The Tiger Times
The Thomas Jefferson Elementary Parent Newsletter
September 27, 2019
Chalk Dust: Notes From The Principal's Desk
These conversations can be powerful and insightful, but they are not always easy. For starters, it is not easy for dedicated educators -- and without question, FCCPS educators are devoted to the success of our kids -- to see that our work has not been as universally effective as what we have hoped. Secondly, conversations about equity lead pretty quickly to conversations of race, socioeconomic status, and other pillars of American living that have, at times, produced great pain. It is human nature to shy away from conversations in which a poorly articulated phrase or word could cause pain to someone we care about, or expose something in ourselves that is misinterpreted or perhaps that we are ashamed of.
While it is critically important that we engage one another respectfully and safely in this conversation, the necessity of the conversation is, in my view, inarguable. The numbers tell a significant story: we have a 91% pass rate in reading for all of our FCCPS kids, one of the highest in the entire state of Virginia. Among English learners, the pass rate drops to 32%, which is lower than the state average. The reading pass rate for economically disadvantaged students is 64%, one percentage point lower than the state average.
We can do better than that. We take these numbers seriously and are giving them our full attention.
Beyond student achievement levels, we have to face the reality that some of our students come to school and experience a different reality than others. As it seemingly has been for centuries, America remains in the midst of a long conversation about the divides between its people. Virtually all of us can think of any number of instances in which Americans have been victimized because of their basic identities; some of the readers of this article likely could share their own, personal experience in which they have faced similar painful experiences.
Playwrite Eugene O'Neil once observed that "There is no present or future; only the past happening over and over again."
I am a Eugene O'Neil fan and have even spent some of my hard-earned money to see his plays performed. But I disagree with him. I think the past is entirely breakable, and that new futures can be created. So how do we confront these realities rather than simply restating and admiring the problem?
All of us wish we had an easy answer. Educators who have spent any meaningful amount of time in schools know that there is no such thing as the silver bullet. But here are some things that will move all of us forward:
First, we have to summon the courage to confront this reality and accept it as a genuine problem. To that end, FCCPS deserves credit for working to fully acknowledge these learning gaps and take steps to eradicate them. When we think about the notion of creating a school experience that allows all kids to reach their full potential, those words are not hollow in FCCPS. Consider how math and readers workshop are built around the clear and non-negotiable idea that we will get to know kids on an individual level and will do our best to meet their individual needs. FCCPS has demonstrated a commitment to looking at individual kids and working to find ways to help them succeed, rather than simply turning an indifferent blind eye to them.
Secondly, understanding the journeys of our kids and families matters. During my first months as the principal of Thomas Jefferson, a group of parents came to me to share their concerns and experiences regarding how their children had suffered racial unkindness and insensitivities from other children. We asked these parents to come to our school and present a panel discussion in front of our staff so that all of us could fully listen and understand the experiences that some of our kids have had while under our care. My hope is that it was an experience of growth for all of us.
Thirdly, we should understand that focusing attention on one group of kids does not necessarily detract from the attention given to others. For example, last year at TJ, one of our school improvement goals was to increase the academic achievement of English learners in math. Much of our professional development in support of this goal was about making our classrooms more visually accessible with word walls and anchor charts there to provide a visual reminder of concepts the teacher had taught. So what happened? Not only did ESOL math scores improve, but so did everyone's else's. Instructional changes we make to minister to struggling students generally help all students.
During my student teaching -- a long, long, long, long time ago -- a teacher who would become a mentor to me offered this thought: we don't need to treat all kids the same; we need to treat all kids fairly. Recognizing the differences in our kids -- and one another -- without weaponizing them will lead not only to academic improvements, but in a broader sense, will take our community and country one step closer to liberating us from the painful parts of our past. With courage, grace, and innovation, this is a solvable problem.
TJ Student Council Gearing Up For 19-20 Work
Like all years, there will be numerous changes to SCA. The most significant of these changes will be the number of representatives (1 per class) and the selection process. Students will be asked to answer 2-3 short essay questions and will be selected by a panel of teachers. We are also establishing set Student Council meetings on Wednesday mornings. Students interested must be able to attend at least 75% of meetings in order to apply. We understand that this might conflict other before school activities, but in the spirit of equity, we have chosen a day and will not be able to make accommodations for individual students.
We are entering the year with a focus in community outreach and creating a positive school culture. Be on the lookout for activities that align with these goals, including a TJ Movie Night, “giving basket,” staff spotlights in the Tiger Times, and “Adopt A Kid.” Thank you for your support, and thanks in advance to the students whose hard work will make TJ and our community even better!
Mrs. Schimmoller Receives IB Award
Early Release Wednesday Dates
Oct. 2, 9, 23, 30
Nov. 13, 20
Dec. 4, 11, 20 (12/20 is a Friday)
Jan. 8, 29
Feb. 5, 12, 26
Mar. 4, 18, 25
Apr. 1, 22, 29
May 6, 13, 20
Jun. 3, 10, 17
A reminder to the TJ Family that due to not having school on Monday, October 14, Wednesday, October 16 is a full day Wednesday.
"What Lifts You?"
Reminder About Parent University
A reminder to FCCPS families of Parent University, an array of resources and events that may be helpful to parents. for more info, visit https://sites.google.com/fccps.org/fccps-parent-university/home.
Reminder To TJ Parents: Useful Forms On Web Site
Meet TJ's Counseling Intern
The counseling department is excited to welcome Maria Rivas to TJES and MD. Maria is a former student at Henderson MS and George Mason High School. She earned her undergraduate degree from Mary Washington and is currently completing her Master’s in Counseling Education from Liberty University. Maria has been a long-term substitute at Ni River MS in Spotsylvania County as a Spanish Teacher, and she currently substitutes as a teacher in Arlington County, MEH and GM. Maria will be completing her masters degree this December following the completion of her fall internship at TJES and MD. Her counseling internship experience will include social emotional learning opportunities for our students. Maria will be meeting with students individually, in small groups, and during classroom guidance lessons. Please give a warm welcome to Maria!