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March 2017 Newsletter
And just like that, the brief taste of spring, to which we were treated for several weeks in February, is gone.  Snow and cold have returned to the valley.  This is probably a good thing, because I don’t know about your house, but in my house, and all throughout the school, Spring Fever was rampant!  We have far too many miles to go, as it were, before students can focus on summer.  Bring on the snow and the cold, and the great learning it allows to happen!
While February has moved on it was filled with important activity in our school.  Most recently, the Soroco PTO, with extraordinary effort from Jordan Cranwell and Kelsi Edwards, raised close to $1,000 towards the purchase of new skateboarding equipment at the elementary school.  The week long Penny Drive, coupled with a combined PE/Pizza/Movie night was outrageous fun, and very effective.  Thank you to all parents and staff who were involved in carrying out this fantastic event.

Our school is currently focusing on RAMS behavior all through the school.  We had a kick-off assembly the week of February 20th, and are working hard at filling ROCKY’s horns with color.  Students earn “RAMS Heads” by showing Respectful, Accountable, Motivated, and Safe behavior throughout their school day.  For instance, using quiet voices in the cafeteria (respect), walking quickly to their classroom from a group (motivated), picking up litter on the playground (accountable), or remaining seated on the bus (safe), are all examples of the types of positive behavior we are trying to foster.  Please take a few minutes and speak with your children about this.  Ask them how many RAMS Heads they have received, and for what types of behaviors.  Encourage them to earn more, and be a part of helping our school to earn a week of crazy hair, clashing clothes, and RAMS spirit.

As many of you may know by now, we have started keeping track of unexcused absences.  According to the State, an absence can only be excused for a small list of reasons.  These reasons include illness, and doctor’s appointments related to illness, or other related appointments that cannot be scheduled during non-school hours.  It does also include a death in the family.  According to our Board policy, and Colorado state law on which our policy is based, the district does not need to take any action until a student has reached 6 unexcused absences.  This is simply a meeting with the building principal, during which we will discuss the need for regular, consistent attendance.  At 10 unexcused absences, the District is compelled to consider turning the matter over to the courts for a truancy hearing.  This policy does not, nor was it intended to, prohibit families from doing those things, and creating absences around those things, that families hold dear.  When we switched to a four-day week, and reduced our student contact days to 148 in a school year, student attendance became of paramount concern to our school.  I made the decision to enforce a policy that has always been there, but was seldom enforced. We all have families too, and enjoy spending time with them.  We strongly encourage family time!  We ask that you be judicious when you choose to enjoy it.

I have been approached by a number of parents, asking me to clarify our homework policy.  My answer is simply this; we do not have one.  Homework assignment is at the discretion of the classroom teacher.  There have been reports in the news of late, that homework is not educationally effective, or that it can do more harm than good.  Like most reports of this nature, it takes a little more reading to fully understand the research.  When I am in doubt, I almost always turn to two researchers I trust; Robert Marzano and Deborah Pickering.  What their research tells us is, homework for the sake of homework is a waste of everyone’s time.  Homework that is not appropriate does not build character and in fact may damage a student’s learning (thus the reports).  Our teachers know this.  Appropriate homework should be work that a student can complete independently, and is a skill they have already learned at school, but needs a little more practice.  Think math facts here (please!).  This is not to say that a student might not struggle with the work, only that they are familiar, and have been taught the skills needed to complete it.  Additionally, homework should not take all night.  A general rule of thumb is 10-minutes per grade that they are in, so in first grade, homework should take no more than 10 minutes.  If your child is working diligently, but not getting done, stop them.  Do not allow them to become frustrated to the point of tears.  Lastly, all of our teachers hope that you are reading with your students in the evening, or at the very least, for intermediate grades (3-5) discussing with them what they are reading at home.  In the primary grades (k-2) we hope that you are spending time with your child every night, and that they are reading to you, and you to them.  This is one skill they cannot practice too much.  If you have other questions around this topic, please feel free to stop in to my office, or give me a call and I would be happy to discuss it with you further.

And finally, when we return from Spring Break we will have one week to get settled, and then we will begin to administer CMAS/PARCC tests to students in grades 3-5.  All students will be tested in Math and English Language Arts, which includes both Reading and Writing.  Additionally, students in fourth grade will be tested in Social Studies, and students in fifth grade will be tested in Science.  This sounds like a great deal of testing, I know, but it is only, for fourth and fifth graders, about 12 hours.  We are currently going to school about 1,000 hours in the year.  Any parent wishing to opt their child out of testing must provide our office a request, in writing, to opt their student out.  Legally I am required to provide that option, but I hope that we do not have very many students opt out of testing.  The tests, I believe, have a bad reputation that is not deserved.  Yes, they are difficult, and yes, they do take time away from instruction.  But as I mentioned above, it is a small block of time relatively speaking.  Our school’s overall performance on these tests are used to create a School Report Card.  Last year, our report card said some pretty flattering things about us!  The more students we have participate, the more likely we are to demonstrate the effectiveness of what our teachers and students are doing every day, in every classroom.  Also, PARCC and CMAS were both created to be indicators of future success in both school, and in life beyond school.  They are a yard stick for your student, on the progress they have made towards their future.  Look for more information in April.

In closing, I hope that you have the time to drop in and see us.  Visit your child’s classroom and see the hard work being put in by your student and their teacher, every day, and I know you will be as impressed as I am by the goings-on in our school.  As usual, if you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to call me, (970) 870-2655, or email me at, or just drop by, my door is always open.
                                                                                                Randell B. Foster, Principal
                                                                                                South Routt Elementary School, and
                                                                                                Soroco Preschool