Sunday, January 12, 2020

Jan. 12 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope everyone had a good first week back from vacation.  I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we will be holding parent conferences on the afternoons of January 21 - 24.  All four days are student half days with dismissal scheduled for noon.  There is no school on January 20.

Ms. Lavoie sent out an email to all parents and guardians detailing the conference sign up process as well as other logistic matters related to those four conference days.  I am attaching that letter here in case you missed it.  I would like to reiterate that the conferences are meant as a time for you to check in with your student’s teachers about his or her progress.  It is not meant for you and the teachers to hold an in-depth discussion about your child.  Therefore, the amount of time allocated for each conference is short, and the teachers will not be able to extend their conference time slot with you during those afternoons.

If you find that you are unable to get all your questions answered or all your concerned addressed within the allocated conference time, we ask you to schedule a follow up discussion with the teachers for a later date.  Please know that not all teachers will be available to schedule a face-to-face meeting time with you shortly after the conferences, therefore, I ask you to consider options like scheduling a phone call or use email to communicate with the teachers.

Please also remember that the four parent conference days are not the only time for you to connect with the teachers.  You can reach out to them to schedule a meeting at any time.  You can check in on your students’ progress by scheduling a conference call or email each teacher as I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

I thank all of you for your cooperation with this matter and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Dec. 15 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  I would like to begin by thanking the MPA for organizing the annual Holiday Cookie Bash for the McCall staff this Wednesday morning.  Thank you to everyone who contributed goodies to this event.  We really appreciate the treat and the holiday spirit this event brought to the entire McCall building.

I would also like to thank everyone who wrote to show support for the school and me in light of the most recent graffiti incident.  It is important to remember that these acts of hate are not just words painted on a wall or comments that were made in jest.  They cause harm to people who have faces, names, and feelings.  However, it is also important for us to remember that this act is not just about me and my race.  We must reckon with the difficult question of why racist behaviors and all forms of bigotry are happening at all.

This past week I met with our Team Leaders, members of the Student Wellness and Acceptance and Inclusion Committees about how we can effectively address these issues with our colleagues and our students.  We are working on creating an approach that would help our students grapple with the complicated issues of equity, social justice, and activism in a manner that is proactive and consistent.  We have to make sure we are not always responding to acts of bigotry, and that we are not relying only on “one off” activities that may lead students to think that racism is over and dealt with after they take part in that one activity.  Instead we are working on figuring out how to actively teach all our students about what prejudice is and how to respond to all acts of hate.  I see racism and all forms of prejudice as cancer.  The treatment has to be consistently delivered and we have to follow up on it from all angles.

Just like many of you, McCall faculty and I are appalled that racist behaviors like the one we experienced last week is still happening in today’s world.  However, it also is motivating us to improve and expand our practices so we are ready to help our students grapple with these complicated challenges.

Thank you for your continued support.

James Lin
McCall Middle School  

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Nov. 24 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

Happy almost-Thanksgiving.  Like many of you, I will be doing some traveling this coming weekend to gather with a large group of my wife’s family members and eat a lot of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pies.  My mother-in-law always makes a delicious oyster stuffing that only she and I like, and that is something to which I always look forward at this time of the year.  As most of you know, I did not grow up in the United States.  My first experience with eating turkey was when I was a teenager.  It was fascinating to me why people would make turkey the highlight of a meal, and it is still odd to me why people would put something sweet like cranberry sauce on top of gravy and meat.  I stayed with my uncle and aunt’s family when I first came to the US.  Since they were also recent immigrants, we did not have any family around us.  Our Thanksgiving celebrations back then were pretty small with just the five of us.  I remember celebrating the holiday with roasted chicken and various Chinese dishes like pork dumplings.  We liked it that way because we always thought turkey meat is bland and dry, and why would we go through the hassle of preparing such a big bird for a small group of people just because other families around us were doing it?  However, we always did open a can of cranberry sauce just for kicks, and my cousins and I enjoyed poking at it with chopsticks to watch it jiggle.

Thanksgiving is the most American of all the holidays we celebrate, and at the heart of it is about connecting with those who are important to us.  Some of you may be celebrating Thanksgiving the way I described – mixing and matching different traditions – and with your own definitions of family.  Those manners of celebration are just as American as the way our forefathers celebrated Thanksgiving back in the days of the pilgrims. 

As we do with our teaching practices, it important for us to remember the objective of our endeavors while allowing flexibility for everyone to reach those goals through various means.  So, I hope you will have the opportunity this Thanksgiving to connect with those important to you – whether your celebration involves a big turkey dinner or if your turkey dinner is accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, or pork dumplings, tamales, kimchi, kofta, sushi, or baklava.

I wish all of you a great holiday!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Nov. 10 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I would like to wish everyone a happy Veteran’s Day - particularly to those who have given up so much to serve our country.  I would like to recognize three such individuals who are current members of the McCall staff. They are Phil Doucette, Sargent, United States Marine Corps, Larry Farelli, Corporal, United States Marine Corps, and John Gill, Captain, United States Army. Please join me in thanking these three staff members and all veterans in the for their contribution to the Winchester community and our country.

I would also like to take this opportunity to share some information pertaining to the McCall Parent Association (MPA). Congratulations to all of the parents who participated in the McCall Parents Association's One and Done fundraiser in October. I was very excited to see that $41K—nearly 80% of the total goal—was raised. Please accept my thanks on behalf of everyone at McCall. We are grateful that the MPA provides necessary items that are outside of our regular school budget. There is never an obligation to give, but if you would still like to donate to help the MPA fully fund its budget for this year, you can donate here.

McCall is offering spirit wear! From now until November 20th, you can order sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hats here. Items will be delivered to McCall by mid-December. I will be sporting a McCall hoodie soon....

As a reminder, while we do send out daily announcements via email, the MPA's weekly newsletter is another excellent resource for information about the school and the Winchester community. Their newsletter is sent via email on Monday mornings. If you're not receiving it (and it's not accidentally in the spam folder), you can subscribe to the newsletter by clicking here. The newsletter always is posted on the MPA's website,, too.

Thank you and enjoy the upcoming week!

James Lin 

McCall Middle School

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Nov. 3 Update - Reflection on the China Bridge Trip

As you know, I had the good fortune to be part of this year’s China Bridge program, sponsored by US’s College Board, which included a nine day visit in China. This year the program invited over 170 educators from across the US to congregate in Beijing, and we were divided into six different delegations to travel to various provinces of China to learn about the Chinese culture and educational system. I was part of the Shandong (山東) Province group which included twenty-six educators from New York City, Baltimore, Washington, DC, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Maine, and me, the sole participant from Massachusetts.

Aside from visiting the usual Chinese tourist sites such the Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, the highlight of the trip was definitely our school visits in Shandong. It was a great learning experience to interact with, and learn from, Chinese students and educators as well as the twenty-six US educators with whom I traveled and closely connected.

Shandong Province is located not that far south of Beijing, so we had the experience of riding the bullet train to get there and back.

The residents of Shandong like to let visitors know that they are the province of “One River, One Mountain, and One Saint”. The one river is the Yellow River which flows through and ends in Shandong. Mt. Tai (泰山), a mountain that holds sacred meanings for the Chinese, is also located in the province. Lastly, the town of Qufu (曲阜), the birthplace of Confucius (who is regarded as a saint and worshipped by most Chinese), is located in Shandong as well.

At the foot of Mount Tai

Main Hall of the Confucius Temple

Apricot Pavilion at the Confucius Temple.  Site where Confucius taught many of his disciples.

Tree planted by Confucius himself

Students paying respect to Confucius at the Confucius Temple

It is apt for an American educator who is learning the Chinese education system to visit the hometown of Confucius since he is regarded as the first teacher of China, and his teaching which originated thousands of years ago still guides and permeates through the Chinese culture. Confucius’s teaching of 禮 (meaning propriety or etiquette) is very evident in Chinese schools. Structures of schools and classes are hierarchical. This is evident from how leaders of the schools and teachers are addressed by students and parents and where people sit during meetings. Teachers are treated as sources of wisdom and knowledge so each lesson begins and ends by the entire class of students standing up to greet and thank the teacher in unison. When teachers talk about teaching a lesson during everyday conversations, they do not use the word “teach”. Instead, teachers use the term 講課 (meaning to lecture) to describe what they do in the classrooms, and they use the term 聴課 (meaning to listen to a lecture) to describe what students do in the classrooms. There is a lot of cold calling during a lesson. When students are called, they stand up to answer the teacher’s questions. Chinese class sizes are well over forty-five students, and everyone is seated in rows. Unlike our classes, students do not move from classrooms to classrooms. They stay together as a 班`(a classroom of students). More often than not, students stay in the same classroom and sit in the same seat for every class in the school day and the teachers travel to the students.

1st Grade Language Class

7th Grade Math Class

This is even the case for “Exploratories” such as Art, Calligraphy, and Music classes. Teachers lecture, and students listen and model their teachers’ demonstrations. Students sit in rows.

Music Classroom of the Affiliated Middle School of Jining Institute in Jining, Shandong

Calligraphy Classroom of the Affiliated Middle School of the Jining Institute in Jining, Shandong

The teaching of Confucius combined with the practical need to service such a large human population means schools are focused on teaching the collective as opposed to the individual. Recesses are primarily group exercises lead by school leaders and teachers, and PE classes are made up of drills even for students as young as kindergarteners. Attached here is a video of a recess involving the entire student body of a secondary school in Jining, Shandong.

Juniors and Seniors of Taishan Middle School's Airlines Services Program performing a dance routine

Kindergarteners doing calisthenics during PE class

Kindergarteners practicing their basketball skills

Although the Chinese thoughts about and approaches to education are vastly different than ours, I believe we are so much more similar to each other than we are different. When I asked the Chinese teachers about why they entered the profession, they talked about wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of the students. They spoke about the joy they feel when they see students grow and when students return to visit after they had graduated from their classes. The Chinese teachers told me they love their jobs because they enjoy learning and having fun with colleagues who care as much about kids as they do. 

Ms. Li, Mr. Kong, and Ms. Zhang, educators and our hosts in Shandong

Mickey, my student guide, a senior from Taishan Middle School, told me that despite the pressure he feels from preparing for 高考 (the make-or-break college entrance exam), he takes time to travel with friends and family and play the guitar in his band. He was very excited about the Halloween party that would be taking place at this school in a few days because he and his band will be debuting the original composition he has written. Mickey traveled to Canada last year as part of his school’s exchange program, and he loved his experience. He aspires to be a banker and hopes one day to attend graduate school in Canada.

My student guide Mickey.  He is called Mickey because he had big ears when he was little and he looked like Mickey Mouse

My main take away from my nine days in China is that Chinese educators and students know a lot about us. Students in schools I visited start learning English and information about American and Western cultures when they are in 3rd grade. Chinese teachers I came across and speak articulately about Western educational thoughts, and they are curious about how US teachers foster creativity and promote authentic learning in our students. Despite the challenges they face teaching fifty students at the same time, they work hard to engage in practices other than traditional “sage on stage” method of teaching.  I saw evidence of students engaging in station work, and teachers utilizing practices such as Think-Pair-Share. I would venture to guess that an average Chinese teacher and student knows a lot more about us than we know about them. The US and Chinese relationship is complicated, and whether it is one of friendship or competition (or both), it does not serve us or our students well to be uninformed about the Chinese culture and people. The value of the China Bridge trip is exactly as the name indicates - to build bridges between these two countries and cultures. I am hopeful that I can continue the relationships I have started with the Chinese educators I met as well as with the American educators who value teaching the Chinese language and cultures in their schools. The Chinese educators we visited welcomed us with open arms and are yearning to establish friendships with us. I am hoping this trip is our first step in developing that relationship.

At the foot of Mt. Tai with my new friend Ms. Zhang, 6th Grade English Teacher in Shandong
At the Great Wall with Ms. Zhang
With Assistant Principal Kong in the gym of the Affiliated Middle School of Jining Institute Shandong after a rigorous ping pong match.  We share the same birthday!
With my new friend Principal Bowes, an elementary principal from New Jersey, in the Confucius Research Institute
At the Great Wall with my new friends Ms. Shen, Assistant Superintendent in the NYC Public Schools, and Ms. Qu, World Language Department Head in Philadelphia Public Schools

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Oct. 19 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  I would like to focus this week’s update on the Phase II Construction project.  The construction has created challenges for our staff and students due to the amount and level of noises caused by the work.  Unlike the Phase I Expansion work, the Phase II project is much bigger in scale and the construction zone is located right by some of our classrooms and learning spaces.  I understand the noise level and some of the work that needed to be done like the welding that occurred during the structural steel erection phase of the project can be very disruptive to the learning process.  Therefore, we are doing what we can to ensure our teachers and staff have alternative teaching spaces if the construction becomes too disruptive.  I also meet with representatives from the Office of Town Engineers, the project manager from the construction company, as well as the project’s chief architect on a weekly basis to discuss how to proceed with the construction while allowing the day-to-day operation of the school to take place.  No building construction project can proceed without creating noises and smells related to welding and steel cutting, but rest assure that all parties involved in this construction project place the staff and students’ health, safety, and well-being as high priority.  We are making every effort into ensuring the physical environment of all McCall learning spaces are clean, safe, and healthy, and high quality teaching is still going on despite the distracting elements that are created right outside some of our classroom windows.

I am attaching some pictures of the work that are being done during past few weeks.  Despite the rain and high winds that occurred in recent days, the structural steel erection process is proceeding ahead of schedule.  That means the work will quickly shift toward the interior of the newly erected structures, which also mean the construction project would soon create significantly less noises and other elements that can be distracting to teachers, staff, and students.

I am grateful to all McCall staff, teachers, and students for enduring the rough patch of the construction process during the last two and a half weeks.  I appreciate all the flexibility and resiliency everyone is exhibiting.  At the same time, I feel fortunate that we have a community who is willing to fund the construction of an expanded cafeteria, a new teacher’s workspace, and an additional wing of six new classrooms.  Those of you who visited our school during Open House night can see that we are currently utilizing every square inch of our building and is in need of additional teaching and working spaces.  Those new work and learning areas are becoming a reality and everyday we are moving closer to having a more spacious building with state-of-the-art teaching facilities.

Thank you for your continued support and cooperation.

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Oct. 13 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well, and thank you to everyone who took the time to come join us for Open House this past Thursday.  This past Tuesday, the McCall staff had a great afternoon of learning from executive function guru Sarah Ward.  She taught us that executive function is all about tapping into our nonverbal working memory, but yet, much of our instructions to students are delivered verbally.  Therefore, all of the strategies Sarah shared with us are about helping students visualize the outcome of the work we are asking them to do and assisting them with playing out in their minds what they need to do to reach those goals.  She challenged us to rethink how we utilize common executive function strategies such as using checklists and breaking down long term tasks into smaller chunks because those tools can actually cause students to increase their dependence on adults as opposed to learning how to reach their goals on their own if we do not implement them thoughtfully.

I am very proud of many of our teachers who began implementing the strategies Sarah taught us the very next day after the presentation.  We will be using our next faculty meeting in November to share with each other on how to put those ideas and strategies into practice.

Attached here are the slides Sarah used during the parent lecture on Tuesday night for those of you who are interested.

I would also like everyone to know that I have the good fortune to represent Winchester Public Schools in this year’s China Bridge Delegation.  The program is ran by the College Board - the same folks who write and administer the SAT - in conjunction with the Confucius Institute from China.  I will be traveling to China from October 20 to October 29 during which I will be visiting local K–12 schools, meeting with Chinese educators, networking with U.S. colleagues, attending presentations on best practices to teach the Chinese language, and gathering resources to build and support McCall’s nascent Chinese language and culture program.  I am very excited about this opportunity, but at the same time I understand my absence from McCall during these ten days means much of what I do on a daily basis will fall on the shoulders of my two assistant principals and other members of my admin team.  I am grateful for their support, and I thank all of you for your patience if our responses to your questions or concerns are delayed due to my absence.

As part of the preparation of the trip, the organizers asked us to set up an account with the application WeChat since gmail, Facebook, and many online communication apps we are accustomed to using in the US are blocked in China.  I am encountering some difficulty setting up a WeChat account.  I hoping there are people in the parent community who are experienced WeChat users and can help me with the setup process.  Please shoot me an email if you are willing and able.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate one special member of the McCall faculty who recently achieved a milestone in her career.  Ms. Jeanne Snodgrass, our Instrumental Music and General Music teacher, finished her teaching career with us this past Friday.  After instructing music at McCall and the Winchester elementary schools for over twenty years and teaching in public and private settings for over thirty years, Ms. Snodgrass will now shift gears and enjoy her retirement.  She plans to focus on her own musicianship (she’s a trumpet player), tend to her garden, and get more sleep than she has been getting.  You will still see Ms. Snodgrass working with students in private settings and teaching music at local organizations.  On behalf of the McCall community, I wish Ms. Snodgrass a happy retirement!

Happy long weekend!

James Lin
McCall Middle School