Friday, November 18, 2016

A Thankful Principal 2016

Last year, I wrote a post called "A Thankful Principal" and listed just a few of the things that I was thankful for with regard to our faculty and staff here at WJHS.  Please click on the link to review that post because every word of it is just as true in 2016 as it was then.

This year, I thought that I would turn my attention to the "stinkin' awesome" students that I have the pleasure to serve every day.

In our recent Veterans Day Assembly, outlined in the post Patriotism: Now More Than Ever, I took the time to tell our Veterans how wonderful our students are.

My unscripted comments were something like, "I know that you served so that we could have a better America.  And, I know that today's youth often get a bad rap.  But let me tell you, these students that we have here, those that have performed for you today as well as all of those sitting in the bleachers, give me confidence in a brighter future for America.  They love our country, are patriotic, and consistently serving.  They will lead us to a brighter future.  America's best days are still ahead."

Obviously, as an administrator, I do get to see our students mess up.  Messing up is part of being a 7th/8th grader!  However, most of the time I see students that give me hope for the future because I see them model our Wildcat traits everyday.

Our Wildcats are:

  • Welcoming
  • Involved
  • Leading
  • Dependable
  • Cooperative
  • Ambitious
  • Teachable
  • Serving
Thanks to the parents that trust me to work with your students every day and thanks to the teachers that help mold and shape our students into the wonderful young people that they are.

I am indeed very thankful.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Friday, November 11, 2016

Patriotism: Now more than ever.

What do we need now more than ever?  Patriotism.

Patriotism has been defined by Wikipedia as an emotional attachment to a nation which an individual recognizes as their homeland.  Merraim-Webster simply states that patriotism is a love that people feel for their country.

We start every school day with the Pledge of Allegiance and one minute of silence.

Sometimes you wonder if the ritual becomes just something we do without a real observance of the meaning of the words or an appreciation for the freedom that we have.

Yesterday, we held our annual Veterans Day assembly.  Let me tell you, it was an amazing celebration to be a part of.

Our students were genuinely patriotic.  Our visitors, which we were very honored to have several Veterans in attendance, were extremely complimentary of our student body and the respect that they demonstrated.

As always, our students played a prominent role in the assembly by:

  • Leading the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Our Band and Choirs jointly performed the National Anthem
  • Introduced each branch of the military during the Armed Forces Medley
  • Our Orchestra performed A Soldier's Hymn
  • A Forensics student recited Robin Williams' Flag Monologue
  • Bel Canto and Cantari sang America the Beautiful
  • Bel Canto sang Doba Nobis Pacem
  • Two students performed Taps
Those performances helped make the assembly so special and touching.  Many tears were shed throughout the gymnasium and several of the Veterans thanked us profusely for such a wonderful celebration.

Often times in today's culture, young people are perceived as anything but patriotic.  I can tell you that our students consistently exhibit a love for our country and a respect for those that have served to protect freedom.

I'm honored to be able to work with such a wonderful staff and such amazing students.

I hope that everyone takes the opportunity to celebrate Veterans Day and to reflect on the awesome privileges and liberties that are afforded to us because of those that are willing to serve.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Thursday, October 6, 2016

PTO Learning Walk

Our first PTO Learning Walk of the year was a huge success (except for the fact that I got so carried away with the discussion that I forgot to take any pictures!).

During the PTO meeting, I had a chance to describe our approach to the "Why school?" question and the type of transformative classroom practices that we strive for at WJHS.

My presentation started with the fact that at WJHS we strive to be about more than a test score.  We operate under The Wildcat Way so that our core values drive us, not curricular mandates or standardized tests.

We're also strive to build a school that students run toward rather than away from.  We want students to be excited about coming to school and learning. We believe that visitors to our school should walk away convinced that learning is a joyful act worthy of celebration.

The PTO got to hear a brief explanation of the type of instructional transformation that we work for daily.  Our teachers strive to:

  • Teach like Google exists.  
    • We want to eliminate the tedious pursuit of one right answer and provide students with problems to solve rather than stuff to memorize (and then forget?).
  • Get Real.  
    • We want our students tackling real problems, creating real products, that make a real impact beyond the classroom walls.
  • Get Above the Line.
    • We want to move our students from passive consumers of information to active, creative, problem solvers.
    • We want to move from a completely teacher directed environment to more student choice and voice.

After the presentation, we visited several classrooms to look for evidence of the transformation described above and then we debriefed about what we had witnessed.

Not only was our learning walk fun, our parents learned a tremendous amount about what is happening in our classrooms.  I personally enjoyed learning from the parents and listening to their insightful comments about the things that we observed.

We'll have another PTO Learning Walk in the spring and I hope that you can join us.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Monday, September 19, 2016

The FabLab Story: Making a Makerspace

Over the past two years, Mrs. Beach has done a phenomenal job of creating our makerspace (which we call The FabLab).

The FabLab is open to students before school and at lunch on Tuesday's and Thursday's.  We also have scheduled FabLab events frequently during Priority Time.

Mrs. Beach's latest post on her Tinkering in Making blog sheds some light on what the FabLab is and the continual growth that the program is experiencing.

Thanks Mrs. Beach!

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Thursday, September 1, 2016

5th Period Learning Walk

Our 5th period learning walk was another huge success.

Those that walked and learned were:

Felecia Myers, Julie Kramer, Adam Bulkeley, Deb Hight, Tim Sparacino, Blake Cook, Jannan Foster, Ashley Jones, Amanda Barham, and Susan Perkins.

Teachers visited were:

Carrie Beach, Libby Brown, Jennifer Bushong, Tamara Carter, Heather Crumpler, Kayce Schafer, and Scott Terrell.

As we visited classrooms, we saw:
  • A couple of examples of using bell ringer activities to continue to build relationships.
  • The use and graphing of “real” data.
  • Writing in Science.
  • Technology integration.
  • Interactive notebooks/planners.
  • Numerous engagement strategies (Tin Man, Barbie Bungee, Selfie Challenge, Ball Challenge).
During the walk, a student told me, “This is fun!  So much better than a worksheet.”

The same could be said for learning walks.  They’re fun.

Thanks to those that participated and I hope that you’re all able to join at least one walk (with me or your PLC) this year.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Success Skills and Priority Time: RTI at WJHS

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a huge focus for the Bentonville Public School District (BPS).

Our former Superintendent, Michael Poore, renewed this focus upon his arrival to our district and our current Superintendent, Dr. Debbie Jones, has taken over the charge to improve our district's RTI structures.

In addition to leadership and administrative focus, BPS has allocated a significant level of funding for RTI training for both administrators and teachers.

Couple that with the fact that we are committed to dedicating "Priority" time during the school day and you can see that our district's efforts to improve RTI are significant.

As great as those efforts are, they pale in comparison to the efforts of our faculty/staff.

An effective RTI system, requires outstanding staff members. that are dedicated to the success of all students.

Our teachers have a sense of collective responsibility.  That is to say that we see all students as "our" students rather than focusing only on those that we directly instruct.

Our teachers constantly work to improve their pedagogy and instructional practices to ensure that we are creating the best possible learning environment and concentrated instruction.

Our teachers work in Professional Learning Community (PLC) teams to constantly determine exactly what students should know and be able to do, administer and review common assessment data, and ensure certain access to both remediation and enrichment activities as needed.

This year, our teachers have committed to ramping up the advisory component of our RTI system to help ensure that "success skills" instruction is a routine part of our school day.

Over the past two years, we've also worked to completely revamp our seminar period (now known as "Priority" time).   During this time, we have created a system that allows us to offer targeted ("closed") sessions for Tier II interventions and "open" sessions for enrichment opportunities.  These open sessions also serve to help with our goal of building a school that students run toward by providing students with opportunities to do the things they love, be creative, and otherwise get involved in our school.

Our entire staff is to be commended for our outstanding accomplishments related to RTI.  We are also fortunate to have Jessie Hester and Ashley Jones who work closely with the administrative team to direct our RTI improvement efforts.

The value of having teacher leaders in this capacity can not be overstated.  Mrs. Hester and Mrs. Jones provide unique insight into the demands on a teacher's time and serve to help create structures that are not only good for students, but manageable for teachers.

As you can see, in addition to significant district resources, an effective RTI system takes an entire faculty committed to excellence and ensuring success for all students- by student, by skill/standard.

We're extremely proud of the progress that we've made and acknowledge that our work will never be completely done.  Thankfully, we know that our students are more than worth the effort.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

P.S. We held our first priority day today and captured some of the moments in this Storify story.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is absolutely critical for any profession.  Education is no different.

In Are Our Schools Fostering Lifelong Teacher Learners? (from Tech & Learning) Adam Schoenbart, a High School English teacher, asserts that what's best for students-- choice, passion, curiosity-- should be the same for adult learners.

Adam says, "I want to work in, teach in, and learn in schools where learning is the culture and language of what goes on every day.  A school that create conditions where leaders and participants continually develop a shared depth of understanding about the nature of the work."

The staff at WJHS continually strives to develop a learning culture.


First of all, as you know from The Wildcat Way Defined post, Ongoing Learning is one of our CORE values.

As a leader, I personally strive to constantly model lifelong learning by sharing the thoughts and ideas that I gain from professional reading and daily interactions with my professional learning network.

We've also created a robust Teachers Visiting Teachers (TVT) program.  Within our TVT system, we schedule learning walks where groups of teachers visit multiple classrooms during a class period and then debrief about what we saw.

Today, we had our first learning walk of the year.

Participants were: Cheryl Cox, Shelly O'Dell, Blake Cook, Tim Sparacino, Bryan Hale, & Kandi Cowart (not pictured).

We've also created a Flipboard magazine called "WJHS Learns" that provides our teachers with "one click" access to professional reading material.

We by no means have arrived...but we are striving to be a model school for professional learning.

Our basic message to our staff is described in the two images below:

Another critical component of lifelong learning is experimentation.  It is absolutely essential that learners feel free to fail as they implement innovative practices.

Our staff embraces the concept of "I blew it!"  We know that innovation does not occur without multiple attempts and rarely proceeds failure.  Each of our staff members receives an "I blew it!" card and each faculty meeting contains an "I blew it!" segment where we share and celebrate our failures.

In conclusion, if we desire and expect our students to love learning and become lifelong seekers of knowledge, we must model that behavior for them and share our journey with them.

What are you learning?  How are you learning it?  Do your students know?

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Goal: Create a School That Students Run Toward

At WJHS, we strive to create a school that students run toward, not away from.  We believe that students can't reach their full potential in a school where they aren't inspired.

This morning that belief was further reinforced for me when I read an article from ASCD entitled "The Schools Students Want to Attend.

My favorite points from the article were:

-Numerous studies show that engaged students are more likely to be motivated to learn, experience satisfaction from learning, persist in challenging work, and improve their academic achievement.

-Academic success and engagement are not mutually exclusive.

-It is becoming clearer that engagement is the lens through which students see school, and is therefor their window toward hope for their future.  In Gallup's report, vice chair Connie Rath noted that "students who strongly agreed that their school is committed to building student's strengths and that they have a teacher who makes them excited about the future are almost 30 times as likely to be engage learners as their peers who strongly disagree with both statements."

-Real engagement, not compliance, comes when learning goals are clear, relevant, and appropriately challenging, and the classroom culture signals that teachers are genuinely invested in student learning.  This means making room for students to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes.

-"Relationships are the prime factor of teaching,"  Kim Thomas said, "What do you love?  What makes you laugh?  You can build off that in any content area."

-"To engage kids, we first need to let them know they matter," added Quaglia.

-We will only be successful if our schools are places where students want to be.

The points above could have been plucked from many of our faculty meetings and staff development sessions over the past few years.

I'm honored to work in a school where creating a learning environment that students want to be in is the primary goal. Our teachers and staff work tirelessly to make WJHS one of "the schools students want to attend."

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Starting the Year Off Right

At WJHS, we think that it is critical to focus on relationships and engaging lessons during the first days/weeks of school (actually all year but that's another post!).

During my classroom visits yesterday, I saw numerous examples of teachers that were getting students "hooked" from the first bell.

Some examples were:

Creating personal flotation devices for minions.

Building troop launchers.

Collaboratively created classroom norms.

Gummy Worms and Math?

A happiness wall.

We are doing everything that we can to help ensure that your child runs toward, rather than away, from our school.

You can keep an eye on what's going on behind the scenes here at WJHS by following us on Twitter (@gowjhswildcats), Instagram (GoWJHSWildcats), and/or Facebook.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

The Wildcat Way Defined

What exactly is The Wildcat Way?

The Wildcat Way for our faculty and staff can simply be defined as all the actions that we take to develop our students above and beyond standardized test scores.

There are many facets that comprise The Wildcat Way so we use the graphic below to easily communicate what it's about.

Let's break the graphic down and explore all the components of The Wildcat Way.

You'll notice that at the pinnacle of The Wildcat Way graphic we list the students that we serve, our Wildcats.  We strive to be about more than test scores and to connect with students on a personal level.  We know that the specific lessons that we teach may not be remembered for years to come but the relationships that we build, the life skills that we help instill, and the success that we help inspire will be.

Our CORE values are at the base of The Wildcat Way.  Our commitment to our CORE values of Collaboration, Observation/Ongoing Learning, Relationships, and Expectations drive us rather than reactions to mandates or accountability measures.  Our CORE values ensure that we keep the focus on what is most important.

Next, the arrow represents our actions.  You see, The Wildcat Way is more than a slogan.  It's a system that we operate within.  Our staff understands the need to move from beliefs to behaviors.  We do more than "say" The Wildcat Way, we live it.

At the center of The Wildcat Way is our Focus on Excellence Framework which helps ensure that students master essential skills.  Our teacher teams use Professional Learning Community (PLC) practices to constantly assess student progress and develop intervention and enrichment activities based on student needs.

In addition to our PLC efforts, we systematically "Look Back/Look Forward" which means that on an ongoing basis, we seek input, review feedback, and brainstorm ways to constantly improve in order to live up to our motto of "Excellence in all that we do- Academics, Activities, Arts, and Athletics."

Finally, we strive to model the traits that we want our Wildcats to be embody.  Those traits are Welcoming, Involved, Leading, Dependable, Cooperative, Ambitious, Teachable, and Serving.

That is The Wildcat Way.

Tim Sparacino, Principal