Saturday, November 21, 2015

6th Grade: It's going to be OK

One of the biggest transitions a student will experience is the jump from 5th grade in elementary school to 6th grade in middle school. 

In 5th grade, you may have had one teacher... in 6th grade, you may have up to six (!) teachers.

In 5th grade, you got to use a Chromebook during class... in 6th grade, you get a Chromebook to take home every night!

In 5th grade, you were in one classroom... in 6th grade, you might travel all over the campus to find your many classrooms.

In 5th grade, you were part of a small school community... in 6th grade, the number of grade level peers has tripled!

For many of our 6th grade students, there's a time of adjustment during this transition. For our 6th grade parents, this time of adjustment usually takes a good bit longer. Occasionally, our parents will share their thoughts on the school year, reflecting on how their student's 1st year in middle school went. Below is one such email, edited only for names.


We would like to recognize the staff at Union Middle School for the support our son received.  (Ms. Bruton, Ms. Zangwill, Mrs. Bankston, Mrs. Holmes, Mrs. Reynolds, Ms. Claire, Ms. Mantell, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Tim, Mrs. Dorazio, both Jills in the office, and Mr. Feinberg) -- I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!

We weren’t sure what to expect from the staff at UMS and were very open regarding our concerns. Our son has grown so much for the 2014-2015 school years as a 6th grader. We were very proud of him for facing his anxiety and overcoming so many obstacles.  This was the first school year where they looked forward to school (ok not always), and we, as parents, enjoyed his accomplishments like never before. Sure, in the past, there were enjoyable moments... but not like this year. Honestly, it was unexpected but greatly appreciated!

We feel it’s so important that each staff member listed above know the impact they had on our son. Their success for 6th grade is due not only to our son's hard work but especially to each and every one of you for embracing him in a positive way!  We know many of you, if not all, went above and beyond -- BOY DID HE THRIVE!!

We would like to give a very special acknowledgment to Ms. Bruton.  Without her ongoing support, I honestly don’t know what our year would have been like. She went above and well beyond for our son and was a complete blessing! Can we clone her? (Todd note: you have my permission to do so)

We could write a book and speak of the many ways we are grateful. I am sure you already know what an amazing staff you have at UMS. We will continue to celebrate the success and push through the challenges!

During elementary school, his academics were always a constant concern from the staff perspective. We didn't give up on him! With the drastic change in the staff environment from elementary school to middle school, our son didn't just survive.. he thrived. His hard work didn't go unnoticed as he made the honor roll all 4 quarters. 

Many tear of sadness were shed over the years and I am happy to say this year we shed HAPPY TEARS!!! From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU ALL FOR GIVING US THE BIGGEST GIFT ALL YEAR!!!


As a site administrators, I love these emails. I wish more parents sent such feedback for the positive things our staff does daily. I'm also thankful for this student's experience in 6th grade. We can't promise rainbows for everyone, but it is definitely our goal. It's a good goal to have.

Friday, November 13, 2015

HELP ME! (also titled: I have a middle school student)

Teenagers are very challenging.

As a parent of four children with the oldest two just starting Kindergarten, I'm already dreading the middle school experience.

It makes sense that the most common request I receive from our parent community as a middle school principal is just a four letter word: HELP.

Help me with my student.
Help me understand.
Help me figure out what to do.
Help me with reassurance that I'll survive to see my teenager through these years.
Help me during these middle school years.
Help me understand how to support my student during middle school.
Help me.

Over the years, I've come to realize a common thread with these parental concerns that can be very hard for the parents to hear: your kid is very normal.

Yes, they seem weird. They should be weird; they're in middle school and a budding teenager to boot. They're built to be different. The issue isn't your student. You can't fix them. You can only figure out how to best support them. Here are my top four ways to build a better parent to support your middle school student.

1) Don't make excuses for your student's behavior

It is very likely that your student will make a mistake during middle school. Don't make excuses for them. While you can always follow up with the classroom teacher or school administrator regarding the consequence, having a common message that mirrors the school's communication is a must. You may not agree with the lunch detention, but don't attack the consequence; instead, use the situation to talk about the behavior and how to make better decisions in the future.

If you do disagree with the teacher or administrator, you need to find a way to work with them to address your concerns. While you may know your student the best, we have the experience of having thousands of students within our sample size. The best meetings I've been a part of is when the parent asks appropriate questions to further the conversation and understand the What's and the Why's of the incident. Just know that middle school is a great time to make a mistake for your student. These are learning opportunities that can help steer your student to better decisions in the future.

2) Listen to your student... but don't trust them

This might sound a bit harsh but here's a nugget of truth: Kids lie. Not only do they lie, but they lie for no reason and especially in times where it would just be easier to tell the truth. I sometimes start conversations with students who may have made a mistake with the following sentence: "Look... sometimes students start this conversation with a fib... even though I know what's happened... even though I have twelve eye witnesses... even though I have video surveillance footage... even though you have signed a statement that you wrote admitting to the mistake... even with all of this evidence, some students will start the conversation with a fib... so let's start with the truth instead?" Please know that 99% of the students will still start with a fib, even after that speech.

When you are speaking with your student, don't necessarily trust what they're telling you. Teenagers are extremely skilled in telling parts of the truth but somehow leave out the most important details that substantially change the story. I often share that there is a box of truth filled with ten truthful statements. Students will tell you truthful statements 2, 5, and 8. In their mind, they're not lying. To them, omission of the full truth isn't a lie. You need to listen to your student but don't necessarily trust what they're telling you.

3) Work with your student's teachers and administrators, not against them

While you really want to believe your student and the lengthy, very convincing details they share about their seven missing assignments in Social Studies class for first quarter, be very gentle when you contact the classroom teacher on your student's behalf. Despite your student swearing on their new copy of Fallout 4 that they did the work, you may not be getting the full story. The teacher will most likely be able to let you know exactly what happened with each assignment. Chance are they've taken notes along the way, anticipating your student will create an elaborate story about the missing work.

"It disappeared in the cloud" is the new "the dog ate my homework" and just as likely. While it is possible that the teacher made a mistake and misplaced the work, the overwhelming most likely to have happened result is that your student didn't turn them in. The best advice I can share is to have your student meet with the teacher to address the missing work. Feel free to follow up with an email to the teacher if you don't get the full story from your student. Not only does this help your student learn how to advocate for themselves, it provides you, the parent, an opportunity to have the matter solved before you rush in to rescue your student unnecessarily so.

4) Keep your perspective (also, your children are more resilient than you think)

As previously shared, I once had a family share that a 6th grade boy saying a bad, not-appropriate-for-school phrase to their 6th grade daughter was the worst thing that had ever happened to their family. I agree that it was not a pleasant experience for their student, and it led to additional conversations with their student that they may not have wanted to have just yet, but "worst thing that had every happened to their family"?

Earlier that week, I met with a student who was struggling through their parents' divorce. Earlier that day, I fed a student who didn't get breakfast... or dinner the night before. The following week, I counseled a student who was on the verge of losing one of their parents to cancer. Keep your perspective.

I understand that your student's 4.0 GPA may be threatened because they didn't complete a 50 point assignment on time because they had soccer and basketball practice the night before. I recognize that it can be a very hard lesson for your student (and perhaps the parent as well) to not earn a spot on the 6th grade basketball team. I sympathize that their best friend since elementary school may have decided to break away from their friendship for non-communicated reasons. All of these situations are very challenging for a middle school student. This is when your student needs you to be a pillar of support. Commiserate but don't make excuses to your student for what's transpired. Let the missed assignment be a learning experience. Didn't make the basketball team? Start practicing for next year's tryouts. Explain how friendships can come and go... and while losing a friendship is never an easy thing for anyone, share with your student that there are so many more opportunities to make new friends and new acquaintances tomorrow. It will be a better day. Behind the scenes you can schedule study buddy sessions, sign your student up for a private basketball league, and organize play dates with other students your son/daughter may start up a friendship with.

Your student will be ok. It might be scary as they transition through the traumatic-to-them (and traumatic-to-the-parent) experience, but they can and will get through it. Be there to support them.


The key message repeated through each step is to be a part of the solution. Don't complicate the concern. Your student will latch on to your worries and it may spiral them further downward. Always listen to your student and assume good intentions. Just know that it's going to be ok. They're going to be ok. And just as important, you're going to be ok. Just make sure you ask for help.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Graduation Speech - 2015 - Union Middle School

Below is my graduation speech for the Union Middle School class of 2015. This speech was different from my previous two graduation speeches in that I struggled to find the right words that I wanted to say to this class. It was actually at their Promotion Party a week prior where I sequestered myself in my office for a total of 90 minutes and just started typing. By 11 pm, long after I'd sent home our 8th grade students with their parents after three hours of candy, dancing, and Foosball, the graduation speech was 99% complete. My wife, as a middle school counselor herself, provided a few key additional lines and it was done.

During the dozens of times I practiced this speech, I only once choked up. It was during the last segment of the speech during the story time. At the promotion ceremony, in front of a crowd of students, parents, staff, and community members, I felt my throat closing at multiple points. At the mention of our families fertility struggles. At the story of the student and his journey. And at the end. This has been such an interesting class of students. There is so much potential within them. I'm hopeful they continue to make us proud. 

Thank you parents for your support over the past three years. 

Thank you staff for your continued dedication to our students.

And thank you students for just being you. 

Here is the graduation speech. Enjoy.


Good evening everyone once more to our 8th grade promotion ceremony. My name is Todd Feinberg, and I have been privileged to have been the principal of Union Middle School for the past three years. And what a three years it has been.

Look at these 297 eighth graders bound for the foreign land we call high school. It is a talented, kind, considerate, and sometimes forgetful group of former mischievous little 6th graders that we as a community have molded into the young adults who sit before us all. It is a challenging group to speak to. They are diverse. They are unique. And they are quite special to all of us.

Students… I struggled in writing this speech. It’s true… I couldn’t find the words I wanted to share each of you during these last few moments. After all, in less than thirty three minutes, you will have officially promoted from Union Middle and be 9 short weeks from starting all over again, this time as freshmen in high school. We don’t have that much time together and there is a lot I want to say. And so I would like to share the words I wish my own middle school principal had said to me during my own middle school promotion ceremony when I was 14 and thought like many of you, that I already knew everything I needed to know.

I think my middle school principal would have encouraged me to try everything. Yes, I mean everything. Try everything in sports. Try everything in school. Try every educational, extracurricular, or athletic opportunity I could. We adults want you to be safe but we also want you to explore. We do. Sometimes, it just scares us what you will find, but that’s doesn’t mean we don’t want you to keep looking.

It is incredibly important to take risks in your life. It’s also quite smart to have a safety net of support just in case something goes wrong. If you try and fail, I’m proud of you. If you just fail without trying, you’ve wasted an opportunity to learn where the world is your classroom. As Dave Elkind, a professor at Tufts University, once said “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure, we learn how to cope.”

And parents… yes, time to talk to the parents about your role here. You need to show your students that it is okay to take risks and it is okay to fail. It is not about perfection; if anything, we parents need to model our own imperfections so our students know that it is okay to try and not reach our goals on the first, second, third or even the millionth attempt. Try to discuss your own personal failures with your children. Let your children know that you have failed and that they too will fail. Let them know that this is okay.

On a personal note, my wife and I tried to have children for the last 8 years. That’s eight years of doctor visits, eight years of start-stops, and eight years of tons of talk about giving up. Ten days ago, she delivered twin boys. This moment doesn’t happen without the previous eight years of struggles and the previous eight years of failures.

I also hope my middle school principal would have shared how to be a successful person in life and how to find “The Happy.”

I believe they would have encouraged me, like I am advising each of you, to be nicer. To our teachers. To our parents. To everyone. And most importantly, to ourselves.

Students… you are good enough just how you are right now. None of you need to be taller, faster, skinnier, or bigger. You are all exactly how you should be. I cannot stress enough the importance of self acceptance and self compassion. We are not defined by our successes nor our failures. Nobody is perfect, so please don’t compare yourselves to others. From the outside, the student sitting across the room from you in Mrs. Jorgens’ 8th grade Language Arts classroom may look like everything is great but don’t be fooled. Everyone has their own personal struggles. Some just may hide their worries better than others. I would like to encourage all of you to be honest and to support one another. Remember: nobody is perfect.

My former principal would have shared with me that everything from here on out will be a blur but that doesn't mean you have to spend your time taking pictures of these moments on a cell phone. Sometimes, your memory of the event is significantly more precious than one of the Instagram pictures you post for your six thousand followers. Just enjoy these days. Be in the moment. Help others have their moment.

My former principal would have encouraged me to laugh often and surround myself with people who lift my spirits and make me feel good about who I am. While you can never have too many friends, please make sure you have the right ones walking alongside you during your challenging days. And don’t forget these words from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And I hope my former middle school principal would have shared a story. I do like stories.

And in this story I’m about to share, many of you may know the names of the key individuals. Please know that the names aren’t necessarily important and the message I hope you take away could involve any one of us.

About 16 months ago, an athletic 7th grader began to struggle. Things got worse…. things got very very scary for everyone… but eventually things got better. Along the troubling times, a Union Middle 7th grade science teacher went to the student’s house to work together on assigned classwork. Our school counselor met with the parents to help assist with their student’s transition back to Union Middle. His team of teachers made a commitment to give him whatever he and his family needed to be successful during his 8th grade school year. Our school community rallied around the family, providing support, a listening ear, and an occasional visit from Sharkie.

The story now fast forwards to a week prior to the annual spirit game. A UMS basketball coach meets with the student and convinces him to join the 8th grade conference champion UMS basketball team for the spirit game. The morning of the game, the student is vomiting, almost too weak to stand. The night of the game, with Union Middle leading Dartmouth late in the 4th quarter, two UMS coaches, with full support from the UMS athletic director, call a timeout and create a play to get this student the ball, knowing that he would be fouled. Play resumes, the ball is in-bounded, the student gets fouled and he goes to the line to shoot two free throws.

And the story could stop here. It doesn’t need to have a happy ending. Not every story does. Everything that has happened over the past fourteen months during this student’s journey is noteworthy and remarkable. The amount of support for this student from his classmates. The staff who reassured the family that they’d assist the student every step of the way. To the UMS boys basketball team who not only welcomed this student on to their team but were perhaps the most excited and loudest support group for him in the gym on this night. It’s already an amazing story.

But this story doesn’t stop here… because we still have two free throws.

In life, you will have free throws. You will be expected to perform and do something where you won’t have the strength to make it happen. You’ll try and you may fail. This was the first free throw on this night. It air-balled left. Everyone’s excitement for a special moment quickly turned to fear for what could have been a memory of embarrassment for this student.

And that’s when I looked out at the free throw line and saw the student. A student who like many of you had struggled at some point during your middle school years. I looked at this student and expected to see someone ready to crumble. I expected to see someone ready to quit. I didn’t see any of this. Instead, it’s about what I heard. I heard laughter.

This student, in front of hundreds of friends, students, parents, and community members, had the biggest smile on his face and just seemed content. The moment for him wasn’t necessarily about making the free throw; it seemed to be about everyone who managed to help him get to this moment. Every classmate. Every teacher. His parents. The community. Each and every one of you. He just laughed, happy to have the opportunity to shoot a free throw.

I hope all of you have the chance to take your free throws one day. Don’t shy away from these opportunities. And even if you miss your first free throw, you just never know what can happen on your second shot. As we’ve seen, the ball may just bounce your way when you try again.

So don’t give up. Don’t let each other give up. Just don’t ever give up.

2015 graduates. Thank you for being a part of my life over the past three years and thank you for being a part of each other’s journey. You have each brought something very unique and special to Union Middle School. You will be missed but we are quite excited to see where you lead us next. We’ll be watching, ready to support you along the way. Congratulations, Class of 2015.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Opportunity To Bully

Two weeks ago, we, as a school staff, had one of our most challenging weeks of the year. Nothing was out of the ordinary, but the culmination of a few activities proved the breaking point for a few.

-Our students and parents were gearing up for the annual school play.
-Disneyland for our band and choir squads was upcoming.
-Mid Quarter Reports came due.
-It was the third week of block scheduling and SBAC testing.
-And many many more events that just added to the collective stress.

Our parent community, based on the increased number of emails I received, seemed to have their own concerns. I suspect their frustrations were passed along to their kids and thus back into the classroom each and every day for our teachers to progress through. And while our staff is well versed in maintaining the calm, it is inevitable, as human beings, that some of the frustration is passed back to the students and thus our parents. In speaking with our staff, we discussed the opportunity we have to "break the chain" and not allow the stress to fester. They did a great job and this past week was much improved.

Until Friday.

Friday was actually a really neat day. Our students were able to use their cell phones during brunch and lunch, a school first. Our parent community was very supportive of the idea, especially and even if they didn't necessarily agree with the concept. I'm excited to see where the conversation leads and how we can get ahead of the inevitable flood of technology our students will have and use regularly.

The bad news came in the form of an anonymous post from the previous Saturday on the website "greatschools" and it was just mean. Here it is in its entirety. Be warned, it's not nice:

Teachers here are very uninspiring. They aren't there to teach, they're there to supervise. Students are handed an assignment and they figure out how to complete it on their own. As for learned curriculum, students read a printed-out powerpoint or a textbook all by themselves. If they have a question that the teacher can't answer, the teacher shrugs it off and leaves the student to their own resources. Also, I'm going to specifically target the ELA Department. In 6th grade, the way students are taught to write is very rigid, structured, and it doesn't offer any room for creativity and flow. 7th grade - well, they don't teach anything remotely RELATED to English! They observe rotting french fries, party like Victorians, and create videos. But never, ever are they taught to write. And yet they are TESTED on writing skills at the end of each quarter! Overall, I'm shocked at what Union Middle School considers education. It doesn't prepare students for their future, and really, everything students do at school they could do at home, by themselves. I would be very careful if you plan on attending this school. 


Here's the truth. Our teachers are amazing. They are, as a collective group, one of the best staffs I'll ever be a part of. They're the opposite of uninspiring. When I'm in a down mood, I specifically visit a few UMS classrooms because I know I'll see top-notch teaching, kids loving to learn, and just inspiring learning leadership. Rare is the class session where kids are just reading a powerpoint or a textbook all by themselves. We have kids creating peer-lessons, leading their own learning, and becoming experts on tons of topics. I'm not saying that we have the "perfect" staff but I think we have a collection of adults who truly care about kids and are working toward enriching their learning experiences during their days in middle school

One of my former superintendents once said to me:
"Don't pay any mind to those who shoot out the back window as they drive away." 

From the sound of the post, it reads like a family who may not be returning for 8th grade and is unhappy with how their child's year has gone. As a site principal, I want to hear their concerns and address them as a staff. I would invite them into my office and give them as much time as they needed during their quasi-exit interview. However, this parent decided to broadcast their feelings to the world. The beauty of the Internet.

And they have a right to be upset and to leave a bad review. I wish they would rather want to discuss their concerns and see if we can make things better for their student and future students. I also want to acknowledge that we may just have to disagree about the Union Middle teaching staff. Where this parent crossed the line is their attack of our 7th grade ELA department and their curriculum.

Currently, in 7th grade, we have three fantastic teachers leading the charge. One of these teachers was the recent Emerging Educator for CUE. Another one of these teachers was a recent district-wide Teacher of the Year. The third teacher, just starting out in their teaching career, has also done a fantastic job with her students, using the same curriculum as her 7th grade ELA peers. As I've said publicly to anyone who will listen, I'll put our 7th and 8th grade ELA department up against any other 7th and 8th grade department in the entire state of California; I can guarantee that we've got the most innovative, most common core, most engaging curriculum and teacher-led instruction through student-led learning.

That's what makes their post so perplexing. They talked about the rotting french fries, a lesson that stems out of Chew on This and is perfectly overlapping with the Science 7 curriculum. They mentioned the Victorian party, an opportunity for students to dress in Victorian outfits and progress through various stations of self-directed learning. Video creation stems through the iMovies our students made through their Fierce Wonderings, a series of projects and lessons that is lauded by the edu-community as ground breaking and 21st century. Essentially, this parent pointed out amazing Common Core projects that our 7th grade ELA teachers have spent countless hours, evenings, and summer days perfecting. I'm very proud of the work they've done. And for those of you who care about test scores, our 7th grade ELA CST results had over 90% of our students in the proficient and advanced range. Simply put, these are some of the best teachers I'll ever meet.

I should also point out that I give many opportunities for feedback from our parent community. I send surveys, texts, emails, phone calls, and even entertain the occasional conversation during parking lot duty. I don't think any parent feels "unheard" at our school. And while there are times we may have to agree to disagree, I always value a community member's input on how to improve the work we do with our students.

That said, in the end, all you need is a dial-up connection and an ax to grind in today's digital age to post venomous comments about the hard work of today's educators. I appreciate what such websites like "greatschools" can bring to a school community, but giving individuals an opportunity to "type angry" and bully teachers seems unfair and unproductive. It's a shame how this parent chose to bully our staff with their anonymous, yet public comments. There are tons of opportunities in our daily practices to bully others; I just hope that frustrated community members can find a different way to share their concerns and comments. We wouldn't approve of our students acting this way; why does this website not only turn a blind eye to (but even encourage) adults and their bullying behaviors?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cell Phones: School Policies, Game Changers, and Teachable Moments

One of my former students once shared with me that they believed their ability to use their cell phone during the school day was no different than their ability to breathe in oxygen. They said that not being able to use their cell phone made them feel like they were suffocating. They explained that they didn't necessarily need to use their cell phone during the school day and, if given permission, that they most likely still wouldn't. It was just the rule that our school had regarding not being allowed to use your cell phone during the school day felt like an imprisonment without oxygen for them.

At the time, I felt that the student was being a tad melodramatic about not being able to use their cell phone during the school day. After all, we all somehow survived without usage of a cell phone during the school day and we all turned out (relatively) okay. And then I stopped and thought about their perspective of where they were as a digital native and where they were headed in just a few short months as they promoted to 9th grade. Were we best serving them by mandating no cell phone usage during our lunch period? How would they react in three short months when they arrived on the high school campus without the necessarily skills on how to properly manage their screen time? Was their cell phone truly like oxygen to them? Was it an attached accessory that we, as an older generation, didn't fully understand their connection to?

These reflections brought me back over a decade to my days as a Dean of Students and also Assistant Principal at Ralston Middle School in Belmont, CA. There were very strict rules regarding iPods during these days; specifically, you weren't allowed to bring them to campus. If your iPod was seen or found, it would be confiscated and only returned to your parent. Looking part, I can't help but laugh at how silly this rule was.

The rule was founded in the belief that iPods were going to be a distraction throughout the school day. We wanted to encourage students to socialize before and after school, not listen to their latest Green Day or Blink-182 albums. We wanted students to be more aware of their surroundings and not unable to hear daily announcements or other urgent matters. We felt that some students would lose their iPods and this would translate into countless fruitless searches of locker rooms and playing fields. There was some concern that if students were bringing expensive devices to school, what would be do when a student made the poor choice to steal such items from a classmate. We had many what we felt to be valid reasons for not allowing iPods at school.

Then one day, everything changed. It was 2007 and the revolution went by the name of iPhone.

With this new bit of technology, students could listen to music on their phones. Students were allowed to have a cell phone at school, as long as it was put away during the school day. Now, however, students were listening to music before and after school. The iPhone was a complete game changer and we had to quickly rework our school policies to address this new technology.

Fast forward 8 years to present day. A quick observation of the school campus and an informal survey of our students has over 90% of our students in possession of a smart phone at school. Hundreds of students have one earbud in before and after school as they socialize with their friends. Even with permission to use their cell phones before and after the school day, I see more socialization during these times than I do at brunch and lunch. I'm beginning to wonder if our students socialize in a manner that is significantly different than how we adults did during our middle school days. Are we trying to force feed our students designated times to socialize as we would like them to, all the while not realizing that today's students socialization often centers around a piece of technology?

Nevertheless, we continue to ban cell phone usage during the school day. Almost every single day, there is an instance where a cell phone is confiscated by a staff member for making a "you've received a text message" sound. In over 90% of these cases, the text was sent by the student's parent, often with reminders for pick up later in the day, changes to the afternoon's schedule, or sometimes just a simple "I love you" from mother to son. These are the same parents who overwhelming do not want their students using their cell phones during the school day, don't forget.

The inability for our students to not use their cell phones have other frustrating byproducts for our staff throughout the day. When a parent drops off a lunch, project, or gym shoes for their student, our front office makes all-school announcements during our brunch and lunch periods. What if we instead informed the parents to just text their student during these times and we were able to avoid these needless interruptions?

Even further, what are we teaching our students when we impose rules that they will soon outgrow (just a few weeks for our 8th graders as they approach high school and the free-for-all that exists regarding cell phone usage at many high schools)? Are we providing the best guidance by simply prohibiting cell phone usage? As esteemed school administrator Erik Saibel shared in our #leadwild Voxer group, "24/7 control of kids doesn't teach them anything. It just makes them defenseless and directionless when "real life" comes around." I'm inclined to agree.

I've often shared with our incoming 6th grade parents that I believe middle school is the perfect time to make mistakes. Middle school, by its very nature, is a special society where every interaction with a student can lead to a worthwhile teachable moment. When a student is disrespectful toward a staff member at lunch, we bring the student in and talk about how to prevent such choices in the future. Yes, they still receive a consequence, but I think we're saving this student from making the same mistake three months down the road as a high school freshman.

Teenagers, by their nature, will gravitate to things we tell them not to do. When a student crosses through traffic on a busy thoroughfare on their way home from school, we speak with them the next day on making safer choices. When a high school freshman is presented with their first opportunity to drink alcohol, I want them educated on how to best handle the situation. We need to have their conversations with our students. If you take away the taboo, you can have a real conversation with your student about how to make the right decision, no mater the situation.

I understand that many parents and educators are very concerned about what cell phone usage during the school day may bring. What if my student looks at an inappropriate website? What if my student is cyber bullied by a classmate? What happens when my student posts an unflattering picture of Mr. Feinberg? Let's be honest: all of these things are just as likely, if not more so, to happen outside of the school day and off our school campus as they are during our cell phone-permitted brunch and lunch periods. By allowing cell phone usage during brunch and lunch, we are joining our parent community in best educating our students on appropriate cell phone use. Now, we can better work together to address any concerning behavior and build in more teachable moments to best guide our students. This is what middle school is all about.

Because in just a few short weeks, if it hasn't happened already, everything is going to change again. It's called the Apple Watch.

If a student were to arrive on our school campus with an Apple Watch, would we make them take it off? Would we allow them to keep it on their wrist but mandate that they disconnect from the wifi or LTE coverage? The Apple Watch can be linked to your iPhone. It can receive texts, make calls, get score updates, post to your favorite social media sites, and so forth. And if we don't allow the Apple Watch during class time, do we allow it during breaks, brunch, and lunch? Simply put, the Apple Watch is going to change how education institutions address student access to the internet. And I'm not sure what we're going to do.

Further complicating matters is that all of our 6th graders will have 24/7 access to their very own ChromeBook for their three years at Union Middle. Not only will they be able to use them appropriate during class time, but they'll be able to work on projects during brunch and lunch by the picnic tables, write for their blog, or even check their email. Are these behaviors substantially different than how the majority of our other students would use their cell phone?

Perhaps the answer is to trust our students to use their cell phones appropriately during the school day. Do we set clear expectations regarding cell phone usage, such as "students may use their cell phones for academic reasons or for parental emergencies during brunch and lunch" in hopes of finding some sort of middle ground? We are quite lucky at Union Middle, as the strong majority of our students would use their cell phones appropriately. And for the students who would not? Well, they're probably already using their phones during the school day anyway. At least now, with our guided permission, we would be able to have deeper conversations about the poor choices rather than just focusing on "the rule" of not being allowed to have your cell phone out during the day.

I would not be surprised if in five years that almost every middle school will be allowing students to use their cell phones and various devices during brunch and lunch. I think the answer for us as parents, educators, and community members will be how to best support our students in making wise and healthy decisions when it comes to cell phone use. We have amazing, responsible students at Union Middle. They are, as a whole, rule followers and incredibly respectful of our school policies. That said, I truly believe the tide of cell phone usage during non instructional time throughout the school day at Union Middle has already turned.

I just don't know if we adults are aware that our students are already breathing in all of the oxygen.

Cell Phone Friday

Tomorrow at Union Middle School is the first ever (and possibly last ever) Cell Phone Friday.

Cell Phone Friday came about through our school site council meetings over a year ago in the Spring of 2014. Here, students, parents, and Union Middle staff members discussed the benefits, the concerns, and everything in between about providing permission to our middle school students to use their cell phones during brunch (15 minutes in the morning) and lunch (30 minutes around noon). Currently, students are allowed to use their cell phones before school but when the first bell rings at 8:26 am, the phones need to be turned off and placed in their backpacks. When the final school bell rings at 2:50 pm, the phones are allowed to be taken out of their backpacks and turned on for usage. Students, with teacher permission and supervision, are allowed to use their cell phones during class for academic purposes. It is also worth noting that students can use tablets and kindles to read their e-books during brunch and lunch (and are encouraged to do so).

In our school site council meetings, almost every individual was against allowing students to use their cell phones during brunch or lunch. However, as we discussed the topic further, opinions quickly began to change. Ultimately, we decided to include the question during my end-of-the-year survey for our parent community. The results are this survey were overwhelmingly and a resounding "no".

Truthfully, I was a bit surprised by the results of the survey. I anticipated that many parents would click "no, not under any circumstances should UMS allow students to use their cell phones during the school day", I was very surprised to see a strong majority of over 80% of our survey-responding parent community select this option. It was one of the strongest consensus results of the survey. And with these results, I tabled the topic for the upcoming 2014-15 school year... until our ASB/Leadership class began to grant wishes.

With the best intentions, our ASB/Leadership class mimicked a "make a wish" activity that has become quite popular at our local high schools. The majority of student wishes were for immediate gratification, often asking for In & Out for lunch or a late pass to 1st period. A few of the wishes were more heartfelt, including one student who asked for help in purchasing and dedicating a bench at a nearby park to his deceased relative with whom they would spend their weekend afternoons together. There were a few wishes that led to puppy-gate 2014... and no, we could not purchase puppies for our students and their families. Somewhere in the middle of the pile, there were a half dozen wishes from our students who asked for permission to use their cell phones during brunch and lunch. In reading these wishes, the topic of Cell Phone Friday was reborn.

With the help of our ASB students, I wrote an announcement to share with our students this morning, also to be repeated tomorrow. I introduced the concept of Cell Phone Friday to our students, gave them permission to use their phones appropriately during brunch and lunch tomorrow, and reminded them that their choices tomorrow could very well determine future opportunities to use their cell phones during break times at school.

Not wanting our parent community to necessarily hear this news first hand from their students, I sent out two short Reminds explaining the plan and expectations for our students during Cell Phone Friday. Specifically, I shared: "Hi UMS-tomorrow is cell phone Friday. Students can use their phones (appropriately) @ brunch & lunch. This is a 1 time pilot & wish request. We will be supervising and using any poor student decisions as a teachable moment. Questions? Please send me a remind chat or email. -Todd" To date, I have received three emails from our parents about the one day wish request of students being allowed to use their cell phones during brunch and lunch.

One parent was very direct that they did not believe that students should use their cell phones at school and that they should be banned altogether from our campus. Another parent was very interested on the thought process that went into the decision, indicating that they were quite certain that our students would be quite happy tomorrow at school. The third parent wrote a longer email that was a beautiful way to start a dialogue about appropriate and timely cell phone use on a middle school campus. I responded to all three parents and shared how much I appreciated their communication and that I looked forward to more conversation about this topic as this generation of digital natives promote through our school.

And so tomorrow is almost here. Cell Phone Friday will be one of three things: (1) a complete disaster with chaos lingering around every corner, (2) a day like any other with little difference despite some cell phone usage, or most likely (3) some great opportunities to have guided discussions about the appropriate use of cell phone use with some great principal selfies thrown in. Wish us luck.

(My next post linked here goes into my everchanging beliefs about cell phone usage on a middle school campus and where our rapidly approaching future days will lead us. The third post <also eventually linked and dependent on how quickly my daughters fall asleep tomorrow> will detail how successful Cell Phone Friday was at Union Middle. I hope you enjoy the reads.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Where Should I Send My Student?

Last week, on the online community website NextDoor, a parent asked for feedback on our school district (Union School District) and the nearby Los Gatos Elementary School District. All of the schools had a 10 API rating, they shared. How was one to make the decision of where to send their children to school for the next 12 years?

Various community members chimed in. One realtor gave advice to buy a home in the more expensive Los Gatos area and attend the Los Gatos schools. Another parent suggested looking into the API scores of the middle and high schools, to which a third community member responded that there was more to a school than just an API number. Instead, they suggested that any parent interested in joining a particular school district make an appointment with their would-be principal and "get the real scoop on what is going on" at that elementary school. A different parent chimed in that meeting the principals is a good idea so you can get an idea of their leadership qualities. Knowing how challenging these spring months can be for a school principal, I replied on the thread, sharing concern about making appointments to see a prospective school's principal. I wrote (blue added as emphasis):

Hi everybody... I thought I'd chime in here...

I'm the principal of Union Middle School and love our school district. Our parent community is incredibly supportive through donations, their time, and any parcel taxes or bonds. We do a great job (and yes, I'm biased) with the funds we have and I don't think our students receive any less of an education than our neighbors in Los Gatos. In fact, you may say they get a better education at Union Middle. (Yes, definitely biased) :)  And if you care about API scores, Union Middle did happen to score a few points higher than Fisher Middle did the last time scores were counted. 

I think I can sum up the difference from the eyes of a student who transferred from Fisher about what she likes and dislikes about Union Middle.

Likes: the kids are nicer, much less bullying, I like school more now

Dislikes: I wish I could follow the fisher dress code where I could wear whatever I wanted. (Disclaimer: UMS has a dress code that we enforce. We rarely have to remind kids about the dress code. They just follow it for the most part. Students from other middle schools comment regularly how the dress code isn't enforced at their old schools; again, no proof, just their perception.)

As far as the high schools, I am a huge fan of Los Gatos High School. I visited LGHs for their Distinguished School Nomination. I saw some great teaching, some cool kid conversations, and they're led by a great front office staff and principal. (Edit: One community member felt by only talking about Los Gatos High School, I was implying that I was negative toward Leigh. I later posted and expressed that I'm supportive of Leigh High School as well and would have no problem sending my own child to either school.)

Our three feeder elementary schools are all awesome. They are all equally best prepared for middle school. Truly, you can't go wrong. 

I'm not as familiar with LG's elementary and middle schools but I've had nothing but great interactions with their staff and administrators. When there was an issue between our sports teams, the Fisher principal had the entire fisher team send an apology letter to our kids about their behavior. It was very cool to see a principal who teaches these important lessons. 

Just some thoughts. 

Also, while there is a suggestion to visit the schools and meet the principals, I would like to caution anyone from using this advice. Simply put, we are a public school. We take everyone who lives within our boundaries. As a principal, I want to spend my time with our current kids and make sure they have the best experience. I know it is important to welcome prospective students prior to their arrival, but we just don't have the time to meet with every parent and student who are thinking of moving into our neighborhood and attending our school. I say this as politely as possible and with much care of our current Union Middle kids. 


I later received an email from a prospective USD/LG parent about the last paragraph from my post on the Nextdoor thread. He asked, given that my suggestion was to not attempt to schedule a meeting with the principal of an elementary school your child may go to, what could a family do to learn more about the different schools. He cited how expensive the houses have become in our area (true), how they wanted to do their research before buying said house (smart), and just needed to somehow acquire a better sense of what the schools and kids' "day-to-day learning" was like at each school. All good points, to which I replied (indicated in blue):

Thanks for the email. I would recommend talking with realtors in the area, perhaps visiting the campus on off-hours (just walking around, getting a vibe), check out websites, look at for recent comments, talk to any parent communities, maybe attend a PTA/HSC meeting, and so forth. 

The truth of the matter is that I don't want parents contacting a school principal in this area and getting frustrated that they're not able to have a chat with them. I like to think I'm a bit more welcoming than the average principal and I myself won't entertain these conversations. We are a public school. I know it's a hard decision on where to purchase a house (I did the same thing a while back) but as a public school, we just accept anyone and everyone who lives in our school boundaries. 

And you really can't go wrong with the local schools anywhere up and down the bay area. I live in Palo Alto right now and if my family didn't live there, I'd entertain moving to the USD school district area based on how impressed I am with this district.

Also, a lot can change in a school based on the staff, principal, or clientele. A good school can struggle with the wrong principal (and we do rotate around a good bit - our school life span is usually 1-5 years). Sometimes, a few poor hires can cause a huge disruption at a school. The opposite (of having teachers who are veteran staff members and disengaged) can also be problematic. These changes can happen overnight at a school. Generally speaking, choosing an area where the schools are good, the neighborhood is safe, and there are supports (friends/playgrounds/work) nearby is the best advice I can give.

Because at the end of the day, the difference for your student at Carlton vs Blossom Hill may be minimal or dependent on something you couldn't have planned for (such as a bully in their classroom or a teacher our on maternity leave).

And thanks again for the email. Time for parking lot duty!

My goal in my communication with this parent was to hopefully help guide the thought process behind one of the biggest decisions they'll make over the next few years. The choice of where to plant roots directly leads into which school your student will one day attend.

Truthfully, for the strong majority of the students at any school, they will be more than fine. In fact, they'll thrive at any school in either district. Instead of trying to figure out the differences between a Fisher and a Union, I would instead suggest looking at what community you want to live in, where can you best afford a house that best suits your family and finances, and which area is closer and more convenient to your work to give you the most time not on the road but instead at your house with your family. These should be the big determining factors for any family because between the Los Gatos Elementary School District and the Union School District, you can't go wrong.

And if you join the Union School District, I'm excited to meet you at our incoming 6th grade parent night in May prior to the start of your student's school year. We will take great care of them.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Five More Things Every High School Needs

My recent blog entry started the discussion of five things every high school needs to be a successful secondary institution and best serve their student community. In short, the five elements were (1) more guidance counselors, (2) highlight your successes, (3) more opportunities for your top students, (4) increase STEAM opportunities, and (5) hire a full time College and Career Counselor. While these are a solid top five suggestions, the past few days have brought bits of reflection and thus additional ideas on how to make a good high school great. Let's continue the list...

6) Hire great teachers

While many community members look to administration to build and foster relationships with their children and support their educational journey, it is the teaching staff who spends their days collaborating and leading our students in and out of their classrooms. It is imperative that a successful high school has a teaching staff who cares, who goes the extra mile, who responds to any form of communication in a timely fashion, who provides authentic and prompt feedback to student work, and who is approachable to all of their students. A quick search of RateMyTeacher provides a bevvy of information on which teachers live up to this high standard. Spend an afternoon at the local dining establishment and you'll hear plenty of gossip of what teacher you want for 10th grade science and which 9th grade mathematics teacher you need to avoid. Even if these conversations are built on falsehoods, word travels fast. Any current or future teacher hires need to fit the right kind of expectation. It is also the job of the administrator to work with those teachers who are not successful in the classroom. There are points and there are patterns. One upset parent is a point, albeit valid. Ten complaining students and parents shows a pattern and this is something that needs to be addressed by the site administrator to best support the involved teacher.

7) Invigorate your teaching staff

And for these teachers already on staff, an administrative team needs to figure out how to best support and invigorate their teaching experience. At Union Middle, I address these topic in a variety of ways. For some staff members, I simply ask what do they need to be successful and I try my best to make it happen. More books? Done. Need a release day? Let's see what we can do. For other staff members, support may take the form of a constructive and sometimes challenging conversation. How did that lesson go? What are your takeaways? What would you do differently next time? What worked really well? An administrator needs to have these conversations with their teaching staff in order to move some staff members where they need to be. Other staff members may just need to get out of their classroom and see what other teachers are doing, either through a visit to another school or via a local conference. Union Middle sent ten teachers to the GAFE summit in Palo Alto last Summer, another ten teachers to the CUE conference last Fall, and even more staff to local CLMS and CUE conferences. While an administrator can't say yes to every request, you can try your best to make it happen.

8) Add technology to your students' lives

Here, at Union Middle School, we have twenty ChromeBooks carts for use in addition to our two Mac Computer Labs. I'm looking to add Kindles for student checkout in our library, buckets of eight iPads for teacher check-out, and hopefully student-led digital announcements in the upcoming future. Next year, every student in sixth grade will have their own ChromeBook to carry from class to class, home, and back to school the following day. Every 7th and 8th grade classroom will have their own ChromeBook cart. We are adding as many opportunities as possible in our classrooms for students and trying to provide significant professional development for our teachers to best support them therein. Concerned about behavioral issues? Here's an easy solution: Add technology to the classroom. Students will increase their engagement in the lesson tenfold. When our 8th graders promote this summer, what will their experience at the local high school be? How often will they be able to have technology in their classrooms for student use? A successful high school needs to make technology access for their students a top priority.

9) Listen to your parents to increase parental involvement

While I recognize that not every community is blessed with high parent involvement, our local schools greatly benefit from our parents' generosity of their time and financial support. One of my main responsibilities as a school administrator is to be as responsive as possible to our parent community, to assist with both the easy and the challenging questions, and to provide a link for our parents to our school campus. Even if a parent is upset with the content of my shared message, I hope they will at least appreciate the responsiveness of my communication and know that I have the best interests of their student at heart. Every morning, it starts with parking lot duty, continues with constant supervision of the students during breaks and lunch (which often includes silly conversations with our students about even sillier topics), and ends with more parking lot duty at the end of the school day. It is my mission to listen to every parent concern and respond in a timely fashion. In a recent optional Google Forms survey, I asked the question if the parent would like a personal reply to their concern and/or question. For every parent who responded with a "yes", I sent a quick reply to begin our dialogue. Most of these replies were sent within minutes of the parent finishing the survey. After all, my goal is to listen to all of our community members, whether they be students, parents, teachers, or local residents and hopefully increase the connection and involvement they feel to our school. These efforts are easily transferable to the high school campus.

10) Have fun

It's 5:40 on a Friday night and I'm about to head outside to welcome students to tonight's dance. Yes, my wife and kids are at home and it's hard to be away for another evening. That said, being at tonight's dance, waving hi to the parents as they drop off their students in the pouring rain, sharing smiles with every kids along with a welcome to tonight's dance - it creates a culture of having fun. Our student activities during lunch offer more opportunities for students to just be silly during the school day. We are adding more and more clubs (underwater robotics???) that blend excitement with cooperative learning. We are even trying out a "no homework night" in an effort to encourage our students to have a night usually reserved for studying to instead have fun and be a kid again. I think if you ask our students about their school experience, many of them will answer that they have fun while learning. This should be the goal. Students who have fun at school are more likely to come to school. It eliminates attendance issues (we've had only three instances of a student cutting a class in my five years at Union Middle) and increases student engagement during class. I realize that not every activity or classroom lesson can be fun, but thoughtful lesson planning with timely topics relevant to a student's daily journey leads to a higher investment at your school. And most of all, have fun. We work with kids. Best job in the world.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Five Things Every High School Needs

As a principal of a middle school in a K-8 district, I receive many questions about the transition of high school from our 8th grade parents. What will high school be like? Should we go to private school instead of our local high school? Should we be worried about the next four years? What can I do to give my son/daughter the best shot of a future?

As a huge believer in the public school system, I consistently tell parents to give the local high school a shot. Be part of the change. Be a part of the improvement. If only more of our top students chose to go to the local high school, many of the often ill-conceived notions of the local high school would dissipate. We have a graduating class of over 300 students at our school. If the 20-40 8th grade students applying to private school instead chose to attend their local public high school, there would now exist a tipping point of high achievement and increased opportunity in advanced placement classes.

But these students end up applying for and attending private schools instead.

So how can we change this trend? What does our local high school need to do to convince these students to choose their local neighborhood high school?

Here's how to fix the problem in five easy steps:

1) Hire more guidance counselors

I realize I am biased as a husband of a middle school counselor, but a good school counselor is the best thing a school can have. In high school, many of the guidance counselors are college and career counselors. While I completely value the purpose and mission of these individuals, many of our high school students need Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Mental Health Professionals to help guide them through their high school years. So many students don't find a connection in high school; having additional guidance counselors who have an emphasis in supporting the emotional needs of our students would benefit all students. More caring adults on a high school campus is a good thing.

2) Highlight your successes

So many good things are happening at the local high school... and yet, we hear very little. It is the job of every educator at the school site to promote their success. Tweet it. Blog about it. Find a local news reporter to share it. Every high school is going to deal with a bit of bad press. There will be good kids making bad decisions who end up in the local papers and your local gossip columns. To counteract any bad press, you need to highlight the amazing things taking place every single day on your school campus. Send our updates. Celebrate during lunch time activities. So much goodness happens on the local high school campus that we never hear or know about. Share. Tweet. Let your community know.

3) More opportunities for your top students

There is a perception that the high level course offerings available at our local private schools do not exist at the nearby public high school. There aren't high level AP courses. There isn't the opportunity to advance their learning in math and science. Even the extracurricular activities like athletics and band come into question. There is a saying that if you build it, they will come. I would encourage our local high school to increase the options for all students, especially their GATE students. Create a culture of opportunity for your students. Build it.

4) Increase STEAM opportunities

And building upon having more opportunities for your top students, consider an increase in STEAM options for all students. Our local high school does have a Project Lead The Way pathway. Do they offer Minecraft? Do they offer Design Thinking? How can they increase their course offerings in all things STEAM? Yes, there may be credentialing issues with certain classes, but that shouldn't stop these pathways. Create the classes that will encourage the future private school students to reconsider their decision. Convince them through STEAM opportunities to choose different.

5)  Hire a full time College and Career Counselor

My years as an administrator at the high school level, one of the best parts of our school campus was a dedicated space for our college and career center, supported by a full time College and Career Counselor. If you want to create a sense of a college going campus, you need to have an individual on your campus who spends their days promoting this option in a full time capacity. Provide the students an opportunity to venture into the College and Career Center during their prep periods. Create a college-going practice on your campus. One of the main reasons our 8th grade students venture to private schools is to ensure the best option for college. Having a College and Career Counselor will give all students a better shot at finding the best college for them.

I'm a huge fan of our local public high school. There is much opportunity to inspire and encourage our students to join the positive improvements they're making. I would love for all of our graduating 8th graders to be a part of the change and help guide our local high school to the heights it belongs. I'm hopeful that the local high school will continue to build upon their recent successes and continue on the right path to provide a top notch education for all students. Let's be a part of the solution and make it happen. Go Longhorns.

Friday, January 9, 2015

My One Word for 2015

Across the Twitterverse, there is a challenge to choose one word that will inspire you in our classroom or school in 2015...

To be fair, I've struggled with my selection of my word for 2015. I've thought about the idea of choosing the word "sprint" because of how fast it feels we're moving as a middle school. Conversely, I've thought about choosing the word "slow" as we often need to shift down during our days and appreciate the blessings of being able to work with kids (and people who work with the kids!). Ultimately, I've chosen the word "perfect".

But not "perfect" as a noun... instead, "perfect" as a verb, specifically: "make something complete, free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible."

At Union Middle School, I feel we are in the "sweet spot" of education. We have possibly the most innovative CTO in the entire county in Mr. Andrew Schwab... We have an incredibly supportive district office and parent community... And perhaps most importantly, we have one of the best school staffs in the state of California. 

Union Middle School already offers so many incredible opportunities for our students. We have Project Lead The Way, Design Thinking, Minecraft, and more. There is a flourishing music program with an incredibly supportive band boosters behind it. 97% of our kids have reported that they have not been bullied due to an academic or social disability. And perhaps most telling, over half of our staff has been hired at Union Middle within the last five years, including yours truly.

So my one word  for the upcoming year is the verb form of "perfect".

My goal is that we begin to improve and perfect everything we're already doing. 

I don't want to add more electives to our staff. I don't think we need to switch how we experience our days with our students. We already have so many opportunities for our students, staff, and parent community to become involved at our school. What we can best improve upon is perfecting everything we're already doing... or as close to such a condition as possible.

How do we do this?

1) Time - Provide as much time as possible for our staff. Time to prepare for the Next Generation Science Standards. Time for our Tech 2 staff members to assist their peers in improving their classroom experience. Time for our leadership team to meet with students, with parents, and with teachers to hear feedback and augment what we're already best providing.

2) Experience - The best gift in the teaching profession is experience and it's only something that we can receive through walking through our daily lives in and out of the classroom, learning from our own mistakes. We are on our third year of Project Lead The Way, our second year of Champions, and our first year of Design Thinking and Minecraft. The gift of experience provides confidence and a reassurance that we're providing the best curriculum and school experience possible for our students.

3) Reflection - I'm not going to assume that everything we're doing is the best way to accomplish our goals. As you've possibly heard before, the phrase "because we've always done it this way" has become our enemy mantra. We need to evaluate our administrative choices and determine how we can best serve our students and best propel (or perfect) our school educators to achieve greatness. We will reflect on our current practices to best improve future performance. 

So the one word I'm going to focus on is perfect as in how to take the amazing work we're already doing to the next level and how to support our staff therein. Here's to an exciting 2015.

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A long road to travel, often alone but never by yourself...

If you asked any Union Middle School staff member what my three favorite things were, I suspect they would respond with the following answer...