The year ahead

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My initial intent when I sat down to write this was to reflect on the craziness that was my 2012.  But you can read my blog and take all that in.  For those of you who haven’t been reading it and are too time-strapped or lazy to go catch up, though, here’s a Readers Digest version of it: I started the year working for a college athletic department in Alabama, decided I hated it, got hired by my longtime friend for a second go-round as a history teacher, moved back to North Carolina, and built a World History curriculum and high school athletic department from scratch at a brand-new charter school.  And somewhere in there, I turned 30.

Got all that?  Good.  Let’s move forward.

As interesting and exciting as 2012 was, 2013 holds so much to be excited about, so I’ve decided to use this space to look forward to all the awesome things that will happen in the next year.

January 22-25: Teacher Scholars.  It’s my first business trip as an RTHS faculty member!  Lead English teacher Deb Brown and I will be heading to Cullowhee for four days for the Teacher Scholars in Residence program at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching.  We’ll be given the space and resources to work on our flipped videos and get a head start on the 2013-14 English and social studies curricula.  We’ll also be given top-flight food and accommodations.  Maybe I’ll even try skiing out while I’m up there – I’ll just make sure I get a Raptor green cast on whatever limb I shatter.

Spring 2013, date TBD: Bachelor party.  What do tigers dream of…

June 1-7: AP Reading.  I haven’t been officially invited back to Louisville yet, so this may be putting the cart before the horse, but the College Board sent me a sort of “save-the-date” notification in the fall, so I guess I’ll be going back to the AP U.S. History reading.  Chemistry and U.S. History are both in Louisville at the same time, so I’m hoping that my boss Eric gets invited back for Chemistry.  That’d be a pretty fun way to end our first school year.


Aren’t we cute?!

June 22: Wedding bells.  As of June 22, my fiancee Jess and I will have been engaged for three years and three days.  We went to grad school and became way too poor to have the wedding we both wanted, so we stuck it out and finished our degrees – I think going through the difficult graduate-level work and grinding poverty together made us a stronger team.  Now we both have jobs in the Triangle and can afford to have a lovely wedding and a heck of a party.

June? July?  Honeymoon.  If anyone has any suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

July, date TBD: RTHS Camp 2.0.  Last year’s inaugural freshman orientation went a long way toward bringing such a diverse student body together, and gave the teachers an opportunity to meet our future charges.  This year, we’ll get to meet in the actual school building and have the full technological resources of the school, so it should be a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.

Soccer Shield Rays 1

Every soccer program needs a shield.

July 29: Fall sports practice opens.  The Research Triangle Raptors will be in the N.C. High School Athletic Association as an independent 1A member next year, and our first-ever boys’ soccer and girls’ volleyball teams will begin tryouts.  Our cross country team will also start its second season with high hopes after such a successful inaugural year.

August 12: Year two!  RTHS will welcome back 140 sophomores, enroll 105 new freshmen, break in a brand new wing of the building (including the new athletic directors’ office), and see numerous new teachers and staff members joining us in providing a top-notch education to our students.

August 31: Kickoff!  Being at Auburn for two years only heightened my excitement over the Charlotte 49ers FINALLY adding a football program.  I don’t know if I’ll get tickets to the Niners’ inaugural game against Campbell, but at the very least I plan to be on campus, tailgating and taking it all in, just so that years later I can tell my kids that I was there.

December 31: The second annual look ahead.  Hopefully I’ll get to spend 2013 writing about all the amazing experiences mentioned above – well, maybe not the bachelor party – and look ahead to all that 2014 will bring.

I’ve loved spending the last seven months creating this record of the experiences of me and my school, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I hope all of you have a healthy, productive, and rewarding 2013.



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Many schools – the ones I’ve attended or worked at, at least – reward academic achievement, whether it’s an honor roll reception or a big year-end awards ceremony with accolades handed out for scholarships, straight A’s, or high test scores.

Rewarding academic prowess is great, but at Research Triangle we’ve tried to reward other positive qualities we’ve seen our students exhibit in addition to doing great in class.  Once a month, we gather all of our students in the gallery (something we won’t be able to do next year when we add over 100 new freshmen) to recognize students for not only academic achievement, but other qualities they’ve exhibited such as zest, curiosity, gratitude, social intelligence, improved work ethic, and perseverance.

As the athletic director, I know that perseverance has been a quality that our student-athletes must have at a first-year high school.  Our cross country team was incredibly successful, but I knew that was probably going to end up being an anomaly; brand new high school sports teams just aren’t supposed to be good at much.  When I was at Robinson, it took some of the sports teams several years to get off the mat, and they had over 1,500 students to pull from.

Perseverance would definitely be needed as we began play in our first-ever holiday tournament yesterday – a tournament just for JV teams in Asheboro.  Since we only have freshmen, we thought this would be a good opportunity to play teams more on our level instead of getting drilled on a regular basis by varsity squads who have guards taller than our center.

The girls’ game got underway yesterday afternoon with our only five players on the court – everyone else was indisposed due to the holidays.  From the first minute, it was pretty apparent that things were going to go badly; among the missing players were virtually all the guards, so just getting the ball up the court was proving difficult.  We trailed 12-2 after the first quarter and 28-2 at the half.  A 16-point deficit at the half is not insurmountable in most cases, but everyone at the game – including the players – seemed to know that just making it to double digits would be an accomplishment.

It’s here that perseverance is really put to the test.  Sixteen more minutes of basketball to play, virtually no chance of winning, and no subs on the bench.  Packing it in and just running out the clock is easy.  But that’s not what most of our students do, and that’s not what the girls on the floor did.

Sierra Street, who also scored the team’s only bucket in the first half, added a basket in the 3rd quarter, but the scoreboard remained stuck there through the rest of the 3rd and into the 4th.  With two minutes remaining, we trailed 46-4.  I was sitting in the stands across from our bench, wondering how I was going to tweet this score to the people to whom I’d promised updates.  With about a minute and a half to go, Nikki Khoshnoodi got free with the ball near the top of the key and knocked down a three to pull us within 39 points – the comeback was on!  After a defensive stop, Katie Dixon knocked down another three pointer.  For the first time, the tens digit on the scoreboard lit up.  The final score: Chatham Central 46, Research Triangle 10.  That looks a hell of a lot better than 46-4, or even 46-7.  I can tweet 46-10.


I intercepted Nikki and Katie as they were walking toward the locker room.  “Where was that the first 30 minutes of the game?” I joked as I high-fived them.  The Chatham Central coach was standing in the tunnel as we got there, and he was heaping on the praise.  “You guys played so hard,” he was telling our girls.  “It’s so tough to play an entire game, and you really kept after it.”  He went on to say that our girls did a lot of positive things and, if they keep working as hard as they did during the game, they’ll surely improve.

I doubt an athletic director has ever been as proud after a 36-point beating as I was at that moment.  Our girls worked hard and persevered, and other people noticed.  One of these days we’ll persevere and win, but I’ll take this for now.

These count

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For my five years teaching at my previous job, the grading and exam breakdown was pretty simple since we were on block scheduling:  First nine weeks, second nine weeks, exams.  Some teachers gave midterms, but I never did – I figured that was time I could spend teaching history on our very tight schedule instead of just putting the brakes on everything for three days to review and then test.

So, along with our students, I’m going through midterm exams for the first time.  We’re on a year-long traditional schedule, and each semester exam – the midterm in the fall and the final in the spring – counts for 20 percent of a student’s semester grade, with the two quarter grades making up the other 80.  Since it’s such a big chunk of their grades, we’ve spent the last three days stressing how important it is and reviewing in our classes.

The problem is that we can’t get the students to understand how important they are.

Every December and April, I get a huge charge out of the exams-related Facebook posts from my former students; “OMG OMG OMG EXAMS ARE KILLING MEEEEEEEEE!” is one of the more recent meltdowns I saw come across my timeline.  Then again, they’ve been through tons of finals in high school and college.  It’s a little hard to forget that our students have never really taken a big test that counts before.  As far as I know, the end-of-grade tests in middle school don’t impact students’ grades.  Middle school grades don’t really count at all, if you think about it – colleges aren’t going to see those grades.  But starting in ninth grade, the meter is running – these grades impact athletic eligibility, the ability to keep a driver’s license, college applications, you name it.

So it was a little unsettling when I heard students discussing the midterms with a pretty cavalier attitude as recently as two days ago.  I guess they thought that we’d do three days of intensive review and alter the schedule for two-hour-long periods for four days to give a 25-question test or something.  Yesterday, I stood up in front of all of my classes and did the best I could to scare the crap out of them.

“It’s a little troubling,” I began, “that there doesn’t seem to a healthy amount of panic, or at least a sense of urgency, about these midterms.”  The kids idly sat there for the most part; a few were goofing off on their computers.  Time to turn up the heat, Drake.

“These exams cover everything you’ve done so far this year.  I know the English Department’s midterm is 100 questions.”

Some eyes got bigger as I got ready to throw down the gauntlet.

“…and the World Civ midterm is 125.”

At this point, the room sounded like the angry crowds in a South Park episode.  You could see it in their eyes now.  A HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE QUESTIONS?!  HOLY SHIT!!!  Not that I took pleasure in their newfound horror – okay, so I took a little pleasure in it – but it was a relief to see the gravity of what they were about to embark on finally fall on them.

So today, every kid – even the ones who are usually the hardest to get to focus – was locked in.  Doing our sample multiple choice questions online, helping each other with their study guides, asking me questions, and trying.  I’m hoping it continues tomorrow as we wrap up review, and carries over into Thursday when our freshmen take the first tests in their lives that actually count.

And hopefully, we as teachers will be able to grade them and realize that they learned something this year – that all the hard work has paid off.