We Are In The Care of Children

I want to share something challenging that happened last week and, as I reflected on it over the weekend, I thought about the complexity of our commitment to the care of all kids. On the same day last week, we had two different families meet with us and advocate on behalf of their children.  While both families would agree that the goal for our educators is to show up, care about all kids, and expertly teach them, their requests of us as school leaders were in direct conflict with one another. They both believed recent events and conversations regarding equity within our schools had a direct, personal, and negative effect on their child’s identity. Their asks of us as school leaders were incongruent. In these meetings, parents, who were at school advocating for their own children, shared two truths that exist in our school spaces.  I share this experience because I want to be clear that it’s my job–and the job of the staff in our schools–to keep all kids safe, welcome, and respected. But this work is complicated. Our community, our neighbors, our families have different opinions on how to best go about this work. Multiple perspectives exist in the same space in our schools and community. And, as a school district and community, we must all remain focused and committed to the care of children.

In schools, we often engage in discussions regarding the best way to educate, should we teach phonics or whole language – how about standards-based grading? These are important conversations and call for debate and discussion. That said, the most critical part of our work as educators is to be in the care of children–to show up and care about all kids–we do this work in partnership with parents. You as parents/guardians give us your children and we, as educators, must educate and prepare them for college/career and also love them unconditionally. The bottomline, this care for our kids is a value we all share in our diverse community.

Our school district cares deeply for children – all children. We are a purpose-driven district and I’m a purpose-driven superintendent. Although my jobs may have changed in my 20 year career as an educator, I have remained committed to my purpose. I educate with determination and commitment to create ethical, educated, and engaged citizens committed to justice. These aren’t just words to me.  They guide me through all decisions and all opportunities.  

Being purpose-driven doesn’t make the work easy. In some ways it makes the work harder. I expect my work to reflect my purpose and the priorities of this district.  This means making our schools spaces where we can speak our truths (as those parents did last week), stay engaged, and stay committed to providing meaningful experiences and deep learning for all kids.

Thank you for showing up and doing this work with us. Our kids deserve our collective attention.

First Day of School 2018

The first day of school never fails to excite me.  The kids in the halls, the parents waving at street corners or from cars as they drop off kids, the new backpacks and shiny tennis shoes.  I love it all. Isn’t it so awesome the new year is here? Welcome to the 2018-2019 school year.

It’s a huge honor to be serving as the superintendent.  I’ve learned this summer that while many people know who I am, it’s important to make sure I am accessible to all.  I want people to know the real Renee and what I’m about. I know it won’t necessarily matter what I say, it will be my actions and connections that matter.  However, it’s important for me to let everyone know who I am and what I’m about.

What matters to me is family.  Not just my own, but my SA-NB family.  This sense of loyalty and commitment is deeply rooted in my own family.  I was raised in a large, loud, loving Italian family. I’m the youngest of four- and the first three were boys.  Some have joked I was raised by a pack of wolves, and those brothers are everything to me. Our mom, Marion, is the classic Italian grandmother.  She is happiest when she’s feeding all of us and our families- there are 19 of us now. She still calls us to remind us to wear our jackets when she sees that it’s going to be chilly in the various places we live.  Marion taught us that family is love and that love is a verb. This is essential to understanding how I see my SA-NB family. I’m not afraid to say I lead with my heart and all of the loyalty and commitment that comes from it.

I’m also purpose-driven, and I’ve had the same purpose throughout my 20 year career as an educator. I educate with determination and commitment to create ethical, educated, and engaged citizens committed to justice. These aren’t just words to me.  They guide me through all decisions and all opportunities.  It’s also important to me to tell you how I intend to go about living out this purpose as your superintendent.  There are a few key qualities that you can expect from me. In fact, I hope you hold me accountable to them if you ever wonder or question the ways in which I’m going about serving this district:

I intend to serve with transparency and trust– I am open and straightforward. You can count on my honest reaction to concerns, issues and/or questions.  Partnership and collaboration are my go-to.  I am open to all ideas and will work to hear from many when making a decision.  I have a great deal of drive and energy– I work hard. It is not my nature to be idle. I will work passionately to ensure success for SA-NB schools.  I will serve with integrity- I keep my promises, I do not cover up bad news, I take responsibility and I place the needs of SA-NB schools over personal gain. You can expect flexibility and change– I accept challenge and I want to be challenged. I see this desire as the key to collaboration and growth.

I’ll try to be in touch on a consistent basis.  Soon, I look forward to telling you about some of the foundational work we started this summer.  With a bunch of our district’s leaders, we dove into the district’s current mission, vision, and values and made connections to how they inspire us to deliver high-quality, in-depth learning at SA-NB.  Stay tuned. It’s going to be great doing this work with you!

– Thanks, Renee

SANBE Community Fund

May 24, , 2018

It’s been awhile, St. Anthony-New Brighton!  I’m excited to welcome Kristine Lizdas to my blog as a guest writer.  She and a team of other dedicated community members have helped us shape the Community Fund we started during the holidays of 2017 into something pretty cool.  Please read below and consider contributing to our Community Fund. It means a lot to us. Thanks, Renee

Dear friends and fellow district families,

As parents and caregivers, this time of the year often involves a frantic scramble to coordinate our kids’ summer schedules and register for a complex combination of camps and classes. The process typically involves multi-colored calendars, a lot of time online and a fair bit of stress; but we repeat this scramble every year because we believe that by doing so, our kids return to school in the fall more prepared for learning and ready to launch into the new school year. As a community member that wishes this same readiness for all of our district students, I am writing to you today to ask that you consider making a financial contribution of any amount to the new SANBE Community Fund, and by doing so, help ensure that as many district students as possible can enjoy the opportunities summer break offers and be equally prepared for learning come fall.

Our Origin Story

Many of you will remember that in December, 2016, Dr. Renee Corneille reached-out to the St. Anthony Middle School community announcing the creation of the “SAMS Community Fund.” As the SAMS community, we were invited to join school administrators and staff in supporting the full participation of all students within our school district by financially contributing to the fund. Unsurprisingly, the community’s response to Renee’s initial invitation and announcement was fantastic, and consequently, the SAMS Community Fund has been able to remove a wide variety of barriers to many students’ full and equitable participation in our district.

Following the successful launch of the SAMS Community Fund, school personnel and community members approached the St. Anthony-New Brighton Education Foundation (SANBE) Board to provide the structure through which the Community Fund could reach the most kids and families across all the district schools, including those kids participating in SAV Community Services.  The SANBE Board agreed and the SAMS Community Fund officially matured into the SANBE Community Fund.  I am grateful to add that since its inception, the Community Fund is increasingly a portal through which other community groups are effectively reaching all of our district kids and families.

What We Are Trying to Do

The SANBE Community Fund provides a new and distinct opportunity for community giving.  Through the Community Fund, school staff and administrators, who are often most aware of the real-life, day-to-day hurdles kids face to participating in all the offerings of our district, can quickly and flexibly remove many of these obstacles.  Because of their proximity to and relationships with our kids, school staff are well-positioned to recognize and address the actual barriers limiting kids’ participation in our district – whether it is lacking the proper clothes for a choir performance, lunch money on a given week, adequate equipment/clothes for athletics, bus fare to return home after an athletic event, or simply a schedule planner to track tests and play rehearsals. The Community Fund strives to ensure that all students can fully and equitably participate in every aspect of what we as a community value to be the whole student experience.  

Back to Our Ask

Most of us will agree that the whole student experience includes how kids spend their time over summer break; and for that reason, our desire to remove as many barriers as possible for all our students persists – even through the sun and heat. So, we renew our invitation to you to help support our district students this summer. As we know all too well, summer classes, tutoring, enrichment activities and athletics involve fees, supplies and other expenses. Even summer jobs often involve some start-up costs (e.g. paint brushes, bus fare, certifications).  Through your contributions, the SANBE Community Fund can help offset some of the barriers to these basic, and important, summer experiences.

Ultimately, it is our hope that all of our students will return to school this fall prepared for learning and ready to launch into the new school year, so thank you for considering our request. If you are able, please direct contributions to the “SANBE Community Fund,” and mail to 3303 33rd Ave. NE, St. Anthony Village, MN  55418, or you are welcome to drop off your donation directly at any of the district schools’ main offices.

Gratefully,

Kristine Lizdas

SANBE Community Fund

*We will continue to provide information about the new SANBE Community Fund; but in the meantime, please feel free to direct any questions to our operating committee via this email address: sanbecommunityfund@gmail.com.

My SAMS Family

Winter break is close, just one day away actually. This is always a bittersweet time for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a few days off, just like everyone else. I sincerely love spending tons of time with my family and extended family. Remember, I’m 100% Italian, spending time with your family is what we were made for! My mother will have enough food to feed a small Minnesota town, my brothers will tease me, each other, all their nieces and nephews, and anyone who shows up at the door. I will be in my happy place for sure.

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But there is something special about my SAMS family. The adults at SAMS make a choice every day to come to SAMS to live out a vision for all our kids. A vision that drives us to see each kid as our own. I get to do this with adults who dedicate their lives to the lives of the children at SAMS. Adults who, even when things are hard, do the right thing, adults who work way to hard and for way too many hours – to make sure ever kid feels not only loved, but has the best opportunity to learn. This family, my SAMS family, is just like my big Italian family. We know collectively, we can make this world a better place, because we get to do it together. And furthermore, we do it with humor, humility, and hardwork.

My SAMS Family:

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Thank you St. Anthony Middle School Staff – thank you for giving of yourself to make this school a place for all kids to feel loved and to excel academically. I also want to thank you for not only contributing to my most favorite present (to those who don’t know, I was given a hover board see below), but for knowing how much I would love having a hover board at school!

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SO – in honor of the hard working staff at St. Anthony Middle School, the Corneille Family will be donating $250 dollars to our SAMS Community Fund. This fund was set up last year, to make sure, no matter what, our kids have access opportunities.

Have a great break everyone.

 

#ThankfulatSAMS

It’s easy to have gratitude walking the halls of SAMS these days.  Not because it’s been a particularly slick year (though it has been a pretty good one), not because the grades have all been As (though there has been deep learning going on), not because no kids are getting in trouble (let’s be real, they are middle schoolers).  The feelings of gratitude I have about SAMS is rooted in a deep knowing.  A knowing that allows me to speak with certainty about the ways in which we are a school where all will learn and contribute.  I can share stories and lift up student voices as evidence of the ways in which we are growing, moving, and getting better at authentic learning in a caring environment.  Every kid, every day.  Every family welcome here. This is what I know about SAMS, and this is why I’m grateful.

This deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean we get it right every day, every time.  And it’s uncomfortable, to say the least, when we get it wrong.  But, as Renee and I learned from Dr. Tyrone Howard (look him up, seriously, he’s brilliant) last summer, that’s where courage comes in. I’m grateful to be working with a school and a community where we have systems and networks in place to learn to do better and do right by our kids. Just this past week, as a group of CORE teachers led staff development for the rest of us, and the conversations were designed to get us to examine all the ways we can overcome barriers while doing our work.  This reflective practice helps us guarantee we will find the courage to do what’s right by our kids, all kids. For this, I am grateful.

This deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean our SAMS team doesn’t have important learning still to do.  At the end of the first quarter earlier this month, Mr. Anthony Galloway joined us to help us understand more precisely the patterns and practices that have existed for centuries that guarantee an inequitable, fragmented, hurtful experience for many of our students and families not just in our schools but throughout our St. Anthony community and beyond. As one of our teachers wrote in response to the learning we did with Mr. Galloway, “The past matters, people’s stories matter, and there’s so much I haven’t learned.”  Yet that wasn’t a bad thing, our work together that day was an experience that focused our team’s work toward building classrooms and a school where all belong, where systems of racism and whiteness are interrupted.  Community leaders were there, even a neighboring educator, and our experience together built our sense of collective efficacy.  As another teacher wrote, “We have a group of largely willing learners, which is pretty fantastic.” And this is why I’m grateful.

Lastly, this deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean only serious, contemplative work is valued here at SAMS.  There’s joy here too.  Six men grew beards throughout the past month, and they are allowing kids to vote on who among them should be the pie-in-the-face victim in front of the entire school at our Thankful assembly (while raising money for cancer research simultaneously).  8th graders stayed after-school with Ms. Schwintek and Mr. Geske to start a Pet Rock Club. 6th graders had a whole science lesson on what type of Halloween candy is the most dense.  Research shows us again and again that non-cognitive skills are MORE important than cognitive factors when it comes to raising and educating successful, engaged citizens and grown-ups.  In these light-hearted, jovial opportunities, our students and staff share themselves more completely with each other.  So great, and so, more gratitude.

Dr. Jay McTighe spoke to a group of metro area teachers last week at the West Metro Education Program (WMEP).  Four of our teacher-leaders, Renee, and I attended (plus some school board members and a few staff from our other schools).  He opened his workshop with a quote:  “Do not confine your children’s learning to your own experiences for they were born at a different time.”  I can’t remember who said it, but I can’t forget these words.  This is a different time.  The information our kids have access to is wide and vast, the messages they get from media can seem scary and toxic, and the future is unpredictable.  At SAMS, we are more focused than ever to do right by every kid, every day.  We are more committed than ever to stay engaged in learning, reflecting, and refining our practices to become more open, equitable, and welcoming for all .  We are more eager than ever to pursue this hard and important work in a school where it’s okay to be silly, have fun, and be ourselves.  This is what I know about SAMS, and this sense of deep knowing is why I’m so grateful to be a part of the SAMS family.   

And so with gratitude, we say thank you to all of you, our larger SAMS community. Thank for your partnership, your trust, your hard work, and, most importantly, for your kids. Wishes for a safe and healthy holiday season to everyone.

 

Welcome to the 17-18 School Year!

Welcome back to school! Almost 3 weeks! We are up and running, and, boy, doesn’t it feel good? We’ve got great stuff to share with you today…

This year at SAMS we, the staff, are recentering our work to make our vision a reality. We know we want our school to be a place committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. But as we’ve worked towards this the past five years, we have noticed we need to do better, we need to reconnect with our vision and recommit.*

Here are a few questions we have been asking ourselves to recommit to our vision of being a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment:

  • Who we are as a school has been positively influenced by who we were. Staying connected to those pieces of our identity will help us become who our students need us to be. In what ways are we able to stay connected to our long-lasting values to help us commit to our vision at a deeper level?
  • In what ways might we focus our work around and communicate our “why” to our students, families, and each other? We know that when we ground our work in our underlying belief- all will learn and contribute- we will never fail to lose track of the most essential work. We watched this video to really make clear how significant the benefit of knowing your why (or underlying belief) can be.
  • How do we reach our goals of being a racially-equitable school through high-quality instruction? What learning does high-levels look like? As a staff, we spent time reflecting on the some of our most powerful learning. We noticed trends in our experiences. We reported learning from people, teachers, or mentors who knew us well as learners. They demanded from us extra effort and tolerance for failure. Our real learning required us to stretch ourselves in work that was just beyond our comfort zones. Reflecting on these deeper learning helped us identify the types of learning experiences we seek to provide for our students.
  • What might we need to unlearn and relearn about high-quality teaching and learning? Decades of research tells us that learning discreet pieces of information in isolation does not lead to transformational learning. Real, rigorous learning only happens when our students are able to form frameworks in our minds about how new information connects to learning we’ve already mastered. Transformational learning only happens when we are able to reflect on what misperceptions and preconceptions we have. It only happens when we are allowed to think about our learning (metacognition). Our classrooms might need to be reorganized and redesigned to allow this kind of learning to happen more frequently. There might be costs- fewer grades yet more qualitative feedback and less teacher-input and more student self-directed learning- just to name a few.
  • How do we model the importance of relationships to learning? Many of you know the fractions quote by heart now. We joke a lot about how often we say it, throw it around, put it on tshirts, write it in blogs. However, at SAMS we are proud to proclaim our commitment to deeper relationship. We believe it is what makes us extra special as a school. We are not embarrassed to express our love for our students, all of them, even when their behavior makes them unlikeable. The kids are all ours, and if we believe that as wholeheartedly as we do, the foundation upon which learning is built must be about strong and sound relationships. We love your kids, we love helping them learn, and we can’t wait to watch them have a successful, if not transformative, year.

We are going to ask you to help us with our re-commitment to our vision to a be a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. You will see some new dynamics in play when it comes to the work we have always done. For example:

  • SAMSA (also called SAMS Parent Council) will be focused on this recommitment. We will move away from our sole-focus on racial equity this year, though you will see the direct connections to our racial equity work imbedded in all conversations about learning. We can’t wait to meet you, see you, learn with and from you starting next Monday! Sept. 25, 7-8 pm, Room 217. Bring a friend! See you there.
  • You will see a different approach to conferences this year. Get ready to help us make conferences better than ever by telling us more in-depth information about your middle-schooler. We know you know who they are better than anyone and that matters. Stay tuned.
  • Each quarter this year, there will be a student assembly focusing on one or more of our shared values of hard work, all belong, and respect. While students are participating in these four different assemblies, their teachers will be doing their own learning and professional development. Our first one is scheduled for Oct. 11. The students will experience a well-recommended multi-media presentation centered on perspective and identity. While they participate in the assembly, teachers will be doing their own learning as a staff. “Learning is the work” at SAMS, and we believe these once-a-quarter opportunities will benefit students and teachers.

The year has gotten off to a great start. It’s exciting to be in the company of each other, your kids, and our greater SAMS community. We invite you not just to the parent meeting next Monday, but to stop in and/or stay in touch in any way that feels safe and accessible for you. You’ll find us on Twitter (@SAMS282 or @abskujawski), Instagram (@SAMSHuskies282), and there’s always those daily announcements Traci, queen of SAMS, sends.

Thanks for trusting us with your kids. It’s such a joy to do this work with you. Take good care!

-amy (on behalf of Renee and the rest of our staff too!)

*If you are interested in the evidence we’ve gathered to help us determine the direction of the work this year and important ways to recommit to our vision, know that we are all about sharing. It’s just we’ve got a feeling the blog is going to be long already, so let us know if you’d like to have a longer conversation about this.

Caring Environment at Work

You have probably heard someone at SAMS throw out the line, “there is no such thing as other people’s children.” This commitment- to provide for the students at SAMS only what we would accept and only what we would desire for our own kids- drives our work.  It also reflects the values we uphold as we go about our work of leading, serving, and learning.  Those values include respect, hard work, and belonging as well as others.  At SAMS, the grown-ups around here not only try to model those values, but we also try to make them more explicit so we can reflect on them with students.  

When it comes to these values, we model them, speak to them, and make them tangible for our kids.  Ideally, our values are reflected in our day-to-day work.  How might we respond to a conflict between two students? How might we respond to a student who needs more time to learn?  How might we choose the texts and materials we use in our classrooms? However, our values should also be explicit in the way we serve on the larger scale.  How are the values reflected in our school climate?  How are the values carried through from Husky Camp to 8th grade promotion?  How are our values used to build trusting relationships with all stakeholders?

As Renee likes to ask, “What’s the bottom line?”  It’s this: with so much at stake when it comes to educating our kids, we must be on the same page when it comes to what we want for our kids.  Whether it’s our mission, vision, values or our belief that “there’s no such thing as other people’s children,” it’s never just words to us.  They form the foundation of the experience students and their families have at SAMS.  It’s imperative for us to know how they can be strengthened by the aspirations our families and community have for our kids.

Working together with all families within our SAMS community is always critical.  Yet as we work to make progress towards becoming an anti-racist institution, we are learning it is imperative to ground this work in the context of our values, especially the ones we all share for our children and students.

Our hope for this spring is to get a clearer view of how the aspirations and values of our families and our community can support and bolster our SAMS’ mission, vision, values and beliefs.  Here is our plan:

  1. The first step will be to ask a random sampling of at least 30% of our families to respond to a short survey.  If you see a survey in your email inbox, please know that you have been chosen randomly and it would be greatly appreciated if you took the 10 minutes to respond to the questions.  Once we have a substantial, statistically-sound random sampling*, we will be ready to move to the next step.
  2. The second step will be to give all families a chance to reflect on the data we receive. During this second step, we will invite anyone interested to come review and respond to the data either at next week’s SAMSA meeting or throughout the day on May 2, here at SAMS from 7:30-2:30.  Using the input from all families who participate, we will be able to use it to draw conclusions about how we could best integrate the aspirations we all hold for our school and our students.  
  3. The last step will be to review the findings and discoveries at our May SAMS meeting.  This last step of our process will be held at SAMS, Room 217 on May 22 from 7-8 pm.  

We are excited to wrap up this year with this collaboration with all of you.  We will keep you posted on the different stages of this collaboration.  Please plan on attending next Monday’s SAMSA meeting at 7pm, if you can!

IMG_6198*Little known fact: Renee’s doctoral work led to  the discovery that she is a little bit of a survey and statistic nerd.  While not every step of our process will reflect perfectly valid and reliable information, she is eager to explain why our model makes the most sense for what we are trying to accomplish.  In all seriousness, she would love to talk shop with anyone.  Feel free to reach out with questions and comments!