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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Oct. 6 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  I would like to begin by reminding everyone that thanks to the generosity of the McCall Parent Association (MPA) and Winchester’s Parent to Parent organization, we will have the opportunity to have Sarah Ward come to McCall to present to both the parent community and the middle school staff this Tuesday about executive function.  Sarah is a renowned expert on this topic, and I am including her bio below for your reference.

When we talk about students’ executive functioning skills, we often think about their abilities to keep binders and backpack organized and to keep track of their assignments.  However, executive function is broader than that.  Executive function includes (but not limit to) one’s ability to plan ahead, to prioritize, to shift from one activity to another, and to monitor one’s behavior.  Teaching executive function mirrors our school and district’s work to promote social emotional learning.  Both are about teaching students how to be self-aware and how to self-regulate. 

I have attended many of Sarah’s training sessions before, and the main reason I am a big fan of her work is because her approach to teaching executive function aligns with the backward design model to teaching and lesson planning (of which I am a big proponent).  If you speak to Sarah about teaching executive function skills, you will hear her talk about how to help students visualize desired outcomes by helping them ask themselves questions such as, “What does a completed science project look like?” and “What does a person who is ready for the hockey practice look like?”  When students are able to answer these questions, we can then help them work backwards and determine what are the steps they need to take in order to get to those desired outcomes.  This way of thinking about executive function matches the work many of our teachers are doing with RULER anchor tools such as the class charter.  Many of our teachers established classroom rules, expectations, and norms by asking students how they want to feel when they come to your classes and then worked backwards with them to determine how they should behave in order to achieve those pleasant feelings.

I hope you will join us Tuesday evening from 7:00-9:00 pm in the McCall auditorium to hear what Sarah has to say about executive function.  I am confident you will find the session to be informative and practical.  Please remember that the target audience for this event is parents and guardians not students, so I encourage you to leave your students at home that night.  Lastly, I would like to recognize the timing of this event puts some of you in the difficult position of having to choose between coming and Yom Kippur observation.  I regret that it turned out this way, but we had little flexibility due to Sarah’s schedule and our goal of aligning the teacher training to the parent information session.  I will do my best to get the handout materials of the parent session to those of you who want them.

Thank you and I wish you a wonderful week.

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sarah Ward bio:

Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC/SLP has over 25 years of experience in diagnostic evaluations and treatment of executive dysfunction.  Ms. Ward holds a faculty appointment at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. Sarah is an internationally recognized expert on executive function and presents seminars and workshops on the programs and strategies she has developed with her Co-Director Kristen Jacobsen. Their 360 Thinking Executive Function Program received the Innovative Promising Practices Award from the National Organization CHADD. She has presented to and consulted with over 750 public and private schools in Massachusetts, across the United States and internationally.

Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC/SLP has over 25 years of experience in diagnostic evaluations and treatment of executive dysfunction.  Ms. Ward holds a faculty appointment at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions where she provides instruction to graduate level students in the assessment and treatment of individuals with traumatic brain injury and other cognitive communication disorders.  Sarah is an internationally recognized expert on executive function and presents seminars and workshops on the programs and strategies she has developed with her Co-Director Kristen Jacobsen. Their 360 Thinking Executive Function Program received the Innovative Promising Practices Award from the National Organization CHADD. She has presented to and consulted with over 500 public and private schools in Massachusetts and across the United States. Other awards received include: MGH Expertise in Clinical Practice Award, the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Faculty in Excellence Award from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions (2002, 2011) and ACE award from ASHA 2013 and 2016.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sept. 29 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope you are well.  As you know, tomorrow is scheduled to be a half day for students in order to give all teachers and staff the opportunity to attend professional development sessions so they can advance their skill sets.  I am very pleased to announce the Social Emotional Learning sessions are at a high demand.  That means McCall teachers and staff are electing to further their learning in this area.  I am looking forward to seeing how our teachers and staff will be integrating what they will be learning in the PD sessions into their practices.

I would also like to give everyone an update on the Phase II Expansion Project.  This week the contractors started putting the steel beams in place.  This is an exciting step forward because we can start seeing the skeleton of McCall’s new wing being built.  I am attaching a few pictures to help you see the work that is being done.  I am also happy to say that teachers like Mr. Tom Awiszus is collaborating with the Phase II contractors to have them help the Technology and Engineering students further their learning about construction.  This is authentic learning at its very best!

Thank you and I wish you all a great week!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sept. 22 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts regarding how to support your students if they are struggling at school.  I know parents often have trouble figuring out how involved they should be when helping their students who are not doing well at school.  Some parents feel it is important to be hands off because they want to foster independence in their students and allow them the chance to advocate for themselves.  I understand this approach and agree that students – particularly 7th and 8th graders should know how to approach teachers to seek out support.  However, many students do not know how to self-advocate without guidance from adults.  Therefore, the students might not follow through with what their parents had asked them to do, or they may self-advocate in ways that lead the teachers to interpret the behaviors as any thing other than self-advocacy.

There are also parents – particularly those with younger students – who feel the advocacy needs to solely come from the parents.  Doing so may take away the opportunity for students to practice how to take charge of their own education.  Ultimately, how much parent involvement should take place would depend on the needs and maturity levels of the students.  However, the most effective approaches I have seen parents take always involved some level of communication between the parents and the teachers, as well as some level of involvement of the students in the process.  For example, I worked with a family whose student often struggled with homework completion and keeping up with the pacing of a particular class.  The parents met with the teacher when they first noticed the student was struggling, and together they devised a plan to help the student keep up with her school work as well as develop her skills to advocate for herself.  The plan involved the student and the parent sitting down to craft a message to be sent to the teachers on evenings when she struggled to complete all of her assignments.  That message, sent through the student’s email account, described the work the student was able to do that evening and proposed a plan on what she had planned to do to finish the portion that she was not able to complete that night.

When that student struggled to understand what the teacher taught in class, the parent and the student again sit down to craft a message to the teacher to request a time for the student to come for extra help.  The parents would then connect with the teacher after the scheduled extra help appointment to check to see if the student actually showed up.  If she did, the parent would ask if the teacher thought the extra help session was successful and whether the student used the time productively.

By taking this approach, the parent was able to coach her daughter the appropriate ways to advocate for herself and to monitor whether the student was following through with the plan to receive help.  Just as importantly, there is coordination between home and family, so the teacher was able to reinforce and support what the parent and the student are doing at home.

I hope all your students will have a successful school year, however, if you find yourself in a situation where your student needs your help with school, please consider taking an approach where you are connecting with the teachers while helping your student to develop his or her self-advocacy skills.  As always, I am available to support you if you need it.

Here are two reminders for the week:

Clubs and After School Activities – Many of the clubs and after school activities will be starting this coming week.  We have posted the information for each activity on our school website.  You can also access that information by clicking here.  We ask you to reach out to each club advisor directly if you have additional questions about the activities themselves.

Flu Clinic – Please see below for a message from the Winchester Health Department.

The Winchester Health Department in collaboration with the School District, is pleased to again offer flu clinics at every school this fall.  

·         On-line registration will be available on Monday, September23rd.

·         Go to: and click on the school flu vaccination icon at the bottom of the page.

·         Registration will end on October 3rd.

At the on-line registration site, you will find the information you need to sign your child up for either the FluMist nasal spray or flu shot. If you have a question after reviewing the information, please contact the Health Department at or 781-721-7121.

We encourage you to enroll your child in a school clinic. A flu vaccination is an important step in preventing the flu virus.

Thank you, and I wish a great week!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sept. 15 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  I recently came across this article from the PBS Kids for Parents website which I would like to share with you.  The author, a social worker, wrote about the struggle some parents experience dealing with their students’ meltdowns that occur when they return home from school.  The author provided some practical advice that all of us parents may find to be useful.  The one suggestion I found to be the most compelling pertained to giving students some space after they return home from school.  Due to my busy work schedule (and my kids’ own busy activity schedules), I often find myself trying to squeeze as much quality time out of the limited amount of moments we have together.  Therefore, I frequently bombard them with questions about school when I return home.  After reflecting on the information from the article, I realized despite my best intentions my efforts may be cutting into my children’s down time and taking away their ability to recharge.  In fact, my wife and I do the same thing to each other as well.  By inquiring about each other’s work day the moment we see each other, we are pushing each other to revisit the pressure we experienced during the last 8-9 hours and neglecting our need to take break from those sources of stress.  My wife and I now promise each other that we will refrain from “shop talk” (she’s a public school educator as well) and focus our conversations other things that bring us joy.  I am including the article here, and I hope you will find it as helpful as I did.

I would also like to invite everyone to come to a talk by Sarah Ward on developing executive functioning skills in our students.  The event will be held on October 8 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the McCall Auditorium.  I thank both Parent to Parent and the MPA for funding this awesome event.  I have attended many of Ms. Ward’s lectures and other professional development sessions.  I find that the strategies she offer are not only effectively but are also very easy to implement.  Her thinking about teaching students also aligns with what our district and school values.  That is be clear with our students about the learning goals and expectations,but provide them with the flexibility to develop the skill sets that are meaningful to them.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message, and I wish you all a great week!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sept. 8 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  The McCall faculty spent quite a lot of our faculty meeting time last year talking about the behavior expectations we have for our students and for ourselves.  After considering the faculty and staff’s input and our discussions, we decided to summarize our values with the phrase McCall for ALL.  The acronym A.L.L. stands for the following:

A for Act Responsibly
L for Lead with Integrity
L for be a Life Long Learner 

The acronym ALL not only signifies the types of behaviors we should ask students (and ourselves) to strive toward, the word ALL also resonates strongly with me because it represents the primary charge given to us as public school educators.  There is no doubt we are a successful school, but it is important for us to constantly reflect on whether our practices have allowed ALL students to be successful or whether they have benefited most students, but excluded some.  It is just as important for us to constantly think about whether our practices have brought about success in ALL parts of a student.  For example, were the academic successes many of our students experienced gained at the expense of mental health and the development of skill sets such as problem-solving and creativity?

I think much of the work our staff will be taking on or continue to engage in this year (e.g., co-teaching, social emotional learning, and performance-based assessments) relate to teaching ALL McCall students so no one is excluded from experiencing success.  Just as importantly, the work we have done and will continue to do is all about teaching ALL aspects of a student so success in one area does not come at the expense of other areas.  The McCall faculty and staff will continue think about how we can incorporate the idea of McCall for ALL into our everyday practices with our students and with each other.  I would like to share with you this welcome sign created by the school’s Acceptance and Inclusion Committee.  It embodies the idea of McCall for ALL and will be displayed prominently in our school to remind everyone what we value.

Here are some additional reminders:

Student Handbook - I would like to ask everyone to review the McCall Student Handbook included in the Resource page of the school website before the start of the school year.  We have made some important changes to the following areas, so I highly advise all families to review the information with their students in order to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding our practices and policies.

·                Attendance (Pg. 19)
·                Student Conduct (Pg. 31)
·                Disciplinary Actions (Pg. 32)
·                Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender (Pg. 49)
·                Inclusive Sports and Extracurricular Activity Participation Policy (Pg. 53)
·                Parents Bringing Student Items to School (Pg. 16)

Upcoming Events - Please mark your calendars with the following events.  All of these events are also posted on the school calendar on the school website.  You can access it by clicking here.

September 25 – McCall Picture Day
October 8, 7:00-9:00 pm – Sarah Ward Parent Presentation on Executive Functioning
October 10, 7:00-9:00 pm – McCall Back to School Night for Parents and Guardians

McCall Parent Association -  I would like to give the McCall Parent Association (MPA) a shout out for they do so much to support our school.  They held a successful parent coffee this past Friday, and their first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 24 from 7:00-9:00 pm in the McCall Library.  You are welcome to attend if you are available.  I also encourage everyone to sign up for the their weekly newsletter by clicking here.  The MPA newsletter is an informative resource that helps everyone keep updated on the school, its activities, as well as events in the Winchester community.  It also gives you ideas about how to support the school, its staff, and the students.

Thank you and enjoy the upcoming week!

James Lin
McCall Middle School