William S. McKersie, Ph.D.
June 15, 2017
Excellence, Compassion and Connections. These three words have been guideposts in my first year as Weston Superintendent. From all I have seen this year, they convey what is best and most important about this remarkable school district. Our newly refashioned “Welcome to Weston Public Schools Brochure” explains the terms well:
Weston is an uncommon school district—in terms of student success, teaching excellence, robust academic and co-curricular offerings, and special attention to the physical, social and emotional well-being of our students. From their earliest days through graduation, Weston students are challenged and cared for by our faculty and administrators. Current and prospective families can be assured that Weston believes “connections” are essential to student success—we insist that all students are known well by many adults.
Excellence with compassion is at the heart of our professional beliefs and priorities. Intellectual rigor--using one’s mind well to solve complex problems--is of the utmost importance. At the same time, compassion is paramount; our excellent students will be the keys to a civil, just, caring nation and world. The Board of Education, administration and staff are aligned in the shared goal of guiding Weston to even greater heights in its stated mission of “empowering each student to achieve success and contribute to our global society…and to serve as part of a caring and supportive community.”
Connections as a guidepost resonates most as I reflect on the year just ending. Weston has a scale advantage: we are large enough to offer comprehensive programming and supports; yet, we are small enough to ensure that no person (student or adult) will be alone or anonymous. I have witnessed time and again moments when our staff and administrators show how well they know our students; when the strong social bonds among our students have been vital to their success; and, when our professionals’ knowledge of each other has fostered good working relationships.
Four teachers epitomize the Connections our entire faculty and staff make on a daily basis with our students. While I raise up these four, each of them would be the first to say that they are no different than other Weston teachers. Fittingly, the four span the entire district.
Jennifer Chamoures, in her fourth year as a second grade teacher at Hurlbutt, exemplifies Connections. In the words of a fellow teacher, “Jen smoothly manages multiple levels of learners and creates activities and lessons that highlight their strengths. She knows and understands her students extremely well, encouraging and challenging each student at their individual level.” Her peers also benefit from her relational acumen: “Jen is regularly involved in discussion and collaboration with other teachers around topics related to superb teaching—you can often find her during lunch at a table in her room discussing teaching ideas with other grade two teachers.” Jen herself is eloquent on Connections. “One of my core goals as a teacher,“ Jen states, “is to enable each child to become all that each is capable of being…How do I help each child to be all they can be and function in the classroom? My philosophy is quite simple. Have compassion for each child. Get to know your students, where they come from, their cultures, families, and traditions. This gives the message that they matter as an individual.” Jen’s Hurlbutt colleagues echo her eloquence in practice—making the school an ideal starting point for students’ educational journey in Weston.
“Wonderfully demanding” is how an administrator describes Sharon Huynh, a 16-year veteran at Weston Intermediate School. A colleague notes Sharon’s Connections within and beyond the classroom: “inspiring enthusiasm for learning and academic excellence in her classroom by finding new and unique ways of making learning engaging…garnering the respect of colleagues and administration by serving as a team leader…spending countless prep periods and time before and after school meeting parents face to face or on the phone to discuss student progress…helping new teachers with new units and deadlines.” Acknowledging she is known for being a “tough or strict teacher,” Sharon places top priority on her students’ “overall development as people.” She says, “I believe that nurturing a student’s cognitive health is as important as teaching academic content. This includes building self-confidence, instilling responsibility, and teaching the value of hard work, effort, and perseverance. Armed with these tools, my students can achieve the high expectations I set for them, but more importantly, can become productive members of society.” Ultimately, Sharon is “most proud of how I have brought myself—my background, culture and life experiences—into the classroom, which has made a difference for my students and the education community. As an immigrant from Taiwan…I have a different perspective on life than most students in Weston. By sharing my personal experiences with my students, I have tried to instill in them an awareness of how to be a global citizen.”
Brian Reddington has taught math at Weston Middle School for 14 years, building Connections at each step. A colleague attested to Brian’s enthusiasm and expertise at connecting with students, saying “Brian has a passion for teaching and inspiring his student to learn. He teaches math, which most of the students I work with despise. By the end of the year, Brian has instilled a love of math in these same students.” Brian turns an adage around to underscore his student-centered approach. “I always take pride in telling people I teach as a profession. But, when asked the question, ‘What do you teach?’ I always tell people, “I teach middle school students math.” In this seeming word play, Brian is stressing his “belief about teaching, emphasizing that knowing and connecting with students takes precedent to the content I teach.” In Brian’s book, “teaching is about developing relationships, being passionate about the subject matter I teach through the way I teach and understanding how each individual learns.” Over 14 years, Brian has learned that “every student’s mind works differently.” He knows his success as a teacher is predicated on knowing the learning styles of each student and applying a range of strategies to connect with various types of learners and in different aspects of math.
Stacey Greenberg, a 15 year science teacher at Weston High School, is described by a colleague as “a master at meet[ing] the individual needs of her students…Students like Stacey, they respect Stacey and they learn from her innovative, creative and flexible teaching style.” Stacey herself says, “I view education as a partnership. I tell my students that I will meet them halfway: I will teach to the best of my ability, I will offer them my help, I will respect their questions and do my best to answer them. Their job is meet me halfway by doing the work, respecting the process and asking the questions.” Being available and encouraging questions—early and often—are basic tools in Stacey’s approach to fostering substantive Connections with students. An accomplished academic, Stacey was on her way to a prestigious Ph.D., with National Science Foundation support, when she made the discovery that “teaching [is] where I could share my love of biology in a meaningful way.” Many years later, she still embraces her choice. “I have never regretted my decision to go into teaching, and I feel I have made a much more important and positive impact that I ever would have otherwise.”
Four teachers. Four different schools. One district. All joined by a rare blend of content, pedagogical and relational expertise. All to a person saying that many Weston teachers match their approach, dedication and expertise. Each of the four can point to impact—making a difference in student learning and growth—in large part because Connections take first priority in their work.
I turn the corner into my second year as Weston Superintendent inspired and energized by the close, expert attention teachers such as Jen, Sharon, Brian and Stacey give to all our students. I know we can always do better in how we relate to, educate and support our students. Fortunately, Weston educators are committed to always improving—always striving to make sure we are doing all we can to help our students succeed intellectually, socially, emotionally, morally and physically.