From the Superintendent Blog

From the blog of Northampton Public Schools Superintendent Brian Salzer:

RK Finn Ryan Road Elementary School:

Classes at RK Finn Ryan Road Elementary School have been actively incorporating outdoor field study explorations into many subject areas in recent weeks. Students have been visiting the nearby vernal pool to gather and observe pond creatures including wood frog tadpoles, which are being raised in 4th grade classrooms. Fifth grade students have investigated adaptation through a number of different organisms including ones they invented themselves. Second grade classes are collecting and “dissecting” soil. These field studies also motivate students in their reading, writing, and art work.

LeedsElementary School:

On May 4th, the Science Collaboration between Smith College and Leeds will continue its second round of hands-on experiments. Chemistry students from Smith College will expand the scientific knowledge of students in the primary grades.

Kindergarteners will enjoy a field trip to Smith-Vocational School on May 9th. The purpose of the trip is for students to experience a hands-on approach to Zoology. Kindergarten teachers will create lessons that integrate Social Studies, Language Arts, and Science based on this fun-filled field trip.

First Graders are in the process of constructing habitats in their classrooms, which are part of their science unit on Organisms. First graders are also engaged with Sarah Pirtle on the second half of a two year, Better Together Grant that is funded through NEF. Second graders are working with the Hitchcock Center’s Science Guru, Ted Watt on their outdoor science projects. These young scientists are studying pond habitats in the Mill River as well as vernal pools on the Leeds bike path.

Fourth graders are gearing up for the trip to the Boston Science Museum. More information on this trip will be available in the next edition of the Leeds Newsletter.

English Language Arts:

Switching gears to English Language Arts, Leeds teachers are in the process of completing another cycle of Professional Development with Literacy Specialist, Jenny Bender. The Third graders attended the second half of the See Hear Feel Film workshop at Amherst Cinema. Students watched documentaries and worked in teams to write and perform sequels to the films. The collaborations developed an understanding of the tools filmmakers use to move their ideas from their imaginations on to the page. Students have been continuing this excitement with their writing in their class assignments and creating extended stories, developing details and adding drama.

Music room news:

Kindergarten has just learned about the woodwind, brass and string instruments. We learned how they sound and had a chance to hear them play. The bassoon is taller than most of us!

First grades have been playing rhythm band selections in percussion instruments and echo patterns on xylophones.

Second grades are writing original melodic and rhythmic patterns in a project called “Our Sound Gardens.” We will be playing them on xylophones.

Third grades are playing four-note songs on the recorders and learning to read the treble clef staff notation.

Fourth grades have been comparing the music and lives of Beethoven and Mozart. We listened to the Magic Flute!

Fifth graders are busy rehearsing for their musical, The American Revolution, acting and singing their way through history!

Art Room Highlights:
All grades worked on the Original Works PTO fundraiser where the kids created their own pictures which they took home with the option of parents purchasing the art work on different items such as mousepad, t-shirts, cups, to name a few.

The Big Y windows will shortly be adorned with 5th grade art work with the theme of “Dreams.” If you remember, last year we did the theme of “Food” through Community Arts Partners. The 5th grade classes are working on canvas with acrylic paints to create their art work.

Art is being integrated into the science units and the Hitchcock Center Grant with Ted Watt. Within the Art room and in conjunction with Mr. Ted Watt all classes will be creating Art related to their science units. Grade 1 has been working on animal adaptation boxes; Grade 2 is doing scientific drawings of pond life creatures; Grade 3 has been working on a mural depicting changes of the Mill River in two seasons which will be hung in the 3rd grade hallway; Grade 4 is starting to work on watercolor landscapes of the vernal pool; and 5th grade is going to be starting botanical drawings of the plants that they will be studying. Kindergarten will be doing an art project related to Andy Goldsworthy, an installation artist who works with nature.

JFKMiddle School:

The JFK Literacy Across the Curriculum Committee has been meeting monthly since the beginning of the year to develop a program that will address the new literacy standards across the curriculum. The committee is comprised of faculty members committed to supporting the literacy and general communication skills of all students across grades and subjects. Members include: Diana Ajjan,Will Bangs, John Henry, Michele Emanatian, Michelle Eastman, and Mike Soucy. The formal mission statement of the committee reads as follows:

To implement common language, procedures, strategies and tools to align teaching practices across the curriculum with the Common Core Literacy Standards.

The theoretical statements driving the strategy choices are:

Proficient readers are active before, during, and after the reading process.

Proficient writers connect thinking and writing throughout the writing process.

As a result of the meetings and most recent release day during which the whole committee met, strategies were chosen to address the standards. For example, the Committee has chosen Cornell Notes as a reading, writing, and thinking tool to be used in all classes at JFK. This tool will address several literacy standards in ELA, math, science, technology, and social studies at JFK. Additionally, the Committee is working on a standard approach to reading texts that includes addressing text features, activating student background knowledge, monitoring for comprehension, and synthesizing information. The Committee expects to spend more time discussing writing during the next release day at the end of the month. The Committee’s final product will consist of an online resource for JFK teachers, a hardcopy notebook of reproducible resources, and a chart detailing how the literacy standards align with cross curricular tools. The Committee is considering a grant to assist in funding the project.

Wright Flight:

Wright Flight collaboration between JFK Middle School, the Northampton Airport, and the Western Massachusetts Wright Flight organization came to a grand conclusion on Wednesday April 25th and Wednesday May 2nd when eighteen eighth graders took to the skies!

Made possible with a grant from the Northampton Education Foundation, the students enrolled in and successfully met the rigors of this ten week course focused on aviation history, science, math, and engineering. The program also included two field trips, flight simulator training and a final exam. Students flew over Northampton and were able to see the Connecticut River, Quabbin Reservoir, UMASS, JFK (where students and faculty eagerly watched from the ground), and for some their own homes. Upon conclusion of the flights the students were able to enjoy lunch with their pilots, receive certificates of completion, flight books, and wings which they can wear proudly on their clothing. Student Miriam Gorra captured the feelings of all eighteen students when she got out of the plane and simply said, “that was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Jackson Street Elementary:

Fertile Ground with the Jackson St. School Garden Committees invite you to attend A School Food Forum: Healthy Eating, Healthy Communities on THURSDAY, MAY 31 from 3:30-6PM. Workshops are FREE and designed for elementary school teachers and parents. There will be healthy snacks, PDPs, childcare, and Spanish interpretation. Please contact Maggie Shar for registration information:

Workshop Topics:
Promoting healthy food choices at school and at home
Integrating the school garden with curriculum
Engaging parents and communities

The forum is part of our school’s spring garden/integrated science activities. The students and teachers have been planting their raised beds (each grade has a bed) with the seedlings they started in the classrooms in early spring. All leftover plants will be sold at the JSS Farmer’s Market on FRIDAY, MAY 25 at 8:15AM and at 2:15PM.

Jackson St. School’s mindfulness practices were featured in an article and photographs by the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s reporter, Barbara Solow and photographer, Kevin Gutting. The report included our school’s NEF-sponsored Mindfulness Practices course that 30 staff/faculty have taken, our weekly “Monday Meditation” as well as our monthly “Movement Meditation.


The Rotary Inter-Act club is about community service on an international level as well as a local level. Seniors Savannah Holden and Emma Martin are the co-leaders. Internationally, the students are fundraising for a school in Africa. They have created pen-pal relationships between the club members and students in Africa, as well as initiated fundraising to support a new water filtration system to help bring clean water to the African school. Locally, the members of the club are teaching fourth grade students at Leeds Elementary school the basics of fundraising and community service. NHS teacher, Scott Mahar, is the advisor.

Joel Bierwert, senior, has won two WMass diving championships and has recently been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Swimming and Diving Player of the Year. He placed second in the Division II State Championships this year. Joel will be attending Auburn University in Alabama next year. Although he did not receive a scholarship, he plans to try his luck as a walk-on because the school has a strong aviation program (he wants to be a pilot) and a very competitive diving team.

2012 MMSI Teachers of the Year:

Sue Biggs received her Bachelors in Chemistry from the College of the Holy Cross in MA and her Masters from Saint Joseph College in Connecticut. She was hired at Northampton High School in August of 2000. Ms. Biggs is a science teacher as well as the Department Chair. She coaches girl’s lacrosse and girl’s soccer at the school. Ms. Biggs was nominated as follows: “Sue has the love of her subject and the respect for her students that are hallmarks of excellent teachers. She is not only extremely competent in her subject area, but she is also enthusiastic about deepening her knowledge in Chemistry as well as in related fields. She continually analyzes her own practice and collaborates in order to conduct classes at the highest level. She has been teaching for 28 years and continues to have the enthusiasm of a first year teacher, with the knowledge and experience to back it up. She has a talent for teaching that is so much more than practice and tenure.”

Sue Crago received her Bachelors in English from Duquesne Universityand her Masters from Smith College in Northampton. She was hired at Northampton High School in February, 2004. From the nomination: “Ms. Crago has been in the educational field for 28 years and teaches English with experience in AP as well as with students at risk in alternative settings. Because of these varied opportunities, she has developed a wide range of techniques which help students in her advanced placement classes. Currently, she is an Advanced Placement English and Humanities teacher at Northampton High School responsible for over one hundred students during the course of one school year. Last year eighty percent of these students had qualifying scores on their AP tests. She is acutely aware that students have different needs and learning styles. Sue is legally blind and always pushes her students to do their very best. Her motto is, “If I can do it you can do it. We might need a little help or do it a different way but it certainly does not stop us from achieving our very best.” Sue participates in professional development opportunities that are available through the Math and Science Initiative grant and leads Saturday AP sessions that prepare students to take the exams. She is “always there for her students” and is a respected member of the English department willing to work collegially with the staff.”

Honorees will receive a $2,000 cash award and expenses-paid trip to Washington,D.C.for an awards dinner and visit to Capitol Hill. Congratulations!