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Deanne's Notebook

Deanne Benson is in her 17th year as head of school at Lesely Ellis School. She frequently shares her thoughts and ideas about education and teaching in general and the experience and ethos of Lesley Ellis specifically. Check back here frequently to stay in touch with what's on Deanne's mind....and in her notebook!


Deanne's Notebook: I Am Jazz

December 11, 2017

Our teachers did it again, and I’m so glad to be part of the LES community! Last week we participated in the National “I Am Jazz” School and Community Readings. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, is a children’s book about a young transgender child. In classrooms throughout the school, teachers led students in thoughtful, age-appropriate discussion. A sampling--

·Prekindergarten…discussed how Jazz was born with a boy’s body and a girl’s brain.

·Kindergarten…discussed feeling different from others and how confusing that can be.

·Grade 1-2…were very thoughtful and curious as they learned Jazz’s experience is very different from liking to play dress up from time to time. “I’m glad we learned about this. I didn’t know it was something that could happen.”

·Grade 3-4… had a very reflective discussion about stereotypes and acceptance from hearing her story, then responded in their journals to prompts (write a letter to Jazz, about being an ally; why do people make fun of someone who is different; how can you be an ally). 

· Grade 5-6… watched and discussed the Barbara Walters 20/20 story on Jazz and the new sets of challenges she faced at age 11.

·Grade 7-8… watched one episode of the reality show "I Am Jazz," staring the real-life, 14 year-old transgender girl Jazz, and discussed what things in Jazz's life the students could really relate to in their own lives, what aspects of Jazz's life were completely outside of their own experiences, and what things may have made them uncomfortable watching the video.

What a day at Lesley Ellis….thank you teachers.


Deanne's Notebook: EdgeMakers

December 5, 2017

Have you heard about our new middle school innovation curriculum-EdgeMakers?

It's designed to teach students the skills they will need to make positive change in the world. As they work through this curriculum, mixed-grade teams of middle school students strive to identify problems they see in the world and develop innovative solutions through creativity, storytelling, designcollaboration, and entrepreneurship

 Creativity...Students are introduced to the multiple forms creativity can take and are encouraged to explore the ways that creativity is utilized outside of the arts, through the generation of new ideas and innovative solutions. 

Storytelling...Great ideas will die, however, if individuals cannot help others see their potential. Consequently, in the storytelling unit, students learn to tell a compelling story about their ideas in order to make other people care enough to support their cause. 

Design... Students learn about the engineering design process: creating prototypes; testing them; getting client feedback; improving their designs based on their test results and feedback; and starting the process again.

Collaboration... Students identify the skills that each team member brings to the effort, and they look closely at ways to leverage their particular mixture of skills to improve the effectiveness of their collaborations. 

Entrepreneurship...The final stage. An idea, even a great one, is only an idea until it is put out into the world. Middle school students learn the skills needed to launch a venture, including: knowledge of business models and venture plans; branding and marketing; and pitching their ideas. 

At Lesley Ellis we believe in the power of young people to make a difference. Through EdgeMakers, our middle school students develop the skills to harness their energy and ideals to make the world a better place.


Deanne's Notebook: We're Growing!
​Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite times of the year. That's especially true this year because I feel like there's been an extraordinary amount of smiling around Lesley Ellis. Still, almost every day when I walk into our school, I feel the warm glow that comes from having our own home. These orange walls practically shout Lesley Ellis to me. I will never forget the thrill of this experience. Or how we did it ... together. 

Another big thing is happening, too-our school is growing. Despite not having an address two years ago our enrollment was up 7%. And last year, when we had Winter Street, but still didn't have a building for new families to tour, we grew 7% again! It's remarkable. Our admission team has my deep gratitude, and so do all of you. Because without your storytelling, your parties, and volunteerism, this growth would not have been possible.

We are an intentionally small school, but we aim to be just a little bigger. Fourteen percent growth over two years (plus a 20% improvement in our retention) means that our classes are stronger and our middle school more robust. Our newly recruited parent and student ambassadors are helping us do some heavy lifting, too, so I won't be surprised if we see even more growth next year. 

I am very grateful to be part of the Lesley Ellis community.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Deanne's Notebook: Lesley Ellis Ambassadors
​November 14, 2017

Did you know that we recently had an Open House? It was phenomenal! I think this was probably the best open house in the history of Lesley Ellis. We have a new initiative this year, and many of you have already heard about it. We have designated Parent Ambassadors helping us tell the Lesley Ellis story to a wider audience. We have met as a group and begun to craft the narrative that defines the Lesley Ellis experience. It has been so neat for me to get to hear about our school from all of you. Usually I am talking with our teachers and staff, or our advisory board, and we have all heard one another’s perspectives for years. But learning anew about your Lesley Ellis, the school your child and your family experience every day, has been wonderful. Our Parent Ambassadors were in attendance at the open house and as a result of their presence I think the afternoon was tighter than ever. Meeting and identifying our core elements, and finding similar ways to talk about them, created a seamless and happy storytelling environment.

The National Association of Independent Schools tells us that in small elementary and middle schools like ours word of mouth still accounts for over half of all new admissions. Over half! Whether you are chatting with the teller at your bank or the butcher at the market, when the issue of your child’s school or even just community education comes up, our families are our frontline storytellers. And this year, when we are home at last here on Winter Street, we have the best kind of story to tell. So thank you to our Parent Ambassadors, and to all of you, for entrusting your children to us every day. Because they are the real story here. The grade 3-4 play this week; first and second graders visiting Sunrise Assisted Living; and some of our middle schoolers coming to school dressed as characters from The Outsiders (as culmination to reading the book) all make up the regular business that is the heart and soul of our Lesley Ellis story. I can’t wait to see what happens next!


Deanne's Notebook: Opportunities for Parents to Stay in touch with Teachers
​November 7, 2017

Did you know you are always welcome and encouraged to check in with teachers if you have questions or concerns, we also want to make sure you know about the timeline for communication about your children through conferences and written progress reports. Early Childhood, Elementary and Middle School vary somewhat, and some changes have been made this year. Here is what you can expect:

Early Childhood

September 18-29, 2017: Optional Check-in Conferences.
December 8, 2017: 1st Conference.
February 12, 2018: Written Progress Report given to families.
May 25, 2018: 2nd Conference with a focus on portfolios.
June 4-5, 2018: PS/PK/TK families invited into the classroom to look at portfolios with their children.


October 20, 2017: Conference Day.
January 30, 2018: Written Progress Reports mailed home.
March 16, 2018: Conference Day.
June 1, 2018: Written Progress Reports mailed home.

Middle School

October 19-20, 2017: Conference Day.
December 15, 2017: Written Progress Reports mailed home.
March 15-16, 2018: K-8 Conference Day.
June 1, 2018: Written Progress Reports mailed home.

Deanne's Notebook: Professional Development at Lesley Ellis
​October 30, 2017

Did you know each time we have a Professional Day at school, faculty are given the opportunity to focus on professional growth, collaboration, and/or planning. This week on Wednesday from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm on our Professional Day faculty will be involved in range of small group and team meetings, all very much customized to support faculty growth and collaborative planning for the coming months. A sampling of topics include…

--Planning science and STEAM curriculum and Lego Robotics for Grades 3 & 4;

--Dsigning a system for utilizing iPads for documentation in early childhood classrooms;

--Planning makerspace projects and activities in early childhood and early elementary;

--A morning workshop on Edgemaker (the EdgeMaker curriculum encourages students to understand that innovation can be learned and mastered through creativity, storytelling, design, collaboration and entrepreneurship) and afternoon workshop on anxiety for middle school faculty;

--Designing and/or updating student portfolios.