Monday, March 17, 2014

Professional Development and a couple "Save the Dates"

Last week was a week of learning opportunities for all the staff in our district. In line with our strategic plan goal of rigorous and relevant instructional practices being implemented in all our classrooms, our district Leadership Team spent two hours last Thursday (March 13th) discussing practices that have been proven by research to have a positive impact on student learning from the work of John Hattie, known as "visible learning". The Leadership Team delved into seven different practices that have been identified as very effective and tied them to the new Educator Evaluation System. We also talked about how these practices would look in action in our classrooms. After working in small groups, ideas were shared with the whole group. Our Leadership Team has been working with teachers to foster the best practices possible in our classrooms and to ensure that the proper resources are provided to assist them in that process.
BHS Principal Christine Vigneux presents her group's work on "questioning" as an effective instructional practice to the Leadership Team.
On Friday, March 14th, teachers and paraprofessionals gathered for Edcamp Btown 2014. This is the second time we have used this model for professional growth across the district. Teachers and paraprofessionals had direct input into the design of the day with over 40 sessions offered on a variety of topics, most of which were facilitated by our own staff. Topics included: curriculum alignment in a variety of areas, using assessments to inform instruction, how to work with students with autism, using technology in the classroom, and much more. It was a very successful day with a lot of positive feedback from teachers and paraprofessionals alike on the variety and value of the sessions. Our thanks go to the BHS cafeteria staff for making a yummy lunch that all could enjoy and to our district's PTO groups: CSSR PTO, CHCS PTO, and Jabish Brook PTO, for sponsoring the lunch.
Physical Education Teachers learn about orienteering from Mr. Cowles, BHS PE Teacher

Teachers learn ways to integrate technology in the classroom from Mr. Butler, Music Teacher and Instructional Technologist at SRE

Grade 5 teachers from CHCS work together on curriculum planning

Save the dates!

There are two dates coming up in the near future where we will work to promote awareness of a couple of important issues to students and families in our district. The first is is "Light It Up Blue" on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, in cooperation with our district Special Education Parent Advisory Council. This event is to promote awareness of Autism as part of Autism Awareness month. We are asking students and staff to wear blue in commemoration of April 2nd as World Autism Day, sponsored by the United Nations. More information will be forthcoming in this blog and on our web site - stay tuned!

The second date is Tuesday, April 15th, as we celebrate Purple Up! for Military Kids. Several of our students and staff members in Belchertown have family members who are serving our country in the military. These families face special challenges that go with military service, including long periods of separation during periods of deployment. Purple Up! is a way to show support for our military families. Why purple? Purple is the color that symbolizes all branches of the military blended together into one unifying color. So get your purple ready for April 15th and wear it as a show of support for families who have members who are sacrificing in service to our country!

As always, if you have any questions or comments about this blog, please feel free to contact me phone (413.323.0423) or email me:

Best regards, Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendent of Schools

Monday, March 10, 2014

Teachers of Excellence to be Recognized

Each year, the Belchertown Public Schools recognize teachers of excellence. These individuals are nominated by colleagues and selected by their School Councils to receive this recognition. The 2014 Belchertown Teachers of Excellence are: Ryan Butler, SRE Music Teacher; Rachel Goldenberg, BHS Science Teacher; Melissa Gramuglia, JBMS Physical Education Teacher; and Louise Levy, BHS Science Teacher. These teachers will be formally recognized at the March 18th School Committee meeting.

The Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards program allows us to move three of our candidates forward to be recognized. This is always a very difficult decision to make, but I am pleased to announce that Rachel Goldenberg, Melissa Gramuglia, and Louise Levy have been named as the recipients of this award. They will be recognized at an awards dinner at the Log Cabin on Tuesday, May 6th. These awards are sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and other generous corporate donors, to whom we are grateful for their support of educators across the Pioneer Valley.

Congratulations to these teachers on your achievements!

Professional Development Day on Friday

This is a reminder that there will be no school for students on Friday, March 14th, as our staff will be attending professional development workshops for the day.

Budget for the 2014-2015 School Year

The Senior Leadership Team and program directors have been working on a first draft of the budget for the next school year. The budget will be presented to the School Committee on Tuesday, March 18th (please note that this meeting has been changed from the originally scheduled date of March 11th). The meeting will take place in the SRE library at 7:00 pm. Following the initial presentation of the budget, but prior to a final vote, parents/guardians and community members will have three opportunities to give input into the process. There will be two Coffee & Conversation with the Superintendent gatherings (TBA) and a public budget hearing prior to a School Committee vote on April 29th. Watch this blog and our web site: for more information.

End-of-the-Year Calendar

What a winter! At this moment in time, we have used six snow days, making the last day of school Monday, June 23rd. The forecast for the middle of this week does not look promising, so let's hope that maybe the snow will pass us by! I had the opportunity to get a breath of spring at the Mount Holyoke flower show over the weekend. It was nice to see and smell all the beautiful flowers and have hope that spring will be coming soon.
A preview of Spring at the MHC flower show!

Graduation for the Class of 2014 has been set for Sunday, June 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm in the BHS gymnasium. I know our seniors are excited about this upcoming event and milestone achievement in their lives!

A rumor seems to have started...

A rumor seems to have started via a student Twitter account that a $20,000.00 piano was purchased with district funds. I would like to set the record straight on this matter. No such instrument has been purchased, nor are there any plans to do so in this budget or next year's budget. Thank you for doing your part in helping to set the record straight.

As always, feel free to contact me regarding this blog post: 413.323.0423 or

Best regards, Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendent of Schools

Monday, February 17, 2014

CHCS students recognized, BPS Emergency Operations Plan, new Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan approved

It's been a busy past few weeks in the Belchertown Public Schools. The School Committee was pleased to recognize fifth grade teacher, Suzanne Dudley, and students whose poetry works were published in A Celebration of Poets: Summer 2013. Because of the number of poems published, CHCS received a Poetic Achievement Award for having more than 50% of the submissions included in the book. Congratulations go to the following students: Daniel Arends, Anna Auclair, Nicole Beaumont, Hannah Bernard, Ceren Cayan, Nate Courchesne, Kyleigh Girard, Hunter Klingensmith, Kate Mas, Janan Patel, Landen Pease, Kalleigh Samson, Noah Soutier, Matthew Talbot, Andrew Teixeira, and Mackenzie Thomas. Mrs. Dudley and her students were presented with award certificates at the February 11th School Committee meeting.
Suzanne Dudley, back row/left, with some CHCS award-winning poets!
CHCS fifth graders were also treated to a visit by members of Team Jessica on Tuesday, February 11th. As part of a multi-disciplinary unit on boundless playgrounds, that started with a story in their reading series, the children researched boundless playgrounds, which is the concept on which Jessica's Boundless Playground has been designed and will be built. Vicky Martins-Auffrey, Jessica's mother (the student in whose memory the playground has been named), spoke with the children. The children wrote letters, drew pictures, and made suggestions for possible ways to raise funds and gave ideas about how they would like the playground to be built. She shared the preliminary design with them and got some other suggestions for activities they'd like to see included. Alexandra Holcomb, a student in Mrs. Robinson's class, presented Mrs. Martins-Auffrey with a rainbow loom bracelet and $100.00 she raised by making these bracelets and selling them to family members!
Vicky Martins-Auffrey explains Jessica's Boundless Playground's proposed design to the students.

Alexandra Holcomb (L) presents Mrs. Martins-Auffrey with her donation and a bracelet she made.

Belchertown Public Schools Emergency Operations Plan to be presented to the School Committee on February 25th

The School Safety Task Force has completed its work on a new Emergency Operations Plan for the district. The School Committee will consider adoption of the plan on Tuesday, February 25th at 7:00 pm in the auditorium at Belchertown High School. There will be a presentation on the plan and there will be a period for public comment at that meeting.  If you would like to read a draft of the plan, please go to the main page of our web site: and click on the link in the district announcements section.

At their February 11, 2014 School Committee meeting, the School Committee approved a revised Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy and Plan. The plan will be uploaded to our district web site later this week.

As always, if you have any questions about this blog post, please feel free to call me at 413.323.0423 or send an email to Enjoy the extended vacation week, thanks to our snowy winter - school is closed this week. We look forward to seeing everyone back at school on Monday, February 24th.

Best regards, Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendent of Schools

Friday, January 24, 2014

CHCS kicks off Read to Achieve program and Safety Plans

Chestnut Hill Community School kicked off a month long reading incentive, known as Read to Achieve,  for the students at CHCS sponsored by the Springfield Armor, a semi-pro basketball team. Students will log reading in ten minute increments and will be awarded prizes weekly. Every student can earn a prize each week. Students and families will also be invited to attend a basketball game on Friday evening March 21st if they complete the reading log during week four. Mr. Brad Medeiros and, Steel, the Armor Mascot visited CHCS on Wednesday January 8th to kick-off our program and encourage our students to read every day. The Read to Achieve Program will run January 13th through February 7th
Steel gets CHCS students excited about reading!

Prizes will be awarded to the students throughout the month as they meet their goals. The final prize will be a free ticket to a Springfield Armor basketball game! The winner will receive his/her free ticket and an order form to purchase additional additional discounted tickets for family and friends. The winner will also be recognized on the court at the March 21st game!

Good luck CHCS readers in achieving your goals! We can't wait to hear who the grand prize winner will be!

Safety Plans

I would like to thank the parents and guardians, as well as staff members, who attended the recent Coffee & Conversation with the Superintendent meetings to discuss revisions to the district's Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan and the new Emergency Operations Plan. We appreciate your interest and concern. The Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan is scheduled to go before the School Committee at their February 11, 2014 meeting for approval and the Emergency Operations Plan will go before the School Committee on February 25, 2014 for approval. You can review copies of the drafts from links posted on our district web site,

As always, if you have any questions or comments about this blog feel free to call me at 413.323.0423 or email me at

Enjoy the weekend! Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendent of Schools

Friday, January 17, 2014

BHS featured on local news and some safety items

WGGB, the ABC local affiliate in Western Mass, came to BHS this morning as part of their weekly Honor Roll Live series every Friday morning. Approximately 200 students came in the wee hours of the morning (most were there by 4:30 am when I arrived) to join in the fun! Lots of school spirit, musical performances, and showcasing the various activities at the school were all part of the morning's festivities. It was a great time!

The host for the morning was Brittany Decker, news reporter for WGGB, who did a fabulous job! In addition to highlighting all the wonderful things our students do at BHS, she was gracious enough after the newscast to pose with our students who requested pictures. Thanks go to Mrs. Vigneux, BHS Principal, for coordinating the visit and to the staff and students who came so early to be a part of the day! If you'd like to the video footage from the morning, click here to go to WGGB's web site.

WGGB's Brittany Decker with our Oriole Mascot and students at BHS this morning!

Some Safety Notes

Dr. Nancy Spitulnik, Superintendent of the Northbridge Public Schools, shared a very important message with her families that bears passing along to you:

As you may have seen in the news, two young children in Franklin died a few days ago when they suffocated in a cedar chest that locked automatically, trapping them inside.  These chests were recalled by the manufacturer a number of times since 1987, and replacement locks were provided to prevent this problem.  However, many of these unmodified chests are still in homes, and people are not aware of the potential danger.  See the information below about checking your cedar chest and obtaining free replacement locks.  Hopefully we can prevent any more tragedies.
“Between 1912 and 1987, Lane and Virginia Maid manufactured and sold an estimated 12 million cedar chests. Cedar chests made during these years latch shut without having to depress a button. In recent years, several children have suffocated inside chests with old style locks. As a result, Lane has launched several successful programs concentrating on lock replacement. However, there are still an estimated 6 million chests that need the locks replaced. The chests are often handed down through families, and it is likely that many were purchased second-hand.  (Chests manufactured after 1987 already have the new safety lock.)
Lane is providing new locks, free of charge, that will prevent entrapments because they do not automatically latch shut when the lid is closed. The new locks are easy to install by consumers in their homes.
To prevent another tragedy, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Lane are urging consumers to check their “Lane” and “Virginia Maid” brand cedar chests. The brand name “Lane” or “Virginia Maid” is located inside the cedar chest. If the lid latches shut without depressing a button on the outside of the chest, the lock needs to be replaced. Consumers should have the chest's serial and style numbers, which are branded on the outside bottom or outside back of the chest, available when contacting Lane.
Contact Lane toll-free at (800) 327-6944 anytime or order the free replacement lock online at .” 

In other safety news, I would like to thank the parents and guardians who came to our most recent round of Coffee and Conversation with the Superintendent gatherings and learned about revisions to our Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan and our new Emergency Operations Plan. I appreciate your interest and feedback on both plans. Both plans will be presented to the School Committee for approval in February. If you would like to see drafts of the plans, you can find links to them on the main page of our web site,

As a way to increase communications about issues of concerns as well as a way to push out information to the community, we have established a Twitter feed, @Belchertownps. Feel free to follow us for updates of all sorts. Please understand that we will not be checking the feed for Tweets being sent our way on a regular basis, so if you have issues and concerns it is best to contact the appropriate school or my office by phone or email. All of that contact information can also be found on our web site.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please feel free to call my office at 413.323.0423 or send an email to

Just a reminder - no school on Monday due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Enjoy the long weekend!

Best regards, Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendennt of Schools

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Let it Snow!

You know the song, "Well the weather outside is frightful..." and it looks as though we are in for it! The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for late tonight through mid-morning on Friday. We are in for a good amount of snow over a long duration and some sub-zero wind chills, especially on Friday morning. Neither type of weather is safe for students either in buses or waiting for them to arrive at a bus stop. Not wanting to risk any child's safety, I felt it was in their best interests to not have them come to school over the next couple of days. Many other school districts in the region are making the same types of decisions for the same reasons. I'm sure the children will be happy to have a 2-day extension to their holiday vacation!

To remind you of the beauty of the snow - despite its hazards, I thought I would share this picture taken on a trail in the Quabbin Reservoir last winter while my husband and I were out snowshoeing.

We are blessed to have this beautiful resource in our backyard!

Unfortunately, this means the Holiday Extravaganza Concert scheduled for Friday evening has been canceled. We look forward to the next concert at Chestnut Hill Community School by our young musicians there in January. Both JBMS and BHS music departments will share their talents with us again in March as we celebrate Music In Our Schools month. I hope you will plan to join them then!

For more information on these events and other events in our district, check our District Calendar. I also hope many parents and guardians will join me and other administrators for the next round of Coffee & Conversation with the Superintendent Gatherings in the next two weeks. See the main page of our district web site for more details. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please feel free to call me at 413.323.0423 or email

Stay safe and warm and enjoy the snow! Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendent of Schools

Monday, December 23, 2013

In the Holiday Spirit

Last week was a busy week as we concluded lots of activities before our holiday vacation break.

Students at all of our schools collected items for those less fortunate. Below is a photo of students from Chestnut Hill Community School with food items that were donated by the children. Our students are to be congratulated for their generous spirits!

On Thursday, December 19th, our first graders at SRE presented, "It's A Small World." This is the culmination of their study of the customs and cultures from across the globe. There were recitations, songs, and dances. Many of the children dressed in costume from the countries they represented. They did an outstanding job!
Students in costume, representing Sweden, share their country's holiday customs.

Children perform Nigun Atik, an Israeli dance.
On Friday, December 20th, BHS hosted our Senior Citizens for a concert and sing-a-long in the auditorium, followed by a brunch in the cafeteria. Musical selections were provided by the Women's and Mixed Choirs, the Percussion II Ensemble, and the Wind Ensemble. The food and beautiful cafeteria decorations were provided by the Student Council and National Art Honor Society students. The seniors thoroughly enjoyed both the music and the meal!
Seniors and students enjoy some time together over brunch.

Holiday Extravaganza! Concert Rescheduled

The BHS Holiday Extravaganza! concert was snowed out on December 17th and has been rescheduled to Friday, January 3, 2014 at 7:00 pm in the BHS auditorium. There are still tickets available for $5.00 per person and may be purchased at the door. We hope you will come and join us for an evening of holiday song!

Coffee and Conversation with the Superintendent

Our second quarter Coffee and Conversation with the Superintendent gatherings will take place on Thursday, January 9th, for parents/guardians of CSS, SRE, and CHCS at 6:30 pm in the CHCS Library (with thanks to the CHCS PTO for hosting). The gatherings for JBMS and BHS parents/guardians will take place on Thursday, January 16th, at 6:30 pm in the BHS Library. The topic of these gatherings will be school safety, with an opportunity for parents and guardians to learn about and give feedback to revisions to the district's Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy and Plan, as well as our Emergency Operations Plan. So we can be adequately prepared for you, please call my office at 413.323.0423 or send an email to to let us know if you plan to attend. 

Holiday Vacation

Our schools are closed for the December holiday vacation, Monday, December 23, 2013 through Wednesday, January 1, 2014. We will reopen on Thursday, January 2, 2014. On behalf of the Belchertown Public Schools, I would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season and we will see you all in the new year!

As always, if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please call my office at 413.323.0423 or send an email to

Best regards, Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendent of Schools