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Monday, December 31, 2012


I am grateful for:

1.  ECMS students . . . because you are amazingly charming, funny, intelligent, hard-working, and kind.
2.  ECMS teachers . . . because you are skillful, caring, demanding, inspiring and simply a great group of  professionals.
3.  Mrs. Castro, our Dean of Students, because of her dazzling skill set, work ethic, and wry sense of humor.
4.  Mrs. Johnson, principal's secretary, for her infinite patience when I cannot get logged into Munis (and countless other examples).  Thanks for helping me change my password at least 5 times and for always being glad to see me in the morning.
5.    ECMS counselors...  Thanks to Mrs. Bromiel and Mrs. Altman for having huge hearts for kids and  for going to great lengths to help them be successful. Thanks for building morale at every opportunity and for sustaining our ECMS family with your kindness and encouragement.  You both make the day brighter. 
6.  The ECMS FFO--- from registration to the Family Fall Dinner and Concert to the magazine drive to the Book Fair to our Honeybaked Holiday sale . . . you are awesome, one and all!  Long live the triumvirate of Cathy Rosen, Kris Johnson, and Lalita Hadley. Loved the framed picture, ladies!  Jeannine Pudwill, thanks for putting on a rocking Book Fair.  Janna Alexander, I appreciate all you do to organize the healthiest and best lunches around!
7.  Rachel Maleski, CTI, for always accommodating my every techno whim and for helping to empower kids  and teachers through proper use of technology.
8.  Our Special Education Team (Ms. Migler, Ms. Janes, Ms. Owens and our team of extraordinary educational assistants) . . . you teach and support our students with the greatest needs.  Thanks for all of your hard work in helping us learn how to accommodate and differentiate so that all students can move forward.
9.  Mrs. Weyand, Spanish and ELL teacher.  Mrs. Weyand started supporting our English Language learners last year and I want to commend her for doing such a fine job as a teacher and an advocate for language learners.
10. The parents of students here at Esperero . . . thank you for your trust.  We have truly exemplary parents who inspire us to do our very best every day!

Our goal is to make every family here at ECMS feel valued and know that we care.  We want each and every one of our students to feel very special and empowered.  Kids deserve our very best.  Please feel free to contact me by email at or by phone 209-8100, if you have any concerns or questions about anything related to our school.

Happy New Year to all of our dear students and their families1 Happy New Year to my faculty and staff! May many blessings come your way!

Strategic Plan: PBIS

Our Strategic Plan and PBIS

Planning for educational success is no easy feat and we take it very seriously at Esperero Canyon Middle School.  In this entry, I want to update you how we are progressing on our District Strategic Plan in terms of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

This is our goal as written in our part of the CFSD Strategic Plan:

1.13 Continue to use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to identify and provide interventions in order to increase self-directed critical thinkers.  Data teams will identify students who require intervention.

What Does School-Wide PBIS Emphasize? (from www.
In general, SWPBS emphasizes four integrated elements: (a) data for decision making, (b) measurable outcomes supported and evaluated by data, (c) practices with evidence that these outcomes are achievable, and (d) systems that efficiently and effectively support implementation of these practices.
These four elements are guided by six important principles:
  • Develop a continuum of scientifically based behavior and academic interventions and supports
  • Use data to make decisions and solve problems
  • Arrange the environment to prevent the development and occurrence of problem behavior
  • Teach and encourage prosocial skills and behaviors
  • Implement evidence-based behavioral practices with fidelity and accountability
  • Screen universally and monitor student performance & progress continuously
 What Outcomes are Associated with Implementation of PBIS?
Schools that establish systems with the capacity to implement PBIS  with integrity and durability have teaching and learning environments that are
  • Less reactive, aversive, dangerous, and exclusionary, and
  • More engaging, responsive, preventive, and productive
  • Address classroom management and disciplinary issues (e.g., attendance, tardies, antisocial behavior),
  • Improve supports for students whose behaviors require more specialized assistance (e.g., emotional and behavioral disorders, mental health), and
  • Most importantly, maximize academic engagement and achievement for all students.

How are we implementing PBIS school wide?

Through the teaching and reinforcement of the Eagle Honor Code and the EC 10,  students are
schooled in the norms of our school in the first weeks of the academic year. We reinforce these norms throughout the year with such programs as Student of the Quarter.  We have also started a chapter of National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) which honors the academic and behavioral achievements of students at ECMS.  NJHS members  will also provide tutoring and support for their fellow ECMS students and eventually to students at our feeder schools, Canyon View and Ventana Vista.

Our administrative team and counselors have taken on a personal challenge to coach students who are having behavioral issues in making better choices.  Many times that includes going to the student in the classroom and redirecting by modeling the desired behavior.  Administrators, counselors and our ISS coordinator also engage in data talks with students who need redirection.  The special education team and school psychologist meet weekly with ECMS administration to discuss students who may require additional assistance.  

Our counselors conduct several groups for students.  The groups are conducted during lunch and are designed to give additional behavioral, social, and emotional support based on teacher recommendations and parent approval.  

We have identified students in grade level teams who need a variety of supports and interventions.  Support structures include after school study halls and lunch time homework assistance. 

Interventions can be distinguished from supports in the following way:  intervention is "extra time" outside of the school day.  Frequency, intensity, and time (FIT) are elements that we consider carefully when assessing the efficacy of interventions.  

Our math intervention structure includes time on Wednesday morning before school starts and after school four days a week.  It also targets students who score "approaching" in math.  Other interventions include online programs that are highly structured and geared to move students forward.

Literacy support structures are in place in our Social Studies and Science classes.  This year,  the Social Studies and Science teams are focusing on developing writing-to-learn strategies in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards.  The district has provided us with a part-time literacy coach to help teachers develop and implement these research-based strategies.  Such best practices allow students to hone their critical thinking skills by using writing-to-learn strategies.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have implemented D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time during the first 10 minutes of period 1 (which is 10 minutes longer than other periods of the day to allow for announcements which we no longer do on Tuesdays and Thursdays).
This has made it necessary for students to always have a book checked out from the library.  D.E.A.R.  results in approximately 80 extra reading minutes per month; multiply that by 9 months in a school year and it comes out to approximately 720 minutes.  Furthermore, self-selected reading  increases the chances for high levels of engagement. 

Our faculty is constantly reviewing our student outcomes in grade level teams, data teams, and individual teacher conferences with administrators.   Our "data-driveness" allows us to constantly assess our efforts and make the necessary adjustments in order in order to move students forward.  

Thanks to all of our parents!  You are great partners who support us in every way in our work.  Happy New Year to everyone!  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Preserving Your Family Holiday Memories

Goal:  using the writing process, families can craft a memoir of the holiday of their choosing.

Pre-writing:  Draw a map of a holiday dinner table.  Label who is sitting at each place, the kinds of food on the table, the table decor.  If you can, start recalling quotes of what people said, wore, etc.  Are there any peripheral details that you can add? What smells were in the air?  Noises, music?  The more thoroughly you label the map (take your time over a series of days), the more memories can come forward as they occur to you.

Web: Choose an aspect of your map that you can develop by adding details. It is helpful to make a web of the aspect and some details. Here is a sample web graphic organizer.

Rough Draft:  Start writing the story from your web.  Simply freewrite all that you can.  Don't try to do it all in one day. Write all you can and stop.  In a day or two, shape the piece by adding and subtracting details, and refining.  Zero in on details that represent the experience (hint:  sometimes the peripheral details are the most interesting . . . like a "hi-fi" in my piece or "winter chintz").   When you think you have a good draft, let someone read it and give you feedback.

Other things to add:  I added a recipe.  You can also add photographs or a collage of photos (use the iPad app Pic Collage, for an example).

My piece took about 20 minutes a day over a few weeks.  I just kept adding and deleting.  I had Mrs. Maleski read it and critique it for me.  She basically shared what she really liked and one part where she thought I could refine the details.  When you cannot refine it any more, proofread and edit the piece for conventions (you can also let someone read your piece and help you edit).

Extensions:  Make your memoir into an iMovie.  You might consider storyboarding your memoir, it would help in the making of the film.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Here are some links to help students cope in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT school tragedy.  
Again, our thoughts go to the Sandy Hook Elementary School family as their loss is simply unfathomable.  

Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims Relief Fund
Make a donation
Sandy Hook Elementary School
Send cards and letters

Responding to Tragedy

Our hearts reach out to the victims and their families in Newtown, CT.

How can we help our students process their feelings about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary?  On Monday, we want to focus on maintaining our normal routine and on assuring students and parents that our school is safe and secure.  Our counselors will be available to talk to students who are struggling in the wake of this tragedy.

Here are some suggestions:

1.  Limit students' exposure to the media coverage.  Such reports can make students very upset, especially younger students.
2.  Provide a straightforward explanation of the facts surrounding the tragedy.
3.  Stress the safe environment at Esperero and in CFSD.
4.  Return to a normal routine.
5.  Know that it is okay to feel upset or angry.
6.  Focus on compassion for the victims and their families.  

Two questions I like to ask are "What do you know?"  and "What have you heard?"  This helps us as adults to ascertain what kids know so that we can gently correct any misinformation that they might have.

Some language that might be helpful . . . "The events at Sandy Hook Elementary are tragic.  But, in truth, our school is very safe.  Everyone who enters our campus is carefully screened and is wearing some form of ID (including our students).  We  continue to check IDs at the gate every morning, and to practice fire drills, lock downs and evacuations."

Thanks to all of our fine parents.  Several of you have written to me this weekend.  I appreciate our open lines of communication.  Thank you for all that you do!!

Thanks to RoseMarie Cress, our school psychologist, for her input into my blog.  She immediately responded to my email on a Sunday and numbers 1-6 come from her excellent and thorough response.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Holiday Memoir

 Holidays are a great springboard for writing. I want students to know how important it is to write about family traditions, rituals, and anecdotes. Memoir is the genre that helps us to do this.  Whether celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, take some time to preserve some holiday memories in writing. My next blog entry will feature a family writing activity. 

   December was my father's month. Dad worked out of the country for most of my childhood. When he could come home for his birthday and Christmas, it was like an extra present.
   One of my mother's goals every December during their 52 year marriage was to make sure that my dad never heard these words,  "This is your birthday present and your Christmas present, too."
   My mom wanted to make certain that dad enjoyed his birthday and Christmas as two distinct events.  "Your father cannot help the fact that he was born when he was born.  We want to make sure that he isn't shorted a holiday." My mother's mission to ensure my father's happiness was fueled by her compassionate heart.
   My paternal grandfather  passed away in 1922, when dad was 4. Dad moved with my grandmother from Atlanta, Georgia to live on her parents' farm in Natural Bridge, Alabama. Nathaniel and Emily Florence Edmonds were hardworking, no-nonsense people who knew how to weather hard times by doing without.   Christmas, in the 1930's, was a homemade stocking filled with oranges, nuts (in the shell, by the way), and some hard candy--in better years, a quarter and a couple of dimes.  "Ty, this is your birthday and your Christmas present," was a familiar phrase.  For dad, oranges, nuts and hard candy were a truly big deal.  Each present was eaten slowly and savored.
   When dad recalled these times as an adult, he spoke of his grandpa telling stories in front of the fireplace and of his grandma sewing every shirt he ever wore.  He never had a birthday cake, a special dinner or a party.  His childhood Decembers held memories of hard but treasured times.  For my sweet fairy of a mother (we call her Tinker Bella), a birthday without a celebration was unimaginable.  She was driven to give dad the birthdays he'd never had as a child.
   Mom's determination led to a t-chart sort of approach to pull off her often grand schemes for Dad's December.   There were rules:  birthday presents had to be in birthday wrapping paper; Christmas presents in holiday paper. Birthday presents had to be free of Christmas themes.  A duck decoy or fishing lures were appropriate for dad's birthday.  But candy canes and a red tie, those were for Christmas.  And, while our friends got to put up their tree after Thanksgiving, we had to wait until after December 15 or later, depending on whether dad's birthday fell on a weekend or a week day.
    Dad's birthday bash was usually buffet-style.  Mom made a big Italian cream birthday cake. The grownups were all dressed up.  Dad worked in Naval Intelligence so most of the men wore uniforms or suits and the women wore their winter chintz dresses and pearls. There was always music and sometimes dancing.   In an over-the-top gesture, Mom hired a harpist to play--once and only once--not dad's style, to be certain.  He preferred the hi-fi.
   At age 90, my mother still makes Italian cream cake for her grandchildren.  She recalls, "Your dad used to crack the nuts for me.  He was really too busy but he did it to please me. Now, I don't own a nutcracker because they sell the nutmeats pre-packaged at the supermarket. Store-bought walnuts are not quite as flavorful as the black walnuts that dad used to get from the farm in Alabama. They were hard to shell but delicious. He would sit in the kitchen and talk to me while he cracked nuts for my baking. When TV got bigger and better, we didn't talk as much."
   My dad would have been 94 this month. Happy birthday, Dad.  xxoo

Here's the recipe for Italian cream cake (it's very rich so one cake feeds about 12).  Enjoy!  Happy holidays to all of our Esperero families. 


Cake Batter
2 cups of sifted cake flour
2 cups of sugar
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of shredded coconut
1 cup of finely chopped walnuts
5 egg Whites (beat until stiff peaks)
5 egg Yolks
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 cup of buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of baking soda

Cake Icing
8 oz of cream cheese
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of buttermilk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
8 oz of powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour 3 round cake pans.

1. Cream butter with sugar and add vanilla.
2. Next add 5 separated egg yolks and 1/2 cup of olive oil – mix and beat until fluffy.
3. In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients: Sifted flour and the baking soda.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture a little at a time alternating with the buttermilk (about 1/4 cup at a time).
5. Next mix in walnuts and coconut.
6. In another bowl beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks.
7. With a spatula gently fold in your egg whites into the batter by making the figure 8 pattern.
8. Spoon the batter into your 3 pans and make them as even as you can.
9. Bake until light brown and for about 30 to 60 minutes (use a toothpick in the center and make sure no batter is on the stick).
10. Once the cakes are done pull them out and let them cool.
11. After they cool place the cakes on parchment and use a brush to dust off the crumbs (easier to ice).
12. Next Cream all of the ingredients together for the icing in this order: cream cheese, butter, buttermilk,vanilla extract, and powdered sugar.
13. After the icing is mixed, start to assemble the cake by taking one of the layers of cake and making it your base. Stick strips of parchment paper around the bottom of the cake. Ice the top of it and add the next layer of cake and ice the top of it adding your final layer of cake.
14. Now start to ice the sides and the top of the cake until covered. Use chopped walnuts or coconut to decorate the sides.
15. Refrigerate the cake until you are going to slice and serve!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Talking About the Workplace with Kids

A student suggested that I write about what I do during the school day.  I think it's so important that kids know what adults do in the workplace.  I encourage parents to share details of their work day with their children. Middle school is a good time to start talking to our kids about the actual work we do in order to provide them with a nice life.  In five years, our 8th graders will be going to college (yikes)!

10 Things the Principal of Esperero Does

1.  My mornings begin with bus duty and the announcements.  Student Council members and others join me for the announcements in my office.

2.  I read and answer my emails and phone calls.  

3.  I spend time in classrooms . . . the more, the better.

4.  I meet weekly with our counselors and ISS coordinator and various teacher groups (special education team, data teams, grade level teams). I also meet with parents. 

6.  I meet with students in my office. :) 

7.  We plan our Wednesday Professional Development meetings for teachers (with Ms. Castro and our PD committee).

8.  I write teacher evaluations, reports, the principal blog and newsletter. I write best in the wee hours of the morning.  I try to read as much as possible.

9.  I supervise student activities (mornings, lunches, afternoons and throughout the day).

10.  I provide and receive feedback. 

Students ask whether we work on the weekends here at Esperero.  Honestly, my week goes better if I work 1/2 day on the weekend, simply because I can work uninterrupted. The Marshall  Report recently described the job of principal as "the job of interruptions." During the week, it's absolutely true.  I am rarely alone on the weekends; teachers are often here, too, working in their classrooms.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finnish Lessons

  No, I am not learning how to speak Finnish.  Finnish Lessons is the title of Dr. Pasi Sahlberg's book about the Finnish Education system.  Dr. Sahlberg is Director General of CIMO (the Ministry of Education) in Helsinki, Finland.  He was at the Doubletree Inn in Tucson on Saturday for FinnFest, where I heard him speak.  

    The Finnish educational system is a world leader in educating students who achieve at the highest levels, particularly in math and science.  I was amazed at the striking differences in philosophies between the Finnish and American systems. You know I like lists, so here's another one. 


1.  Students learn well and there are very small differences between schools' performance levels. 

2.  Students don't start school until the age of 7.
3.  Only 10% of the applicants who apply are accepted into teacher education programs, thus giving Finland the most competitive teacher education program in the world.  (Dr. Sahlberg noted that it is "harder to get into the teacher education program for primary teachers than it is to get into medical school in Finland.")
4.  School lunch is free for all students in Finland.
5.  Education in Finland is not standardized but customized to each student's needs.
6.  About 50% of all students in Finland will have received some sort of sort of special education, personalized help, or individual guidance by the time they leave comprehensive school at the age of 16.
7.  Students do not take tests until the end of their time in comprehensive school (at age 16).
8.  Teachers are given great autonomy in the classroom but are also given access to large doses of ongoing and purposeful  professional development.
9.  Everything in Finland's education system is geared toward servicing the needs and well-being of each individual student.  At school, if students don't feel well, there is access to medical help, dentists, and counselors.  
10.  Teachers stay in the profession, for the most part, for life.  The public trust in teachers is high.  

     Finland did not always have such an efficacious system of education.  School reform took place in 1970 and emphasized providing an excellent education for all children.  The form and content of curricula would focus on developing the "individual, holistic personalities of children."  The Finnish "re-visioning" of education was the foundation for establishing the future of the country. 

   Dr. Sahlberg encouraged us to look at the Finnish education system as a springboard for educational reform. The success of their system of educating students who are global top academic performers can be attributed to child-centeredness, rigorous and
selective teacher training programs, and the overwhelming support of the Finnish public for education. Finnish Lessons takes a refreshing look at educational reform and how it fuels a high performing society by investing in human and social capital.

Here's the link to Pasi Sahlberg's blog:    

Friday, October 26, 2012

Inspiration from Mrs. Rosenthal and My Students

  It's been a busy week.  Orange Grove principal Susan Rosenthal and I presented our joint report on the Middle School Strategic Plan on Tuesday at the governing board meeting.  I am so grateful that I am on the same team with such a supportive and talented colleague.  We are forging strong links between ECMS and OG.   We are alike but different as middle schools, having our own particular needs but yet wanting the same high quality education for students.  Here's a shout out to Mrs. Rosenthal . . . and to our sister school, Orange Grove Middle School.  We love OG!!

    Inspiration also came from 6th grader Aidan Danielski, who came looking for his ride after Science Olympiad practice today.  Aidan waited in my office just in time to join me for tea (at a little after 4)  "What's wrong?" asked Aidan.  "You just sighed. Why?"

   I stated that it was Friday and that I had a lot going on in the next few days.  "Just be in the present, Ms. Setliff." (Honestly, those were his exact words).   His kind notice of my sigh and his wise counsel have resonated with me all afternoon. The truth is that sometimes my best advice comes from students.  Aidan, thanks . . . you made my day today.  You said exactly what I needed to hear!

   It's time to post and go home for the evening.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jake Little, Eagle Hero!

The first week of October, during her third period class, teacher of Spanish, Maria Pastorini, was in the middle of instruction when she found herself unable to breathe. ECMS student, Jake Little, saw that his teacher was choking. His Boy Scout training kicked into gear.   

Ms. Pastorini reports, "Jake jumped to my aid, like he had springs in his shoes!"  Jake performed the Heimlich maneuver several times until Ms. Pastorini began to breathe. Ms. Pastorini believes that it was her great fortune to have Jake in her class during this frightening episode. "This happened to me when Jake was present and because he is a Boy Scout, he has the training. Jake truly saved my life. I am grateful to him."

ECMS honored Jake at the Student of the Quarter assembly.  We are very proud of his heroism. Thankfully, Ms. Pastorini has made a full recovery.

NOTE:  The Heimlich maneuver is an emergency technique for preventing suffocation when a person's airway (windpipe) becomes blocked by a piece of food or other object. See the NIH website's info by clicking on this link: HEIMLICH MANEUVER

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Break and The Beatles

At the end of the week, we will pause to welcome the Fall.  I used to say that autumn was more of an abstract concept than a reality here in the Sonoran Desert. Seasons where I grew up involved leaves turning color and cider made from the apples growing in your back yard.  I remember wearing a down coat over my Halloween costume.  It was cold enough to need mittens and a hat!  That was then . . . 

Seasons, for me and many other educators, are as much about what is going on at school as they are about the weather.  While nature is magnificent, so is the pleasure of traveling the road of life with 600 middle school students.  We don't need to see leaves falling to tell us that change is around us.  This week marks the end of the quarter.  The year is 25% over.  Our students are turning into 6th, 7th and 8th graders.  It is an amazing metamorphosis.  

How do we capture these times?  Fall Break is the perfect invention.  We should have thought of it long ago.  It's a great time for parents and students to connect and reflect on the last two months.  Here are my humble suggestions on things to do to instill confidence and enjoy the company of your child during the break. I've based my "tips" on a playlist of Beatles songs to provide some mental Velcro (plus, The Beatles make everything better).  I've included links to YouTube, lest you might really want to listen to the FAB 4 during your down time.

So, here we go:

1.  "Twist and Shout"
Do a happy dance with your kids because they have a couple of days off!

2.  "Here Comes the Sun" 
It's Arizona!  Enjoy the outdoors together!

3.  "All My Loving"
It's what kids need most and parents are the best at showing kids how to love themselves.

4.  "We Can Work It Out"
Kids need to know that most everything can be worked out and that parents are here to help.

5.  "There's a Place"
Kids need parents even when they say they don't.  Friends come and go; parents are forever.

Have a beautiful break!
Mary Setliff

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I have written recently to inform parents about substance abuse among teens. Research shows us that young people turn to alcohol or drugs due to a lack of ability to cope or to solve the complex problems that life brings along. Students have told me that it's sometimes a challenge to endure all of the changes they are undergoing in middle school. The question remains: how can we help our kids become more resilient? How can we become more resilient as adults so that we are up to the task of managing and monitoring the behavior of a middle school student?

I came across an article on building resilience. Harvard Business Review writer Jane McGonigal suffered a traumatic brain injury and became interested in the science of resilience. Her article explains 4 ways to become a more resourceful problem solver. These are simple suggestions that anyone can put into action.

Four Ways to be a more Resourceful Problem Solver:

1. PHYSICAL: get up from your computer and move around for a few moments every hour.

2. MENTAL: perform mildly challenging tasks like counting backwards from 100 by sevens.

3. EMOTIONAL: experience three positive emotions for each negative one each day.

4. SOCIAL: send a thank-you note or hold a handshake a little longer.

I shared these with my 90 year old mother, Caterina, aka Nonna Kiki, over the phone (she lives in Mesa). I asked her to think about these 4 areas. She says she has always done #1 and #4. #1, she believes has taken her into her 90th year. #4 is an automatic for her because she was born (in 1922) in an era where everyone wrote thank you notes and gave warm handshakes. She thinks #3 is very challenging because she has issues with chronic pain. For the next month, we are both going to work on #3 and talk about our progress.

Share these Four Ways with your student or with another member of your family. Choose one. Work on it together. Life's challenges are best when shared with people you love.

"Building Resilience by Wasting Time" by Jane McGonigal in Harvard Business Review, October 2012 (Vol. 90#10, p. 38).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, Canyon VIew

  Our beloved feeder school, Canyon View Elementary, is a big 25 tomorrow.  Happy Birthday to Canyon View.  This year, Esperero Canyon students of writing and lit read Whirligig.  Students actually made whirligigs, wrote messages on them and fastened them to the fence between our two schools as a sign of friendship.  We love you Canyon View!  Happy birthday, COYOTES!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Marijuana's Lasting Effects on the Brain | National Institute on Drug Abuse

In my next several blog entries, I am going to feature information about different types of substances that young people abuse.  I will also feature some of the anonymous question cards submitted by students during the presentation.  I will conclude this series with some tips for parents gleaned from my own experience working with students plus that of our two counselors, Adele Bromiel and Caryl Altman.

I will focus on marijuana in this posting.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States."

There is solid research that supports that marijuana is linked to the premature aging of the the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory).  The study was done at Oxford University in England by a professor of pharmacology who found the brain atrophy in young people who were heavy marijuana users to be equal to that of 70-90 year olds.  Studies of rats also suggest that THC may hasten the aging of the brain.  (Schwartz, RH 1987, Paediatric Clinics of North America, 34:305-311).  Here is a link to an article from the NIDA that every parent needs to read about marijuana's effects on the brain:


One question that we received from several students during Patrick Barrasso's recent presentation went something like "Why can't we use marijuana, it's natural?"   These days, marijuana is a big business and the hybridization of marijuana produces a more potent product with a higher percentage of THC. So, much of the marijuana being sold is not "natural."  Moreover, "natural" doesn't make it good for one's health.  Some of the world's most toxic poisons could be considered "natural."

Another card I read stated "I heard you can't be addicted to pot." This is a myth.  Kids can get hooked on pot.  More young people enter treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other legal drugs combined.  


There are many informational websites about marijuana and other substances that have been created for parents:  Parents, the Anti-Drug is a website that offers guidance and advice to help parents.  National Institute on Drug Abuse's mission is to "lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction."  

If you think your child might be having a substance abuse problem, please seek professional help. Your  pediatrician is a great place to start.

Here at Esperero Canyon Middle School, your child is very important to us. Please let us know if we can do anything to assist you.  Our counselors are excellent resources:

 6th graders, Adele Bromiel at 209-8112 email:
 7th/8th graders, Caryl Altman at 209-8105 email:

If you have any questions or suggestions pertaining what information parents need or want to read about in my blog, please feel free to email me at

May all of our Eagles have a safe and wonderful weekend with family and friends.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Patrick, Ed, and Sam on Addictions

Today, Patrick Barrasso, social worker and addictions counselor, returned to ECMS with  2 young men named Sam and Ed.  The 8th grade students listened as the two clean young people spoke about their fight to reclaim their lives from drug and alcohol addiction.  Sam is 21 and Ed is 18; both have had continuous sobriety for 2 years plus.

Sam, an athlete and musician, began by drinking "to feel cool."  He said was an easy way to be relaxed.   He started with alcohol and ended up taking a downward spiral.  He states: "I watched space grow in between me and my family."  

Ed's parents divorced and he lost his dad to drug overdose. He was an athlete and a stellar student.  He stated "I was socially awkward and drugs and alcohol made me feel great.  I could escape everything with alcohol."

Both Ed and Sam were quick to point out that they never forgot the way that alcohol and drugs made them feel at the beginning of their addiction.  Sam said that drinking and taking drugs quickly went from "something I wanted to do to something I had to do. " 

Ed said that when he initially started doing drugs, he still did sports and was a good student.  That was in 6th  grade.  By the time he was in his sophomore year, everything had slipped:  his grades, his performance.  By the time he was 15, he was a full blown heroin addict.

Both boys became sober after longterm residential therapy.  They consider themselves lucky.  They each talked about a friend who died as a result of addiction.  Patrick Barrasso also talked about having had to speak at 2 funerals of "beautiful young people" right here in Tucson, who died as a result of addiction.  All three talked of the tragedies surrounding these lost lives and of the gaping holes that the passing of these young people left in their families.

The message was very clear.  Some people who use drugs and alcohol will become addicted.  Patrick stated that research shows drinking and using drugs in middle school (ages 11-14) can affect the brain in permanent ways.  Students that abuse substances in middle school can become full blown addicts by high school, much earlier than in previous generations. 

Both Ms. Castro and I have lost precious students in alcohol-related incidents during our many years in the classroom.  We talked afterward in the office about how wonderful these students had been and how dearly they are missed.  

Many thanks to Patrick, Ed, and Sam.  It takes courage to share one's story of recovery.  But they are recovering and helping others to avoid this dark and tragic path.  

Tomorrow, we'll talk about more specific facts about substance abuse.  Knowledge is power and we want to empower our students to make good choices.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Family Fall DInner Moved to Thursday, October 4

Save the date!  The FFO ECMS Family Fall Dinner has been changed to October 4..  It's a Thursday and the day of the Fall ECMS CHOIR CONCERT.  So eat a wonderful Mexican meal and go to the choir concert.  More details soon!  Sponsored by our ECMS FFO right here at ECMS.  From 5 to 6:45 in the commons.

No Late Start Wednesday on September 5

Remember that there is no late start tomorrow, Wednesday, Spetember 5. School will start and end at the regular times.  This is because of our short week.  Whenever we have a short week, we do not have late start Wednesdays.  Tomorrow, buses will run at the regular non-late start time.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Camp Snowball is over and everyone has gone home.  We had quite a beautiful ceremony to end the 5 days. It was all about honoring students.  We met teachers and students from New York and North Carolina to the Philippines.  It was a very empowering 5 days.  So thanks, Kirsten and Kelly, for giving up a week of vacation to attend. Greatly appreciated!  Watch for Kirsten and my interview of Jaimie Cloud, head of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability.  Kelly and I did an interview with Peter Senge and that will also be uploaded!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Camp Snowball, Day 4

Another exciting day at Camp Snowball!  This has proven to be a very worthwhile conference and one that is all about student learning, teaching and leadership training.  Our participation in Camp Snowball is thanks, in part, to the Waters Foundation, and to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Jim Waters, who have made  Systems Thinking in Schools a reality.  They have made it possible to bring together the best minds on systems thinking for this amazing conference and we feel so proud to attend!

Dr. Peter Senge continues to attend the conference and has amazing conversations with us about using systems as leaders.  His presence is always affirming and he is committed to helping us understand the intricate ins and outs of systems.

Last night, Ken Kay, Chief Executive Officer of EdLeader 21 came and talked to us about his blueprint to help schools and districts improve and innovate how to prepare students for the 21st century.  He calls it his 4 cs:  critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.  Several of us here at CFSD have had the privilege of working with Ken.  He has an amazing set of skills and expertise.  He is someone who has his pulse on what students need for the future.  His book is The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education, 7 Steps for Schools and Districts.

Here are his 7 steps:
1. Adopt your vision.
2. Create a community consensus.
3.  Align your system
4.  Build professional capacity
5.  Focus your curriculum and assessment
6.  Support your teachers
7.  Improve and innovate

This morning, we had a real treat, Dr. Tony Wagner, founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard School of Education, spoke to us about his new book, Creating Innovators:  The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.  Here is a great Ted Talk by Tony about his new book.

Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills:


ECMS teachers Kelly Hawke and Kirsten Pelot are attending this event.  We are all taking different core module sessions throughout the 5 day conference.  Kelly is attending "Greening Your School District, Home and Community."  Kirsten is attending "Intro to Sustainability Education."  Kirsten and I had the pleasure of having lunch with the founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability, Jaimie Cloud. It was just Kirsten, Jaimie and me sitting around with sack lunches and talking.  What a great opportunity and we are so grateful for her time and generosity.   She so kindly let us pick her brain about our own plans to engage in activities that sustain our environment and give our students "a sense of place" in our world.  She is really an expert in her field and works to help schools become more sustainable. Here's a link to Jaimie's Ted Talk

Tomorrow's the last day of Camp Snowball!  More then!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Systems Thinking Conference 2012

I am at the Starr Pass Marriott attending Camp Snowball, the Systems Thinking Conference. Tonight, Dr. Peter Senge is hosting a Community Showcase. There is a panel discussion going on featuring Peter, Darcy Winslow, who was a senior manager for Nike and the newly appointed partner of the Academy for Systemic Change'Lani Simmons, Human Resources director, City of Tucson, Marve Adams, COO of TD Ameritrade, Stephen Ochoa is the owner of Frost, the gelato store, who was also an Orange Grove Middle School student some years ago. Fantastic advice from some of Tucson's finest.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We miss you already!!!!

I am in the midst of doing what we do in June here at ECMS. A group of teachers and I are planning next year's professional development calendar and our August teacher retreat. We are on our 10 hour-a-day schedule,Monday-Thursday. For the most part, office manager, Mary Johnson, and I are holding down the ship. Our custodians are beautifying our campus. We also have some major work being done. Our metal surfaces are being painted ...yes, this includes our lockers. We are getting a bit of a face lift. We are hosting the district's professional development events next week. Sheryl Castro is doing fabulous work with our world language teachers this week. Ms. Castro and I will accompany a small group of administrators to China in two weeks for eight days. We are very excited and will be video blogging our trip. We will visit lots of schools and hope to make many friends. Have a great week. I miss my Eagles already. There can be no school without all of our precious students. I am thinking about all of you and we are working hard to ensure that the 2012-13 year will be the best ever.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thanks for the Excellent PD, Andrea and Kate!

  I just attended a great workshop by our two CFSD district instructional coaches.  We are so very lucky to have such high quality professional development in our district.  Thanks to both of you for always modeling research-based instruction that puts kids first.  Andrea Davidson and Kate Salter . . . you are the best! Thanks to my Esperero teachers who were in attendance and working hard on their lessons for next year!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why I will miss our 8th graders . . .

Call me sentimental but I feel a need to express my appreciation for our 8th grade students who were promoted this past Tuesday. Reasons Why I'll Miss You, 8th Graders: When Jessica Cox demonstrated how she brushed her hair and got dressed every morning without arms and challenged members of our student audience to do the same, so many of you accepted the challenge. The comments and enthusiasm you shared about Jessica inspire me to find exemplary individuals to share their life's journey with you. You are a hard working group of scholarly students with a wide variety of interests. Among your classmates are artists, scientists, champion spellers, musicians, budding entrepreneurs, champion swimmers, dancers, actors, equestrians, poets, composers of original music, athletes who engage in a variety of sports, and students who understand that giving back to the community helps make life meaningful. Thanks to all of you who took time to share your accomplishments with me. Many of you are too shy to come forward and I am grateful to your proud teachers and parents who share your many successes with me. Many of you have come forward and shared your challenges with me and our staff. We have great admiration for the grace and courage many of you haven shown when faced with struggles. Please know that we believe in you. Aim for the stars; they are within your reach. You possess a great sense of humor and, at the same time, seriousness of purpose. I will never forget the 8th graders who helped me with announcements. Lots of hilarity and light-hearted fun are always great ways to start the day. From the rap you wrote to Support World Bicycle Relief to the way you practiced the sports announcements at home in front of your parents (yes, your moms told me), you all showed commitment to excellence. In closing, I want to offer my continued help in the future. If you ever need anyone to put in a good word for you, you have an ally in the principal's office here at ECMS. Nevertheless, I will miss you all so very much. I am so happy for you and your families. Being promoted from middle school is a big step. Four short years from now, you will attend college. You will be ready; our skillful and dedicated high school staff will help you to continue to work towards your dreams. It will be a marvelous journey. Devotedly, M. Setliff

Friday, May 25, 2012

I want to thank this year's FFO for all their undying support. Thanks to Trish McCabe and Cynthia Nocon, our wonderful co-presidents who devoted so much of their time to helping us. Thanks to the incomparable Jan Gutbub. We are so fortunate to have great parent support. This has been a record year for FFO grants for the classroom. I' d like to thank to Anita, Lalita, Kris and Cathie. Thanks to Amy, Ellie, and Derrick Jobst for the lovely Mexican lunch. Hope that everyone has a great summer. I will blog semi-regularly. I will be in the building most of June. Both Ms. Castro and I are going to China to visit schools. We will be leaving June 18 and returning on the 27th. Thanks to all of our ECMS community for making my first year as principal a fabulous experience. Love you all!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Live Streaming Esperero Promotion


Parents and Guardians,

In an effort to make our 8th grade promotion high-tech, family and friends will be able to watch a live stream of the 8th grade promotion.

We will have an option for family and friends to view the live stream in our library the night of promotion. This option would work best for extended family members and/or family and friends with young children.

Additionally, family and friends that will not be in Tucson on the evening of promotion can watch the live stream of the ceremony from the comforts of their own homes.  We will provide a password to make this as private as possible. 

Please watch our email blasts for further instructions.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Stranger Danger

Since the April abduction of Tucson's Isabel Celis and the even more recent crimes against three children in a neighborhood adjacent to Sabino Canyon, parents have called to express their concern for student safety.  I want to address these concerns in my blog today. I want to assure parents that we continue to put student safety first at Esperero Canyon Middle School and in CFSD.

To summarize the events of early last week: on Tuesday, May 8, a van with a Washington state license plate was seen near Ocotillo Drive and Webster Street.  It was reported that the van had been chasing a boy on his bike.  That evening, the local news reported that the Pima County Sheriff's office had determined that no abduction had taken place.  Investigators located the driver of the van and interviewed that person.  They determined that there may have been criminal activity going on but not an abduction. Deputies are still trying to identify the boy on the bicycle.

I want to commend the actions of the Pima County Sheriff's Office this past Tuesday morning when law enforcement was responding to the abduction report.  At around 8:30 am, a PCSO detective came to our school in order to make sure that all students were safe and accounted for. Those absent students who had not been called in sick by parents and who could not be reached by phone received a welfare check by a deputy.  It took us a very short time to do these checks as Ms. Joni Brennan-Hazlett, our attendance clerk, is vigilant about accounting for students.  She spends her mornings every day making sure that all students are present or accounted for.  

We very much appreciate the professionalism of the Pima County Sheriff's office.  Dean Castro and I work with PCSO deputies throughout the school year. These men and women are passionate about protecting our children.  We are grateful to have them close by in light of these recent events.     

A parent suggested that we post all future stranger danger alerts on Facebook.  We will do this. Great idea!  Thank you, K (you know who you are)!  If you observe something suspicious, call 911 immediately.  Please inform us, too!  But call 911 first.  

Have you thought about having a conversation about safety with your kids but just don't know how to begin or what to say?  The FBI has an amazing website and some suggestions about helping kids during a stranger danger event.  The article is a great springboard for a conversation at home about safety. It gets the point across without scaring kids.  Here's the link:

Please call me at 209-8100 or email me with any concerns or suggestions regarding student safety.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Patrick Barrasso, LCSW 

Just wanted to thank Patrick Barrasso, one of the leading substance abuse counselors in our city, for his fascinating talk to parents on Thursday evening in our library.  We had about 35 parents come out for this event, co-hosted by myself and Susan Rosenthal, principal of Orange Grove Middle School and sponsored by the OG and ECMS FFOa.  Look in my April/May newsletter for a more indepth article and some invaluable information that every parent needs to know.

NEON Social

Our first social of the year was a resounding success, thanks to our student council and sponsors, Ms. Holub and Ms. VanDewater and members of the faculty who volunteered to supervise. We are proud of the students and their behavior.  Fun was had by all!

18 Days of School Left

We have 18 days of school left. Our faculty is geared up for a strong finish. Our students are busily working on projects.  Please let us know if your student is experiencing undue stress. This time of year is a busy one and our counselors and teachers are here to help students.