Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity!


Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden


When I was an English teacher, I always enjoyed teaching the unit on Transcendentalism and especially the works of Henry David Thoreau.  I pretty much idolized him when I was a teenager, but, admittedly, he kind of lost his appeal the older I got and the more I found out about the truth of his sojourn in the woods.  Nevertheless, his words were always amazing to me and still today seem to capture the essence of how I often seem to feel.

For whatever reason, today led me to think of this excerpt.  I never quoted it in my conversations with people, but I do recall saying something to the extent of “we need to eliminate all of the noise and just focus on what’s important.”  There’s a lot happening in education right now with changes to curriculum, new assessments being piloted, teachers being evaluated using a new system, and the list goes on and on.  Everyone connected with schools–students, teachers, parents, administrators–get caught up in the need to “export ice, talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour” and we sometimes forget about why we are here–teaching and learning.

Everything really comes down to those two things.  It may seem more complex and that new initiatives or changes are just one more thing, but they are all just layers of the same cake so to speak.  What all of us need to do is filter out the distractions and focus on good teaching and learning for all students.  If you agree or disagree, let me know.  If you have any ideas on how we can simplify, let me know.  How can we calm the “chopping sea of civilized life?” Keep the boundaries of this “German Confederacy” from fluctuating?  As always, I appreciate your feedback and comments.


I’m sure it’s kind of a running joke among the student body since I say it every morning during the 7:15am announcements, but it is absolutely true–it is a great day to be a Hawk.  It may seem funny, it may sound a little cliche, but when you consider all the amazing things happening at River Hill, you start to realize that every day is a great day to be a Hawk.

I’m always amused when I hear students say that there’s nothing to do in Clarksville/Howard County.  Man, you don’t know how good you have it.  High school and college are pretty much the only times in your life where you have a vast array of social, cultural, and academic events happening pretty much all the time and there are a boatload of people to enjoy them with.  Things aren’t so easy when you get older.  Let me show you what I mean:

I was having a conversation with someone recently about how it’s tough to make friends as an adult and he told me that what many people do now is get on an online site called  So if I want to meet people in Howard County who share my interest in Doctor Who, I can find a group, join it, and then show up at their event and maybe hit it off with some folks who agree that Tom Baker is the best Doctor ever.  We could even bond over Jelly Babies (watch an episode, you’ll know what I’m talking about).


If you want to hang out with people and watch Doctor Who at River Hill, just go to Mr. McCready’s room on Friday after school and you can meet likeminded people who share your love of Daleks and Cybermen and the Tardis.  Maybe you enjoy singing?  Well, in addition to courses offered during the school day, you can be a part of the Leading Ladies or the Talon Tones.  You can play pong with the ping pong club, chess with the chess club, solve the Rubik’s cube with the Rubik’s cube club, build a robot with the FIRST Robotics club.  The list goes on and on and if you don’t see a club you like, create one of your own.

The incredible opportunities that students have to get involved in extracurricular activities is just one of the many reasons why it’s a #greatdaytobeahawk.  There are probably thousands of reasons out there.  What’s yours?  Post it in the comments section or tweet me @RHHSPrincipal, use the hashtag #greatdaytobeahawk!

So What Would Your School Be Like?

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Either I was driving by the Board of Education and saw a sign for a hearing about high school #13 or I was watching Zoolander and thinking about the school that model Derek Zoolander founded (worth watching if you haven’t seen it–totally ridiculous), but somehow I was inspired this week to explore the idea of what school would be like if you created it.

Over the years, the Board of Education has established an extremely successful school system and, since it was established in 1996, River Hill has been a model school in many ways.  But that doesn’t mean that it always meets the needs of students, staff, or parents and it doesn’t mean that there’s not room for improvement.  So I’m curious–what would you change about River Hill or, if you prefer to think of it another way, if you started a school, what would you want to see?

You might want to consider the following questions:

* How long would the school year last?  How about the school day?

* How many classes would students study at any given time?

* How many students would be in the school?  In each class?

* Would there be any graduation requirements?  If so, what?

* What role would technology play in instruction?

* What facilities would you add/remove form the campus?

* What type of teachers would you want at the school?  How about administrators?

* What would the basic mission or purpose of the school be?

So what do you think?  Let me know by adding a comment in the section below!  Some ideas may not be possible, but others could be a definite possibility!

Managing Your Online Presence

NOTE- My intended audience is students, but parents, feel free to discuss this with your kids as well!

Ten years ago when I was teaching English, I used to stress to my students the need to change their email addresses from something silly and/or profane ( to a more professional representation of who they are (maybe something that actually included their name).  Back then your email address and perhaps your IM (Instant Messenger, remember that?) account were pretty much the extent of what we might call social media. These were the days before Facebook, when tweeting is what birds did, and you felt pretty lucky if you had a Motorola Razr or some other comparable flip phone.

Times have definitely changed, but the importance of how you present yourself online still remains as important as ever.  In fact, it’s probably more important than it used to be.  The proliferation of websites, apps, programs, etc that connect you online to your friends (not to mention the millions of strangers that can also see your so-called private thoughts) makes it an even bigger task than just selecting an appropriate email address.  I’ve only been on Twitter since August, but these past few months have really opened my eyes to just how much we need to continue to emphasize digital citizenship.  Here are my top five tips to students for managing your online presence (followed by some other thought provoking images and videos):

1) Like an email address, your Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat account should be something that relates to your name and doesn’t make people uncomfortable when they follow or mention you.  I’d love to give you a shout out, but what would people think if they saw your obscene Twitter name in my feed?

2) Help your grandma set up a Twitter account and have her follow you.  If you feel awkward having your grandma read your posts or view your photos, maybe you shouldn’t be sharing it?

3) Treat social media like a classroom presentation.  Would you want your teachers seeing those pictures of you and your friends with red Solo cups?  Forget the fact that you probably shouldn’t be drinking what’s in the cup (that’s the topic for another top 5 tips list)–don’t think that the people seeing your posts are stupid and don’t know what you’re talking about or doing.

4) You can’t erase in cyberspace. Think about the permanence of your actions before you put it online.  Yes, you can delete posts, but what about the people who saw it before it was deleted and saved it or took a screen shot? Think hard about whether you want a statement or photo out there forever.

5) Don’t say things via social media that you wouldn’t say if the person was there in the room with you.  It’s easy to feel anonymous online and empowered to be bolder than we really are.  If the superintendent visited our school, would you stand up in the cafeteria and challenge her decision to close or not close schools?  This also applies to how we treat one another.  Messages can get pretty mean and, in some cases, be cyberbullying.  Check out the video below for an example of what I’m talking about.


Thanks to Brian Bassett from the Department of Communications for bringing these resources to my attention (click to see full size):

The Ultimate Fan

School spirit always seems to be an issue at River Hill.  Don’t get me wrong-I think students have a lot of pride for the activities they are involved in, but when it comes to showing up and supporting our teams, we haven’t always had a great track record for coming en masse to sporting events.  In many ways, we are our own worst enemies.  Because our student body is so actively involved in so many school-related activities, students often struggle to make it out to athletic events (with the exception of playoffs, which always attract a large crowd).

This year has been somewhat of an exception. Whether by a coordinated effort or by multiple movements by various individuals, the student section has represented quite well at athletic contests this year. Many fans out there have inspired and motivated their peers to show their #hawkpride as we battle teams from around the county as well as the State. But who is the ultimate fan at River Hill?  I asked for nominees via Twitter.  I received 6 names.  One student was absent today, so I couldn’t include (sorry, first rule of being an Ultimate Fan?  Ya’ gotta’ show up to school!).  Another student withdrew from the competition and put his support behind another candidate.  So here are your four finalists:


A member of the Boys’ Varsity Basketball team, Gary recognizes that it’s tough during the Winter season to get out to a lot of games since he has practices and games of his own. However, he did have an active Fall season as a fan and says that he didn’t get out to as many girls’ games as he would have liked to, but definitely enjoyed the volleyball games he attended.  Gary loves playing in front of a huge crowd and encourages students to stay active, stay involved, and get loud.


Terry has been a member of both the cross country and track teams.  When he’s not running, he’s cheering at games for both girls and boys.  As he says, they deserve equal respect since they are both part of the school.  He wishes more people supported cross country and track since he sees how other sports respond to all the positive energy.  Terry believes a fan is someone who just sits there, but a fanatic knows everyone on the team, the strategy, and cheers loud enough to hear him/her. Terry’s words of wisdom for fans: “Don’t use profanity and coordinate your chants and outfits!”


A former football player, Brandon has been compelled to be a super fan since concussions prevented him from playing football (he still plays baseball though).  He felt that if he couldn’t rally the team from the field or the sidelines, he could at least do it from the bleachers. To Brandon, a fan is a guy waving a foam finger while a fanatic is a guy in a morph suit yelling until he almost blacks out.  He encourages the student body to enjoy it while you can and cheer on kids you know and have a personal connection with because in college you aren’t necessarily friends with the players you go support.


Like the other candidates, Bauer is not just a fan, he’s an athlete too, playing on the boys’ tennis team.  He enjoys showing friends he cares about what they do by coming to their events and feels it’s important to go to both girls’ and boys’ events to show your support.  Bauer shared that students don’t always come to tennis matches, but it means a lot when people come out.  His advice for students to show their spirit: “Show it on game days by wearing your jerseys, sports shirts, and school colors.”

So who is the ultimate fan? Use the comments section below or tweet me your vote using #RHHSUltimateFan. You might also consider these qualities that our AAMs and some coaches felt were important to being the ultimate fan:

* Being positive and not jeering.

* Going to away games and not just home games.

* Supporting all teams, not just a few.

* Enhancing the experience of those around them.

* Tweeting and promoting the program in the community.

* Following the rules and not causing problems.

River Hill Goes Global

As I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics last week and saw country after country parade in, smiling and waving, and carrying their flags, it struck me that unless there was a sign announcing what nation the athletes represented, viewers wouldn’t necessarily know where they were from.  I mean, someone from the United States team looked pretty much like someone from the Australian team or the Russian team (with the exception of those tacky sweaters our Olympians wore).

We are more alike than we are different.  We may be separated by miles of oceans and various land masses, we may speak different languages, but, as research has shown, between any two humans their genome is 99.9% similar.  I guess that’s why you might look at the young ladies above and not see much difference from the typical River Hill student.  However, both Francesca Varesse and Rikka Reponen are International Exchange students spending the year at RHHS.  I sat down with them this week to find out how  they were enjoying their year abroad and here’s what they shared:

1)  Where are you from?

Rikka hails from Oulu, Finland Ooul which is the 5th biggest city in Finland.  There are about 5 million people in the country and approximately 193,000 live in Oulu.  She lives in the northern part of Finland near the Arctic Circle.

Francesca is from Bologna, Italy which is situated in the northern part of the country near Florence.  With 1 million inhabitants, Bologna is roughly as big as Florence.  It is also home to the oldest University in the world, the University of Bologna, established in 1088.

2)  How does it compare with Howard County?

Being a city girl, Francesca has been a bit taken aback by living, what she sometimes feels, in the middle of nowhere.  She is used to getting places rather quickly, so the lack of public transportation has been a challenge for her.

Although Rikka lives in the countryside in Oulu, she is used to having buses run practically everywhere.  Like Francesca, she has struggled with feeling a bit isolated or relying on people for rides.

3)  What made you want to study in the United States?

Rikka picked the United States because she wanted to experience something very different from Finland and felt that the U.S. could give her a good experience of what high school spirit felt like.

I found out from talking with Francesca that the U.S. was actually her 2nd choice.  She picked a bunch of countries (including top choice Canada), but was pleased with where she ended up.

4)  What do you like about the United States?

Francesca was quick to share that she likes that the clothes are way cheaper. Shopping is definitely a favorite activity for her.  Since Bologna is filled mostly with historic buildings, she has loved seeing the skyscrapers, especially when she went to New York and saw Times Square.

Rikka agreed that the shopping malls have been awesome and enjoys the fact that Howard County is close enough to go visit great cities like Baltimore, DC, and New York.  She has also been impressed with how open and social the people— something quite different than back in Finland.

5)  What do you miss most about home?

Rikka expressed a longing for the natural landscapes of Finland, being able to go out hiking, and go snowboarding every weekend.  Although she has tried various cuisines here, she definitely misses the food of Finland-a diet filled with lots of fish.

Francesca agreed that food is not the same here and has been disappointed with what passes as Italian.  She misses the people (family and friends) and being able to walk everywhere.

6)  What is school like in your country?

According to Francesca, schol is completely different in Bologna.  There are three levels of high school and you choose which one you attend based on whether you plan to attend college, train for a skilled job, or be preared for a manual job. Students stay in one classroom for the day while the teachers move from room to room and students stay together in the same class of students for 5 years.  School hours are 8-1pm, Monday through Saturday.

Rikka shared that, in Finland, mandatary education ends when you are 16 and that students pick which high school they want to attend. There are no AP classes or Honors classes, except in higher level math classes.  You only spend 3 years in high school and hours are either 9-2 or 11-4 depending on which courses you choose to take.

8)  What is one thing River Hill could learn from your school?

Both Francesca and Rikka agreed that there seems to be a lot of homework at RHHS.  Rikka shared that she had never done a worksheet in her life until coming to River Hill and worries that these handouts are too prescriptive and based on only one way of learning.  In Finland, students are able to have more choice about studying the way that works best for them.  Francesca added that students should be given more independence about finding their own way.  Teachers here go out of their way to help students to pass; in Italy, teachers share their expectations but will let you fail if you want to.  She believes the Italian way is better because it motivates students to work hard.

9)  What are your plans after finishing this year at River Hill?

Francesca plans to stay in Europe (she still has another year of high school left).  She plans to attend high school, but is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life.  Rikka also plans to stay in her home country (and she has a great incentive).  College is free in Finland as long as you get in, so she plans to study for entrance exams and attend university to become a lawyer.

10) Do you watch the Olympics at all?

Both Francesca and Rikka have been watching the Olympics and rooting on the athleted from their respective countries.  Rikka is a huge snowboarding fan and actually knows the girl who won the silver medal for Finland.  Francesca prefers the Summer Olympics, but still likes the opportunity to show her patriotism as she cheers for her countrymen.

It’s so awesome talking to these young ladies and getting a view of what life is like outside of our little world here at River Hill.  Talking to them for only about half an hour makes me want to pack my bags and discover what Finland and Italy have to offer.  If I’m not here next year, you know I’ve found a principal exchange program!

Digital Learning Day-Part 2

So here’s the rest of my alphabetic tour of digital learning at RHHS.  I continued with letters N-Z and was able to include a couple staff members in today’s tour.  Check it out:

N is for Naviance, a program that all high schools (and eventually middle schools) in Howard County use to help students and parents with college and career planning.  Student services team leader Mike Krouse explains a cool feature here, but be sure to also check out the River Hill parent portal. 

O is for Observation. Yes, even administrators are a part of the digital learning process.  Starting this year, all of our teacher observations are being conducted using an online program called Teachscape. Let Assistant Principal Betsy Coe explain it briefly. 


PreziP is for Prezi, a program that provides a presentation alternative to Power Point.  Math teacher Rick Hollenbeck has found an interesting way of using Prezi to warehouse lessons and activities for his classes.  Students can bounce between days to see what they missed if they were absent or to review material for an upcoming quiz or test.

Q is for Quia. Teachers like Kerry Martin use quia for Quia_logoquizzes and reviews.  Students in his class can brush up on body systems, cell structures, DNA, and other topics taught during the year.  Teachers can create fun games for students to play, align it with core learning goals, and even share it with other teachers.  Our science department in particular is quite fond of the program.

R is for Remind 101, an application that allows users to sign up and receive text message alerts without divulging their actual phone number.  Senior class co-sponsor and graduation coordinator John Difato  explains how he plans to use the program for reminding seniors and their parents about senior events. 

SocrativeS is for Socrative. Several years ago “clickers” were all the rage.  Students could answer quiz questions by clicking their response on their handheld remote and the teacher/class would see it projected on the screen.  Now, there’s an app for that.  Social studies teacher Jamie Parrish is one of many teachers that love Socrative and use it frequently to assess students both formatively and summatively.

T is for Twitter. I just started using Twitter this year and I love it.  It’s such a different experience than Facebook.  Teachers at River Hill have started to flock to Twitter (the puns just keep coming) for a quick way to get info out to students and parents.  Check out how PE teacher and team leader Brandon Lauer is using it: 


ustream_mainpicU is for Ustream. Students who take AP Biology will tell you that the course covers a lot of material.  In fact, it’s the equivalent of two semesters in college.  If you miss a class, talking to a classmate just doesn’t suffice.  Therefore, Mrs. Chamness uses Ustream to reach her students where and when they are available.  This year, she’s also tried to “flip her classroom” with students watching videos at home and discussing it in class.  Here’s a link to some videos she made when Ustream was blocked.

V is for Vine. I have to admit that I don’t know if anyone at River Hill is actually using this Vineapp for sharing brief seven second videos, but I wanted an excuse to share this cool link to how some schools have incorporated Vine into education.  Give us time and we’ll get it going here too!

wordpressW is for WordPress, a blogging site that I use to create, but is also the new home to our school newspaper’s online content.  Journalism teacher Dave Vitagliano is branching out from the standard print newspaper to provide students with various media outlets for their articles.  Check out our students’ work here.

X is for Xtranormal. Okay, I’m cheating here because the site is no longer active, but how awesome were the animated videos you could create with Xtranormal? The music department played this clip during an intermisson at a concert a couple years ago.

The text to speech technology is also used by alternatives such as GoAnimate, Digital Films, and Pixton, but obviously none of those start with the letter X.  Anyone know of any tech that starts with X?

YoutubeY is for Youtube, that wonderful warehouse of videos about EVERYTHING.  Youtube was once blocked by HCPSS filters, but is now accessible and teachers have jumped at the chance to link their students to some of the great content found on Youtube.  Math teacher Karen Wittkamper shared with me that it has been a great tool during snow days to share instructional videos about a Geometry concept since she’s not there to actually teach students.  I think these “e-learning” opportunities could replace snow days.

Z is for Zite. In addition to being an app that starts with Z (not many out there), Zite is an Ziteonline magazine of sorts that provides customized content based on users’ interests.  My Zite gives me recent articles about topics that are tagged with technology, education, and high school.  It’s a cool way of filtering your news.

Digital Learning Day 2014

I had this great plan to showcase digital learning at River Hill by tweeting throughout the day with pictures, videos, and links of students and staff engaging in innovative teaching and learning using digital media and technology.  And then school was closed because of the ice storm.  I tried to get students to let me know what they were doing “online” at home, but the best I got was a student who shared he was watching “White Collar” on Netflix.  So here’s plan B: a blog post on digital learning at River Hill from A-Z (actually, it’s A-M today and N-Z tomorrow)

AudacityA is for Audacity. This is your basic audio recorder/editing tool.  World language teachers often use audacity to have students record themselves speaking in the target language; however, it can also be used to create podcasts as well.  The program comes pre-loaded on HCPSS computers in school and doesn’t need an internet connection to use (a nice feature when the internet is running a bit slow).

B is for Brightlink projector.  I saw that the new elementary school, Ducketts Lane, had Brightlinkthis product from Epson throughout the building and I had to get one for River Hill (we now have two since I convinced Richard McCready to get one for the music technology lab).  Instead of the board being interactive like a Promothean Board or Smart Board, the projector makes any whiteboard or surface interactive.  Very cool!

CellyC is for Celly, an app that promotes itself as “an easy way for teachers, coaches, and administrators to communicate with students and parents.” Users can send and receive text messages without revealing phone numbers.  In addition, teachers can curate class discussions and use polls/surveys to quiz or get feedback from students.

D is for Diigo. This social bookmarking/annotation tool has really started to take off at DiigoRiver Hill.  In the past couple months, I’ve talked to Brandon Lauer from the PE department about how he plans to use Diigo to share websites he has found useful and Lisa Kump from the English teacher who was working with her student teacher Mandy on a research assignment that brought the highlighting/annotating process to the 21st century with the ability to do it digitally with webpages.

EdmodoE is for Edmodo, an educational social networking platform similar to Facebook.  Before HCPSS allowed teachers to officially use Facebook, teachers at River Hill were setting up edmodo pages for their classes.  Students can use a mobile app to access course content the teacher uploads or to take quizzes the teacher posts.  It’s not just a social networking platform; it’s a content delivery system too.

F is for Facebook. You probably don’t need an explanation on this one.  Heck, you Facebook logoprobably just created your “Look Back Video” this week.  The most popular use of Facebook at River Hill is for organizations to promote themselves and share information, pictures, etc in a socially interactive platform, like Pam Land does with River Hill Theatre Arts.

Gafe2G is for Google Apps For Education (GAFE). Everyone in HCPSS is on GAFE, including students.  Teachers like Kristin Mitchell have tapped into the features in Google Docs that allow students to work collaboratively on the same file and share it with her as well so she can grade the assignment.  Other teachers have used the shared calendar feature to keep students and parents up to date on upcoming assignments, even attaching worksheets and other resources to the calendar dates.

H is for Hootsuite.  Once you have a few social media accounts, you need some helpHootsuite managing them.  Hootsuite is a one stop shop to view and access Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Google+ accounts, to name a few.   Users can autoschedule posts and set up multiple streams to make Twitter chats more manageable.

InstagramI is for Instagram. When I think of photography at River Hill, I think of Jacob Cecil. He is one of three art teachers at River Hill and teaches the upper-level photography courses.  He uses Instagram with his students to showcase what they are doing, but also to share what he is doing as an artist.

J is for Jing, a screen capture and screencasting tool.Jing  Although it’s rather easy to make a screencast on a Mac using Quicktime, the process isn’t so simple with Windows.  Jing is a program that can be used to demonstrate how to do something on the computer by showing exactly what a user would see.

KindleK is for Kindle, the most popular e-reader of all time.  It’s hard to believe the first Kindle was released in 2007. Since then, the Kindle has evolved greatly and the ebook format can be viewed on a variety of devices.  Students prefer downloading a book from the Kindle store to carrying around a hard copy, especially since they can read it on their phones, iPads, laptops, etc and also annotate/highlight the text.  Many texts students read in English are free to download since copyright law has expired (like one of my favorites).

L is for Livescribe.  I bought a Livescribe pen when they first came out and I wished I livescribe-pulse-xlwas still in the classroom to use it.  It’s a cool tool for administrators, but even more valuable for students and teachers.  Students in Roger Demaree’s differential equations classes use the pen to take notes and solve problems.  The pen records audio that uploads along with all of the writing to an Evernote file or can be sent via email or text message.  Mr. Demaree can view students’ pencasts to see if they are understanding the material.

MinecraftM is for Minecraft, a sandbox construction game that has raised awareness about just how much students can learn from “just playing a game.” Career technology education teacher Kevin Cannon sponsors the Minecraft club and can easily see how the students are building on (no pun intended) and extending what they learned in their coursework.


I’ll continue the post tomorrow and maybe be able to include some pics of students and staff in action!  Leave a comment or tweet me @RHHSPrincipal if you have any other favorite “A-M” digital tools!

State of the School 2014

SealMaybe you watched the State of the Union Address last night? (Maybe you didn’t?) Either way, you’re at least aware there was a televised speech last night.  Well, tonight you get the State of the School.  No, I’m not going to deliver a speech and no, you don’t have to stand and clap throughout.  What this is is an opportunity to pause and reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.  So often it seems we’re on to the next thing without really taking the time to stop and celebrate all the accomplishments.  Okay, marking period 1 is done, now on to marking period 2, and before you know it we’ll be taking final exams!  But let’s stop and smell the roses for a moment and savor some of the success of our first semester.

The State of the School report below is a little different than the president’s speech.  For one thing, there are no party lines–we are all in this together, working collaboratively to make River Hill the best it can possibly be.  Students, staff, parents, and community members all uniting in a shared vision, a common mission.  That being said, there’s no need for a rebuttal statement from the GOP (or Democrats for that matter).  If you would like to leave a comment, feel free to do so, but what you’ll find here is a snapshot of the school successes thus far and how we are preparing for the challenges opportunities that lie ahead.

I hope you enjoy reading the “report.”  It’s been a great year so far and there are many more exciting things to come.  I’d like to thank the student body for being so outstanding, for working hard, and for making our job as educators so enjoyable.  I’d like to thank our parents for being so supportive of our efforts here.  We appreciate the ways you give back to both the students and the staff and recognize how difficult our jobs are and how much a vote of confidence and a thank you really mean.  But most of all, I’d like to thank the phenomenal staff of River Hill High School.  The accomplishments you’ll read about in my State of the School report didn’t happen accidentally.  They were the result of dedication, commitment, passion, caring, innovation, flexibility, patience, understanding, and a host of other words that illustrate what makes our staff so great.

If you like what you see and want to see more, be sure to like us on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, subscribe to the HCPSS News, and read my posts on And, in as secular and “separating church and state way” it can be, God bless America and especially River Hill High School! Go Hawks!

Click here for the: State of the School January 2014

Living the Dream?


As we observed Martin Luther King Jr Day this past Monday, I reflected back to an extended third period lesson we did last year with our students during Black History Month.  Students watched the video clip featured above and then were asked to consider an excerpt from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in Washington, DC in 1963:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Teachers facilitated discussions that included these questions:

*   Have we achieved Dr. King’s dream at River Hill?

*  What positive things have you observed that relate to equality at River Hill?

*  Do you feel that students are treated equally in regards to race & ethnicity? Gender?      Socioeconomic status? Religion?

*  Do you feel that you or your friends have been faced with fighting stereotypes that are associated with their culture?

*  If we have not achieved Dr. King’s dream, what needs to change in order to get there?


The feedback we got from students was invaluable because we were able to put a finger on the pulse of the issue of culture at River Hill.  This informal data collection showed us a few things we expected, but it also surprised us how students responded to some questions.  For example, not surprising was the fact that student responses varied depending on whether they were part of the majority group(s) at River Hill.  Whether or not students felt their peers were treated equally differed according to how they identified their race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.  Where one group saw no problems, another group shared concerns about name calling/teasing or statements that were intended to be jokes, but were really quite offensive.

What caught us off-guard was how much the students seemed to accept the status quo, even suggesting that it was so hard to change things at River Hill when the problems or issues we were talking about impact society in general and not just our school.  Some students suggested that racism, gender discrimination, homophobia, etc would always exist and therefore we would never attain Dr. King’s dream.  It’s a little disappointing to consider such a pessimistic view when you look back at the civil rights movement and see what progress has been made.  We are not there yet and there is still much work to be done, but look how far we’ve come.

Students don’t always know or think about the history that has come before them, the people who have made a difference so that everyone can enjoy the rights and freedoms we do today.  As Dr. King said, “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  To change things at River Hill and for society in general, we must be those dedicated individuals, we must have a passionate concern for the cause.

Although the reports of name calling, teasing, joking, etc were somewhat mild compared to what could be happening, we still wanted to address the issue in a way that made it clear to the entire school community that everyone deserved a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn.  For that reason, we brought back the Safe School Ambassadors program to River Hill this year and trained approximately 40 students on how to intervene with their peers when they witness mistreatment.  I have every intent to expand on that number next year as well.

In addition, our multicultural club is planning a great International Week filled with daytime and nighttime events to increase student awareness of the various cultures at River Hill.  Understanding is the first step toward acceptance.  The more we can help students gain an awareness of the world around us and, more specifically, the world beyond Clarksville, beyond Howard County, and beyond Maryland, the more prepared they will be to succeed in a global economy–one that doesn’t look much like what we see day in and day out at River Hill.

I’ve only touched on a couple of initiatives we have implemented and I’m sure there are some great ideas you have to share on this topic.  We will be having an evening forum on culture as part of our International Week (stay tuned for a date and time), so I’d love for folks to come share their perspectives.  As always, I also encourage you to drop me an email or make a comment below.  It is only through working together that we can make River Hill the best it can be!