Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Fond Farewell

It's June and the season of fond farewells. We said our good-byes and gave our best wishes to the Class of 2014 in the gymnasium at Belchertown High School on Sunday. One hundred, ninety-five strong, the class made its mark on the audience gathered through inspiring speeches and singing the first class song composed by members of the class in my tenure as superintendent. On the Thursday night before graduation, the Seniors also gathered to receive a total of $74,850.00 in scholarship awards from a variety of organizations. Congratulations to all of you on achieving this milestone and best wishes on the next phase of your life's journey! Thank you to Mrs. Vigneux, BHS Principal, for a lovely ceremony, as always. Her hard work has created some very special memories for our newest alumni. The BHS undergraduates will receive their awards on Thursday, June 12th.

Jabish Brook Middle School hosted their annual awards ceremony last night and many students were recognized for their academic achievements. Congratulations to one and all! The eighth graders will be recognized for their work and celebrated for their move on to high school on Friday, June 20th in the BHS auditorium. Their recognition ceremony will be followed by an Aloha! Dance in the BHS cafeteria as they say good-bye to their middle school years and look forward to their high school years.

The rest of our students are wrapping up the year with many activities, saying farewell to their teachers, and moving on to new grades as well as, in some cases, new schools. Culminating activities are celebrating academic achievements as well as having some fun!

I will also be bidding you a fond farewell at the end of this month as I head on to other career ventures. As this will be my final blog post as Superintendent, I would like to say that it has been a privilege to serve the Belchertown Public Schools over the last five years. The citizens of Belchertown have a fabulous administrative team, incredibly talented teachers, and all of the staff are deeply committed to the children. The children are a delight to work with. They have brought joy to my heart each and every day.

Dr. Robert Gazda will be serving from July 1st to December 31st as Interim Superintendent as the School Committee searches for a full-time replacement. Dr. Gazda has already visited our schools, worked with our administrative team, and met with the School Committee in preparation for taking on the position in a few weeks.

I have been blessed to work in this district and the people in it will always have a special place in my heart. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to serve the children of Belchertown.

A fond farewell, Dr. Judith Houle, Superintendent of Schools

PS - If you have any questions or comments regarding this blog post, feel free to call my office at 413.323.0423 or email me at superintendent@belchertown.org.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lots of news!

It's been a busy spring with lots happening in our district. A ground-breaking ceremony has been scheduled for Jessica's Boundless Playground, teachers have been recognized for their excellence, students have also been recognized for their hard work, and we had a visit from the Massachusetts Secretary of Education.

Ground-breaking Ceremony for Jessica's Boundless Playground!

On Monday, May 12th, at 6:00 pm, Team Jessica will break ground on the site for Jessica's Boundless Playground! There will be a brief ceremony when the first shovel will dig into the site as we get ready for site preparation work to be done. This vision has been a long time in coming, but we are getting started and look forward to the result! If you have some time, stop on by and join in the celebration! The site for the playground is adjacent to the lower parking lot at Chestnut Hill Community School.

Teacher Recognition

Lawrence O'Brien, BHS Social Studies Teacher, received the William Spratt Award for Excellence in Teaching Secondary Social Studies by his state professional organization in April. Three other teachers were recognized, along with their peers from Hampshire and Franklin Counties, as Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching award winners on May 6th: Rachel Goldenberg, BHS Science Teacher; Melissa Gramuglia, JBMS Physical Education/Health Teacher; and Louise Levy, BHS Science Teacher. Congratulations to one and all!

Student Recognition

Congratulations go to Jordan Gamache, grade 10, and Quinn Roche, grade 8, for their winning essays submitted to the New England Outdoor Writers' Association contest! They were recognized at a recent School Committee meeting for their outstanding work.

Congratulations also go to the BHS music department for their awards as a result of performances at the Heritage Music Festival in Chicago, IL on May 2nd:
  • Wind Ensemble: Gold medal, first place, Division 3A
  • Symphony Band: Gold medal, first place, Division 2A
  • Concert Band: Silver medal, second place, Division 1A
  • Percussion Ensembles 1 and 2: Gold medals and first place in Divisions 1A and 2A
  • Concert Choir: Silver medal, third place, Division 2
  • Women's Choir: Gold medal, first place, Division 2A
  • Percussion 2: Sweepstakes award - high score for percussion
  • Wind Ensemble: Highest Scoring Band of the Festival
  • All bands: Overall Band Award
  • Jennifer Ollari Barry: Maestro Award.
Congratulations also go to Ms. Lyndsay Boysen, Director of Bands, and Ms. Susan Comstock, Choir Director for an outstanding job!

Massachusetts Secretary of Education, Matthew Malone, visits BHS

Dr. Malone visited BHS on Tuesday of this week as part of his goal to visit every district in the Commonwealth. He was in the area for a meeting of a state task force on school safety that was held later that day and was very impressed with the work we have done as a district on our Emergency Operations Plan. He spent time talking to staff and students along the way.

Secretary of Education, Matthew Malone, reads an essay written by a student in Ms. Letseizen's class.
He was impressed with the work he saw!

The past few weeks have been busy ones, to say the least! We are now on the home stretch for this school year. The Class of 2014 will be graduating on Sunday, June 8th at 2:00 pm in the BHS gymnasium. It doesn't seem possible that this year is almost over.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please feel free to contact me at 413.323.0423 or by email: superintendent@belchertown.org.

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

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: superintendent@belchertown.org.

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: www.belchertownps.org 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 superintendent@belchertown.org.

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: www.belchertownps.org 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 superintendent@belchertown.org. 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, www.belchertownps.org.

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 superintendent@belchertown.org.

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 http://www.lanefurniture.com/CustomerService/Lock-Replacement.aspx .” 

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, www.belchertownps.org

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 superintendent@belchertown.org.

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