April 2017

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

After a rejuvenating Spring break, we are ready to collaborate with you to create a strong and happy finish to the 2016-17 school year. We have a busy 9 weeks ahead starting with an important event in April that we designed for YOU!

Volunteer Appreciation Event

Each year we take the opportunity to thank all our volunteers for your dedication, tenacity, and diligence in supporting Walnut Acres Elementary School. Typically, this event occurs immediately following our April Sing-out, but this year our celebration will be part of our Trustworthiness Sing-out on Wednesday, 4/26, at 8:00 a.m. and again at 8:30 a.m. Every parent who ever volunteered in a classroom, on a fieldtrip, or from home, who worked in some capacity to raise money for school programs or personnel, or who opened car doors at drop-off or student thermoses at lunch – You are invited to be recognized and officially thanked by the staff, teachers, and students of Walnut Acres. We hope you will join us as our community celebrates your spirit of volunteerism, and we also invite you to remain after the Sing-out to enjoy a few tasty treats!

Welcoming Our 2017-18 Transitional Kindergarten Parents

There will be a Transitional Kindergarten (TK) Parent Orientation at Highlands Elementary on 4/26 at 6:30 p.m. The hour-long meeting will provide incoming TK parents with an overview of the district TK program. Five TK teachers will share the presentation, including our own Mrs. Garcia-Roy, Walnut Acres TK teacher. Click here for a map to Highlands Elementary.

Personnel and Planning

We have a new school nurse who will continue to work at our school on Fridays. She is RN, Cristina Padil, and her contact email is padilc@mdusd.org. Kathy Gabe will continue to work with her through the month of April to teach her procedures at our school. You are invited to contact Cristina for support with all health-related concerns.

We are losing our wonderful part-time Reading Lab instructional assistant. Jackie Pine will be moving out of the area at the end of the school year. We thank Jackie for years of excellent service to our students and wish her and her family many happy adventures! I am hoping that we may be able to provide a part-time reading specialist in lieu of an instructional assistant in the Reading Lab during the 2017-18 school year, but that will cost more money even if we shorten work hours per week, so we will consider our options as we review the budget.

Our Kindergarten registration numbers are not repeating the spike we experienced this time last year. That means that while we will need a fifth 1st grade classroom in 2017-18 to facilitate our large number of current kindergarten students, we will probably not need four kindergarten classrooms next year. If our numbers continue to hover around 75 incoming kindergarteners over time, we will ask one of the kindergarten teachers to take on a 1st grade class rather than hire a new teacher. If we have room flexibility, we are also considering lengthening the kindergarten day in order to enhance creative play and social interaction opportunities as a counterpane to our more academically-focused activities of Reading and Writing Workshop, Math Talks, Read-Alouds, and calendar activities.

You can help us make appropriate kindergarten decisions for 2017-18 by encouraging any neighbor, friend, or stranger in your neighborhood with a kindergarten-age student, to register at Walnut Acres now, so that we have an accurate sense of our incoming population. Thank you for your support with this crucial task!

State Assessments

April is the month that our students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade begin the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) English Language Arts and Math exams. You may recall that last month I wrote and shared at our PFC meeting about the new CA Dashboard now available to the public, which presents the 2015-16 CAASPP Walnut Acres test results, among other school data. We will now repeat the testing process and in late summer you will be able to view the 2016-17 Walnut Acres CAASPP results on the CA Dashboard. You will also receive your child’s individual score results in the mail.

Our CAASPP testing window is 4/24/17-6/9/17. Each grade level team will share with you the specific dates they will be testing.

This year there is a new CAASPP Science Assessment being piloted. All Walnut Acres 5th graders will take the exam. For further information about CAST (California Science Test) check out the front page of the district website (or click here.) The informative letter on the website, written by Shannon Ortland, MDUSD Director of Assessment, Research & Evaluation, provides some details about the purpose of the Science Assessment and shares the CDE website that provides you with sample science test questions (or click here.) Once on the site, click on the Green “Student Interface Practice and Training Tests” rectangle, Click on the “Sign-In” button – no need to provide log-in or password information, then select grade ‘5” before clicking on the “Yes” button. Once you are on the site scroll down because the Science sample questions are the last on the list of sample options. Click into the orange box labeled “Start CAST Grades 5, 8 and HS Training Test” then click on the “Select” button.

While we do not want the state testing process to be anxiety-provoking for students, we do ask that you encourage students to give their best effort to the state assessments. That means our students will need a good night’s rest, a healthy breakfast, and an encouraging hug before arriving at school on test days, but of course, that’s the morning routine we hope for every day. So, please don’t put any pressure on students at home and we will use the mantra, “Do your best, and forget the rest” at school. That’s a very apt motto for the state assessment process, in particular!

With a common sense approach to state testing we will likely get a valuable measure of what children know and how they can apply their learning. As a staff, we will also get further data to analyze what we are teaching well and what we still need to do to support our learners. We realize that CAASPP test data is only one measure of student achievement, so we compile the CAASPP results with Running Records information, iReady data, teacher exams, and daily student oral and written work to get a picture of each child as a learner.

The Value of Play

I recently read an article about parents working to bring recess back to Florida elementary schools (Tampa Bay Times, 2/13/2017.) Can you imagine not providing recess for our children? Open-ended, child-led, unstructured-free play has been gradually declining in our society over the last 60 years according to Dr. Peter Gray, Boston psychologist and researcher. You may be interested in watching his recent Ted Talk here. The medical world appears to agree and some specialists suggest eroding free play may account for increased rates of psycho-social illnesses. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, pediatrician, wrote in Pediatrics that “a variety of factors have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play.” We will continue to provide child-led recess opportunities at school to promote student health, social skills, problem-solving abilities, creativity, confidence, and resiliency. We ask you to provide the same at home, even if that means reduced enrichment classes or strictly limited homework time!

As one of my very favorite teacher mentors, Leo F. Buscaglia, wrote many years ago, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

Here’s to providing balance for all our beautiful children,

Colleen Dowd, Principal