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.

My Italian Family:F1F2B759-0231-4048-9A15-19259D8EDE4F

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:


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!


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.



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.


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

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!

“No Way for Robots”

At SAMS, we like to use the story of the Lamborghini car company as a metaphor for building a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment.  Watch this short video clip from 60 minutes, it is Scott Pelley (reporter) asking the Industrial Director of Lamborghini about how Lamborghini cars are made.

I love technology, I love using technology to connect and build relationships, I even blogged about this a few months ago. But like this video shows, I have also learned how the work we do at SAMS is some what “old-fashioned”– there’s no room for robots in this work. It is important to meet people where they are at and build meaningful connections. We cannot make decisions about kids, families, staff, each other if we aren’t talking with one another, being in each other’s company, and learning and growing together.  Just like doctors cannot make health decisions about people who are ill by only looking at their charts, we cannot do this work without one another.  There’s just no way for robots just like on the floor of the Lamborghini factory where only 11 cars are made each day.  – “each piece of glass is eyed and each bolt is tightened by feel”.

The fractions quote gets a lot of play time here at SAMS.  I read it before most staff meetings, parent meetings, and community meetings. We want to emulate the fractions quote by becoming a school… “where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, and take delight in each other’s company”. We feel that by caring deliberately and passionately for the students and the adults at SAMS, we will be reaching our goal of becoming a school dedicated to authentic learning in a caring environment.


Dare to Care


“At a time when the traditional structures of caring have deteriorated, schools must become places where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, take delight in each other’s company. My guess is that when schools focus on what really matters in life, the cognitive ends we now pursue so painfully and artificially will be achieved somewhat more naturally. It is obvious that children will work harder and do things–even odd things like adding fractions–for people they love and trust.” – Nel Nodding

“Take delight in each other’s company”

On Friday Jan. 29th, during our staff development day we did just that, we took delight in each other’s company. As a staff, we took the advice of Ms. Gerard (6th grade Language Arts teacher) and wrote each other “love notes”. Why…the better question is why not? We work in a middle school, and it is the middle of the year, and middle schools are not always fun places, plus, it is cold, snowy, and grades are due. So sometimes as the adults in the building we can dare to care. We can care deeply for each other as we work toward making SAMS a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. Thank you SAMS staff for being vulnerable and awesome. We really are building something great.

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Using Relationships to Build a Caring Environment.

This past week a few of us attended the TIES conference in Downtown Minneapolis. Although TIES is known for technology, the conference allowed many of us to see the power of relationships. And how relationships can be created, formed, and kept active with the use of technology. Plus, George Couros, gave an awesome keynote!

Relationships and human connections are seen as non-existent now-days with the increased use of technology. We have all heard “no one ever talks to each other anymore” or “kids only text now”.  We believe we can leverage technology to be even more deliberate and thoughtful as we work to build a caring environment at SAMS. Please understand, technology is not the goal, rather building relationships is the goal – we just use technology to enhance this!

For example, we use Twitter to showcase the many awesome things at SAMS.  Starting this week, look for #todayatSAMS on Twitter to see this daily feed.  We love it when we come across moments here that are funny or inspirational or really cool.  When we see our work- authentic learning in a caring environment- in action, we want the world to know. We can use Twitter to share the experience.  And it makes us smile knowing we are spreading the SAMS joy with the rest of the world.

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A lot of people have told us they just can’t do Twitter. It’s one more thing, they don’t know how it works, who will they follow..but it’s an easy way to connect. Here’s a couple of ways to learn more about Twitter.

There’s a formal way…this website on Twitter.

And here are 2nd graders teaching us about Twitter.

And the 2nd graders teaching an advanced course on Twitter 🙂

Have a great break and please take the time to connect with us on Twitter.

Here are few names to start following:

@SAMS282 – Renee Corneille

@abskujawski – Amy Kujawski

@alammers06 – Ms. Shaffer

@Joe_Krasselt – Mr. Krasselt

@mamussell – Ms. Mussell

@JohnnyNM23 – Mr. Mitsch

@sara_karch – Ms. Karch

@scruffles6 – Ms. Donohue

@Heidi_Haagenson – Ms. Haagenson

@MrPotts282 – Mr. Potts

@PottsAmber – Ms. Potts

@mindylee1107 – Ms. Gerard

@Nathn – Mr. Meyer

@tadams612 – Ms. Adams

@LErpeldingSAMS – Ms. Erpelding