March 2016

Happy March, Walnut Acres Parents!


Thanks to all who helped to create and participate in our recent Auction! It really was a great party! I haven’t heard about the financial outcome yet, but I know that thanks to the generosity of Fund-A-need donors, we have $15,000 to revamp our current computer lab into a Colab and some funds for starting our library reorganization, as well. We will put the funds to good use for all our children.

Thanks, as well, to those who completed our Walnut Acres Parent Survey. We appreciate having your input as we continue to transform our school into a 21st century learning community that focuses on student voice, the 6 Cs and technology infusion. We will post the results of the parent survey in the “Current News” section of our website in April. We will also include the survey results from our 1-2nd students as well as our 3rd-5th students. (The younger students completed more simplistic surveys.)

Curriculum Updates-

We are approaching the final stages of implementation for our K-5 Reading Workshop, otherwise known as the reading portion of the Columbia Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project. This means that as of August, 2016, we will be a total Reading and Writing Workshop school! The designation is a long time coming and I am proud of our teachers and all of you dedicated parents who have supported our efforts over the years. Our current students and our future learners will benefit from our authentic, balanced language arts approach that emphasizes strategy teaching, student choice, and personalized learning. We will continue to grow our expertise with experience and further professional development, most notably from the very best coach around, Nicole Padoan. At this point in our growth, I am delighted to report that our foundation is firmly solidified. If you would like to learn more about Workshop, click here to access the Project website.

While our schoolwide focus has been primarily on language arts, we continue to develop our technology integration efforts, provide project-based learning opportunities, explore design thinking, and experiment with student Number Talks. Our progress will continue, especially as we restructure our current computer lab into a Colab for students to use as a technology-focused design lab and update our library to be a more interactive, 21st century learning space.


Parents sometimes ask me when the district gifted program will return and I have no news in that regard. However, the strategies we are implementing, including Workshop Model, provide authentic differentiation. For example, within Reader’s Workshop, students are taught strategies to apply to their own reading at their ‘just right’ levels. A child’s grade level is not a factor in determining ‘just right’ reading levels. Through conferring and 1:1 assessments, as well as pre/post-assessments in 3rd-5th grade, teachers know where each of their students need to be challenged and routinely encourage them to grow using specific strategies and building on each child’s motivators and interests. Today I had the privilege of observing a 4th grade class practice the strategy of reflecting on their own writing about their informational reading on a topic of student choice. The metacognitive conversations in the classroom were exciting and the students were all engaged as they shared their insights about their own thinking. Critical thinking abounded and every child could access the learning opportunities as their level of readiness would allow.

The same potential for differentiation holds true with project-based learning work and design thinking activities. If students are selecting their own topics and applying their skills to real-world problems to the best of their abilities, then they will be challenged by their work and teachers can encourage students to delve as deeply into their research and product development as their readiness will allow. In fact, the same 4th grade class mentioned above, was so engaged with their discussion of synthesis as a strategy, that they created a project-based learning activity applying that strategy to a team-selected topic and product.

2016-17 Calendar-

The calendar for our next school year is now available on the district website or click here.

Summer Planning-

Heads up to you that while our teachers are attending the MDUSD Summer Academy classes, you will have a variety of options to keep your student learning, playing, and smiling. More details will be forthcoming over time, but for now keep in mind these options:

  1. MDUSD will offer a reading-focused summer school from 6/20-7/15 for students going into 2nd and 4th grades. Enrollment is by invitation only. Our students will attend classes at Woodside Elementary from 7:45-12:15 p.m. Contact me or your child’s teacher for further information.
  2. Cal State East Bay will be offering 5-week reading support sessions in Concord and Pleasant Hill during the summer. See brochures are in our office for the schedules of weekly classes. There are family discounts available.
  3. Galileo Learning will be at our site to offer 4 sessions of 1-week theme-based, design thinking, collaborative opportunities for children. They will be on site from 6/20 to 8/5 from 8-6:00 p.m. daily. They offer financial assistance and an optional lunch program. Their brochures will soon be available in our office or check out their website.
  4. Curtains Up Youth Theater (CUYT) will be preparing 4th and 5th graders (with 3rd graders as space allows) to present Annie on 7/28-29. Rehearsals will be held each weekday afternoon from 1-4:30 p.m. starting on 7/11. Check out the Children’s Theatre link under the Activities section of the PFC website or click here.
  5. Walnut Acres Children’s Center will be offering busy days of fun from 6/13-8/12 from 7-6:00 p.m. Parents can register per week for themed weekly adventures on the website.

Good Citizenship Request-

When a small group of 4th graders recently shared with me their plan to raise money for younger students by selling cupcakes after school, I was delighted with their kindness and impressed by their sense of citizenship (our key lifeskill during the month of March.) I often find myself inspired by our children’s ability to empathize and excited by their level of moral development. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given the example of volunteerism and philanthropy among WA parents.

So I have one parting request from you, good citizens all, please bring your best citizenship skills to our drop-off and pick-up line every day and follow all rules of the road so that we keep our children healthy and model safe driving for them in our community. As one anonymous wise person said, “Leave sooner, drive slower, live longer.” As you reflect on driving practices, mark the words of humorist, Dave Barry, “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” Be sure you are an above-average driver as you navigate roads around our site with precious cargo in every car, crossing our streets, and around every corner.

With respect,

Colleen Dowd, Principal