April 2018 Principal's Message

posted Apr 17, 2018, 11:17 AM by Vice President Communications   [ updated Apr 17, 2018, 11:17 AM by PFC Webmaster ]

Happy April, Walnut Acres Parents:

After a rejuvenating Spring break, we are ready to collaborate with you to create a strong and happy finish to the 2017–18 school year. We have a busy eight weeks ahead, starting with an important event in April that we designed for YOU!

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, 4/25, at 8:00 a.m. and again at 8:30 a.m. (Our second event may start a tad later since we are adding to our usual 30 minute assembly.) Every parent who ever volunteered in a classroom, on a fieldtrip, or from home, who worked in some capacity to raise money for school programs or personnel, 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!

4/25–Parent Workshop

A lovely parent shared a great story with me recently. She got home in a harried state one day and saw that the new family puppy had piddled on the carpet. She put the new puppy in the corner and told him, “No” repeatedly as she knelt and scrubbed the rug with frustration for the interruption to her busy schedule… until she felt the small, gentle hand of her six-year-old on her back and a little voice whispered, “Mommy, your balloon is very full. Your balloon is so full I can’t see your heart.” 

Our students are learning to identify their own feelings and those of others using Soul Shoppe strategies. They are also learning how to identify problems and solve them with others. We’d like share that process and vocabulary with you so that you can use these strategies at home too. 

Following our 4/25 Sing-out and Volunteer Appreciation Event, you are invited to the library to learn about the self-awareness and problem-solving language and practices we use at school. Our own Joanne Finn, Walnut Acres counselor, will lead an informal presentation and conversation so you can apply the same strategies at home as you choose.

Welcoming Our 2018-19 Transitional Kindergarten Parents

There will be a Transitional Kindergarten (TK) Parent Orientation in A-6 on Wednesday, 4/18, from 6:00–6:45 p.m. The meeting will provide incoming TK parents with an overview of our TK program and an opportunity to ask questions.

Scheduling for 2018-19

Currently it appears that we will continue to have 23 general education classrooms in 2018-19; however, our lower grades will shift to four kindergarten classes, three 1st-grade classes, and five 2nd-grade classes, while we will maintain the same number of upper-grade classes.

Our lengthened school kindergarten day pilot has been a great success, so we plan to continue the same timeframe in 2018-19. We will start the year with a 3–½ hour day, which will allow our young students to acclimate to school. Then we will lengthen their day with the start of 2019 when they have a little more maturity. This shift provides more time to enhance creative play and social interaction opportunities as a counterpoint to our more academically-focused activities of Reading and Writing Workshop, Math Talks, Read-Alouds, Problem of the Month  and calendar activities. It also prepares our young students for the longer 1st grade day. 

State Assessments

April is the month that our students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade begin the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) English Language Arts and Math exams5th graders will also take the CAST (CA Science Test). You may wish to check out the CDE website that provides you with sample science test questions (or click here.) In late summer you will be able to view the 2017-18 Walnut Acres CAASPP results on the CA Dashboard. You will also receive your child’s individual score results in the mail.

Our CAASPP testing window is 4/23/18–6/7/18. Each teacher will share with you the specific dates they will be testing.

While we do not want the CAASPP 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. That’s a very apt motto for the state assessment process, in particular!

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 picture of each child as a learner.

Continuing Our Safety Reflections

At the last PFC meeting we spent time discussing safety practices. I shared that we practice our emergency drills routinely and have safety procedures in place. Our visiting security specialist, Jeff Smith, provided valuable input. The group decided to pursue a “threat assessment review” facilitated by some parent (and grandparent) volunteers experienced with the process. The safety committee formed that evening will meet to review that assessment when it is ready.

Meanwhile, a Walnut Creek Police Department representative recently led our staff in a discussion of safety, and we decided to strengthen some of our safety practices. We appreciate your support as we implement these new safety-based procedures designed to ensure that all adults on campus are visually identified for our children. Here is the plan:   

  1. Bring a lunch or forgotten homework to the office rather than place it in your child’s backpack. It is unnerving to a child or adult to see a person going into a backpack.
  2. Check in to the office if you remain on campus after 8:05 a.m. or before 2:00 p.m. This allows adults who are dropping off or picking up students to leave quickly and creates a specific timeframe to identify adults who need to check in.
  3. Wait for your child at the end of the day at the tables in our courtyard. We don’t want to ask parents to sign in and get volunteer badges at dismissal, and this procedure will also ensure that classes are not distracted at the end of day by outside conversation and faces peering in windows.

Our Walnut Creek Police Dept. School Resource Officer, Shane Blatz, has agreed to occasionally visit our site and monitor how long he or his representative roams campus before they are asked by an adult to check in at the office. (If children see an unidentified adult, they are asked to report that sighting to the nearest safe adult. They are never asked to approach an unidentified person.) Our goal is to enlist our community to understand and support the practice of requiring ALL adult community members to wear visual identification.Thank you for your support!

MDUSD Community Speaker Event

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District Community Speakers Series will present School Readiness with First 5 Contra Costa on 4/18/18 at 6:00 p.m. at Riverview Middle School. Families are invited to attend and learn how to prepare for that first day of kindergarten, and how they can make the day as smooth and enjoyable as possible for little ones new to school.  Parents and guardians will get expert advice on how to establish positive pre-school activities and routines at home to support their child’s success in school. Experts will also have tips for that important first-day “goodbye.”

Input for 2018-19

‘Green sheets’ will be available on our website under Current News on the homepage and in the office starting 4/23/18. These forms are available to parents to share the strengths and educational needs of your child with school staff as we place children in 2018-19 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 5/11/18.

We are also sending home “non-return” forms on 4/16/18. If you will not be rejoining us at Walnut Acres for the 2018-19 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 the new school year.  

Thank you

Accolades to all of you for being vibrant partners as we work in tandem to support our unique and beautiful children! The cheerleading that you provided to our students at last Friday’s awesome Walk-A-Thon is a superb analogy to the sustenance you provide daily to our children…and our staff.  Your dedication to your children is admirable, and it is clear to me that you know, as author Orlando Battista wrote, "The best inheritance a parent can give his children is a few minutes of time each day." 

Your lucky, but rather wordy, principal,

Colleen Dowd