Sunday, September 29, 2013

It's All About Spirit

This past week was Spirit Week at Montpelier High School.  There were the typical activities ranging from specific days to dress colorfully to a bonfire and a dance at the end of the week.

One new event was a Dodgeball Tournament, in which teams were organized by Teacher Advisories.  This year at MHS, there has been a renewed push to develop Teacher Advisories as a more thoughtful way to build relationships with students.  I see TAs as a way for teachers to connect more substantially with students and for students to know, really know, that an adult in that building is there for them on a very practical, meaningful level.

I know the notion of Dodgeball evokes all kinds of responses.  For some, that word conjures up memories of the 2005 movie:

I assure you, we did not experience any moments that were reminiscent of that movie!

For others, the word dodgeball brings them back to their own experienced in Physical Education.  I  remember playing with balls like this:
And to be honest, those balls hurt when you get hit with them at a reasonable speed!  However, we don't use those balls anymore.  We use these:
These Gator Skin balls hurt much less - and I can speak from experience from playing at Main Street Middle School the last two years to my particicpation at MHS this week:

Plus there is a rule that if you hit someone in the head, you (the thrower) are out; the person hit in the head, stays in the game.  More on that rule later...

It was shortly after this photo was taken (thank you Myles Chater) that a very poignant moment took place that is the inspiration for this week's post.

I was watching another game - as the team I played on had been eliminated - on the other side of the gymnasium.  Two TA groups were matched pretty evenly and the game was proceeding along as you would expect a typical dodgeball game.  As the game was winding down, there were only a handful of students left on either side.  Ultimately the game came down to two young people - one young woman and one young man.

To be fair, I observed the young woman staying relatively far away from the action during most of the game but when she was the only one left, she stepped up and was playing hard trying to get the young man on the other side of the gym out.  The young man was playing thoughtfully as well trying to get his competitior out as well.

As there were no other games going on, the entire gym was watching this one game.  It seemed as though it was a foregone conclusion who was going to win.  At one point, the young woman was out of balls on her side of the line.  While she was looking around for another ball, the young man stepped up and threw a ball at her.  She looked up, saw the ball that was heading her way, and turned away.

The ball hit her, dropped down to the floor, and all the remaining students ran onto the court cheering and yelling...

They all ran to mob the young woman - as the ball had hit her in the head, meaning the young man was out, and the young woman had won the game for her team!  She received hugs, high fives, and lots of love from MHS students and adults alike!  It was a very nice moment during Spirit Week that captured what this week was really all about.

It was the unexpected nature of the win - the underdog moment.  We all root for the underdogs, those that are not expected to win.  It's human nature of sports.  And in this case, were it not for Spirit Week, we would not have had this moment to celebrate.  Bravo and thank you to MHS for a great week!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Follow-Up

It was the first five day week in Montpelier Public Schools.  The perfect opportunity to spend copious amounts of time in our buildings, seeing thoughtful instruction, engaged students... ensuring that the smiles that were so prevalent in the first seven school days were still there.

It was also another week of "firsts" for me: first meetings.  I spent more of my week away from MPS than I care to admit.  All the meetings were important: I sat down and spent some time with a new Superintendent from another Supervisory Union.  All VT Superintendents met this week and the regional group that I belong to met as well.  I spent an afternoon learning about the Affordable Care Act, the Vermont Health Exchange, and the impact they will have on health insurance in the state.  I felt a little "meeting-ed out" and was lacking inspiration for this blog.

When I was in my office briefly on Friday I had a chance to review voicemail messages and return phone calls.  Logging into the voicemail, the automated voice tells me date, time, and length of message.  Listening to the preview of the first message, I heard it was 70 seconds.  To be honest, not many people call me and leave a complimentary message that is 70 seconds long!  It was a parent calling with safety concerns about one of our schools.  I copied down all the pertinent information and continued to listen to the remaining messages.

The last message was only 20 seconds long - it was the same parent that previously had left the 70 second message.  This was a follow-up to let me know, they had connected with the principal of that building, had a thoughtful conversation, felt heard by the principal and her concerns were addressed.  I was floored - in my 17 years as a professional educator, I had never received (nor made) the follow-up call.

This final message was simple, thoughtful, and to the point.  The voice was calm, pleasant, and warm.  While I hope to receive more messages like this, my ultimate goal is that the employees of MPS are present enough to all stakeholders when concerns arise that the end result is the same as this one.  This parent was able to communicate the concerns to the principal, the principal heard the concerns, the principal addressed the concerns (notice I didn't say fixed), the parent felt heard and validated, and walked away from this conversation inspired to call me back. 

Too often, administrators fall into the trap of "fixing," when more often than not, we need to listen and validate first.  If parents feel heard and validated, more often than not they are then in a place to listen to what we have to say.  If parents feel heard and validated, more often than not they are able to engage in a conversation about next steps.  If parents feel heard and validated, more often than not they will work with us on a timeline for a reasonable implementation about their concerns.  If parents feel heard and validated, more often than not they will see passionate, student-centered advocates who care deeply about their child and who want to ensure that their child shines in that building.  If parents feel heard and validated, more often than not they will be partners in education.  Who knows, if parents feel heard and validated, perhaps they will even make a follow-up phone call. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Superintendent Dr. Brian G. Ricca's Opening Remarks for Montpelier Public Schools Employees In-Service, August 27, 2013

Welcome back everyone to the start of the 2013 – 2014 School Year.  I am very proud to serve alongside each of you as Superintendent.  I am delighted to be starting my third year in Montpelier Public Schools.

In my seventeen years as an educator, I have come across few if any irrefutable truths when it comes to education.  One of the ones I do know and I take comfort in, both as a parent and a superintendent is this: everyone comes to serve in education for the right reasons.  Every single person – Everyone.  It is something that I firmly believe and am proud to proclaim about all the employees in Montpelier Public Schools.

Regardless of whether you are a teacher or a technology specialist, an instructional assistant or an instrumental teacher, payroll manager or principal, administrative assistant or an administrator, facilities or food service, everyone comes to this wonderful enterprise that we call Montpelier Public Schools for the right reasons and I am incredibly grateful – because every child that will come through our doors tomorrow needs someone.  But not just anyone – every one of those students tomorrow needs a hero.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

It's Only Been Three Days!

It is a sunny Sunday this Labor Day weekend, and it is the perfect time to reflect on the Opening Three Days of school in Montpelier.  In short, it was a tremendous week!