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!

Holiday Greetings from Avoca West – 12/15


Our students have been busy this month of December showing the Grinch how much we care for ourselves and for others. Kudos to our kiddos for having such heart for learning and caring! The week before a long break is always filled with exciting events and the hum of energy, so before things get away from us, please plan ahead with the following dates and events here at Avoca West:

  • Winter Parties are all set for this Friday. Beginning at 2:00, our doors will open for those parents who are helping out with or celebrating along side our students. If you’re planning on attending, please reach out to your room parent so that we can have a name tag made for you. Other visitors are certainly welcome, but will need to stop in the office to present ID and to get a guest badge. I’m looking forward to seeing you all during this “most wonderful time of the year!”
  • When we return from Winter Break, our 2nd-5th graders will be taking our winter MAP tests for both reading and math. This is a wonderful opportunity for teachers to get a quick snapshot of each child’s learning at a midpoint time in the year. Based on the information gathered, teachers can adjust instruction to maximize the growth for the rest of the school year.
    • Our 3rd & 5th graders will take their tests during the week of January 6th-9th (in their regularly scheduled math and reading block times).
    • Our 2nd & 4th graders will take their tests the following week on January 12th-15th.
    • Teachers have the flexibility to determine the specific date of each test, so feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher for specific scheduling questions.
  • January 16th will be the end of your child’s first semester here at Avoca West. This year we have aligned our grading periods and many of our practices (now online report card) with Marie Murphy. Our parent portal will be open starting on January 26th for parents to view their child’s progress towards mastering grade level standards. I will send out a letter/email to parents that morning letting parents know how to access the online report card system and how to print out a hard copy if you chose to do so.
  • Gearing up for KINDERGARTEN 2015-2016! Although official kindergarten registration does not occur until March, we are gathering preliminary information about incoming students to get a sense of our enrollment numbers for next year. Please add information about your own children and/or the names of any additional children you think may be attending Avoca West in the fall. FOLLOW THE LINK HERE TO FILL IN OUR GOOGLE FORM. Thank you!

What a gift you all have been to me in my inaugural year here at Avoca West. I hope this holiday season treats you all well, and look forward to hearing your stories and seeing those smiles in the new year!

“Mindset” Matters

Our fall Parent-Principal Book Club met for the second time last evening in the Avoca West ITC. In case you were unable to make it for the discussion, I’m attaching the work of the group for all to enjoy. The book offers several fabulous take-aways, the largest one being the acceptance that we are all a work in progress and constantly growing in our practices. This is a great reminder for me as an individual, as a leader, and as a parent! In case you’d like to practice “growth mindset mantras,” feel free to print out the information and to tape it somewhere for future reference.

I’m also attaching some questions to ponder for those of you who would like to dive in more deeply to the sports, leadership, and relationships chapters.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.42.57 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.43.24 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.43.51 PM   Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.44.34 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.44.44 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.44.58 PM Our book for this springtime will be Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. The cornerstone of our school wide efforts here at Avoca West is The Leader in Me, where we guide students through a habit a month so that they can grow in their effectiveness and success now and into the future! We will meet in March, April, and again in May (dates and times TBD), but I hope to see you all there learning about how to support our families at home!


Weekly Updates from Avoca West — 12/10

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What a bummer it was to miss out on last week’s Spirit Assembly where Avoca West recognized a whole new batch of Avoca West All Stars! Additionally, we’ll be focusing this month on the habit of Putting First Things First. As students work throughout the month of December and into January, they should focus on prioritizing what’s most important in their lives. Consider the clip below to help guide your child in developing this critical habit that will take them well into their future.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 6.43.06 PMIt will be particularly helpful as they begin to think about goals they have for the new year…and a great reminder for all of us adults as well!

I hope you’ll join me this Wednesday, December 10th (7:00 in the ITC), to discuss Carol Dweck’s chapter on parenting with a growth mindset (chapter 7). For a preview on the types of discussion you’ll hear at our Wednesday night meeting, stop by the Mindset website here. The discussion is bound to be provocative and beneficial for helping us all to reprogram our responses to our children!

I know many of you will join me this Thursday night for our Orchestra concert. I am always amazed at how talented our students and strings staff are at Avoca West and look forward to watching their talents synergize on stage.

Lastly, we have had a HUGE influx in student (and staff) illness over the last week. Our teachers and Nurse Theer are stressing the importance of hand washing using soap and water (preferred over anti-bacterial pumps) and covering of coughs and sneezes. I also can’t stress the importance of keeping your child at home if he/she has a fever. Unfortunately, the symptoms going around Avoca are of a wide variety (from fever to no fever, cough to vomiting), so please use you parent “Spidey Sense” and trust when your child appears to be acting different than typical. I realize the toll it takes on your personal or sick days as a working parent, but we need to take on an all-hands-in approach in shaking this bug from our Avoca West family! Please know that our evening cleaning crew have been putting in extra hours to deep clean our school in the evenings and especially over the weekend. It truly takes a village!

Thank you for your continued support and collaborative spirit, and be well!

Welcome Back! Updates from Avoca West – 12/1

It’s hard to believe that December is upon us! Where has this school year gone?! I hope you and had a fabulous little stretch of days with friends and family to pause and think about the many blessings in your life. Mrs. Gurwin and her husband spent their Thanksgiving delivering the donated food to those in need in the city of Chicago. As an added (albeit surprising) piece, they knocked on doors and were able to see their recipients in person. How lovely to have the ability to see the impact we at Avoca West had on the families and individuals! Thank you, Mrs. Gurwin, Helping Hands, and our Avoca West students and community members for putting smiles on so many faces.

As we look to keep our positive momentum going this December, we will be recognizing students this month by putting names on hearts of those students who go out of their way to push themselves or others to be their best selves.

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You’ll see our very own Grinch in the office whose heart we’re trying to grow this winter. I encourage you to have a conversation with your child about how they can help show their caring for themselves (by doing their best) or for others. If the months so far are any indication of our fabulous spirit, I’m sure the Grinch’s heart will be bursting in no time!

And finally, a winter weather (and dressing) reminder. Although winter doesn’t officially hit the calendar until December 21st, we have already had quite a few indoor recesses this year. I urge you, however, to be sure that your child is dressed to go outside in case the “feels like” temperature at 11:00 hits that 10 degree mark or higher. The outside air does wonders to refresh us all, and I want to be sure that all of our friends can enjoy their time!

Enjoy the week ahead, and thank you for all you do to make Avoca West such a great place to learn, love, and grow each and every day.