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!

ALL Will Learn and Contribute

The following letter was read to our students today at SAMS.

Dear Students,

As we go into our three-day MLK weekend, Dr. Corneille and I have a quick message for you.  We hope you join us in celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We hope you take time to celebrate and reflect on the extraordinary life of service he led, and we hope it inspires you- as it has us.

As teachers, our lives have been enriched by the lives of hundreds, even thousands, of students.  All of them, and all of you, deserve to live the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about in his influential speech.  We like to say around here that ALL will learn and contribute.  And when we say “all”, we mean ALL. Every one of you- regardless of your race, culture, background, religion, ability, gender, sexuality- deserves a bright and promising future, and as the leaders of your school, we are committed to giving you the education you need to get you on your way.

Together, with your teachers, we are deeply committed to building a school where all students feel as if they really do belong, they can contribute, and they will learn.  This commitment requires of us a laser-like focus on racial justice.  We owe it to all of you to not just celebrate the strength the diversity of our school offers our community, but we must also disrupt outdated thinking. Some examples of this outdated thinking are talking about race is controversial or white people can opt out of the work to dismantle racism because it does not affect them. Talking about race and racism is important, and dismantling racism benefits all of us in significant ways.

Together, with your teachers, we have been working all year to better understand the role race and racism plays in our school.  We welcome you to ask us about what we are learning, what keeps us curious, and what questions we are asking.

Together, with your teachers, we pledge to stay inspired by the life of a great American hero like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We vow to stay inspired by all the promise you show us, too.

We will wrap up with a powerful quote of Dr. King’s- “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Enjoy the MLK weekend, SAMS students.

Ms. Kujawski and Dr. Corneille

My New Year’s Wish

Hi all.  It’s Amy K, from Renee’s office at SAMS.  It’s also me in that picture baking with my daughter on my back.  When my husband showed me this picture he took of my youngest and I baking over winter break, it reminded me of parenting advice my minister offered when I was pregnant with our middle child.  She told me the only parenting advice I’d ever need was to “be the person you want your kids to grow up to be”.  Simple enough, yet what a challenge.  I couldn’t help but see this picture as a metaphor and wonder how differently or similarly would I behave if Callie was always on my back, looking over my shoulder, hearing every word I said.

This wasn’t just good parenting advice, it was also good teacher advice.  

Be the learner you want your students to be.

Be the musician you want your students to be.

Be the champion for justice as you want your students to be.  

As the new year gets under way, my wish for the grown-ups in our SAMS community is to have the courage, commitment, and awareness to be the people we want our kids to grow up to be.  We’ll need to rely on each other, as well as our senses of humor, to pull this off.   Our kids will continue to do things like wait until the night before a project is due to get started on it.  Some of them might cry hard over a B+ even though you’ve never expected all As.  They are going to say things they do not mean and try on attitudes that are anything but appealing.  But they are also going to create beautiful artwork in art class, make connections between their current world and the past in Social Studies, and solve complicated algebra problems in math class.  In fact, they are going to shine in all sorts of classrooms.  And while they are stretching their minds with all this learning, we must stretch ourselves to be vigilant in our learning too.  May 2017 be our best yet.  Our kids deserve it.

Before I sign off, let me share why I’m here on Renee’s blog today.  She and I are both committed to updating this blog more consistently. While sometimes Renee and I joke about sharing a brain, you can tell from this post, we do not share writing styles.  But we’ll both be here more often trying to share pieces of our world here at SAMS.  We invite you to share questions and prompts to help us follow through on this goal.  Go ahead- we’d love to see some comments, thoughts, and questions.

Cheers,

Amy Kujawski

 

 

It Takes a Village…

Dear friends and families of SAMS,

It’s hard to believe the end of the year is here.  The 2016-2017 year is nearly halfway over, and it seems like just the other day when many of us got together behind the school for our Back-to-School celebration.  The end of the calendar year means winter break and the holidays.  As we get closer to both of these, we want to announce the kick-off of the SAMS Community Fund (SCF).  

We are establishing the SAMS Community Fund to help guarantee all students and families have the same access to everything that makes our community awesome.  Here at SAMS, we see students and families who are unable to participate, experience, and enjoy this community fully. For example, students often need certain clothing items for concerts, sporting events, and Work Hard/Play Hard days.  Or food gets tight over the extended breaks when some of our students cannot receive the two meals they usually get during the week.   Bus passes for our students to use for transportation to sporting events or after-school rides home is just another example.

We recognize there are many structures in place to support families.  It’s just that there are small, seemingly inexpensive costs that prevent all kids from enjoying everything this school and community has to offer.  We know kids who are hesitant to even tell their parents about these little expenses because they know asking will cause stress.  In the past, we have come together as a staff to cover these costs and expenses, yet, recently, the needs are becoming more and more constant.  We are excited to launch our SAMS Community Fund in hopes that we can provide a more sustainable system to meeting these needs.

To get the SCFund started, my family will be donating $250 to the fund in honor of the SAMS staff.  They are some of the most hard-working and caring educators I’ve ever worked with.  And I invite you, friends and families of our SAMS community, to consider making a donation too.  All donations can be sent to or dropped off at the middle school- SAMS Community Fund ℅ St. Anthony Middle School, 3303 33rd Ave N, St. Anthony, MN 55418.  All donations will be received with a letter of receipt for tax purposes.  

Amy is always walking around here with quotes and things from books she’s reading- one of her favorites is from author Jean Vanier about community.  He writes, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.”   That is exactly why we are creating the SAMS’ Community Fund.  Thank you for considering contributing to this important cause.

Thank you,

Renee

Thankful at SAMS

This week of Thanksgiving, St. Anthony Middle School took on the challenge to be overt in our gratitude. We had a “Thankful Assembly” this morning. We definitely stayed true to our middle school roots and played some silly games and students won some great prizes, but the bulk of the event was about being thankful.

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I often get picked on for my massive love of the “fractions quote” – but the words speak to our vision of creating a school dedicated to authentic learning in a caring environment. Students really ”…will work harder and do things — even odd things like adding fractions for people they love and trust”. We are grateful for this!

The staff at SAMS wanted to show our students how we really do care about them, how we are thankful for them, and how we just-plain enjoy them. So, we made them this video. Be prepared to see our raw and authentic emotion; we love our students, and we are unashamed of being thankful for them, for our work, and for each other.

To the parents of SAMS, thank you for giving us your children every school day, to our larger community, I promise, we are making future citizens ready to take on this world. You should be proud and excited…

Please take 10 minutes and watch this video (shout out to Mr. Meyer for taking the million hours to make this video).

Also, for those of you who want even more insight into our Thankful Assembly click here for our powerpoint with an additional video made by our 7th grade Media Literacy students.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Work Hard Play Hard – SAMS Style

Here at SAMS we take working hard seriously and we take playing hard seriously too! Today we had an unsledding day (no snow in Minnesota, amazing) so we built mini-golf courses and played the links. At the end of the day we all gathered in the auditorium and talked about how we care at SAMS — by being respectful, working hard, and showing that all belong. Please enjoy the show below (just click on the slides) – there are some awesome, student produced videos embedded too. Unfortunately, the only thing missing is the live music performed by our 8th grade band and choir. One more thing, all the music you hear in the background of the videos were created by students in Music Appreciation class – using Garage Band.

I’m not sure how to express how proud I am as the Principal of SAMS. The teachers, the staff, and all the students had so much fun today. Working hard and playing hard, it really is the SAMS Way!