Principal's Messages

Principal's Message - September 17, 2019

posted Sep 17, 2019, 8:30 AM by Vice President Communications

Happy September Parents and Guardians, 

We are off to a good start to the school year. The students have become reacquainted with school routines and procedures. The teachers have worked diligently to build a caring and safe community, establish academic and behavioral expectations, and connect with every student. The newly completed reading and math data from student assessments will assist classroom and support teachers in understanding student abilities, assessing strengths as well as areas for growth. Teachers also use this data to deliver differentiated instruction, and provide extra support for students not yet meeting grade level expectations. 

Every Day Counts 
Help your child receive at least eight hours of sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and arrive at school on time everyday. When a child is late, s/he may miss many important information, direction, and instruction given by the teacher. This leaves the child not knowing what to do when s/he arrives late. Furthermore, for some classroom, this is the prime time when the teacher works on community building, when students can check in with each other as well as with the teacher to go over the daily schedule, check in how everyone is feeling, and what everyone’s goals are for the day. If this time is lost, it can cause students to feel disconnected to the classroom community and team. 

Please consider planning family trips during school holidays. No independent study assignments can fully replace the true experience of learning like at school. Independent studies are available if the student will be out of school 5 or more consecutive days. Please allow teachers at least 2 weeks notifications to create the work required. If your child is sick, report the absence by calling 925-682-8000, ext. 7242 or report the absence online at 

Keeping our Children Safe 
We need your help and cooperation to keep our students safe. When visiting the school during school hours, please check in and out at the office, obtain and wear a visitor’s sticker. When the school bell rings at 8:00, please make your way off campus. The playground needs to be emptied as PE classes begin. Especially on Wednesday after school, please sit at the tables in the courtyard until dismissal if you arrive early. This routine allows classrooms to have quiet space until class has ended for the day. Furthermore, although primary grades are dismissed at 12:30 on Wednesdays, upper grades are still in school until 12:40. All students need to be supervised by their parents if they play on the playground after school. 

If you and your child walk or bike to school, practice the following safety tips: Make eye contact with drivers, look left-right-left before entering the street, use crosswalks, bike on the right side, with the flow of traffic. 

If you drive to school or/and pick up your child, please slow down, yield to all pedestrian, avoid talking on the cell and making U-turns in the middle of Wiget and Cerezo Drive. The drive-thru is an idle free area for drop offs and pick-ups only, not parking. Idling is harmful to our air quality and our health. The Student Climate and Parent Safety Handbook contains information about the drive-thru procedures. Lastly, reserve handicap parking and blue zones for individuals with disabilities. 

Up Coming Events 

9/17 & 9/18: Picture Day
9/25: 8:00-8:30am Sing Outs Grades 3rd-5th /8:30- 9:00am Grades TK-2nd - “Respect” All are welcome (MUR) 
10/2: International Walk to School Day (Thank you Carolyn Bargagliotti & Meg Gibson Keese for heading this event)
10/12: 8:45-12:00pm Community Service Day (Thank you Caroline Clerempuy & Justin Trana for heading this event) 

Yours truly, 
Lang Luong 

Principal's Message - August 2019

posted Aug 9, 2019, 8:05 AM by Vice President Communications

Dear Families and Students of Walnut Acres,


Welcome back to the 2019-20 school year!  I hope you had a restful summer and are ready to begin another great year. Thank you to the families who attended the Meet and Greet the Principal in July.  It was a pleasure meeting everyone.  


There are changes to the staff. Please welcome Beth Beuchotte (1stgrade), Doug Martila (SDC), Preet Sohdi (psychologist), Deanna Nixon (librarian), and Nicki Clarke (SDC).  Chloe Park (long term sub office manager), and Marika Reisinger (long term sub attendance clerk) have done an amazing job running the office. Amanda Graves switched from fourth to third grade while Mariteresa Arenson moved from second to fourth grade. Heather Garcia Roy will be teaching a TK-K class.  The TK-K team and I have thoughtfully placed students who can work more independently into this class since there will be two grade levels. Our first grade teacher, Melanie McGoldrick, will be out until the end of September due to health reasons.  We already have an excellent long-term sub that has agreed to take the job.  I will announce her name as soon as the paperwork has been completed.  We wish Ms. McGoldrick a speedy recovery.


A few other changes also occurred over the summer to improve our campus.  The district upgraded our Wi-Fi network, providing better access to more computer programs and software.  Thanks to the passage of the measure bond, there is now a new fence along the side of the school parallel to Ebano Dr.  Trees have been trimmed, classrooms cleaned, and floors waxed.  Thanks to your support and donations, we have purchased 8 flat screen monitors and 17 iPads for classroom use.  


We are excited to dive deep into math instruction and learning this year as teachers attended a math training on August 8 and 9 for our newly adopted math curriculum, Bridges.  We thank all of you for supporting us in this new endeavor.


I invite you to attend Jaguar Day, 8/12/19, 3:00- 7:00 PM.  This is a great time to meet other families, sign up to help with the Parent Faculty Committee events and activities, and find out your child’s class assignment.  But first, remember to update your personal information on the district Homelink if you have not already.  You can do this by visiting: You will not receive your child’s classroom assignment until your personal information has been updated.  Assistance with Homelink will also be available on Jaguar Day.  If you are a new family, or have a student who is enrolling at Walnut Acres for the first time, please go to the office through Monday, August 12 to get your verification code to enter your new student in HomeLink. You will need to show a photo ID (such as a driver's license) to receive the letter that contains your verification code.


Below are important dates for the month of August:


8/12       Jaguar Day 3:00-7 PM

8/13       New Student Brown Bag Lunch (Grades TK-5)      

8/15       Back to School Coffee 8:00 AM, First Day of School

8/20       PFC Meeting Library 7 pm                              

8/20       4th Grade Back to School Night 5:45-7 pm

8/21       5th Grade Back to School Night 6-8 pm

8/27       3rd Grade Back to School Night 5:45-7pm

8/28       1st Grade Back to School Night 5:45-7 pm

8/29       2nd Grade Back to School Night 5:45-7 pm


School starts on 8/15. I look forward to seeing everyone on campus!  



Ms. Lang Luong


Principal's Message July 2019

posted Aug 4, 2019, 3:47 PM by PFC President   [ updated Aug 4, 2019, 3:47 PM by PFC Webmaster ]

Dear Walnut Acres Community,

Hope your summer is off to a great start.  I am honored and excited to join the Walnut Acres Elementary School team as your Principal.  I have heard of many great things that are happening here and cannot wait to meet all of you. 

Previously, I served as a vice principal and an interim principal for three years in San Leandro.  Before becoming an administrator, I was a Response to Intervention Coordinator, a Math Coach, a science teacher, and a classroom teacher in various grade levels for 20 plus years in Union City, Lafayette, and Berkeley.  Currently, I live in Berkeley with my husband of 21 years. 

The best thing about being a principal is having the opportunities to interact with everybody and seeing our students thrive and enjoy learning. There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing beautiful smiles and witnessing acts of kindness!  In my spare time, I exercise at the gym, watch black and white classic movies, and dine out.  But, the best luxury is sleep. 

As we work together, I hope you will help me maintain our school to be a safe, pleasant, and caring community, where all are valued and provided the opportunity and support to be their best.  My door is always open.  So, please stop by to say hello. My first day on campus will be August 1.  I look forward to working with you and continuing to grow the excellence that is happening at Walnut Acres.  Have a fabulous summer.


Ms. Lang Luong

Principal's Message June 2019

posted Jun 26, 2019, 10:13 AM by Vice President Communications   [ updated Jun 26, 2019, 10:13 AM by PFC Webmaster ]

Hello Lovely Walnut Acres Families,

I am checking in with you one last time to thank you for your kind and gracious farewells to me and to fill you in on crucial personnel updates. I so appreciate the notes, the hugs, the gifts, the good wishes and May’s memorable sing-out surprises! Please wave when you see me out riding my beautiful Walnut Acres-colored bike and know that while tending my garden I will be thinking of you all! My prayers and best wishes remain with our children, our staff, and our families.  

New Walnut Acres Principal

By now you probably know that Walnut Acres has a new educational leader - Ms. Lang Luong! Ms. Luong has been a vice-principal and interim principal in the San Leandro School District. She is also an experienced teacher; she has a wealth of experience teaching Reading and Writing Workshop. I have no doubt that this teaching practice will guide her facilitation of continually-enhanced Workshop rigor. It is also gratifying to report that Ms. Luong has served as Math Coach in her district. Her conceptual understanding of how to teach math and her experience guiding teachers will powerfully inform her skill at leading the Bridges Math implementation.

There will be a Pot Luck Open House to meet Ms. Lang Luong on Sunday, July 28, 2019starting at 4 p.m. hosted by teacher, Rebecca Cowles, at her home. The address is 5367 Meadow Wood Place, Concord. Bring a favorite treat and drink to share as you join the fun, meet the new principal, and show her Walnut Acres hospitality in action!

I am going to turn this principal message over to Ms. Luong, but first there are a few other important personnel updates…

New Walnut Acres 1st grade Teacher

I am happy to inform you that we have a 1st grade teacher joining us named Beth Beuchotte. She comes to us from Strandwood Elementary in Pleasant Hill, where she taught kindergarten. She is delighted to be at Walnut Acres. She is already at work bonding with her new colleagues to create their 1st grade professional learning team. Thanks to our gracious Workshop coach, Nicole Padoan, Mrs. Beuchotte will get introductory trainings to Reading and Writing Workshop in September and October. She will also participate in the August “Getting Started” Bridges training at our site. Beth is married and loves playing and coaching sports with her own 2 children. Prior to becoming a teacher she worked as a sales manager in the fashion industry in New York. We welcome Beth Beuchotte to Walnut Acres!

New Walnut Acres Librarian

We also have an experienced MDUSD librarian joining the Walnut Acres team. Her name is Deanna Nixon and she has served students in the district for over 20 years as librarian, teacher, and administrator. She will be coordinating the libraries at Mountain View and Walnut Acres this year. Mrs. Nixon looks forward to supporting an inviting reading environment at Walnut Acres, enhancing student-owned learning, and supporting Workshop rigor. She has not had previous Workshop collaborative opportunities with colleagues, but her own 2 children benefited from the approach in Orinda and she will participate in the fall training to prepare herself for the work.  

Seeking Noon Supervisors

There is also a Walnut Acres personnel need I would like to pass along to you. Walnut Acres is seeking 3 new noon supervisors for the 2019-20 school year. If you would like a job that allows you to observe your own children at lunch and recess, while supporting safety and problem-solving strategy practice for all our students, please consider this 7 ½ hour-a-week job. You will work from approximately 11:15 a.m.-1:00 p.m. 4 or 5 days a week with some flexibility to your schedule. We also hope to develop a strong noon supervisor substitute list to enhance that flexibility. For more information please follow this link. You can apply on Edjoin.

And here is your new principal…

Dear Walnut Acres Community,

Hope your summer is off to a great start.  I am honored and excited to join the Walnut Acres Elementary School team as your Principal.  I have heard of many great things that are happening here and cannot wait to meet all of you. 

Previously, I served as a vice principal and an interim principal for three years in San Leandro.  Before becoming an administrator, I was a Response to Intervention Coordinator, a Math Coach, a science teacher, and a classroom teacher in various grade levels for 20 plus years in Union City, Lafayette, and Berkeley.  Currently, I live in Berkeley with my husband of 21 years. 

The best thing about being a principal is having the opportunities to interact with everybody and seeing our students thrive and enjoy learning. There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing beautiful smiles and witnessing acts of kindness!  In my spare time, I exercise at the gym, watch black and white classic movies, and dine out.  But, the best luxury is sleep. 

As we work together, I hope you will help me maintain our school to be a safe, pleasant, and caring community, where all are valued and provided the opportunity and support to be their best.  My door is always open.  So, please stop by to say hello. My first day on campus will be August 1.  I look forward to working with you and continuing to grow the excellence that is happening at Walnut Acres.  Have a fabulous summer.


Ms. Lang Luong

May 2019 Principal's Message

posted May 7, 2019, 4:12 PM by PFC Secretary   [ updated May 7, 2019, 4:12 PM by PFC Webmaster ]

Welcome to May at Walnut Acres, Parents!

This may be my last message to you, and to say it is bittersweet is a considerable understatement. I will miss our collaboration, our problem-solving, and our dedicated work to transform our school into an ever more student-focused, engaging, and differentiated learning environment. I have no doubt that parents and staff together will continue the work with new leadership, but I will miss being part of the action. Please know that I have treasured our teamwork, and most of all, I have relished the privilege of working with your children. Every one of them is unique and beautiful and full of promise. Though I am leaving our community soon, I will take Walnut Acres with me in spirit, and wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I will pray that each of our children will receive the guidance, the love, and the encouragement they need to become all they can be!  

So onward we go, and here are the updates as we close out 2018-19 and prepare for another year of evolving, rich learning opportunities in a safe and nurturing environment - because our kids deserve no less!


Personnel Updates

Denise Calbeck, our wonderful Walnut Acres Office Manager for the last 17 years, is retiring this June, 2019. Denise has been a welcoming presence at the front office and the holder of all knowledge to support the entire community. She will be missed, but we all wish her well as she turns her attention to grandchildren and new endeavors. Denise wants you to know, “It has been a privilege and honor to serve the Walnut Acres students, parents, and staff for the past 17 years.  During my tenure, I hope everyone has felt the loving and supportive environment we have tried to exude at Walnut Acres.  It is with a heavy heart that I bid farewell.  My best wishes to you all.”

We are also saying a fond farewell to Libby Ritthaler, Walnut Acres librarian for many years.  Actually, Libby has pronounced them to be 15 wonderful years. She adds, “I have read stories and taught library lessons to over 1500 students – WOW that’s a lot of kids. The first year of 5th graders are now in their mid-20’s – where does the time go? I now have a 5-year-old granddaughter and her younger sister. It is time for me to help out in her kindergarten class and her school library in the fall. I will be retiring in June, so I can spend more time with the girls and do some traveling. My husband and I are looking forward to visiting the national parks, starting here in California. You may see me around, subbing in the library in 2020.”

Jean Condon is moving back east and we wish her well. She jumped in halfway through the year when we lost Mrs. David, and we thank her for bringing her skills to the classroom to support our students, while wishing her luck on all her upcoming endeavors.

These positions are not yet filled, but district personnel or I will be back to you with personnel announcements as they become available.


Be a Voice in Developing School Plans

Would you like to help shape the School Site Plan and Safety Plan, discuss the school vision as well as successes and challenges, and brainstorm ideas to enhance growth with the new principal? We need 3 parents to join the School Site Council for school years 2019-2021. School Site Council members meet on the first Thursday of each month from 3:00-4:00 p.m. Email me at or call (925) 939-1333 if you would like to commit for a two-year stint as a SSC parent representative. If I get 3 volunteers within the next 2 weeks, we can vote on membership before summer vacation.  


Recent Events

Thank you to our community for your support of our annual Walk-A-Thon! That wonderful event is a great way to reinforce health concepts to our children, raise funds, and enjoy time together. Our recent fundraiser was another great success in achieving all three goals, and appreciation goes out especially to Brooke Giddings and Tracy Pajer in leading our annual Walk-A-Thon!

Our recent International Festival was solely a community event, and it was a delightfully engaging, purposeful, and fun experience for children and their families. Accolades go to Jenny Kim for her leadership in developing and coordinating the festival. Thanks to Kristin Shopp as well, for supporting our annual event, which celebrates our ethnic and cultural differences while realizing the many commonalities of our human nature!

The MDUSD Educational Foundation sponsored a recent “Drawing on Earth” Day in which artist Mark Wagner led our children in developing their artistic skills through chalk drawing on our blacktop. It was a beautiful day for artistic creativity and self-expression. The students all had a grand time and our playground looks mighty colorful!


Upcoming Events

Summative testing has begun, and 3rd-5th graders are completing CAASPP testing this month. Many K-5th grade students will also be completing the last of the already diagnostic testing for the school year. Please encourage children to “do their best and forget the rest” as they participate in these assessments. You can also support the process by making certain your students have a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast.

On Wednesday, 5/8/19, we will host a “Walk & Bike to School Day” in conjunction with the Contra Costa Street Smarts Campaign. Encourage your children to participate if feasible in order to improve fitness, build community, reduce traffic as well as pollution, and give children a sense of independence and responsibility. Students are reminded to wear helmets when riding, ride on the right side of the road, stop when signs dictate, make eye contact with drivers, use crosswalks when walking, and stop/look/listen when crossing streets. As drivers, please be extra cautious due to increased pedestrian and bike traffic this Wednesday 5/8/19!

The week of 5/6/19-5/10/19 is our last recycle drop-off collection for the year. Please see us out on a high note by bringing your plastic bottles and CRV-labeled aluminum cans and plastic bottles to drop-off for our collection each day this week

Our MDUSD nutrition coordinators are providing a barbecue lunch for purchase on Thursday, 5/9/19. The menu will be hamburgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers with chips and a cookie.    

Please join us on Thursday, 5/23/19, from 5:00-7:15 p.m. to celebrate a successful year of student growth at our Open House Festival! Our event will start with a family dinner option at our picnic tables, along with some entertainment. After you’ve enjoyed a meal with friends and family, visit our specialty rooms such as the STEM Lab, the library, and the reading lab, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. and chat with the personnel who coordinate specialty services…many of whom are funded by your donations through the PFC. Classrooms will be open during the last hour of Open House from 6:15-7:15 p.m. so children may proudly share their work spaces and some of their work products. You may also want to take advantage of this opportunity to check out classrooms at your children’s next grade level.   

Our last Sing-out of the year will be Wednesday, 5/29/19, at 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. You are welcome to join us as we celebrate diversity together.

Note that our last day of school is Wednesday, 6/5/19, with dismissal at 12:00 p.m. Only bag brunches will be served on that day, and there is no Second Chance Breakfast. If you would like your child to have a bag brunch on the last day of school, you have until 5/31/19 to place your order by phone (925) 682-8000 ext. 86210 or email

Preparing for 2019-20

If you are moving from our school community, please complete a Moving On form available in the office and on the homepage of our school website (just scroll down to Current News.) We are monitoring our student population to assess class sizes, and your input will assure that our numbers are accurate.  

As we prepare for 2019-20, we are purchasing materials as needed to continue our rigorous, differentiated and engaging Reading and Writing Workshop process. We have confirmed this year that our TK-3rd grade Fundations encoding and decoding program (sometimes referred to as “phonics”) is a valuable and effective support to our Workshop curriculum, so that program will continue as a solid support to our reading and writing work.

We have also turned our attention in 2018-19 to piloting a math curriculum that parallels our Workshop instruction by offering a more student-owned and conceptually-based approach. We implemented Bridges Math in our 4th grade and we intend to introduce the Bridges curriculum to other grade levels as funds will allow. We thank Kathy Vendel, local realtor, for kicking off our community donation fund which supports projects like this. Also, the Walnut Acres Children’s Center Board of Directors has just confirmed that they are sponsoring Bridges in all 4 kindergarten classes, and we are grateful for their support!  

Our science work in 2019-20 will be a continuation of our NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) implementation along with a renewed focus on integrated learning experiences with STEM Lab. You will see more instruction that allows children to develop a culminating project based on learning from both Science Lab and STEM Lab, such as the 3D animal adaptations project and the animal Claymation movie completed this year. Patty Galindo, our Site Tech, who is a technology infusion specialist, also plans to support grade level math and language arts content with STEM Lab activities in order to deepen student thinking and enhance standard mastery by assisting students to make connections across the curriculum.    


Over the Summer

You can assist your children to enjoy summer vacation while maintaining academic skills by encouraging them and spending quality time together. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have fun exploring, playing and enjoying our amazing world with your children. Discover together, try something new together, fail together, and celebrate your effort. Be silly together, laugh together, and hug each other often!  
  2. Read daily! Children can read aloud, read chorally with you, video themselves reading, read at the library, have a family reading time, read to a stuffed animal, or read a script. There are countless ways to practice reading. There is also an almost endless variety of reading materials, including comics, game directions, graphic novels, close-captioned movies, cereal containers, letters, and texts. We ask only that you encourage your child to read in any form they choose.
  3. Use online programs to support practice and remember that we have some favorites on our school website or click here. Reflex is great for automaticity of math facts, and iReady Math provides differentiated math practice. Starfall is valuable for early phonics work, and iReady reading lessons support adaptive decoding and comprehension skills, as does RazKids. Be certain you have your children’s user names and passwords to access material over the summer.   
  4. Make math meaningful by finding mathematics in your child’s daily life. Young children can count out sets of cutlery for the table, older children can play basketball or darts to practice math facts and add up the bill at a restaurant or assist with frugal shopping decisions. If you have fun with your child around numbers, patterns, and problem-solving, you will go far to encourage your child to enjoy math (and please don’t let on if you don’t enjoy it yourself!)
  5. Find reasons for your child to write! Your children may want to send grandparents a funny family story, write directions to a babysitter about how to make their favorite sandwich, send in an article to a magazine, and/or create a song or play. Figure out what motivates each child and provide your budding author with an audience while verbally rewarding persistence and creativity. 


From My Heart to Yours…

True to form, I have long-windedly shared the news from Walnut Acres. A new leader will carry on this blessed work and continue our collaborative energy and ongoing communication. After 42+ years in education, I am off to new adventures, but I will hold the Walnut Acres community in my heart! I wish for our children that they discover the kind of passion in their professional lives that I have been so blessed to find. I close in agreement with the great philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, who insightfully observed, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”


With great fondness and high hopes,

Colleen Dowd

Lucky Walnut Acres Principal

April 2019 Principal's Message

posted Apr 11, 2019, 4:35 PM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Apr 11, 2019, 5:35 PM by PFC Webmaster ]

Hello Walnut Acres Families,

We are busily preparing for our typically packed calendar as we complete our last trimester of the 2019-20 school year. I hope you enjoyed some quality family time over the Spring break and that you and your children are returning refreshed for a variety of activities with us. There are some beloved routines coming up this month with a couple of unique opportunities that I hope will entice you to participate! Here’s the scoop…


Input for 2019-20

Student Information Forms orGreen sheets” (named for the traditional color of the form) are now available on our website under Current News on the homepage and in the office starting 4/10/19. These optional forms are available to parents to share the strengths and educational needs of your child with school staff as we place children in 2019-20 classes. We do not accept specific teacher requests, but we try to honor insights that parents offer regarding a child’s learning style or emotional needs.  ‘Green sheets’ will be accepted through 5/1/19.

We are also posting the “non-return” forms to the Current News on the homepage by 4/15/19. (This form will also be available in the office.) If you will NOT be rejoining us at Walnut Acres for the 2019-20 school year, please let us know by completing and returning the form as soon as possible. Your courtesy will allow us to better predict and accurately plan for attendance needs in the new school year!

Pizza Lunch Winners

Our Second Chance Breakfast Pilot was a big success, so our school breakfasts will continue at all recesses each day except Wednesday. You will recall that in March there was a week-long Second Chance Breakfast Participation Contest. Our 2nd grade students won the prize for the most students participating in the program, so all 2nd graders received a slice of pizza on Thursday, 4/11/19, at lunch!

Supporting Our Young Environmentalists

Our recycle club is helping to sponsor a showing of the documentary “Straws” at Northgate Little Theater on Friday, 4/12/19, at 7:30 p.m. The movie is a call for enhanced environmental efforts, particularly in calling for an end to plastic straw use. I am proud of the students at our school and throughout the Northgate feeder pattern who are working to educate us all as they seek to protect our earth! I hope you see you there if your schedule allows!


PFC Meeting

The Tuesday, 4/16/19, PFC meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the library, is a very important event as the new 2019-20 budget will be presented and the PFC Board Nominations slate will be discussed. Join the PFC Executive Committee as they facilitate a discussion about leadership and funding for the upcoming school year. This is the time to share your voice!


New Principal Input Sought

My supervisor, José Espinoza, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education, would like to meet with all community members interested in sharing input pertinent to the selection of a new Walnut Acres principal. I hope that many folks will take advantage of this opportunity when it is scheduled this month. Whether you approved of my leadership or hope for a change in style, format, or vision, this is the time to present your concerns, your hopes, and your insights! Please attend this meeting designed to capture your thinking. Mr. Espinoza will also meet with staff to collect their perspectives on 4/18/19.

Our Last Fundraiser of the Year

Our annual Walk-A-Thon will be held on Friday, 4/19/19. This is always a fun event that promotes health, builds community, and promises smiles for all, while providing the last opportunity to raise funds to cover 2018-19 budget commitments. You are welcome to be with us to enjoy the experience. Be prepared to cheer for our young and eager runners and walkers!


The Walk-A-Thon coordinators are offering a "family fun run" this Friday, 4/12/19, from 7:15-7:45 a.m.  Parents and other family members are invited to join in some preparatory pre-run practice.


State Testing Begins

On 4/22/19 our 3rd-5th grade students will begin taking the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) English Language Arts and Math exams. Students in 5th will also take the Science exam. Each grade level team will share with you their specific test dates.


While we do not want the state testing process to be anxiety-provoking for students, we do ask that you encourage students to give their best effort to the state assessments. That means our students will need a good night’s rest, a healthy breakfast, and an encouraging hug before arriving at school on test days—but of course, that’s the morning routine we hope for every day! So, please don’t put any pressure on students at home and we will use the mantra, “Do your best, and forget the rest” at school.


With a common-sense approach to state testing, we will likely get a valuable measure of what children know and how they can apply their learning. As a staff, we will also get further data to analyze what we are teaching well and what we still need to do to support our learners. We realize that CAASPP test data is only one measure of student achievement, so we compile the CAASPP results with Running Records information, iReady data, teacher exams, and daily student oral and written work to get a more comprehensive picture of each child as a learner.


Volunteer Appreciation Event

Each year we take the opportunity to thank all our volunteers for your dedication, tenacity, and diligence in supporting Walnut Acres Elementary School. Our celebration will be part of our Trustworthiness Sing-out on Wednesday, 4/24/19, at 8:00 a.m. and again at 8:30ish a.m. Every parent, grandparent, or friend who has ever volunteered in a classroom, on a field trip, or from home; who worked in some capacity to raise money for school programs or personnel; or who opened car doors at drop-off or student thermoses at lunch: You are invited to be recognized and officially thanked by the staff, teachers, and students of Walnut Acres. We hope you will join us as our community celebrates your spirit of volunteerism!


Celebrating Our Diversity

Our previously postponed, second annual International Festival will be held on Friday, 4/26/19, starting at 5:00 p.m. As you know, this event celebrates our ethnic diversity and serves as a reminder of our common humanity. Our teachers will introduce the Festival during the school day with a culminating cultural activity designed to enhance student participation as well as an understanding of International Festival goals.


Drawing on Earth Day

Thanks to the MDUSD Education Foundation, Mark Wagner, local artist, will be providing a unique assembly and chalk drawing experience for all Walnut Acres students on Monday, 4/29/19, during the school day. Each grade level will attend a 30-minute assembly to prepare them for their artistic endeavor and then take to the asphalt to create. For further information about our upcoming chalk art experience, check out Mr. Wagner’s website here.  


Teach Your Children Well

Thanks for your continued support to our learning community through your leadership and participation in Walnut Acres activities! Thank you especially for working in conjunction with us to help your child feel emotionally safe. As you know, a child’s sense of emotionally safety is depended upon the perception of a strong connection to parents and belief that the child is held in high esteem.  Or as expressed so articulately by author, William Martin, “You do not have to make your children into wonderful people, you just have to remind them that they are wonderful people. If you do this consistently from the day they are born they will believe it easily.”    



Colleen Dowd

Your lucky principal


March 2019 Principal's Message

posted Mar 6, 2019, 9:45 AM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Mar 6, 2019, 9:48 AM by PFC Webmaster ]

Hello Walnut Acres Parents,

Our children often write about small moments and I had two lovely small moments myself the other day. I was working in my office and a teacher asked to use my table because she could not find a space around campus to complete a running record with a student. I continued working but found myself drawn to the conversation between them. My heart was full as I listened to the earnest young reader and the kind, focused teacher who asked her questions about her text and encouraged her sharing, while noting fluency, decoding and comprehension. It was a simple interaction, but to me it represented the culmination of our years of focused curriculum work.

Just a few minutes after the couple left, another teacher burst enthusiastically into my office to share her students’ writing assignment results. It was a delight to witness her enthusiasm in her students’ progress and a treat to read their information writing products. 

I spent some time quietly celebrating the dedication of our teachers and our PFC that afternoon! Thank you for all you have done to help us develop a language arts process that is built on a foundation of student choice as well as differentiation; that promotes a love of reading and writing; and that honors each learner. Thank you for supporting the coaching process that has enhanced our instructional expertise, thank you for providing powerful and effective Tier 3 intervention, and thank you for your patience as we introduced our Wilson “Fundations” decoding/encoding program to supplement student phonics/spelling skill development. I salute you all Walnut Acres Parents!


Upcoming Auction

With our upcoming Midnight in Paris Auction on Friday, 3/8, we have another opportunity to support our school and build on our good work. Our precious support personnel, including science lab assistants, site technology support, classroom assistants, Math, Reading/ELD intervention teachers, and our choral music teacher, will remain as PFC funds allow. Valuable supplementary services, such as online program sponsorship and device replacement will also remain depending on the success of PFC fundraising. Our Auction is a big part of our annual fundraising effort and I look forward to seeing you at Boundary Oaks to share the lovely experience, have some fun, and support our school!


Second Chance Breakfast Pilot

The district is implementing a pilot program this month that will allow our students to purchase a “second chance breakfast” during their first recess each school day, except Wednesdays. The breakfast/ brunch service will be in the MUR and students can count on receiving juice, milk and a healthy entree. The cost of breakfast is $2.00. (If you qualify for free and reduced price meals, you also qualify for the breakfast program, with no additional paper-work.)  Use your Titan account, or give your child $2 to purchase a meal. I am told we need to sell 75 breakfasts a day across our site to make the Second Chance Breakfast Program sustainable.

Next week (March 4-8) is National School Breakfast Week so the district will host a contest to celebrate the occasion and encourage students to try the Second Chance Breakfast pilot.  The class that has the most breakfast participation wins a pizza lunch for the entire grade at a later date!  

New Website

We have moved our school website platform to School Loop for a variety of reasons, largely related to ongoing issues with the previous platform. Please check out our new home at  We have had difficulty redirecting the old URL to the new site, for which I apologize, and we are continuing to work on that connection. The new site is a work in progress, but we are happy with the switch in platforms and hopeful that the site will more easily promote interactive sharing.

Please share any thoughts you have as you visit our website. If there is a tab you would like to see on the site, let us know. If there are errors, shout out; and if you like something, that would be valuable information, too.

Please note that the link for notifying us about absences is the first blue rectangle under the Quick Links heading on the left side of the home page below the rotating image. On most screens you can see it without scrolling.   

Input Requested on Our 10-year Facility Plan

I thank all of you who attended our Town Hall meeting to hear from the architects focused on 10-year Facility Plans for MDUSD sites. For those of you who missed it, we reviewed the first draft of a proposed plan and looked at ancillary information, before discussing the plan and adding thoughts from the group with post-its on the document. 

Now I invite all of you to share your thoughts on the first phase of the proposed facility plan. You are welcome to come by the office where the plan is mounted on our office bulletin board for all to view.

You are also invited to check out the plan on our school website. (Just scroll down the home page to Current News.) Send your feedback to me via email and I will incorporate your suggestions into my feedback commentary.

In about a month, LPA Architectural group representatives will return to our site and meet with me to collect our input. The plan is to incorporate our ideas into the next draft plan they create.    


MDUSD Requests Input for State Evaluation

The California Department of Education requires that all districts assess school climate and parent engagement. To meet this requirement, the district is again requesting that parents/guardians and community members complete the WestEd’s California Healthy Kids Survey. The direct link is and can be found on the homepage of the district website  under Current News. The survey can be taken in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Korean.  All responses should be submitted online. The survey window is open from 3/1/19 -3/31/19.   


Respectful Request of Parents/Students

I am asking our community to support the work of our night custodian by honoring the practice of picking up forgotten homework, supplies or clothes by 4:00 p.m. each day. Every time we ask our custodian to open a classroom it takes time from completion of her responsibilities. She is not allowed to give keys to others, so she must leave her job and accompany petitioners to whatever rooms they wish to visit.

Our night custodian, Sandra Solis, is doing a great job of making our old facility shine! As you may remember, for the last couple of years we have had a series of temporary night custodians/short-term employees and their noncommittal approach was reflected in the unkempt state of our facility. Ms. Solis came and changed that equation immediately! She works diligently to clean our rooms, and she takes pride in her work. Let’s help her to help us keep our school clean by allowing her to focus on her work. We know there are emergencies and exceptions to every best practice, but let’s be very thoughtful about invoking those exceptions. Many thanks!


March Events

Monday, 3/11, is a Professional Development Day for teachers. Students have the day off. We will attend instructional workshops in the morning, including time focused on analyzing the recently completed MDUSD formative Reading and Math assessments. In the afternoon, we will be back on site to analyze the district writing assignment results and discuss next steps in our Math curriculum and instruction.


Our Annual Walnut Acres Art Show is around the corner on Thursday, 3/14, in the MUR. Classes will tour the Art Show throughout the day. The Artist’s Reception for families is 6:00-8:00 p.m. It’s a lovely, non-fundraising community experience. Check out the event on the PFC website for further details.


The MDUSD Stem Fair/Showcase is Saturday, 3/16, at Willow Creek Center, 1026 Mohr Lane in Concord, from 9:00-11:00 a.m. I again congratulate all Walnut Acres students represented in the Showcase and invite our entire community to attend the event!


The Second trimester ended on 3/1 and you can expect your child to bring home a report card on Friday, 3/15.


On Monday, 3/18, Soul Shoppe will return to our site for a life skill assembly. They will be working with grouped grade levels to present, “Clean It Up: The Sorry Show.” They will remind students to use the “Clean Up Process” to resolve problems at their roots. This workshop addresses social emotional competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills.


Thursday, 3/21, is our second annual Kangaroo Math Contest. The 34 enrolled students have been problem-solving in teams on weekends and after school. They will now take an individual math test after school in competition with other students at their grade level from around the world. All participants will earn prizes, enjoy math fun, and enhance math skills. If you missed the fun, look for the event again next fall.

Friday, 3/22, is our second annual International Festival from 4:00-7:30 p.m. This is a lovely PFC event that focuses on appreciation of our ethnic diversity and celebration of our differences. I hope this multicultural experience also serves as a reminder that what divides us is not nearly as important as the commonalities we share. In order to support this message, teachers will be introducing the event on 3/22 during the school day. Each grade level has selected one continent, and classes will study cultures on that continent. Prior to the International Festival, classes will have a culminating learning experience designed to enhance student participation in and understanding of International Festival goals.  


The next LCAP Series event is Tuesday, 3/26, from 6:00-7:30 p.m. at College Park High School (201 Viking Drive, Pleasant Hill.) The topic is “How Parents’ Social Media Use Affects Their Children and School Communities.” Refer to the flyer on the district website for further details.  


Wednesday, 3/27, is our next Sing-out and we will be honoring the life skill of Citizenship at our usual times, 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. in the MUR. You are welcome to join us. The following month, on Wednesday, 4/24, our Sing-out is also our Volunteer Appreciation Event, so please be sure to put that assembly on your calendar!


Heads Up to Our Parents

We have many fun and educational events coming up, but I am closing this message with information about an experience that is advertised as fun, but evolves in an appalling way. The Momo Challenge is a game that begins with a search for a special phone number online to send a text or WhatsApp message to “Momo.” The player enters into a conversation with Momo, who sends distressing images and aims to persuade the player to complete challenges that start simply, such as waking up at certain times, but escalate to dangerous activities that end in self-harm or suicide.

The whole issue may be a high tech-ghost story, but I am sharing this information with you because I am hearing our children talk about Momo. Here is a Denver news story to warn parents about Momo and an article written in Forbes by writer, Andy Robertson, purporting that the game is a hoax. He suggests that the real danger of viral shock fads like Momo is that it keeps parents from focusing on the daily work of teaching kids to be savvy about using the internet. If like me, you hadn’t heard of Momo, please take a moment to do a little research so you can talk to your child about the situation. Real or fad, it’s a learning moment opportunity.  


Today’s readily available technology options have certainly added to the complicated task of parenting. You have a challenging job as parents. As educators, we are your partners in supporting your child, so please let us know how we can help. We’ll do the same! To paraphrase Robert John Meehan, The most valuable resource that all teachers and parents have is each other. Without collaboration our efforts are limited by our own perspectives.”



Colleen Dowd

Lucky Walnut Acres Principal


February 2019 Principal's Message

posted Feb 7, 2019, 8:58 AM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Feb 7, 2019, 8:58 AM by PFC Webmaster ]

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

You may have heard informally that I am retiring, and now I am making it official. I want you to know that leading the Walnut Acres community has been an exciting journey and a beautiful 11 years to cap my 40+ memorable years in education. I treasure my time with you, our staff, and our students.

There is a line in a beloved poem that says, “It is in giving that we receive,” and that has certainly been my experience! I have been truly blessed by the teachers, staff, and parents with whom I have worked, but it’s the hearts of our youngest community members that have energized me and kept me coming back for more all these years. The beauty and sincerity of our children will warm me in the years to come; their voices will ring in my ears; their hopes and dreams will become my prayers. I have often shared that our children deserve no less than our best, and I have tried to model that statement.

Now it’s time to turn leadership of our wonderful school to a new principal who will bring a different energy and perspective to the work we do. I hope you will work resolutely with that person to continue our transformation as a student-owned learning environment. As I gather information about the process for selection of a new Walnut Acres principal, I will certainly share it with you.      

And what do I intend to do? I hope to travel, continue learning, and find a new path to work at making a positive difference in the world, but that’s all down the road. Let me assure you, I remain committed to our children and our school, and I will do my best to guide us to a positive conclusion to our school year while we plan for 2019-20. So no good-byes yet – let’s concentrate on the months ahead.

Here’s the scoop for February…


Upcoming Events

Our annual Science/STEM Fair is right around the corner! On Thursday, 2/7, the students will tour the “Science Center” (our very own MUR), and I hope to see you there at the Fair’s Open House for families to do the same from 2:30-4:00 p.m. and 6:30-8:00 p.m. The district STEM Showcase for prize-winning projects will be on Saturday, 3/16, from 9:00-11:00 a.m.

Our Fifth Grade Girl Scout Troop 33570 has just initiated a change drive fundraiser to raise money for a filtered water bottle filling station for the water fountain near the Reading Lab. From 2/5 through 2/14, they are asking students to bring spare change or bills to school and put them in the labeled water bottle in each classroom. There will be prizes for top fundraising classes as participants help make our campus a little more environmentally friendly by contributing to the fundraiser, and by using reusable water bottles! Thank you to our scouts for their great legacy project!

Our annual Spelling Bee is coming soon. You are welcome to join us on Monday, 2/11, at 1:00 p.m. in the MUR to watch our 4th and 5th graders compete in orally spelling some pretty sophisticated words. 

Please note that we have no school on Friday, 2/15 (School Recess Day) and Monday, 2/18.  (President’s Day). Enjoy the long weekend!

Our next Sing-out on the character trait of Practicing Fairness will be on Wednesday, 2/27. You are welcome to join us as we celebrate this life skill together in the MUR with 3rd-5th graders participating at 8:00 a.m. before TK-2nd graders enjoy their turn at 8:30 a.m. for some character trait reinforcement and fun!


Safety Plan update

The SSC will vote on an updated Safety Plan this Thursday, 2/7, at 3:00 p.m. We meet in the Faculty Room the first Thursday of each month at the same time, and our meetings are open to all community members.

There are two components to Safety Plan goals – the first is The Social Climate, People and Programs at the school that promote emotional and physical safety. Within that component our goals are:

1.      Proactively support a climate in which students feel safe, comfortable, and supported at school.

2.      Create an environment in which all parents feel welcome and informed.

3.      Promote choice, autonomy, and ownership of social/emotional and academic learning.  

This coming year we want to add specific activities that will educate staff about significant mental health issues. We will recommit to educating our general population about our special needs students with at least one Autism Awareness assembly. We will continue our classroom learning circles, school-wide Sing-outs, positive rewards, peace path, Chill-Out Zone, counselor work, and restorative justice approach to enhance our positive climate. 

The second component of our Safety Plan focuses on our Physical Environment. We have two goals we are addressing:

1.      Provide emergency response training to paid and volunteer adults.

2.      Improve campus safety.

We want to provide first aid and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) training to at least one staff member in each wing of our facility and involve CERT (Community Emergency Resource Team) members in our response drills to gather expertise on improvement ideas. We will recommit to sharing the safety plan with stakeholders, purchase and install door lock catch mechanisms on every classroom door, and confer with MDUSD personnel about working blinds for every window on campus, fencing needs, and more visually accessible directions to the office from common entrance points around campus. 


From the District

I’ve previously shared with you that with the passage of Measure J, the district has begun the process of planning for site improvements across MDUSD. Renovations will include security enhancements and other facility improvements.

You’ve had a chance to give your input regarding our facility needs via survey and the next step to finalizing a plan will be at the upcoming Town Hall at Northgate  on Tuesday, 2/19, from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. We are invited to review drafts of site facility needs and ask questions about plans being formulated for our site.

Two parents, two teachers, a classified staff member, and I will officially represent the Walnut Acres community at the Town Hall event, but all stakeholders are invited (that includes you!) to participate in the process. 

Here are some links to additional information about the 10-Year Facility Master Plan:

The LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) Speaker Series is offering two more opportunities for the community to attend sessions designed to educate and inform regarding topics pertinent to all parents. The next session is 3/26 at College Park High School from 6:00-8:00 p.m. and the topic is “How Parents Social Media Presence Affects Their Children and School Communities.” The last Speaker Series session is 5/22 in the Board Room of the MDUSD office from 6:00-8:00 p.m. with the topic of “LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) and its Impact on MDUSD’s Budget.” 

Heads Up Regarding Internet Access

This week I had a round robin of beautiful children in my office to discuss poor behavior choices stemming from their electronic media experiences. Some students were bringing video combat to life, others were passing along a mysogynistic riddle learned on an e-site, and still others were sharing the words of an offensive song from a blog. There was enough of a pattern that I want to share a word to the wise about monitoring your child’s video and other electronic activities.

Technology can be a great tool, and it is tempting to use it as a babysitter in our busy lives, but it is not a trustworthy child-minder! I recommend you pull out a game, or a book, or art supplies, or almost anything else when you need to keep your kids busy. Save the technology use for times when you can monitor their experiences! Game-makers and other technology creators continue to throw a lot of aggression-enhancers and sexual innuendo at our children. So please supervise carefully and check in with children to maximize opportunities for them to get accurate information from you to feed their developmentally-appropriate curiosity. 

I'm also attaching a link here to an interesting article about the video game, Fortnite, which I received from our 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Clark.  Many of our students, even kindergartners, are playing this game and others like it. Addiction is a potential challenge. The World Health Organization has added “Gaming Disorder” to their list of addictions. I don’t share this to alarm you; rather, I remind you to be aware and monitor your children’s technology use as part of your routine to keep them safe.

In closing…

Being a parent is the most difficult and rewarding job in today’s hectic world, but as psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce Perry, so aptly stated, “Children don’t need more things. The best toy a child can have is a parent who gets down on the floor and plays with them.”   

I applaud you for the times you get down on the floor with your child, and I thank you for your dedication to supporting our school so that we can join you in this most valuable work!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd 

January 2019 Principal's Message

posted Jan 15, 2019, 5:26 PM by Vice President Communications   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:28 PM by PFC Webmaster ]

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

I was happy to welcome all your children and our wonderful staff back to school last week. Thank you to all parents who remembered me over the holiday! I lost my list of gift providers and only those who sent gifts with affixed labels received a gratitude note from me. My thanks to those who did not get a personalized appreciation card – the gingerbread, pumpkin bread, and other tasty treats, along with candles and cups and ornaments, added to my delightful holiday, despite my broken ankle!

As we all resume our collaboration to make the most of this great learning season, I have a variety of updates for you.

Personnel Updates

We have a new head custodian, Robert Queen, who started earlier this month. Robert is replacing our substitute custodian, Nathan Williams, who was reassigned to Westwood Elementary. Please introduce yourself to Robert if you see him, and let’s make him feel welcome as he learns our routines and our community.

Doug Grebe will be returning to work as of 1/15. He will still be using a cane, but he is ready to continue teaching and eager to reconnect with students and colleagues!

Our part-time speech and language therapist, Rediet Kifle, is being reassigned to another school, and our full-time speech and language therapist, Mollie Strain, will be continuing service for all Walnut Acres students who receive speech or language support.

STEAM Day - A New WA Event

Not to be confused with our annual Science/STEM Fair that culminates in the district STEM Fair, Walnut Acres is introducing a new STEAM Day (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) on Friday, 1/18, for students in grades TK-5! Each grade will have an opportunity to collaboratively investigate and learn together during the day. Specifically, grade level teams will be invited to explore various stations to engage in STEAM activities such as Leonardo’s Bridge, Spheros, BeeBots, Keva Planks, Origami, Paper Airplanes, and more!

Thanks to Amanda Graves, who teaches in 4th grade, we are experimenting with this new Walnut Acres event that should be fun for kids and families. Parents are invited to volunteer in the MUR to support students as they learn. Check Konstella to see the day’s schedule and sign up to volunteer as you choose.

The school-day activities will be followed by an evening event.  Families are invited to return to school with your child on 1/18 between 6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. to explore STEAM activities together. Come and enjoy our first-ever evening STEAM Night!

Facility Updates

I am excited to announce that our kiln room is updated and our kiln is now repaired and ready to be used to bake the work of Walnut Acres creative artists! We thank Maintenance & Operations (M&O) for their labor and financing on this project. 

I am also happy to report that we are getting a filtered water fountain with cold (refrigerated) water in our MUR courtesy of M&O. I’ll let you know when that project is complete. You should also know that our 5th grade girl scout troop instigated the district’s largesse!

How did that happen? The girls asked me about raising funds for a filtered water fountain, and when I contacted M&O about the project, I learned that all elementary schools are receiving one installed filtered fountain, paid-for by the district. While talking to the M&O representative, our school was moved up on the list to get our fountain. So, the scouts have already supported our school in advance of beginning their own project!

District Plan for Future Facility Updates

With the passage of Measure J, the district has begun the process of planning for site improvements across MDUSDRenovations will include security enhancements and other facility improvements.

To prioritize facility needs across the district, MDUSD will collect input from community stakeholders including students in 5th, 7th, and 11th grades, teachers and staff, as well as parents and community members through a survey. MDUSD leaders are eager to gather your input and perspective about ways that our Walnut Acres facility needs to be upgraded! This includes security-related needs. Please take 5-10 minutes to share your perspective with district leadership by filling out the online survey by 1/25:



Following the analysis of survey input from each school, there will also be a series of Town Hall meetings for community members to review drafts of site facility needs and ask questions about plans being formulated for each physical location. The meetings will be grouped by feeder pattern. The date for the Town Hall that includes Walnut Acres is Tuesday, 2/19, from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at Northgate High School.

School Site Council (SSC) members will officially represent Walnut Acres teachers, staff and parents at the Town Hall event, but all community members are invited to participate in the process.  Let me be the first to invite you to join SSC members to share your input about Walnut Acres facility needs at Northgate on 2/19 from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. You should also get a formal invitation from the district.  

Basic Safety

While our district will help each site maximize Measure J funds to upgrade their facilities, we need to remember basic safety rules to keep our children safe. Children’s lives are in your hands as you drive and walk on our campus! For just the few minutes you are here, make their safety paramount over the meeting you must rush to or the many chores you must complete. Life is busy, and we are all over-burdened, but imagine how you would feel if your distraction caused an injury to a child!

  1. Drop your children off at 7:45 a.m. when we have adult supervision for children…not before!
  2. Drop children off where they will have a safe route into school. Do not drop children off at a spot where they must illegally cross the street or run past moving cars in the parking lot or drop-off zone. Last week I had to remind 4 parents waiting in the staff parking lot for dismissed students that their children would have to walk across 3 car lanes in order to get to their waiting parents. That is terribly dangerous!
  3. Walk in the crosswalks during traffic times. Children are watching. If you follow the rules, they will know the rules matter!
  4. Follow all drop-off and pick-up rules, as detailed in the Walnut Acres Handbook you received and acknowledged reading with your signature at the beginning of the school year.
  5. Remember that we do not have supervision on the playground after school. All children are expected to head home directly after school unless they are participating in an adult-led enrichment class. If you want your child to play on the playground, you are responsible to provide supervision.
  6. Sign-in at the office when you visit during school hours and wear the volunteer name tag you will receive there, so children and adults know that you are a “safe person” on campus.

To reduce drive-thru traffic, save gas money, and take positive action for our environment while adding fun and exercise to your student’s routine, consider a family New Year’s resolution of walking or biking to school.

PFC Meeting Tuesday, 1/15

Reminder that all parents are welcome at our monthly PFC meetings to learn more about what is happening on campus and to share your input. The next meeting is tonight, Tuesday, 1/15 from 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. in the library at Walnut Acres, and we will be discussing PFC leadership and the PFC budget for next year. I hope to see you there!

Here’s to a Great New Year

There is no more awesome or challenging job than parenting, and at Walnut Acres we look forward to working with you in 2019 to encourage our unique and beautiful children to dream big and begin the journey of growing into those dreams. Or as the great dreamer, Walt Disney wrote, “First, think.  Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare.”

Here’s to a year of thinking, dreaming, believing, and daring!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd

December 2018 Principal's Message

posted Dec 19, 2018, 7:09 AM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:27 PM by PFC Webmaster ]

Hello Walnut Acres Parents,

As always, life is busy at school with holiday energy abounding. Teachers are enjoying the opportunity to create a holiday experience with their classroom families before relaxing with their own families during winter vacation. Our students are collaborating to create gingerbread houses, singing about the season in a multi-cultural performance, and creating holiday surprises for you across our school! Life is eventful and generally joyous, but I begin this newsletter with information that is bittersweet.    


Personnel Updates

Our beloved Ramah David is retiring as of 12/21/18. Mrs. David has taught elementary students for 35 years and she has decided the time has come to step aside given her recent health issues.

Mrs. David has been an inspiration and a mentor to the students, parents, and colleagues with whom she has worked at Walnut Acres for the last 23 years. She will be greatly missed for the sincere heart and skill she brings to her work with children, her astute diagnostic prowess, her patient, encouraging spirit, and her creative, multi-sensory approach to learning. Mrs. David actually began her career working as a bilingual teacher and after 12 years she arrived at our school to take a job share position with a second grade class. In 1996, she began teaching first grade at Walnut Acres and she has been a pivotal member of the first grade team ever since. Mrs. David shared with me that first grade has been her favorite teaching experience because she loves to teach kids how to read. She has done that incredibly well at Walnut Acres for many years while also building confidence and hope in young hearts. I will miss Mrs. David both personally and professionally. I know I speak for all of us when I say that Walnut Acres is a better place because Ramah David has been among us.

Those of you who know Mrs. David will not be surprised to learn that she wants no “hoopla” as she departs. However, if your children were taught by Mrs. David (or if you had her as a teacher), I invite you to write your thoughts about how she touched your child’s life, pass them to me in a sealed envelope, and I will give your private messages to Mrs. David on Friday, 12/21/18. I hope this quiet opportunity to say good-bye will provide personal notes to Mrs. David that she will cherish.

We are very lucky that as we searched for a teacher to join the first grade team, Jean Condon, our current math intervention teacher, stepped up. Mrs. Condon has 16 years of teaching experience and 12 of those years were spent teaching in 1st grade classrooms. She is a practiced Reading/Writing Workshop teacher and she is eager to continue implementation of our Fundations program. Mrs. Condon has a strong sense of first grade math skills and as our math intervention teacher, she knows all about math games and hands-on activities that develop number sense and make learning fun! Mrs. Condon is also passionate about the positive climate work in which we are engaged as a whole school and she is very comfortable with the differentiation we promote at Walnut Acres. We are grateful she is joining the first grade team!

With Mrs. Condon’s move to first grade, we are left with an open positon in our Math Lab.

Mrs. Ellen Bellendir, who retired last June, has agreed to take on our Tier 3, small group math classes, and we welcome her home to continue supporting our wonderful learners! Mrs. Bellendir has taught at Walnut Acres for 28 years and her focus during her last 5 years has been mathematics. Mrs. Bellendir loves teaching math above all else, and we are lucky to have her back to share that passion with our children.   

In an unrelated personnel situation, you will be happy to know that Doug Grebe is recuperating well from his hip surgery following his biking accident. With approval still pending from his doctor, he hopes to return to us the week of 1/14/19. We’ll keep you posted on that plan. Meanwhile, Mr. Grebe thanks the parents who have kindly remembered him and he wants his students to know he is learning all sorts of new jokes and riddles to share with them upon his return.


Homework Reminders

Homework can be a conundrum and is often a topic of conversation during parent conferences. The topic is also among the comments on our recent parent survey, with some folks in the same grade level wanting more homework and some people wanting less. I will share with you a bit of the educational research status on homework which led to the development of our current homework policy known as the Walnut Acres Homework Plan. I refer you to that plan on our school website under the Information tab.

I’d like to highlight 3 components of the homework plan: our focus on reading, our use of research findings to provide developmentally appropriate experiences, and the role of parents in homework completion.   

Focus on Reading:

Studies strongly indicate that reading daily is crucial to improve reading.  Logical, right? As shared in Edudemic in a 2015 article entitled, “The Long Term Effects of Skipping your Reading Homework, if a student reads 20 minutes each day, that’s 36,000 minutes of reading in a school year and about 1,800,000 words. If a child reads 5 minutes a day, that’s 900 minutes in a school year and approximately 282,000 words a year. If a student only reads 1 minute a day, that child has only completed 180 minutes of reading in a school year and will have read only 8000 words. Which student will be more successful? (Check out the graphic in the article which is more compelling than my restatement.) We also know that reading not only improves reading, it also enhances math skills, boosts self-esteem, and increases communication abilities, while reading literature tends to build empathy skills.

All students will benefit from reading in any form every day! Via any delivery system (such as being read to while cuddling, or listening to books on tape, or reading to the family pet) and across reading formats (such as graphic novels, informational text, magazines, and more), reading is key to learning. For that reason, daily reading is a requirement at Walnut Acres at each grade level.  We also often ask students to be “active readers,” noting comments and insights as they read and tracking their own reading experiences; this enables them to share their thinking with one another and practice the metacognitive skill of routinely analyzing who they are as readers.

Use of Research Findings to Provide Developmentally Appropriate Experiences:

The research is much more ambivalent when it comes to any other form of homework! The Center for Public Education (CPE) notes in “Key Lessons: What Research Says About the Value of Homework” that, The link between homework and student achievement is far from clear. There is no conclusive evidence that homework increases student achievement across the board. Some studies show positive effects of homework under certain conditions and for certain students, some show no effects, and some suggest negative effects” (Kohn 2006; Trautwein and Koller 2003).

The same article also indicates that homework appears to have more impact on certain groups. For example, findings are consistent that older students – those in high school and middle school – benefit more from homework than elementary students (Cooper 1989; Hoover-Dempsey et al. 2001; Leone and Richards 1989; Muhlenbruck et al. 2000). It also appears that too much homework can diminish its effectiveness (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall 2006).

On the other hand, studies also suggest that there are nonacademic benefits of homework, especially for younger students. These benefits include learning the importance of responsibility, managing time, developing study habits, and staying with a task until it is completed (Cooper, Robinson and Patall 2006; Corno and Xu 2004; Johnson and Pontius 1989; Warton 2001).

So, in addition to our consistent focus on reading, we try to provide homework within the parameters of research findings. One aspect of that effort is that we support developmentally appropriate time-on-task for homework. Our homework plan includes incremental increases in homework time at each grade level. We aim for a balanced approach to homework as recommended by the National Education Association (NEA) in their article “Research Spotlight on Homework”. 

You know that we promote student ownership of learning at Walnut Acres, and this core value is integral to our homework planning as well. Student choice, interest, and motivation are components of homework planning across grade levels, as we seek to make homework relevant and meaningful to each learner.

Our homework goals are to support good study habit formation, provide practice with concepts and skills learned, and create an opportunity for parents to interact with their children about what students are learning in school. We do this knowing the educational research about the value and pitfalls of homework generally, and the need to support individual students.

Parents Are Our Partners:

We encourage parents to ask their children about assigned homework, to create an effective environment for homework completion, and to encourage children to do their best to complete assigned tasks. For some children that will mean a little positive reinforcement, while for others it may mean work-checking and/or hand-holding.

We expect that you will be our collaborative partner regarding homework, as with any other learning related to your child. If homework activities interfere with family events or peace at home, please let us know and we will make modifications to assignments. If your child needs more skill practice, communicate that too, so we can help assess the situation and provide appropriate practice. For example, did you know that Reflex is great for math automaticity practice? Do you realize we have a typing tutor program on our school website? If your child needs concept extension, that’s another conversation to have with your child’s teacher, so we can work collaboratively to provide challenge. The challenge process does not necessarily mean more homework, but different homework based on a student’s skills and needs.   

One size does not fit all, so we have a homework plan that is developmentally appropriate, based on research, and open-ended enough to flexibly support individual needs. The art is to apply the plan appropriately to maximize each student’s learning, and your input is valued as part of that process.    


Caring in all Seasons

I hope that you discern caring in all we do for students at Walnut Acres. Our homework planning is typical of our general educational approach to consider research-based practice, apply those insights developmentally at our school, and reach out to you to collaborate with us in appropriate application of our plan for each student.

Speaking of Caring, our last Sing-Out of 2018 is this coming Wednesday, 12/19/18 at 8 a.m. with our 3rd - 5th graders and 8:30 a.m. with our younger students. You are welcome to celebrate our message of Caring at either assembly. Please remember that chairs along the side of the MUR are for teachers only, so they can monitor our cherubs.  

This season offers many authentic caring opportunities. If you are looking for a local donation site, please consider HOPE (Homeless Outreach Program for Education.) The program is designed to provide needed supplies to homeless and foster youth within our district. At this time of year, the HOPE team focuses on gathering holiday treats for local MDUSD children and teens. Check out the information on the district website or under the “Current News” section of our homepage on our school website. I realize the district website deadline indicates that 12/17/18 is the last day to give, but there is never a last day to show you care!

One last shout-out to all the caring parents who help us make Walnut Acres a great place to learn and grow! To name a few recent examples: Read-A-Thon was great fun and organizers hit their target goals; the recycle folks are strategizing on many fronts to bring the message of sustainability to our children; the morning drive-thru volunteers are doing a great job; we received generous donations to our annual holiday toy and clothing drive to benefit families at our sister school Shore Acres; and my special thanks to all of you who trooped down to school to help us cover classrooms during our pre-Thanksgiving smoke days. Your active involvement in our school is a powerful message of community service and a great boon to our daily work with our kids.

Together we are a great team, and because of our collaboration and perseverance to keep growing our school as a safe, comfortable, and enticing place to learn, we keep improving. As I am fond of saying, our children deserve no less! Or as more eloquently stated by the famous chemist, Louis Pasteur, “When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments — tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.”

Here’s to creating happy family time memories during this winter holiday season as you enjoy your little miracles and guide them to become all they can be!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd

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