Thursday, May 18, 2017


The recent 90-degree days have caused quite a bit of excitement in the school building.  Hot weather is a sure sign and reminder that summer break is around the corner.  This realization often causes excitement as well as concern about the unstructured and lengthy break before school resumes in August.  As Principal, one of my concerns about the break is the loss of good solid habits students have established during the school year.  Our children work very hard during the school year and it is normal for them to slow down academically to take more time with family and friends.  

Kids are a little different when it is getting close to summer break.
Actually, it is Mustache Day at school.
I encourage families to incorporate learning consistently into their summer days.  If families are looking for ideas, a simple internet search will give you much more than you ever imagined.  Here are some of my favorites:

The 606 Trail in Chicago is beautiful and family friendly.
Part of my summer plan is to let families know some things for them to do before school starts back up.  So, expect to hear from me in mid-June.

Most of our students know about the summer reading incentives.  For many years, we have rewarded children for setting reading goals over the summer and turning in their parent-signed forms once school resumes.  You can look for these coming home in early June.  I am predicting our new principal, Ms. Kathleen Tomei, will continue encouraging summer reading and offering incentives.  She has many new and fun ideas.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Countdown Continues

The Last 26 Days

If you haven't heard, the elementary students and staff participate in the Alphabet Countdown to celebrate the final 26 days of the school year.  This week included Exercise by taking Extra recess Day, Fruit Day (bring some extra fruit), Game Day, Hat/Hair Day, and Interesting facts about Mr. Vandercar Day.  Well, it was a very interesting week.  I am really looking forward to "J" Day next week when students can give me suggestions about what my next Job will be.  Our students are very creative and are sure to come up with some winners.  Believe it or not, many of the students are very serious about what job I should take after I retire.

H is for crazy Hair Day.

Plans are underway for all of the end-of-year activities.  Field trips, awards ceremonies, concerts, cumulative class projects, Kindergarten Celebration, Preschool Celebration, and Field Day are just a few of the many.  Although all of these activities have unique purposes, the overall goal is to celebrate learning in a very fun and exciting way.

The final day of school is Wednesday, June 7.  This is our annual Field Day.  It is a celebration of the school year.  However, it takes a great deal of planning because our primary goal is to make it educational.  So, this day is a compilation of many topics we emphasize during the school year.  Our Social Emotional Learning (SEL) components are vital for the overall development of students.  Some of the focus areas are sportsmanship, team-building, honesty, and getting along with others.

Our Summer library will be held at Pleasantdale Middle School.
Mrs. Steinmetz has put together a wonderful calendar for summer fun! The library will be open:

Wednesdays 6:00 - 8:00 pm
June 14 - August 16
Thursdays 12:00 - 2:00 pm
June 15 - August 17

Thursday, May 4, 2017

“We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. 
Without diversity life would be very boring.”

                                                                                 — Catherine Pulsifer

Giving tours of the building are one of my favorite things to do.  I love introducing parents to our staff, showing off the classrooms and showing potential parents first-hand what goes on in school.  Parents are usually very impressed and want to move into the district.  As I was finishing up a tour with a young couple several weeks ago, I asked the ages of their children.  The answer stunned me - they didn’t have children yet and were looking at schools to decide where to raise their family.  Wow!  Now I was impressed and they were too.  Their comments focused on diversity and unique makeup of the student population as well as the staff.

3rd grade lunchtime Book Club
PES Family Fun Facts (from Illinois School Report Card):
White: 75%
Black: 2%
Hispanic: 13%
Asian: 7%
ELL (English Language Learners): 14%
Low Income: 9%
Special Education: 14%

Although these statistics don’t look as ethnically diverse as many schools, the range of backgrounds within each of the above categories is unique. For example, our ELL population currently includes students speaking 17 different languages. This percentage and range of languages are the highest they have ever been. As a matter of fact, the district recently hired an additional teacher to work with our ELL population. We welcome our new staff member, Maggie Bialobrzeski.

Science fair fun
Our staff is much more diverse than it has ever been in my 15 years as principal. Not only do we have a nice mix of experience, we have staff fluent in Serbian, Polish, Arabic, Lithuanian, Dutch, German, Spanish, Russian, Bosnian, Croation, and Italian. This diversity certainly helps us meeting the needs of all children and families. And, it makes school a lot more fun and exciting.

A photo from our annual Cultural Celebration. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Final Countdown

The Final Countdown

Once the school year begins, it goes very quickly.  At Pleasantdale Elementary School, the last 26 days of the school year are celebrated by exciting and creative activities based on the alphabet.  The schedule is put together by our dedicated Student Council led by teachers Mrs. Griffin and Miss Macek.  The rumor among Student Council members is the supervisors get more excited about the “ABC Countdown” than the students.  Regardless, thanks to the Student Council and staff for starting this a few years ago and maintaining this fun way to finish off a tremendous school year.  The daily activities/themes are slightly different this year due to my retirement.  Although slightly embarrassing because of the added attention, I hope our students get a kick out of it.  Here are a few of the days I am pretty sure I look to forward to the most:

Is it Mr. Vandercar?  No. It is Sophie.

May 3: B is Book Day - read one of Mr. Vandercar’s favorite books (I have many and will share them with classes).
May 4: C is Cubs Day - dress in Chicago Cubs clothing (of course optional to the few who do not understand).
May 15: J is Job Day - let Mr. Vandercar know what you think he should do after retirement (This will be interesting).
May 24: Q is Quiet Day - show Mr. Vandercar how quiet you can be in the hallways (I am skeptical).
May 30: T is Tie Day - Mr. Vandercar loves to wear ties so wear a tie to school (let me know if you need to borrow one).
June 2: W is Where is Mr. Vandercar Day:  (This should be interesting).
Halloween 2012 - Very Scary!

Thank you in advance to the Student Council and supervisors for putting this together every year.  Many younger students in the building cannot wait to get into Student Council specifically to be part of the ABC Countdown planning.

Keeping students motivated and engaged till the very last day is a challenge.  I applaud our teachers who do this better than any staff I have ever worked with.  The staff believes it is not too early for children to know that as they get older, the last few days of class are typically most important.  Although we try to block final exams out of our memories, these assessments are a very stressful part of our educational careers.  

Here are some other exciting events coming up over the last 26 days:

  • May 9 - 4th grade Band and Orchestra - this concert culminates a lot of hard work by our passionate students and instructors. This is going to be a great event and all are invited. Thanks to Mr. Woltman and Mrs. Burke who do a magnificent job working with our budding musicians.
  • May 11 and 12 - Schoolwide Spelling Bees - these 1st through 4th grade competitions have been part of May for the past 10 years. We believe the pros surpass the cons in this competition. We stress participation, sportsmanship, and supporting our classmates. We also explain that luck has a lot to do with winning many competitions.
  • May 23 - 3rd and 4th grade Concert - our oldest students will have fun and sing some very fun and special songs for parents and friends.  They perform in the evening as well as later in the school day.  All are invited.
  • June 7 - Field Day!  This is the last attendance day for children and what a memorable day this usually is for all.
Spelling Bee 2015!

  • June 8 - Parking lot replacement.  If you have not noticed, our parking lot is in need of improvements.  The entire parking lot and foundation will be replaced over the summer.  Throughout June and July, there will be no access from School St.  Parents will be given detailed instructions about contacting school staff during the summer months.  It will be beautiful (in August).
A big "Thank you" to parents for their constant support.  This is especially key during the last few weeks of school.  It is very easy for children to ease up and not push hard right up till the final day.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Citizenship in the Classroom


We recently named our 2016-2017 School Citizen of the Year (SCOTY).  This prestigious award goes to a 4th grader who best exemplifies our description of a good citizen.  However, this year was particularly difficult.  It was not difficult due to a lack of good candidates for this award.  It was quite the opposite.  We had way too many nominations.  And all of them would be legitimate winners for this award.  As a matter of fact, we used to recognize the top ten candidates but this year decided there were just too many quality candidates and it might seem as though we were “watering down” our expectations.  
SCOTY winner from 2014-2015

This year’s 4th graders are a tremendous group of students and we are super proud of them.  These oldest students serve as leaders and role models for the younger students.  So, we expect a lot out of them.  Seeing the cumulative result of stressing citizenship starting as far back as preschool is quite satisfying.
4th grader Joey is recognized.

Here are a few ways we teach and encourage positive behaviors in the classrooms:

  • Social/Emotional Learning (SEL) opportunities naturally occur and teaching these skills are integrated throughout the school day. Modeling behavior expectations, calming strategies and role-playing what problem-solving looks like is extremely beneficial. We use 2nd Step teaching students about feelings and how to manage them. This is done through a variety of lessons using puppets in realistic/familiar scenarios.

  • We use conflict resolution skills to resolve daily conflicts.  This builds self-confidence as students learn to “talk things out.”  We focus on compromising, taking turns and sharing.  Using conflict resolution strategies reduces arguing, bickering, and enables and empowers students to work conflicts out.

  • Our SEL program uses consistent language that teaches good listening and learning behaviors.  Using the same language daily in our classroom and in our weekly lessons has made a huge difference in our class.  Expectations are clear and reinforced daily!
  • We focus on skills that strengthen students' ability to learn, have empathy, manage emotions, and solve problems. It helps foster a safe, respectful learning environment. The lessons involve brain builders, role-playing activities, songs, videos, and Family Home Links.
  • We use the class meeting format to discuss how to learn and get along with others.  Discussions, role playing, videos, and songs are used during class meetings to discuss skills for learning, empathy, emotional management, and problem-solving.

  • The Eagle Way is probably the number one way we SEL in class. The Eagle Way keeps expectations consistent throughout the building.  It is a great way to create a respectful learning environment.

Earning Eagle Feathers is fun!

Thank you to our wonderful parents who have set a strong foundation focusing on citizenship.  We feel very fortunate that such quality children come to us eager to learn, try their best, and be on their best behavior.  I predict there will be an even larger SCOTY candidate pool next year and the years following.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a high priority for Pleasantdale Elementary School.  We want all children to grow academically, physically, socially and emotionally - we know these areas are all connected.  We take an “all hands on deck” approach addressing the SEL component of learning.  At PES, our social worker, Mrs. Dassinger, is instrumental in this area.  She coordinates a school-wide committee to make sure we are consistent throughout the building and she oversees activities related to SEL. File_000.jpeg

As part of our Positive Behavior Support System, we have a school-wide set of behavior expectations which we call the “Eagle Way”. Throughout the school you can see our mascot Eddie the Eagle reminding us how to follow it. Following the “Eagle Way” means we are being Responsible, Respectful and Safe.

Our Eagle Way extends to all school activities.  For example, students have certain Eagle Way guidelines for the bus, on field trips, during school assemblies, evening activities, etc.  We encourage families to use our Eagle Way structure at home to really be consistent.

Students who follow the Eagle Way earn Eagle Feathers. All adults in the building are constantly on the lookout for students who are going above and beyond to be good citizens of our school and follow the Eagle Way. Once a student earns an Eagle Feather, he/she can choose to put it in for a weekly or monthly drawing. The lucky winners are announced through the speaker system, have their picture taken and receive a small prize. Here are some our recent winners:


While everybody who earns an Eagle Feather is a winner, unfortunately not everybody’s name can be announced. Therefore, all feathers are put on our Eddie bulletin board. Look how many feathers were earned just this month!!

Congratulations to all and keep up the good work following the Eagle Way!!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Finding the right balance

Finding the Right Balance

Free illustration: Horizontal, Pan, Balance, Weigh - Free Image on ...

Students and staff returned from spring break full of energy and excitement.  The final trimester proceeds very quickly because of the numerous end-of-the-year activities here at school along with the myriad of activities available to children this time of year outside of the school day.  I am always amazed by the amount of creativity and dedication teachers use keeping children challenged and engaged as the school year winds down. Even though we work with very young children, we want to instill the habit of working hard right up till the last day (well, maybe the last few days).  We all know as children get older, the end of the school year is more and more important and often culminates on the last day of class - final exams.  It is vital that we pace ourselves and try to find that perfect balance of work, school, family, fun, etc.

Balance - Free vector graphics on Pixabay

Every spring for 19 years was extra rewarding and busy for me due to baseball and softball coaching.  I was fortunate enough to coach most of my kids' spring and summer teams.  So, I know and understand the demands families feel this time of year. Reflecting back on these coaching opportunities is rewarding. However, I really can't believe I had the time to do it right. I appreciate all the moms, dads, and friends of students that put in the time and energy coaching sports or other similar activities.

Every spring for the past few years, we have taken some proactive steps to help children focus.  For example, we often implement an "extra recess" period during the last month or so of school.   We found a quick ten minute unstructured free period during the day pays huge benefits when children return to class. Students can run, climb, walk around, read, or whatever activity that helps them release energy and refocus.

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An analogy to the end of the school year is gymnastics. In this sport, the faster one goes, the more mistakes are made and often, a lower score. Quality is much more important than quantity in gymnastics. It takes concentration, lots of practice, routine, patience, and stamina. These are skills needed to end the school year in an optimal way.