Sunday, December 16, 2012

Safety Above All Else

Like so many of you this weekend, I spent time with my son explaining the unexplainable.  I literally put work on pause and spent time with my sons, for with every tragedy, we are reminded that life is indeed short. 

Hunter, my eldest, is five, and was the only one of my three sons who made a connection to the horror that occurred. I would like you to share with your children what I shared with him - school is a safe place.  In speaking with your kiddos, highlight the security features that are in place at our school.  Help them understand that there is a plan in place, and their teachers will be there to help them if ever there is an emergency on our campus. 

Older children need to understand that even though these occurrences are unfortunately happening more often, they are still rare. Encourage your children to promote a sense of community in the school, and have them watch out for others in the school. Most importantly, continue your regular schedule and allow your child to come to school this week.

For additional suggestions, please visit:
  •  PBS has an article with flexible suggestions for answering kids' questions about the news, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has tips for students, schools, adults, families, responders and health professionals in dealing with tragedies: 

On behalf of Durham Elementary School, I extend our sincerest sympathy and love to all who may been affected personally by this event both directly or indirectly.  

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Schools of Thought

5 things teachers want parents to know

By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) - During the average school day, teachers are with children as many waking hours as parents are. But many educators believe there’s a short in the communication lines between themselves and parents. When asked what they’d want parents to know about education, not all of the teachers we spoke to wished to be named - but they did share many common concerns from the classroom.

1. We're on the same team
First and foremost, teachers want students to thrive in the classroom, and they could use your help.
Jennifer Bell, a 7th grade social studies teacher in Tennessee, suggests that parents do all they can to ensure that students are doing their homework, exercising, eating well and sleeping. Whether students come to class tired or ready to learn can hinge on parents’ involvement. “We need their support,” she says. “We can’t do this on our own.”
In the words of an elementary school teacher from Georgia, “We are professionals. Teaching children is our area of expertise. Your child benefits more when you support me.”
And while educators expect students to make mistakes, Mississippi teacher Beth Wilbanks Smith asks parents to help them learn from those mistakes. “They will grow to be productive citizens if we all work as a unified force,” she writes.

2. Curriculum isn’t always up to us
One aspect of education that teachers say many parents don’t realize is that there’s not much wiggle room in classroom curriculum.
Forty-five states have adopted The Common Core State Standards. As a result, Bell says that teachers aren’t always responsible for the pace or the material. What they are responsible for: teaching the material itself and the test scores that result.
Parents may not agree with the education guidelines set by state or federal government, and many teachers don’t either. A Georgia educator told us, “Legislators and politicians are not educators; they make decisions regarding education without the knowledge of how it will impact student learning.”
So teachers ask that parents show understanding when addressing issues that educators do not have the power to change.

3. Share the responsibility
Something educators don’t want is for parents to have a combative approach to problems that arise at school.
A pair of Georgia elementary school teachers said that a student tells his side of the story through his own point of view. In order to get the whole story and avoid any misunderstandings, it’s important to objectively approach the educator.
A junior high school teacher from Missouri echoes this. “The national rhetoric lately in politics, movies, etc. has really put teachers on the defensive, and I think parents today are more likely to try and place blame on a teacher instead of ask their student to take more responsibility.”
This educator suggests allowing the student to both fail and take the responsibility to correct the error. “As a parent, I know this isn’t easy, but always trying to jump in and save your student won’t help them in the future.”

4. A track record doesn't guarantee a track star
“Something that has come up in conversations often lately among teachers: Past results don’t always result in future success,” writes a Missouri educator.
Teachers sometimes hear parents say that their student has always done well in a given subject, so there’s no reason why he or she should have trouble with it going forward.
But that’s not always the case, and it’s not necessarily the teacher’s fault. “This year’s concepts are very different,” the educator says, and the student “might be struggling with a more advanced concept.”

5. We know where you’re coming from
A recently retired Georgia teacher told us that 80-85% of her colleagues had children of their own. She says this gives educators compassion and insight into how a child learns. “Parents see a child. Teachers see both the child and the student. They have the ability to see multiple perspectives.”
When discussing success in the classroom, Smith also mentioned compassion as an ingredient, along with structure, order and inspiration. The recipe “makes for a dynamic environment,” she said. “I am not ‘a friend’ to my students, but I am their mentor, their confidant, and their stability while they are in my care.”
And while virtually all teachers would like to give more individualized attention to students, educators are limited by time, curriculum and class sizes. These are challenges that teachers feel some parents don’t understand.
As stated by a woman with decades of experience as both a teacher and a parent, “Your child is unique, just like everyone else’s.”

To read more about the power of parents in public school, visit

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Curriculum Night

‘Tis the season for learning and having fun!  Almost 120 families attended Curriculum Night and participated in hands-on activities while learning how to support their children by doing simple activities at home.
I would be remiss if I did not express my sincere gratitude to all of the parents who took the time to come out and participate.  As students came back to share the passport stamps they collected on their journey through the stations, they shared their favorite activities of the night: riding the blender bike in PE, beating their parents in I Declare War at the math station, painting Mandarin Chinese characters with Ms. Shay, making bookmarks in the library, creating crossword puzzles in computers, and investigating how much force is needed to launch a marshmallow 15 feet into the air in the science lab.

I truly appreciated the parents’ acknowledgement that the experience tonight heightened their awareness of the many different activities that they can do at home to support their children’s education.  Here are some additional things that you can do at home:
·         Save your seeds the next time you eat a piece of fruit! Try planting them indoors in a zip lock bag or clear cup and measure how tall they grow. Be sure to transplant them into the ground as the plant grows.
·         Practice measuring things around the house.  Use tape measures, yard sticks, rulers, meter sticks, gallon jugs, quart bottles, measuring cups, food scales, etc. Let your child help you cook a meal or a batch of cookies.  Ask them to double the recipe, cut it in half, etc. Let them discover that 1/2 cup is equal to 2/4 cup. 
·         If you can’t go for a walk or a bike ride…..jump rope!  Jumping rope is a perfect way to burn calories and increase cardiovascular endurance!  Jump ropes are inexpensive and can be found at the dollar store.  Children who remain active are more receptive in class.
·         Find the reading and writing in everyday things. Take the time to show your child ways that adults use reading and writing every day.

I hope that you will all continue to remain involved in your child’s learning as the year progresses. In a recent study, researchers established that family participation in education was twice as predictive of students’ academic success as family socioeconomic status. The earlier in a child’s educational process parent involvement begins, the more powerful the effects.  Additionally, I want to share with you that the most consistent predictors of children’s academic achievement and social adjustment are parent expectations of the child’s academic attainment and satisfaction with their child’s education at school. 

On behalf of our dedicated teachers, thank you again for coming out to support Curriculum Night.

Save the date for our Fine Arts Night Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nice Matters

Prior to heading off for the Thanksgiving break, we had 163 families join us for the annual Thanksgiving luncheon. It was a great turn out, and although it may not have verbalized, the children were certainly grateful that their parents made the extra effort to spend time with them. 

 I relished the time that I was able to spend with my family and friends during the Thanksgiving break and hope you were able to do the same.   I visited a holiday craft show and asked one of the vendors for his business card, which listed his business as Nice Matters.  For an unknown reason, those two simple words struck a chord with me.  How are we helping our children to recognize that although it is nice to be important, it is indeed more important to be nice?

 As the holiday season approaches and the focus narrows to shopping lists and material things, make a concerted effort to remind your children that ‘tis the season to be nice.  Our children deserve to learn important lessons from us and to acquire important habits with our help. They need help in learning what matters to us. We want our children to grow up to be responsible adults. We want them to learn to feel, think, and act with respect for themselves and for other people. We want them to pursue their own well-being, while also being considerate of the needs and feelings of others.

What can you do?
Have your child give a gift of himself during the upcoming holiday season or anytime he wants to do something nice for someone else.
1.      Talk to your child about gift giving. What does it mean to give something to someone else?
2.      Instead of buying a gift, have your child make a gift. Does your child have a special talent? Maybe your child would like to sing or write a song for a relative? Is there a chore your child could do? Maybe wash the dishes for a week. Is there a special toy that could be loaned to a sister or brother for a week? Could they help an elderly neighbor?
3.      Use materials from around the house so that little, if any, money is spent.
4.      If the gift is an activity or chore, have your child make a card with a note on it, telling what the gift will be.
5.      Find places in the community where you could volunteer – read to the elderly at a nursing home, visit the hospital and play board games with sick children, help to prepare meals at a local soup kitchen – do something nice for someone else.
Most young children do not have money to buy a gift for a friend or relative. You can teach your child that a gift that shows effort and attention can mean more than a gift from the store, for indeed, nice matters.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Durham launched it’s +Works program!

Our goal is for our school community to work together to raise vibrant, resilient, upstanding citizens from home to homeroom.

Students are encouraged to use the +Benches that have been placed at each recess area for the following reasons:
-If a student does not have someone to play with he/she can sit there and another student will know to ask them to play.
-If two students are having a problem they can sit on the bench to discuss their problems.

Please talk to your child about being an upstander and asking others to play at recess.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Spice Up Reading

Today I witnessed first-hand how important it is at times to spice up children’s ordinary reading routines.  Seven men took part in Real Men Read, and spent an hour reading to our second and fifth grade students.  As I stood in the breezeway talking with Anna Eastman, HISD Board Member, we had to pause our conversation to comment on the excitement that we heard coming from Ms. Reyna’s bilingual 1st/2nd grade class.  One of our participants was reading a non-fiction text, and the students were simply intrigued by his theatrical performance.  It was great to see the students so engaged; they didn’t even realize that they were learning tons of facts about reptiles. 

Reading with your child every day at home is one of the most important things you can do to help his/her education. But there’s no sense in always doing the same old thing. To build your child’s excite­ment about reading:
Find new reading spots. Pick fun, unusual places to read, such as a fort your child builds with pillows in the living room.
Read as a team. Have your child follow words with his/her pointer finger while you read. Or let him/her “echo” sentences after you say them.
Plan a performance. Choose a favorite passage from a book and help your child master it. Gather an audience to admire his skills!
Allow interruptions. When taking turns reading aloud, encourage your child to take over read­ing anytime you reach the end of a sentence.
Celebrate reading success. When you reach a goal (such as 100 reading minutes in a week), do something special!

Most importantly, help your child to recognize that reading is a fun experience!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Recognition of Accomplishment

Today, we shared our campus with 20 members of the armed forces in honor of Take a Vet to School Day.  Students listened to the story The Wall by Eve Bunting  and learned about the importance of service.  It is my hope that the conversations that our students were a part of will help them to understand why we recognize Veterans’ Day.  It is important for us to instill at a young age the importance of recognizing accomplishments great and small.

Last week, we recognized the 242 students who had perfect attendance – zero absences, zero tardies, in October.  The students were ecstatic to receive their certificates and pencils. One eager beaver first grader asked, “What do you mean you are proud of me for being in school?”  I was reminded of the importance of telling children that we are proud of them and most importantly, why!  Be sure to recognize your children’s accomplishments on a regular basis.  Don’t wait for a grand event or accomplishment – tell them you are proud of them when they clean up their toys without being asked to, read for 20-30 minutes nightly, do a kind deed for a neighbor or friend, improve their grades or meet their AR goals.

I also want to take a minute to recognize our volunteers who joined us at our habitat workday. What an accomplishment it was moving tons of soil to prepare the flower beds for our beautification  project by Circle Drive!  The families who came out did so not because they had to, but because they care about the school environment.  I know that many more families will join us for the next campus beautification workday. 
At Durham, it is evident that the work is not accomplished by any one group of stakeholders – it takes a collaborative effort – faculty and staff, parents, and students to make great things happen.  I recognize all that you all do, and as I count my blessings during Thanksgiving, I will indeed be thinking of each of you. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

There's nothing like the gift of time...

Every so often, I hear the sympathetic words from another parent, “I don’t know how you maintain a full-time job with three young kids.”  I will be the first to admit, it’s no easy task.  There are many days when guilt creeps in as I leave in the still of the morning before they are awake, and return long after they are tucked in and on their third dream.  I am fortunate to have my mom with me now, and her support is invaluable.  Simply put, I wouldn’t be able to give Durham 120% if she wasn’t around. 
There are moments when I am jolted to remember that I need to do what I tell every other parent to do – create some sacred, uninterrupted time with the kids.  This evening I saw how truly elated our students were to spend time with their parents and friends at our Taco Cabana night out.  When I arrived at home, I saw the same sparkle in my boys’ eyes.  Although I was exhausted from yet another long work-day, I had to have one of our after-school chats.   What routines have you established with your children to gain insight into their day?
“What’s in your backpack?”  Greet your child with this question, and you’ll discover a lot about what he/she does in class.  You can also:
·         Set aside time each day to go through their papers.  If possible, try to do it immediately after school while it is still fresh in their minds.
·         Look over work together.  Help them feel proud by making a specific comment about something they’ve done.  For instance, if they show you a picture drawn in art class, you might say, “The gray sky and big waves look just like our rainy day at the beach.”
·         Have them talk through math problems or science experiments to show what they learned.  They might explain how they found the perimeter of a triangle or why ants dig tunnels.
Children want nothing more than the gift of time, and that doesn’t cost a dime.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Raise a Child Who Gives Back

Yesterday, after a fun-filled Election Day on campus, I carved out time to take my sons with me to vote. Although they are still in their primary years, I feel that it is never too early to share with them that having choices and a voice is powerful and purposeful.  On the way to the voting site, I shared why we were going to vote, who we were voting for and why I made that choice.  Hunter and Parker were interested in how they would find out if their guy won.  This morning they attentively listened to the news to find out. 

As parents, we must remain cognizant of the influence that we have in our children’s lives.  We make choices that will impact their decision-making abilities later in life.  As the holiday season approaches, our kids are likely to share all the great things they want as the catalogs and commercials take center stage.  Try providing this opportunity for choice – for every new toy or game that your child wants or receives, he/she will have to choose a gently used toy or game that is no longer one of his/her favorites, to donate to a local church/shelter/child in-need.  It may be difficult for kids to make this choice, but support them through the process.  Learning to make their own choices helps children to become independent thinkers, responsible citizens and confident decision-makers.  If we begin to raise children who can think about how their choices can impact others, we will indeed be able to say we did our duty as parents.

Let me also share that I would be remiss if I did not express my sincere gratitude to all of our parents and community members who supported our Young Leaders’ Election Day bake sale.  The generous donations totaled $900.00 and will support our campus beautification project.  On behalf of the entire faculty, staff and student body, thank you for your support.  It is truly a pleasure to serve such a dedicated community. 

Young Leaders' Bake Sale

Durham students took to the polls!

Our Top Dogs served a poll workers...

Durham students voted for Pres. Obama wiht 330 votes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thank you to the City of Houston

Superintendent of Schools

Dear Team HISD Member:
For generations to come, our city will look back on this election as a time when Houston stood up for its children and made a long-term investment in our future.
Today, Houston ISD voters approved our plan to rebuild or renovate 38 schools in neighborhoods across Houston — and start work on a host of other critically important projects that were dependent on the bond proposition’s passage.
I want to extend my personal thanks to all of you who shared information with the public about this important project. Your commitment to educate, not advocate, helped voters decide for themselves whether to support this transformational undertaking.
Over the past few weeks, I have seen so many creative efforts to keep this election in the public eye. Employees passed out handbills at dozens of locations, distributed get-out-the-vote yard signs, and even organized a “Zombies Vote Early” campaign to drive voters to the polls.
I can only conclude that your efforts have been successful, so on behalf of myself, the Board of Education, and the many generations of children who will benefit from this bond’s passage: Thank you!
Our children deserve the very best learning environment we can give them — and today’s vote will go a long way toward making that happen.
Terry B. Grier, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Scholastic Book Fair

If you ventured out to shop recently, you'll notice that all the stores are laden with Christmas decorations, and we haven't even carved turkeys yet.  You can jump start your shopping by visiting our scheduled book fair; give a gift that will last a lifetime - books open our children to a new world.

This week's schedule is as follows:
·         Mon. and Tues. – Students will be able to preview books during the day
·         Tues. 3:30 to 6:00 PM – Sneak Peak Grand Opening; doors open to shop!
·         Wed. and Thurs. – 7:45 AM to 3:45 PM; shop ‘til you drop!
·         Wed. – Lunch with Someone Grand; join your child for lunch and shop during all lunch periods!
·         Fri. – Donuts with Dads* 7:40 to 8:15 AM (*donuts while supplies last); students can shop until noon

Remember to:
·         Set aside time for daily reading. Children who read at least 20 minutes a day (in addition to their regular homework reading) are more successful in school and develop larger vocabularies.
·         Make your routine special. Read favorite books before school at the breakfast table. Visit the library every week and fill a bag with new books to read. Do whatever it takes to keep your child excited about reading!
·         Stick to a regular bedtime reading routine. Allow time for getting ready for bed, reading a bedtime story and saying good-night.

Visit for additional information.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Another week ends...

I must admit that this was an emotionally draining week for me, as so many of my close friends and family members were affected by the destruction and devastation left in the path of Hurricane Sandy.  The outpouring of thoughts and prayers that so many of our parents and staff shared, knowing that I am still a New Yorker at heart, was indeed touching. It certainly helped me to put things in perspective this week. I made a conscious decision to prioritize what’s important and to follow through in getting certain things accomplished.  I encourage you to do the same.
As always, no matter what is happening beyond our walls, we keep doing the work we were charged to do at Durham.  Today, our grade 5 students got to experience the morning at Black MS.  As they came back to campus and reflected on their experience, many of them shared the goals they need to set to transition successfully to middle school next year.  Take a moment to ask your child, no matter what grade he/she is in, what his/her goals are.

The highlight of my day was seeing the share glee of the students who participated in the perfect attendance ice cream social.  As you know, regular attendance in elementary school sets up a good pattern for your child’s entire school career.  Show your child that school comes first by trying to keep days off for seriousness illnesses and family emergencies; schedule routine doctor and dentist appointments for after school or over the upcoming breaks.  Today, the children cheered, “Hip hip hooray, I was here every day.”  I am extremely proud of the 222 students who were here every day, on time, for the first nine week.  The kids who missed it this go around are already talking about being in school every day to participate in the second perfect attendance event.  Healthy competition – that’s fantastic!
"The more you're here, the more you'll learn...

...the more you learn, the farther you'll go!"