Message From Dr. Dowd
Hello Walnut Acres Parents,
Welcome to October and the start of the wonderful fall season. All is well at Walnut Acres, with students now into the routine of school and teachers working diligently to provide a meaningful and engaging learning experience for each child in class.
Please remember that as a partner in your child's education, we count on you to share with us if our learning plan for your student is on target, too overwhelming because of time-consuming homework or confusing lessons, or too simplistic. Our teachers are experts in creating learning experiences, but we count on you for individual feedback because you are the expert when it comes to your child!
I have a very important plea to make on the crucial topic of safety. A loving WA grandfather shared anxiously with me that he witnessed a near-accident the other day, when a busy mom distracted by a young child in the back seat, nearly ran over a child in the crosswalk! Our wonderful crossing guard, Bertha Russ, pulled the child back and saved the day, but the parent went on through the crosswalk and sped away without even realizing the close call! I double-checked this incident with Ms. Russ, and she shared with me that the careless driving scenario was, unfortunately, not a singular event. Please be careful driving around our children. We all have places to go and people to see, but imagine how you would feel if you hit a child!
COMMON CORE UPDATE
A new Web page is available on the California Department of Education (CDE)Common Core Channel: Why the Common Core State Standards in California?Please visit this page to view videos and other resources explaining California's commitment to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and communications resources.
Common Core: One principal's perspective
I realize there is some controversy about the Common Core curriculum and I was discussing that topic with parents recently. They suggested that some folks may be interested in my perspective. I am sharing it below, but please note that I am providing my professional opinion. I am not speaking for anyone other than myself.
As a young teacher in the 1980s I relished strategies that helped students take responsibility and joy in the learning process, such as project-based learning and cooperative learning. I was excited when the state began to develop standards so that all students would have access to a well-developed and carefully crafted K-12 curriculum. I was also pleased with the subsequent accountability movement designed to ensure that we were implementing and successfully teaching the standards
Theoretically, all was good, but realistically, most experts agree that standard-creators were over-exuberant and developed far too many standards. The limitations of test design for large numbers of students also led to a state test (STAR) that inadequately assessed student knowledge through a shallow multiple choice-only format. This format limited the depth of questions that could be asked and student thinking that could be measured. As STAR assessment results took on a significance beyond educator intention, (so crucial that local housing prices fluctuated according to a single Academic Performance Index measure of the neighborhood school) it became difficult for educational personnel to avoid 'teaching to the test'. Over the years, as districts and schools focused on attaining ever-stronger API scores, curriculum and instruction efforts mirrored the STAR assessment by focusing on a large amount of material presented with little depth. Our instructional materials-including fill-in-the blank, multiple-choice workbook pages-reflected that broad, but shallow, focus.
With the advent of Common Core standards I am thrilled that we are returning to a focus on depth of knowledge and an emphasis on the ability to flexibly problem-solve. Our 21st century 6 Cs of Collaboration, Creative thinking, Critical thinking, Communication, global Citizenship, and Content mastery, are infused within the standards, along with technology integration, to powerfully structure a framework of learning for our students. With the next-generation of assessments now online, the Smarter Balanced assessment presents information in video, picture and traditional written formats while gathering student knowledge in 16 different ways (including short and long written responses and matching, as well as traditional, single-answer multiple choice questions).
Of course there will be challenges with the Common Core Standards and our assessment process, but that is to be expected with any sea change. Ultimately, I am delighted to embrace the compelling mission of preparing our students for the dynamic, technology-rich world they will inhabit with scaffolded, multi-leveled learning experiences that include the Workshop Approach, Design Thinking, Project-Based Learning, and the Experimental Method. Our students will benefit enormously from this shift! Having taught in 4 different states, I can also tell you that I am relieved we are finally looking at standards and assessment tools across states! This broad collaboration will heighten all educational dialogue, enrich professional development and enhance student success in our transient world.
Thank you to all parents for your diligence in getting students to school every day on time, working as a team player with your child's teacher to build a successful school learning experience, and for the volunteerism you model every day! Together we create a wonderful, enticing learning climate for our children. I don't know much about baseball, but a great man once commented:
"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You
may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but
if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime."
Colleen Dowd, Principal
Welcome to 2014-15 Walnut Acres parents!
I am writing to you from a comfortably air-conditioned office and I am happy to report that all our children will be similarly cool and comfy in each classroom during the dog days of summer! Let me sketch out some of the major changes you will see around campus along with our well-ventilated rooms...
I can't definitively tell you whether or not we will have combo classes because it depends on the grade levels of children in families who walk through our door to register. However, at this point I am hopeful that we can maintain one Transitional Kindergarten (TK), three kindergartens, three first grades, three second grades, four third grades, three fourth grades and three fifth grades, along with our three Special Day Classes (SDC) for students with autism. Keep your fingers crossed with me. A tentative map of our facility configuration is on our website. (Click here.) You will note that Mrs. Bellendir is moving to 4th grade (with a math focus), but otherwise teachers remain at their 2013-14 grade level assignments.
We also need to know who will not be returning to our school this year in order to have an accurate class count. Please contact the office and share your plans if you are moving.
MDUSD is reinstituting instrumental music for fifth grade students. The pull-out model will allow band/orchestra students to attend one 45-minute instrument lesson weekly and one 45-minute instrument family (brass, strings, winds) lesson weekly. Our instrumental music teachers will be with us during a portion of Wednesday and Friday mornings. Participation in the instrumental music program is voluntary. Fifth graders will continue to receive vocal music instruction and choral/performance instruction weekly within their homeroom groups. Our PFC is also continuing the Wednesday after-school instrument program which remains open to all fifth graders.
There are more new faces than usual as we count down to the start of the 2014-15 school year. Allow me to introduce you...
Lauren Lux is teaching Transitional Kindergarten (TK) in A6. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Mrs. Lux earned her credential in 2007 from CSU Monterey Bay and her Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction in 2012. She has been teaching since 2006. A mother of toddler twin boys, she is excited to be working with students just a tad older than her own. Mrs. Lux is looking forward to working with our youngest students as she returns to the community in which she was raised!
Leigh-Ann Andrada is teaching 1st grade in A4. Leigh-Ann graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in English and began teaching in 1995 after earning her credential from SF State. She got her Master's in Special Education in 2000 and she has taught in the primary grades as well as in reading intervention programs. Mrs. Andrada comes to us from Pleasant Hill Elementary and she is excited that she will be teaching in the community in which she lives. (Mrs. Andrada has one daughter at Northgate, one daughter at Foothill, and one daughter with us entering 4th grade.)
Chrissie Cattalini is teaching 3rd grade in C2. Ms. Cattalini graduated from St. Mary's in 2000 and returned for her teaching credential in 2001. She has been teaching 2nd and 3rd grades in MDUSD at Woodside for 13 years. She grew up in the Northgate community and used to play soccer games at Walnut Acres while swimming for Scottsdale. On a personal note, Ms. Cattalini has shared that she loves to read, she's obsessed with the Giants and 49ers, and although she's a horrible singer, she'll do anything for her students!
Kaitlyn Diebel is joining our 3rd grade team. Mrs. Diebel taught for four years at Delta View Elementary, including two years of teaching 3rd grade. The 3rd grade teachers are excited to have Mrs. Diebel on their team as they hone curriculum and instruction to deepen critical and creative thinking, as well as collaborative and communication skills, this coming year. A personal tidbit from Mrs. Diebel: she has two young children and she grew up in our community. In fact, she attended Walnut Acres over 20 years ago!
John Paradiso is teaching 3rd grade in B4. He graduated from Sonoma State with his credential in 2002 after earning a Human Ecology degree from Humboldt in 1997. He has spent the last 10 years teaching 6th grade students in Marin County. He has worked in the elementary grades as an environmental educator, summer school teacher and a tutor. John is thrilled to teach 3rd grade and is looking forward to the enthusiasm and curiosity of this grade level. He recently relocated to our community to get married.
Megan Smolarek is teaching Reading Intervention in our lab, now located in A5. Ms. Smolarek attended Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, graduating first with a Marketing degree in 2006 and then with a Master's degree in Childhood Education in 2007. In 2013, she earned a Certificate of Advanced Study in Literacy Instruction from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She focused on intervention teaching for elementary and middle school students in New York, and recently moved to our area with her fiancé. They have a September 12th wedding planned, so Mrs. Zeitler is the name we'll all need to remember!
Cynthia Young is joining Eve Albright who came to us last year to teach vocal music, and Mrs. Ryken, who is an icon of music and performance at Walnut Acres. Our new fifth grade instrumental music teachers have not been announced yet.
After many years of service, Kickan Wilson is increasing her days at Foothill. Crystal Valdivia is full-time at Oak Grove Middle School, and Lavinia Henlon will now provide psychologist services to our students two days a week.
Sandy Lendvay, our longtime PE teacher, has retired, and Christian Visperas will be heading up the PE team for fourth and fifth graders.
Alma Spring, our counselor, has taken a full-time position at MDHS. We are seeking someone who will support our students with social skill and problem-solving challenges.
On our website under the 'Parents' tab (scroll down until you see the section that says 'Forms'), is a very important letter (click here) that states the District does not have insurance for students and provides information about where insurance may be purchased.
Please note that Supply Lists and tentative Field Trip Plans are on the website ( click here). I hope we have made it abundantly clear that supplies and field trip monies are donations. No parent is required to provide funds. If there is a shortage of donations, we will reduce or cancel activities/field trips as needed.
If you would like to support children in our district who do not have ANY supplies for the start of the new school year, contact the Mt. Diablo Homeless Outreach Program for Education (Mt. HOPE). They are accepting donations of school supplies and gift cards (i.e. Kohl's, Target), which allow families to pick out their own supplies. There is a HOPE PayPal button at www.mdusd.org. 100% of tax-deductible donations go directly to foster youth and homeless children in Kindergarten-12th grade. School supplies can be dropped off at the Mt. Diablo Unified district office: 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord, CA, in boxes near the front desk. Backpacks filled with assorted school supplies are appreciated.
IMPORTANT UPCOMING EVENTS
Our New Family Welcome Meeting is a wonderful way to meet parent leaders and other new parents. It is also an opportunity to get your questions answered. Please join us on Tuesday, August 19th at 6:00 p.m. in the MUR and consider staying at 7:00 p.m. for the first PFC meeting of the year. You will learn a lot about school events, how our parent-school team works, and budgetary challenges.
Jaguar Day is coming soon! Join us on Thursday, August 21st, from 2:00-5:30 p.m. Turn in outstanding registration paperwork to the office by Wednesday, August 20th, so you are ready to receive your child's class on Jaguar Day and enjoy the first important event of the school year with fellow Walnut Acres folks!
Our annual New Student Picnic is scheduled for Friday, August 22nd, from 11:30-12:30 p.m. This is a fun and low -stress way to introduce a new child to our school and tour the facility with a longtime WA student to get questions answered...student to student!
And for parents, new and old...our Back to School Breakfast at 8:00 a.m. on our first day of school, Monday, August 25th, will be an opportunity to see friends, meet new folks, and let me meet you!
It's going to be a great learning year and I welcome you all to 2014-15! Thanks for being part of our learning family. The Walnut Acres staff knows that you are sharing your most precious gifts with us and we hold that honor sacred. Please note that my door is open to you as we begin our collaboration to help our children achieve their potential!
Cheers, Colleen Dowd
Walnut Acres Principal
Hello Walnut Acres parents,
The closing of a school year is always a little bittersweet so students and teachers are spending some time together on these last days of the 2013-14 school year reflecting on and celebrating their learning journey. While we think of summer onset as a joyful time for students, this week of 'lasts' can be an emotional one as well, particularly for our 5th graders who are transitioning to a larger unknown. If your child seems moody, irritated, or just not quite his/her usual self, be sure to listen for the potential angsts and anxieties that may appear as change becomes imminent. Meanwhile, students are relishing successes together in classes and anticipating the carefree days of summer!
There are still some changes afoot at Walnut Acres. Notably, we are losing Marie Otsuka, much-loved 4th grade teacher, to the district. She will become a BTSA coach (a classroom teacher placed on special assignment to support new teachers) for MDUSD. She promises that she will return "home" after her stint as coach.
As I reported at our last PFC meeting, it is likely that we will add two combination classes in 2014-15. Combination classes are those that include children in two different grade levels. We may have a K/1st grade class and a 2nd/3rd grade class. The reality of the combination classes is dependent on our enrollment numbers. To add one more layer of complication to the situation, I have been informed by the district that while 2014-15 classes will start with populations of 28/29 students for 1st-3rd/K respectively, those numbers may increase to current maximum numbers of 31/32 for 1st-3rd/K respectively, in order to avoid overflowing students who move to our community. (Overflowing is the process of moving a student in the Walnut Acres attendance area to a neighboring school when we do not have room for the student.)
We will be watching our enrollment numbers carefully because they will dictate our classroom configurations. You can help us. If you know someone who plans to register at Walnut Acres, please encourage them to do so sooner, rather than later.
One more piece of enrollment news, we are adding a third SDC class to our site next year. The intensive autism class numbers are growing so we will have a K class, a 1st-2nd grade class and a 3rd-5th grade class. We are making some shifts to classrooms and specialty rooms, in order to accommodate the new SDC class, and the TK class that I have previously announced to you. I know you join me in welcoming these new classes to Walnut Acres!
If you are willing to help pack items on Friday morning (6/13) in specialty rooms that will be relocated, please call the office and let me know. Thanks to any volunteers who can give some time to our packing project!
The much-anticipated air conditioning and heating upgrades at our site are underway, but work will intensify when teachers and students have departed. Much of Walnut Acres will become a construction zone, although we will maintain a couple of continuing summer programs. The day care program and the theater program will be in place at Walnut Acres. We are also offering a new summer option. Our own Patty Galindo, is starting summer technology classes to explore programming and robotics with our children. To learn more and to register, pleaseclick here. Summer programs will take place in the MUR and D wings, which do not need HVAC upgrades. Meanwhile, the Galileo Learning camp that we hosted last summer, and which we could not host this year due to construction, is alive, well, and available at Bancroft Elementary.
With summer upon us, the Walnut Acres staff will be taking some time off to refresh and renew, but our teachers will also be attending professional development days and collaborating in grade level teams as we organize for the 2014-15 school year. It is our goal to prepare our school to be worthy of our children, so we will relax and re-energize, then sneak onto our construction site to continue setting the stage for a great 2014-15 learning year.
Meanwhile, I wish you happy adventuring with your beautiful children this summer! Savor your time together, I can tell you from experience they will be grown and gone in the blink of an eye. Special good wishes to all fathers and father figures as we kick off the summer season! Thank you for taking on the unique role of dad. In the words of an anonymous admirer...
A dad is someone who wants to catch you before you fall
For sharing your patience, encouragement and faith in the potential of each special child in your care - I salute you!
Colleen Dowd, principal
Hello Walnut Acres Parents,
Summer vacation is around the corner and we are enjoying our last 2014-15 learning adventures at Walnut Acres, 2014 Distinguished School. Yep, if you haven't heard from your students or read the recent E-news, we are officially designated with that title. Thanks to all of you who have helped us achieve that designation, with special appreciation to those of you who helped write our application and those who joined the Distinguished School Visiting Committee to tell our Walnut Acres story!
As you may know, one of our Signature Practices for the Distinguished School application was all about the dedicated efforts of parents to support our school and the collaborative work between staff and parents to target our efforts in building our positive learning environment. The PFC leadership is highlighting that work for you over the next few weeks before the 2014-15 budget vote occurs at the 5/20/14 PFC meeting. Watch for stars all around the school that will designate materials, supplies, programs, and personnel that YOU provide as a member of the PFC. Then come to the meeting at 7:00 p.m. on 5/20 to share your voice about expenditures for the coming school year!
I need to share with you the poignant news that we are losing two dedicated and respected Walnut Acres teachers to retirement this year. Mrs. Gee Amundson andMrs. Elizabeth Hartman are hanging up their chalk and starting a new phase of life. I've asked them to share a few words with you all.
From Mrs. Amundson...
It's a bittersweet departure after dedicating 32 years of my life to teaching children. However, I am looking forward to spending more time with my family. With our first grandchild due this summer, I'm excited about all the new adventures that my new role will bring. I'll also spend some time traveling around the US and Mexico. I'll miss my Walnut Acres "Family of Friends" but know that I will see you around in the community. Thank you, everyone, for some great kids and some of the best years of my life!
From Mrs. Hartman...
I am entering a new season of my life after teaching for 34 years, teaching at Walnut Acres Elementary since August of 1989. I have enjoyed the children and families and will have fond memories of my time here. I am looking forward to spending time with my husband, Bob, daughter Jessica and family, my mom and five sisters and their families. I will spend more time with the horses, dogs, cats, and chickens, too! I plan on spending time doing a multitude of activities including traveling abroad, puttering around the house and garden, and reading from that long list of books.
We are also saying farewell for now to Mrs. McCormick who is taking a leave for her family in the coming year. We will miss her, too, although we hope to get her back eventually so she is not saying good-bye to us!
We will miss our colleagues and we wish them a wonderful journey forward!
As we say farewell to old friends, we welcome new colleagues to Walnut Acres.
You know that we said good-bye to Mrs. Teresa Poindexter, school secretary, awhile ago so she could focus on family. We now officially welcome Mrs. Amanda Smith to Walnut Acres as School Secretary. Mrs. Smith has been here as long-term substitute and we are glad she is now joining us permanently.
Mrs. Leigh-Ann Andrada, will be joining the 1st grade team this coming school year. Mrs. Andrada comes to us with a master's degree in education and 5 years of elementary teaching experience. She is currently at Pleasant Hill Elementary where she teaches reading intervention to lower elementary grade students. The 1st grade team is excited to welcome Mrs. Andrada as they continue their 21st century transformation, which will include a shift to the Calkin's (Columbia Teacher's Project) Writer's Workshop approach and implementation of brain builder homework that will provide more student choice and higher level thinking. One personal tidbit from Mrs. Andrada, next year she will have 1 student at Northgate, 1 at Foothill, and 1 in 4th grade right here at Walnut Acres.
We welcome Mrs. Kaitlyn Diebel to our 3rd grade team. Mrs. Diebel is currently teaching 4th grade at Delta View Elementary. She has taught for 4 years, including 2 years of teaching 3rd grade. She looks forward to participating in Calkin's Writer's Workshop training and our 21st century transformative work. The 3rd grade team is excited to have Mrs. Diebel on their team as they hone curriculum and instruction to deepen critical and creative thinking, as well as collaborative and communication skills, this coming year. A personal tidbit from Mrs. Diebel, she has 2 young children and she grew up in our community. In fact, she attended Walnut Acres over 20 years ago!
We plan to hire a new transitional kindergarten (TK) teacher this year, assuming we are not reduced to 2 kindergarten classes. If we are reduced to 2 kindergarten classes, one of our wonderful K teachers will take on TK. I'll let you know in my June message how we are proceeding. Meanwhile, if you know of someone who has a kindergartener to register for 2014-15, please send them in to the office at their earliest convenience!
I don't have a reading intervention teacher to introduce to you yet, because until the PFC votes on a 2014-15 budget, the position does not exist. Which leads us back to the initial focus of this memo - check out the stars shining all around Walnut Acres and join the budget vote on 5/20!
Before I sign off - On behalf of the teachers, thank you for making us all feel appreciated last week! And speaking of appreciation, come appreciate the learning your child has accomplished at one of my very favorite events - our Open House Festival on Thursday May 22nd, from 5-7:15 p.m. Bring the family to enjoy dinner, entertainment, and your child's classroom. Visit next year's grade levels, as well, to get a taste of life in 2014-15! Meanwhile, take advantage of the service opportunity this week (5/12-16) in the form of our annual Darcie Jones Book Drive. (Darcie Jones was the parent who started the drive in 1994. The event was renamed in her honor when she passed away in 1996.) Model for your children how to select a new or gently used book and encourage them to do the same. As always, collected treasures will go to children at Meadow Homes.
2013-14 has been a busy and valuable learning year in part because of ongoing collaboration between parents and staff. Thanks for all you have done to make this a successful and dynamic year of learning for the amazing students we share! As Helen Keller has aptly noted, "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much!"
Colleen Dowd, Principal
Happy Spring, Walnut Acres Parents,
As the year marches on we are beginning to think about end-of-year activities and planning for the new school year. With that in mind, I am requesting your participation in planning for 2014-15, passing along crucial MDUSD policy changes, and sharing exciting upcoming events.
Seeking Your Input
The upcoming April PFC meeting on Tuesday, 4/17, is crucial to discuss financial decisions that will impact your child's learning environment. Please join the 7:00 p.m. meeting in the library so you can help make those decisions! Also at the meeting, I will ask you to consider the 8 components of the LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) and share your input as to how we should proceed to meet student needs here at Walnut Acres. Using the workshop approach, everyone will have an opportunity to provide feedback on the topics of Conditions for Learning, Student Engagement, and Pupil Outcomes. Your input will be used to help create our 2014-15 School Plan.
Our Innovation Team is an integral part of 21st century planning. We are seeking parents who would like to join our teacher volunteers in planning innovation goals, discussing ongoing needs, and reviewing implementation progress. If you are interested in participating on the team which meets 3-4 times per year, please contact me at the office, 939-1333 or respond to this e-mail. You don't need to be a technology guru; we seek parents who would like to actively help us continue our transformative journey to becoming a 21st century learning community.
Our Spring vacation is 4/21-25, and immediately following our return parents are invited to complete the "Parent Information Sheets" between
4/28-5/9. Forms are in the office. While requests for particular teachers are not appropriate, parents are welcome to note any particular challenges their student has, and make suggestions about the kind of environment in which you believe your students will thrive. Notification of class assignments will be provided on Jaguar Day, Thursday, 8/21, between 1:00 - 6:00 p.m.
As you consider various summer activity options, Mrs. Galindo is wondering if families would be interested in summer technology classes. She is asking you to complete a brief 2-question survey. To take the survey to let her know if she should plan a summer technology experience for students, please click here. The survey begins with further information about this potential learning opportunity.
New MDUSD Policies
We will be reducing the number of students we place in K-3rd grade classes for the coming school year. Transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes will cap at 29 students while maximum class size in 1st-3rd grade classes will be 28 students. The class caps will eventually reduce to 25 students per class, according to state requirements.
By the way, we have 19 kindergarten spots remaining for the 2014-15 school year. If you have a friend or neighbor who has an entering kindergartener, please ask them to enroll now.
Along with class size reduction, there is a new MDUSD Intradistrict Transfer Policy. The 9/15 deadline for removing intradistrict students will now be in effect only during the student's first year at our school. Once that 9/15 deadline has passed, the student is considered a member of our school community and cannot be transferred to create space for another student through 5th grade. If students seek an intradistrict transfer for middle school or for high school, they need to reapply for that status though the district.
Today some of our students are beginning to take the Smarter Balanced assessment. Over the next 6 weeks 3rd-5th grade students will spend about 6 hours per student taking the ELA and Math portion of this new, second-generation assessment. Please note that there will be no assessment results for parents or school. Instead, the field test will be used to "test the test". For further information, please check out the explanatory letter on our WA website homepageor go to the CDE website.
Tomorrow is our Distinguished School visit. I'll let you know how we fare, but meanwhile, enjoy the 2 pink DS banners created by our 1st-5th grade students. I told the children that I wanted to give everyone a chance to have a voice on our visit day, so children who wanted to write a comment on our banners did so over the course of a few days.
To thank all our wonderful volunteers we ask you to join us on Thursday morning, 4/17, at 8:00 a.m. so that we can show you our appreciation for your dedicated support of our children. We will begin our Volunteer Appreciation Event with our Sing-out. It will be a bit crowded in the MUR, but it will be a fun way to include the children. Following the Sing-out, the children will return to class and we will shift to the grown-up, more roomy, portion of our thank you. Please join us if your schedule will allow!
As I wish you a happy Spring break, I can think of no better way to close than to share the words of a jubilant and confident kindergartener as he expressed his appreciation for you and the work you do to support student learning. I quote the student below with translation support. :)
"Dear Peris (parents), Thank you for doing stations (Thaunke for doong stashinse). I love you. You love me. And the world does too (And the wrld dus too)."
I wish you lots of laughter and heartfelt hugs during the break with your amazing children!
Walnut Acres Principal
Happy March, Walnut Acres Parents,
As I compose this e-mail a small army of parents are working behind the scenes to create an enjoyably memorable, financially fruitful auction fundraiser. At this point I have no idea how successful it will be, but I do know that the valiant effort, along with the dedicated labor of many parent volunteers focused on other fundraisers and events make it possible for us to continue to thrive at Walnut Acres. Our children are privileged because our parent body chooses to sponsor education over and above the basic monies provided via taxes. The determination of parents means that we may continue providing services and programs that Walnut Acres could not otherwise afford.
Please join us on Thursday, 4/17, at 8:00 a.m. in the MUR as a VIP at our Volunteer Appreciation Day! The Walnut Acres staff would like to thank you for your volunteerism in and out of the classroom, your leadership skills, your creative efforts and your business acumen on behalf of our children. We picked the day and the time in the hopes of increasing the numbers of wonderfully supportive parents who join us for a little music, a tasty treat, a few tokens of our thanks, and some heartfelt words of appreciation. The event will start with our April Trustworthiness Sing-out.
The PFC is constantly planning support to our school and they listen carefully to what teachers, parents, and I have to say. They need to hear your voice! Please click here for the PFC survey or access the survey through the PFC Website. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Jana Corral.
And speaking of sharing what's on your mind, please note that our Superintendent, Dr. Meyer, is continuing her meetings at various sites to inform you about the new Local Control Funding Formula and collect parent input about how funds should be expended. I had the opportunity to attend the meeting held at Northgate and parents were actively involved in giving opinions about site needs verbally and through posting of input. Take this opportunity to let your voice be heard! You are welcome to attend meetings scheduled for:
3/18 at Concord High, choir room
4/8 at Mt. Diablo High, Romaine Hall
4/10 at Riverview Middle, MUR
5/20 at College Park High, library
Our Citizenship Sing-out is scheduled for 3/28 at 8:00 a.m. for 3rd-5th grades and 8:30 a.m. for K-2nd grade in the MUR. You are welcome to peek in at the students because I know that listening to them sing is a delight, but please sign in at the office first, and remember that the Sing-outs are not productions - they are capstone experiences for the children of various life skill discussions and activities.
Have you noticed the new gate near the large waste containers at the SE corner of our property? The MDUSD Maintenance & Operations team placed that tall gate for us at the request of the safety committee in order to prevent anyone from entering school grounds through that back area near the kindergarten playground where we do not have security cameras.
We are happily receiving other safety upgrades...Thanks to an industrious parent, Mrs. Omski-Salmon, and the hard-working engineers in downtown Walnut Creek, there are some changes afoot for the drop-off area on Cedro Lane. Traffic orders have been approved for modifications that include: a red-painted curb, posted signs, and well-placed stanchions to cordon off the pedestrian walk area on the south side of the street leading from Walnut Acres towards Foothill. These modifications will enhance safety for all students.
The Walnut Creek City Engineers are also studying the potential of placing a crosswalk nearer our back fence so students don't have to walk to Wiget or Cafeto to cross Cedro legally. The same engineers are going to paint the curb white and add loading zone signs as close to day care on Wiget as possible.
We are continuing our 21st century transformation as a learning community and signs of our progress are everywhere. Here is a small sampling of activities:·
5th graders are teamed with Northgate design students to learn a few physics principles and apply their understanding to create a roller coaster ride in collaborative teams during design lab classes.
I look forward to showing the Distinguished School visiting team our classes in session when they arrive on 4/15 to observe and visit with staff, parents and students. They will see our Signature Practices in action. These include our 21st century transformation and our targeted, strategic PFC financial, volunteer, and leadership support. Our visitors will have a chance to watch our beautiful children at work- learning collaboratively, problem solving as they play, and communicating effectively to support one another. I am fiercely proud of our parents and our teachers as we work steadfastly to enhance learning at Walnut Acres, but it is our amazing children who fill my heart with their trust, their spirit, and their amazing capacity to learn.
You may know I like to close my messages with a quote, but today I'm signing off with a portion of a letter I just received from a 3rd grade student. The good citizenship and caring infused in the message is heartwarming and representative of the wonderful children who arrive every day at Walnut Acres to continue becoming the best they can be.
"Dear Dr. Dowd, I was thinking it would be nice for the school to plant an apple tree. So if you would plant just one, would it make our school a better place? I hope you will consider planting a tree. If someone forgets their lunch or snack, they could just pick an apple."
Here's to the global problem solvers of the future and the joy they bring to us in the present!
Walnut Acres Principal
Happy February, Parents,
Thanks to you and our hard-working teachers and staff, life is good at Walnut Acres. Our children are learning both academically and socially, and we are doing our best to help them enjoy that process. We may be recognized by the state for our joint efforts on behalf of our children. Our Distinguished School application passed the written phase of the process and we will have a visit from a Distinguished School Committee on Tuesday, 4/15/14, as the last step towards being declared a 2014 Distinguished School.
Academically, our transformation to become a 21st century learning community continues. We began 4 years ago learning about 21st century work and ultimately began shifting our instruction to provide for more student choice and ownership of learning. Hopefully, you now see signs of deepened critical thinking in the work your child is completing, and you are hearing anecdotes from your child about collaborative learning activities and technology-infused instruction. We are still learning skills and strategies to enhance our implementation of the 6 Cs, but we are well on our way. For those of you who are not familiar with the foundational 6 C's of 21st century learning, they are:
It is energizing and timely that the state is implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS) because it emphasizes our 21st century endeavors, while providing specific guidelines for Content mastery. The standards themselves, the skills and knowledge that students are to learn, will entail a comparatively small portion of the shift in our teaching. In fact, 85% of the Common Core Standards actually parallel the CA State Standards previously in place (although some standards have shifted to new grade levels). It is more the depth of rigor mandated by the CCSS that requires enhanced constructivist-type instructional strategies and student activities. Students will need to be able to wrestle with real-life problems, and become genuine problem solvers who can share their thinking and learning effectively. That shift in approach has been and will continue to be the work of our 21st century learning community transformation.
The accountability for CCSS is the Smarter Balanced assessment which is being piloted across the state this spring. If you would like to take a practice test or check out a training test, click here to download the secure browser that allows you to take either test. The practice tests are designed to provide a grade-specific testing experience; while the training test's purpose is to help students understand the test format and how they will interact with the technology.
Please note that there will be no Smarter Balanced assessments results for our school, teachers, or parents from this year's Smarter Balanced assessment. Instead, the assessment results will allow the California Department of Education to check test validity and system capacity for online testing. There will be results for 5th grade CST Science testing.
Our testing date will be in early May and I will keep you posted on further details so you can ask your student about their experience. Meanwhile, I am reminding you of a number of activities happening in February:
Tomorrow, Tuesday, 2/18, is a very important PFC meeting with the hot topic of 'fund raising - your crucial role in keeping WA functioning.' It is being held at 8:15 a.m. in the library. Please join us so you can learn about your collective role in maintaining the programs and practices at our school.
On Thursday, 2/20, Soul Shoppe will be returning to Walnut Acres to present an assembly titled, "Being an Ally". This is the same group that introduced the Peace Path and led our peacemaker trainings. Each grade level will have a 45-minute presentation on the theme of students supporting one another. Research tells us that one of the most effective ways to reduce bullying is for students to stand up for one another. You are welcome to join us, but remember to sign in at the office first and please sit in the back of the room so you don't distract the audience. Check with your child's teacher for the time of your child's assembly. (All assemblies are in the MUR, except for K assemblies in A-5.)
The student council would like me to tell you that Friday, 2/21, is a special Spirit Day. It will be a Twin Day.
On Saturday, 2/22, we are hosting an e-waste collection. If you have any electronics you would like to discard, pass through the drive-through between
9-1:00 p.m. and volunteers will take them off your hands.
On Tuesday, 2/25, Dr. Meyer, MDUSD Superintendent, will speak to parents in the Northgate cafeteria regarding the new local control funding (LCFF) formula and its impact to MDUSD. (In my previous message I indicated the meeting would be in a different part of campus. Please note the change to better allow for collaborative discussion.) Dr. Meyer is also seeking input from parents as the district develops a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). To assure students get the support they need, the plan must address 8 target areas of learning clustered in the 3 groupings of Conditions of Learning, Pupil Outcomes, and Engagement. Please join Dr. Meyer from 6:30-8:00 p.m. to learn about the new funding formula and provide input regarding the soon-to-be-developed accountability plan. I highly recommend this opportunity to you. For further details, click here. If you cannot make the meeting, note other opportunities to participate from 6:30-8:00 p.m. on:
2/20 at Diablo View Middle, MUR
3/18 at Concord High, choir room
4/8 at Mt. Diablo High, Romaine Hall
4/10 at Riverview Middle School, MUR
5/20 at College Park High, library
I close this message with my heartfelt thanks for your support of our wonderfully dynamic school. YOU help make Walnut Acres a great learning environment for our children through the events you sponsor and the money you raise to support school processes and programs.
As I prepare this message, we have recently completed a very successful Science Fair event, thanks to our parent coordinators, Terry Lindeman and Emily Johnson. We are starting our PEP program in which trained parents, led by Julie Connelly and Laurie Light, reinforce our life skill work. And we are offering valuable after-school enrichment classes thanks to Lisa McGuiness and Naomi Hughes. Soon our annul Art Show, coordinated by Robin Piantidosi, will take center stage. These are powerful additions to our school-sponsored programs.
Coming soon, the most crucial fund raiser of the year, our school auction, will be taking place. I know that you will do what you can to support this fund raiser so that we can continue the work of providing our students with the academic and life skills they will need to succeed as citizens and leaders in a dynamic, globally-interdependent society. Visionary educator, John Dewey, who lived in the mid-20th century wrote, "If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow. " A student on a You Tube blog, bluntly shared the same sentiment this way, "I cannot create my future, with tools from your past." Thanks for your ongoing efforts to help prepare our children to meet their future.
Walnut Acres Principal
Happy 2014, Walnut Acres Parents!
Welcome to the new year and to a long period of focused learning before spring break. Here are a few highlights of our activities and plans over the next month and beyond:
Curriculum and Instruction
Dear Walnut Acres Community,
It has been a month since the Hour of Code. Thank you to all the parents and volunteers who helped make it such a wonderful experience for the children. It is exciting to see how the students were able to take on new challenges in an exhilarating environment, and collaboratively generate creative solutions. The spirit of the event was to allow the students to see the potential they have to become creators of digital solutions instead of just consumers. It was my hope that they view the digital tools as a possible means to make a change in this world and become a part of the problem solvers. Through this coding experience, the students were able to "write" programs that achieved a desired goal such as leading the "angry bird" to where the pig was hiding, or lead the "robot" to light up a tile or make an interactive scene come to life. I plan on repeating this adventure next year with your assistance as well as that of Northgate High School students and Foothill Middle School students - our community.
For the news article that came out in the Contra Costa Times, click here.
To keep the creativity going, click here for continued coding adventures.
To find more resources and give your own input, click here.
Thank you again,
Site Tech II @ Walnut Acres Elementary
I close this message with a heartfelt note of thanks to you all. I have been sharing with various committees that the Distinguished School process encouraged me to reflect deeply on our vision, our progress, our challenges, and our successes. Whether or not the state recognizes our status, I want you to know that I consider you all distinguished! The time, energy, and dedication that you devote to our school is inspiring and our students benefit from your love and devotion every day. As the great philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, has pondered,"Some people care too much...I think it's called love."
Colleen Dowd, Principal
Hello Walnut Acres Parents,
Our December school session tends to feel like a blur of activities between holidays, as we continue our busy schedule of helping our students to grow and learn. This December is even more frantic than most due to our invitation to update our Distinguished School status. Here are some highlights starting with an upcoming unique adventure...
Hour of Code Experience
We are participating this week in a very exciting national event sponsored byCode.org and Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Boys & Girls Club, and over 100 others organizations. It is called "Hour of Code" and it is offered during Computer Science Week so that every student has an opportunity to get a taste of the computer science world. We are participating in this innovative experience to give our students an opportunity to think in computer language, create in code and have a blast! The activity is a great next step to our 21st century transformation and it may challenge some students to learn more about coding. Did you know that new programming jobs are growing 3 times faster than the number of students entering the field? Did you also know that more than 50% of all math and science jobs are for computer scientists and that computer science positions are the highest paying jobs for new graduates?
Our plan is to have students at every grade participate in one hour of code instruction in the MUR this week under the direction of our site tech II, Patty Galindo. The event organizers have provided many opportunities to investigate code, including tutorials featuring Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates. Below are the dates, times, and activities at each grade level:
M 12/9 @ 8:15-9:15 2nd grade Angry Birds Tutorial and Hopscotch App
M 12/9 @ 9:45-10:45 K Light Bot (hands-on) & Light Bot app
W 12/11 @ 8:05 -9:05 5th grade Scratch on laptop to make holiday card & Scratch programming lessons
W 12/11 @ 9:15 - 10:15 4th grade Scratch on laptop to make holiday card & Scratch programming lessons
Th 12/12 @ 8:15-9:15 3rd grade Angry Birds Tutorial and Hopscotch App
Th 12/12 @ 9:45 - 10:45 1st grade Light Bot (hands-on) & Light Bot app
I share the specifics of our plan because we invite you to be a part of it! Please consider volunteering to support our children as they embark on their coding adventures. For further information about the Hour of Code, please check out the wealth of information and support in Computer Science Education Week. You can also view the videos here. If you would like to assist our children in their coding experience, please contact Patty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lifeskill of Caring
Our life skill continues to be caring and we are practicing and singing about caring for one another. PFC and scout drives support our message of caring for others and we will culminate our efforts with our Sing-outs on December 20th at 8:00 a.m. for students in 3rd-5th grade and 8:30 a.m. for our K-2nd grade students. If you would like to provide another opportunity to model caring for your family, consider the district food and gift card drive. The district is collecting food for homeless families in our community. To learn more about this drive, contact the office of James Wogan at 682-8000 extension 3054.
Distinguished School Status and Other Educational Updates
We have been invited to apply to be a 2013-14 Distinguished School. A working group of parents, staff, and teachers, are initiating the written application process this week. Unfortunately, although we just received the invitation to apply, the application is due on 12/30/13. If you would like to help with rewriting or editing of our application, let me know.
Our new parent representative for School Site Council is Erin Roeder.
The National PTA website has some great updates for parents regarding the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) posited by Governor Brown and approved by the legislature. Check it out if you want to know more about the new funding system for California public schools.
Parent Teacher Conferences
Our Hour of Code will be followed very quickly by our annual parent teacher conferences. Each conference is a golden opportunity to support your child's growth and achievement. Here are a few key ingredients that the NEA (National Education Association) has developed to enhance the value of each parent conference:
1. Show up, please!
"We know parents are busy, but it is important to carve out time to invest in your child's education and ensure success at school," said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. "To get the most out of parent-teacher conferences, parents need to take an active role in their child's education year-round and come prepared to discuss how their child can reach their full potential."
2. Get Ready.
Do your homework prior to parent-teacher conferences. Prepare by writing notes to yourself concerning:
3. Ask Important Questions.
Don't be afraid to engage in a frank conversation with your child's teacher. Your goal is to develop an action plan for your child's success at school. Good questions to ask the teacher include:
4. Initiate the Action Plan.
Start immediately on the action plan you and the teacher put together. Discuss the plan with your child and track his progress. Stay in touch with your child's teacher throughout the year with regularly scheduled "report card" conferences that can keep the communication lines open.
Van Roekel concludes his article by reminding us of the obvious, but at times overlooked reality that, "When teachers and parents work together, we can help a child have a successful school year."
Here's to collaboration between teachers and parents during this very special month of caring!
Colleen Dowd, Principal