that are proving effective. Massachusetts is one of ten states granted waivers today. The others are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“This waiver will allow us to move on from the broken pieces of No Child Left Behind and focus on true innovation to create a brighter future for our children,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “Massachusetts is already at the forefront of student achievement, and this decision by the Obama Administration gives us the flexibility we need to build on our success and lift all children up.”

“We are proud that Massachusetts is recognized as a national leader in student achievement,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray. “This waiver will provide us with greater flexibility as we work towards closing the achievement gap and providing a high quality education for all students.”

The Commonwealth’s new state/federal accountability system is built on the Patrick-Murray Administration’s commitment to create a more unified accountability system, an intense focus on closing achievement gaps, a commitment to high standards and accountability and successful efforts to provide targeted assistance to underperforming schools. This system will measure progress toward the Administration’s goal of reducing proficiency gaps by half by 2017 and classify schools and districts in an accountability and assistance level designed to support schools where students are struggling the most.

“NCLB accountability requirements have rendered ‘perfect’ the enemy of ‘good,’” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. “A school either made Adequate Yearly Progress or it didn’t – there was no middle ground. As a result, more than 80 percent of Massachusetts schools and 90 percent of districts were tagged as inadequate under NCLB, which flies in the face of common sense.”

“Our accountability plan sets a high bar while implementing targets around student performance and growth that are realistic and achievable,” said Chester. “Massachusetts has already adopted legislation that targets low performing schools and districts, rigorous standards for students to ensure readiness for college and careers and regulations to evaluate educators. This waiver will enable us to build on those key reforms by calling out and remediating performance gaps, incentivizing continuous improvement of schools and districts, rewarding strong performance, and aggressively intervening in the lowest performing schools and districts.”

“We are deeply committed to providing every child with the supports and resources they need to be successful,” said Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville. “This waiver will remove barriers that stood in the way of our laser-like focus on students, educators, and schools that need our utmost attention to perform at their best.”

In September 2011, ED invited states to seek waivers from portions of NCLB to better focus on improving student learning and increasing the quality of instruction. The Commonwealth’s plan, approved today, will incorporate the state’s best indicators of progress toward college and career readiness, beginning with: (1) progress on gap-closing as measured by MCAS results in English language arts, mathematics, and science; (2) success in moving students out of lower levels of performance (Needs Improvement/Failing) and into higher levels (Advanced); (3) growth/improvement; and (4) graduation and dropout rates for high schools. The state will include data for the four most recent years, with the most recent years weighted most heavily. Targets will be differentiated for each school, district, and subgroup based on its starting point in 2010-11.

The state will report annual results for students in the aggregate, as well as results broken down by low income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and the state’s major racial and ethnic subgroups. The state will also make determinations based on a new “high needs” subgroup composed of students who are low income, have a disability, or are English language learners or former English language learners. Building on the development of a five-level scale created by the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, the state will use an index to classify schools into Levels 1-5 as follows:

Level 1            On track to college and career readiness

Level 2            Not meeting gap closing goals

Level 3            Focus: Lowest performing 20% of schools (including schools with the largest gaps)

Level 4            Priority: Lowest performing schools

Level 5            Priority: Chronically underperforming schools

Districts will continue to be classified at the level of their lowest performing school, consistent with the state’s current school and district accountability and assistance framework. Data will also be used to identify and recognize high achieving and/or greatly improving schools, known as Commendation Schools.

Under NCLB’s original goal – 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014 – rising federal targets resulted in far too many schools and districts being identified as in need of improvement to enable the state to effectively identify those in greatest need of assistance or intervention. In 2011, at the same time that Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders outscored their peers in the other 49 states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics for the fourth consecutive time, the federal metric identified 81 percent of Massachusetts schools and 90 percent of districts as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Massachusetts’s waiver will help move away from a “one size fits all approach” under NCLB, and allow for differentiated supports and interventions to schools and districts. These tools will be available through a range of vehicles and will vary in scope to target particular areas that need strengthening. Massachusetts will no longer mandate NCLB school choice and supplemental educational services (SES). Instead, supports and interventions will include: expanding learning opportunities for struggling students, which may include tutoring and other supports offered through strategic partnerships; professional development that is embedded, sustained, and connected to educators’ needs; and other supports aligned to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 11 Conditions for School Effectiveness, including those that address students’ social-emotional needs and family-school engagement.

For additional information on the state’s waiver request, visit the Department’s No Child Left Behind page at http://www.doe.mass.edu/nclb/


The past few weeks have proved informative at Winthrop!  Many students and classrooms participated in our “All-School Challenge” and learned about our namesake, John Winthrop.  Students were captivated by the amount of wives and children he had, but many also brought forth the political and religious reasons why he was an important figure in Massachusetts history.

The pictures show the main hallway bulletin board, a sample of the wealth of information found by Mrs. Ogiba’s class (they actually needed two sheets of chart paper), and the diligent work of a Winthrop fifth grader.

Our canvas portrait of John Winthrop – a gift from the class of 2004 – has found a new home in the main hallway and presides over our building as a true namesake!

Newspaper Subscriptions

At Winthrop, only fifth graders and staff members have “subscriptions” to The Lewis Let You Know, but all members of the Winthrop community can read it – for free – and at your leisure on Mrs. Lewis website.    Click on the newspaper link!

I was lucky enough to be interviewed this month by two lovely ladies, Paige and Caty.  There’s a tech column, advice column, articles, jokes, and drawings.  I am impressed with the amount of work and effort these journalist extend to get this published each month.  Two weeks ago, with Mrs. Lewis out sick, the students were beside themselves that the February edition wouldn’t be ready in time.  They worked hard and it has clearly paid off!