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