Dec. 5-9 – Hour of Code / Computer Science Week

As you may know, next week is the annual Hour of Code event that occurs every year in the world. It is a great way for you and your students to understand the importance of coding and to develop your skills in programming.

Why should you or your students care about coding? 
Resources for all grade levels (It’s really simple):
I know you are all busy (this doesn’t have to be done next week); but I thought I would share these resources with you, because the ability to code is an important skill for our kids (see articles above). This can be done at anytime, anywhere!

How was your school day? – 15 Questions to Replace “How was school today?”


15 Questions to Replace “How Was School Today?”

These questions will help you draw out important information from your kids.

How many times have you asked your child, “How was school today?” and been frustrated by the lack of response? As a parent, I’m guilty of asking my son this question all the time, even though I usually don’t get much in return.

The Questions

With slight wording modifications, these questions can work with children of all ages:

  1. Tell me about a moment today when you felt excited about what you were learning.
  2. Tell me about a moment in class when you felt confused.
  3. Think about what you learned and did in school today. What’s something you’d like to know more about? What’s a question you have that came from your learning today?
  4. Were there any moments today when you felt worried? When you felt scared?
  5. Were there any times today when you felt disrespected by anyone? Tell me about those moments.
  6. Were there times today when you felt that one of your classmates demonstrated care for you?
  7. Were there any moments today when you felt proud of yourself?
  8. Tell me about a conversation you had with a classmate or friend that you enjoyed.
  9. What was challenging about your day?
  10. What do you appreciate about your day?
  11. What did you learn about yourself today?
  12. Is there anything that you’d like to talk about that I might be able to help you figure out?
  13. Is there anything you’re worried about?
  14. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  15. Is there a question you wish I’d ask you about your day?

Tips for Asking Questions

How and when we ask these questions makes a big difference in the information we receive from our kids. First, you don’t want to ask all of these questions on the same day. You might ask one or two. After a while, you’ll figure out which ones elicit the most meaningful responses. You’ll want to ask during a time when you have the ability to focus so that your child feels they have your full attention. With my child—and in my household—dinner and driving in the car are optimal times for these conversations.

Now these conversations have become routine. My son knows that when we drive to school I’ll ask him what he’s looking forward to, if there’s anything he’s worried about, and if there’s anything he wants to talk about with me that I might be able to help him figure out.

More Suggestions

The following can help your conversations be positive and powerful:

  • Don’t interrupt. This is a good rule for any conversation, but especially if you want to get a lot of information out of a kid.
  • Ask for more. Simply say, “I’d love to hear more about that…” Or, “Can you expand on that a little?”
  • Ask about feelings. After a child describes an experience, ask, “How did you feel in that moment? What did you notice about your feelings?”
  • Validate feelings. Whatever your kid feels is normal and okay. Let them know that. Feelings are okay. Tell them this.
  • Tell them it’s not okay for teachers or kids to be unkind or mean. If they tell you a story about a teacher who yelled or disrespected them (regardless of what they said or did) let them know that it’s not okay for an adult to treat them that way. Same goes for how they are treated by other children.
  • Thank them for sharing with you. Always appreciate their honesty and willingness to share the highlights and bright spots, as well as the difficult moments. This will fuel their confidence in telling you more.

What questions bring about the most conversation between you and your kids?


A wonderful man…Doug Anthony

If you want to know the measure of a man and the extent of his legacy, simply look at his kids. Doug Anthony was a wonderful man, and if you ever have the chance of knowing his terrific kids, you would know how impressive his legacy will be.

After hearing of Doug’s passing, I spoke to a few of the UFRSD BOE and staff members. EVERY single person had the same comments, “Doug was such a nice and kind man.” or “He was always so positive; I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone.” These were almost the exact words from EVERY person, and they were so very true.

I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Doug over the past 12 years as a parent and BOE member for many of them. Through Doug, I got to know his wonderful wife, Angela, and outstanding kids. NEVER was an opportunity missed by Doug to ask me about my kids, give me a word of encouragement or to see if there was anything he could do for me. He was genuine at every moment of these conversations. I always knew that Doug cared about these interactions and that he wanted the best for me…. for everyone he came into contact with.

As a UFRSD BOE member, I always found Doug pragmatic, calm, and passionate about our district. In fact, all of the UFRSD administrators feel this way about Doug. When he had a comment, a question, or praise for someone, it was always well thought out and backed with reason and sensibility. He sat on a BOE that built a middle school, initiated 1 to 1 Chromebooks, managed a statewide financial crisis, and helped to transform programs and opportunities for kids over, probably, the most transformational period in district history. He was a great BOE member.

I can only imagine what Doug’s family is going through right now. I hope they know that they have an entire district and community, one that Doug was so deeply involved in,  here to support them in any way that they need. They should also know that Doug’s influence will continue to be present in our district for many years to come; through his actions he continues to make an impact on the lives of kids.

I hope that when my life is measured by others that they will look at my kids and see what I see in Doug’s kids….the influence of a wonderful man, respected and admired by everyone.

The world lost a great educator and man today…

Jim Grant – husband, father, grandfather, educator, family friend, and innovator – passed away today.

The first time I ever heard my favorite educational thought was during a Jim Grant workshop – “Kids don’t care what you know, until they know you care.” This has stayed with me ever since.

“Mr. Grant,” as I always called him, was a dear family friend; a relationship sparked when he was helping my parents find a summer vacation rental near Peterborough, NH. A deep and loving friendship soon followed. Our family and his would get together at the Grant homestead or at a lake house for a day of fun and friendship. At the time, I was young and didn’t grasp that I was sitting with and enjoying my time with one of my educational heroes; true innovators of education — Jim and Lillian Grant.

Mr. Grant and Mrs. Grant were the founders of Staff Development for Educators – an organization that provides fantastic opportunities for educators to enhance their professional practice. Today, professional development is an enormous part of successful schools. I don’t believe that the value of PD was recognized as much as it is now when Mr. and Mrs. Grant started this organization. They knew and believed that PD was integral to improving schools and enhancing learning experiences for kids.

As I was getting into the education profession, I would see Mr. Grant at a conference or family functions, and he was always so genuine and so caring with his words. It always meant a great deal to me. He was always someone I looked up to, especially because I was an educator. I would hear his name from other educators and, confidently, share with pride that he was a family friend. Even in the past few years, my mother would always visit with the Grants in NH, and I was always eager to hear how they were and what new journey or idea they had. They remained innovative.

I am saddened today by the loss of Jim Grant. Education has lost an ambassador and innovator. Mr. Grant was an educational guru and would definitely be on my Mt. Rushmore of educators. I will miss his “hello” at conferences, his fantastic New Hampshire accent and his charming and caring nature.  May God bless Jim Grant.

Recent article about Jim Grant’s legacy

Easing the mind through yoga!

Students, during phys. ed. class, experience yoga.

Why yoga? According to Yoga4Classrooms, the following is why schools should incorporate yoga as part of their curriculum:

Benefits of Yoga in the School Setting

Anti-bullying, health and wellness, and character education are common themes in American schools today, all focusing on educating the whole child, mind, body and spirit. Yoga, by nature, supports this learning.
The following are some of the benefits of yoga to support the education of the whole child, thus maximizing the learning process:

  • Provides students healthy ways to express and balance their emotions
  • Promotes a more relaxed, comfortable state of being – the perfect state for teaching and learning
  • Brings students into the present moment – the most basic requirement for learning
  • Encourages community and connectedness within the classroom
  • Helps to create an atmosphere of confidence, enthusiasm and non-competitiveness where everyone can succeed
  • Provides opportunities for beneficial motor breaks throughout the day
  • Eases anxiety and tension (such as pre-test or performance jitters)
  • Enhances focus, concentration, comprehension and memoryIMG_5524
  • Provides opportunities for reflection, patience and insight, reducing impulsivity and reactivity
  • Supports social and emotional learning
  • Improves listening skills
  • Wakes up sluggish minds and creativity as needed
  • Enhances organizational and communication skills
  • Improves posture, assisting students to sit comfortably for long periods
  • Enhances motor skills and balance
  • Improves mind/body awareness and connection
  • Improves confidence and self-esteem
  • Encourages respect for oneself and others
  • Creates a calm, harmonious classroom


UFRSD Expanding 1 to 1 Chromebook Initiative – Join us – May 24th!

It is with great excitement that we share the news that next year’s 6th, 7th , 8th, 9th and 10th graders will be participating in our 1-to-1 Chromebook experience. Each of our 6th through 10 graders will be provided individual district-owned Chromebooks as a tool for learning during the 2016-2017 school year.

A Chromebook is a different breed of laptop. Fast, portable computers, they give students access to the web’s rich educational tools and resources. They run Chrome OS, an operating system developed by Google. Chromebooks are easy to manage and affordable include free Google Apps for Education (GAFE).

Most importantly, Chromebooks are a powerful tool for learning. Chromebooks provide students with a tool to collaborate, create, invent, research, share, investigate, evaluate, analyze and so much more.

The 2016-2017 6th-10th graders will be given the opportunity to use Chromebooks at school, at home, on weekends, during the school day…anytime, anywhere learning. We would like to invite you and our current 5th-9th grade students to an informational evening about our 1:1 initiative on Tuesday, May 24, 6:00 p.m. in the Allentown High School auditorium. More information about our program and some examples of how it can be used to enhance learning and communication for our students will be shared. Join us on May 24th!


An admired educator gone too soon

I didn’t really know Dr. Steven Mayer, but I knew OF him. In  education circles, he was deeply respected and revered by everyone who ever mentioned his name. He was friends with people who I have immense admiration for and talked about, ALWAYS, in the most positive manner. He was a force.

Tragically, Dr. Mayer was killed yesterday while innocently jogging with his dog. The outpouring of love and support for his family and the Robbinsville School District is immense and a testament to the love and esteem that those inside and outside of education had for him.  Hearing all of the testimonials on social media, the web, and through the news just increases the admiration I have for this man.

Dr. Mayer’s influence and impact on the kids from Grover (where he was a Principal in the West-Windsor Plainsboro School District) to the students of Robbinsville cannot be measured, because the true effect of his working with others may not be realized for years. It reminds me of a prayer from Archbishop Oscar Romero, which I often associate with education and helps to clarify this sentiment.

A Future Not Our Own

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

This is what we are about:                                                                                             We plant seeds that one day will grow.                                                                   We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.                                                                                                                                                       We lay foundations that will need further development.                                 We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.               We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.                                                                                                                                       This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.                                      It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way…                   We may never see the end results……

We are prophets of a future not our own. 

For the past 24 hours, I’ve been thinking about Dr. Mayer, his family and that innocent ritual of jogging, which many of us do, on a daily basis. How can something so embedded into our daily routine become something so tragically inserted into our life story? I have no doubt that the seeds Dr. Mayer planted are already making a difference in the world and the foundations that he lay have inspired thousands of students to become the best they can be. He was an educator, a educational “prophet of a future not his own.”

In this terribly difficult time for his wife, his sons, and all who knew him, I hope there is some comfort in knowing that even those of us who knew OF him greatly admired a man who lived his life to inspire and make a difference…the very best that education has to offer.



Eastern Regional Championships in Debate coming to Stone Bridge!

The English Speaking Union of the United States is hosting the Eastern Regional Championships at Stone Bridge Middle School on April 16th, and the Stone Bridge Middle School Debate team is ready to argue and debate at the tournament.

The tournament – will include teams from New York, Washington, D.C. and New Jersey. COME, WATCH and LISTEN to the outstanding debate skills of student from the east coast, especially our Stone Bridge Debaters led by Mrs. Burek and Mrs. Hoffman.   IMG_1953

​Join us at SB on April 16th for the Eastern Regional Championships.  You will see some amazing debates.​


​So excited to be judging at Nationals at SBMS on April 16th. ​


​No autographs!  Just some amazing debates at the Eastern Regional Championships on April 16th at SB​


​We hope you can join us at SB on April 16th as we compete in Eastern Regional Championships.

UFRSD Achievement Report

Standardized test scores are a snapshot of data that we look at through a microscope to find pieces of information that will help with future decisions. It is important data that gives us a sampling of how our students are doing compared to their statewide/national peers. Each year, I am asked to share those results and our recommendations with the Board of Education.

On Wed., January 6, the UFRSD Achievement Report was presented to the UFRSD BOE (watch videos here: #1, #2, #3). The Achievement Report confirmed that our kids are getting a quality education and are prepared for college when they graduate. The Report includes: PARCC Scores (1st year); ACT Scores; SAT Scores; AP Scores; NJ ASK Science Scores (4th/8th grade only). The Report also shares with us the areas that may need some extra attention and hard work to make things even better for our students.

The link above will bring you to our report. The first part of the report shares the genesis of PARCC testing in NJ and the results of our students taking the PARCC test for the first time.  The PARCC test was taken by 3rd – 11th grade students in the areas of English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) and Mathematics. Specifically (for math), in high school, students take Algebra I (taken by some of our 8th grade as well), Geometry or Algebra II.

Following our PARCC scores, we also shared our ACT scores, SAT scores, AP scores and our NJ ASK Science scores for 4th and 8th grade. Below are some quick bullets from the data that highlights some of the information we have received.

  • ELA continues to be a strength; outperforming the State and PARCC participants from across the country. NOTE: With this being the first year of PARCC data, we don’t have comparative scores from the year before for each student.
  • Math scores are less consistent than our ELA scores. Although some are very good (many grade levels scoring above the State and PARCC participants), scores tend to fluctuate throughout the district. A great emphasis on math (see recommendations in the Achievement Report) instruction will be a focus for us. NOTE: With this being the first year of PARCC data, we don’t have comparative scores from the year before for each student.
  • NJ ASK Science scores are above the State and District Factor Group (DFG) in 4th grade and well above the State and DFG for 8th grade.
  • SAT Scores are higher than the State and Nation.
  • ACT Scores are higher than the State and Nation.
  • AP Exams produced fantastic scores, including 68% of all students taking the test scoring a 4 or a 5 on their exams. 88% scored a 3 or better.

As we do with all scores, we are happy about scores that reaffirm our efforts, and we become even more dedicated to support those areas that may need some extra attention.

I always tell people that a district is not defined by their test scores – good or bad. Districts are defined by (just to name a few)…

  • …the day in and day out education that our kids have inside their classrooms.
  • …the rigor, relevance and positive relationships our students experience during school.
  • …the talent of our teachers and students that blend together to make it special for everyone.
  • …the motivation we all have to get better each and every day.

We continue to look for ways to improve the  educational experience for our kids and to challenge ourselves and our students to be the best at what we do.

We should be receiving another round of PARCC test scores soon  (end of January) that may give us even more detailed data. We’ll share when we get them.


Understanding Our Digital Footprint

Understanding our digital footprint and sharing apps that all parents should know about was the focus of a recent conversation with parents at Stone Bridge Middle School; a topic of the utmost importance for our kids and our parents. Our presentation – 1:1 Parent Night Presentation – focused on identifying some things that parents should be aware of when relating to their kids’ devices.

As we continue to develop as a country technologically, the more we need to prepare our kids. I am in awe of technology; and, myself, an enormous fan and user of it. I am a firm believer that kids need to have a model of what good use looks like. Whether it is a Facebook page, Twitter post or Instagram account, we need to model what good digital citizenship is for our kids.

In our district, we use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Periscope and other social media tools to celebrate our kids and share various messages. Another benefit is modeling what appropriate and valued social media use looks like. I hope that our kids can understand the power that they hold in their hands – a power that can do many great things, but also one that can be hurtful and harmful.

In the late winter, we hope to have another in our series of conversations with parents. Come and join us when the date is announced!