Sunday, June 20, 2021

Thank you to the McCall Community

 Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,

 

I hope you are well.  The unprecedented 20-21 school year is a wrap.  Hooray!  A public school is by nature an organization that is not easy to change.  The main reason is because we are working with the well-being of children, so any sudden modifications to the system that are not well-thought out or well implemented can cause profound negative impact on kids and their families.  Running a school is akin to driving a semi truck as opposed to a sports car.  Navigating through this school year is like driving that semi truck through a narrow mountain pass.  I am extremely proud of how all of us – teachers, staff, parents, and caregivers – all came together to help us all make it through this journey.  I am particularly proud of how well our students – especially our 8th graders – responded to the changes and challenges that were thrown in their way throughout the year.  It was by no means a perfect school year, but I believe it was a successful one by all standards of measurement.

 

As proud as I am of what the McCall community was able to accomplish this year, I am also mindful of the fact that we still have a lot of work to do.  As the pandemic exposed many of the vulnerabilities and flaws of our society, it did the same for McCall as well.  Even though I like to think McCall is a school for ALL, this school year showed us that we still have mountains to climb in terms of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.  These topics will be on my mind as my team and I prepare for the 21-22 school year.

 

I would like to end this message by bidding farewell to our colleagues and friends who retired during this school year.  Their contributions to McCall have been immense, and they will be sorely missed.  Our retirees are:

 

Ms. Pam DiMatteo, Speech and Language Pathologist – 15 years of service.

Ms. Phyllis Greenspan – Clinical Social Worker – 19 years of service.

Ms. Bonnie Hourican – Administrative Assistant – 14 years of service.

Sgt. Dan Perenick – School Resource Officer – 14 years of service.

Ms. Jane Sheehan – Math Teacher – 12 years of service

Mr. Ken Tully – Social Studies Teacher – 46 years of service.

 

I would be remiss if I do not recognize the work Ms. Beth Lepore who will be leaving McCall as her youngest child moves on to WHS.  Beth was the MPA co-president last year, and she helmed the organization on her own this year.  Being a PFA president is not an easy job during a typical year, so the work Beth has done navigating the organization through two unprecedented school years is especially impressive.  She had no playbooks to follow and had to essentially reinvent how we do fund raisers, 8th grade end of the year events, and staff appreciation events among all the other things the MPA does for the McCall community.  I will miss Beth as a partner, an advisor, and a friend.

 

I thank all of you for the support you have given us this year, and I wish all of you a great summer vacation.  Here’s to a brighter 21-22 school year!

 




 

James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

Sunday, March 28, 2021

March 28 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

 

I am writing to let you know a little bit about what we discussed during this Thursday afternoon’s student meeting about the Asian American hate incidents that have been occurring across the country.  Thank you to those who encouraged your students to join us.  We had about 25 students who joined the group and about twenty staff who came to facilitate the session.

 

I decided not to focus on the specific events that happened across the country given that some students may not have been aware of or are overwhelmed by the horrific events such as the mass shooting that occurred in Atlanta two weeks ago.  Instead, I felt it would be more appropriate to talk about the microaggression that Asian Americans and people from different marginalized groups often experience in their everyday lives.  These events are subtle and sometimes delivered with good intentions.  However, they are just as damaging to the recipients of these behaviors as physical assaults, and if these behaviors go unchecked, they can lead to more overt and violent aggression such as physical attacks.

 

At the start of the session, I showed the students the following video called Lunch Box Moments.  I believe the testimonies of the folks in the video demonstrated very well how hurtful comments disguised as jokes targeting something that is deeply connected to one’s identity (e.g., the food they eat) can cause an impact on that person’s well-being. 

 

 


 

During our meeting, the students shared that they thought the folks in the video experienced feelings related to shame, embarrassment, awkwardness, worthlessness, and fear during their Lunch Box Moments.  These are the feelings that can lead the aggressors to believe and internalize that it is acceptable to exclude or marginalize other people who are different than they are.  These are also the feelings that can lead the targets to believe they do not deserve to be treated equitably, and what they value about their own cultures and other aspects of themselves are shameful and should stay hidden.

 

When I think about our anti-racism and anti-bullying work at McCall, I do believe we do a pretty good job of getting students to understand that overtly racist, homophobic, sexist, and biased behaviors are unacceptable.  What we need to spend more time and effort on is helping everyone within the community understand microaggression and what it really is – abusive behaviors.  We have to do a better job of helping everyone to understand there is no place for microaggression in our community, and we have to teach everyone to respond appropriately when they encounter microaggression in the moment.  Given that microaggression by definition are behaviors that are subtle and are often delivered as compliments (e.g., “You are so handsome for a dark skinned boy”or “I can't believe girls can also be good at this sport”), they are not easily detectable by adults who are monitoring the interactions that are happening among students – especially when they are in large group settings.  Therefore, it is equally important we all help our students understand the importance of reporting these incidents to proper authorities if they witness them as bystanders or experience them as targets.

 

Last Tuesday’s meeting ended with someone posing the question, “If we experience microaggression, how do we confront it?”  I provided the following document called Racism Interruptions to all the students and the adults at the session as part of my response to this query.  I am attaching it here for your reference.  This document includes many types of responses people can say when they are facing overt racist verbal abuses or comments that are more subtle and take the form of compliments or part of everyday banter.  I hope you and your students will find it useful the next time you encounter your own Lunch Box Moment.

 

Thank you,

 

James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

Sunday, February 28, 2021

February 28 Update

 Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well. I am reaching out to discuss the race-based attacks that has been reported across the country as well as in our local communities. I am sure all of you have heard about the increased incidents of physical assaults targeting Asian American elderly residents out West in the Bay Area. One of these attacks resulted in the death of 84-year-old Asian gentleman named Vicha Ratanapadkee.

Local communities such as Winchester and the town I live in have been subjected to public Zoom bombing incidents that involve hate speech directed at local officials who are people of color. Jeremy Lin, an Asian American professional basketball player of the Linsanity fame from several years back, recently came out and stated that he has been called “coronavirus” and has experienced other racial taunts while he was on the court. Mr. Lin wrote the following:

“Something is changing in this generation of Asian Americans. We are tired of being told that we don’t experience racism, we are tired of being told to keep our heads down and not make trouble. We are tired of Asian American kids growing up and being asked where they’re REALLY from, of having our eyes mocked, of being objectified as exotic or being told we’re inherently unattractive. We are tired of the stereotypes in Hollywood affecting our psyche and limiting who we think we can be. We are tired of being invisible, of being mistaken for our colleague or told our struggles aren’t as real.”


Mr. Lin’s claims are being investigated, but I can assure you the behaviors he described and the impacts of those behaviors are very real. I have experienced them personally while growing up in this country, and I have experienced them as an adult in both professional and personal settings. Racist tropes directed at Asians such as being asked, “Where are you REALLY from?” and comments about all Asians look the same are referred to as microaggressions because they are not seen as egregious as racial slurs or physical assaults. These behaviors are often exhibited by folks who were not intending to hurt others. However, other scholars of race and discrimination such as Ibram Kendi prefers not to call these acts macroaggression because the impact of the behaviors on their recipients can be as damaging as being targeted with racial slurs or even experiencing physical assaults. Instead of microaggression, Kendi calls these behaviors racial abuse.

The physical and emotional impacts on individuals who experience microaggression or other more open acts of racism are not just felt in the moment that they occur. They linger long after the incidents had happened. Cathy Park Hong in her book Minor Feelings wrote, “What is harder to report is not the [racist] incident itself but the stress of its anticipation.” Those who have experienced racial abuse knows very well how it feels to walk into an unfamiliar setting wondering if and when they will be the recipient of racial abuse.

In the age of social distancing, microaggression among students are harder for adults to detect because opportunities for interpersonal interactions have decreased. However, they appear through social media, gestures and other nonverbal communications, and other forms of communication that adults do not even know about.

McCall teachers and staff will continue to monitor and address incidents of microaggression. We will also continue to check our own practices to reduce bias. I also ask all of you to look for them outside of the school day as well. I hope I can count on you to inform my staff and me when your students are expressing to you that they have witnessed or experienced these forms of abuse. Those reports should not be ignored, and we are committed to partnering with you to address these difficult issues when they are brought to our attention.

 

Thank you,



James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

Sunday, January 10, 2021

January 10 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

 

I hope you are well.  I am sure by now all of you have heard enough from political leaders and TV pundits about feelings of anger, outrage, or shock regarding Wednesday’s event at the Capitol, so I will refrain from going there in this message.  I will, however, say after George Floyd, countless internet postings of “Karens” in action, and our own racist graffiti incidents during the past two years, none of us should be surprised that open expressions of racism and hate can happen at any time.  We need no more evidence to show us that no communities are immune to racism, we do not live in a post-racial society, and racism has been and will continue to be deeply woven into the fabric of American society.

 

I believe what happened on Wednesday at the Capitol means we have to maintain our commitment to our work with SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and PBA (Performance Based Assessment).  This is because being antiracist educator means placing a focus on humanity in our teaching practices.  Our teachers are putting a lot of effort into shifting away from pushing content and assessing mastery by using less than meaningful methods such as those on standardized tests.  Instead, our SEL and PBA efforts means an increase of practice such as:

 

  • Focusing on critical thinking skills and personal reflections.
  • Explicitly letting students know what they are thinking and feeling are important.
  • Being intentional with the language we are using (e.g., using correct names and pronouns).

 

If it is not clear before, it is clear now that student success can no longer be determined by how quickly we can get them to Honors and AP courses or how well they score on standardized tests.  The recent events are telling us that our job as educators is about how well we can get students to understand how the information and skills we are teaching them are connected to our humanity, what does equity and justice mean, how to tell the difference between facts and disinformation, and how to regulate their emotions when things do not go their way.

 

Thank you, and I wish you all well.

 

James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

Sunday, December 13, 2020

December 13 Update

Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,

Despite all the COVID craziness that comes with being a "COVID Principal", I had a really good week. I saw a lot of cool things that happened in both the in-person and remote classes, and one of the highlights was observing a virtual music class. The class started with the teacher asking students to type into Chat their responses to the question, “What songs gets you through days that feel like a ‘sideways thumb’?” The students came up with ideas such as “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles and “In Summer” from the movie Frozen.

After engaging in short conversations with the students about why they selected those songs, the teacher proceeded to have the students take part in some warm-up exercises. During the first exercise, she presented statements such as “I like to sleep” and “I am left-handed”. Instead of using words to respond to each statement, students were asked to demonstrate different singing postures to show their agreement or disagreement. The next warm-up activity involved the teacher showing the students a lip moving exercise which she described as “like playing a slide whistle". After performing the exercise with her, a student commented, “I learn about slide whistles from watching Spongebob.”

The most creative part of the lesson involved the students practicing singing a round. The teacher presented a slide that included a video of her singing one part of the a round played at the same time as another video of her signing the second part of the round. She used the video to have the students practice singing both parts of the song.

Education is ultimately an endeavor grounded in relationships, because students learn best when they have a positive, trusting relationship with their teachers. Virtual teaching takes a lot of those relationship building strategies teachers have in their toolboxes away. For example, teachers frequently rely on reading the body language of the students as well as many other non-verbal cues expressed by them when assessing their engagement in their lessons. Those tools are gone when students decline to turn on their cameras or are severely limited due to what you can see even when students turn on their cameras.

Throughout this school year, I have seen many teachers engage in outside-of-the-box thinking to compensate for the tried-and-true strategies that are no longer available for them to use. Creative teachers are taking approaches like implementing warm up activities to “prime the pump” and get students to engage in discussions on Zoom because even the most talkative students are often reluctant to speak on Zoom. On the surface those efforts may seem like teachers are wasting valuable instructional time engaging students in pointless chit chat. However, they go a long way in establishing relationships between teachers and students as well as students with other students.

Another approach I see many teachers take to engage students in their lessons is to break up the lesson into different activities. Teachers may begin the lesson by delivering direct instruction with teacher talk, then shifting to small group work, independent work, or multimedia presentations. Bystanders observing the lessons may assume no learning is taking place when students are not interacting directly with teachers, however, that is often not the case. Not a lot of students can sustain attention for an entire 40-minute class listening to an adult talking to them for the entire time especially through Zoom. Relying on lectures and other teacher-centered teaching strategies were not effective prior to COVID, and they will not increase student learning in either the Hybrid or Fully Remote models.

We knew coming into this school year that neither the Hybrid Model nor the Fully Remote model would be as effective educationally as fully in-person teaching. Yet, these were the options that would allow us to deliver instruction and keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible. We could lament the fact that we are not able to do what we could in a “normal” year, but this week I was able to see World Language teachers using animation videos to help students learn vocabulary and remote Math and Science teachers using applications such as Pear Deck to encourage students to participate in class discussions. Despite the barriers created by mask-wearing and social distancing, I saw an in-person science teacher still managing to create opportunities for students to work together and create a scientific model to represent convection currents.

We have a lot to worry and feel pessimistic about these days, but I encourage everyone to zoom out once in a while and think about what McCall teachers and the students have accomplished up to this point - however different those accomplishments may look compared to what “normal” used to be.



Thank you,



James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Nov. 22 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,


I hope you are well.  It seems a little odd to think about giving thanks during a year that is filled with so many challenges.  However, Thanksgiving is ultimately about expressing gratitude, so I feel compelled to reflect on what I am grateful for these past few months.


I am thankful that every day I can see students in the building even though it takes me a moment to figure out who said hi to me because they are all wearing masks.


I am thankful that I am able to be with students and hear the “middle school things” they have to say to me.  For example, there is an 8th grader who enjoys the school lunches so much that he feels compelled to give me in depth descriptions of each meal he has eaten.  There is a sixth grader who somehow always finds me during the day so he can share a fun fact he has read on the internet.  Lastly, I enjoy hearing a 7th grade student describing the system she has put in place to help her determine which mask she would wear each day she is in school.


I am thankful for the resiliency that the remote teachers are exhibiting when they have to manage Zoom and other technical issues that are beyond their control and to figure out on the fly class management issues they never had to contend with during in-person instruction.


I am thankful for all the in-person teachers and staff who have to put aside their worries about contracting the virus and put forth their best efforts to ensure they are delivering the best instruction possible.


I am thankful for members of our administrative team and every teacher and staff member who has volunteered their time to cover classes and take on additional duties because we are short staffed almost every day.


I am thankful for our nurses who are on duty every weekend to help with the contact tracing effort.  I am grateful for the fact they are willing to put themselves at risk every time they have to treat students with COVID symptoms.


I am thankful for our custodial and building services staff for working tirelessly to ensure every inch of our building is clean and disinfected and to maximize the limited amount of space we have to ensure we can accommodate as many in-person students as we can.


I am thankful for all our mental health professionals for supporting all our students and staff and helping them manage the additional levels of stress and anxiety that are created by the pandemic.


I am thankful for the McCall Parent Association and all the parents and guardians out there who continue to provide the school and its staff with financial and emotional support during this difficult school year.


I am thankful for all the parents and guardians out there who are working so hard to support their students during the at home days so they can access the teachers’ remote instructions and the asynchronous work the students have been assigned to do.


I would like to end by sharing this CBS News segment on offering thanks during the pandemic.  In it, a gentleman named Gabriel offered this thought to the reporter:

 

“I'm going to have an amazing Thanksgiving all by myself.  I will sit on a park bench, and I will think about the great Thanksgivings that I've had in my life and be thankful for them. One bad Thanksgiving out of 63 amazing Thanksgivings – that's pretty good odds. Maybe we should be a little more thankful for what we do have than constantly be complaining about what we don't have.”

 

The entire segment is included here

 

Given all the reports regarding the increased rate of infections across the country, it is likely our work educating the students will become more challenging before it becomes easier.  I think it is important that we continue to focus on what we are able to accomplish with the limited amount of resources we have as opposed to lamenting what we are not able to do with the resources we wish we have but are not available to us at this moment.

 

Thank you for your continued support, and I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving.

 

James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School  

Sunday, November 8, 2020

November 8 Update

Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well. I would like to begin by wishing all members of the McCall community who are veterans of the United States armed forces and their family members a happy Veteran’s Day. This include McCall teachers Mr. John Gill, Mr. Larry Farelli as well our head custodian Mr. Phil Doucette and our School Resource Officer Officer Dan Perenick - all of whom have served in the US military prior to starting their current career with Winchester Public Schools. On behalf of the entire McCall community, we thank you for the services and sacrifices you have made for our country.

Please don’t forget there is no school this coming Wednesday due to the fact that it is Veteran’s Day. No Zoom sessions will be held that day.

I would like to take this moment to remind everyone of a few things.

  • Although we had encountered a few cases where students had tested positive for COVID or were deemed to be close contacts and therefore had to undergo quarantine, the school community as a whole has been able to avoid a schoolwide spread of the disease and remain open. This is largely due to the fact that all staff, parents, guardians, and students have been vigilant in the participation in our mitigation efforts. It is important to remember not to let up on our work as we head into the holiday season when we are all tempted to travel and visit with friends and families. Please remember that the travel order that was put in place by the Governor in August is still in effect. Part of the order includes the requirement to quarantine after you return from higher risk states which include those that neighbor Massachusetts such as Rhode Island and Connecticut. I ask all families to please review the travel information posted on the Department of Health website (please click here) and take all necessary steps to do your part in order to keep all members of the McCall community healthy and safe. 
 
  • Many of our teachers and staff members worked very hard this past summer to create Curriculum Overview documents for all the courses that are being taught at McCall Middle School. I would like to make everyone aware that this information is now posted on the WPS COVID website (please click here). These documents include helpful information such as the learning standards and essential questions that teachers plan to teach and include in every course McCall offers. I highly recommend families who plan to withdraw students from McCall for an extended period of time to review this information. 
 
  • The holiday season can be a stressful time for families who are in need. I would like everyone to know that the Winchester Gives Back program is here to help all those who need assistance. Please review this letter to learn how to access this resource if you need support (please click here).
 
  • Don’t forget that the McCall Spirit Wear sale held by the MPA is now taking place. Please click here if you are interested in purchasing cool clothing with Winchester and McCall logos.



Thank you, and I wish everyone a good week.



James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School