Graduation Speech

Jon Stewart

When I was a teacher, I used to think it would be awesome to win senior teacher of the year and get to speak at graduation. Now that I am principal and HAVE to speak at the commencement ceremony, I don’t quite feel the same. Don’t get me wrong–it is an honor and privilege to address the graduates on this momentous occasion, but it is SO stressful coming up with an original speech year after year.

A colleague told me just to say the same thing every year since the students are different and haven’t heard previous years’ speeches. I can’t bring myself to do that. I also can’t just make a four-year rotation as another person suggested. It just doesn’t seem right.

What I will do, however, is solicit your opinions on good quotes or messages for the class of 2015. If I don’t actually use it in the speech, I’ll retweet it or share it on Facebook. So what advice do you have for the class of 2015? Comment here, tweet me, email me, or post it to the River Hill Facebook page. These students need all the guidance they can get!

Breaking the Silence

Wow, I forgot how busy the Spring can be. It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to blog with so much happening, but I hope you’ve been following along on Twitter, Facebook, and in the newsletter with all of the great things going on. It’s kind of coincidental that I was compelled to blog today, but after seeing a tweet about May 17th being the anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision, I felt it was important to break the silence.

I’m too young to have experienced the events of the Civil Rights movement, but I obviously learned about Brown vs Board of Education and other significant events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. As a student reflecting back on history some 20-30 years later in college and on into grad school, I felt a sense of optimism for the future. We had come so far since those days of upheaval and injustice.

The new century seemed to usher in an ever greater sense of hope and when the nation elected the first ever black president, it seemed like we were heading in the right direction. But it’s been hard to keep that rosy outlook in the last year or so. It’s not just the stories of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, or Freddie Gray that make me question where we stand on race relations as a country; it’s the divisive comments on TV, online, and on social media that suggest we haven’t really come as far as we would like to think we have.

The justices who heard the Brown cases contended that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” We may have integrated schools; we may have integrated other aspects of society; but we still need to work towards equality. Look no farther than Facebook or the comments section of a Yahoo News story to see just how polarized America has become.

There is work to be done, but we can do it together. I don’t know about you, but I need that return of optimism. I need to know that there is hope for the future, for the young people at River Hill and in schools across the country, for my son Justin and his little friends who will one day inherit the world from us. What kind of world do you want your kids living in? Let’s work to give it to them!

Pulling Double Duty

It just so happens that, on the day I usually post on my weekly blog here at, my guest blog post for Dr. Foose at Superintendent’s Corner got published. In case you missed it, check it out here.

I’ll have another original post or maybe a guest blogger of my own next week!


Spring Break is right around the corner and I’m sure many of you have some great travel plans. Maybe you’re taking a Caribbean Cruise? Maybe you’re heading to the Florida beaches? Maybe you’re not travelling anywhere at all? Whether you’re on vacation or enjoying a “stay-cation,” you can join in on the fun of our Spring Break Selfie contest. Here are the details:

1) Take a selfie that shows what you are doing on Spring Break. You on the Lido deck, you and your family at Disneyworld, you get the idea.

2) Tweet me the pic at @RHHSPrincipal and use the hashtag #SpringBreakSelfie. No Twitter account? Email me the pic at

3) All the selfies will be judged by a panel of experts (actually it will just be me and a couple of other staff members).

4) Prizes will be awarded (plus it’s cool to see what everyone is up to over the break)!

I hope you join in on the #SpringBreakSelfie contest and that you have a great Spring Break!

High School Musical


What it’s like to be a Wildcat

The interesting thing about performing “High School Musical” is that when the movie came out in 2006, the current generation of high school kids was young children and adored the film. Now, those same children are given the opportunity to act in one of their favorite childhood films. The amount of people in this year’s spring show tops the number of actors we had in last year’s “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Many students around the school have already talked about going to see the show with their friends.

The play is just as intense as any sport offered at River Hill, and we often spend about 4 hours in rehearsal a day, excluding tech week. When tech week rolls around, all of us end up spending over 12 hours in the school each day, with rehearsal going until 7 or 8 at night. Obviously, this makes it hard to do homework, and it is really hard to do things on the weekends. Though it is really difficult to balance schoolwork and dress rehearsals, we definitely try to get schoolwork done first. On top of this, students often spend time outside of school practicing lines, learning music, and going over the choreography and blocking. Depending on the show, you may have to learn a new skill (such as flying, rollerblading, or playing the ukulele), which obviously takes practice outside of rehearsal. Good actors also often spend time researching the show, the time period it was set in, and other aspects such as references or allusions. The snow days are definitely a huge obstacle, especially for this show, but we feel pretty confident about the show and we really think the audiences will love it.

The show is a great way to socialize and meet new friends since so much time will be spent with them every day. This lets us look forward to every rehearsal. The most exciting part of the process, however, is seeing all of the different elements come together in the end. When you work on a show and make it the best it can be, you’d never expect the magic that happens when makeups hits faces, when lights hit the stage, and, in this show specifically, when glitter cannons shoot way up into the air. “Magical” is the closest possible word to describe the feeling that you get as an actor. At this point, all we are waiting for is an audience so that we can see how they react to all of the surprises that are in store.


Kyle McKee as Ryan Evans

Amanda Yuan as Gabriella Montez

Thaddeus Harold as Jack Scott

Patrick Gover as Troy Bolton

PARCC Exams Start Next Week!!!

Next week, students will be taking the first round of new PARCC exams being administered in Maryland and in other states across the country. These tests are more closely aligned with the common core standards and are much more challenging than the High School Assessments (HSAs) for English and Math they are replacing. This is a good thing! To ensure that we are preparing students to be college and career ready, we need to know they can handle the level of material and the complexity of tasks they will be presented in the “real world.”

So you have more information about these assessments, I present to you my “Fast Five Facts about PARCC” and a bunch of resources you can peruse to learn more about the exams:


Students enrolled in English 10, Algebra I, and Algebra 2 are required to take the PARCC assessments. In fact, taking the English 10 and Algebra I exams is a graduation requirement for students enrolled in these courses for the first time. Passing the assessments will be required for students in the 2016-2017 school year.


No additional test prep is necessary. In many ways, the PARCC exams are more representative of classroom tasks than previous tests because they address more of the skills that students are learning. As a former English teacher, I thought it was crazy that the English HSA didn’t require any writing. The English 10 PARCC exam does!


There are two components of the PARCC exam for each subject: the performance-based assessment (PBA) and the summative assessment. The PBA schedule for March is:

3/3-Algebra I

3/4- Algebra 2

3/5- English 10

3/5- English 10

Students will take the summative assessment in April on the dates listed below:

4/21- Algebra 1

4/22- Algebra 2

4/23- English 10


Since the assessments are computer-based, students are assigned to testing locations around the school that are equipped with computers (computer lab, media center, classrooms). Their teachers will communicate specific testing locations and we will have posters in the front lobby just in case students forget.


Check out some of the links below.


The Official PARCC Website


Good luck to all the students testing. Even though no passing score is required, we still want every student to do his or her best! If you have any questions, feel free to email or call me!

Why Take the AP Exam?

Last week, students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses were invited to attend an information session about registration for the exams scheduled for May. We discussed the cost of the exams ($91/test), the deadlines for registration, and the process for submitting payment and forms, but the most important issue addressed was why students should take the exam (and not just the course).  As a follow up to that meeting, I offer to you the top five reasons to take AP exams:

  • You can earn college credits for passing scores on your exams. The exact number of credits awarded varies based on college/university and exam score, but for some students it can be quite significant. See who accepts your AP exam scores.
  • Even if your college/university doesn’t exempt you from taking a class, you may receive elective credits which help when it comes to registering for classes. Registration is based on number of credits, so having AP credits puts you ahead of other freshmen (and some sophomores depending on how many credits you earn).
  • You could qualify for an AP Scholar award depending on the number of exams you take and the scores you earn.
  • How well does your grade in the class indicate your readiness for college-level material? Wouldn’t it be nice to see how you stack up against the rest of the country? After all, they will be joining your college classes when you enroll.
  • Taking the AP courses helps you with college admissions. They like to see that you have taken the most rigorous course possible. Taking the AP exams helps River Hill High School. It is a great benchmark for us to be able to gauge how good a job we are doing preparing you to be college and career ready. We scratched your back with the course instruction, now it’s your turn to scratch our back by taking the exam.

If you missed the info session or want more specifics about AP exam registration, check your email (student services sent out info through Naviance) or check with your/your student’s counselor!

Mourning the Mixtape


As we head into Valentine’s Day weekend, I can’t help but reminisce about days gone by and what was always a go to gift on Valentine’s Day growing up—the mixtape. For the young people reading this, let me give you a quick education. Before there were playlists on iTunes and CDs made on home computers, people created mixtapes in their double cassette player boomboxes. It might sound a little antiquated, but let me tell you that the painstaking process of making the perfect mixtape was well worth the effort!

Mixtapes were a labor of love, not only for the time and detail to attention that went into creating them, but also because, quite frequently, they were made for the object of your affection. If you wanted a girl or guy to like you, you had to select the perfect songs. And it wasn’t just the content of the songs you had to plan for, but the length too. I always went for 90-minute mixes, so I was looking for a nice selection of 9-10 songs that filled side 1 and another 9-10 songs for side 2.

You had to allow for a few seconds between songs and, of course, you actually had to have the songs. When making a mixtape, you always gathered together your music collection, sometimes reaching out to a friend to borrow a few tracks you might not own. If you were really desperate to obtain the perfect song, you resorted to recording it off the radio, hoping that you could get a clean copy without the DJ talking over it. If all went well, you had a compilation of songs that told special someone just how you were feeling.

I started asking around yesterday about what students do now that equates with a mixtape and the results were disappointing to say the least. Texting, tweeting, and snapchat don’t really accomplish what a great mixtape did. There’s no tangible gift to look at, listen to (over and over again), and interpret hidden meaning in. There’s not a lot of time and effort put into social media messages. There’s just no matching what we had with the mixtapes back in the day. It is truly sad that youth today will never know the joy of making or receiving a mixtape.

I was joking around with a teacher about creating a mixtape app, but discovered that someone (actually a lot of people) had already beat me to it. Some have a mock up of a boombox and the ability to add songs to each “side.” Other apps offer the creator the option to add artwork to the cassette case. I’m still looking for the app that allows the user to share the mixtape with someone—that’s the best part! So what’s on your Valentine’s Day Mixtape?

Meet the Big 3!

“He was the last man on the bench all season. He was the last man on the bench the previous season. He was the last man on the bench the year before that. In his career, he’s played 31 minutes. He’s scored two points. But he stayed. On a team with future NBA draft picks, he’s the one who’s ordinary.”

—Michael Graff, writing about former Maryland Basketball player Earl Badu

You probably don’t recognize the name Earl Badu, but you may have heard of some of his Terrapin teammates like Chris Wilcox, Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, or Juan Dixon. While these guys were featured prominently on the 2002 National Championship team, Earl Badu is known more for being a fan favorite at Cole Field House.

On many occasions when the win had been secured, the Terrapin section called out for their man to sub in…Baduuuuu! He certainly didn’t get a lot of playing time, but he made every minute count and made a lot of people happy just by entering the game. In a tragic turn of events, Badu took his own life in 2012, but he will always be remembered as the 5’9” guard from Ghana who captured the hearts of faithful fans at Cole Field House.

At River Hill this year, the boys basketball team has its own version of Earl Badu in a group of juniors who call themselves “the Big 3.” I sat down with Tim French, Danny Isaac, and Ciande Ndiritu this week to learn more about who these guys are and what they are all about. Check out my mini-interview below:

The Big 3 from Nick Novak on Vimeo.