February 20, 2018
Dear Colleagues and Community Members,
The Verona Public School District is in the development phase of our next five year Strategic Plan. It is important to the Board and Administration that our strategic plan represents the opinions of our community. The Strategic Plan Steering Committee recently completed important work on our district mission statement, values and core beliefs, and strategic goals. The revised strategies are as follows:
- Secure and optimize financial resources
- Uphold a healthy and respectful school culture consistent with our core values
- Partner locally and globally to expand opportunities for our school community
- Continue to implement an engaging curriculum with meaningful experiences
- Provide relevant professional development and resources to support dynamic teaching
- Continue to provide upgraded technology and sustainable facilities
The next step in the strategic planning process is to form Action Teams that will meet from March - May 2018 to develop action plans for each of the strategies outlined in the Strategic Plan. We are calling on board members, administrators, faculty, parents, community members, and high school students to participate on action teams to review and refine each of our strategies and the goals that will guide our district work over the next five years. Participation on these action teams is open to the entire community and will require evening commitments from participants. A kickoff meeting will be scheduled in March (date and time to be determined).
If you are interested in serving on a Strategic Plan Action Team Committee, please respond by Friday, March 2, 2018, by submitting your information for consideration at the following link:
For those who are interested, the Verona Public Schools current Strategic Plan 2013-2018 can be viewed on our district website or at the following link:
The committee’s recommended revisions to our Strategic Plan will be presented to the public at a future Board of Education meeting once it is completed. We look forward to your interest and participation.
All my best,
Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools
Response to Parkland Shooting
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Mister Rogers
It saddens me to write to you in the days following the senseless act that occurred in Parkland, Florida. A tragedy that takes innocent lives from their loving families in a place that is supposed to be a safe haven can have an emotional effect on so many people, and it is natural for children and their parents to be concerned for their own safety.
The Verona Public Schools are the foundation of a strong and vibrant community where dedicated teachers, counselors, staff, and administrators remain committed to the safety and well being of all students. Our school district works closely with the Verona Police Department to regularly practice emergency action plans should such a response ever be necessary and over the past several years we have secured our schools with the addition of main entrance security vestibules, a visitor management system, surveillance camera system, and staff entry key fobs. But safety and security within our community is a shared responsibility. We must remain vigilant and keep open lines of positive, constructive communication between home, school, and law enforcement. When you see something or hear something, say something.
To foster this communication, our district has established Action Committees on Mental Health & Suicide Prevention designed to engage community input and make recommendations to the Verona Board of Education on how to strengthen our comprehensive support system of educational resources and preventive strategies. Should you need assistance for your child, please click here to learn more about the mental health programs, crisis intervention, and support services provided by our school district and contact your school principal. The Verona Public Schools has mental health professionals on hand who can provide guidance and support to families.
At home, we must take great caution in how we engage with our children about such tragic events. The American Psychological Association recommends limiting news coverage, having an age-appropriate dialogue about the events that occurred in Parkland, Florida, acknowledging their feelings, and reassuring them that the adults in their lives are always working to keep them safe. For more information on how to speak with your child, visit resources at the American Psychological Association Help Center.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Parkland community, especially to the victims and their families. During such challenging times, we must continue to come together to support those in need. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or concerns.
All my best,
Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools
Blessings and Gifts
“Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not the merits of who receives them.” Carlos Ruiz Zafon
We wish you a merry holiday season and hope you enjoy a peaceful time with your family and friends. The work our teachers, faculty and staff do each and every day is incredibly complex, but the most meaningful path one can commit his or her life to. Our gratitude to our staff for being a champion for children and always putting them first in their lives. The work that they do every day, on behalf of our children, is no easy feat. Their dedication and commitment to our students, our schools, and their craft is praised. Special appreciation to our community, especially our parents and families, for giving us the gifts of your children and entrusting our staff to help guide them. Wishing you good cheer and a happy new year. I hope that 2018 brings nothing but the best for our Verona families. Best wishes for a well deserved holiday break.
Attitude of Gratitude
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words,
but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy
With a quarter of the school year behind us and in anticipation of the holiday season, we tend to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of work, school and all that life sends our way. Thanksgiving marks a holiday reserved for slowing down, enjoying time with the people that matter most to us, and appreciating all that we have been blessed with. It is also a time for expressing gratitude and giving back to our community and those around us.
In Verona, we are focused on fostering a healthy and respectful school culture consistent with our core values. We remain committed to always acting in the best interests of all students, while respecting their individuality, favoring action, and rejecting mediocrity.
I, like you, live in Verona because of our outstanding staff and schools, an incredibly strong community, and opportunities for our children that likely exceed our own experiences growing up.
I have the benefit of being in the community and around our students each and every day. Verona’s children are, by and large, thoughtful, honest, open-minded, and more empathetic than generations who came before them. We want our children to grow up engaged and fulfilled, knowing the value of discipline and hard work, while understanding what it means to be treated with respect and civility. Our children are watching, and they will learn from both our actions and inactions.
As a community, we have a responsibility to work together to meet our objectives, without sacrificing our principles and our core values. Above all else, the Verona Public Schools system is a powerful platform for students to build character, foster positive values and develop important life skills in an environment that is safe, positive and inclusive. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, coach, student, parent or interested resident of the community – you have a role to play.
And so it is most appropriate to express gratitude this time of year. Thank you for your support, for your engagement in our schools, and for entrusting us with your children, and their intellectual and personal development.
On behalf of our staff and Board of Education, we would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.
All my best,
Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools
September 5, 2017
Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools
Good morning and welcome back to another school year. Each September affords us an opportunity to return to our classrooms, recharged and with a new outlook on the year that lies ahead. It is wonderful to see all of you today, an opportunity to reacquaint with each other after what I hope was an enjoyable summer.
Each of you has dedicated yourselves to what I believe is the most noble profession, one which keeps our students at the center of every decision. So it is most fitting to kick off each year with our students leading our Convocation ceremony. At this time, I ask that everyone please stand. Please join me in welcoming our VHS students with a round of applause.
(Pledge of Allegiance)
(Student Opening Performance)
Thank you to our students for sharing your talent with us. There are 300 adults in the audience this morning that have collectively supported you to where you are today. I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say we are proud of you and how you represent Verona. Thank you for working so hard and good luck this year. Please join me in giving our students another round of applause.
Many of you have had a busy and enjoyable summer. You spent time at the beach, hiking, and traveling. Some of you managed to sneak in a little summer teaching while others were content in catching up on some well deserved sleep. And now we are back.
I would like to welcome our new staff members to Verona. Would all of our new staff please stand? Please join me in giving them a warm welcome. To our new faculty, I encourage you to lean on the experienced staff in your new schools, as mentors and friends. They will be there to support you this year.
Many of you have already had an opportunity to return to your classrooms. And if you have done so, you know that our schools look amazing! Here are just a few photos to show you what I mean.
There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into getting this place ready for day one. Our entire staff has been hard at work and accomplished a great deal this summer. Please join me in thanking our custodial and maintenance staff, administrative assistants, IT staff, and our administration who have done an incredible job in making sure our schools are ready for opening day.
As we begin a new year, what we know for sure is the work that you do, teaching and learning, is very complex. I could get up here and talk about test scores, metrics, programs, and goals. But I won’t do that.
Instead, I want to share with you some reflections I find to be far more worthy for us and for our students. Each child in front of you tomorrow will sit in your class, each with their own set of strengths, while having unique areas where growth is needed. There is no doubt that you have already set plans in motion to help each of your students to mature, develop, and learn.
But how do we, together, ensure that all of our students’ needs are being met? Teaching can be quite an isolating profession, one where you are limited to collaboration with colleagues most of the day as a result of being in your individual classrooms.
This past summer, I stumbled upon an article that highlighted research where Google (Schneider, 2017) set out to discover the most important variables that influence high performing teams. They came up with these 5 factors:
#1 - Dependability
Effective teams get things done on time and meet the high bar of expectations. Team members learn to apply what they know and do not procrastinate their work.
#2 - Structure and Clarity
High-performing teams have clear goals, and have well-defined roles and plans within the group. These teams track only a few things, stick to those goals which they have identified as most important, and then go accomplish them.
#3 - Meaning
The work you do has personal significance to each member of the team. That’s an easy one for us. What motivates your work is seeing the fruits of your labor, and positively affecting children every day.
#4 - Impact
The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good. Team members believe their work matters and creates change. You clearly see this in both the short and long term with your students.
So those are only four factors that contribute to high performing teams. The fifth is the one that stood out to me the most.
#5 - Psychological Safety
Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. They feel comfortable and trust that no one will embarrass them for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.
We all remember learning about Maslow: basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs. And that the basic needs must be met in people before we can expect psychological needs to be possible. In turn, psychological needs must be secured in order for self-fulfilling needs to be achieved.
Google found that teams with psychologically safe environments, where everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions, had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who were more successful.
So I imagine the same must be true if we not only create this sort of environment for each other, but most importantly, for all of our students. After all, our mission statement challenges us to help each child to achieve their full potential. The only way to help our students reach that goal is to support their psychological needs so they can attain self-actualization. What if all of our students felt safe, all of the time?
I happened to be watching the MTV video music awards last week. Although the majority of the VMA’s was a bit of a blur to me, there were two memorable moments that struck me. The first was by Logic, a rapper, whose top chart hit entitled 1-800-273-8255, is intentionally the same number as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, raising awareness on this important issue and acceptance of people of all backgrounds.
The second, was a message by musical artist Alecia Beth Moore, who we all know as Pink. She was an honored award recipient and gave a moving acceptance speech to her daughter about loving yourself for yourself.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to read a new children's book that was recommended by Dr. Bangia. The book is entitled Wishtree, a simple yet important message intended for audiences age 10-14. It was a quick and easy read and I know that the copy of this book is currently circulating with our librarians. Wishtree is a beautiful story about family and community.
The author, Katherine Applegate, spreads a message about wishes, people’s wishes. The narrator of the story is Red, a wise and optimistic oak tree. On May 1st, each year, people in the community write down their hopes and wishes and attach it to the branches on Red the oak tree.
One wish in particular comes from Samar. Samar is a young Muslim girl whose family is the target of a hateful act from one of their neighbors. Samar has a wish to have a friend. Red, the optimistic red oak tree, wants to do everything possible to grant Samar her wish. The story is simple. It is a beautiful, touching, and real message of friendship, inclusion, and religious tolerance. This message is so apropos today, perhaps more than ever, and we are all more closely related than some may think.
“This should be compulsory. There would be no such thing as extremism in this world if people knew their heritage.” An open world begins with an open mind. That is my wish for our students.
As educators, we have an ethical responsibility, perhaps today more than ever before, to make sure our students, the future generations of our world, understand acceptance and let go of labels. We need to nurture a community where our students accept all people for their differences. Our students must get to know them before we judge them. That’s what we want all of our students to learn. And if we are successful, then they will all feel safe every day.
Last year, our students wrote down their own wishes as one of the outcomes from our district action committees on Code of Conduct & Respect and Mental Health & Suicide Prevention. These wishes could easily have been hung from Red, the oak tree. But instead, our students helped design the following poster you see on the screen, a visual representation of what we stand for in Verona.
So it is with these WISHES from our students, those which help ensure their psychological safety that Google identified, that no matter how different we are from each other, be it race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else for that matter, that we will continue to come together as a team, and teach our students what it means to be a good person.
In the infinite wisdom of Maya Angelou. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of the human meaning.”
This year, we will continue to build on inclusivity, acceptance, tolerance, and make sure our students understand this simple notion. All of you represent possibilities, the possibilities for your students. How will you make this message a powerful one, every day in your classrooms this year?
Thank you for all that you do. The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency that exists. I wish you an exciting first day and an amazing school year.
*Google Spent 2 Years Studying 180 Teams. The Most Successful Ones Shared These 5 Traits
Michael Schneider (2017) - https://www.inc.com/michael-schneider/google-thought-they-knew-how-to-create-the-perfect.html