I can distinctly remember how excited I was in 4th grade for my parents to visit Ms. Thane’s class for Back to School Night. It wasn’t just because I was proud of how neat the inside of my desk was (do you remember those elementary school desks where you would store all of your supplies and belongings?) and the things I had left for them to see; I was excited because I loved Ms. Thane’s class and couldn’t wait for my parents to see why I felt that way.

I remember feeling the same way in 10th grade when I knew my parents would be meeting Sponz, my art teacher (Mr. Sponzerelli). Even then, I couldn’t say I loved his class because he was a master teacher, but the vibe he created in his room made me want to create. And he was just cool. You couldn’t quantify it, but everyone wanted to take his class and you were one of the lucky ones to have gotten in it. I was fortunate to have him for the next two years as well.

But in 12th grade, I couldn’t wait for my parents to meet Mr. Oldenwald (or Mr. Old and Bald as we used to joke with him). He made me love English. I already had a love for reading since I was a toddler, but he made me love the discipline of English. A fine nuance. I still have my journal from his class and still remember how we all read The World According Garp by John Irving as independent reading because that text was not on the approved curriculum list. I loved reading it (but still recommend Owen Meany over that to people when they ask what my favorite book is) and the discussions that ensued from it which is a huge reason I loved that class.

The point is that as excited as I was, Back to School Night was a merging of worlds for me just as it is now for our students. That can be a little nerve-wracking. There is a fair amount of anxiety that exists when we know that different parts of our lives are going to collide—especially when we won’t be present for it. For example, I remember in 5th grade wondering what Mr. Van Delden would say to my parents because he was so strict. I remember my younger brother having the same worries two years later which were compounded by the fact that he was my sibling.

But all in all, for every BTSN, whether it was excitement or whether it was anxiety, the reality was that it was both: I simultaneously loved and feared that my parents would have a glimpse into a world that they didn’t know and possibly didn’t understand.

And so all of those feelings always flood me when I see a host of freshmen parents entering the school for the first time or senior parents at their last BTSN. And so this past Monday night was no different for me. And I suspect that it was no different for your students. Or for you. But the point I hope you take away from this is that deep down, even when students might feel embarrassed by their parents or worried about what their parents might discover, they ultimately want their parents to be involved, to show that they care, that they have your attention. Attending eight classes for five minute intervals is a small way that this can be demonstrated, so if you were able to do so, I thank you.

But having done this for over 20 years, I also understand that things come up—both in work and in life, so perhaps you weren’t able to attend. That’s fine. There’s still other ways to show your commitment and your care. If you have concerns, arrange a parent-teacher conference. Monitor progress in ParentVue. Reach out to your student’s teachers. Your gesture doesn’t have to be grand, but your student will appreciate even a small one. S/he might deny it or push back against it, but think back to when you were in school and how you felt: deep down, we all want affirmation, confirmation, and appreciation, so validate this with some level of involvement with their classes.

If you couldn’t attend BTSN, please mark your calendar for 11/8 for Champe Check-in from 8:30-10:30. This is our next formal event for meeting with teachers, so before you vote or on your way home from voting, swing by Champe and touch base with your student’s teachers to see how things are going but to also show how much you care.

Safe Schools, Safe Students

​I had ended my last blog entry by referencing NBAU (Not Business As Usual) with the intention of using that as a segue to my next post. However, I am going to put that topic on the backburner for the time being and instead focus on school safety.

As you might know, in the past I have done ConnectED call-outs regarding school safety with the majority of them centered on safe driving and walking to school. To start this school year, I did call-outs again on that subject since we are at capacity with our enrollment, have the middle schoolers with us, and have more student drivers on campus. This increase in enrollment obviously has led to an increase in traffic on and around the campus, so that is another area where we continue to focus our safety efforts. As such, it is imperative that you follow the arrows in the visitor lot as it is now for one-way traffic only. And to help maintain the flow of traffic, I thank everyone for their cooperation in pulling all the way to the front of the kiss-and-ride: this has helped us to keep traffic moving and reduce back-ups. I would greatly appreciate it if you could refrain from picking up on Lobo and then making a U-turn there; rather, if you pick up your student while in the queue, please either go through the stadium lot to turn around or proceed through the moving lane of the kiss-and-ride.

With the increase in housing around the campus, we also need to be mindful about accessing and leaving John Champe High School. First, it bears repeating that JCHS is a no-walk zone. Students will ride their bicycles because we have bike racks on campus or will walk because there are crosswalks, but the fact remains we are a no-walk zone. Regardless, I realize that students will walk and even more so, that community members will utilize the crosswalks after hours, so it is imperative that we make sure we remain vigilant when the crosswalk lights are activated, that we check the crosswalks before turning, and that we adhere to the posted speed limit on North Star. When you have pedestrians, inexperienced drivers, distracted drivers, and construction traffic sharing the road, we have to work especially hard  to mitigate the risk that is there.

But we work to keep students safe in other ways which you may or may not be aware of, and so I thought this would be a good time to go over some of them. First, code requires that we conduct a fire drill once a week for the first month of school. And in conjunction with that, we also conduct two lockdown drills during the first 20 days of school. Also during the month of September, we practice our Emergency Response Plan, a drill where we practice evacuating the school. After that, we have one fire drill a month for the remainder of the year, two more lockdown drills, a tornado drill, and an earthquake drill. In addition, in the past we have also worked in conjunction with the Loudoun County Sherriff’s Office to participate with their K9 units in drills as well.

Next, when we are presented with certain crises or the potential of a crisis, we have established protocols we follow in those instances to best ensure student safety. Whether it is a threat assessment team, a crisis intervention team, or some other group, we utilize a team approach to draw on the experience and expertise of a range of individuals to help determine the best course of action. For example, we have non-teaching professionals on staff who are directly charged with ensuring a safe learning environment. First, our Safety and Security Specialist, Brian Elliott, handles a myriad of responsibilities to ensure student safety. He also works closely with our School Resource Officer, Deputy Justin Payne, on a variety of issues. We are also fortunate to have a probation officer in the building, Madison Ross, and as a part of our security team. Lastly, we also have professionals on staff who strive to keep our students emotionally safe. For example, we have Jennifer Thomas, our social worker, and Sarah Apgar Painter, our school psychologist, to complement our counseling team in times of crisis.

There are other, more specific things that we have in place to maintain a safe learning environment, but I hope that this broad overview is insightful!


​Do you know what one of the worst replies you could hear over the dinner table on the first day of school is? “Nothing.”

Yet time and again at dinner across the country, that is the response that students give their parents when asked what they did in school. The problem with this response isn’t that it’s a sullen student who is disengaged; the problem is that they are probably telling the truth which is unfortunate to say the least.

Every student looks forward to the first day of school. While students have varying reasons for their excitement (seeing friends, wearing new back to school clothing, finally being able to drive to school, or looking forward to a certain class or seeing a favorite teacher), they come in excited for the first day. And then that excitement is squashed. In fact, too many teachers excel at deflating that first day enthusiasm. What that generally looks like is the following: students go through all of their classes and are repeatedly told what they can and can’t do; they learn about classroom policies and procedures; and they read syllabi and sign out textbooks. That bubbly enthusiasm is quickly replaced by exhaustion and boredom well before the end of the day. And so when they are asked at night what they did, they’re likely telling the truth. However, it’s my hope that in the John Champe High School community, your experience on August 29 was different.

Each year I ask teachers new John Champe High School (and new to the Champe way) if they are firestarters or fire extinguishers? I walk them through the above scenario and explain that those teachers are fire extinguishers—and I ask them if that is the kind of class they would want to be in on the first day of school? And so I challenge them to be firestarters because as Sophocles wrote, “Education is not the filling of a vessel, but the kindling of a flame.” The first day of school is a great (best?) opportunity to kindle that flame—to show students why we are passionate about what we do, why we love our subject areas, and why we have made this our life’s work. I encourage them to showcase their best lesson that day or have an activity that will get students excited about their subject matter and want to come back for the second day of class. There is plenty of time to go over rules and procedural stuff (even at some point on the first day—it just doesn’t have to be the focus for the entire period), but there is very little time to get students enthusiastic and engaged, so it is imperative that we lead with something interesting!

This philosophy is a core value at John Champe High School and we honor it by visiting classrooms on the first day of school to see the great things that are happening (and sometimes even get to participate). Moreover, we even have a monthly recognition at faculty meetings for a teacher who best embodies this notion. And that is why on Twitter you might have seen photos of classes where students were highly engaged on the first day of school—such as in Mrs. Kummerer’s class where students determined the density of an unknown solution, Mrs. Zappia’s class where students completed an escape-the-room activity, or Ms. Webb’s class where students participated in an Algebra QR code scavenger hunt. And so I hope that when you spoke with your student about their first day of school that s/he had much more to say than “nothing,” because at John Champe High School, it is Not Business As Usual (NBAU).

Growing Pains

As John Champe’s population has grown, I thought that another way that families can connect with the school is through a blog. So with that in mind, this is my first foray into the blogosphere, and my goal is to post musings from time to time on a range of issues and ideas, so I hope that you check back here regularly.
For this first entry, it is hard to not reflect on where we were four years ago versus the first day of school this week. When students walked through the doors on Monday, August 29, 2016, they were entering a school that had established itself in four short years as a premiere high school in Loudoun County. Between various academic and athletic accomplishments, John Champe has enjoyed successes that established schools have yet to experience! And so those new and returning students who arrived on Monday became a part of something larger than themselves: they are now part of a tradition of excellence that has been established here at John Champe High School.
What these students may or may not realize is that four years ago, we were the smallest high school in the county; now we are the largest high school in the county. When we opened four years ago, we were able to fit in the auditorium on the first day of school for introductions and a school-wide meeting before reporting to first period; now we all can’t fit inside the school and have eight modular classrooms! We opened our inaugural year with a SHIELD schedule (a flex schedule where we had a period on B days where students reported back to their classes on a set rotation to receive extra help, make up work, or even to attend school-wide assemblies), and now because of our size, we have Advisory periods instead throughout the day. We had a set bell schedule for the past four years, but now we will have to create adjusted schedules for pep rallies and other events and even add an additional minute of passing time to accommodate our size and our modulars.
The point is, we have had to change because we are a bigger school. And when you grow, there are usually growing pains that go with it. My goal is to try to ease those growing pains for students and staff and still maintain the family atmosphere we have at Champe. But please also know that becoming a large school is not a bad thing by any means. More students means more opportunities for them to connect with peers and have a larger support system as well. It also means more opportunities for different clubs and activities. And having more students also means having more teachers, and as a result, being able to offer a wider range of classes or multiple sections of classes. The bottom-line is that we are a bigger family now. And I used that word “family” five years ago to describe how we would function as a school when we were still a construction site. I use that word again now to emphasize the fact that we are family no matter how large we get: we look out for one another, we support one another, and we treat each other how we would like to be treated. That is the John Champe way. And along those lines, this also includes the 8th graders who will be housed in our school for the next two years through no fault of their own: they are future Knights, so they are family as well and we need to make sure that we make them feel that way. But just like a large family living in a tight space, there will be times when we step on each other’s’ toes or just need some space. And that is fine. It’s to be expected. And sometimes we will just have to agree to disagree but understand that ultimately we are all in it together. But it will also mean that we need to be mindful of one another and make sure that we treat each other with respect. For example, as our credo goes, Character, Honesty, and Respect Generate Excellence. And so I am confident that we will again have another year marked by that–both in the classroom, on the fields and on the court, and in how we interact with one another.
I look forward to this new school year and hope you do too!