Thursday, August 31, 2017

Different Spin on my Back to School Night

Tonight was my 8th Back to School Night at Union Middle School. Every year is a bit different, but truly just more of the same. Our (amazing, national champion) cheerleaders perform for the first few minutes. Our Home & School Club (HSC) president follows with an introduction and shared how our HSC supports our school and students. The principal then closes the introduction and sends the parents on their way.

While we followed the same format tonight, I decided to change up my portion of the night. Instead of sharing slides full of text with the yearly updates, I decided instead chose to talk to our parent community about what it's like to be in middle school and how we can all work together to support our students.

Below is my speech from tonight, each paragraph tied to a slide shown on the overhead screen. I've included the slides below as well. Thanks for reading!

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Hello everyone,

I am Todd Feinberg, your principal.


Normally, this is the time of the night where I talk for a good ten to fifteen minutes. I discuss our SBAC scores (which were very good - Math scores went up a lot!), our Chromebook 1:1 initiative, our school mission and vision, among many other things. All of these topics are available on the slides link and will be sent out later tonight as well.


Instead, I’d like to talk about Union Middle School and maybe even middle school in general.


Middle School is hard. It is hard for our students. It is hard for our staff. It is hard for you, our parent community.


To me, a middle school experience can be perfectly described by the following gif:



(Notice how she gets up every single time)


Seeing how challenging the academic and social scene of middle school can be, I hope you agree with me about what Middle School should be.


It’s where students and teachers can grow and take risks.


Where students learn and are excited to learn each and every day.


A place where kids get a bit of time and freedom to figure things out… to figure out who they are and who they want to be.


When I talk with my staff -- and let me once again say that this is the best staff I’ll ever work with -- we talk nonstop about how to best support our students.

We discuss how they need to be the ones our students can count on, someone who our students can rely on.




After all, I don’t just want our staff to cultivate, to grow our students’ academic gifts, but also encourage their inner kindness as well.





And if you don’t follow our teachers on twitter, please do. You can follow them, follow the school account @goteamums or the school hashtag #teamUMS. On Twitter, you’ll see how we celebrate the positives of Union Middle School, how we make these positives so loud.



And our parents… As I’ve shared before, our parent community is a huge part of our school’s success.


For those 6th grade parents in the crowd… from your emails and texts, I can definitely sense the anxiety about middle school that we share. Please don’t worry about The Wrong; try to be excited about everything that is Going Right.



Know that there are times where you think you are helping your student… but please consider that what they may truly need is something else altogether…



Parents - We encourage our students to share their appreciation with their teachers. Please consider doing the same as well, perhaps together as a family?



And for all of us as a school community…  


Please join our staff in reminding our students that they need not solve all of the world’s problems they’re presented with. Please encourage them to just be themselves. Tell them it’s going to be ok.



Remind them that they matter to you, to us.



Encourage them to share their ideas, no matter how silly.



Try to be the example you want for your student. I’ve found that teenagers don’t always listen to our words but they do watch and mimic our actions.



Encourage them to try hard, always give their best.



And I promise you… I will try to make this middle school adventure for you and for them the best possible experience I can. You can text me via the Remind App. Many of you do. A lot. Late at night. Often. And while we have over 1000 students, please know that we care very deeply about how to best support your 1.



I promise to best support your student both here at UMS and beyond.



And yes, there are times we may disagree. That’s ok. Just know that I make decisions that are very well-vetted and with much care and compassion for our kids and school community. Not some of the time... all of the time.



And above all else, always remember that tomorrow is another day to enjoy, to start anew.


Welcome to Union Middle School. Enjoy your night. Follow your student’s schedule. If you need a new schedule, stop by the office for a copy. Thank you.


(All images attributed where possible; most taken from Imgur/Reddit/Twitter)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Graduation Speech - 2017 - Union Middle School

Good Evening Everyone,

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Todd Feinberg, and I have been privileged to have been the principal of Union Middle School over the past five years. It is an honor to stand in front of you all today and truly means a great deal to me. I genuinely care about each and every one of my Union Tigers. I hope you all will keep in touch.

I’m going to start tonight with a positive. Actually, this entire speech is positive. As I shared back in March when I spoke with our 8th grade class, we love so much about each and every one of our 8th grade students.

We love your spirit.

We love your compassion toward others.

We love your curiosity, your growth, your silliness, and your seriousness.

You are a breath of fresh air. You make us smile, laugh, and have just the right amount of crazy to keep us adults on our toes.

So to impart a bit of wisdom on this already-wonderful group of three hundred plus young adults, I reflect back on two student stories from my time at Union Middle.

The first story began seven years ago.

The year is 2010 and I had just joined Union Middle School. As I’ve shared previously, I had spent that spring contemplating leaving education altogether. On a whim, I applied for and eventually was selected to be the assistant principal at Union.

One of my first student interactions was not with a middle school student, but instead with a 1st grader. This 1st grader would stop by a few times a week with her younger sister and hang out in our main office while their babysitter finished up her day.
This 1st grade student was incredibly friendly, extremely bright, and just loved to joke around. Of course, I called her George (because why not) and over the next year or two, almost every afternoon, we would challenge one another to word searches, admire her artwork, and just simply laugh at the silliest of things.

You see, this 1st grader embodied many of the traits I see in all of you, but most of all what stood out was how she, also like many of you, excelled in how to build relationships with others.

We adults are often told that relationships aren’t the only thing, but instead they’re everything. How we connect with one another. How we share a little bit of our lives with each other. How we forgive and how we love to make others smile.

Thus, my first bit of advice for the Class of 2017 is to always focus on your relationships.

Take a moment this summer (hint hint) to write a letter of gratitude to your favorite 8th grade teacher. Sometime tonight or perhaps this weekend, acknowledge that extra effort your family provided you over the past three years to reach tonight’s promotion. Just always try to be your best self; these relationships you plant today, no matter who silly and simple they may seem, always have the potential to grow into something beautiful.

And when we speak of relationships, I’m not talking about 300 day streaks in Snapchat or five trillion emojis sent back and forth over a ten minute “conversation” - Relationships are built upon human contact and concern, meeting with someone to hear their story, and share a little bit of yourself as well. We all could try to be a little more present in our digital lives.

And to that 1st grader seven years ago who through their kindness made such a positive impact on my own professional life… George, or whom many of you know as Alexis B., wherever you’re sitting here tonight as part of our promoting 8th grade class, thank you.  

The second story is from the current school year. It involves a student who was new to Union Middle School for their 8th grade year. She was overflowed to our sister school Dartmouth and didn’t arrive on our campus until late September, only knowing one other UMS student prior to her arrival.

As a student myself who started 7th grade as the brand new student across the country, I was amazed at how effortlessly this student made it look. She sought out a group of friends who would raise her up if she was feeling down. She excelled academically. Often, when she crossed the sidewalk to leave school each day, she’d often say a quick “thank you” to whatever adult was there to help.

Obviously, much like our promoting class of 2017, she’s an amazing student and individual.

But what impressed me the most about this student was during a music assembly, back in March.

Our students had recently completed a swing dancing unit, the first such dance curriculum for Union Middle School students in a long while. As our amazing band students were about to perform, our band director, Mr. Kay, shared with the students in attendance, “If you want to get up and swing dance, feel free!”

The band began to play and, much like I’d expect for a group of middle school students, no audience member flinched. You could see people pretending to stand up as if they were going to be the first person on the dance floor. You may have seen a few friends joking with each other, trying to convince one another to start dancing. Regardless, no one moved; no one took that risk of being first.

Until this student, who began her 8th grade year at Union Middle having to rebuild her entire social and school persona from scratch… she stood up, grabbed her friend’s hand, and began to swing dance in front of the six hundred kids in attendance.

A few students gasped, some chuckled… until two other students joined on the dance floor. And then two more. And then ten more. And then seemingly everyone fled from the bleachers and began swing dancing. It was quite a sight to behold: kids just being kids, blissfully free from the social pressures of being afraid to stand out.

And I reflect back on this one student who led the charge. This one student who started a mini dance dance revolution at our music assembly that morning. I remember being incredibly impressed at how bold she was to take this chance, to ignore what someone would say, to not worry about what she looked like if she ended up as one of the only students dancing.

Thus, my second bit of advice for the Class of 2017 is to not be afraid to stand out, to stand up, and allow yourself to be who you are.

What I found so remarkable about this student, who you all know as Courtney S., is that she did something I could never have done as a 8th grade student and probably many of us here today would have strong reservations doing as an adult.

Courtney wasn’t afraid to be the one leading the charge. She took a huge risk and showed how leadership can take many forms. I believe that all of you have the capability to be a strong leader in whatever it is you do. Don’t be afraid to be a positive trendsetter and don’t be afraid to be the first follower either.

There is a third quality I wish for our graduates to reflect upon. Truth be told, I feel like it’s something that our 2017 graduates already do quite well.

It is a trying time in the world today. One of the most challenging roles of your educators, your parents, your grandparents, truly anyone who wants to impart wisdom upon you, is trying to make sense of what’s happening outside our school gates, in your communities, across town, throughout our state, within our nation, and across the world.

For our Union Middle School community, it has been an especially challenging year. Family members we’ve lost. The private troubles of your classmates that were never shared. It has been one of the toughest last months of school I’ve ever been a part of - many of you have kept me up at night, worried whether or not you’d be ok.

Knowing how challenging it is to be a teenager in today’s society, I offer the class of 2017 my best advice possible: be kind.

Kind to your classmates, kind to strangers, kind to your parents, kind to your neighbors. Please be kind to yourselves as well. Just be kind.

When a special needs 7th grader was having a hard time around another group of students, you rallied at their side... walking them to school, spending lunch with them, and making sure they felt included.

When Bryan Stow shared his story with you during a school assembly this past February, you chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from an upcoming dance to his foundation.

We have watched you comfort one another through the crises of middle school. We see the hugs (which are still for high school, by the way) you offer your classmates when you know they’re having a bad day. Your little random acts of kindness do not go unnoticed by your teachers, your parents, and most importantly, from your classmates. I wish more adults in this world, especially perhaps in the today’s political arena, had your kind, helpful spirit.

As Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

To the Union Middle School class of 2017, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your kindness. I wish you all weren’t leaving just yet.

But I think the world needs you more than we do right now. Go out and continue to shine. We are going to miss you.

Congratulations everyone and thank you for the past three years.





Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An Invitation To Lead

It started with the most innocent of conversations.

I was speaking with Jon Corippo, the Director of Academic Innovation for CUE. As are most of my conversational experiences with Jon Corippo, I am mentally taking notes on everything he's saying - it's like edu-gospel for academic leaders.

Jon is sharing parts of his vision for how to change the status quo of education. I find myself nodding to everything he says. It was all about how we need to address the student's learning experience. As I said, gospel.

"We have to put the learning back into the hands of the students." Absolutely.

"If you're not sitting around the lunch table, sharing how awesome your students are and how amazing their work is, change your lesson design." Couldn't agree more.

"Hey, are you interested in joining the CUE Rockstar Admin Staff at a future conference?" Uh, wait a second.

I didn't know if he was serious or not. I replied with something along the lines of "I would love to" and "sure, be glad to help." Inside, I was thinking to myself, "oh no, he's mistaken me for a different edu-Todd! I'm not sure how to get out of this!"

Because in my own thought process, I couldn't discover a reason why THE Jon Corippo would find anything in value in what I could share with my fellow administrators. Zero. None.

I had only been presenting at various edu-conferences for a year or two at this point. The attendance had been spotty at all of my sessions. The participation therein borderline iffy. I wasn't sure what I had to offer to another edu-administrator other than a solid 60 minutes where they could catch up on their emails during my presentation.

But I said "sure!" and didn't expect anything to come of it.

Until about a year later, I got an email somewhat out of the blue. I knew that the CUE Rockstar Admin camps were approaching for the upcoming Fall. Here in my inbox sat an email, asking if I would like to serve as part of the faculty for the Admin event. I froze.

So this is a real thing? They're actually asking me to participate?

I scanned who else had been invited and would be part of the presenting team...

Michael Niehoff. Brandon BlomTraci Bonde. Jennifer Kloczko. Jon Corippo. Plus me.

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things is not like the others. One of these things is not like the others.

Michael Niehoff is edu-famous for building Minarets High School from the ground up with Jon Corippo. Michael has actually been the lead trainer for our USD administrative staff for the past year or two.

Brandon Blom, the Roseville principal who writes blogs that I copy and paste for my weekly Meeting in a Memo. I regularly stalk his #PrincipalsinAction twitter posts.

Traci Bonde was one of the admin faculty from my own CUE Admin Rockstar experience. She's been at the Ed Tech Admin game for close to two decades now. She's one of the "legend" CTOs in our edu-circles.

Jennifer Kloczko has been an inspiration for my own principal leadership over the past five years. If she's presenting at a conference, I'm usually there and in attendance. Just recently, at Fall CUE, I liberally swiped one of her ideas (internal Staff Website) and transformed how our #teamUMS staff accesses their school information.

And Jon Corippo, quite possibly the biggest edu-game changer on the West Coast as well. Five amazing, legendary edu-figures. Plus me.

I still secretly suspect that it's a mistake that my email was included on the invite list. But I'm getting past that feeling lately. My new goal is to make the most of the experience.

Here's why: This is going to be one of the best learning experiences of my education career. Am I ready for this opportunity? Perhaps, perhaps not. Am I going to seize the challenge and recognize that I have been selected by someone for a specific reason... that I have something edu-awesome to share with my administrative peers? Absolutely yes.

It reminds me of what Erik Burmeister, my predecessor at Union Middle School, said to me when I first applied to follow him as the #teamUMS principal over five years ago.

I told Erik "I don't think I'm ready to be a principal."

He replied "No one is ever ready. Don't worry - you'll eventually be ready. And when you are, you'll already be there."

So from one innocent conversation to the stage of leading and working with administrators on how to become a Rockstar Admin. It should be a fun ride -- I'll be there!




Friday, April 28, 2017

Don't Give Up

​Dear awesome 7th grade student,​

​I'm writing you tonight to share the results from the week's ​elections at UMS. 

By now, you may know that I've already called the respective individuals who were selected for each of the five ASB officer positions. 

By now, you've probably figured out that you did not receive a call, that all of the positions were filled, and that you won't be serving as an ASB officer at UMS in the fall.

I know it can be a bit challenging to receive the news that you were not selected for a position that you campaigned for, that you put yourself out there for, that you spent time making posters for, and that you worked extremely hard to make happen.

I say that I know how you may feel because I myself ran for secretary during my 7th or 8th grade year in middle school. I'm not sure which year it was (i'm old), but what I do remember is that I ran against just one other person. It was me or her. 50% chance. Great odds, I thought.

In the end, it was her. 

I was really bummed. My friends had run. One of them had been selected as an officer. He was celebrating while I was just confused and disappointed by the results.

What hurt the most was that there was no closure or notice from anyone at the school to help explain what happened. The winners were announced over the loud speaker and that was it. 

When I sat in my social studies class and waited for the results to be read over the loud speaker, I started to get a bit excited. After all, I had a 50% chance of winning. My friends said that they all voted for me. I had spent the last two weeks saying hi to everyone in the halls. Surely this counted for something, right?

They read the results for everyone to hear and I realized that I had not been selected. I looked around the room and felt that everyone was looking at me. Self-consciously, I suspected that everyone was internally doing the math in their head: "Todd had a 50% chance of winning and he lost! He finished LAST!"

The rest of the day was a bit rough. I didn't eat with my friends that lunch. Instead, I chose to do a bit of homework in the library, but truly, I was hiding and a bit embarrassed by the news. It's hard to be 13, to put yourself out there, and to fail.

But as I've grown older, I realize that I didn't fail. If anything, I succeeded.

No, I didn't win some random secretary position at some random middle school way back when. Instead, I gained a bit of perspective that sometimes things don't work out how I hoped they would have but it doesn't mean that there won't be another opportunity that I need to be prepared for.

Essentially, you need to make sure you just don't give up.

The loss of the secretary position stayed with me for a while. 

Fast forward to college. I finally managed the courage to run again for an elected position, this time in my fraternity. I end up elected treasurer and am re-elected for my Junior and Senior years. (Disclaimer: I'm not sure anyone else wanted the job)

Fast forward a few more years and I'm being interviewed for my first teaching position. Didn't get it and instead I'm immediately called back to interview for the job I ended up loving for my first five years in education.

And then, I apply for two administrative positions despite having five years of classroom experience. Reach the second round but was the runner up. Came up short. Replayed my second round interview in my head over and over again. A week later, I ended up being selected for the second one.

Two years later, I applied for an assistant principal position at my high school alma mater. Didn't get it. Reapply a year later. End up getting selected this time around.

My point, awesome 7th grade student, is that you're going to be selected for a lot of awesome opportunities in your future. You're also going to lose out on others. All of this is absolutely ok. Just don't give up trying. 

I'm proud of you for putting yourself out there and running for office. You did a great job. Thank you for being a student at UMS. Thank you for being you and making UMS a special place to be. 

I look forward to your 8th grade year and seeing how you continue to be awesome. Keep it up.

Sincerely,

Your very proud principal






Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hire the Best (pt 3)

If you're still following along, I've shared an inside look into how a principal builds the best staff possible for the upcoming school year.

The first post shared how we had experienced the loss of an incredibly talented young educator to one of our feeder elementary schools.

The second post detailed how sometimes the stars align and a former staff member may somehow rejoin your staff through a bit of luck and timing.

This post shares how we were able to fill the our last open position for the upcoming school year... it's about always having a plan.

With Ms. Starr's impending departure for Noddin, we now had a 6th grade math/science core position to fill. I needed someone who had experience with 6th grade students, who was both an expert in mathematics and science at the 6th grade level, and who would understand our school culture and community from the minute go.

Over the next few days, I explored a variety of options for this now-open position. I attended the Santa Clara County Job Fair and met a few prospective candidates, all eager to find an educational home. I spoke with principals outside the district about any teachers they had who were ready for a possible change in their professional career. I would check in with our Human Resources department seemingly hourly for an update.

Despite all of these conversations, nothing seemed to make sense. There didn't seem to be a perfect fit.

And that's the thing. I won't accept anything less than a perfect fit for our students and for our staff. I fully expect to be able to hire the best possible educator to join our staff. I've shared my thoughts about our school community before. Our kids are awesome. Our parent community is supportive. And the staff is second to none -- it is easily the best staff I've ever worked with. No other staff puts kids first like the staff I have the pleasure of working with at Union Middle.

And that's when I got a random text, completely out of the blue, from a former UMS teacher.

This educator has left two years prior for an administrative position in a very wealthy district about 20 miles north. Unbeknownst to her, I kept close tabs on her progress as an admin. I only heard good things. Unlike many new-to-administration educators (including myself), this individual immediately and successfully blended the constant balancing act we administrators have to face in our daily routines. She was fantastic with kids. She supported her staff. She worked closely with the parent community.

And while I can't speak for her, I do know that being an administrator is a lonely place to be sometimes. You miss the classroom every single day. I still do myself.

You're viewed differently. The public figure aspect of the job is just bizarrely uncomfortable.

And maybe, to her, no matter where she was, it just wasn't home. It just wasn't Union Middle.

So we conversed over text and that quickly switched to a phone conversation.

She was looking for a change. No doubt in her mind. She wanted to come back to Union Middle. Did I have a spot?

Yes and no.

To make the spot in 8th grade science, a hard conversation had to take place with a current staff member. They would have to shift to Ms. Starr's 6th grade assignment, opening up a spot in 8th grade science. The move made sense. The now-6th grade teacher had taught at this grade level before with much success. The opportunity to have her rejoin our 6th grade team and create the opening at the 8th grade science level just made perfect sense.

During these frantic days, I would regularly check in with our superintendent and assistant superintendent of Human Resources. In some districts, a principal may not have the support for such out of the box thinking. Here, in USD, our district team was heavily invested and working hard to help make this entire project a reality almost overnight.

Fast forward a few days and it was a go. This actually could be happening. The plan was slowly coming together.

The hardest part about everything that was happening was not sharing the good news with our staff. While I dropped hints in various conversations with inquiring staff members, I knew that I needed to allow all of the dominoes to fall in a timely fashion. As more than a few of my staff will share, I'm not a big fan of secrets. I just prefer to be upfront and honest about everything; it's easier to keep track of the truth this way. Sadly, in education and many other work place environments, that's just not possible.

Finally, today, I was able to share the good news with our staff: Mary Martin was coming home to Union Middle.

At first, the staff didn't believe me. One teacher even said, "wait, is he serious? he can't be serious... is he serious?" Another staff member, someone who may have already known, confirmed that the news I was sharing, that Mary Martin was returning to Union Middle, was the truth. Smiles started to break out at every single table. The noise got a bit louder. I too stood at the front of the room, smiling at finally being able to share such good news.

After all, Mary has close to twenty years classroom experience. She has been at the forefront of our transition to a balanced implementation of technology in the classroom. We have co-presented at conferences. She's even been the president of our teachers' union and, in my opinion, performed extremely well to support the USD staff and students in this role. Mary is someone who sees the bigger picture and works collaboratively with all parties to make the goodness happen.

As I shared previously, she's one of those "I'll do whatever I can to support kids" kind of educators. She's expertly training in AVID. Her experience in teaching students how to love science is something district and noticeable when speaking with her students. I've often referred to her as the glue that kept our science department together.

Simply put, she's one of the best educators I've had the pleasure of working with in my 15+ years in education and we are truly blessed she's coming back home to Union Middle.

In my conversation with her on the phone, we discussed how happy she was in her present administrative role. She shared how amazing her students were, how friendly the community was, and how she'd build solid friendships with her staff.

But the difference is no matter how amazing those friendships are, she really missed her family at Union Middle.

And, without a doubt, the most important thing in and out of our profession is family.

Welcome home, Mary. 


Hire the Best (pt 2)

In this previous post, I shared some not-so-great for Union Middle School news that we were losing a teacher to the elementary school. This staffing loss led to another aspect of our "Building a Better Principal" presentation: Always have a plan.

And yes, I did have a plan.

The plan was to move forward by looking backwards.

We do have teachers leave for various reasons. It happens at all schools. Other opportunities. Just needing a change. Sometimes even a promotion of sorts.

With Alyssa's departure and a second opening in 6th grade core, we were looking for two top notch educators to join our team.

The second opening was filled first. Last year, Monica Silva shared with me that she would be leaving Union Middle to pursue an opportunity elsewhere. The job sounded amazing and I knew her departure would leave a huge hole at UMS.

Reason being, Mrs. Silva is a champion for kids. She loves them. She devotes every breath she takes to ensuring that they feel welcome in her classroom and on our campus. She's the den mother every school needs. When she left, the loss was noticeable and a challenge for our school culture.

Somewhere along the way, sometime around late Fall, Mrs. Silva reached out to me and just checked in. I shared how much I missed her on our staff. She shared how much she missed being a part of our staff. I suggested she come back. She laughed.

Fast forward a few weeks and what had at one time started as a silly conversation was slowly becoming something that could happen.

Mrs. Silva did want to come back to USD. She was ready to make it happen. Add in some details about the teacher shortage, the continued need to hire great teachers, a forward thinking superintendent and Human Resources department who understood how to make these out-of-the-box ideas happen... and Mrs. Silva was going to be a member of our school district again for the upcoming school year.

However, there was no guarantee that her eventual placement would be at UMS. Dominoes had to fall, not just at Union Middle but elsewhere in the district.

Earlier this week, I was able to officially confirm that Monica was going to be a part of our #teamUMS staff for the 2017-18 school year (and hopefully many years beyond). I was able to announce the news to the staff at our collaboration time this afternoon.

To be able to hire the very best for your students... that's the goal of a principal. With Monica, I've guaranteed that whatever students end up in her class for the 2017-18 school year will have an amazing 6th grade at Union Middle.

But if you're reading along, I still had Ms. Starr's position to fill... This would be a bit trickier.

(and yes, it's continued in part 3)

Hire the Best! (pt 1)

A few weeks ago, Jackie Knudson, a kindergarten teacher at Noddin Elementary School, and I presented at Annual CUE in Palm Springs. We had spent a few weeks preparing our presentation, titled "How to Build a Better Principal", and decided upon five key elements therein.

One of the five ways to Build a Better Principal was to only hire the very best. The best teacher. The best office assistant. The best assistant principal. The best basketball coach. The best everything. The "Better Principal" wants to have the very best educators interacting with their students each and every day.

I should briefly pause to share what I mean when I say "the best educator" as it may mean different things to different people.

To me, the best educators care about kids deeply. They give second chances but are also firm when necessary. They know that sarcasm rarely works with kids, especially not until a solid student-teacher relationship is built. They're also hard working and yet always looking to improve. They're the teachers you can ask something of and you'll probably hear a response that starts with "yes"  and ends with "always willing to help". They're the current leaders of your school culture and the future administrative leaders of your schools.

One such teacher is our very own Alyssa Starr.

Alyssa schedule has her listed as teaching 6th grade Math & Science, but that's not what she does; she teaches kids how to be advocates for their own learning, guiding them from the perilous transition of elementary school to 7th grade. She's nothing short of fantastic. She's a silent leader on our campus. In the years I've known Alyssa, I don't think I've ever received a parent or student complaint. She's a true asset to Union Middle School.

Recently, Alyssa shared that she's looking for a bit of a change and would be applying for a kindergarten position in our district. Ironically perhaps, she's now scheduled to be a teaching partner of my CUE partner, Ms. Knudson. When I spoke with Jackie tonight about Alyssa's departure from Union Middle, she said, "Well, remember... we did say that the secret to building a better principal is to hire the best... we were just following your advice in having Alyssa join our team!"

And she's right. A principal needs to hire the very best... and if your teachers are on board with making it happen, even better.

So good for Noddin. They just got a top notch educator, a future leader in our profession.

And they left Union Middle with a huge staffing hole to fill...

But another rule about Building a Better Principal - Always have a plan.

(Part 2 shared a bit of the plan... read on)

No Words

(Note: I wrote this blog entry a few weeks ago... but just didn't bring myself to share our experience from that week just yet. I think it's ok now. Thanks for reading.)

I don't have the words to describe last week.

It started with a random news alert that a plane had crashed in Riverside, California. It was a Monday. My wife and I had been discussing our challenging days at each of our middle schools. I quickly skimmed the news report of the place crash and slightly paused as I read that they were traveling back to San Jose. Weird, I thought, that's pretty close to where I work.

I then read a bit more about the story. The individuals on the plane had been at a cheerleading competition over the weekend. This was another odd coincidence; our two middle schools had just performed at a cheerleading competition. 

The news shared that the competition had been at Disneyland. Again, a weird coincidence. Our cheerleaders had just performed at Disneyland and had actually finished first out of seven teams. Perhaps there were other divisions or other teams who participated in the competition that I didn't know about. 

Then I received a text from our cheerleading coach. 

A bit of backstory on our cheerleading coach.

First, she's awesome. She "gets" kids. She's also our Mental Health Counselor at Union Middle. We're very lucky to have her on our site. As far as irreplaceable staff members go, she's definitely on that list.

She shared her beliefs on what had happened. That the crash may involve families from our school. That while she didn't have any facts, she was just as worried as I was. I asked her to repeat to me more than just a few times: None of our students were on the plane. All of our students came home on the bus. All of our students were safe.

Despite a flurry of false information from our new organizations, the picture started to become a bit clearer. Names of the victims were eventually confirmed. Based on what we heard, it became very clear, very quickly that two UMS families were going to need a lot of support from us and our community.

The following day at school was a challenge. Our district sent extra administrators and mental health services to our site for as long as we needed them to stay for the week. Our superintendent graciously sent breakfast and lunch for our staff. It was an "all hands on deck" type of day for our staff. We were all on the lookout for that student or students who may need support.

And it wasn't just students we were worried about. It was our staff too. The teacher who had all of the siblings in her class over the past few years. The other staff member who spent countless hours with the family, discussing how to best support their student. Or perhaps our mental health therapist herself, now having to serve as a mental health support for the students in need but also needing time to grieve herself.

For the most part, it was our cheerleading team who were struggling throughout the day, the week, the month... and rightfully so. Our cheerleading team is comprised of a very tight group of friends first, students second. They practice everyday. They hang out together. Most of their free time is spent with each other. These emotional events were not something we'd want any middle school student should have to endure. It was only with the support of our staff and each other that we were able to progress through the week.

More news about the tragic loss within our community spread on Wednesday. Our cheerleading coach and I reached out to the families throughout the week. Both affected families have former UMS students, all of which I spent lots of time working with during their UMS tenure. All of the kids involved are just flat out amazing. None of this seemed fair. It just doesn't seem fair.

We have a community who wants to help. Gofundme (included below) and meal support accounts were set up to support the families. Neighbors and friends have taken over car rides to school, homework help, and just a listening ear as students transition through these difficult times.

A week later, things still feel unsettled. The funerals for the family members are upcoming. I try to check in with the students myself every single day. When our eyes connect, I can see a level of sadness that no 11 year old should ever have to endure. I wish there is more I could do. I wish I had the words to help them.

But I don't.

I don't have the words to help.

Instead, I listen.

I offer my time, my heart, and everything else they need to help them get through the day.

If you want to join in and help as well, there are links below.

Take care of yourself and each other.

-Todd

https://www.gofundme.com/stacey-pierce-family-relief-fund
https://www.gofundme.com/farelas-family-fund


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