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Monday, October 17, 2011

Writing Goals, Budget Challenges, and Family in Need-October 18, 2011

Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                        

I didn’t have my first bagel until I was 15.  My future husband had asked me to go to lunch with him and he introduced me to fresh bagels at a bagel shop in Bend.  I still think of the day I met him any time I smell bagels, so last Friday when The Portland Bagel Company donated bagels for our teacher training, memories of long ago filled my mind as the smell of delicious bagels filled my car.   Thanks to The Portland Bagel Company for treating our teachers so well.  We had a fabulous day of learning strategies for increasing student engagement.  It was the perfect end to a busy week.

As I shared last week, when OSU has a home game I go to Corvallis and feed my daughter’s dorm mates before and after the football game.  Last weekend we had about triple the number of kids come before the game so I was nearly out of food by noon.  As the kids left, saying they were excited to have more home cooked food following the game, I panicked a bit since my cupboard was nearly bare.  Luckily, I had the entire game to come up with plan B and amazingly round two was surprisingly successful.  I chopped and mixed all my leftovers (things I’d scraped from the bottom of the bowls) with shredded cheese packed the concoction into tortillas and grilled them up. Following the game, the kids swarmed in like locust and I then had a new understanding of bare cupboard. Kids were happy and didn’t seem to notice that I’d taken something familiar and changed it up a bit.  Because we served it up with a smile, they also didn’t seem to notice that all the extras were missing.  We didn’t have dessert, we had cups so they could share the remaining soda, and games and friends, seemed to take importance over the food.  They left satisfied and I was left trying to remember the Mary Poppins quote about sufficiency being enough.

Last week, it seems like the “bare cupboard” experiences at school were many.  With the loss of our technology teacher, we decided to approach the challenge by using part of our non-salary budget to fill the gap.  We decided to use about one-third of our paper or product budget for a person.  We hired an instructional assistant, to supervise students in the computer lab so that our children have regular access to technology and we could continue our specials schedule.  I believe that the best way to improve instruction is by providing a common chunk of time for teachers to discuss student learning and plan for teaching and to have common assessment data for teachers to use to inform discussion about instruction.  We do this after school but also during the school day when students are in PE, Music, Library or Technology. We hired a classified employee to supervise the lab, so that students can work on the projects teachers assign them to do in the lab, thereby providing common plan time and time for kids to use technology.   The classified employee is different than a teacher in that they do not plan instruction, the cost (about $23,000 for the remainder of the year) is much less and the hours are fewer so that this is just a fraction of the cost of a teacher.  Twenty three thousand dollars is still about one third of our non-salary budget so we intentionally decided to be very careful with our spending over the remainder of the year. 

Dema Blood will join our staff to serve in this role.  Dema has been volunteering at Sexton Mountain this year as one of a Teacher Corps volunteer.  She recently graduated from George Fox University with her Masters of Arts in Teaching.  The current economic reality means that there simply were not positions available for all the recent graduates.  Luckily for our school, we were able to hire a highly qualified teacher for our role of instructional assistant.  She will work closely with teachers to teach the technology learning targets.  We are hoping to get more parent volunteers in the computer lab as well to assist students.  If you would like to volunteer, please let Mr. Mori know, as he is working with Mrs. Blood during the transition.  To see what types of projects your kids are working on, visit the staff section of our school website and scroll down to the Tech Lab links.  These links support the tech learning targets or classroom content targets.

By last Tuesday I was feeling pretty confident that we would get through the “bare cupboard” experience of being downsized a staff member when on Wednesday, I learned that all schools non-salary budgets were being reduced by 15%.  Because the District’s budget was built on the expectation that the state would fund schools at $5.8 billion, but the actual funding level was $5.725, so adjustments need to be made.  Along with the $23,000 we used for the technology teacher, this reduces the amount we have for items like paper by almost 48%.  Again, an adjustment, but a challenge we can navigate if we are cautious.

As a result of our tight budget, we will be very intentional with our use of consumable supplies.  Teachers are already thinking of ways to save.  Instead of a math worksheet that is good for one use, it could be that a math game will be made that can be played again and again and again.  Already, they are being very creative.  My grandparents grew up in Salem during the depression.  Their stories about that time period always made it sound like a fun adventure.  They came together with family and friends to share resources and it seemed like they built relationships and memories.  I’m sure that if we are careful with our attitudes and come together to do what we can for kids, our children won’t notice the squeeze.

One thing we will be doing in the upcoming months is adding a “Wish List” to our newsletter.  This will be a list of items or actions that people will be invited to donate to our school.  For instance, last week a teacher needed paper fasteners or brads for a project.  It happens that I have a box of them in my junk drawer.  Since my kids have outgrown projects requiring paper fasteners, I was easily able to donate the box from my junk drawer to a classroom so we didn’t need to order them from the office supply store.  It seems like a small gesture but we all know that a bunch of little actions combine for big impact.  Take part if you like and are able. 

My goal in providing you with so much information about the budget is to be transparent with our process and to hopefully answer any questions you might have so that we can then focus on the important job of TEACHIING and LEARNING!  Great things are happening at Sexton Mountain School!

In last week’s newsletter, I shared information about the writing project students completed with me recently. Student work was analyzed then discussed at a recent staff meeting.  This snapshot of learning provided us with information about what kids were able to do independently in a given period.  Here are some fascinating facts about what groups of students were able to do and goals for next steps in teaching.

Kindergarten students wrote 573 letters, 133 words and 28 sentences.  During the next six weeks, kindergarten teachers have set a goal to increase the number of phonetically written words students produce in their time with me.  At home, families can encourage kids to draw then write about the picture.

Seventy-one percent of students in first grade had legible handwriting, 39% of students capitalized the beginning of sentences and 36% of students had ending punctuation.  Eight percent of students had a piece with a beginning, middle and end.  During the next six weeks, first grade teachers have set a goal to increase the percentage of students who consistently capitalize sentence beginnings.  At home, families can encourage students to write observations about fall.  Maybe you can start a fall journal.  Encourage your child to write three sentences a day about what they are noticing and praise kids when they remember to capitalize sentences or end them with punctuation or gently ask, “How do we start a sentence?” When reading with your child, encourage them to point out sentence starts and endings.

In second grade, 83% of students had an introduction, 83% of students had supporting details and 41% of students had a conclusion. During the next six weeks, second grade teachers have set a goal to increase the percentage of students who include a conclusion sentence.  At home, families can encourage students to have a final sentence that restates or reminds the reader about what the writing was about.  Some kids find that re-writing the introduction sentence using synonyms is a nice way to write a conclusion.  Second graders seem to be reading and writing a lot about animals in class right now.  They are fascinated with all the different types of bats or frogs.  Ask them to write 5 sentences about a different animal each night.

In third grade 70% of students had an introduction and 46% of students had a concluding sentence.  What teachers also noticed however was the high number of students forgetting to use correct capitalization and punctuation at sentence starts and endings, so the third grade team set a goal to increase the number of students capitalizing the beginning of sentences and using some sort of ending punctuation mark.  At home you can have your child write a summary of their nightly reading.  Praise kids when they remember to capitalize a sentence or end them with punctuation or gently ask, “How do we start a sentence” or “How will your reader know when the sentence is done?”

In fourth grade, the expectation for writing increases dramatically.  The targets in fourth grade call for multiple paragraphs, including an introduction paragraph and a concluding paragraph.  Eleven percent of students had multiple paragraphs, 7% of students had an introduction paragraph, .9% of students had a concluding paragraph.  Knowing that they are end of year targets, the fourth grade team has a set a goal to increase the number of paragraphs by teaching kids how to write strong paragraphs.  You can help at home by encouraging your child to write a topic sentence, then supporting sentences that provide facts, examples, reasons or details, and a concluding sentence. 

In fifth grade, 65% of students had multiple paragraphs, 27% of students had an introduction paragraph and 33% of students had a concluding paragraph.  The fifth grade team has set a goal to increase the number of students including a paragraph of introduction and a concluding paragraph.   You can help at home by encouraging your child to write a topic sentence, then supporting sentences that provide facts, examples, reasons or details, and a concluding sentence.   On drafts, encourage them to underline topic sentences and concluding sentences with a green pencil and details with yellow.

We will do our next school wide project the week of November 21. It will be interesting to see how much students grow and change.

As I visited classrooms last week, it was fun to see kids hard at work toward some of these goals.  In Mrs. McConnell’s class, students were reading about different U.S. cities then writing a paragraph about the city. A student told me that the criteria for the project was to have a topic sentence and supporting details.  Mrs. Parson’s students were using a graphic organizer to write about space.  They had a clear beginning, middle and end. Ms. Cobain’s first graders analyzed a text to see when the author used capital letters. Mr. Hayhurst worked with a group of students to analyze the characteristics of different types of bats. Mrs. Wesner worked with a group of kindergarten students on English language development.  They sang, chanted, labeled and discussed before writing the initial consonant sound for different pictures.  Our teachers are teaching and our kids are learning to support the short-term goals we’ve set.

Speaking of goals and the progress students are making toward them, teachers are looking forward to meeting with parent/guardians soon during our fall parent/teacher conferences. Here are some tips for making the most of your time.
The focus for fall conferences is goal setting.  To make best use of the 20-minute conference times, before your conference time, please take a moment to jot down: a) what you would like to share about your child’s strengths, challenges and special interests, b) any questions you may have, and c) your ideas of the specific academic or behavioral goals you would like to see your child working towards this year.  The goals that you and your child’s teacher agree upon will be recorded on the Individual Student Plan and Profile document used district-wide.  Student progress toward the goals recorded will be reviewed and celebrated during spring conferences.
•Unless your child’s teacher has indicated otherwise, students do not participate in conferences.
Please make every effort to be on time for your conference.  Out of respect for our families and their busy schedules, we will make every effort to adhere to the start/stop time of each family’s conference.  Thank you for your help.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to attend parent/teacher conferences.  When parents and teachers collaborate and work together, our students thrive and excel!

My early morning exercise partner is a teacher and she had conferences last week.  She mentioned that conference time is one of her favorite parts of the year because it’s when adults who care deeply for a child come together for a great discussion.  I always enjoy learning about the perspectives of our parents.  In fact, I got to hear from some of you last week at the PTC meeting.  We had an interesting discussion about head lice.  I have asked teachers to have students put jackets in backpacks or hang coats on the backs of chairs in order to prevent opportunities for head lice to crawl from one coat to another.  This means our classrooms are looking a bit more cluttered than when everything is stuffed into the coat rack area. I have also asked that headphones NOT be used in the computer lab unless students bring them from home and store them in a sealed ziplock type bag clearly labeled with the student’s name and teacher.  This means our lab might be a bit noisier too.  Thanks in advance for understanding.  

As I’ve met with groups or individuals, I’ve been amazed by the compassion the Sexton Mountain community shows.  Many of you have probably heard that one of our Sexton Mt. families had a house fire a few weeks ago.  The parents and three children are so grateful that no one was hurt in the fire, but it has still been very difficult to recover from such a loss.  Although they had insurance, it will not come close to replacing all that was lost in the fire.   Many of you have already asked how you can help.  Our counselor has experience with such events and has found a way to support the family.  If you are able to help, there is a way that you can show support and encouragement to the family during this difficult time.  We will be collecting gift card donations to give to the family.  Gift cards to help them replace clothing, kids toys, and household goods would be especially helpful.  You can do this by ordering gift cards through the Scrip Program here at school or by purchasing the gift cards on your own and dropping them off at the school office. If you want to order gift cards through Scrip, please fill out the order form and write “donation” across the top of the form.  Our Scrip coordinator will make sure that those orders are given to the family.  Thank you so much for being willing to be supportive and encouraging to this family and to help show what a caring and supportive community we have here at Sexton Mt.   Please contact Michelle Solberg, our school counselor, if you have questions.

Another way I’ve seen Sexton Mountain families show compassion and caring is by volunteering.  From classroom projects to Sparky’s Running club and Popcorn Friday, we have a great group of involved parents.  While supervision is something we won’t skimp on at school, we can always use extra adults to play with and encourage kids at lunch and recess.  We love to have extra adults join us for lunch to help kids practice social skills (and open juice boxes) and recess to help kids peacefully play games. If you’d like to join us for our mid-day meal and play break, be sure to stop by the office to pick up some Eagle Eyes to give to kids you see being especially safe, respectful or responsible. Fifth grade parents especially are encouraged to come out and play.  This may be the last year your child gets a recess or will think it’s cool for you to play.  Grade level lunch times are listed below.  Boys and girls eat at their own pace then clean up and leave for recess.  Children have a total of fifty minutes for lunch and recess.  Start times for each are below.
·       ESL Kindergarten -11:00
·       Full Day Kindergarten-11:00
·       First Grade-11:00
·       Second Grade-11:25
·       Third Grade-12:40
·       Fourth Grade-11:50
·       Fifth Grade-12:15

Though I started my letter to you talking about “bare cupboard” experiences, I realize that I spent just one page telling about the challenges of our current economic reality but two pages telling about the great things happening at Sexton Mountain School for our kids.  We have amazing kids, great teachers and a fabulous community of parents and grandparents willing to go the extra mile for our students.  Like my flock of college kids, who left happy and satisfied following the miracle meal of leftovers made with love, our kids are going to have a great 2011-2012 school year.  Thank you for sharing your children with us!


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.

Wish List
*Headphones for use with computers-The disposable kinds that airlines used to give out would be perfect!
*Playground players
*More people to sign up for E-news

Sign Up for E-News If you would like to have the newsletter sent electronically please send an email to with “newsletter and your child’s name” in the subject line

District Goal for 2010-2015:  All students will show continuous progress toward their personal learning goals, developed in collaboration with teachers and parents, and will be prepared for post-secondary education and career success.
The Beaverton School District recognizes the diversity and worth of all individuals and groups.  It is the policy of the Beaverton School District that there will be no discrimination or harassment of individuals or groups based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, marital status, age, veterans' status, genetic information or disability in any educational programs, activities or employment. 

Sexton Mountain Elementary School n 15645 SW Sexton Mountain Drive n Beaverton, Oregon 97007 n Office: 503.672-3560 n FAX 503.673-3563

1 comment:

  1. Hi mrs.cb i really like your blog aand the story of your first bagel. your a great principal and i'm glad your here to teach us and help us and our school!
    Hannah Seibold