‘Tis the Season

Maybe I am just getting old, or maybe I am old fashioned, but it seems that the holiday decorations and ads are coming earlier and earlier each year. Please understand that our house is decorated the day after Thanksgiving (which seems about right to me), and it stays up until the second week of January (maybe a hair longer than normal). But I saw holiday decorations in stores BEFORE Halloween…that’s just not right (in my humble opinion). While not the point of this blog post, it helps to set the stage.

During these weeks of turkey dinners, holiday music, Macy’s Day parade and anticipation of some well deserved time off, as a school we focus on community service and giving back to our community. We have conducted our annual Christmas Mother Sock Drive, we are in the midst of our Toys for Tots drive and we are just starting our Christmas Mother Book Drive. We concluded October with our annual Cancer Awareness basketball/soccer game, where we raised over $3200 for Catherine’s Fight. These are all outstanding events, and part of who we are as a school. But to me, there is more to it than that. When I watch our students dedicate themselves to making these events successful, I see so much more than pairs of socks, stacks of books and cash being donated. I see students who think about someone other than themselves. I see students who are grateful to be able to help others, and do it with a smile. I see students who put the needs of others before their own. I see hope and sacrifice and compassion and caring for others. I want to say that is what the holidays are all about, but that is wrong. It is the way we should treat each other all year long, and our Timberwolves are wonderful examples of that.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Dr. Ellena

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What I Have Learned This Year (So Far)

I am 55 years old, and I am in middle school. Well, not IN middle school, but I have started my 30th year in a middle school. My wife would tell you I have always been a slow learner. But the beauty of it is that I am still learning, every day, about my job, my school, and the educational journey I have been on now for 33 years. Here is what I have learned this year, my 33 opening week of school.

I have learned that kids are remarkably resilient. Yes, they are nervous (so am I the first day of every year). Yes, they are unsure of themselves to varying degrees. Yes, they fumble their way through lockers, more freedom and responsibilities, and 1500 kids in the hallways. But you know what? They figure it out. Some quickly, some take more time, but the vast majority of them learn and grow and spread their wings to fly. It is quite remarkable to watch.

I have learned that it is not perfect. Nothing is. There are issues, there are problems, there are bumps and bruises along the way. But it almost always seems to work out. I look at it like a project you’re working on, like if you were building a table for your dining room. You put so much time and effort into it, and you see every little flaw. But those little flaws are not what everyone else sees. They see a beautiful product in your dining room. That is what I choose to focus on.

I learned that new people in new positions bring a whole different perspective to the work. And that is a good thing.

I have learned that a great administrative  team is more valuable than anyone can possibly know. I am fortunate to have a team this year that works together, has each others back and can laugh every single day. No words can express how much that means to me and our school.

I have learned that having a staff that is dedicated to kids and flexible in their approach goes a long way to creating a positive school climate and culture. I have heard it said that starts from the top and goes down, but I will admit they are wrong. Anything I do or say means nothing if you do not have a committed group of educators to support you.

Thank you and your Timberwolves for being a part of our journey this year!

Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year!

Dear Tomahawk Creek Family,

Welcome to the 2017-18 school year! While hopefully all of our Timberwolves are enjoying some summer time fun, and parents are planning vacations and family gatherings, we are hard at work preparing for the new school year. We are happy to welcome Mrs. Charlee Pence as our new Dean of Students, and to congratulate Mrs. Becca Thompson on being promoted to a new role, Associate Principal. Dr. Atkinson will return as the eighth grade Assistant Principal to fill out our Administrative team for the 2017-18 school year.

We are also welcoming ten new staff members to our TCMS family. Ms. Lawman will be joining our School Counseling department, Ms. Santiago and Ms. Diaz will joining our World Language department, Ms. Boyles will be a new addition to our Science team, Mr. Johnson will be a new addition to our English department, and Ms. Dreelin will be our newest Social Studies department member. We are also welcoming Mrs. Lisa Emory as a new English teacher and Mrs. Shelley Butela in our Drama Department. We are in the process of hiring two new sixth grade math teachers for the coming year as well.

Our Back to School Nights will be held on August 29th (sixth grade) and August 30 (seventh and eighth grade). During these evenings, you will be able to pick up schedules, visit classrooms and hear a presentation from the administration with information vital to the success of your Timberwolf. Fees Day will thursday, August 31st. There is additional information on our website

In addition, we are altering our daily schedule to include a fifth block at the end of the day. This block will be a replacement for our Lunch and Learn program. This change was necessitated by our large enrollment numbers (we will have over 1600 Timberwolves this year!).

Again, welcome to Tomahawk Creek. I am confident that this will be a great year!

GO TIMBERWOLVES!

Sincerely,

Dr. David S. Ellena

Principal

Tomahawk Creek Middle School

Preparing for the New School Year

Welcome to the 2017-18 school year! Yes, I know it is not quite the beginning of August, and that school doesn’t actually start for another five weeks. However, it is not too early to start easing your Timberwolf’s transition from summer time hours and schedules to the new school year. In this post, I will give you a few tips on how to prepare your student for the opening of school. When September 5th rolls around you and your Timberwolf will be ahead of the game.

Establish a Routine

This is something that has many possibilities, and which way you choose to go depends greatly on your Timberwolf. There are some things that you should absolutely think about. Here are three things that you may want to consider when establishing a routine.

  • Organization-Make sure that there is a place for everything when it comes to school items and that everything is in its place. Think along the lines of backpacks being packed the night before, a certain place for homework, a certain place for study material. Also make sure that school supplies are available.
  • Planning-We utilize a Google calendar for students to record assignments, homework, tests and projects. Make sure that your Timberwolf establishes a routine for recording these items. It is imperative that they note tests and quizzes, major project dates and other big ticket items on the calendar when they are assigned. This allows for proper planning when completing assignments or studying for a test. Also, make it a habit to check the Google calendar on a regular basis as well. Your student can set it up so that the calendar is shared with you. That way you have access to it any time you are online.
  • Scheduling-Work out a schedule with your Timberwolf. Plan when homework is to be done, how you will review assignments and homework with your student. Be involved in helping your student work out plans for completing major assignments and projects and studying for tests.

Determine How You are Going Monitor Your Timberwolf’s Progress

ParentVue allows you to monitor your Timberwolf’s progress in real time. As teachers update grades, they are automatically revised in ParentVue with virtually zero delay. Explain to your Timberwolf that you have this capability. How often you check it is up to you, and should be based on how your student is doing.

Start Adjusting Your Daily Schedule Early

Begin thinking about altering your daily routine. Start having earlier breakfasts, getting students out of bed earlier and to bed earlier as well. Come that first week of school your Timberwolf will already be into the school routine, if you start early.

Doing Your Shopping (and Setting Up) Early

All of our supply lists can be found on our website. It is always best to do your shopping early. This allows you to do two things. First, it gives you some time to find everything. Waiting until the last minute can cause undo stress and anxiety, and if the store is out of something it provides you with a cushion of time to find the item. Second, having the material early allows you to get it organized and in order prior to the first day of school.

Take a Tour of the Building

During the summer months, the building is open from 7 AM until 5 PM, Monday through Thursday (we are closed Fridays). Bring your timberwolf by the school. Walk the building. Find out where classes are, especially main classes like gym and electives. Go through the grade level hallways. Walking the building can provide reassurances (especially if your Timberwolf is new to the building) and confidence in maneuvering during the school day.

As always, if there is anything you need or questions you have, please contact us at 378-7120. Enjoy the remainder of your summer break. September 5th will be here before you know it!

Dr. Ellena

What is Middle School All About?

I ask myself this question about every other day. Since you are reading this, there is a pretty solid chance that you have a middle schooler, and an even better chance that you have asked this question as well. Unfortunately, after 32 years in this profession, I have yet to find one solid answer. Now, I will tell you that I have found dozens of answers, each of them accurate at the time, but then the appropriate answer seems to change the next day.

Let me tell you what I think middle school is not, and then get into what I think it is. Middle school is not about grades for the sake of grades. Oh sure, you need grades to see progress, what learning is going on, that type of thing. But the middle school years have to be about more than just a letter on a paper. Middle school is not about preparing for high school. Hear me out on this one. We help set up the foundation for the next level, no question. But there is more to what we do than that, so this is not what middle school is about (solely).

So, why do we do this middle school thing? Here is what I believe about middle school, with all my heart. Middle school is a time for exploring different interests. A time to allow kid to start to get an idea of what their futures might look like (notice I said an IDEA, not a solid plan at the age of 11). They get a chance to learn how to make friends, how to handle it when those friendships turn out bad. They get an opportunity to accept more responsibilities, and to learn about the consequences of not fulfilling those responsibilities. They learn about making decisions, both good and bad. They begin to see that there is more to the world than the 2 foot bubble around them. As a principal, I can tell you that some of our kids come to us with these lessons already well ingrained in them. Some others get these lessons right away. Some take a little bit longer to learn these lessons, but they get there. But however they get there, and whenever they get there, that is when I know that we have the right answer to the question for that day.

The Baby and the Bathwater

Here at tomahawk Creek Middle School, we like to think that we are a forward thinking school when it comes to technology and using it to the best of our ability to instruct students. But there is always the worry about HOW students are using the technology. With Chromebooks, a more liberal device policy and the plethora of devices students bring, it is a constant worry. As I was thinking about this last week, it reminded me of a story from early on in my teaching career. Let me explain.

I started teaching way back in 1985 (yes, that makes me old). I taught Health and Physical Education in an era where chalk boards were the norm and technology consisted of one Apple IIC in a storage room that we used to create crossword puzzles that we then ran off on a mimeograph machine. You younger people and Google that. We thought we were really advanced. One day, one of my students thought it would be funny to write something inappropriate (very inappropriate) on the chalkboard…in chalk. Needless to say, I was less than pleased, and more than a little bit concerned. The point of this story is not that a middle school kid made a bad decision (shocking, I know) or that something inappropriate was done (equally shocking). No, the point is how did we, as adults, react to the situation? I did not march into the Principal’s office and demand that we have all chalk boards removed immediately before some other transgression occurs using this classroom item. No. What we did was issue appropriate consequences to the student and then we took advantage of that teachable moment to (hopefully) make sure that student doesn’t do something like that again. Then we went about our job of teaching.

My not so subtle point to this story is that the same lesson applies to today’s more advanced technology. Because a student makes a bad decision does not mean that we eliminate the tools that were involved. On the contrary, we need to use the situation as a teachable moment and provide instruction on how to properly use the tools at hand. We are living in an era where things are not like the chalkboard. That was easily erased and forgotten about the next day. These days, it is imperative that we teach our children about the permanency of social media and what they are posting. But we also have to be realistic in the sense that, also unlike the chalkboard, social media and technology are a permanent fixture in our society, and also in the future of our students’ life as well. Just as in generations past, throwing the baby out with the bathwater is never an option.

A Time and a Place for Everything

I really do believe that there is a time and a place for everything under the sun. A time for planting, a time for harvesting. A time to speak and a time to listen. A time to plan and a time to act. You get the idea. I read a great blog post this morning regarding standardized testing, and it reminded me of the all important time and place. As we gear up for SOL testing, I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of the place for this testing.

I have always agreed that accountability is important. I know you all hold me accountable for operating the school, making sure we have quality staff, that instruction is solid and that finances are managed. We hold teachers accountable for a wide variety of things, but this word “accountability” seems to come up more as testing approaches. I think it is important to remember that we, as educators, are accountable every minute of every day, not just during testing. But what is the purpose of this testing? That is the thought that sparked this blog.

We need to keep in mind that testing has a place, but we also need to keep it in its place. What do I mean by that? Simply put, testing helps us see where we are as a staff and as a school. It also gives us an idea where are students are as well. But it is only ONE data point. It is a mere snapshot of what your Timberwolf does, of what we do and who we are. Yes, it is important. But it is not the end all be all of education or of learning. I think it is equally, if not more, important to realize what these tests DO NOT measure.

SOL tests do not measure a student’s passion for a subject. They do not quantify talents for music, for art or for creative writing. The song in students head that they create, or the poem from their heart that they write escape the scope of testing. Tests do not take into account a student’s love of the outdoors, of protecting our environment, of service to the community. SOL’s do not measure human compassion for one another, the desire to help those who are ill or less fortunate. Testing does not help create a desire to create the next great invention. You get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very proud of the fact that we do very well on our SOL test, and our results are always some of the best in the county and the state. I am prouder of the community service hours our students perform, the fundraising for charities, the shoe drives, book drives, sock drives, beautiful artwork and concerts, the sportsmanship our teams display and all the other things that are not reflected in a test score. As we get closer to the testing window, let’s keep testing in its place.

The Bear in the Woods

So, this is one of my favorite jokes/brain teasers. How far can a bear walk into the woods? The answer is half way, because after that the bear is walking out of the woods. Get it? The reason I bring this up is because we have “walked” through almost half of the school year. The semester ends on January 29th, 2016. The second semester, our “walk out of the woods”, begins on February 2nd.

It has been my experience that the third nine weeks tends to be the toughest of the four. There is no excitement like there is when school opens, the holidays and Winter Break have passed, and the end is not quite in sight. During this time, I think it is important to remember that sometimes motivation is not enough. Sometimes it takes good old fashioned determination and hard work to get through something. I think this applies perfectly to the third nine weeks. During this time, there are some things that you as the parent can do to keep your Timberwolf on the right track.

First, we need to understand that this time frame affects everyone. Parents, teachers, and students as well. Keep an eye on your Timberwolf’s energy level. Do what you can to provide some breaks, encourage some activity to keep the blood flowing and energy levels high. A good night’s sleep and good eating habits help keep the immune system in good condition as well.

Second, keep on top of your Timberwolf’s school work. ParentVue is an excellent tool to track grades, but this is obviously after the fact. This is a good time of the year to check homework on a regular basis (read: Nightly). Also, make sure you are checking assignments and upcoming tests/quizzes frequently. For tests and projects, check for progress in order to avoid procrastination and last minute scrambling to study or get a project done.

Finally, keep the lines of communication open to the school, and more specifically to your Timberwolf’s teachers. If there is no concern, this may not be necessary. But if you have any doubts, reach out to your child’s teachers and ask questions.

All of us working together can help all of us make it through the third nine weeks! Spring will be here before we know it and the end our walk in the woods will be in sight soon!

Politics and Schooling in the New Era

Election day has come and gone, but it seems that the political process is never ending. From now until November 2016, we will see an increasing amount of political ads, debates and news stories on the candidates for president. More importantly, we will also begin to see an increase in state and local political action as well. This is not a bad thing, per se. The political process has become a normal way of life in our country. But knowing who the candidates are from a 30 second sound bite is not enough anymore.

Now, before I proceed, let me be crystal clear about this particular blog post. I am in no way endorsing one party or individual over another. I truly believe that it is incumbent upon each of us to use our precious right to vote in the manner that they see fit. Everyone has the right to decide who they want to support and to what level they are willing to offer that support.

No, the purpose of this blog post has nothing to do with how I think you should cast your vote. The purpose of this post is to encourage you to do your due diligence when it comes to political candidates. At times this is much easier said than done. However, it critically important that we do our homework when it comes to our voice. I am talking specifically about the world of education when I make this comment. Obviously, this topic is something that is important to me. The purpose of this entry is to encourage you to look deeply into the candidate’s stance on education. And by candidates, I mean ALL of them. Look at how they have voted in the past, what they support and what is important to them. We need to closely analyze their stance on a wide range of educational topics, including voucher systems, charter schools and funding for public education. Again, I am not supporting any candidate or party. that is up for you to decide. I am asking you to make sure that you understand the candidate’s track record for those issues that are important to you, including education. At the local level, look at how the candidates stand on school funding. How do they propose to keep pace with rising costs, staffing, and early childhood education, to name a few. At the state level, what kind of track record do they have in regards to education? Charter schools? Vouchers?

It is also important to educate yourself on what the topics are. Do you fully understand the funding process for public education (I have three degrees in education and I am not sure I fully understand it)? How will the candidates opinions on charter schools affect funding for local public schools? On the national level, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is being debated in congress. This law will have huge implications at the local level. Specifically, how much federal involvement in local education will there be moving forward? Another thing to consider is the support of unfunded mandates. These are laws that are passed and expected to be implemented, but there is no funding to help implement them at the state and local level.

The landscape of public education is changing rapidly. Our voices need to be heard. Again, I am not promoting one party, one candidate or one ideology. I realize that public education is just one of many factors that we need to think about when deciding who we are voting for. But we owe it to our students and our kids to make sure we have done our homework.

Social Media, Technology and Your Timberwolf

After some deep research, some investigation and discussion with many people, I have come to the conclusion that the internet is not a passing fad, that it is here to stay. This probably does not come as a shocking revelation to you. Since you are reading this, you most likely have a teenager. Said teenager is probably engaged with their device almost as much (if not more) than they talk. I know if I need to reach my kids, I don’t call them, I text them. I have gone so far as to text the two of them, who are upstairs in their rooms, to come down for dinner. I am not proud of that, but it was just easier (and more effective) than standing at the base of the stairs and yelling up to them. Such is our world these days. And then, your kids school gives them a device on top of that. What is a parent to do? Excellent question. While I do not have an answer or a solution for you, I have been reading some very interesting articles and have some suggestions for you. Full disclosure, and if you have heard me speak at all you know this, I am a proponent of technology for our students. Let me explain a bit why.cellphones-smartphones-seamless-pattern-18590882

First and foremost, this is the world they are growing up in. We may not like, we may not understand it, we may not be able to operate it at times, but it is their world. When I was in my teens I tended to stay on the telephone (the one with a rotary dial that was plugged into the wall) for long periods of time. Drove my dad crazy. Remember we only had ONE line back in the day. This was how we communicated. It was the world we lived in. I am sure that my parents did something that drove THEIR parents crazy too. It is the way of things with parents and teenagers. Our teenagers today live with technology. Second, the ability to use this technology correctly is vital to their future success. they have to be able to know the proper way to get the most out of the tools they have. Again, it is here to stay, so we better get used to it.

So, what is a parent to do? The inclination is to throw up our hands and admit that we are still trying to program our VCR, with very little luck. But there is something we can do. Here are a few suggestions for parents:

Time and Place

Set guidelines for where and when technology can be used. Family dinner? No phones (including mom and dads) allowed at the table. Having a discussion with your Timberwolf? Set the expectation that when that is occurring there should be eye contact. As the parent, you are the one who sets the expectations for when and where it is OK for device usage.

Set Some Limits

I don’t know how it works at your house, but in our house the parents pay the cell bills. We pay for devices and data for those devices. As such, those devices and that data is mine. This means I control it. As the parent, you can set limits on the amount of screen time your child has in a day. Is your Timberwolf a video game player? Nothing wrong with that. Sitting playing video games for 8 hours on a beautiful sunny day? Maybe now there is an issue. Have limits as to when they can have their devices with them. Going to bed? Put the device in a drawer in the kitchen. Nothing being posted after 9 PM is so important it can’t wait until morning.

Talk to Your Timberwolf

Talk to them often about digital citizenship. Talk to them about how to be good internet users (remember, it’s not going away). Like any other tool, it can used for good and bad things. The digital world is just like the real world in some aspects. There are so many benefits and good things out there, but there are also areas of the real world you would not let your Timberwolves go into unaccompanied. Talk to them about how the digital world also has these elements.

Monitor Online Activity

While there might be some questions out there about student privacy, as the parent you have a massive responsibility. As I said in the above paragraph, you would not drop your Timberwolf off downtown and tell them you will pick them up in a few hours. You wouldn’t let them loose at a concert and say see you later. The digital world is the same way. Keep an eye on their activity. While they may think you are spying on them, remember that you are trying to keep them safe, wherever they may be.

In the next few weeks, I am going to create a page on the blog for internet safety resources. Please check back often to find new resources. And remember, the internet is here to stay. You heard it hear first.

Dr. Ellena