Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 28, 2015

"Have You Seen the Owl Today?"

Happy late October! Union Elementary has enjoyed a pretty extraordinary month of accolades for our teachers, and the kudos keep coming! Here is the latest...

University of Vermont Outstanding Teacher!  Dr. Ricca and I had the pleasure of joining 2nd grade teacher Mary Catherine Reed last week at the University of Vermont as teachers from around the state were honored for their teaching excellence! If you know Mrs. Reed, you'll understand why so many of her peers nominated her for this honor. I was certainly honored to join her! One thing I've notice with both Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Koch these last few weeks is how quick both of them are to share these honors with their teammates and colleagues. They're right -- UES has an outstanding faculty! Our children are so fortunate to have them, aren't they?

Mrs. Reed accepting her Outstanding Teacher honor
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Halloween is coming this Saturday, and it's time to be thinking about how we'll approach this special day as a school community.  As much fun as it would be to celebrate with costumes and parties, we believe that such revelry would be simply too disruptive to the learning environment for an entire day.  We ask that students keep the costumes and candy at home so they can be ready for the fun on Saturday night.  Please help us maintain a healthy learning environment the following days as well; we ask that all candy remain at home when the children return to school on Monday.  If you have any questions or concerns, please call me or stop by.

On a more fun note, many children know that I have a very close friendship with Batman (it's true!), and I know for certain that he'll be spending Halloween night at my house in the meadow neighborhood!  As always, all superheroes who stop by will get two treats!  Have lots of fun and be safe -- we hope to see you all!

Finally, we just got word from the good folks at Montpelier Alive! that there are big plans for Halloween in downtown Montpelier on Saturday!  I will definitely see you there!  Here are the details:

LOST AND FOUND Anyone who has been in the Kinder hallway of UES in recent weeks will notice that we have a growing collection of high quality jackets, sweatshirts, and other items that haven't made it safely home. In the past we have always kept these items in the auditorium for months at a time in the hopes that children and parents would claim them. Storage has become an issue, however, and we figure that if we have a deadline, people are much more likely to claim their lost items! So... on Friday, November 6, all unclaimed items will be donated to Planet Aid. Every two weeks thereafter, the lost and found will be cleared and all items will be donated. Now is the time to check with your child to see if he or she is missing something. There are some really nice things on those racks, so please check them out!

Parent/Teacher Conferences ...are scheduled for next Thursday and Friday, November 5 and 6. There will be no school on both days. If you haven't scheduled a conference with your child's teacher yet, now is the time to do so!

HENNESSEY'S HOOTS: A Hennessey Hoot to:

* ... Mrs. Pine's 3rd Grade "Pineers" for their continued community spirit and great sense of volunteerism! Last week, I joined the Pineers as they raked for one of our Loomis Street neighbors (Mrs. Jasmine) who needed some help with all of those leaves. Here are some great pictures of the raking action:

*  ... and, finally, to Mrs. Koch once again for the incredible honor of being selected as the 2016 Vermont Teacher of the Year!  A reminder to please "save the date" for Tuesday, November 17 as the day that she will be honored here at Union.  I will share details on this event as soon as I have them!

There have been numerous articles and news profiles related to Susan's work in the local media recently.  If you'd like to learn more about Susan's teaching and why she was selected for this honor, go here (both of these profiles are excellent and well worth your time!):

Last but not least, I added this picture late to the last Owl, and I wanted you all to have a chance to see it...

Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, Dr. Ricca, Mrs. Koch, and Mr. Hennessey

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

October 20, 2015

"Have You Seen the Owl Today?"

Welcome to a special edition of the Wise Owl, which is coming out this afternoon because of some very big news for Union Elementary! "What news?", you say? Well, take a look at this...

Vermont Teacher of the Year! I have a very special announcement to make this afternoon: UES First Grade Teacher Susan Koch has just been announced as the 2016 Vermont Teacher of the Year!  

We have known for a number of weeks that Mrs. Koch was a finalist for this prestigious honor, and it was just today that Dr. Ricca and I joined Susan at Hartford High School for the official announcement that she was the top candidate. What a special day for Susan, her students, and the whole UES community!

And the celebrations and kudos are just beginning! Among many other things, Susan can look forward to a special assembly here at Union on Tuesday, November 17 where she will be presented with her award -- all are welcome to attend, and we'll have more details about this ceremony as the date gets closer. Finally, Susan will join other Teacher of the Year candidates from the other 49 states at a special reception this spring at the White House where she'll get to meet President Obama! Wow! It can't be possible that any of these other 49 teachers are as talented and student-centered as Mrs. Koch, right? We should all be so proud and happy for her -- this honor is so richly deserved. Here is an action shot from moments ago when Susan was officially announced as the top candidate:

Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, Dr. Ricca, Mrs. Koch, and Mr. Hennessey

Finally, here is a link to the Vermont Agency of Education site that gives more details on the TOY program:

A few other "Hoot-Worthy" Announcements:

Parent/Teacher Conferences ...are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, November 5 and 6. There will be no school on both days. If you haven't scheduled a conference with your child's teacher yet, now is the time to do so!

Walking School Bus Tomorrow! Don't forget... the Walking School Bus leaves tomorrow morning from Shaw's, the State House steps, and the college green at 8:00 sharp. We hope to see you all there!

Have You Seen the Gym? If you haven't visited the UES gym yet this year, you will be amazed the next time you do! For the first time in the 75 plus year history of our school, the gym floor was sanded, repainted, and resurfaced this summer! Many decades of wax and dirt had accumulated to the point that the floor was almost un-cleanable. Well, that isn't the case any more! It looks beautiful, and our gym is finally worthy of the outstanding Physical Education program MJ and Mr. Williams put in place for our children every day. You'll also notice that the damaged tiles on the surface of the walls (that were 50+ years old) have been replaced by beautiful light green and gold acoustic panels that not only make the gym look better, but sound better too! A big kudos and Hennessey Hoot is due to Todd Keller and the crew for getting these panels up in the middle of the busy, busy school year. We expect the gym to be completely done by early November. If you can't stop by, take a look at this great photo to see the progress that we've made:

Shiny and clean at last!
Giant Pumpkin Visits UES! Once again, a big thank you is due to UES granddad Kevin Companion for sharing his gigantic, champion pumpkin with the children of UES! This year, Mr. Companion outdid himself by growing a pumpkin that weighed in at, get this, 1,332 pounds!! Here is Mrs. Slesar's class being overwhelmed by the awesome hugeness of this big orange monster:

Um, I think he's gonna need a bigger truck...
UPP News For those who don't know, the Union Playground Project (UPP) is alive and well!  There are a lot of great things going on -- here are a few updates:

I'd like to share a few action shots of some parent and community volunteers who came in at the end of the summer to spruce up our lower playground by putting in two straight twelve hour days the weekend before school started. Thanks are due to UES moms Terry Holloway and Jenny Sheehan for planning and organizing this event. Their dedication was (and remains) truly extraordinary! Check it out:

UES dad Gary Holloway using elbow grease to get the bricks looking as they should.
Chainsaw artist extraordinaire and UES mom Billie Quittner 
Kindergartener Winter says, "Mr. Hennessey, can I have the keys?  Please?  What could go wrong?"
UES dad Gampo Wickenheiser shows off his wood working skills.
Nothing better than a shirtless test drive!

While all of this work was going on earlier in the year, the fundraising for UPP continues strong! I'd like to give you all an important "Save the Date": on Saturday, February 13 UPP will be holding a "Give it UPP!" gala fundraiser event that will feature cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and dancing! More details on the event are forthcoming, but we wanted to make sure you all had the date in your calendars.

Meanwhile, future UES mom and UVM professor Stephanie Hurley had her landscape design class pay a visit to the playground last week, and they have agreed to take on the design of our new playgrounds as a class project! You may have noticed more than twenty college students with clipboards walking around the property taking notes last week, and we can all expect to see more of these folks throughout the fall.

That's it for now -- I'll have more UPP updates in each future edition of the Wise Owl!

Hennessey's Hoots! 4th graders are the leaders of UES now, and here are two examples of their leadership. A Hennessey Hoot goes to ...

* 4th grader Bethany Brush, who has entered a beginner's cooking contest with Uncle Ben's Rice and could win $30,000 for UES!  All winnings would go specifically to kitchen upgrades at the school.  It's a social media contest so please click on this link and vote for Bethany!  You are able to vote once per day - please support her and UES!

*  4th graders Girija and Yolanda for taking the lead on the UES compost program every day!  I joined our first graders for lunch yesterday, and I got to see these girls in action -- sheparding 80+ young children through the multiple steps of finishing lunch and composting isn't an easy task for anyone, and they were calm, organized, and industrious.  Thank you Girija and Yolanda!

Still smiling... even at the end of lunch!


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

October 13, 2015

"Have You Seen the Owl Today?"

Some important news and fun celebrations to share as autumn kicks into high gear. Could we have had a more glorious holiday weekend?

I'd like to welcome you all to the first edition of the 2015-16 Wise Owl, and I'd like your feedback! The Owl will be updated every two to three weeks, and our goal is to make it an important source of information for the whole MPS community. This first edition is primarily news and information based, but look for more celebrations and fun in future editions. Again, I'd love to hear from you!

Community Forum Tonight! A reminder that our second MPS Community Forum is happening TONIGHT from 6:00 - 8:00 PM in the Montpelier High School Library. Building on the tremendous first forum from last April, we are continuing the series on changes in education called The Future of School. The evening's discussion will focus on the key skills our students need to develop in the coming years in order to become capable, motivated contributors to their local, national and global communities.

Scholastic Book Fair! From Scholastic Book Fair coordinator and UES mom Heidi Groff:

Save the Dates:  Thursday and Friday, November 12 and 13 from 8:00 to 3:00. 

The Bi-annual Scholastic Book Fair is coming to UES!  Movie Night will also be happening that Friday night from 5:30 to 8:00.  The book fair will be open during movie night in case you missed out on this opportunity!
The Scholastic Book Fair is a great profit earner for parent's group, earning crucial funds which we use to support field trips, transportation, art supplies, guest speakers, etc. at UES.   Thank you for your support.  It is also a great chance to buy books for your child or child's classroom starting at just $2 per book! 

We also need volunteers to help put on the Book Fair.  Set up starts Wednesday, November 11, and we do need help setting up.  The fair needs to be staffed from 7:45 to 3:30 on Thursday and Friday, and then again from 5:15 to 8:15 during family movie night on Friday.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Book Fair or Movie Night, please email Heidi Groff at or call 279-1681.

Thank you for helping make this event a success!

Picture Retake Day Picture Retake Day is this Friday, October 16.

Welcome New UES Faculty! If you haven't done so yet, please give a warm welcome to new UES teachers Samantha Funk and Andreah Ustianov! Samantha has quickly transformed the UES music program into a favorite part of the week for many of our students, and Andreah has already had a huge impact on the work of her 3rd grade team, her Special Education colleagues, and, most importantly, her students! A few shots of Ms. Funk and Ms. Ustianov in action:

Ms. Funk

Ms. Ustianov
Walking School Bus Our first month of the Walking School Bus has been very successful, and it's our hope that these can continue each Wednesday morning right through the winter!  For those new to Walking Wednesdays, here is how it works:

Children/families meet a UES staff person at one of three locations -- Shaw's (by the Red Box), the Capitol steps, or the VCFA green.  At 8:00 sharp, the groups enjoy a vigorous walk to school together, meeting on the UES playground.  The three of us will be looking to have a "team" join us eventually so that we can be covered each week in case of illness, meetings, or other life events.  So far, Ms. Fagin and UES nurse Sarah Mele have joined the team.  If you're interested please let me, Mr. Williams, or MJ know -- these walks are a perfect way to start your day! 

SBAC News Parents of last year's 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders recently received their children's SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) reports in the mail. As most of you know, last year was the trial run of the SBAC in Vermont, and we should all be very proud of the performance of our students in all three Montpelier schools! I'd also like to point out that the whole process went incredibly smoothly at UES primarily due to the efforts of two people: Math Coach Cathy Clements and Technology Integrationist Jeffrey Jarrad! Many schools around the state experienced technical and organizational challenges with the SBAC last spring, but not UES! Due to the efforts of Mrs. Clements and Mr. Jarrad, all of us at UES were able to really focus on making the SBAC a positive and meaningful experience for all of our students. Thank you, Cathy and Jeffrey!

Snack Heroes The UES Snack Program is on! Thanks to Snack Coordinator and UES mom Bianca Magiera for her resilience and can-do spirit! If you have any questions about the Snack Program or would like to volunteer (yes, we still need volunteers!), contact Bianca directly at:

Nurses Office News From UES nurse Sarah Mele:

"Thank so much if you have completed your pink Health Form and returned it to the nurse this fall. If you have not yet, please send it in ASAP. If you need another form and/or have any questions contact me at or 225-8206. I have no medical information on about 85 students still."

Lunch at UES How often are you asked, "What's for lunch?" Well, if you're me, it's pretty often! The good news is that thanks to our cafeteria staff, you can find the daily hot lunch menu both on the UES Website and here:

UES Menu

Call In Procedures for Absences and After School Plans  In order to ensure that we know where all students are and where they are going at the end of the school day, we'd like you to be aware of our procedures concerning absences and after school plans:

PLEASE CALL your student in absent before 9:00am to the front office
PLEASE CALL After school changes in before 1:00 pm to the front office
PLEASE DON’T text or e-mail after school changes. 
September Assembly Mrs. Giffin, Mrs. Kane, and Ms. Funk have taken the lead on bringing CARES themed assemblies to UES this fall. These shows have been incredibly fun, informative, and inspiring! If you're in the neighborhood, we'd love to have you join us for our next show, which will be on the morning of Thursday, November 12. We'll have more details for you as the date approaches.

Crossing Guard News Families who live in the lower Elm Street/Meadow neighborhood have surely noticed that we've been going without an afternoon Crossing Guard on the busy Spring/Elm intersection for most of the year. As a resident and dad of that neighborhood, I'm well aware of how tricky it can be for the kids to cross that intersection. Despite a full effort to get someone on board, we haven't had any luck as of October 12 finding any takers. Here is the ad/notice we've been running since early September:

imgresWe have a serious need for crossing guards.   We pay for one hour (7:30 to 8:30, and 2:30 to 3:30).  The pay is $12 per hour.  We are also in need of a substitute (or two) in case one of our guards is sick or can't make it to work.
If you know of anyone who might be interested, please contact the UES office at 225-8204.

Join the UES Listserv! From Listserv Coordinator and UES mom Alison Lamagna:

Dear Members of the Union Elementary School Family:
The Communications Committee of parents at UES recently created the "UES Families" LISTSERV as a way to improve communications with one another and the school.  The LISTSERV is a tool to organize and connect parents, caregivers, teachers and administrators in ways that constructively support UES.  The LISTSERV is a two-way communication vehicle that enables discussions related to school, activities, and education.  

  • Do you  want to start an after school club and connect with others in the UES community with a similar goal?  This LISTSERV can help find partners to work with.
  • Would you like to become more informed with the school budget process before voting? This LISTSERV can be be used for such inquiries and to announce relevant meetings.
  • Did you wish that you heard about the World Chorus before you booked your after school activities?
  • Would you have liked to know about the UES through the Box Tops campaign before you sent out the recycling?
Regardless of how often you are able to actually be at the school, "UES Families" will enable you to easily interact with others. If you are worried about an excess of emails, fear not.  The LISTSERV is hosted on google groups, which allows you to control how often you receive messages (e.g., individual emails or as a digest).
"UES Families" is managed by parent volunteers and not the UES administration.  The LISTSERV will be moderated to ensure that discussions are appropriate and follow the etiquette described below (The key point is to be respectful.)   If you have any questions, email
We look forward to meeting you on “UES Families"!

OPTION 1:  Follow the link:  If you don’t have a gmail account or want to use your non-gmail for this LISTSERV, check out our helpful hints:
OPTION 2:  If you don’t like online systems, just  write us at and tell us your child’s teacher or your role at the school (e.g., 2nd grade teacher).  

When posting comments, it is expected that users maintain respectful dialogue and will adhere to the following LISTSERV etiquette:

  • Absolutely, no negative remarks of  parents, teachers, or administrators
  • No solicitations or classifieds
  • Limit messages and use “Reply to Sender” whenever possible

Hennessey's Hoots! A Hennessey Hoot goes to...

* UES mom Bianca Magiera, who has stepped up to fill three (!) important roles at UES this year! Not only is Bianca our Snack Program coordinator, but she has also become our Library Aide and one of our Crossing Guards! What would we do without her? Thank you, Bianca!

* the whole UES Faculty for embracing blogging and web site design as a way to communicate with families! UES Technology Integrationist Jeffrey Jarrad has been working with teachers since the summer to get us all ready, and the results are wonderful! Here is a link to the contact page on our web site; simply click on the teacher you'd like to learn about, and his/her site will come right up:

UES Contacts