The Big Train

The Newsletter of the Walter Johnson PTSA - January 2015

Volume 45, Number 5

Walter Johnson PTSA

The Walter Johnson High School PTSA is a dedicated group of parents, teachers and students who work together in support of the school and community.

PTSA President's message

Each of us has battled a range of emotions this month -- from shock to grief, to anger and disbelief -- over the death of Noah Marks, someone so young and dear to the Walter Johnson community. As parents and community members, we are focusing these emotions to help the family and to encourage support within our community and in the school. The WJ administration, counseling office, and faculty made extraordinary efforts to meet the needs of our students during this difficult time. Please join me in thanking them for their continuing work.

The PTSA, counseling office and faculty are also participating in the previously-planned Health and Wellness Summit for students Feb. 27, where we will invite dozens of mental health professionals to come in and talk to our kids about what’s important to them. (See more on the Summit in Karen Clarkson's column below.) Please encourage your students to take this opportunity to listen to their classmates and to open up to each other.

The PTSA will be meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 7 pm this month due to the teacher professional day on Jan. 20. At that meeting we will be discussing upcoming events and a contribution to Noah’s fund. We would appreciate your ideas and suggestions on the Summit as well as speakers or other support going forward.

Barbara Ferry, PTSA President

2014-15 PTSA upcoming meeting schedule

Jan. 21 (Please note new date)

Feb. 17

March 17

April 21

May 19

  • PTSA business meetings are normally held on the third Tuesday of the month at 7 pm in the Media Center and are open to all parents, students and teachers.
  • PTSA meetings include an update from the principal and committee chairs and a discussion of ongoing business.
  • Agenda items for meetings should be sent to the PTSA president a week prior to the meeting so that enough time can be allocated for discussion.
  • Speakers sponsored by the PTSA are held at various times during the year and are organized by the Guidance Advisory Committee or the Health and Safety Committee.


The PTSA does not fundraise; your donations and membership dues are our only means of support. We are about 100 members short of our goal of 1,000 members in 2014-15. By joining the PTSA, you have an important opportunity to play a valuable role in the continuing success of Walter Johnson High School. Please join online today.

News from the Principal's Office

Due to the tragic loss of Noah Marks, our students and staff had a difficult and heartbreaking return to school from winter break. By all accounts, Noah was a beloved member of the WJ community. We will remember Noah as someone who had a genuine talent and passion for drama and acting, wore colorful bowties, and was an inspiration to those around him. He will be greatly missed but never forgotten. Noah’s family set up a memorial fund in Noah’s memory to benefit our arts program, which was so important to him. If you would like to contribute, please make checks out to Walter Johnson High School and put Noah Marks in the memo section of the check.

In order to help our students process their shock and grief, we had members of the MCPS crisis team in the building on Monday, Jan. 5. In addition to the crisis team, we had the support of our school psychologist and our pupil personnel worker. Prior to the start of school, the administrative team met and created a detailed plan for how we would support our students. Our outstanding counseling department has been invaluable this week in meeting with students in small groups and individually.

The word community has taken on new meaning at WJ. Throughout the week we’ve seen how our students, staff, and parents came together to support each other in very meaningful ways. We can’t thank you enough for your supportive emails, calls, and offers of assistance.

We know that our plan of support needs to continue in the coming days, weeks, and months and we have long-term plans to continue to provide all of our students who need it with assistance. There are many resources posted on our school website that might be useful to you as you talk with your children. If you need additional resources or have any concerns about your child, please contact our counseling department.

Until Feb. 13, I will have the privilege of serving as the acting principal for Walter Johnson. Please feel free to contact me directly with your questions and feedback. Jennifer Baker will be at Meadow Hall Elementary School and will return to WJ at the end of my internship. I’ve learned so much about this dynamic and caring community in the past few months and look forward to continuing the great work of our leadership team in the coming weeks. Our focus will continue to be on providing students with differentiated and engaging learning opportunities in each of their classes.

Afie Mirshah-Nayar

Principal Intern

Dr. Michael Doran, visiting principal

The administrative team would like to welcome Dr. Michael Doran as visiting principal. Dr. Doran has been a principal for 25 years, the past 10 at Wootton High School. In the next six weeks, he will serve as a part of our administrative team and will work with many of our Class of 2018 students. Please join me in welcoming him to Walter Johnson.

Parental input imperative to success of Health and Wellness Summit

Our students have spoken and we – the PTSA and administration – are responding to our teens’ need for adequate and accurate information on issues pertaining to health and wellness. On Friday, Feb. 27 – a half day for students – Walter Johnson will sponsor its inaugural Health and Wellness Summit. Its success, however, is contingent on parental involvement, and there are many ways to help.

By way of background, this past November, 1,000 WJ students -- more than 40 percent of the student body -- responded to a Google survey in which they were asked to consider 18 topics and select the areas of concern that were of interest to them personally or were issues within the school community that warranted discussion among students and professionals. The top three were stress management, depression and anxiety, and work/life balance for students. These topics, which clearly go hand-in-glove, are the focus of our summit.

Recognizing that our teens are bombarded with health-related information -- from their peers, the media and the Internet -- and that not all of it is accurate, we want to give students the information they crave while ensuring that it comes from a reliable community expert with whom they can interact. While we have identified and procured many health-and-wellness professionals within the greater Montgomery County community to participate in this event, we are short of our goal. We are hoping you, our parents – through your professional and social networks – can refer individuals to us who can speak to and facilitate discussions about stress management, depression and anxiety and work/life balance.

The Health and Wellness Summit will consist of two class periods with a short break in between. The time commitment for speakers is roughly three hours, from about 8-11 a.m. Coffee and refreshments will be provided. While we ask that presenters come prepared with introductory remarks, our hope is that they will facilitate a class discussion or conversation.

As we all know, teens generally are not receptive to lectures. So we are looking for dynamic presenters, comfortable interacting with older adolescents, who are willing to share both their expertise and tools that our students can use to prevent and/or cope with these issues. Interactive, hands-on sessions are the ideal. If you know of anyone within the Walter Johnson school community, we hope that you will share their names with us.

Our deadline to secure health and wellness professionals for our summit is Monday, Feb. 2, so we need to hear from you as soon as possible. Any potential presenter in need of additional information about the Health and Wellness Summit should feel free to contact Karen Finucan Clarkson, a WJ parent, at 301-493-2528 or

WJ Booster Club needs more than a few good people

Making decisions about what school clubs, sports and activities to provide financial assistance to (in addition to working to raise those funds) requires men and women with judgment, integrity and a passion for WJ.

The Booster Club has a number of openings which may fit your interest, skills and commitment level.

Open positions Include:

  • Vice President (moving into the role of president next year)
  • School Store operations (apprentice the first year to take over the following)
  • Banner sales

For those who want to be involved but prefer to start at a less active level, we have the following openings. These positions allow parents to get to know the Booster Club and hopefully assess the roles they may want to move into.

  • Liaisons to Tilden and North Bethesda middle schools
  • Three seats for at-large members

We also have a need for parents to support our existing fundraisers: mulch sale, used book sale, and staffing the concession stand.

Interested volunteers should reach out to Co-Presidents James and Jill Joseph at


Wednesday, Jan. 14th, 7pm

Walter Johnson Media Center

Everyone is encouraged to attend the All-School Booster Club meeting. We need your support!
We provide the dough so WJ kids can rise

Click here to join the WJ Booster Club online using Visa or Mastercard

Time to send in your donations for the WJ Used Book Sale

Used book, DVD, and CD donations are now being accepted for the Walter Johnson Used Book Sale. [Please no VHS or cassette tapes.] You can drop your items in sturdy boxes and bags on the school loading dock during school hours, or during book-sorting Saturdays in the Cafeteria on Jan. 17 and 31 and Feb. 14 and 28 from 9 am - 12 pm. you can also sign up to help organize, sort and sell. The sale March 7-8, the first weekend of the month, from 9 am to 2 pm. The Used Book Sale is sponsored by the WJ All School Booster Club, which benefits all clubs, sports, and activities at WJ. Questions? Contact Gail Gleeson at

Guidance Advisory Committee

The Guidance Advisory Committee -- comprised of parents, students, counseling services staff, and administrators -- assists the Counseling Services Department and fosters communication among parents, students, and the department. The advisory committee sponsors parents' forums that provide information on academic and social issues to help WJ students succeed.

If you have missed any of the GAC events, you can obtain handouts from those meetings here on the Walter Johnson website.


Winter/Spring Meetings

  • Mon., Jan. 12 - PSAT and Mock Testing Results Interpretation, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Feb. 9 - Senior Class Parent Meeting: Graduation, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Wed., Feb. 11 – Parent Coffee: College Admissions Testing, 7:45 am - Commons
  • Mon., Feb. 23 - College Planning and Prep for Students Who Learn Differently, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Mar. 2 - Naviance/Family Connections Parent Meeting, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Wed., Mar. 11 - Naviance/Family Connections Parent Coffee, 7:45 am - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Mar. 30 - Mock ACT/SAT Results Interpretation, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Apr. 20 – College Admissions Panel Night, 7 pm - Cafeteria

Annual Parent Registration Information Night

The annual Parent Registration Information Night will be held on Thursday, Jan 15 at 7 pm in the Auditorium.

On this evening in our auditorium, a brief overview of the registration process and of ninth-grade courses will be discussed. After the presentation, we invite you to our cafeteria where department chairs will be available to answer course questions. It is a great opportunity to hear more about our various programs and the types of challenges associated with different classes. Traditionally, the evening has been well-attended by incoming ninth-grade parents and I hope to see a lot of parents and students from the incoming Class of 2019, All grade levels are invited to this event and will definitely benefit from the information.

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Congratulations to WJ Wrestling who swept the Big Train Duals and are now 16-0!

The Best Buddies Club led schoolwide disabilities awareness assembly Dec, 23

India High, a disability advocate, spoke to the students about her struggles of acceptance and appreciation for her strengths as a person with a disability. The Best Buddies club members, both with disabilities and without, taked about what it means to have a disability, gave a brief overview of the history of the disability movement, and presented ideas for building community in the school. Delaney Dunigan and Jackson Miller performed an interpretive dance, Gina Baldini joined WJ Cheer in a routine, Sizhe Xie played “Fur Elise” on the piano and all assembly participants held a spontaneous dance party on the stage. The assembly concluded in a powerful way with the audience yelling out, “We are one," as a commitment to support WJ students and those in our larger community with disabilities. The audience was on their feet and joined the members on stage to sing, “Lean on Me.” As people sang together, the audience created a sea of light with their phones in support of the message.

Emilia O’Connor

LFI/ Spanish Teacher

Best Buddies Co-Sponsor

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Walter Johnson's ice hockey team huddles in to get direction from Coach Gregg Ivers.

Subscribe to the PTSA Bulletin Board

All members of the WJ community are strongly encouraged to subscribe to this valuable communication resource. Click here for instructions on how to join.

The Walter Johnson High Education Foundation, Inc.

Thanks to a number of parents who made end-of-year donations in order to help us purchase an additional Chromebook cart. This will be an on-going campaign as our goal is to raise $9,154 for a complete cart with 30 Chromebooks, software and set-up that will be used by many classrooms. We appreciate donations of any amount, large or small. Perhaps you know a local business who would like to support our school with a donation.

The Engraved Brick Challenge is underway for the Class of 2015

We continue with the challenge to the Class of 2015 to lay more bricks in the Wildcat Walkway than any other class. Families have begun buying bricks for their seniors and together with bricks already purchased, the total is at least one-quarter of the goal. We know that the goal to have at least 100 bricks purchased can easily be attained. If the students and families of the Class of 2015 donate 100 engraved bricks, the Education Foundation will place a special brick in the walkway in honor of their achievement.

We sell the engraved bricks each year and install new bricks each summer. The proceeds from the brick sales go to support programs at the school for students and to buy materials. The donation of a brick is a wonderful way to thank a coach or staff member in addition to honoring students and teams. We have bricks that honor winning teams and alumni, and some that are in memory of deceased staff and students. The walkway has become a nice place to visit again and again. If you have not seen the Wildcat Walkway, please do. It’s by the rear entrance to the gym and the drop-off loop.

To order a brick, go to the Education Foundation website at, or if you have questions, please write to

You can find more information about the foundation or get donation forms on our website,

Marney Jacobs, President, WJ ED Foundation


January and February hours:

  • Thursday, Jan. 15, 7-9 pm - Parent Registration Information Night
  • Thursday, Feb. 5, 7-9 pm - Second Semester Back-To-School Night


The School Store is located in the hallway outside the cafeteria. We are open most school days from 10:45 am to 11:30 am. Credit cards, checks and cash accepted.



Check for more information.


You can do this by linking your store loyalty card to Walter Johnson. WJ earns money every time you shop at Giant, Target, Safeway, Food Lion and Harris Teeter, as long as you designate WJ as your beneficiary school. You can also opt to support more than one school. But you can’t help if you don’t register. And many stores require you to re‐register every year. Please take a moment and follow the links below. Use the following ID numbers and sign up now to help WJ earn.

Target Red Card Visa - School ID: 58206

Harris Teeter - School ID: 7371

Safeway - WJ Group ID: 6679161

Giant - School ID: 00646

Food Lion (including the former Bloom stores) - School ID: 219715

Submit an Item for The Big Train Newsletter

The Big Train is the PTSA monthly newsletter, posted online. The upcoming submission deadlines are Jan. 28, Feb. 25, March 25, April 29 and May 27.

Articles, questions and comments may be submitted via email to with the article in the body of the message or as an attachment (please indicate file type). The Big Train is posted on the WJ website, so please do not include information you would not want to see online. Please supply email addresses as well as phone numbers for contact information whenever possible.

All persons associated with WJ are encouraged to submit news and information.

Please also include photos if you have them. In addition to the newsletter, we will post them on the PTSA Facebook page.

The Big Train is compiled, laid out, and edited by Linda Parker, Stephanie Brown and Jonathan Salant.