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Principal's Message

 October 12, 2016

Dear Highlands Parents,

Supervision After School:  At 2:36pm, parents and students may play on the playground structures while waiting for older students to be dismissed at 3:06pm.  Parents are to provide supervision.  The school does not provide supervision of children after school hours.  We ask children to abide by the school rules even after school while on the equipment. This helps avoid confusion for children.  Students who are waiting for older children may not play without adult supervision.  These students must wait in the courtyard area at a table for his/her sibling.  We appreciate everyone’s support in helping ensure the safety of all children at all times!

Here are a few rules you can help us enforce with your own children while on the playground structure:

 -down the slide only

 -no running around or on the playground structure

 -one student at a time on the slide, monkey bars and high bars

 -go towards the fence on the high bars

PE/PMT:  The California Department of Education requires physical education in 1st through 5th Grades only. Although it is not required in Kindergarten, we are able to provide some physical education to our Kindergarten students.  Students in first through fifth grades are required to have 200 minutes of physical education over ten days of school.  Highlands’ students meet these requirements through classes from Mr. Connor and Ms. Halaufia.  The current schedule provides additional instructional minutes above the required to account for field trips, assemblies, etc. that may occur.  In the event that students miss more than one session over a ten day period the classroom teacher will provide a make-up session to meet the required minutes.  If you have questions about PE/PMT, please contact Mr. Connor at tconnor@smfcsd.net. 

Wasps:  At the start of school, the wasps were out in full force in the lunch courts, especially on hot days and when meat items were served for lunch.  Bee Busters came out three separate times looking for a nest on campus and set four wasp traps along the exterior.  We are working to limit the trash and food residue on the ground and on tables.  Our custodian is cleaning the tables twice a day. We have also secured a power washer we can use weekly and for spot cleaning.  Additionally, there are times when we have students eat in the LGI; however, we are not able to accommodate all students due to the limited space.  We will prioritize students who have bee/wasp allergies for indoor eating when necessary.  Given that the nest of wasps is not on campus, we are not able to eliminate them at this time.  For those of you near school, it would be helpful for you to check your property for a potential nest.  If you find one, you can contact San Mateo County Vector Control for removal at http://www.smcmvcd.org/yellow-jackets-and-wasps-identification-info.  Every year the wasps leave when the weather changes, and we have seen a significant decrease in the number of wasps on campus just in the last two weeks. 

January 27, 2016

Dear Highlands parents,

I would like to introduce our new administrative assistant, Mary Kay Tsamasfyros.  Mary Kay is joining us from Audubon Elementary School, where she was serving as a paraeducator for PMT/PE.  Mrs. T served as the PTA President when her children attended Sunnybrae and understands the value of community engagement.  Please join us in welcoming Mrs. T to Highlands.  She is training with Natalie this week and will be on her own starting Monday.  We are sad to see Miss Natalie go on Friday, but wish her well in her new role at the district office.

Julie Murphy, our school office assistant, announced she has accepted a part-time position at Parkside.  Miss Julie has been looking for a part-time position for over a year, and we are happy she has found a three hour job that better meets her family’s needs.  Miss Julie’s last day will be Friday, February 5.  We will miss her warm welcomes, friendly smiles and wonderful personality in our office.  We wish her the very best as she transitions to her new school.  The school office assistant position has been posted, and we will be interviewing next week.  The new school office assistant will start as soon as possible.

While the office is going through these personnel changes, I really appreciate your understanding and support as both individuals learn the ropes, get to know staff, students, and parents, and try to meet the demanding expectations of working in a school office.  I know we will continue to work diligently as an office staff to meet everyone’s needs in a timely manner.  We all know that transitions and change can be difficult.  When we all work together and are aware of the challenges of being in a new role, things can go more smoothly.  I know our teachers, students, and parents are resilient and will welcome our new employees with open arms.

I am looking forward to our PTA sponsored Highly Effective Teaching Parent Education Nights coming up on February 4 (College Park) and February 11 (Highlands) at 6:30pm.  Additionally, our PTA has a couple of great events planned during the Scholastic Book Fair from February 22-26.  Please check out our Bear Facts for details about these events.

Our staff is working with retired teacher, Mareva Godfrey, on implementing HET practices in the classroom.  Our generous PTA is helping fund this very important work, as there are many levels of implementation, and we are always trying to practice HET at the highest level in all of our classrooms.  The financial support for professional development is invaluable and much appreciated.

I want you to be made aware we continue to have an opening for paraeducator-English language support for four hours a day and a yard supervisor position for four hours a week.  At this time, there are no applicants to interview.  Additionally, our paraeducator-computer lab has been out on medical leave.  We are hopeful he will be able to return on February 8.  In his absence, a substitute is not provided because it is a paraeducator position.   Students still continue to have access to the computer lab, as usual, with the support of the teacher.  If you know of anyone who might be interested in our open positions, please let me know.  There is a possibility we can partner these positions with other openings in the district to make a full-time position.

Several wonderful parent and community volunteers helped cover the portable stage in the LGI this past weekend.  A special thank you to our parents:  Josie and Ken Jue, Sherri and Paul Verducci, Roger Vasquez, Gary Cockrell, Kent Soo Hoo, and Jim Daniel.  I also want to recognize a local contractor, Chris Long, who helped us measure, buy materials, and lead the building crew for the stage project.  Chris volunteered all of his time and does not even have a child at Highlands.  The stage is now more safe and secure as one platform and ready for flooring.  We are moving forward with new flooring for the entire area in the next stage of improving our LGI.  I cannot thank our volunteers enough for their time and energy!

Soon, we will be receiving 110 new Chromebooks purchased by the PTA.  These Chromebooks will be in all classrooms to support students and will be replacing outdated Windows 7 desktops.  Without PTA’s monetary support, the 110 desktops would be removed and not replaced with any computers.  It is wonderful to see technology improvements with your support impacting the students and classroom directly.  Again, I want to recognize all the HEEF contributions to PTA which make this much needed purchase possible.

Next month, K-2 classrooms will receive tablets.  I am in the process of meeting with district staff to talk about deployment and training.  I do not know how many we are receiving or how they will be shared at this time.  We are anticipating some potential issues with wireless capabilities until the network refresh is completed next year.  We will problem solve the issues and are happy to see more technology coming into the classroom.  These tablets were purchased by the district.  Also, teachers will be receiving new laptops to replace the outdated laptops they have been using in February.  We are very excited about both of these rollouts from the district.

Please note there are two PTA sponsored Principal Coffee Chats coming up on February 5 and March 4.  We will meet in the LGI at 8:15am for informal conversation.  I hope to see you there!

Warm regards,                                                                                                                                                                                      Dana McDonald


October 1, 2015

Dear Highlands Parents,

I am pleased to announce our work with Soul Shoppe will continue this year and will provide social-emotional learning and promote a bully-free school. Parents are invited to attend our Parent Education training, on how to embed the skills Soul Shoppe is teaching students at home, on Monday, November 16 at 6:30pm. Students and staff will begin training in October and November and continue through grade level assemblies. Additionally, a select number of third-fifth grade students will participate in Peacemakers training to help resolve conflict during recess and lunch times. I want to thank our PTA for funding Soul Shoppe because without your support this program would not be at Highlands.

On Tuesday, October 27 we will begin to offer all students a snack through the school meal program. Snack will include a grain, a fruit and a milk for the cost of $1.50. Students who qualify for reduced or free meals will receive the snack free of charge. Snack will be served during the morning recess period which is at 10:00am for Kindergarten students and at 10:30am for students in first-fifth grades. We want to be sure all students have multiple opportunities to eat healthy food at school and are pleased to now offer snack at Highlands.

We have had quite the issue with wasps this year, especially when students have been trying to eat. This past week we had students eating indoors and outside by the LGI to limit exposure. We have consulted a bee and wasp professional and, as recommended, we have removed all man-made bee/wasp catchers as they were attracting the wasps. We have already seen a tremendous reduction in just a few days. I will be working with the grounds crew to eliminate all ivy surrounding the campus in the near future to further reduce the wasp population. We are looking forward to a change in the seasons to help us with the reduction of wasps as well. The situation will continue to be monitored, and we will adjust as necessary to ensure students can eat without fear of being stung by a wasp.

I am also pleased to announce we are starting a composting program at Highlands to reduce the amount of garbage collected during lunch. We are working with Recology to train our fifth graders who will train our other students on how to compost and recycle their remaining items from lunch. Any item that cannot be recycled or composted will then become garbage. Our training of students, The Green Team, begins on September 28. I look forward to seeing The Green Team in action in the next few months. I believe these are important skills to teach our students, and I am glad we have the opportunity to implement composting here.

The staff and I are excited to rollout Accelerated Reader in grades second-fifth. At conferences, you will be receiving important information about how you can help your child choose appropriate books at home as well as monitor your child’s progress using Accelerated Reader. We will be goal setting with our students in the next few weeks and monitoring those goals along the way. Goals are differentiated based on readers’ levels. As a school, we will provide incentives for students who meet their goals over each goal period. Our first reading incentive period will begin after fall break and end on December 14. Your support is needed to help ensure students are reading books nightly that are at an independent level and to talk about your child’s understanding of the book through casual conversation and questions. Students will only take AR quizzes at school. I look forward to celebrating with our students as they continue to grow as readers!

I need your help in a couple of areas: crosswalk awareness and parking in the staff parking lot. We have over four hundred children arriving at school within a twenty-minute period in the mornings. Please park your vehicle and walk your child to school using the crosswalks or drop your child while parked at the sidewalk and have him/her use the closest crosswalk. It is important to drive slowly and be very aware of pedestrians at all times. Additionally, please note the parking lot is for staff only at all times with the exception of the two handicapped parking spaces. We have over fifty staff on any given day and only thirty-two spaces to park cars. It is important staff have a place to park and can come and go as needed. There are times when people block other cars when coming into the parking lot by “making” a parking space. We ask that all parents and volunteers park on the side-streets to access the school campus at all times unless utilizing the handicapped parking spaces. I appreciate your support in these matters.

I look forward to seeing everyone at conferences in the next couple of weeks. Please remember fall break is from October 12 – October 26. There is no school on Monday, October 26. We will see everyone on Tuesday, October 27.

Warm regards,

Ms. McDonald


September 9, 2015

Dear Highlands Parents,

I wanted to take this opportunity to address the recent concerns regarding toys and equipment at school. It has been great to receive individual and group feedback, and I really appreciate your thoughts. This communication is to provide you with a little background and insight into my decision and my processes.

One of the staff requests was to enforce the Highlands School Handbook policy which states, “Students may not bring large sums of money, their own playground equipment, toys, games, electronic devices, tapes, or other items of value to school.” After confirming this was written in the handbook and observing toys/equipment use during recess, lunch, bus, and in classrooms, I made the decision to reset expectations with the students concerning toys/equipment brought from home. The intent was never to stop students from playing in productive manners. Rather, the intent was to adhere to policies and engage students in appropriate physical and social/emotional play where students can return to classes after recess and lunch ready to focus and learn.

When I asked students to stop bringing equipment to school to support staff during the school day, there was an inadvertent impact on before school and after school play. Students do not have access to equipment before school or after school with the way supervision and resources are currently and historically have been set up. Equipment is available to students during recess and lunch including hoola hoops, jump ropes, basketballs, tether balls, tennis balls, plastic bats, soccer balls, bouncy balls, etc. Additionally, the PTA has sponsored lunchtime enrichment activities through various agencies such as football, drawing, jump roping, engineering, golf, jazzercise, and other sports activities. The library is also available to students with passes twice a week for all students in 1st-5th grades. We are working with students to help them know on a daily basis what activities are available and in what area of the school.

Given my conversation with upper grade students, staff, and parents, I have chosen to amend the Highlands Elementary School policy to specifically allow sporting equipment to be brought from home. This means that your child may bring his/her own LABELED sporting equipment, as listed below, to be used before, during, and/or after school as desired. Please note students are responsible for their own equipment.

-balls (tennis, soccer, wiffle, basketball, football, etc. No hard balls please!)
-baseball mitts, softball mitts, or goalkeeper gloves
-foam or plastic bats for baseball only (No wooden or steel bats please!)

We are seeking donations for baseball mitts if you have one lying around the house. We have also purchased new equipment thanks to our generous PTA and Mr. Connor. Please bring any donations to the office and thank you in advance.

As for toys, I ask for us all to think about the purpose of school. We are here to educate our children and provide them with appropriate physical and social/emotional experiences to help them grow. I do not philosophically believe we need to allow toys at school to meet students’ needs and to help them be engaged. We will continue to work to engage all students throughout the day.

I am so thankful to be part of a community where parents are passionate and involved in their child’s education. Believe me, it is truly wonderful to see, and I will continue to welcome your input in these matters. As there may have been items not addressed at this time, there will be opportunities throughout the year as we refine the handbook. I do continue to be open to feedback and more discussion about how to improve Highlands Elementary School. I look forward to our continued journey together to provide a wonderful educational environment for your child.

Warm regards,                                                                                                                                                                                    Dana McDonald                                                                                                                                                                  


September 4, 2015

Dear Highlands Families,

I so appreciate the feedback from this week’s PTA meeting regarding concerns and questions about the toy and equipment policies.  I have had several emails and parent meetings as well and really welcome your input.  I will be meeting with the fourth and fifth grade students on Friday to seek feedback from them as well.  I am eager to communicate with you in detail about some upcoming changes given the feedback received.  Please give me the time to make the appropriate decisions given student, staff, and parent feedback and arrange for formal communication next week. 

We are among five schools going through a new website rollout on Tuesday, September 8.  There will be a new PTA website coming as well.  As you know, the District just rolled out the new SMFCSD website last month.  We are trying to work through all the glitches.  Your patience is much appreciated as we try to get information in the new locations.  The new Highlands website and all future school websites will mirror the new SMFCSD website.  Our new address as of September 8, 2015 will be highlands.smfcsd.net.  The Spanish site is highlands.smfcsd.net/pagina-de-inicio.html.

Additionally, I want to provide an opportunity to meet with parents at a Principal Chat in Room 26 next Friday, September 11 at 8:15am.  I have an open door policy, and I am also out and about on a daily basis in classrooms, at dismissal/arrival, at recess/lunch, meeting with parents and staff, and planning programming for our students.  Please come if you can and bring any questions, concerns, and suggestions you have. 

Superintendent Rosas has included an important parent letter in your child’s backpack today, so please look for it.

Lastly, please remember there is no school on Monday, September 7 as it is Labor Day.

Warm regards,                                                                                                                                                                                  Ms. McDonald