News, Commentary, and Insights from your Principal of the Captain Samuel Douglas Academy in beautiful Brookline, New Hampshire.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

SAU-41 21st Century Learning Committee Begins Tour of District

Beginning last year, a group of dedicated SAU-41 teachers and administrators started coming together on a regular basis to lay the groundwork for an ambitious project to design and articulate a comprehensive plan to implement '21st Century Learning' in the Hollis and Brookline School Districts.  After some final review at the beginning of this year, a campaign was developed to communicate the plan and its implications to our community.

Currently, the team is visiting SAU-41 School Boards to deliver an information presentation, answer questions, and solicit feedback.

So far, so good.

The group's first presentation was well received by the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board on the evening of Wednesday, September 17th.  The Board was extremely patient (as the presentation ran a little long) and engaged (posing questions, offering commentary, and actually participating in the presentation, 'hands-on' at one point).

It was a great start for the SAU-41 21st Century Learning Committee, and we thank the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board for their support.  The group will be making presentations for the other district school boards as follows: Hollis School Board (10/20), Brookline School Board (10/28) .  Also, the presentation team will be offering a forum especially for parents on a date yet to be determined (likely to be held in mid-November).  Stay tuned for further details!

Please forward any thoughts or questions that you might have about the SAU-41 21st Century Learning initiative to Dennis Dobe at YOUR Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.  We look forward to connecting with you soon about this 'game-changing' initiative in our school district.

CSDA Loses a Long-Time Friend, Steps Up For Kids

Early in the week of September 15th, the learning community of CSDA was informed of the tragic passing of one of its tenured faculty members.

Elizabeth 'Betsey' Trombly had been a reading teacher at RMMS & CSDA, bringing her teaching talent, and sharing her joy of learning and books with countless Brookline students over the years.  As can be said of educators, it is difficult (if not impossible) to determine when your influence on the lives of children begins, or ends.  It is hard to say conclusively how many young people in our area grew to be happy, successful, and productive members of our community, in part because of Betsey Trombly's good intentions and strong abilities as a reading teacher.

Upon learning of Betsey's passing, our school and district administration worked to organize an plan for communication and response that would dignify Betsey, show respect for her family, and maintain an appropriate focus on learning at CSDA for students and staff.

Members of the CSDA Administrative Team reached out to their colleagues by phone on the evening of Tuesday, September 16th, to share the devastating news personally, and then invite CSDA staff members to join together before school the following morning to meet, process, and plan for a productive day with students on Wednesday (and all of the days to follow).

For the staff meeting on September 17th, we were joined by members of SAU-41 leadership team, SAU-41 school counselors, members of the state crisis response team, and recent CSDA retirees who knew Betsey well and are still closely connected to our school community (to include former school principal, Laurie Wenger).  Mr. Andrew Corey, School Superintendent, addressed the CSDA staff, as did their principal, and the coordinator of the state crisis response team.  Teachers and staff had the opportunity to connect, reflect, and process before and after the formalities of the meeting.  Everyone put their best foot forward, and greeted our students as they entered the school for another day of joyful learning in our classrooms.

Early in the day on the 17th, we personally contacted the families of Betsey's current and recent students (current middle school students were contacted by friends on the HBMS administrative and counselling teams).  Then we crafted a letter for all CSDA families to apprise them of Mrs. Trombly's passing and our approach to this tragedy -- we would continue to teach, teach, teach, and not address the matter with students (feeling this discussion would be best held at home with parents, as they saw fit).  Here is an excerpt from the letter sent to families:

"I am contacting you to let you know that we have been informed that Elizabeth (Betsey) Trombly, a reading teacher at CSDA died suddenly. Although we do not know the circumstances of this death, authorities are continuing to investigate this matter. The school has the behavioral health response team in place today to help staff, parents and students deal with this tragedy. You will receive more information from the school as plans develop. We encourage you to share this information with your child, as appropriate, after school today. You can be assured that the school will be doing everything it can to help our community deal with this sudden loss.  Our thoughts are with the family, friends and loved ones of Betsey during this difficult time.  We are deeply saddened by her passing, and extend our deepest sympathy to all who knew her.  If there is anything we can do for you or your children during this time please do not hesitate to contact us here at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy."

Throughout the day, we were supported by SAU-41 district leaders and members of the state crisis response team, who met with individual staff members, and groups of staff members, as necessary.  We met again that afternoon afternoon, as a full staff, to debrief and process the day's events.  Teachers were concerned about the questions and emotions that students might bring to school on Thursday, as students and families would be apprised of Mrs. Trombly's passing by that time.  Our school administration and the state crisis team leader addressed the group to offer guidance and support.

As we opened school on the morning of September 18th, and for each day to follow, we were greeted by the lovely faces and enthusiasm of our students as they arrived on campus.  The day began and unfolded, just as the days before; focused on learning, focused on goodness, focused on all that is right in our world, our community, and our school.  We are strong.  We are resilient.  We are CSDA.

CSDA Students Experience New NWEA-MAP Format; Teachers Use Data to Improve Teaching and Maximize Learning

The NWEA Measure of Academic Progress (NWEA-MAP) provides a critically important tool for teachers in determining levels of student learning and rates of student learning progress.  This assessment data on student achievement affords our teachers a powerful opportunity to determine the effectiveness of our academic program and instructional techniques.  The assessment results allow opportunities to reflect on student growth and learning needs, and make necessary adjustments to improve student learning outcomes.  Our teachers review the results individually, and in teams during their weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings.  Through these meetings, the teacher PLC teams use the assessment data to develop their collective 'SMART' Goals, plan new units of instruction, and group students across the grade level for daily 'WIN' ("What I Need") blocks.

The NWEA-MAP had a different look, feel, and challenge level this year.  The NWEA has been revised to reflect new and ambitious national curriculum standards.  These rigorous new standards require students to learn skills and demonstrate the application of academic content like never before.  In order to determine our school's proficiency in teaching these new standards, there will be a new assessment tool that students across the country will engage with every spring (beginning this coming May).  The new NWEA-MAP reflects these new standards, and the testing format that students will experience during the administration of the national 'Smarter Balanced' assessment this spring.  As you might anticipate, our students responded to the challenge of the new NWEA-MAP assessment very favorably.

You can click on the following links to learn more about the NWEA-MAP, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Feel free to call, email, or stop by to visit us at CSDA if you would like to learn more about our school's student assessment program.

September 11th Observance Offers Reflection and Focuses on Community Partners

While striking an ideal balance between education, observing, honoring, and respecting the developmental levels of children is always difficult on occasions such as the date of September 11th, this year we were especially thoughtful, deliberate, and appropriate in our efforts to dignify the date and events that it commemorates.  For our school wide recognition, we attempted to make relevance of the date to our own community, provide a historical context for young children (not yet born in 2001), and reinforce the values that we hold dear in our nation and our school community.

After a handful of discussions on the matter by members of our teaching faculty, we elected to honor September 11th 2001, its losses, and the sacrifices made, by enacting a program that was many things to many people.

We started the day with a gathering of our staff around the CSDA flagpole for a flag raising ceremony.  During the ceremony, there was an opening statement, flag raising, a moment of silence, and a speech,  After students arrived, we marked the September 11th occasion with a special commemorative statement during announcements.  Our school counselor had shared materials with staff, and communicated with them in advance of the 11th, to support the conversations that they were likely to have with students that day.  We did not intend to spend much time addressing September 11th in the context of the school day, but anticipated that there would be questions from students about the events of the day in 2001, that we would need to address responsibly.

As our school clocks registered the time of the first incident of tragedy on September 11th, 2001, members of our school community were invited to stand in honor of the losses and sacrifices of the day.  Later, during lunch times, and in the early part of the afternoon, students and staff had an opportunity to sign and write notes on two large banners we created to mark the day, and thank our local emergency services personnel for all that they do to keep us safe here in Brookline every day.  The students were pleased for the opportunity to make their sincere statement of appreciation to our 'community heroes'.

Before the close of the day, the banners were delivered to the Brookline Fire and Police Departments by CSDA student representatives, along with a special letter written by the 5th Grade representative on the delivery trip -- that she wrote on her own, and without prompting, to thank our Brookline firefighters for their service, dedication, heroism.

Despite the tragic and heinous nature of the original events of September 11th, 2001, our students and staff made the best of the date to recognize the good that came from that day, reflect on the things that we hold most dear about being Americans, and to thank those in our community who step up to keep us safe and preserve our way of life here in Brookline, every moment of every day.

Monday, September 22, 2014

CSDA Fifth Graders Become Bloggers in Miss Mayorska's Class

The Grade 5 students in Lyuda Mayorska's class are learning a great deal about traditional academic content and skills, but this year they are learning even more:  they are learning 21st Century Skills with the support of CSDA educational technology, and web2.0 communication tools.

Ms. Mayorska's class website is actually a blog on which both the teacher and students post information about daily activities, lessons, and extensions.  In the time ahead, we anticipate that students will  post more and more of the classroom blog material, and share more of their work on the world wide web -- as they become published on the internet and cultivate a positive 'digital footprint', all while they learn more about 'digital citizenship'.

For other great examples of class website formats and content at CSDA, go to our school website and check out the links for Mr. Putnam's class, Mr. Snoke's class, and Mr. Vitulli's class.  More and more, we forging ahead with technology and 21st Century Learning at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.

CSDA Sixth Graders Experience 21st Century Communication Tools: The CSDA Podcast Channel

Our sensational CSDA Sixth Graders have provided leadership for us in so many ways this fall.

Most recently, they have served as voice talent on our CSDA Podcast Channel .  For the podcast channel project they have collaboratively developed scripts and interview questions that they have posed to guests 'on the air' while recording audio for our podcast episodes.

We talk with the students about confident and clear speech, bringing 'their voice' to the productions and presentations, and invite them to take liberties with script proposals in order to make them their own.  The students get to experience 'web2.0' communication technology, and be published on the world wide web.

The episodes currently range in content from interviews of staff members new to our school community, to informational pieces on school policies and procedures.  We look forward to exploring even more creative content for our listening audience over the next few weeks, as we'll be handing more and more creative control of this program to our student leaders/producers.

The parents of our student announcers/producers have been extremely supportive of this project as they understand the importance of 21st Century Learning in their child's preparation for success and happiness in the years ahead.

CSDA, where learning, fun, and the future meet!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

CSDA Open House Well Attended, and Wonderful!

Showing almost as much enthusiasm as their children did on school opening day on Wednesday, August 27th, CSDA parents joyfully entered our school on the evening of Tuesday, September 2nd.

During our annual Fall Open House event (which we should really call a Parent Information Night), hundreds of parents and guardians joined us to tour our building, meet with classroom teachers and specialists, and then attend a presentation by the new school principal on 'CSDA 2.0'.

This year, we opened at 6:00pm. for two half hour classroom visitation sessions.  Beginning at 6:30pm., I offered two half hour presentations for parents on our goals and aspirations for CSDA in the time ahead.  Here is the slideshow for my 'CSDA 2.0' presentation -- please call or email Dennis with any questions or comments you may have to offer.

We really enjoyed our time with parents on September 2nd.  I look forward to partnering with you to help our students enjoy an even better educational experience at CSDA in the coming years.  CSDA Parents:  We Got This!

Teacher Collaboration, The CSDA Way!

Educational and organizational research states inconclusively that individuals working in collaborative teams will improve their practice faster, and will enjoy higher levels of achievement than if they worked alone.

Here at CSDA we are heavily committed to collaborative processes, and have witnessed considerable gains in individual and team practice already this year.  We know that it is through staff collaboration that we will take our school 'to the next level'.

At CSDA, our teachers and teams attend weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings, and Team Planning meetings.  For selected individuals, there are weekly Administrative Team meetings, Faculty Leadership Team meetings, and Intervention Team meetings.  As we bring our minds together, staff members can contribute their unique experience, perspectives, and talents to the collective work of the group.

At CSDA, we work together, learn together, and grow together.  Captain Samuel Douglass Academy:  we ARE a collaborative learning community!

The First Days of the 2014-2015 School Year: SMOOOOTH!!!

The first several days of our new school year were predictably smooth, productive, and joyous.  Our students seemed to be delighted to be back in school, and our teachers were excited to be back to 'doing what we do'.  We welcomed some new students and families into our school community, and established our expectations for student achievement and citizenship.  The CSDA Staff reported that the opening was one of the best in recent memory, and their return to school was so smooth and effortless that it was like they never left for summer break.  There were procedural speed bumps to hash out, but overall, a wonderful school opening.  Nice!  Your kids brought the life and the joy back to CSDA.  Thank you for that.  We are back in business at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy!!

School Opening -- Teacher Work Days

On August 25th and 26th, CSDA Staff members met for two days of professional development, staff meetings, and team meetings before our students arrived.

On Monday, our staff first met at the Hollis-Brookline High School for a School Opening address given by our new SAU-41 Superintendent of Schools, Andrew Corey.  Mr. Corey outlined his goals for the year, and established understandings about how we would work together in SAU-41 moving forward.  We then came back to CSDA for a couple of hours for a welcome address by yours truly, then working through a comprehensive agenda of administrative 'nuts and bolts' in preparation for a smooth school opening for students on Wednesday, August 27th.  The teachers then went across town to RMMS for another meeting with Mr. Corey, followed by a special staff luncheon hosted by the Brookline School Board (which was absolutely fantastic!).  In the afternoon, CSDA Staff returned to their home school for a special health presentation by Mrs. Maureen Lorden, our School Nurse.  The balance of the day was spent completing online training modules to satisfy important personnel requirements established by our school district Central Office.

On Tuesday, CSDA Staff engaged in an orientation to 'CSDA 2.0' which involved school vision and goals discussions, and dialogue about the development of a comprehensive school improvement program.  School improvement?  At CSDA?  Yes, even at CSDA -- we can get better after all, yes, we can!  The balance of the morning was spent in professional development training on Mathematics and Literacy with our school's Instructional Leaders.  After lunch, teams met for a collaborative planning session in preparation for a smooth series of days after school opening.

Our meetings and activities on August 25th & 26th were critically important to our preparation efforts which supported a smooth transition to another enormously successful year at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.

Back to School -- Nuts and Bolts ...

[Reprinted from our 'Welcome Back' Parent Letter which was sent to CSDA Families in Late August.]

So this is what we aspire to in the future, and here is what you need to know for right now ……

A.]  We will hold our annual Life-Threatening Allergy Policy and Procedures Parent Information Meeting for families this Wednesday evening, August 20th, at 6:30pm. in the CSDA Library.  Please join us to learn more about how we assure student safety at CSDA with regard to food and other allergies.  See the attached letter for more information.

B.]  On Thursday Morning, August 21st, at 10:30 we will hold our annual New Family Orientation event.  New students and their families will be warmly welcomed to CSDA, attend an informational meeting, receive a tour of our building, see their new classrooms, and ask questions of the hosting CSDA staff.

C.]  Our school bus routes have been developed and posted.  To obtain information about your child’s bus stop, as well as pick up and drop off times, please go to our school district website (

D.]  Student medical records and immunizations must be up to date before students re-enter school.  Of particular note, many of our 5th Graders are due for their Tdap immunizations at this time, and we have few Grade 5 Tdap immunizations on record.  We will begin contacting families this week regarding missing immunizations, and do our best to assure that proper immunizations are on file so that all students can begin school on Day #1 of this new school year.  Please refer to the attached document for more information.

E.]  School will open for the 2014-2015 academic year on Wednesday, August 27th.  School at CSDA begins at 8:35, and ends at 3:10.  If you bring your child to school, please remember to be especially cautious as you drive onto school grounds.  Thank you!

F.]  Over the next few days (August 20th-22nd), I warmly welcome you into our school for a visit, a chat, and a short tour of the building.  For students (or parents) who are anxious to begin the school year, I welcome you into school for a ‘soft opening’ of the school year -- hopefully this will ease the transition for some students and/or families.  Please know that this invitation is not intended to constitute an ‘Open House’ (which will actually occur on September 2nd), and that any teachers we encounter will be in to school at that time to finish classroom set-up or engage in individual or team preparation (team meetings) for the opening of school.  Please refrain from visiting us on Monday or Tuesday, August 25th & 26th, as our teachers and administrators will be in meetings and training for the entirety of those days to make certain that we will be ready for you as we open school for a new and wonderful year on Wednesday, August 27th.

That will do it for now.  Please stay in touch so that we can work together to make the coming year all that it can be for your child(ren) at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.  Together, we can make this year truly unforgettable for your child.

CSDA Transition and Aspirations

[Reprinted from our 'Welcome Back' Parent Letter which was sent to CSDA Families in Late August.]

In the time ahead, it will not only be staff that will be new.  As with any learning community, your friends at CSDA will continue to strive for excellence in order to best meet the learning needs of your children, helping to prepare them for a lifetime of success and happiness.  Over the coming years, you can expect that CSDA, always evolving and always improving, will continue to capitalize and build on successes of the past, in order to make the most of new opportunities in the time ahead.  Our quest for ongoing school improvement will be relentless in the time ahead, and you will see evidence of our growth continuously over the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Having met and spoken with countless town officials, parents, and educators here in Brookline over the recent weeks of summer, the goals and aspirations held by this community for its upper elementary school are readily apparent.  Here are the six common themes for school improvement that have emerged.  I hope that you will track and contribute to our ongoing improvement related to these themes in the time to come.  

1.] CSDA must maintain its strong academic standing, and implement even more challenging, engaging, and diverse academic standards in the time ahead.  CSDA will be defined as a cognitively challenging, intellectually stimulating, and artistically engaging learning community.

2.] CSDA must become more flexible, opportunistic, and responsive to individual student learning needs as it truly becomes ‘a school for all learners’.  Students who struggle in school, as well as those who come to us ready for college (and everyone else in between) must have their learning experiences and opportunities optimized in our community.  We must adequately teach and support every single one of our young people, so that they may meet their true life potential, and be sufficiently prepared to enjoy a happy, successful, and prosperous future.

3.] Much has been said over recent years about 21st Century Learning and schooling.  Now is the time to act.  CSDA must embrace necessary programming and teaching techniques to assure that our students will be prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.  It is a whole new world, and our young people will need a new type of education, from a new type of learning institution; one that is responsive to the dynamic change, challenges, and opportunities that are anticipated in the 21st Century (as well as those that are not).  As with so many sister schools, CSDA will need to move from ‘Old School’ to ‘Bold School’ in the near future.  We must acknowledge the future, embrace it, and prepare our students to become adults who will thrive in it -- for their good, and that of our society.

4.] CSDA must continue to improve its school climate as a focused, productive, and high-achieving learning community for students and staff.  We should create and maintain a highly interactive, rich, and child-centered atmosphere; while continuously cultivating our culture of teacher professionalism, student citizenship, character development, warmth, nurturance, and fun!

5.] In order to reach our potential as a learning community, we must engage and partner with our parent community like never before.  Using both traditional communication methods (parent letters, school newsletters, school and class websites, teacher/ administrator phone calls, Power Announcements, school community events, etc.) and the best available and emerging ‘Web 2.0’ communication tools (blogs, wikis, podcasts, video, cable TV, Twitter, and social media), CSDA must endeavor to communicate, educate, engage, and partner with our parent community to maximize learning opportunities for our students in and out of school.  If we are not on the same page, and working together, how can we hope to maximize the potential of CSDA and the learning of our children/students?

6.] The CSDA administration and staff will work even harder to assure the best possible educational experience for the children of Brookline, making effective and efficient use of available resources.  Though the economy is said to be improving, school officials must continue to exercise fiscal restraint, assuring that ongoing school improvement has minimal impact for the taxpayers of Brookline.  Our schools should be a source of community pride, not community controversy.  We will do our best to promote community cohesion by providing the Town of Brookline with a world class quality of education for its young people at a reasonable and appropriate expense to taxpayers.

Stay tuned for more information about these multi-year school improvement initiatives.  The CSDA Staff will begin working together next week to discuss and develop our implementation plans to address these ambitious goals, and will communicate important details to you, as they become available.

It is important to note the your Captain Samuel Douglass Academy has been one of the very best schools in the State of New Hampshire for many years, under the leadership and direction of Mrs. Wenger, the exceptional teaching of many CSDA teachers, and the support and commitment of effective parents like you.  However, as professionals, the educators of CSDA will not be contented with our current level of performance and achievement; we will forge ahead, and move our school to ‘the next level’.  Based on my conversations with many of you over the past seven weeks, I believe you desire to make the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy a pre-eminent public elementary school, bringing to Brookline the notoriety and accolades that it deserves, as we provide a world class education to the young people of your community.

Welcome Back to School -- 2014!

[This post includes reprinted material from our 'Welcome Back' Parent Letter which was sent to CSDA Families in late August.]

This letter is written to warmly welcome you and your family back for another year of learning, growing, and achieving at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.

Over the past seven weeks I have enjoyed the pleasure of getting to know your community of Brookline, and your school at CSDA.  I have been impressed with the proud and extremely helpful people that I have met in Brookline this summer.  I have been on an extremely rapid learning curve, but thanks to the good people I have met, it has been easy and it has been fun.  Mrs. Wenger left the school in a very strong position as she embarked on her well-deserved retirement, doing much more than she needed to in supporting a smooth and successful transition for me as your new principal.  Also retiring at the close of last year, Mrs. Lyons and Mrs. Perkinson have been generous with their time in helping new CSDA staff members get acclimated and prepared for success as they join the high-achieving faculty of the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.

Indispensable in helping our school carry on into the new year without skipping a beat, has been the support and collaboration of the CSDA Office Team (Mrs. Skogsholm, Mrs. Farbotko, Mrs. Albina, Mrs. Lorden, Mrs. Gilbert, Mrs. Ullrich and Mrs. Nagle) and our school custodial team (Mr. Beach, Mr. Dubray, and Mr. Gauthier), who have done such an incredible job getting the school ready for teachers and families to return to school this August.  Also lending invaluable support were my Brookline School District Administrative Teammates, Mrs. Perry and Mrs. Kulick, and the SAU-41 Central Office Team, to include Mr. Corey, Mrs. Matte, Mr. Horton, and Mr. Raymond.  The commitment of your elected officials has been evident as several of your town’s school board members have visited with me to talk about the school; its strengths, its challenges, and its future.  You should also know that the vast majority of the CSDA teaching and support staff have been in to school over the summer to spend time, and help with my orientation to the school and community.  The people that I have been fortunate to meet with have told me about their experiences at CSDA over the years, and about their hopes for its future.  Our Brookline PTO President has also visited and done the same.  Together we discussed many plans for another amazingly successful year for that critically important organization in our school community.

The Town of Brookline is well-served by such strong and dedicated professionals and officials at the school, district, central office, and town government levels.  Even with so much amazing work done over recent years by the administration, teachers, and staff in Brookline, there is still much to be done.

It is time to begin a new school year.

As we open CSDA for the 2014-2015 academic year, I would like to warmly and enthusiastically invite two new friends into our CSDA Learning Community.  Mrs. Carla Brockway will be our new School Counselor, and Miss Heather Whitmore will be our new Grade 4 Classroom Teacher (after Mrs. Lyons retired, Mr. Putnam moved to teaching 6th Grade, Mrs. Gauthier moved to Grade 5, leaving a vacancy on the Grade 4 Team).  Both Mrs. Brockway and Miss Whitmore are eager to meet the rest of the students, parents, and staff of CSDA, and get the new school year underway.

Welcome to the CSDA Principal Blog!

Thank you for checking out our new CSDA Principal Blog!  After a few delays, we are ready to 'go public' with this important school-parent communication tool.  On this blog you will find stories of interest to parents and the general Brookline community.  It will offer insights and commentary about what we do, and how we do it.  The blog will offer a 'behind the scenes' perspective on events, activities, and life within our school community.  We hope that you become a regular reader of our content, and engage in the discussion by posting a response to our blog posts, or contacting us at CSDA with any comments, questions, or suggestions.  It is going to be an amazing year of learning and growing at CSDA.  We look forward to working with you closely in the time ahead.  Ready.  Set.  Go!!