Sunday, June 21, 2020

June 21 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

We did it! The strangest school year on record wrapped up with the 8th grade Moving On Ceremony this Friday night. I would like to thank all the MPA volunteers, teachers, and staff who braved the heat to come out to support the event and cheer on our 8th graders. They all are now freshmen! Secondly, I would like to thank Ms. Lainie Higgins as well as students Natasha Dalvi, Heneni Dong, Karine and Leilani Takaki, Sophia Tsiantos, and Caterina Miotto who worked hard before the event to clean up and decorate our greenhouse to make it a wonderful backdrop for the ceremony. Lastly, I would like to give thanks to our two MPA co-presidents, Ms. Beth Lepore and Ms. Adrienne Spignesi, who spent months putting all of this together. Thank you all for your hard work!





















I would like to take this opportunity to give a special thanks to Adrienne, who along with her 8th grade son, will be moving onto WHS. Adrienne has been the MPA co-president during the two years I have been here at McCall, and she has done a marvelous job serving in that capacity. I value the counsel she has given me regarding important school decisions from the parent perspective, as well as all the support the MPA has given to the school under her leadership. Most importantly, I value the sense of humor and the cheerful nature of Adrienne. Regardless of how tough a circumstance is or how complex a task is, I can always count on her to bring her positive outlook which will inevitably make the situation more manageable. Thank you and best wishes to Adrienne!


I would also be remiss if I do not take this time to wish our beloved librarian Ms. Jane Henchey a happy retirement. Jane announced her retirement in the Spring after our yearbooks went into print, so we did not have the chance to honor her with a yearbook dedication. Jane officially retired this week after over 15 years of service to McCall as our librarian. She proudly referred to her career as her “checkered past” during which she traveled all over the country, worked as a waitress, an elementary school teacher, a computer programmer, and lastly as a middle school librarian. Fun fact about Jane: She rode the commuter rail to her job in Boston while working as a programmer, and during one of those commuter rail rides she met a dashing fellow passenger, fell in love, and married him.


Jane is proud of her work promoting students’ literacy skills by matching them to the books they would enjoy reading. She fondly remembers watching an English Language Learner develop fluency with the English language as the student repeated came by the library asking Jane for more book recommendations. Among all of Jane’s accomplishments, I will mostly remember her work promoting inter-generational learning with the Literary Lunches she has held throughout her tenure at McCall. I have always enjoyed watching our young students bonding with senior citizens of our community over their shared love of reading and books. I wish Jane a happy retirement and a wonderful journey to the next chapter of her life. McCall will miss Jane dearly!


Ironically, the singular event I will always remember about this school year has nothing to do with school closure. This event occurred at the very start of the school year when I ran opening day assemblies for all three grade levels during the first week of school. Those events were memorable because they bombed spectacularly. I used an application called Pear Deck to solicit students’ input and project what they had written in real time. Clearly, it was a bad idea to give an auditorium full of students a platform to post their opinions anonymously and not expect inappropriate and silly responses from those adolescents. In retrospect, giving the students the ability to vote on different categories would be much more effective than asking them to submit responses through freeform text.


We will be heading into a summer and fall that are full of uncertainties. We are all anxiously awaiting what the State will be asking us to do for the next school year. Despite all the hard work that will go into the planning and executing for the 20-21 school year, I expect some of what we do will bomb spectacularly because we have never done those things before. When I feel the anxiety that comes with an uncertain future and think about all the potential struggles we may encounter as the result of those unknowns, I go back to my roots as a first-generation immigrant. Like many of you who experienced being the first of your family to come to a new country, this is not the first time I have started from the bottom, learned from other’s and my own past experiences, and built things from the ground up. I may be wary of uncertainties, but I am also excited, hopeful, and optimistic that I, with all of your support, will have the opportunity to reimagine what a more inclusive and better McCall may look like, and work toward those goals. I am looking forward to going on this new adventure with all of you!


I wish you a happy and restful summer, and I am sure I will be in touch again very soon.



James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

Sunday, June 7, 2020

June 7 Update


Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope you are doing well.  The work of Beverly Daniel Tatum, prominent psychologist, clearly indicates that children are aware of racial differences and the impact of racism at a very young age.  Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some resources that may help your middle school students (and maybe you) process and talk about complicated issues such as racism, activism, and social justice.

CNN/Sesame Street Racism Town Hall – This show was broadcasted yesterday, and it offered answers to complex questions related to racism and protest delivered in manners that are accessible to children.  Although Sesame Street characters are at the center of the show, the intended audience is not just for young children.  It featured prominent leaders and scholars (like the previously mentioned Beverly Tatum) who provided practical advice to parents and caregivers about how to guide children through the complicated events that occurred during the past two weeks.  The information and content of the show is appropriate for middle school aged students as well.  You may be able to get your teenagers to watch it if you frame it as a way for both of you to take a trip down memory lane to visit with Big Bird and Elmo.

Socialjusticebooks.org – This website offers a collection of both fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults at various age levels on a variety of topics related to social justice.

I would also like to recommend to you two books I read during the past year that really challenged my thinking about racism and equality.  The two titles are included below.

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi – This book really probed my thinking about what is a racist and what needs to be done to dismantle racism and push back against racist ideas.  Dr. Kendi was featured in Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast during which he talked about some of the main ideas featured in this book.  I included the link to the show here.  It is definitely worth a listen.

Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey – I am married to a white woman, and we are raising three biracial kids.  This book really helped us think through the privileges my children possess by being able to assume a white identity as well as the responsibilities that come with those privileges to promote racial equality.  Dr. Harvey was also featured in the aforementioned CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall.  She touched on a few of the topics discussed in her book during the show.

I hope you will find these resources to be helpful.  Thank you and I wish you all well.

James Lin
Principal
McCall Middle School

Sunday, May 31, 2020

May 31 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  I am writing to you from the comfort of my home and neighborhood surrounded by people who care for me and are cared for by me.  However, given the recent news of lives being so needlessly and unjustly brutalized in Louisiana, Georgia, and Minnesota, I am reminded of the fact that many fellow citizens do not enjoy the privileges afforded to me.  Our race, ethnicity, gender, and different aspects of our identities we are born with determine what resources we are able to access and how we are treated by other members of this society.  The recent event that happened in Central Park between a black bird watcher and a white dog walker showed us that regardless of the level of education we have attained, or our professional achievements, we all have the capacity to turn to our biased selves when we are dysregulated, and the resulting behaviors we exhibit can bring about devastating consequences for others and ourselves.

As Dr. Evans stated in her email, the district is working on various options for what schooling will look like in the Fall.  Even though we all yearn to get back to our “normal” practices and schedules because they are familiar and therefore comforting, we have to remember there are parts of that “normal” we should no longer accept.  I am reminded of the Faculty Meeting we held a week before school closure when I shared with the McCall teachers and staff the quote below from writer and scholar Ibram Kendi:

“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of 'not racist'. The claim of 'not racist' neutrality is a mask for racism.”

How we will teach our students to embrace anti-bias thinking and exhibit anti-bias behaviors has not left my thoughts since March.  Given the uncertainty with the Fall, I cannot tell you specifically how we will be moving forward with this endeavor at this moment.  However, inaction is not an option, and returning to a “normal” where we do not address behaviors such as racist graffiti on our walls and various forms of microaggression proactively and through a whole school approach is not one we should want to return to.  My staff and I will will be working on this in the coming months, and I will share with you our plan as soon as we develop it.  I hope I can count on all of your support even though the process may bring about some level of discomfort within all of us.

Lastly, I would like to share with you this article which outlines a conversation with Beverly Daniel Tatum and Erlanger Turner, both psychologists, on how to help our students process the events related to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd.  I hope you will find it helpful.

Thank you and be well!

James Lin
Principal
McCall Middle School

Sunday, May 10, 2020

May 10 Update


Dear Parents and Guardians,


I hope this message finds you well. I would like to take this opportunity to wish all mothers as well as everyone who serves as mother figures a happy Mother’s Day! During these days of school closure, the role of mother has expanded and become more complicated as if it was not complicated enough to begin with. Therefore, I hope everyone will find time today – and each and every day – to take care of yourselves so you can be ready to take care of others.


I would also like to thank the McCall Parent Association – and everyone who supports them – for the work it had done to honor all McCall teachers and staff during Teacher Appreciation Week. On behalf of everyone at McCall, we also thank all parents, guardians, and students who took the time to write to us on Teacher Appreciation Day. We certainly feel very grateful for all the kind words and well wishes you sent to us.



With gratitude,


James Lin
Principal
McCall Middle School

Sunday, May 3, 2020

May 3 Update


Dear Colleagues,

I hope this message finds you well.  As you may know, I have a 7th grade son.  He has not been feeling well this past week because he has been dealing with a head cold.  I was proud of him this past Tuesday because he got himself out of bed so he can be ready for a morning Zoom session scheduled by his teacher despite the fact he was feeling lousy.  Not only did he get himself out of bed, he got himself up early enough to shower and put on his nicest hoodie because he wanted to look good on Zoom.  Shortly before the session started, I saw him on the couch with his laptop open.  Since it looked like he was ready to go, my wife and I went to our own spaces to do my own Zoom meetings.  Thirty minutes later, I returned and found my son fast asleep on the coach with the laptop still open.  He completely missed the Zoom session.

He woke in a state of panic.  He was worried that he missed important instructions, and he was upset because all that preparation was for naught.  Mostly, he was upset because he was convinced that he had disappointed his teacher, and she would think he did not care.

After he calmed himself down, we received an email message sent from the teacher to my son, and both my wife and I were cc’ed on it.  My son was devastated when he read the email because he felt his nightmare had come true.  He interpreted the message as the teacher was telling him that she was disappointed in him for not being part of the Zoom session.  When I read the message the first thought that popped in my head was, “For heaven's sake, the kid was not feeling well.  He just needs some time to get himself together, and he will be back at it tomorrow.”  However, I soon took off my parent hat to replace it with my principal hat and remembered I have often asked the McCall teachers and staff to please contact parents and guardians if their students are not engaging in Distance Learning activities.  After reading the teacher’s message through a different lens, I realized the message was written and sent out of care and concern for my boy.  I also marveled at how efficiently she reached out to me.

I mention all of this because if you happen to be on the receiving end of one or more emails from my staff I hope that you will receive them knowing that the intention is not to shame or judge or criticize.  We do feel compelled to inform parents of student engagement, and to offer any care and support that we can, fully recognizing that one more email may be the last thing that you need right now.  I’ve communicated with many of you this past week and I know my family is not alone in having had a tough week.  In addition to the expected grief and anxiety of the school closure lasting through the rest of the year, many of you are managing much more serious concerns about jobs, finances, and physical and emotional health.  As we try to figure out the right level of communication, it’s clear that one approach will definitely not work for all families.  If you happen to be in a place where more regular communication about how your child is engaging with learning, please let me know.  You can also let me know if frequent emails are triggering bursts of colorful language in your heads. I can work with the teachers and staff to find a frequency of updates that does not add to anyone’s stress levels.

I thank all of you to your continued support of the work my staff have been doing.  More importantly, I thank everyone for recognizing that as imperfect as our work may be, we are all trying very hard to meet the needs of every McCall student.

As for my son, he is well judging by how the much fun he is having Fortnighting with his buddies online as I type this message.

Thank you and be well!

James Lin
Principal
McCall Middle School

Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26 Update


Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope everyone is doing well.  This past week felt very different because even though most people are not surprised by the news of schools being closed for the year, the reality of this idea setting in brought out a lot of different emotions in everyone in my family.  My oldest daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, sobbed in a manner I don’t often see from her when she heard the news.  She initially felt angry because it was very unjust that her ability to be with her friends and do the things that she liked doing with them was taken away.  She then felt disappointment because all the things she had looked forward to doing in this Spring all evaporated in a span of a few minutes.  I think all students across the country are feeling this way.  They are all grieving the loss of normalcy and the sense of belonging to a community.  I have no doubt we adults are all feeling this way as well.

We started our Distance Learning program with a focus on enrichment and extension.  We then shifted gears to include teaching new content, grading and accountability.  Now that we know we are implementing Distance Learning for the long haul, McCall teachers, staff, and I are adjusting our thinking about it once more.  I know students miss each other, and they miss the teachers and staff; just as we miss our colleagues, and we miss our students.  Therefore, I am working with McCall staff members to make sure we are always thinking about how we can create opportunities for community building and human interactions to occur in the Distance Learning classes, in the teams, in each grade levels, and McCall as a whole.  

I am already seeing a lot of great things happening.  I know there are teachers holding Zoom sessions to teach students content as well as to give them the opportunities to socialize with each other.  Mr. Awiszus, our Engineering and Tech teacher, is working with the 6th grade teachers to plan a virtual engineering day.  Ms. Johnson, our drama teacher, is holding rehearsals with the virtual drama club to get ready for the virtual performance of “10 Ways to Survive Life in a Quarantine”.  Extracurricular activities such as the QSA, Student Council, and 3D Fab Clubs are all still meeting virtually so students have these opportunities to continue to maintain their social connections.

I often think about how I would like to remember these months under quarantine.  When this all ends – and it will –  I hope the movie I play in my head about the end of the 19-20 school year is not like the movie Groundhog Day where one day blends into the next, and I go through each day feeling very little with nothing to look forward to.  I do not want our students and our teachers and staff to feel that way either.  Therefore, we will continue to work hard to make sure that sense of community is maintained as much as possible.


Thank you and stay healthy!


James Lin
Principal
McCall Middle School

Sunday, April 19, 2020

April 19 Update


Dear Parents and Guardians,

How are you? I ask this question not as a typical greeting we offer each other at the start of a conversation, but I ask this questions out of a sincere curiosity of how you all are faring with the impact of the pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home order. I suspect many of you are feeling like Larry, a parent and advice-seeker, who wrote to a therapist in the advice column from The Atlantic which I will include later in this message.

Larry wants to know if he is doing enough to help his children cope with the stress and isolation that comes with being kept at home for an extended period of time. Like him, I bet many of you wrestle everyday with questions such as: Am I pushing my kids enough with Distance Learning? Am I being too permissive with screen time? Am I doing the right thing when I prioritize my own responsibilities over helping my child with her Distance Learning work? What will I do if my child falls behind?

In her beautifully written response, the therapist asked Larry to consider what a good airline pilot will do and say when her plane encounters turbulence. She might be worried or even be scared, but she would regulate her emotions, tap into her resources, ask her passengers to take the necessary precautions, and let them know they will ride the turbulence out together.

I think during any time of uncertainty when there are more questions than answers, all of us are looking for someone who is in charge. That person may not know exactly what to do at every moment, but she can make us feel that she can guide us through the turmoil without offering us promises she knows she cannot keep. That person can only do so if she keeps herself physically, emotionally, and mentally well.

We are all flying through a pretty rough patch of turbulent air right now, and our students are looking for the adults around them to be in charge. That begins by making sure we are in control of ourselves. Yes, your children’s education during this period of school closure is important. However, thinking about your children’s Distance Learning experiences may not be helpful if you are not spending more time considering their as well as your own well-being.

The following advice the therapist offered to Larry resonated with me:



“Steady yourselves first, then listen to your passengers on this voyage, validate their feelings, communicate honestly as circumstances evolve, and be flexible about shifting course as conditions change. I say that if you take this approach rather than worrying about the right projects, the right amount of screen time, the right words to use, you won’t even need the PA system for your kids to hear the one message they need to feel safe right now: I’m here, and I’ve got you.”

Here is the rest of the article.


So, I will end this message by asking you again, “How are you?” If the answer is, “Not well”, I hope you will take time to center yourselves so you can be that reassuring pilot for your children who are riding through this turbulence with you. We are fortunate to be part of a community that is able to offer a lot of resources to help those in need. Therefore, if you need support with meeting you or your family’s needs, please check out the district’s COVID-19 website. It contains information related to health and wellness, support for food, as well as myriad of other resources that the school district and other community organizations offer. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need support.



Stay healthy and stay strong!




James Lin 
Principal 
McCall Middle School