About Luke Almon

South Anchorage High School Principal National Board Educator Ball State Ed.D

A Message to our Seniors

Seniors,

We know it’s been a tough road the last few weeks. You have missed the rites of passage leading up to graduation. Know we’re thinking of you, and want to celebrate your accomplishments as much as you and your families do. For now, here’s a quick message fro me:

Stay strong!

Reading, Writing, and The Den

Disclaimer: This is a bit long, but contains good resources.

During yesterday’s edition of the Den (embedded below), students talked about the challenges they have experienced transitioning from traditional classrooms and books to their own learning spaces and digital content. In particular, that reading from a screen does not result in the same understanding as a physical book. The intent of the rest of this post is to provide resources and suggestions for making reading more memorable and useful.

Mark Important Information. Some of the best advice is to mark or annotate reading (whether on a screen or on paper), making the most important parts more visible, and then to review those parts after reading, and write about them in a notebook, which can serve as an external memory device. See: Make it Stick, and this list of adapted strategies for memory tools.

This can be done using boxes around key paragraphs, notes and questions in the margins, circled or underlined words and other markings of your own invention. Of this practice, Mortimer Adler, in How to Mark a Book, suggests that,

If reading is to accomplish anything more than passing time, it must be active. You can’t let your eyes glide across the lines of a book and come up with an understanding of what you have read. You don’t absorb the ideas of John Dewey the way you absorb the crooning of Mr. Vallee. You have to reach for them. That you cannot do while you’re asleep.

Adler, How to Mark a Book, 1940

Writing to Learn. At the most basic level, there has to be intent in reading, and one way of making reading intentional, is to either mark it up and structure it in a notebook or on scratch paper. Adler, like many others after him, including researchers, have found the act of writing notes, rather than typing them, makes it more likely you will remember the information later for an assignment, test, or project:

Well, the physical act of writing, with your own hand, brings words and sentences more sharply before your mind and preserves them better in your memory. To set down your reaction to important words and sentences you have read, and the questions they have raised in your mind, is to preserve those reactions and sharpen those questions.

Adler, How to Mark a Book, 1940

Structuring Newfound Knowledge. Finally, after having read and marked the text, it is best to structure the most important points so they are memorable, and this requires imposing your own structure on the information. One way to do this is by following the Classical method, which is outlined in the first few chapters of Susan Wise Bauer’s book, The Well Educated Mind: A Guide to The Classical Education You Never Had.

There are three primary stages to taking notes on reading in Bauer’s method:

  • Grammar Stage: write a one to two sentence summary of each section of the reading.
  • Logic Stage: After writing your one to two line summaries, create your own table of contents of the major ideas in the reading.
  • Rhetoric Stage: Write briefly about how the ideas in the reading relate to or are connected to your prior knowledge.

The first two stages provide a good reference for studying for a test or working on a larger assignment or project, and the third stage makes it more likely you will be able to remember the information long after you have finished reading about it.

And, as promised, The Den, from Tuesday, April 7th:

This Week at South Vol. 28

Senior Recognition: In an effort to recognize South High School Seniors, we have been spotlighting them on South’s Facebook page, which can be accessed at facebook.com/SAHSwolverine.

All seniors should have received an email from Mr. Ruggles with the requested information for a post. If you have not responded to him, or did not receive the email, you can email him directly at Ruggles_Chris@asdk12.org with the following:

A Senior photo and answers to these questions: What are your plans next year? Who would you like to thank and why: classmates/teachers/coaches? What is your favorite memory? Favorite quote? Best advice to underclassmen?

CANVAS Content Clarifications: As we are getting into the core content in CANVAS, there have been some challenges. Initially, all of the content was pre-loaded by teams at the district level, which means that your child’s teacher was probably not directly involved in choosing or structuring the content in the course. While teachers cannot change the mandatory content for each course, they can decide how many points each assignment is worth, how many attempts students will get for each assignment, how much time is allotted for assessments, and other process-based functions. However, some teachers may not have changed these settings, which may result in frustration for students and parents.

This frustration likely arises from a mismatch between CANVAS settings and the idea that we are taking a mastery approach to learning, which means in many cases students will be given multiple attempts on assignments, and will be allowed to use their notes and other resources as they are completing assignments. In fact, some assignments in CANVAS ask students to access other content in order to complete the assignment, although the introductory content suggests otherwise.

Please have patience as we navigate these mismatches, and attempt to align CANVAS content and processes with the spirit of mastery-based, asynchronous education. You can always reach out to teachers via email with questions as they arise.

Library Resources & Help for Distance Learning: Ms. Frankenburger has been developing and collecting resources to help students as they work through online content. These resources can be accessed at the following address: http://bit.ly/south_library. The resources include audiobooks and helpful research tools. Ms. Frankenburger is also holding ZOOM sessions to help students on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11 am. Please email her for a ZOOM invitation and additional details for secure access at: Frankenburger_Lydia@asdk12.org.

Personal Belongings in the School: We currently have no access to the building in order to retrieve or package items for student pickup. I realize this poses challenges and want everyone to know that we have already outlined and proposed a process for returning items, and will begin that process as soon as we are given district-level clearance to re-enter and start that work. As soon as we do, I will let everyone know.

A Final Thought w. Students in Mind:

When we think about those in United States history who have made the most significant contributions and overcome the most obstacles, we often think about the Greatest Generation. Members of that generation persisted through the Great Depression and World War II and their perspective was irrevocably changed because of it. For most, the hardships associated with those events led to increased confidence and abilities.

Although we are not facing the same kind of challenges the Greatest Generation overcame, our students have weathered significant changes and disruptions throughout their formative years. Among them are an earth shattering earthquake and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, these events will shape their perspective and thinking just as it did their forebears. However, the degree to which they are positively or negatively influenced by these events may largely depend on the kinds of stories they construct about the challenges, and how they see themselves in relationship to those challenges.

Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas address this idea in their book, Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders.

In particular, the authors address how leaders use hardships, what they call crucible moments, to their advantage:

Whether the crucible experience is an apprenticeship, an ordeal, or some combination of both, we came to think of it much like the hero’s journey that lies at the heart of every myth. It is both an opportunity and a test. It is a defining moment that unleashes abilities, forces crucial choices, and sharpens focus. It teaches a person who he or she is. People can be destroyed by such an experience. But those who are not emerge from it aware of their gifts, ready to seize opportunities and make their future.

Bennis and Thomas (2002) p. 16

Our task is to see the current challenges we face as a test, and to try to discover what new abilities and gifts might arise from this test. Our students’ futures are likely to be directly affected by this experience. As their parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches, we can help them contextualize the current hardship as a means for mining new talents and abilities, which might have remained dormant under more comfortable circumstances.

Have a Great Week South!

Post-Orientation Review

Orientation and Regular Schedule Rotation

Orientation Sessions for the core academic subjects have concluded, and tomorrow we will return to normal office hours. The fuzzy image below depicts the weekly schedule for ZOOM tutorial and office hours. Also, just a reminder that electives will begin meeting on the Tuesday/Thursday rotation starting Tuesday, April 14th.

Weekly High School Tutorial and Office Hours by Subject

Technical Support. Parents and students who are experiencing difficulty with technology can seek guidance and help at the following link :

https://asdhelp.atlassian.net/servicedesk/customer/portals

Student Conduct in ZOOM Sessions

The majority of our students and teachers had positive re-introductions to one another over the past two days. I was able to attend some of the Orientation Sessions over the two-day period, and also get back in touch with students. However, there were a few instances of disruption, inappropriate language, and disrespect, which negatively influenced many other students’ ability to learn.

Please review the information below pertaining to appropriate student etiquette in ZOOM:

Student Etiquette When Attending ZOOM Sessions

Please be aware that ZOOM sessions are optional for students, and any behavior that disrupts the education of another student or is deliberately disrespectful of the teacher will not be tolerated. Students may be temporarily or permanently removed from ZOOM meetings if they do not meet the expectations outlined in the document linked above.

COVID-19 Insight & Graduation Information on The Den from April 2nd:

A Parting Note:

We’re all learning how best to interact and learn in an environment that is brand new and challenging for both students and teachers. We’ll continue to do the very best we can for students, and make sure they have the support they need.

At the same time, I’d like to challenge students to take action even though times may be tough. Ryan Holiday’s final thought from his chapter, Get Moving, helps frame this idea well:

Just because conditions aren’t exactly to your liking, or you don’t feel ready yet, doesn’t mean you get a pass. If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it by getting up and getting started.

Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way, p. 75.

Times are tough, but we’ll all become more resilient as we make our way through the challenges together. Keep after it!

The Den and Contact Information

Check out the March 31st episode of The Den with a special performance by Tracy Simmons, and guests Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop. Our guests provide us with timely information and we take questions from our viewers. As always, catch the show at wolverineden.org and drop questions at southvote.com. Also on Instagram @SAHStheDen.

Need to Update Contact Information?:

Please use the following Google Survey to provide us with the most up to date contact information. We would particularly like to have accurate information for our students so they get timely information from their teachers.

I’ll end with a powerful, yet simple statement Mayor Berkowitz made during our conversation today,:

Being bored is being heroic right now. Hardship is a small price to pay to save lives.

Ethan Berkowitz, The Den Interview, 3/31

I hope all of our students were able to get back into touch with their teachers today, and begin to plan to complete their fourth quarter work.

This Week at South Vol. 27

Embarking on a New Learning Journey:

Good Morning South Students, Parents, Staff, and Community Members:

This newsletter will be in a different format in order to share important information about the new online learning format. Resources are linked below and also footnoted for reference. 

  1. First, I would like to share the Digital Learning Parent Letter drafted by Dr. Kersten Johnson-Struempler, Senior Director of Secondary Education. 
  1. Next, please also see: Best Practices for Parents to Support Online Learning which provides a one-page set of practices to help parents support their students as they transition to our new mode of learning. Finally, I would also encourage everyone to review the Online Etiquette document, which addresses how we should prepare ourselves and our surroundings for online learning. 

This newsletter will also be linked at dralmon.com, tweeted at twitter.com/dr_almon, and should be arriving via text and email through Blackboard. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions after you have reviewed the material above. 

Part I: What This Means at South High School

Today: By 4:00 pm today, teachers will reach out to their students with a ZOOM link to their office hours and tutorial sessions, as well as a welcome message to students and parents to their orientation sessions. These orientation sessions are also outlined in the Digital Learning Parent Letter linked above.  

Tuesday/Wednesday: On Tuesday, March 31st and Wednesday, April 1st, Orientation Sessions for Core High School courses will occur. Only one of these sessions needs to be attended. Please see the image above for an overview of the days and times of those sessions. 

On April 13th: Elective courses will start. Elective teachers will reach out today with their ZOOM link, a welcome message, and a plan to reconnect with students as the date for their classes to resume approaches. 

Part II: A Parting Note:

After approximately two weeks of planning, we are now ready to embark on a learning process that none of us has truly experienced. Distance learning will look and feel different than face-to-face classes with timed bells, a constant lunch time, and social time between. A lot of the structure associated with the normal school day has vanished due to our current circumstances. 

Therefore, it will become all the more important to find a routine that will lend some structure to our days, to make sure we are keeping in contact with one another using the technology we have at our disposal, and to make sure to take time to take care of ourselves.

Starting Tuesday we will welcome students into a new era, hope to make them comfortable with the new learning platforms, and address their concerns. Ideally, students will access their core courses and begin working on the material. 

The staff at South High School is committed to making sure students transition into this new learning well. We’ll focus on reconnecting socially, mapping out the content,  and making a plan for successful completion of classes by May 21st. It will take all of our best ideas to make this happen. 

We look forward to working with you to make sure our students get the best possible learning opportunities available. 

We hope to model the persistence, self-control, empathy, and gratitude that we expect of our students as we work through this challenge.

I’d like to end with a Bob Iger’s observation about the meaning of optimism, “It’s about believing in your and others’ abilities” (p. 229). Put another way, it’s about believing that despite our challenging circumstances, collective action will result in positive learning outcomes.

I’m confident we have the people in place to make this happen. I believe.

Stay Strong, Stay Healthy, Stay South!

Onward!

Luke Almon, Principal

March 27th Updates

Happy Friday Everyone!

School Re-Start on Tuesday, March 31st:

We are looking forward to re-engaging with our students and to begin the teaching and learning process again. Although it will be very different than in-person classes, and the times won’t always necessarily be the same, we encourage all students to take full advantage of teachers’ office hours and tutorial sessions in order to track with content as well as to connect with peers with whom they have not been able to check in for a while. Core classes and King Tech classes will start on March 31st, and electives will be re-launched on April 13th.

A Few Notes on CANVAS: Content will be pre-loaded in each class, and students can move at their own pace. There are deadlines for assignments, and teachers will be tracking who has completed work on time, and who has missed deadlines. In most cases, teachers will enter a zero when an assignment date has passed so that students and parents understand the overall impact on students’ grades. However, students will be able to turn in work past the posted deadline for full credit.

Senior Scholarship Opportunities:

Please see the table below for two scholarship opportunities for seniors.

Bo Seward ScholarshipThe PTSO is still offering the Bo Seward Scholarship this year.  The award will be given to a graduating senior who has shown exemplary community service over the last four years of high school. Details can be found (link below) and you can email questions to: shptsovp@gmail.com
$2000 will be awarded to the recipient and an additional $500 to the recipient’s charity of choice.  Applications are due on or before May 1, 2020
https://www.asdk12.org/Page/10267
Why WaytThe purpose of this scholarship is to provide $1,000 to a worthy recipient to support the use of their talents or passions to help others around them. The forms for the scholarship are available at the link below. Please email completed documents to by Friday, April 24th: Ernie0987@hotmail.com
Documents: Application & Teacher Reference

A Final Note:

I want to thank the staff at South High School as well as the larger South community for pulling together amidst the ongoing challenges we’re facing. Teamwork, generosity, tolerance, and genuine hard work have been the common denominator this week.

We hope you will tune into the Den on Tuesday when we host Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. You can access the show at wolverineden.org, and let us know what you have questions about on southvote.com.

Have a good weekend!

March 26th Update

Live From the Den, Archived Show:

We would like to thank School Board President, Starr Marsett, for joining us on today’s show, and we look forward to hosting Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on next Tuesday’s show. You can access the archived show at wolverineden.org, and as always, submit your ongoing questions at southvote.com.

Technology Distribution to Occur Monday, March 30th:

The plan for technology distribution has changed, but will still happen next Monday. Parents and students will be asked to arrive at the school, stay in their vehicle, and have their technology delivered at the curbside. Calls to set appointments will start tomorrow.

District-Level Communication on Academic Plan Forthcoming

You can expect to hear from the Superintendent, and from Secondary Education in the next few days with an overview of the academic plan. I will deliver the correspondence from Secondary along with any specific updates specifically pertaining to South students as early as tomorrow afternoon; so, please keep an eye on email and on this space.

Future Updates and Contact Information:

In an attempt to save space and bulk in your email inboxes, I will send links to this space for the remainder of this week, and through next Tuesday when class resumes. After that point, I will return to the normal format of my newsletters, which will be posted here and archived, as well as being delivered to email inboxes and cell phones.

On that note, our clerical team has been working hard to enter new contact information. So, as updates are sent and teachers begin communicating with students, please make sure to monitor your addresses, and provide us with any updated information in the following LINK.

Another Word on the Need for a Routine

Beginning next Tuesday students will re-engage with school, but it will look very different, and in all likelihood challenge them in brand new ways. This will include the need to independently structure their time, and to prioritize which classes to work on and at what time of day. Although there will be a schedule for students to check in with teachers each day of the week, it will not look like a typical class period. Some degree of structure will be needed to succeed in this environment.

The silver lining may be that students become more independent learners, and start to reflect on their progress more often. I’ll end with another excerpt from Stillness is the Key, in which the author paraphrases William James on the power of routine to reduce chaos:

The psychologist William James spoke about making habits our ally instead of our enemy. That we can build around us a day and a life that is moral and ordered and still–and in so doing, create a kind of bulwark against the chaos of the world and free up ourselves for the work we do.

Holiday, p. 204

As always, Stay Safe, Stay Strong, Stay South!

March 25th PM Update

Live from the Den at 9 am

Join us for our Thursday live show at wolverineden.org at 9 am or archived at the same address, and on this website, after the show has concluded. We anticipate Mayor Berkowitz will be a guest on our show and we’d love to see as many teachers, students, and parents join us as possible. We will monitor and answer the most pressing questions and concerns shared at southvote.com.

Technology Needs:

Based on the guidance of State health officials, the district is currently developing a plan to provide technology to students that follows best practices to limit the spread of COVID-19. Currently, devices will be provided to those who need them to access distance learning on Monday, March 30th in time for our academic restart on Tuesday, March 31st.

Anticipating Instruction Next Week:

Beginning March 31st, students will formally begin instruction again. We would like everyone to know there will a large degree of flexibility as students access CANVAS for the first time, learn how best to interact on ZOOM, and visit with their teachers to plan how best to move forward and maximize their learning opportunities.

Building Access:

We realize students may have instruments and textbooks in our building. After we are able to meet the technology needs of our student to access their online courses, we will move to planning for getting students these items. Stay tuned for details on this plan next week. As always, access will largely depend on the advice of healthcare professionals and follow best practice is limiting the spread of COVID-19.

A Quick Word on Individual Leadership and its Impact:

This morning at our staff meeting we talked about how our staff’s collective actions are synonymous with our school’s culture. The same is true at all levels, including families, classrooms, workplaces, and even at the largest community level.

As a way to bring this idea in to focus, I shared the following quote from former Disney CEO Robert Iger’s book, The Ride of a Lifetime,

As a leader, your values–your sense of integrity and decency and honesty, the way you comport yourself in the world–are a stand in for the values of the company.

(Iger, p. 231).

We are living in a time when we all need to be leaders. Our collective actions as a South community will determine how well we navigate the uncertainties that lie ahead. As a school, we will do all we can to take care of ourselves and be tolerant so that we can take care of our students and give them the best chance to flourish under adverse circumstances. I invite all who are reading this to help us fulfill this goal.

March 24th PM Updates

Good afternoon South Students, Parents, and Community:

Little has changed since yesterday, but I do want to highlight some of the common questions and needs that have arisen in the past day. I’ll also share multiple informational sources at the end if you like to stay connected on social media.

Seniors & Graduation: While graduations will not take place at the Sullivan Arena, alternatives are being planned. There is every intention to recognize seniors and to honor a longstanding rite of passage. I’ll share details as soon as I have them.

Also, Seniors will be the emphasis as we enter a distance model on March 31st. The focus will be on graduation requirements. Seniors who are currently earning a D or F and considered in jeopardy of not graduating will be contacted soon to plan for completing requirements on time, and all seniors will be contacted eventually. Please be patient as our counseling team reaches out to have these conversations with students and parents.

A Word on CANVAS/ZOOM: The content that will be offered in the distance learning model is being loaded into CANVAS, and several teacher teams are working diligently to finalize the content that will be required in each course staring on the 31st. No work is required until the 31st, and no work will be assigned or graded until then. ZOOM sessions are continuing as teachers invite students to check in with them.

Students may be getting multiple invitations to attend ZOOM meetings. This week’s meetings are not required. Next week there will be a more structured schedule so students are not asked to be present for two ZOOM sessions at one time. The draft schedule makes time for tutoring in the morning and afternoon, and designates blocks on alternating days based on subject areas. This is a good practice week to make sure students can connect and the tools inside the platform can be tested.

Technology Needs: This is a quickly evolving issue and plan. For now, the handout day will be Monday, March 30th. We will receive our needs list soon, and begin to plan for distribution. Rest assured we have enough resources at the building level to meet the needs of our community. Stay tuned for specific process-oriented details.

Retrieving Personal Items: For now there is a blanket prohibition on entering school buildings to retrieve personal items. I am hopeful that when we have a specific plan for technology handout that we might be able to address the most urgent needs for belongings

Ways to Stay Connected & Informed:

  • Email/Text Message: I will be pushing out a link to this website via Blackboard for the foreseeable future. You can always visit anytime, and you can follow on Twitter (more on that below)
  • The Den is Live from wolverineden.org every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 am, will be archived, and I will post the videos on this site. This Thursday we expect Mayor Berkowitz as a guest, and today we hosted both Dr. Michael Johnson, Commissioner of Education, and Dr. Bishop (the video is below). You can submit your questions to southvote.com, and we will address these on air.
  • This website (dralmon.com): Since we have a quickly evolving situation, and email inboxes are already full, I would encourage everyone to check this website regularly or to subscribe to get the most up to date information. This layout lends itself to access on a computer or smartphone and will contain the most up-to-date information as I receive it. I can also entertain comments on each post and interact with you without further clogging email inboxes.
  • On Twitter: You can also check twitter.com/dr_almon or follow me @dr_almon for quick updates. All posts on this site also automatically post to Twitter as a link and will direct you to this site.

I will end this post with two quotes that inform how we look at the challenges we face and the kind of progress we might expect in the coming weeks and days. I shared the same with staff in our meeting this morning:

You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way

E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime

I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird

Both of these authors point to the need for us all to realize we’re facing a common and perplexing challenge, and in order to make our way through it, we will need to be willing to persist, practice gratitude, and keep our eyes on the immediate path ahead.

As Always: Stay Safe, Stay Strong, Stay South!