Friday, December 11, 2015

WGSD in the News for Learning

Good afternoon,

I hope each of you is doing well and enjoying the milder weather we're having.

As you may have heard, yesterday President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which reauthorized the Elementary Secondary Education Act created approximately 50 years ago in support of equal opportunities for the country's students.  The passage of the ESSA signifies the end of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that was approved in 2002.  Once the "dust settles," I will provide some information regarding ESSA and it's impact and influence on all that we do in the Webster Groves School District.

In the meantime, here are two powerful videos which serve as samples of the amazing learning that happens across our great district!

Each child, Each day...John

Highlights from the 3rd-5th grade music concert at Hudson.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Democratic Learning in the WGSD

Good afternoon,

As we continue to move toward the district's vision of creating opportunities for learners to "discover and pursue our (their) passions," it's important that autonomy be encouraged and present in the learning of both the children and adults in the WGSD.  Please enjoy the videos below that provide rich examples of what happens when teachers and administrators put trust in the students to guide their own learning and experiences.

Each child, Each day...John

The first WGHS LipDub!

Desmond Reichold, first year music teacher at Hudson, provides 3-5th grade students with the opportunity to design their performance.

Patrick Bommarito, Spanish teacher at WGHS, provides his Spanish V students with the opportunity to creatively express their feelings regarding a Spanish song (another example below).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I'm thankful for...

Good afternoon,

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to express my thankfulness for all the members of the WGSD learning community.  Each and every day, the district community puts children and their learning at the forefront of all that we do.  Staff members work tirelessly with families and community members to provide students with the space and opportunities to discover who they are and what they are uniquely suited to do in this world.  For our amazing students, staff, and district community, I'm thankful!

Each child, Each day...John

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Student Success" in the WGSD

Good evening,

Last week, I had the privilege to share a few district celebrations related to learning and achievement with our board of education.  Here is just a small sampling of those celebrations from the 14-15 school year:

  • The district's Annual Performance Report (APR - state "report card") score is among the highest in the state.
  • Our 11th grade students performed very well on the first ever ACT given to almost every 11th grader across the state during the school day.
  • More students took an AP exam than at any time, and the average score earned (3.69) was also the highest in history.
  • In 2009, 0 students took an AP science exam and in 2015 94 exams were taken.
  • The percent of African-Americans taking a weighted class (ie: an advanced class such as AP) increased by 30% and was the highest in the school's history.
  • The percent of students suspended decreased to approximately 3.5%.
  • More science fair projects were completed by elementary students in 2015 than at any other time in recent history.
Here are some other celebrations from 14-15, most of which were highlighted at the board meeting:
A number of district staff members interested in experimenting with and/or currently implementing innovative practices are now gathering on a regular basis to collaborate and share.

 The WGHS Coffee Shop provides select high school students with the opportunity to learn vocational skills in a "real world" setting.

Children at the WAFC explore the concept of sound in their outdoor playscape.

 Mick Fumo shared with 3rd grade students how he uses creativity in his daily life as a chef at Cielo in the Four Seasons Hotel.  

WGHS band students were recently treated to a master class with the Kevin Eubanks Group (ie: The Tonight Show).  The band played, took questions, and asked a student drummer to join them in a session.

Each child, Each day...John

Friday, November 6, 2015

The WGSD....A Great Place to Learn!

Good afternoon,

In my role in the WGSD, I get to see students and staff engage in really powerful learning opportunities that are relevant, challenging, and rewarding.  Below is a "sampler" of some of what I've witnessed over the past two weeks.  All I can say is, "I wish my personal memories of school looked something like this!

Each child, Each day...John

3rd graders from Hudson collaborate with WGHS students to draft and create simple machines.

Hixson 8th grade students test water filters they made to determine if they are capable of filtering at least 200 ml of water in 30 minutes or less.

A Vietnam Veteran shares his story with high school students about being a Sentry Dog Handler during the War.

Check out this rhythm two 2nd grade students at Bristol created using Garage Band and then their own voices.

This Steger student is in the process of writing an excellent story about "a special place."

This 2nd grade student from Clark worked very hard to create a unique instrument as the children learned about sound.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Amazing Leaders at Avery Elementary

Good afternoon,

About a week ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours observing the wonderful learners at Avery in action!  Here are a few examples of what I witnessed:

  • Children engaged in an exploration of colors and patterns on a SMARTboard.
  • Adults in numerous classrooms and learning spaces intentionally placing themselves at eye level with children (many on the floor!) as they played a game, collaborated on a piece of writing, etc.
  • A teacher facilitating a beautiful discussion with her children in which they contributed ideas for how they might redesign or contribute to their classroom in a way that supports their development as readers and writers.
  • Children laughing and having fun as they played a game in physical education which supported their development with gross motor skills and elevated their heart rates at the same time.
  • Children playing a game on an iPad that required them to demonstrate their understanding of angles.
  • Children working in learning spaces designed just for them!
Also, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch Evelyn Linck, Mia Willis, and Sam Miller, along with Dr. Arnold, share about Avery's Leader in Me program with superintendents and school board members from around the state.  The children rightfully received numerous comments for not just their speaking skills, but their poise and courteous demeanors.  They truly were the highlight of the conference for many attending including myself!

Enjoy the clips and photos below, as they serve as a small but powerful sampling of the wonderful learners at Avery!

Each child, Each day...John

Monday, October 19, 2015

Exploring Different Cultures at Hixson

Good afternoon,

I recently visited Hixson Middle School in order to take in Team Journey's Culture Fair.  Dr. Rachal and her teammates did an excellent job providing children with the time and space to share their learning with others!  Among many other reflections, the children commented on the skills they used to complete the project and what aspect of their learning most challenged them.  Below is a picture of Gianni who partnered with another student to study Kenya.  In addition to learning that Gianni knows quite a bit about Kenya, I also discovered that she possesses the skills to one day become a chef!  The Kenyan dessert she made was fantastic!

Each Child, Each Day...John

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

WAFC: Children Transforming Their World

Good afternoon,

One of the most joyful aspects of my job is spending time in schools with our children and staff.  Actually, it's THE most joyful aspect of my job!  This morning, I spent 2 1/2 hours at our nationally recognized preschool, the Walter Ambrose Family Center.  Please enjoy the video that follows which highlights the amazing learning taking place there!

Each child, Each day...John

Friday, September 4, 2015

Learning in the WGSD!

Good Afternoon,

There are many reasons why the Webster Groves School District is such a special place, and one main reason is the priority that we place on learners and their learning.  No matter your size, age, or role within our district community, you are seen and valued as a learner.  Here are a few pictures that highlight our learners in action, constructing knowledge from their experiences.

At the WAFC, this child uses her hands to determine the size of the marbles, and experiments with the different sounds created when they collide.

Three WGHS students collaborate on a paper within a space in the library that high school students designed for such collaboration.

Third grade teachers from across the district engaged in reflective dialogue centered on the concepts from the "Collaborative Report."

A number of staff including myself participated in our district's weekly twitter chat initiated by some of our wonderful staff at Hixson Middle School.

While I don't have photos of the experience, I also wanted to share that building and several district administrators (including Dr. Riss, Supt. of Schools) spent a Thursday morning visiting several classrooms across the district to observe our wonderful teachers in action and to continue to work on implementing our teacher evaluation with fidelity.

While learning is certainly ubiquitous, the adults in the WGSD work hard to design relevant, challenging, and rewarding learning opportunities (and spaces for) for both the children they serve and themselves!

Each child, Each day....John

Thursday, August 27, 2015

First Weeks of School!

Good afternoon,

As you know, the school year is off and rolling!  Each year, learners enter our buildings filled with hope and possibility.  As my colleagues and I visit schools, programs, and events, we're reminded of how special our learning community really is.  Many of us in central office, including myself, spent quite a few years in other school districts.  While they were each excellent districts, we can each speak to the intentional and tangible care, that is given to children as learners and as people (if they could really be separated) in the Webster Groves School District.  I promise - it is unique and special!

I wanted to update you on a few items that relate to the office of curriculum and instruction.

Back to School Event
This year, families and community members were invited to welcome our staff back to school at our annual district kickoff event!  On behalf of all my district colleagues, I want to say "thank you" to each of you who came to cheer, hug, and ring cow bells for all our dedicated staff!  I hope that next year our crowd grows even larger!

MAP Results
Please click here to read a letter regarding the 2014-15 state assessments and future related information.

Phil Wojak - Peabody Award
Last night, WGHS physics teacher, Phil Wojak, was recognized with a Peabody Leader in Education Award.  Congratulations, Mr. Wojak!

Committee Sign-Up
If you are interested in participating on a district committee, please click here by September 2 in order to express interest!

Each child, Each day....John

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Google Science Camp Starts Next Week!

Good morning,

I wanted to introduce you to a free summer camp that one of my children and I will be checking out next week: Camp Google!  The video they created that's posted on the site below has a series of children sharing their curiosities, all of which are science-related.  We look forward to checking it out next week!

Check it out:

Each child, Each day....John

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

WGHS Senior Receives State Citizenship Award

Good afternoon,

"Congratulations" to Jessica Oliphant, senior at WGHS, who was just recognized as one of 8 seniors in the state of Missouri to receive the Outstanding Achievement in Citizenship Award!  Below is an excerpt from the official DESE press release.  

Congratulations, Jessica!

Each child, Each day...John

Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Eight public high school students were honored as recipients of the 2015 Outstanding Achievement in Citizenship Award. The honorees were recognized at an April luncheon at the Missouri Bar in Jefferson City.

Representatives from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the State Board of Education and The Missouri Bar presented the awards. Each student received a plaque and is enrolled in the American Bar Association’s Citizenship Honor Roll.
“It is important that students take an active role in their community while gaining an understanding of the principles of government,” said Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. “These students are to be commended for their hard work in the classroom and community.”
Students are selected for the award on the basis of their academic achievement in civics and government courses, performance in civics and government-related extracurricular activities and exemplary community service. Students also must submit an essay about the importance of citizenship.
Educators and members of The Missouri Bar’s Advisory Committee on Citizenship Education reviewed the nominations and selected the winners. The Missouri General Assembly established the citizenship award in 1990.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The WGSD Solving Crimes!

Good morning,

Students in the Webster Groves School District are helping solve crimes across the country through their learning.  Check it out!

Each child, Each day...John

Monday, April 13, 2015

Equity in Education - Minutes and BBQ

Good evening,

Please take a moment to review the April minutes from the district's Equity in Education Team.  As a learning community that values learning, individuality, and community, this group actively learns and works to support equity in learning for all children and adults.  

Also, if you're available on May 2 to attend the End of School BBQ, we'd encourage you to do so.  It's a wonderful event for all ages!

Each child, Each day...John

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Collaborative Learning Experience with SLPS

Good morning,

Last week, WGSD 3rd grade students in Project Plus participated in a "Creative Convention Day" at Hudson Elementary along with 3rd grade students from Kennard Classical Junior Academy (St. Louis Public Schools).  As part of the experience, Ed Grooms, our district fine arts coordinator, invited Mick Fumo to share how he uses creativity in his daily life as a chef at Cielo in the Four Seasons Hotel.  Students learned about new vegetables like carnival cauliflower and were encouraged to play with their food (see picture below)!

Each child, Each day...John

Friday, February 6, 2015


Good afternoon,

Jason Heisel, Building Technology Specialist and Webmaster at Hixson Middle School, has dedicated much time and effort in supporting students in producing a student-created, student-maintained web site.  The site is very inviting and showcases some rich and meaningful learning on behalf of the children!

Here is what Jason shared: 

"TechYes students launched their student site a site designed, built and maintained by students, an 8th grade TechYes member mentored some 7th grade students on coding as part of their 20% project (pictured), and our art Teacher Jenny Hannel had her students check out the Google Cultural institute and virtually tour some art museums where students picked a piece of art work to discuss and share in her Google Classroom."

Please check out the wonderful work of our middle school children...:

Each child, Each day....John

Thursday, February 5, 2015

One Thoughtful Teacher...

Good afternoon (again),

Last year, Lauren Forsythe, wonderful teacher at the WAFC, participated in Thought Session, one of the long term learning opportunities offered through iDEA (our district's professional development committee).  During that year-long experience, she engaged in some really powerful action research regarding the role a child’s peers might play in his/her successful transition from one space to another.  Hearing Lauren speak about the child, who was the impetus for her research, was and still is quite moving.  Since the conclusion of her research, Lauren has shared her work with DESE and others around the state.  Just recently, Lauren’s research was published in Voices of Practitioners, the teacher research of journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

I would encourage you to read Lauren's research article below!

Each child, Each day...John

CCC Minutes

Good afternoon,

Here are the minutes from this week's Curriculum Coordinating Council comprised of staff, parents, and community members.  Topics on this month's agenda included state testing, the work of The Collaborative, the Student Success Report, and an update from the Equity in Education Team.

Each Child, Each Day....John

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is this how you learned about rocks?

Good morning, 

As you know, we are blessed to have some amazing learners in the Webster Groves School District!  Please take a moment to check out the creative production below that Jim Hake and his class at Edgar Road produced to share their learning of the rock cycle!

Jim shared, "The kids really enjoyed the process of writing, recording, and shooting the music video. In addition, the hard work paid off. The evidence of this is that there were kids mouthing the words to the song and writing lyrics on their end of unit assessment while explaining the rock cycle. Also, they are super excited to see how many views they have on YouTube!"

Wish learning about rocks would have been this engaging and memorable for me back in the day.  "Thanks" to Jim and his students for sharing their learning!

Each child, Each day...John

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Dear Families,

On January 2, preschool through sixth grade staff had the opportunity to learn together at edcampWG!  What makes the "edcamp" model of professional learning unique is that participants have the opportunity to initiate what they want to share, learn about, and/or discuss - THAT DAY!

Here is just a sampling of the more than 40 topics explored: 20% time in the classroom, social justice, Twitter, meeting the mental health needs of children, relevant writing, initiating big change, cooperative learning in the arts, coding, and pop culture in the classroom.

In addition, staff also had the opportunity to interact with local agencies in support of both child and adult learning.  Some of those groups included the Washington University Young Scientist Program, Preferred Family Health, Webster Groves Farmers Market, Monsanto, and Keep Art Happening.

All in all, it was a great morning of learning!

Each child, Each day...John