Parent Curriculum Night Recap – 9/3

Thanks to all of you who were able to make it out to Avoca West last night for our annual Parent Curriculum night. It was wonderful seeing so many of your faces and to feel the positive energy that accompanies the beginning of a new school year. If only Mother Nature would comply and show up with some cooler weather next time!

I hope you all feel comfortable reaching out to your child’s teacher now or anytime during the school year to ask questions, to discuss concerns, or to celebrate your child’s growth. One of the struggles with being a working parent is missing out on several key events for my own kiddos — such as Curriculum Night for my own children. Thankfully, “Super Dad” brought home handouts and survived the my inquisition about all things 2nd and 5th grade! One of the gems that I took from my son’s teacher is smile-worthy and a wonderful reminder of how we can support our children at home — without pulling our hair out!

TO HELP YOUR CHILD — Take from Ms. Musich’s 2nd grade Classroom

  1. Help figure out your child’s HOMEWORK STYLE. What works best for him (and also your family schedules)? Is it right after school? After he has a snack or play a bit? After dinner? Ask for his input. Children are more likely to buy into the SCHEDULE if they helped establish it!
  2. Have a place for SUPPLIES of her own.
  3. Establish a routine such as where the BACKPACK is put, where the contents are emptied, where important school papers and notes to you go, etc. (And be consistent to build the routine for both your child and for you!)
  4. Discuss CONSEQUENCES if work is not done. Don’t make it a battle. If he knows the consequences and still chooses to ignore the work, let the consequences take place! It was, after all, his choice! You can always write the teacher a note and include the unfinished work…the teacher can take it from there.
  5. Go over INSTRUCTIONS patiently to make sure she understands. (**This is especially tricky for us at the Hutchison House!) If they are still confused, call a classmate or jot a note to the teacher.
  6. Have your child DO HIS OWN HOMEWORK! Avoid doing the work for him! It should be CHECKED OVER and you can help your child make the corrections needed. If it proves to be too difficult, jot the teacher a note and have him finish the parts he DOES understand.
  7. Be a positive “coach!” You may have to give PEP TALKS and explain how the work is worth doing.
  8. Celebrate struggles and the effort that it takes to get through them. This grows a mindset that will build resiliency for future tasks and for years to come!

Please know that your children are in fabulous hands and that we appreciate your partnership. Enjoy the rest of the week, and stay cool!

Day One is Complete!! — 8/26

What a wonderful treat it was to welcome all of our students (and parents) this morning to school. Having their energy and voices fill the hallways was so rewarding after a long summer preparing for their arrival!

Before the week gets wrapped up, I want to quickly bring you up to speed on a couple of timely issues:

  • Birthday Celebrations – I will be celebrating student birthdays this year by visiting students in the morning to give a birthday sticker. Additionally, as we look to ficus on reading this year at Avoca West, our students will also receive a “ticket” to come and pick out a birthday book from a large selection in the office. Parents/families are welcome to return the gift back to our ITC (library) in the form of a book donation. If you would like to donate to the ITC, feel free to reach out to Susan Geidner.
  • Birthday “Treats” – In order to maintain the health and safety of our students at Avoca West, we will be implementing the practice of only permitting fresh fruit and/or vegetables for birthday snacks/treats. All other snacks will need to be nut free and produced in a facility that does not contain nuts. Please be vigilant about reading your labels so that our kiddos can learn safely at school!
  • Traffic Update – I know you’ve all received emails about traffic updates and issues around school that appear to be factoring in to our commutes each morning. You’ll notice additional “NO PARKING” signs for a portion of Sherwood north and south of our entrance (Beech). Police will be out in the area, so please be keenly aware of the signage and consider carpooling with neighbors and friends!
  • Chess Update – After considering many possibilities for programs and facilitators to bring to our students at Avoca West, the group/committee of volunteers nominated Chess Ed to work with our students after school this year on Tuesdays. I was pleasantly surprised when I met with their program leaders, as we have a longstanding relationship from my previous school in Park Ridge. I can assure you that I communicated my wishes to support a program that is inclusive, while still offering a differentiated experience for our children — and strongly believe that you won’t be disappointed. Whether you participated in the past or want to give chess a try, you can find out more information HERE from the Chess Ed flier. Thanks to our volunteer parents who sifted through the many options and opinions to find what is the best fit for our community!
  • Raptor Visitor Sign In – Parents and visitors who come to school should be prepared to show ID to our office staff. The new process includes scanning your ID so that we can ensure that our students are safe at all times. Thank you for your patience as we transition from last year’s ID system.

As always, thank you for your support and collaborative spirit as we being a new year. I feel so privileged to be here for another school year and look forward to watching our kiddos bloom. Be well!

Heads Up for a New Year at Avoca West!

After a busy summer hiring and planning, I’m excited to welcome the following new faces to our Avoca team this school year!

New Staff Members

Elizabeth Bowman (Avoca West Creative Drama Teacher): Elizabeth moved to Chicago from Ohio many years ago to pursue her acting career. She quickly discovered a love of working with students and teachers to bringing drama into schools throughout the Chicago area. After spending several years in a consultative role, she joined the staff at Healy Elementary School in the city to begin a creative drama program. Three years later, their loss is our gain! We’re excited to have her bring her expertise and that “grass roots” experience to Avoca West this year!

Rebecca Cross (Avoca West 5th Grade Teacher): Becky is finally back in the United States after spending the past two years in Abu Dhabi at a private middle school level academy. There she headed the math department, but she is eager to return to an elementary setting. Becky loves to travel and was able to feed her travel bug while overseas, visiting several countries on her bucket list. We’re excited to have her bring her multicultural mindset and eight years of prior teaching to our staff and students at Avoca West!

Hannah Edgren (Avoca West Kindergarten Teacher): Though the last name is new, after a wedding this past May, Hannah is a familiar face around Avoca West. She spent the 2014-2015 year filling two maternity leave positions in PE and in 1st grade. Her heart is in working with our primary aged students, and she can’t wait to bring her experiences as a kindergarten teacher to our team. As one of the first faces our kindergarten kiddos will see at Avoca West, I’m confident that we will put each child off on the right foot each day as they see her smile!

Brandon Howe (Avoca West 4th Grade Teacher): Brandon is new to Avoca West, but spent last year at Marie Murphy as an instructional assistant. He is thrilled to get back into an elementary school setting and to stretch his long legs in a classroom of his own. Brandon is excited to bring his love of sports and coaching into the classroom as he coaches his students to be their very best each day. Here’s to an exciting year ahead at Avoca!

Stacie Nanus (Avoca West 4th Grade Teacher):  Stacie is the newest member of our 4th grade team at Avoca West and brings with her eight years of teaching in a variety of grade levels and capacities — from primary aged to middle schoolers. She is a graduate of Western Michigan and has been working to build her knowledge of working with English Learners in her graduate school work. Stacie is not only excited to jump back into a classroom of her own, but to find a new school family closer than her previous Kildeer school! As a testament to her flexibility and positive attitude, Stacie was interviewed by our team via Skype from the country of Columbia. Welcome aboard!

Emily Bierbower (Avoca West English Language Learner Teacher):  Emily is a graduate of U of I at Champaign/Urbana and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with Middle School endorsements in math, reading, science and social studies, and most recently completed her work to add English Language teacher.  A trip to China was part of her U of I educational experience.  She is eager to work with our students and to learn from our incredible staff here at Avoca West.
Olivia Kamysz (Avoca West English Language Learner Teacher):  Olivia is well traveled and fluent in Polish and can converse politely in Spanish.  Her Bachelor of Science is from Loyola University in Elementary Education with a minor in English as a Second Language and endorsements in Middle School math and science.  Dance, biking, hiking and playing tennis are all sports she enjoys.  This summer she and friends took a quick vacation out east to Baltimore.  Olivia is looking forward to the start of school and will have plenty of stories to share from her summer traveling! 

Jennifer Panek (Avoca West Elementary Learning Resource Specialist):  After graduation from Arizona State University, Jennifer completed her Master’s in Elementary and Special Education with DePaul University in Chicago.  Jennifer student-taught 3rd grade at Avoca West in 2013 and has already been serving our students this summer in our Extended School Year Summer Program.  A fun fact. . . the same week she was asked to join Avoca, she also received a marriage proposal (and accepted both)!

Erika Slagel (Avoca West Instructional Assistant): Erika has been out east for the past several years earning her elementary and special education certifications/licenses. She is looking forward to being back in an elementary setting learning from our fabulous staff!  Her warm demeanor and creativity will certainly be a bonus as she works with our primary students and classroom teachers this school year.

Here’s to another fabulous school year!

Winding Down a Wonderful Year at Avoca West!

With so much to share as we wind down the school year, I’ll do my best to keep this blog update short! Thank you for checking in throughout the school year as I’ve looked to update and improve the overall communication from school.

  • Teacher Placement Letters will be sent home Tuesday with the students. Additionally, those students in grades 2-4 will have spring MAP data included in the envelope.
  • Meet the Teacher will take place Wednesday morning. This is a wonderful time for students to spend a short time with their new teacher and classmates for the year to come. I look forward to watching those beginning memories form!
  • Report Cards will not be official until Friday at 3:30. As I’ve shared in the past, the new login process allows parents to login and view prior to then, but know that any progress indicators you see here will still be a work in progress until Friday. Since your child’s courses have officially ended, you may have to click “Show Completed Classes” on the Standards Grades tab.
  • If you have not completed the PowerSchool Single Sign On process, you WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SEE YOUR CHILD’S REPORT CARD. Simply put, please be sure you’ve taken care to create your own unique login, password, and added each of your children to your login. Directions are LINKED HERE AGAIN in case you need them.
  • Have you registered your child for the 2015-2016 school year yet? Chances are, the answer is no. As of Friday, only 200 families in all of Avoca District 37 have registered for the coming school year. Yikes! Should you require those directions again, I have LINKED THEM HERE again — but it requires a PowerSchool login first, so don’t skip the important step above!
  • Online Report Cards…Take 2! Earlier this spring I reported back to parents about anticipated changes for this end-of-the-year report card.
    • The following improvements have been made for the upcoming release:
      • ALL teacher comments can be now viewed through the “Teacher Comments” tab on the left hand navigation bar. You no longer need to toggle between the blue dots and copy/paste them. Parents should be able to simply view all comments in one place and print them from there.
      • There will be course specific feedback regarding the expectations for reading, math, and all core and encore classes available in the “Teacher Comments.” This should give parents an idea of what’s been covered over the last semester and what can be expected of a typical child’s performance.
    • Unfortunately, not all wishes for upgrades can be accommodated on this second installment of the online report card.
      • We were NOT able to reorder the “course” so that they would have all of the classroom/homeroom teacher’s grades and comments followed by the core an encore teachers. This is something we will look to have in place for next year, but doing so halfway through the year would have negated viewing any previous grades and comments.
    • Thank you for sticking with this process of refining our practices at Avoca West. I appreciate it!
  • What’s new for 2015-2016 at Avoca West? In case you haven’t been tuning in to the happenings at the District 37 Board of Education, the work of our Master Schedule Committee has been presented to and approved by the BOE for next year! Kudos to our committee of volunteers for stepping in and researching possible solutions for the year to come. What can your students expect for next year?
    • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) will go back into the classroom. This is in line with best practice instruction and we truly believe our students will benefit from being able to weave the social emotional learning objectives into their daily instruction and across curricular areas.
    • Encore Drama will now be offered in the time slot once held by our SEL course. The hour-long offering will focus on creative process drama, rather than product-driven drama, and will be a chance for our students to delve into another aspect of the arts here at Avoca West!
    • Longer Lunch/Recess will be a new component of the master schedule for the coming year. In order to provide our students with the necessary time to eat, the committee has added time in for transitions from inside to outside for our students. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of this as a solution for our students.
    • Focus on Instruction During Prime Time! What does this mean? Those first hours of the day are the optimal learning time for our students. The committee was able to realign some of the core/encore blocks so that students spend at least one large block of time in the morning with their classroom teacher. 5th grade will no longer have back-to-back specials, and our kindergarten kiddos will have almost an hour and a half in the classroom with their teacher first thing in the morning. Kudos to our team for thinking creatively on behalf of our students!!
    • Library Check-Out Time will now be left to the discretion of the classroom teachers and grade level teams. This will give Susan Geidner new found freedom to partner with classroom teachers to co-teach and to have the ITC open for our students for a greater number of hours each day.
  • Office Hours this summer will be intermittent throughout the month of July. As a result of our construction projects in the office this summer, we will be relocating to the ITC. Any visitors to the building this summer will enter through the ITC doors (likened to the entrance used for voting days). I will be “in the office” on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, but available through email otherwise. Feel free to reach out and to send a friendly “hello” my way!

I’m looking forward to watching each of your children grow again in the coming year, and thank you for your trust and partnership in my inaugural year at Avoca West. Be well, and have a safe, healthy, and restful summer!

Let the AVOCA WEST! Countdown Begin!!

It is hard to believe that we’re a mere two weeks away from finishing up this school year! I’m sure that, like me, many of you will spend the next two weeks in awe of all that’s been accomplished this year and dream of what’s to come this summer and into next year.

Though our 5th graders are getting ready for their party this Friday and have a slightly different countdown, please encourage your child to celebrate with our AVOCA WEST! countdown.

  • A – Athletic Day
  • V – Viking (sprit) day
  • O – Outside learning time
  • C – Chalk up the sidewalks and blacktop
  • A – Aloha (Hawaiian Day)
  • W – Wacky wear
  • E – Extra recess
  • S – Summer Goals
  • T – Take it home Day
  • ! ; “Wooohooo!!” You’re finished with ______ grade!

I’m excited to watch our 1st grade friends share their learning of their new strings instruments at the Suzuki concert this Tuesday. It’s hard to believe that in just a few short year’s they’ll be at the awe-inspiring level of our orchestra students!

Our younger students are looking forward to a sunny Field Day this Thursday, and I’m excited to get out and watch them in action. Their energy and excitement is always contagious!

Finally, our teachers, support staff members, and I spent last week sectioning for the upcoming school year. I’m excited about the teacher matches and student groupings that we’ve put together, and look forward to sharing your child’s teacher assignment next Tuesday or Wednesday (the 9th or 10th) as we prepare for the annual “Meet the Teacher.” We will have the following changes in staffing here at Avoca West for 2015-2016 school year.

  • Mrs. Grace Roh and her family will be moving out east as her husband pursues exiting new opportunities for his career. Please join me in congratulating her as she joins a new staff as a 2nd grade teacher. I know she’ll be a huge success wherever she goes!
  • We will welcome Mrs. Hannah Edgren (formerly Anderson) to the kindergarten team. She has spent the last year closely tied to our Avoca West students and staff in the maternity sub roles for Mrs. Amy Chun and Mrs. Emily Hargadon. She is excited to continue on in a permanent capacity, and thinks the world of our community!
  • Mr. Brandon Howe will be joining the 4th grade team for the coming school year. Though he is new to our Avoca West staff, he has spent this past year working to support students at Marie Murphy. All those who meet him and have worked with him are eager to have a youthful, fresh perspective and energy join the 4th grade team! He will be here for our “Meet the Teacher Day.”
  • Mrs. Sophia Kondos will be taking time to dive into her graduate studies and supporting her family’s newest adventure! She has done a lovely  job this school year supporting our advanced learners in English Language Arts, and we wish her the best of luck!
  • Mrs. Diane Bilcer will be stepping in to the ELA Advanced Learner position for the coming year and will be also working with our intermediate grade levels through Encore Literacy. She is excited for this new chapter in her teaching career and in supporting a greater number of learners and staff members!
  • Ms. Becky Cross will be stepping into the shoes (and classroom) left open by Diane Bilcer in 5th grade. She is currently finishing up her 8th year teaching, and has been lucky to spend the last two years teaching abroad in Abu Dhabi. The 5th grade team and I are eager to have her share her expertise in both using data an in working with a diverse group of learners!

I will do my best to share any additional staffing information with our parents and community as it becomes available. Until then, thank you for your continue support and trust in our Avoca West staff!

Enjoy the week…and Go Hawks!

Updates from Avoca West – 5/26

What a treat it was to have an extra day this weekend to spend with family and friends. The weather certainly makes is seem like summer is nearly upon us! Before we get swept away in the frenzy of this shortened week, here are a couple of quick reminders.

  • Don’t wait to set up your PowerSchool parent login! Our team at Avoca West is able to help with any snags in the process at this time. As things pick up on that last day of school, it may not be as promising!
  • 4th & 5th grade Olympics have been moved to this Thursday. Our PE staff was proactive in planning around this afternoon’s deluge, and Thursday should be sunny for all of our kiddos to enjoy!
  • May Birthday Lunches will be tomorrow (Wednesday). We’ll celebrate our June and July birthdays next week. Your child should have received an invitation already in this applies to him/her.
  • Lunch THEN Recess “Pilot” has been something we’ve been tweaking as a Master Schedule Committee for about the last month. Our hope is that it gives our students less transitions in the hallways, lunchroom, and on the playground, AND gives them more time to focus on eating lunch. Though it took some adjusting on all of our parts, we’ve uncovered many points to cheer in the process!
  • ALL SCHOOL SPIRIT COUNTDOWN begins next week. We will be counting down the final 10 days of school with an “AVOCA WEST!” celebration. Our 5th graders are amped up for their special week next week as well, and you’ll notice that many of these days also coincide as well.
    • A – Athletic Day
    • V – Viking (sprit) day
    • O – Outside learning time
    • C – Chalk up the sidewalks and blacktop 
    • A – Aloha (Hawaiian Day)
    • W – Wacky wear
    • E – Extra recess
    • S – Summer Goals
    • T – Take it home Day
    • ! ; “Wooohooo!!” You’re finished with ______ grade!

Enjoy these final weeks of school and I hope you’re making many plans for how to spend your summer days and nights together making memories with one another. Be well, and thank you all for your trust and collaborative spirit.

Updates from Avoca West — 5/18

Thank you all who were able to come out and volunteer for this year’s Viking Walk. Based on the wackiness of the weather these days, we certainly lucked out with a day for the kiddos to get outside to move! Whether your child chose to elicit donations from family and friends or not, it was lovely to see the students push themselves to move more!

Congrats to our orchestra and choir on a job well done last week. Though this was their last formal concert of the 2014-2015 school year, I hope many of our kiddos will continue to stretch themselves musically all summer long!

In planning for the summer season ahead, the 2nd grade team met with parents this past Thursday to talk about how to support reading over the summer months. For those of you who were unable to make it, you’ll find a link to the presentation here. —->2nd Grade Title I copy

Additionally, there is a wonderful opportunity to keep your children up to speed in math this summer as well.

Research shows that most children lose 2-3 months of math learning over the summer.  I am excited to inform you about a free program offered by TenMarks that will provide your child with access to a powerful, personalized summer math program designed to help them reverse summer learning loss.

The program is called TenMarks Summer Math Program and here is how it works:

1. You can visit to pre-register for the program.

2. Before summer break, you’ll receive an email with instructions on how to get started.

3. At the start of the program, your child will receive a short diagnostic assessment based on the grade s/he is completing.

4. The assessment will be automatically graded and TenMarks will create a personalized program designed to prepare your child for the upcoming year.

I have already signed up my own two kids to try it out, and many of our teachers use the program already with their students. What I like especially about it is that it is personalized and it only takes an hour a week.  I know from experience that it is hard to fit in some review over the summer and for the most part  I just want to let my kids enjoy the summer, but they still nag me for screen time. This is a nice compromise for our family! The TenMarks Summer Math Program will guide your child through their personalized program, one topic at a time, helping them refresh what they know, and learn what they don’t. Each assignment contains embedded instruction (hints, video lessons, and interventions) to ensure success.

The 3-month program starts at the end of May. To get started, pre-register at

Enjoy the chilly week ahead and the promise of a three day weekend! Be well, and stay healthy, my friends.

Avoca — There’s No Place We’d Rather Be!

For those of you who have never spent any time away from the Avoca District, you may not know how remarkable a place this is to spend your days. Last week was spent honoring the many teachers and staff members who commit their time and energy to our students. Kudos to you all!

This week, I’d like to share the YouTube video made by our Junior High Strings students (made up of students from both Marie Murphy and Wilmette Junior High). Our students visited Marie Murphy earlier this year to watch this performance of “Rather Be” in person — a spectacle that was moving to the core! If you’ve not yet listened to the spectacular sound of our strings students, please treat yourself to this student-created video!

Enjoy the week ahead!

Registration and Re-Enrollment Now Open!

The long awaited process for re-enrolling all current students for the 2015-2016 school year is now open. Please follow the directions carefully on the link here and/or through the screen shots below. Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 8.09.42 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 8.09.54 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 8.10.14 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 8.10.23 PMIf you have not yet completed the process for the PowerSchool Single Sign On, you will be unable to register/re-enroll your student. You can find those instructions by visiting a previous post.

As always, feel free to reach out to our school staff with any questions. Looking forward to planning for another fantastic school year!


Are you the parent of an INCOMING kindergarten student?

Rest assured that our office staff is hard at work getting your child set up in the system. Once in place (shortly!!), you will receive a mailing home that includes your child’s unique access code and directions for getting set up online. Thank you for your patience and your enthusiasm in joining our Viking crew!

Teacher Appreciation Week — May 4th-8th

I hope you’re all able to take a moment this week to reach out to your child’s teacher to say thank you for all he/she does here at Avoca West. As a parent, I know that an elementary school teacher likely spends more waking hours with our kiddos than we do as parents at home. We are so blessed to have teachers at Avoca West who care for our students as if they were their own children! It was so lovely to see the students arrive at school on Monday with flowers and treats for their teachers. Thanks to all of you for making that possible, and specifically to those parents who were able to lend a hand with the Teacher Appreciation luncheon yesterday. Yum!

Mark your calendars — the last FULL day of school will be June 12th. This is two days later than originally planned to make up for the snow/cold days, but allows our summer school and activities throughout the Township to go off without a hitch.

Our registration should be up and running soon! While we originally anticipated opening things up for registration and re-enrollment yesterday, the switch to the single sign on process (please see earlier updates for details) has delayed things a bit. Rest assured that you will receive a stand-alone email from me when we’re ready to roll with registration/re-enrollment! Thank you for your patience.

Avoca West will begin our End-of-the Year PARCC testing next week. There will be three days of testing (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday), so please be sure your child has a great breakfast and/or snack for the day and gets plenty of rest. Our timing will follow the same as was used for our PARCC testing earlier this spring.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 8.38.55 PM

And finally, as we look to wrap up the end of this school year, there is still A LOT of work to be done! Our teachers are continuing to challenge our students with new learning concepts and in setting goals for the remaining six weeks. You may wish to do the same at home to keep momentum going there as well. Perhaps you’d ask the question of your child, “What would you still like to do with the last six weeks as a ________ grader?” or “What you you think you need to work on in order to get your ready for _________ grade?”

Thank you, as always, for your support and collaborative spirit. Be well!