Friday, October 28, 2011

Small Steps Can Change the World

The book of the month program we have at Chets Creek has long existed as one of the drivers of our thematic and instructional focuses each school year. Personally, I use it to continue to propel my own professional learning forward as I work to keep up with the newest information and research out there that will help move our practice forward and provide deep and meaningful learning experiences for students. It's my baby, well one of them at least, and it stretches my thinking as I work to get the maximum leverage I can get from using a 40 minute period to present it in a way that teachers can hopefully take back and use with students in their own classrooms. I even house all the artifacts for each book on a Wiki we've created.

With our heroic theme of "Empowering the Future" this year I found the perfect book to kick off our book of the month program for the year. Giant Steps to Change the World, by Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee, is an inspirational picture book filled with examples of real life heroes who have taken small steps throughout history that led to big change for the world. The one thing all of these heroes had in common was a big dream and then big obstacles standing in their way. Through challenges and with a resolute spirit they each overcame the hurdles placed in their way to make a difference. Even though the heroes are unnamed it is easy to determine them because of the legacy left for us through the descriptions of their accomplishments.

In front loading some background information about the heroes in the book we reviewed some of the commonly known tidbits but also had some aha moments about what made these folks and their contributions to the world so special. So in an effort to continue brainwashing my teachers into understanding that they are all indeed "real heroes" I have asked them to highlight their own heroic selves by sharing their answers to the following:

Something You May Not Know About Me:
A Fear I've Overcome:
My Finest Accomplishment:
My Quote:
My Big Dream Is:
My Next Heroic Step:

I really chose this book to remind us to look inward and search for our most heroic selves. Our work, in particular, requires it. Teaching is not for the faint at heart – it requires passion, courage and most importantly, conviction. There will be barriers placed in our way but we owe it to ourselves and to our children to never allow them to thwart our attempts at striving towards our goals. We all have the potential for life changing greatness and no amount of fear or doubt should stop us from dreaming big and taking that first step. Sometimes even the smallest step can have the biggest impact.

One child at a time...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chet the Eagle has a BLOG!

This year at Chets Creek we have a new school blog that is being written by Chet the Eagle (really Melanie, our webmaster, but let’s keep that a secret). Chet is helping us highlight some school wide events and positive happenings that go on every week. Take a few minutes to stop by Chet the Eagle’s new blog and check out all the cool things that have already happened this school year!

Empowering the Future - one child at a time...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dear Ms. Julie,

Was reminded yet again at the importance of building real relationships with our children when this letter came in the mail today for our front desk secretary from a former student...

Dear Ms. Julie,
Hello Ms. Julie. Its your old favorite student Nicholas. How is your family and your puppy doing? I'm being better at school. You will be proud of me. I'm making good grades. How are you at your job at Chets Creek? Will you please tell Ms. KK, Ms. Cole, Ms. O'Connor, Ms. Bass, Ms. Ciupak, Ms. Walag, Ms. Nash, Mrs. Montero and Mrs. Phillips hello from me and tell them I love them. I really miss seeing you every day. I can't wait to go fishing with you and your family!! See you soon. I love you!
Love, Nicholas

Lest you ever think that you don't leave a lasting impression on the children in our care - think again. One child at a time...

Friday, October 7, 2011

One Child at a Time

“Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” - Steve Jobs

This is one of my favorite quotes by far and when I ran across it again this week after the death of its author I was struck again by how much it reminds me of the faculty and staff at Chets. We are certainly held out as the misfits – the rebels, even troublemakers but no matter what, there is no denying that we are crazy enough to change the world, and we are – one child at a time…

Friday, May 20, 2011

Help Us Help the ARC!

We just celebrated the first birthday of our Academic Resource Center at Portside with a huge party for the 234 students and 110 volunteers who have been through the doors for tutoring and outside of school support since it's opening. It is an incredible place, with enormous potential to change an entire community! We have developed great partnerships with American Residential Communities, the community owners, and Beach United Methodist Church that have helped us transform what was once only a dream into a growing and evolving reality. We have begun searching for ways to find funding to help support the programs being offered and are currently competing for a grant funded by Community First Credit Union which is looking to provide money to projects that help better the community. The ARC certainly fits the bill! Please help us win this opportunity by clicking "Like" on our submission on facebook.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Bend in the Road...

Honestly it's been a pretty bad week for me - in fact, one of the worst I can remember in a long time.  Our budget situation for next year is more horrible than I could have ever imagined, resulting the in the loss of $854,000.  Yep, you read that right, there are three zeros behind that 854, almost a million dollars lost.  Impact: Supplies, Instructional Materials, Books, and more importantly PEOPLE - Paraprofessionals, Office Staff, and Teachers.  This enormous sum has translated into the potential loss of as many as 28 of our valued employees and treasured CCE family members.  Devastating.  I am sad for the terrible loss of our part time employees who are just out of a job, disheartened for the full time employees who are being surplussed into uncertainty and deeply worried about how the loss of these critical stakeholders will impact our children.  The ways in which our precious future are touched and changed by these people each and every school day are immeasurable.

And then I was reminded of something very important by one of our baby teachers - one of the very teachers I had to bring into my office this week to tell that she may be losing her position here.  During a time when it would be easy to be wrapped up in how devastating these changes could be for her she instead thought of others and reached out to me in an act of selfless generosity.  The spirit of which epitomizes what has always made the Creek just a little different.  We are a family of people who care about and love each other, we rally in the tough times, lift each other up when necessary and stick together like no school community I've ever had the privledge of serving.

I dragged myself into my office Thursday morning, still reeling from the emotional conversations I'd had the beginning of the week, and worried about how we would manage.  On the middle of my desk was a large white box, covered in yellow and black CAUTION tape and inside this box were "rocky road" cupcakes complete with road signs, orange traffic cones and a note that began with this quote:

"A bend in the road is not the end of the road...unless you fail to make the turn." Author Unknown

The note continued with these precious words, "...I thought this week would be the perfect time to send you a little something to brighten your day.  I heard the above quote earlier this week and it really hit home with me right now.  I know I can't even fathom the long road we have ahead of us but I know this school will make the turn.  I am blown away by how many high spirits I see throughout the halls and I know that it is only happening because this school truly has something different and wonderful about it..."

WOW, out of the mouths of babes - she's right.  No matter what roadblocks are thrown in our way - and trust me there have been plenty over the years, we have not AND will not be deterred from our mission to create a learning community where caring individuals feel safe to dream of the unknown, experiment with ideas and experience the thrill of success.  Our children can't afford for us to fail, they deserve the very best we have to offer them.  It's not the end of the road, just time to start making the turn...

Friday, April 29, 2011

It's Budget Time - We Need Help!

I am in the throughs of preparing our school budget for next year and I have to tell you this is probably the most stressful event of the entire school year for me. We face the darkest, bleakest situation of my career this year. I implore you to read what I have written below and then take action! Help me not have to make devastating cuts that will effect our teachers and children. HELP US!

Article IX, Section I of the Florida Constitution guarantees that:
"The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida."

"It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for … a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education …."

Duval County expects to suffer from a $60-80 million budget deficit for the 2011-2012 academic year. All the facts tell us there is NO WAY to “trim the fat” and balance this budget crisis without affecting the classroom. In short, your child's school will suffer.

Valuable resources like Art, Music and PE may be cut!
Media and Guidance services could be reduced!
Our school week could be cut to four days!
Teachers could be forced to serve as associate teachers for half the pay!
Essential supplies and materials could disappear altogether!

It is important to understand that this problem, this CRISIS, is not limited to Duval County alone. This fiscal crisis is statewide. Regarding the total amount of funds allocated and spent on education, the state of Florida is ranked 50th in the nation. I ask you, does this represent your priorities? I doubt it.

Are our legislators upholding the requirements of our state constitution?
As voters, we share a heavy burden. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves with accurate facts. It is our responsibility to make our voices heard. It is our responsibility to act. It is our responsibility to advocate for our children. It is our responsibility to fight for their rights, for today and for their future. If not us, then who? If we do not meet our duties, we cannot expect others to meet theirs.

I urge you. Educate yourselves. Research the facts. Go to the source. Ask questions. Speak out. Make demands. Do not accept it as fact because others believe it to be true.

Ask yourself, is 50th good enough for your child?

If the answer is NO - contact our state's legislative delegation and ask for immediate help from one of these short term solutions:

1. Please give flexibility to the school districts in the areas of categoricals, (SAI, Class Size, Instruction Materials, Reading, Safe Schools).

2. Please suspend unfunded mandates on the districts. (Examples: Transportation, Testing & Curriculum Requirements, Safety Nets, and Staffing Requirements.)

3. Please give flexibility of capital funds—so they can be used for General Revenue.

Ask them to find long term solutions to the critical funding situation in Florida and urge them to make public education a priority so that even our children's children can benefit from a right guaranteed them by our state constitution!

To learn more about how to get involved and about how to contact our legislators and ask them to make funding for public education in Florida a priority visit SaveDuvalSchools.

Friday, April 15, 2011

We've Got the Power! FCAT is NO SWEAT!

You know attitude really is EVERYTHING!  When our teachers and students really believe in themselves I know there is nothing that they can't do - and the FCAT is certainly the perfect example.  There is so much that rides on this high stakes assessment, whether we like it or not, but I really try hard to convince our students that because of the hard work they do EVERY school day that it really is just their opportunity to show the rest of the world what we at the Creek already know about them - they are the BEST!

Every teacher along the way has equipped every student in their care with the strategies it takes to succeed period, but especially during this testing week.  And as a result of our everyday work and expectations students were calm, confident and even excited.  Our younger students and their teachers adopted the older ones to support and motivate them with encouraging messages and creative snacks.  The resource team and support personnel wrote positive postcards to those that needed an extra boost.  I even decided to put my powers of positive persuasion into a sweatband for each student being tested and every teacher or proctor they would encounter by arming them with the message they hear from me over and over...

Our third and fourth graders are done and only fifth grade has Science left to take and I haven't worried for even one minute about the test - I hope my students haven't either.  At the Creek no extra antiperspirant is needed: FCAT - No Sweat! 

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's Spirit Week at the Creek!

We have had such an exciting first here at Chets Creek Elementary this past wek. - our first ever Spirit Week.  The whole school participated this week as we celebrated the hard work our third, fourth and fifth grade students and teachers have put into preparing for the upcoming FCAT beginning next week.  I am so proud of our children already - this test next week is just the opportunity for them to show the rest of the world how brillant I already believe they are.  Our whole school rallied to help them enjoy the week instead of being uptight and nervous about this high stakes assessment.  On Monday we kept with our school theme and dressed like FARMERS.  On Tuesday we threw on all our funky colored clothes for MIS-MATCH day.  On Wednesday we fixed our hair in WACKY ways and wore our SILLY socks.  On Thursday we reached far back into our closets to find a CCE t-shirt, past or present, to show our school pride.  On Friday we all came dressed as our favorite SUPER STAR and celebrated all our special gifts and unique talents.  We also culminated the day with a PARADE and PEP RALLY where the teachers performed songs and dances of encouragement for the kids!! We even had a special visit from a former Creeker who is now a ROAR cheerleader for the Jacksonville Jaguars and her teammate to help us get pumped up. It's been such a fun, low stress week and I'm so proud of all our teachers and students for participating in the schoolwide celebration.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Barnyard Book Bonanza BINGO

This year we have totally revamped our Readers to Leaders Million Word Reading Campaign and I really think the changes have been very motivating for our students. Everyone who met the second goal at the end of our last quarter got to participate in our first ever Barnyard Book Bonanza BINGO! In 45 minutes we were able to play enough rounds of picture bingo for Kindergarten and First Grade that every student was a winner and for the older grades over half of the students won at traditional bingo. I also made sure everyone left with a little something (reading sticker, pencil or bookmark). For bingo winners our Media Specialist, KK Cherney, outdid herself - students were able to pick from mountains of books and other prizes. I have to say the event was one of the most exciting times I've had celebrating with our students. I'm so proud of all my readers and they can't wait to participate in our next celebration. Rumor is it has something to do with a picnic under the pavilion with popsicles and a PIG that needs a kiss from the principal. Oink!

Friday, February 25, 2011

March Madness - Chets Creek Style

Alright Creekers - because March isn't quite mad enough with all those evaluations I have to write I thought I'd challenge myself to getting into at least one (and sometimes five :) classrooms a day during the month to do a read aloud for you and every homeroom in the school!  I plan to dig back through our past book of the month books and pull out some "oldies but goodies" that some of you as teachers may not ever have been exposed to for the read alouds.  I am very excited about getting into the classrooms and sharing some of my favortite stories with all of you and the kids.  Click here to sign up for your homeroom's date and time.  Make sure to choose the "I don't want an account. I'll just enter my name" circle after you have clicked on the sign up box for your chosen time.  Sign up soon, there are only a limited number of spots - the madness begins March 1!!!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

We Love You Romy Day at the Creek!

When you look at any successful organization, you will always find people behind the scenes who are dedicated, organized and who put all their energy and efforts into whatever task they have been given. Rosemarie Wilkening (Romy) is one such person to our organization. Romy serves as a part-time ESOL paraprofessional, working in classrooms and with small groups of students as a safety net instructor. She also manages all of the communication with our Hispanic families as their liaison and advocate.

Everyday Romy ensures that all of our students and families, regardless of the language they speak, feel informed and included. She routinely goes above and beyond the call of duty for our staff by translating written communication and sitting in on parent conferences long after her paid time has ended. Over the years she has consistently provided literacy support to our youngest at risk students. She meets with students daily, never missing an opportunity to boost their self esteem and reinforce their work in the classroom.

Romy’s willingness to help out wherever and whenever needed and her fast, efficient, no nonsense style has quickly earned her the valued respect of her peers. She has built strong relationships with her peers and the teachers she serves. You will always see her doing whatever is necessary, in order to benefit the school – even if it does not pertain to her normal duties. That’s just another way she shows her dedication to teamwork. Her attention to detail and her willingness to help in any way make all of our jobs easier.

Romy has gone out of her way to build relationships with many of our neediest families over the years. She’s been to their homes, been to court, interpreted legal documents, investigated immigration laws, met with distraught families and struggling children daily, and even cleaned out the spare room at her house in case she had to foster any of these families in need. Her heart knows no bounds!

Everything Romy does plays a direct role in educating children and fostering their academic success, her extraordinary compassion ensures that even their emotional and physical needs are met. She is a truly irreplaceable part of what makes our learning community a success.

So today we celebrated "Romy Wilkening Day" at Chets Creek! Not only was she chosen to represent our school this year as the Employee of the Year but then went on to be selected out of all the school district employees as the Duval County Employee of the Year! We are proud of you Romy!!!

Friday, February 4, 2011


This week has been a total blur...I mean really! As I sit here in my office, still and quiet for the first time this week I have absolutely no idea what to blog about. I already know what I'm going to write about next week, but this week - nada, zippo, nothing! I'm complettely stumped! I think it's because I've been so busy that I've had no real reflection time. At least I hope that's the only reason. So I'm going to turn this one on you, the reader - what exactly would you like for me to write about this week?

Friday, January 28, 2011

It's Fuel Up to Play with Maurice Jones-Drew Day!

This past Tuesday, our whole school got to celebrate our award of a Fuel Up to Play grant sponsored by the NFL and the Florida Dairy Council. It was no ordinary celebration. As part of our reward we were paid a very special visit by our hometown Jacksonville Jaguars superstar football player #32 Maurice Jones-Drew. In true Chets Creek fashion we welcomed him BIG - there was music, banners, highlight videos, and cheers. Besides presenting our PE Coaches Estrella Bailey and Ray Robinson with a $1700.00 check Mr. Jones-Drew spent time talking with our Fuel Up to Play Fifth Graders and then the rest of the student body about eating right, exercise and the importance of determination. He was humble, kind and answered our students honestly, even when the questions were tough. I loved the fact that growing up he wanted to be an astronaut, that his favorite subject in school was Math, and that his childhood hero was his granddad! He had a great sense of humor and his message for our students was perfect - work hard, make good choices, never give up and you'll be successful at whatever you choose. I wish him much continued success in his future and he is welcome to come back to The Creek anytime!

Friday, January 21, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

On the first day of school this year every Chets Creek student planted a seed for a cold weather crop.  They tended and watered them as they germinated and began to sprout.  After 6 weeks, the ones that made it that far, were invited to plant them in our school's garden.  Our fifth graders really took this challenge to heart and weeded and watered our garden throughout the past months.  Each day the teachers and kids gave up parts of their recess to ensure that we cultivated a bountiful crop.  The fruits of their labor began to provide just before our Winter Break when they harvested beans.  Several students got to take the produce home and prepare it for their families.  I heard one student roamed door to door in his neighborhood looking for someone with butter he could use to cook them in! :)  This past week their rows of broccoli and cabbage were ready to be picked and I got to take home my own stalk of broccoli to eat.  The cabbage are some of the most gorgeous I've ever seen.  Our garden grows big and beautiful and the lessons our students have learned are limitless.  I'm so proud of our "Farmers" and their "Learning Cultivators"!  Next up is a spring planting.  I can hardly wait to see what grows next...

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Not the End of the World...But Almost

Last night the external hard drive I use crashed. Yep, my school one. While most would think losing everything on your computer is not good - for me it's near catastrophic. You see that hard drive houses every single document for Chets for the past 14 years. Just sit quietly and allow that to sink in for a minute. Every Connection, Memo, Letter, Form, Photo, Graphic, Agenda, Schedule, Sign, Survey, Data Chart, Powerpoint, etc - the entire electronic history of our school. It was my worst nightmare. I am proud to report that I have remained uncharacteristically mature about it, I have thrown no hissy fit...yet. :) My crisis management mode took over and I started immediately to try and identify allies who could help me attempt to fix it. Thank goodness there are people out there smart enough to do that kind of magical work. Right now all the data on the drive is being imaged - it'll take 9 hours - before they start trying to extract it. Hopefully, they'll be able to recover it all and at least if they can't there is an electronic "picture" of all 20,000+ items. A special thank you to Jim C., my hero, who is attempting to save the world as we Creekers know it! Stay tuned...

Friday, January 7, 2011

It's a New Dawn...It's a New Day

Happy New Year! I'm not sure I've ever been so excited to see a year end and a new one begin.  2010 was certainly one of the toughest I've had to endure to date and 2011 promises to be one of surprises!  Each year I always try to make and keep a few resolutions.  Like most everyone I know I have the very best intentions but often find myself abandoning them by the second week .  So this year I decided to keep it simple.  I made one resolution and made sure it would be of great benefit for me to stick with it.  The amount of email I get in a day is outrageous but I have decided that I will not sleep until each and every email has been dealt with for the day.  There is something so gratifying about seeing your Inbox at 0!  So good.  Now as each new day dawns I don't feel overwhelmed and behind from the barage of emails that never stop coming.  What are you resolved to do this year?