Weekly Updates from Avoca West – 2/24

I’m optimistic that the extra hours of daylight we saw today means that this cold weather is on its way out as well! Hang in there, my friends, and know that we’ll be griping about the air conditioning in no time, amazed at how quickly the school year has gone by.

A big thanks to all those who made this weekend’s Fun Fair possible and for those who were able to make it out to join in the festivities. I’m constantly amazed by the community you all have created in Avoca and feel so lucky to be a part of it!

As we prepare for our spring parent-teacher conferences, all of our parents and guardians will receive an email next week from your child’s classroom teacher. Like the fall conference sign up, we will sign up using an online link. We look forward to discussing your child’s progress with you!

Next week the PARCC window will open for our statewide testing. We will NOT, however, be taking the test until the following week. As we’ve shared previously, we are cautiously optimistic about the test and about its possibilities to inform our instruction in the future. Please look for an email from Dr. Jauch early next week with some more detailed information about the process at Avoca. If you’d like to plan ahead, our schedule for Avoca West is shown below. While we want to put as little stress on the newly-formed assessment, please be sure you child has eaten a healthy breakfast (and lunch) and had plenty of sleep the night before. Thank you for your support!

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 5.47.12 PMFinally, thanks to those parents who were able to complete our parent surveys for our master schedule committee. Our group is currently going through the data to look for trends and ideas for how we can improve our already wonderful master schedule to maximize student learning. You can mark your calendar for a Parent Master Schedule Focus Group. We will have two chances to come in to our ITC and share your thoughts about the schedule on Wednesday, April 8th. For those parents who are available during the day, we will have a coffee at 9:00am, but we will also meet at 6:00pm for parents who need an evening time to meet (prior to the PTC meeting at Avoca West). I look forward to puzzling through this process with you all!

Enjoy the week ahead and the prospect of an outdoor recess one of these days!!


Gallery of Happenings at Avoca West

Greetings, friends! I hope you all enjoyed a long weekend and are managing to stay warm during this week ahead. Our Avoca team spent a fabulous professional development day yesterday learning more about supporting our English Learners within the classroom. The time to hear from an expert and to meet with grade level and content teams was invaluable! Our diversity is certainly something that makes Avoca West a gem on the North Shore, and we look forward to implementing some new ideas and strategies.

Below you’ll find some pictures from two celebrations from the past week. On Thursday evening our 2nd grade friends filled the south gym with music. They looked and sounded beautiful and brought smiles to so many faces!

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Our 4th grade students welcomed parents and special guests to Avoca West on Friday for a writing celebration. Students wrote about someone in their lives who impacts them on a positive note. For those of you who had the chance to come in and hear our students share, I’m sure you fought back a tear or two!! What a lovely and heartwarming event to kick of the Valentine’s Day weekend!

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I wish you all a lovely week ahead, and please be sure your kiddos are bundled up as we bear with this winter weather!


Sharing the Love at Avoca West

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A special thanks to Colleen Rosenthal and her son Jack for helping our students share their well wishes with the children at Lurie’s Children’s Hospital. In exchange for sharing warm wishes with other children, our students were given a “warm fuzzy” in return. This is a wonderful reminder of our school-wide goal to increase mindfulness in our students! Keep those great ideas coming!

Thanks to those parents who completed our report card survey following our initial online report card launch. Our committee will look over the survey data to determine areas for improvement in making sure our online report card serves as an effective tool to communicate progress with parents.

Finally, please scroll down to see my post from last week following our PARCC Parent Information Night. For those of you where weren’t able to attend, you’ll find the slides from the presentation and a link to the PARCC Pearson website in case you’d like to peruse on your own.

Enjoy the week ahead!

PARCC Parent Information — Recap

Thanks to all those who were able to make it out this past Thursday evening (or Tuesday at Marie Murphy) for our PARCC Parent Information Night. In case you weren’t able to attend, you’ll find the slides from our presentation below. I also encourage you to stop by the PARCC website to browse through the “Sample Items” and “Practice Tests” that can be found under their “Test Preparation” link at the top of the page.

Additionally, we were lucky to have a reporter from the Daily North Shore at Marie Murphy’s PARCC Parent Information Night. She was able to capture the “cautiously optimistic” mindset we’re taking here in Avoca. You can read through the article HERE.

As always, feel free to reach out to me at hutchisonj@avoca37.org to talk more about the assessment or to ask any additional questions about how we’re getting our students and staff ready for the March assessment.

Avoca West PARCC Night Presentation

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Report Card Reminders & Parent PARCC Night


What a snowy start to our February

I hope you’ve all safely unburied yourselves from the snowy weekend weather. A huge thanks to our Mr. Cruz and Ms. Rios for working through the weekend to clear our walkways and keep them salted (as much as possible) so that school could open up again today!

Report cards will be open until Wednesday. I will be reviewing the report card parent feedback with our report card committee shortly thereafter, and will look to begin problem solving with the team so that we can make the online experience a better one for you all. As a quick reminder, and please accept my apologies if it was not reiterated enough from our parent information night, this mid-year check is simply a temperature check of where your child is at in relation to end-of-the year grade level expectations. The Common Core State Standards are written in a way that shows what a child should be expected to do by the end of the year. Many of our report card benchmarks reflect those same standards. As a result, you may notice that your child has a majority of “Dev,” as it is perfectly appropriate for him/her to still need adult support in these areas. I enjoyed looking through all of the report cards and jotting down a note for each child. Feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher to delve into report card specifics!


This Thursday (7:00pm in the north gym) we will have a PARCC informational night for parents. The PARCC assessment is one that has replaced the ISAT here in Illinois, and all of our 3rd-5th grade students will take it in early March. I hope you’ll be able to join us for the evening information session to learn more about the assessment and the important work we’re doing in District 37. If you’re unable to make it on Thursday, feel free to head to Marie Murphy this Tuesday evening at 7:00 for a similar presentation.

A huge thanks goes out to our Boys’ Night committee (Jenny Wilson, Kathy Monte-Christo, Robin Smith, and Wilma Rivera) and all of our parent volunteers who made this past Friday’s Boys’ Night a hit with the kids — even the Hutchison kids! I’m looking forward to seeing many of our Viking girls out this coming Friday for a fun night with friends!

Enjoy the week, stay warm, and thank you for your collaborative partnerships!

Weekly Updates from Avoca West — 1/26

How did it get to be the end of January already?! Hang in there as we work through what I hope will be the final month of chilly temperatures, and a bit thanks to those who make it a point to be sure your children are dressed appropriately for the outside weather. In order to make sure that all of our students return from lunch recess with dry feet and clothing, when there is snow outside we will be reserving the field/snowy space for those who have boots and snow pants. Hopefully this change (truly only a change for our older students) will help to make sure that our students are comfortable and ready to learn throughout the day.

Mrs. Geidner is welcoming the therapy dogs in once again to work with several of our students on a rotating basis for the rest of the school year. Although there is a schedule set up, there are often times where we are able to welcome other students to meet and spend some time with the therapy dogs. If you wish for your child to NOT interact with the dogs, please email Mrs. Geidner (linked HERE) to let her know. I’m looking forward to seeing this in action!

Mark Your Calendars:

  • We will host a PARCC Parent Information Night at Avoca West on Thursday, February 5th at 7pm in the ITC. This is a chance for parents to learn more about the upcoming PARCC tests that all of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders will be taking this March and May. If you have a child at Marie Murphy (or are unable to attend the Thursday meeting), they will host a similar meeting on Tuesday at 7pm. If you’re unable to make either meeting, handouts and information will be shared at a later point on the website!
  • Our Kindergarten Orientation will take place on Wednesday, March 11th at 6pm. This will be a chance for our incoming kindergarten parents to learn a bit about kindergarten from our kindergarten teachers. Additionally, our parents can also begin the official registration process at that time, showing birth certificates and proofs of residency to our office staff. We’re looking forward to a great turnout and a fantastic new batch of little vikings for the 2015-2016 school year!

I hope to see many of your faces at the upcoming Boys’ and Girls’ Nights (1/30 and 2/6 respectively). Enjoy the week ahead, and stay warm!


‘Twas The Week Before Report Cards…

Mark your calendars!! Next Monday, January 26th, your child’s first semester progress report will be available online. Parents will receive an email on Monday with instructions for how to login, view, and print their child’s report card.

Before we get down to sharing your child’s progress with you, I’d like to take a moment to focus your thinking before diving into looking at the standards with him/her. The purpose of the report card is to give a student and his/her parent an idea of his/her progress in mastering the skills, content, and habits we teach at Avoca West. I hope you’ll find that your child is doing extremely well, particularly in the “foundations of learning” section, as a result of diligent effort and perseverance. Perhaps, however, your child may find that he/she did not measure up to his/her own high standards.


At this time of year, I am reminded of the book we studied this fall as a Parent-Principal group. In the book, Mindset, Carol Dweck discusses studies that show how different types of praise can impact how students look at learning and intelligence. At the risk of being redundant for those parents who participated in the book study, I would like to take moment to summarize some of Dweck’s points.

Professor Dweck begins by explaining that many students (and grown ups!) have the mistaken belief that intelligence is fixed. They believe that people are either smart, or not smart, and that ability brings success innately. She claims that students with this mindset tend to have more trouble overcoming challenges and try to hide their mistakes. Additionally, students with a fixed mindset undervalue effort, often looking at it as negative, believing that, “If I have to try, then I’m not smart.” Many of these students hit a wall in school when learning gets difficult.

The opposite of this mindset is the growth mindset. Students who have this mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence and abilities through effort and education. Because they believe this, they focus diligently on improvement. They care about learning, viewing a mistake or deficiency as an opportunity to correct and an area in which to grow. For these growth-minded students, effort is not simply a positive thing…it’s the ONLY thing! Dweck cites studies in which “we find that those with growth mindsets outperform their classmates with fixed mindsets – even when they entered with equal skills and knowledge.”

So how do we foster a growth mindset? According to Dweck, we need to think about the kind of praise and dialogue that we use with our children. Specifically, if we praise effort over intelligence, we can foster a growth mindset. The following are examples of what she calls “process praise:”

  • You really studied hard for that test, and your improvement shows it. You read over your notes several times, rewrote some parts, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!
  • I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it!
  • That was a long, hard assignment, but you stuck to it and got it done. You stayed at your desk, really concentrated hard on it, and kept working. That’s so great!

When our children work hard and do not do well, an inevitability at some point in life, Professor Dweck suggests comments like:

  • I like the effort you put in. Let’s work together some more to figure out what you don’t understand.
  • Why don’t we talk with your teacher to see if she can give us some suggestions of things to try working on at home.

One central theme of Mindset is the importance of teaching students that they have control over their intelligence. According to Dweck, when students “try hard and learn something new, their brain forms new connections that, over time, make them smarter.” This holds true for adults as well! We are, in fact, a work in progress, able to grow our talents as well as our weakness.

So as you and your child look over his/her report card, please pause to praise the effort, not the “mark” he/she receives. We can all encourage our children that through effort, they can master more skills, understand more of the content, learn to think more deeply, and develop important academic habits. I continue to suggest that parents and students use this as an opportunity to set goals for the second half of the year. Many students will say that they need to “work harder” for this duration of the year, but may not fully understand what that means in action. As parents and teachers, we need to help give students concrete examples of what “working harder” looks like such as:

  • Completing all homework on time
  • Taking extra time to check work before finishing up for the evening (or in class)
  • Going to see a teacher for extra help – or checking in with a teacher to make sure he/she is on the right track!
  • Making flashcards to help remember vocabulary or ideas
  • Jotting down questions or things that are unclear or difficult to learn on a regular basis

Many of our students are already doing these things, and their success matches their efforts. As an Avoca West team, we will continue to look for ways to challenge students, to push them to think more deeply, to analyze more complex ideas, and to grow and reach their maximum potential. Thank you for your support in using a common language and set of ideals at home to help build a growth mindset and an excitement for learning in your child.

Weekly Update from Avoca West – 1/12

I am optimistic that this will finally be a full week back at school. As strange as last week was, it seems like several weeks have passed since we returned from Winter Break! I hope you and your families have all fared well during the frigid temperatures, and thank you all for your patience during our afternoon indoor pickup. While there are times when our kiddos can stand outside for a few minutes while we usher them all home safely, please know that during these especially frigid temperatures we are doing our best to make sure they stay inside until their ride approaches the back door. Here are another few reminders for our Avoca West families:

  • We are doing our best to get our staff in from the outside and working with kids as quickly as possible in the morning. In order to do so, Ms. Fay and Ms. Wilkin will be leaving their back door post at approximately 8:15 (as the sign on the backdoor has posted for several years now). As a rule of thumb, if you see that Mr. Cruz is NOT at the stop sign in the morning, please pull into the front lot to drop off your child. Any student arriving in the building after 8:20 will be asked to go to Nurse Theer’s office, as he/she will be marked tardy by the classroom teacher. Thank you for planning in advance so that our students can be in their seats and ready to learn at 8:20. Every minute matters!
  • Despite day after day (after day…after day…) of indoor recess, I am certain that we will be outside sooner than later for recess. As a reminder, students will have outdoor recess as long as the “feels like” temperature is 10 degrees or above (according to weather.com). Please be sure your child is dressed appropriately for any weather, as there are many days that the temperature at 11:30 can be markedly different than what it is at 8:30. We want to be sure that the time outside is a happy one for all of our students!
  • And finally, we are still looking for a lunchroom supervisor to help out during the 11:00-1:00 hours at Avoca West. I know the announcement has been in the Thursday email blasts from Dr. Jauch’s office for several weeks, but I’m hopeful that a personal appeal to spread the word to your friends and neighbors will shake out a perspective candidate to help out with our students during the lunch/recess time. Please direct all interested folks to our website posting HERE. Thank you for helping to get the word out!

Enjoy the week ahead, and I look forward to seeing many of your faces at this Thursday evening’s Choral Concert at Marie Murphy. Stay warm, and be well!

A New Year’s Welcome from Avoca West – 1/5


What a chilly start this has been to the beginning of 2015! Thank you all for dressing your kiddos as warm as possible during this frigid weather. I anticipate that we will be inside for recess during the majority of this week, but we urge students to keep their jackets zipped, hoods/hats up, and gloves on even when coming off of the bus or from parents’ cars.

Here are a couple up quick reminders from Avoca West.


  • In order to make sure that our staff is ready and able to be with our students promptly at the start of the school day, our back door closes at 8:15. Miss Fay has been lovely in keeping the doors open and welcoming students in, but it’s been difficult in tracking student tardies and attendance overall. Please know that if you do not see Mr. Cruz (or Mrs. Hutchison) directing traffic, the back door is no longer open. I hope that this will be a great visual reminder for parents and save you the trouble of having to turn around and drop off. As long as students are here by 8:20 they are not required to sign in with Nurse Theer, but please be sure to drop off in front so that we are able to make sure students are not left standing in the cold in the back. Every minute matters, so perhaps consider making some minor tweaks to your morning routine to allow your child plenty of time at morning drop poff. Thanks!
  • Just as many of us are using this time to set some personal and professional resolutions, our district as whole is using this chance to reflect upon all Avoca has to offer and to look for opportunities for improvement. In the upcoming months, you’ll receive several survey invitations from Avoca West about various topics. Please trust that we will do our best to keep the surveys succinct and as brief as possible to make the best use of your time and input. Many thanks in advance for being such collaborative partners in making sure the name “Avoca West” remains synonymous with greatness!

Looking forward to making 2015 the best year ever. Be well, friends, and stay warm!