With winter waning, and some optimistic signs of spring upon us, I wanted to welcome back the North Shore Community to Contemplations of a Chief Viking: Viewpoints on Teaching, Learning, and all things North Shore.
Once per month, I’ll be writing on topics of importance and interest to the North Shore Schools. Some of my thoughts might be heavier than others, but all of them will be important. I love our schools. Our mission is student-centered and our Shared Valued Outcomes force us to remain focused on what is most important in the education of our students. Our teachers and administrators embrace the notion that teaching a curriculum well rooted in strong process skills is arguably our most important charge. In turn, when executed well, external assessments and other outcomes will always take care of themselves. It is what differentiates a “North Shore Education” from other places and why it should be celebrated.
Schools should be places where teaching and learning comes alive. Our teachers and administrators work hard to focus instruction on strong process skills and outcomes that enable our students to shine. Excellence is one of those relative words and it means something very different for every teacher and student. It is a concept rooted in hard-work, purposeful instruction, and a whole lot of nuance. It is often fluid and needs to take shape in nimble ways. In all five schools in North Shore, we continue to pay attention to this.
The physical spaces that children learn within should be inspiring, active places. It is clear that students benefit from learning spaces that are flexible and beautiful, and we are currently working on a pilot of two innovative classrooms in each school to further promote our goal. If and when you visit these spaces, you will see classrooms with desk configurations that are interchangeable, at varying heights, and surfaces that are both soft and hard. This provides students and teachers with the ability to work in flexible spaces that are responsive to the needs of our learners and simple in their design.
I want to take a moment to offer my most profuse and profound thanks for supporting our bond referendum in December. We are excited about what lies ahead and are busy with the development of designs and preparing construction documents. Most of the heavy work will begin in the summer of 2021 and our first priorities will rest with safety and security, air quality and cooling across the District, and construction at North Shore Middle School. As the planning comes together to transform our spaces, we look forward to sharing our progress with the community and are anxious to submit the construction plans to the New York State Education Department.
Finally, our desire for excellence drives our budget development process. The Board of Education is currently reviewing the lines of the budget to ensure that they reflect our core values, support the instructional program, and continue building upon our strengths as a learning community. The preliminary budget adds new coursework across the academic program, including, but not limited to expanding our dance program, new and exciting research opportunities, electronic music production, and three new dual enrollment courses through Syracuse University and Stony Brook University. Introduction to Film, News Literacy, and Forensic Science are the same courses offered on the university campuses and North Shore’s students will be able to earn university credit through our program right at North Shore High School!
All of this together, along with our continued focus on wellness, social-emotional learning, and supports for our most vulnerable students will propel our program forward as directed by the three pillars of our 2018-2023 Strategic Plan in Teaching and Learning, Equity for All Learners, and Social-Emotional Learning.
As we soon fully turn our attention to spring, I will look forward to seeing many of you over the next few months as we celebrate another fine year of student learning and achievement. Our strong partnerships bind us together. On behalf of the children we share, I am thrilled to be able to communicate with you a small, but important window in this Viking’s contemplations and viewpoints!
Til neste gang (until next time),
My family and I used to live in Maplewood, New Jersey. You have to wonder how a kid from the south shore of Long Island winds up in New Jersey raising a family, but that is a story for another day. Anyway, there was a great little fish market there on the main drag that always had really fresh fish that even my kids would eat! You’re probably scratching your head and wondering, where I’m going with this. So…let me tell you. Above the cash register there was an old beaten up wooden sign that said, “Because Nice Matters….” I always appreciated seeing it, and got to thinking that it would be a great way for me to communicate a couple of thorny topics.
These are Complicated Times
We have a million ways to divide ourselves. I once read and recently heard that the human body is comprised of approximately 3 billion genetic building blocks or genomes. They essentially make us who we are. I was shocked to learn that 99.9% of them are genetically similar in all humans. That’s simply amazing. So, while I am not a geneticist, it begs the question as to why divisions seem so strong. It would be awful if everyone were the same, there would be no diversity of thought, of appearance, of action, or of mind. Imagine how stuck the world would be in a state of complacency if we didn’t approach the world with different ideas, approaches, methodologies. That said, the science has me thinking about why the strong divide and why it seems that diverse opinions can lead to a development of dialogue and approach. Upon reflection, I think that respectful consonance can lead to stronger outcomes. I believe that debate is essential, and I believe it is our differences that can ultimately bring us closer together as a human race. I think our schools have a key responsibility to foster strong communication skills, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills that lead to growth. Our Shared Valued Outcomes were built around some of these principles. I think this is incredibly possible and achievable and we’ll work together with our students and the community to enact them.
Disrespect Comes In All Forms
It can be personal or professional; physical or emotional; silent or loud; overt or covert; intentional or unintentional. People or property can be disrespected, defaced, or defamed in ways that are hurtful and cruel. I am in the business of kids. I respect them a lot. They make me think about things in ways that I haven’t considered, they bring focus to my work, and they remind me how important it is to be a positive role model in both my words and actions. They sometimes do incredibly foolish, thoughtless, and/or impulsive things, and it is important that we use these as opportunities, whether they are disciplinary or not as a means to an instructional end.
Recently, I learned that the term, “KKK” and a profane word had been written on a piece of playground equipment. It was clearly written by a young person. It was reported to police, and our review of security tapes did not produce any leads or conclusions about when, who or even why this happened, and we removed it. Either way, it was deeply troubling. In the absence of any context, we can surmise a list of reasons for why this happened. None of them would be good and all of them would require intervention involving why using the term, “KKK” invokes hatred of all forms and some of the darkest themes in our history as a nation.
One of our goals this year is to address equity issues within the district and part of that work will be seeking out how we can capitalize on what makes all of us different to elevate our commonality. We’ll seek to arm students with strategies to be upstanders rather than bystanders, and enable them to be the very best versions of themselves. Like all of us, they will fall down from time to time and we’ll focus on those instructional opportunities to do better. There will be times that we’ll need to impose other kinds of consequences or interventions. Whatever the course of action, we’ll seek partnership with parents and community to resolve problems and shape positive behaviors among our students.
I ask that you take a few minutes to talk with your children about how our words have power, how our actions can have either negative or positive consequences, and how nice really does matter……
Til neste gang (until next time),
Right before our schools opened we welcomed our new teachers, administrators, teaching assistants, monitors, and interns to the Viking Nation. We spent two days learning and exploring the principles that guide our schools, the District Shared Valued Outcomes, and the nuts and bolts of who, what, where, when, why and how things work the way that they do. While invaluable, it is also an overwhelming experience.
I have always appreciated how sophisticated messages are often communicated in simple ways through the genre of children's literature- elegance in simplicity. When I met with our new faculty and administration, I read them a children's book called, All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee. It is a book that I have enjoyed with my own children. It presents the reader with a message of life's ups and downs, unity, and perspective. A recipient of the 2010 Caldecott Honor, the illustrations are simply stunning to look at.
After we read the book, I asked them in teams to reflect upon their work with children and to finish the sentence, All the world is...
Their responses were jaw-dropping. Messages brimming with hope, optimism, and thought. I created a wordle and have included here for you to have look at. I smile each time I read it, and hope you will as well.
Teach Your Children Well:
Last week, we welcomed back our professional staff to the District. On September 6th, we welcomed our students back. The first day is one of the best days of the year. You may or may not know that our District's motto is "Discovering Your Dreams." One of the things that makes North Shore so unique is that we're focused on encouraging kids to dream. Whether large or small, dreams are important, and they help us to imagine and innovate. I quoted Oscar Wilde's 1891 essay, The Critic As Artist when he states, "Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world." I took time to address our district staff on reinforcing a message of enabling children to dream while balancing the demands placed upon us with regard to specific and required course content.
Teaching is hard work. It is a marriage of art and science that can ignite endless passion, wonder, and knowledge in children. We are fortunate to live and work in such a special place, and look forward to an amazing year of teaching and learning.
Back in Action:
It has been a week since we welcomed back our students to North Shore, and the place is now truly electric! Schools absolutely come to life once they are filled with students. New school years are opportunities for us to extend our learning and relationships, renew and grow our interests, and/or engage in new opportunities. In my travels to each school, I met an amazing number of new people. I built robots with kindergarteners, chatted with many students about all things including the marshmallow challenge at Glen Head. I even asked for some advice on how to be a successful superintendent in North Shore from our current fifth graders across all three schools. Among other things they told me to work hard, listen carefully to students, communicate well, solve problems, and to be creative. I also heard a thing or two about eliminating homework, closing school early, extending recess, air conditioning, and playgrounds.
I love that our students are back. They give us purpose and a reason to reflect upon ways to strengthen our great Viking Nation!
I'm looking forward to seeing many of you at Homecoming this weekend. The K-12 Fan Fest will begin at 10:30 AM and the football game will begin at 2 PM. For regular updates on all things North Shore, follow me on Twitter at @PeterGiarrizzo.
Til neste gang (until next time),
Viewpoints of a Viking: Thoughts on Teaching. Learning, and All Things North Shore will be a place for me to share some of my current thoughts and ideas about our schools, happenings that are significant at the local, state, and national level, and how we can all connect and support each other and our students, The Great Viking Nation.
I’ll plan to post these at least twice per month, so be on the lookout for them on our website and via my Twitter feed, where you can follow me at @PeterGiarrizzo.
A few years ago, my mother in law took a trip to Scandinavia. While she was there she visited Norway, and brought back a card about Viking Law. At the time, it was definitely more interesting to my kids than I, but truth be told, I’ve always been a little intrigued by Vikings, and on reflection the laws and their subsequent descriptors presented via my mother in law now have some newfound meaning in light of my piqued interest in all things Vikings.
Be Brave and Aggressive- be direct; versatile; agile; grab all opportunities; use varying methods of attack.
Be Prepared- Keep in shape; keep materials in good condition; find good comrades; agree on important points
Be a Good Merchant- Find out what the market needs; don’t promise what you can’t keep; arrange things so that you can return
Keep the Camp in order- Make sure everybody does useful work; arrange enjoyable activities which strengthen the group; consult all members of the group for advice; keep things tidy and organized.
These laws got me thinking about the dispositions and behaviors that we seek to develop in children. While the nomenclature may be different, the sentiments are largely the same. While not a one to one match, they are somewhat reflective of our Shared Valued Outcomes. We remain resolute in our commitment to providing our students with an education that emphasizes the importance of our Shared Valued Outcomes of Collaboration, Communication, Thinking, Problem-solving, Innovation, Commitment to the growth of oneself and a genuine Concern for Others.
Vikings are pragmatic. They are also described as these determined, tough, people with endless grit that has led to many conquests across the northern seas. Symbols were important to Vikings, and as a writer, I have always been drawn to the importance that symbolism plays in the written word. I do love the sea and Viking ships are some of the coolest I’ve seen. As we set sail on our 2017-2018 Viking Conquest in North Shore, I encourage our students, their families, and our teachers to pay attention to these important skills and Viking dispositions. They can only enable us to tackle all that lies ahead with fierce determination and greater precision.
In a couple of weeks, we will welcome our students, faculty and staff back to a new school year. I wish you all a very relaxing remainder of the summer and look forward to getting to know you all as the year unfolds. Please do not hesitate to reach out to introduce yourself in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, be on the lookout for my next post…..
While I eagerly await yours, my arrival in North Shore coincides with a new-found identity for myself. I am now a Viking, and that to me, has a great ring to it!
Til neste gang (until next time),