Mr. Hood's Monthly Messages

Read about the learning journey at Madison

The newest message will be at the top.

October 2021

Greetings Madison Community,

Over a month into the new school year, we are still energized to see the Madison hallways and classrooms full of faculty and students. Thanks to all of you and your children, our transition back to school has been safe and filled with joyful learning. 

During this first month back at school, we have been reminded of what it means to gather together as a community of learners. Our administration team planned  meaningful gatherings as we came back to school for our staff; teachers thoughtfully planned meaningful back to school activities for our students. We gained inspiration from one of our very own Warhawks, a Madison 2005 graduate, now author, facilitator, and renowned expert-gatherer, Priya Parker. She met with our administrative team several times as we prepared for our first full faculty gathering after over 18 months. She also highlighted the work she did with us in one of her monthly newsletters. (Sign up to read it here!

As we collaborated with Priya Parker, our team thought deeply about the essential questions we are all considering as we move forward and reconstruct our experience of school together this year: 

  • What is most important to focus on as we gather for in-person school? 
  • What do we value most about gathering with our community?

We found a common theme in our response to the first question: most important to us is relationships, and we are continually committed to developing and nurturing relationships with our students and community. In response to the second question, we had more diverse responses, ranging from “fun” to “dedication” to “support”.  

We invite you to share your responses to the questions above. If you’d like, please share your ideas through this Google form. We will share your responses with the PTSA at upcoming meetings and with Madison staff at faculty meetings. Your responses will also guide and inspire us as we gather throughout this year. 

Again, thank you for gathering with us in this space each month. Until we gather again... 


September 2021

Greetings, Madison Community! 

Our school year is happily underway and we are off to a fantastic start - thanks to you and our wonderful Madison community. Over the past several weeks we have had many opportunities to welcome our community back together. We welcomed back our full faculty for the first time in person in over 18 months to connect and collaborate after a long time apart. We welcomed back freshmen, and many sophomores, to our campus for the first time to meet with mentors and explore campus. We welcomed back all students at our annual fall kick-off and open house to reunite with friends and faculty. Finally, we welcomed families to a virtual and in-person Back to School Night to learn more about our outstanding faculty.   At the heart of all of our welcome back gatherings is building relationships. Most important is the relationship our teachers and students establish with one another. During the two first weeks of school, all students have met with their advisory teacher and classmates during 4th period. The purpose of this time is for students to have a safe place where they can confidently share their voice and build community. If you were to walk through the hallways during advisory these first few weeks, this is what you might see:

  • An advisor leading her 9th grade advisory students on a walking tour of the building, helping students find their classes and pointing out what exciting new developments the construction will bring
  • A group of students sitting in a circle creating personalized name tags with stickers, markers, scissors, and glue while reconnecting after a long summer break.
  • 12th grade students reconnecting after 18 months apart - sharing the highlights of their summer and what they are most looking forward to this school year and post-Madison.

One of our advisory teachers shared how grateful they were, “to have dedicated time and space during the hectic school week to sit down and check in with students, hear about their lives, and support them however they might need.” A student shared, “It was nice to have time during advisory to just hang out with friends.”     As we continue to gather and settle into the new school year, we could not be more grateful for all of you and your support. We look forward to all of the wonderful things to come this year and all of the new relationships that will be built and strengthened.


August 2021

Greetings, Madison Community! 

We are thrilled to welcome all of you back to school this fall. As you turn down James Madison Drive the scenery will look different. The front facade of Madison has been removed, and there is a safety fence surrounding an empty space where our main hallway, library, and classrooms used to be. It is inspiring to watch the crews collaborate each day to construct a modern face of Madison, one with more spaces for students to collaborate and learn together long into the future.     

Our building is not the only part of James Madison that is under construction. As we all return to school after two topsy-turvy years, we are all “under construction”. As a community coming together this year, we are all responsible for considering the question: What kind of school experience do we want to rebuild together? 

This summer small groups of our community have come together to begin to consider this question. Over the past four summers, we have sent groups of teachers to WISSIT, the Washington International Summer Institute for Teachers. This summer, we sent a group of teachers, students, and parents to attend the conference. In reflecting on the conference experience, students, parents and teachers shared these thoughts: 

“I noticed many of the thinking routines connected to mindfulness - something we will all need this school year.”

“I never realized how the thinking routines have the potential to provide insight into each individual student - making me imagine how I might use them to establish relationships this school year.”

As we rebuild, we will focus on the foundations of the relationships we have with each other - most importantly, our relationships with our students. Every Madison student will be a part of an Advisory class this school year that will meet every other day during fourth period. Advisory will be a space where students and teachers build community, focus on relationships and reflect on their own learning goals and experiences. 

Thank you for your support and resiliency over the past two years. We look forward to re-building our community even stronger together.

Monthly Messages from School Year 2020-2021

June 2021

Happy June Madison Families! 

Our path towards Deeper Learning has led us to seek out more opportunities for our faculty to collaborate with our students and learn more about their experiences as students in our learning community. 

During the month of March, five Madison students (three 10th and two 12th grade) joined several faculty members as a part of our team attending the Assessment for Learning Annual Conference. This student-teacher team was a part of an “Idea Collider” design session. This virtual learning and design experience focused on developing prototypes of student-centered, interdisciplinary assessments including Student-Led Conferences, Portfolio Defenses, and Portraits of a Graduate that engage families in the assessment experience, as well as help us move forward on our journey towards Deeper Learning for all. Students self-selected an assessment type to learn more about, engaged our community of parents, teachers, and other students in empathy interviews to learn more about their assessment experiences, and shared their ideas to an audience of educators from all over the country. 

Inspired by the conference, one of our teachers led a pilot program for Student Portfolios in her 12th grade English classroom. She invited students to create their own digital portfolios based on the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate Skills: Collaborator, Communicator, Creative & Critical Thinker, Ethical & Global Citizen, and Goal-Directed & Resilient. Here is what some of her students had to say about the experience: 

“The portfolio was good in helping me build my self-confidence.” 

“This was a useful experience for me to reflect and see how much I have or haven’t grown as a student this school year.” 

“I really liked the project. It was nice to design something in my own way. I’m a digital artist and this was a fun way for me to share my work.”

“I think what has really been nice about this project is the creativity that has been given to us. I’ve been able to introduce myself in the way that I want to that really shows me and what I’m proud of this year.”

Another one of our students has joined our faculty members on the JMHS Project Springboard collaborative team. This group has met several times throughout the month of May in an effort to (re)imagine what school might be like in a post-COVID world. Inspired by the Portfolio Pilot Program happening in some of our 12th grade classes, the Springboard team is looking closer at how student portfolios might help foster Deeper Learning in our own Madison community. 

Thanks to support from you, the PTSA, three students will attend WISSIT (Washington International School Summer Institute for Teachers) alongside our Madison team. We have sent a group of teachers to attend WISST every summer for the past four years, and this is the first year that both students and a parent will be joining us. We look forward to sharing all of the learning that emerges from our fabulous student-teacher collaborative teams with you in the future.  

We end this school year feeling both grateful to be surrounded by such a supportive community and hopeful for what is to come. We wish you a wonderful summer of gathering with friends and family, and we look forward to welcoming all of our Warhawks back to James Madison Drive in August.

May 2021

Happy May Madison Families!

We are only one month away from graduation for our 2021 class of Resilient and Global Citizens! I’m so proud to have this class represent James Madison High School and our Vienna community. 

Throughout their four years of high school, the students have been part of much change at Madison, in our country, and our world. These past four years, we have focused on shifting our assessment system to one focused on Grading for Equity and Deeper Learning. At JMHS, Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy. Here are just a few examples of Deeper Learning happening across Madison:


  • Studio Art students worked on their AP Portfolios and created Bob Ross inspired Nature Paintings to celebrate the start of spring and the wonderful weather.
  • 3D Studio students are finally getting a chance to throw on the potter’s wheel!
  • Photography students made cameras out of paint cans (pinhole cameras), and created an alternative process to print photos on fabric. AP photo students are also deeply engaged in  preparing for their AP exam this month.
  • Animation students completed Walk Cycles and started to step into the world of Computer-Generated Special Effects while Digital Art students created Memes before moving into video projects.
  • Some art students participated in the Vienna Community Center Photo Competition, and the Ayr Hill Garden Photography Show. The Madison Pyramid art show will launch May 28 via the Madison Website.  

Cross-Curricular 10th Grade: Cross-curricular 10th grade students presented their interdisciplinary research projects to Ted Dintersmith and other JMHS alumni community and business leaders in April. Their projects range from tackling global warming on a local scale, to the history of Vienna, to pet therapy for FCPS students by responding to the driving question: How can I, as an engaged and thoughtful Madison High School 10th-grader, provide a practical solution to a real-world problem for my local, national or global community? Some of the student projects have received stipends for students to implement their ideas in our school community during 4th quarter and this summer.

Health & Physical Education: The past few months have been full of student-choice in our Health & PE classes. Students in-person and virtual had the opportunity to create their own physical education experience through goal-setting and reflection each week and month. Students’ worked towards their goals through sports fitness, pets fitness, faculty challenges, cardio gym slang, and more. 

Senior Government-in-Action Projects: As a final exam opportunity in May, students will propose ideas to improve James Madison High School and the Vienna community to local business and community leaders and rising seniors. If funded, students will receive a stipend to implement their idea this summer and continue as a legacy project for rising seniors to carry on into 2021-2022.   

We look forward to sharing more of our learning experiences with you as we close out this school year - we all have certainly learned a lot this year. 

April 2021

Greetings, Madison Community! 

I hope all our families and students had a safe, relaxing, and rejuvenating spring break.

The return of students for in-person learning in March has been incredible.  Student voices, smiles, conversations, and laughter are filling the halls of Madison again. Teachers have continued to engage deeply with students virtually while integrating the in-person and virtual student populations into one Deeper Learning community each class day. And while we know that concurrent learning is not the best learning experience for all, every class and every day, we are doing our best for all students to make the experience as inclusive and meaningful as possible. 

We are looking toward the school year’s end with excitement and hope for our seniors. This class of 2021, like the class of 2020, will remember high school for all of the common reasons, as well as their unique senior year experiences. I can imagine the future conversation a 2021 grad will have with their child, niece, nephew or grandchild who is graduating from high school: “When I was your age kid…” They will have lived an experience of high school that will and should be shared with the next generations. 

We continue with our focus on examples of Deeper Learning across JMHS: Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

Our path towards Deeper Learning has led us to seek out more opportunities for our faculty to collaborate with our students and learn more about their experiences as students in our learning community. During the month of March, five Madison students (three 10th and two 12th grade) joined several faculty members as a part of our team attending the Assessment for Learning Annual Conference

This student-teacher team was a part of an “Idea Collider” design session. This virtual learning and design experience focused on developing prototypes of student-centered, interdisciplinary assessments including Student-Led Conferences, Portfolio Defenses, and Portraits of a Graduate that engage families in the assessment experience, as well as help us move forward on our journey towards Deeper Learning for all. Students self-selected an assessment type to learn more about, engaged our community of parents, teachers, and other students in empathy interviews to learn more about their assessment experiences, and are planning to share their ideas at the final conference event in May. 

Our student team will also present their learning and prototype ideas to our school Leadership Council next month, as well as share more with you in an upcoming memo. We are looking forward to learning from them! 

I would also like to thank you for all for the support you give to our students, staff, and school.

March 2021

Greetings, Madison Community! This month we are thrilled to be welcoming some of our students back to James Madison Drive. The hallways are buzzing again with socially-distanced faculty preparing for the upcoming transition.

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since our world was turned upside down in response to COVID-19. Over the past 12 months we have become more dedicated than ever to create opportunities for Deeper Learning for all students. Distance learning and teaching has only highlighted our commitment to each aspect of our common understanding of Deeper Learning at JMHS: Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

The global pandemic has drawn many of us to focus on what brings us joy both in our personal and professional lives. As we prepare for this second “start” to our school year, we are excited to share some of what has brought our students and teachers joy in both their virtual and in-person learning experiences.

Student Voices:

“For virtual learning I really learned to help myself and work through problems on my own. This is something I probably wouldn’t have done before. I think if school was in person I would have just waited until the teacher explained it to me instead of thinking on my own.”

“In person school is a lot more engaging for me. We get to use our voices instead of typing, we get to interact with our peers, and even do activities. I much prefer it, and I get to make friends and have social interaction.”

“There are good parts about in person and virtual learning. I have learned a lot about myself because of this school year.”

“The teachers have really been doing such a good job and I appreciate how hard they have worked to make the best out of this school year.”

Teacher Voices:

“I’m just excited to get some semblance of normalcy back. I know it’s going to be hard but it’s going to be worth it to their faces (well ⅓ of their faces - masks!).”

“I am so excited to see my students for the first time all year to provide them with a high school experience!”

“It feels so good to be back walking the hallways and smiling at each other!”

We began our school year this past August by asking ourselves to think about our “Why” and overwhelmingly, our faculty responded with one word: students. Whether your student is remaining virtual or returning to campus for in-person learning, we are so grateful that your family is a part of the JMHS community - and the past 12 months have shown us that we are all in this together.

We look forward to sharing more about our concurrent teaching and learning experiences in April! Have a safe and warm spring break!

February 2021

Greetings, Madison Community! 

A Commitment to Continual Growth and Student-Centered Assessment & Grading: As we mark the half-way point in the school year, our teachers are excitedly planning to welcome students back into the school building. In last month’s Mad Memos, we highlighted how Madison’s commitment to revising our grading practices to establish more accurate and equitable policies predated county initiatives and directives. And central to our actions is a focus on putting students first, especially during distance learning. The work we have put into shifting our grading practices also causes us to look closely at our assessment practices and tools - something that states and colleges have also begun to rethink. 

More Learning and Professional Development: This month an interdisciplinary group of teachers will attend the annual Assessment for Learning Conference, which will provide an opportunity to look closely at the kinds of assessments we are creating for students and determine how we might create more meaningful assessments regardless of where school is taking place.

A Snapshot of Student-Centered Assessments in First Semester:

  • Escape Rooms in Science: Forensic Science students were challenged to escape from Elizabeth Bathory, history’s most dangerous female serial killer by “unlocking” five locks to make it to safety. Students’ understanding of forensic science, problem solving, creative thinking, and collaboration were put to the “test” in this assessment experience. Students were especially engaged through the trial and error aspect of the experience - and reflected on how it was nice to know an answer was not working so they could try again. 
  • Pixel Art in Algebra 2: Mathematicians in Algebra 2 practice their skills through the creation of pixel art images. For each correct problem recorded, more of the image appears on the screen. Here is an example of one students’ completed image
  • Student Choice Social Justice Projects in English 12: English 12 students engaged deeply with a Social Justice Project in concert with their text study of Persepolis. Connecting the text to the UN Declarations of Human Rights, students chose a human rights issue to research and bring awareness to, such as: environmental change impacts on third world nations, poverty in America, the stigma of mental health, and human trafficking. Students chose project formats, such as photojournalism, storyboards, commercial PSA’s, podcasts, social commentary comics, and other media products that they designed for a specific audience and a specific awareness message. Students shared their projects with their classmates across English 12, posted their projects on their English 12 portfolios, and reflected on the project. Some student reflections:

“I  really liked how the project was research based and we had such a long period of time to work on and find out more about the subject we were working on.”

“I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to pick our own topics, especially on such a major concept.”

“I think this project was good for helping students understand that there is a big world with bigger problems and we need to learn about them.”

“This was my favorite project I've done all throughout high school.” 

These are just three examples of what purposeful and meaningful assessment looks like at Madison, and we look forward to sharing more from our classrooms - both virtual and in-person over the coming months. 

January 2021

Hello and Happy New Year - 

One of the wonderful aspects of the traditions of new years is to look forward to the promise of the upcoming possibilities in a year that stretches before us. While 2020 thrust us into an unprecedented experience, we will build on the many learnings from 2020 and improve beyond what we can possibly imagine in 2021.

One of the improvements that we have been giving much thought and attention to for the past year(s) is our Equitable Grading Practices at Madison. We have shared the research and process of our grading practice shifts over the years in past Mad Memos. Recently, the School Board shared suggestions and policies for grading practices throughout FCPS. I’d like to share some of the ways that Madison has been out front on those policies and ways that Madison is continuing to revise our practices to meet the School Board policies. 

School Board Recommendation: Establish 50 as the lowest grade on a 100-point scale.

  • JMHS has been working to transition from the 100 point scale to the 4.0 scale over the past four years. Over 90% of our teachers transitioned to the 4.0 scale in 2019, and all of our teachers and teams are using the 4.0 scale this school year. Our goal is to provide equitable and accurate grades to students about their progress, and the 4.0 scale creates the opportunity for both. More about the inaccuracy of the 100 point scale can be read about here.

School Board Recommendation: Allow late work (major assignments) with minimal penalty.

  • The JMHS policy for late work is outlined in each course syllabus: Due to the constraints of Distance Learning there will be flexibility around assignment submissions. ... Teachers and students will work together to determine reasonable protocols. Additionally, all teachers and teams are using the Rolling Gradebook, which provides more flexibility for due dates and late work, more time for students to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge over time, and multiple opportunities for assessment. 

School Board Recommendation: Establish maximum weight of an assignment/assessment at 20%.

  • The JMHS in-common grading categories (Summative, Formative, & Preparation) with common weighting across contents, and the Rolling Gradebook, ensure a balanced gradebook for students. Teachers, teams and administration collaborate at the end of marking periods to ensure that no one assessment counts more than 20%. 

Teachers have also collaborated in teams, departments, and across disciplines to build on the Deeper Learning instructional practices we have engaged with as a staff and develop purposeful, balanced assessments during this time. 

  • In English, teachers focus assessments on the eight essential standards, providing assessments that develop multiple standard strands so that students have fewer assessments while developing more skills. 
  • In World Languages, students give creative oral presentations that demonstrate multiple skills blending art, culture, and language development. 
  • In Geosystems, students create websites to synthesize essential content and skills to share with authentic audiences.
  • In World 2, students engage with performance tasks that blend both content and skills. 

These are just a few examples.  We will continue to share Deeper Learning experiences and assessment examples in the upcoming Mad Memos. 

December 2020

Dear Madison Community,

When we met as a faculty for the first time this past August we reflected on the Why behind our teaching: why do we teach? Overwhelmingly, our answer to that question was our students. Students are the heart of why we do what we do. As we close out the calendar year, we wanted to share how we have been intentionally engaging with students to honor and increase student voice as part of our school ethos.

Last school year we collaborated with students to start a Student Listening Group. Led by two faculty members and two students, the group of students has met monthly throughout this school year to address the following questions: What is it like to be a student at our school? What do we wish the adults in our school knew and understood about what it is like to be a student? How is what is going on in the world affecting our lives? Documentation of the discussions are then shared with faculty, and some feedback has been shared with the FCPS Leadership team as we all work together to best meet the needs of all FCPS students during distance learning.

The JMHS Leadership students have collaborated with faculty in similar efforts this year by establishing two new committees: The Voice Committee and the Equity Committee. These student-led committees are working to create more opportunities for more students to let their voices, ideas, and opinions be heard. Most recently two members of the committees presented to our faculty on student experiences during distance learning as well as more about their plans to raise students’ voices this school year.

We also offered two new classes to students this year that have student voice and community at the heart: Peer Tutoring and Teachers for Tomorrow. These classes have worked together to launch “TFT”: Teachers For Tomorrow & Tutors For Today, a peer tutoring service. TFT is a welcoming space for all Madison students and staff to get support and guidance in any class or topic from trained tutors. The center’s mission statement: “All topics. All welcome. All together.” speaks to the heart of what we as a Madison community strive for, and especially during this unprecedented time as learners. The peer tutoring center is officially opening and matching peer tutors in December. Students can find more information and access to the peer tutoring services on Warhawk Web.

We look forward to the new year ahead of us, and as we reflect on this past year we are incredibly grateful to be a part of the Madison family. Wishing you and your families a peaceful end to 2020, and a hopeful start to the new year!

November 2020

Dear Madison Community,

As we near the end of our second month of the school year, and the traditional end of the quarter, we want to take a moment to reflect on our successes and acknowledge the challenges that we are all experiencing.

In the first two months of school, we have seen students, teachers, school staff and our community continue to rise to the challenge of our situation. Attendance in classes has been high, students have been participating responsibly, and teachers have worked thoughtfully to design rigorous, engaging and deeper learning experiences for all students.

Here are just a few snapshots of learning and fun across the contents: 

  • Interactive Participation: Teachers across the school, especially in Math & World Languages have been using Pear Deck, a digital platform that allows teachers to design interactive and engaging online lessons. Pear Deck representatives have provided several professional learning opportunities for our teachers since August, and now our teachers are sharing their creativity with the program across the school. 
  • Innovative Experiments: Biology students conducted an “at home” lab investigation examining the properties of the water in their own homes. 
  • Personal Passions: In English 10, students researched a topic of personal interest and are sharing their personal responses to their learning in short presentations.
  • Virtual Field Trips: Art students experienced a virtual field trip to the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery with Mrs. Bargo

However, with these wonderful connections and experiences, we know that there are challenges and mental, physical and emotional tolls on our students, staff and larger community. We hear and feel the stress the online learning and the loss of the traditional school experience is having on all of us. As a school community, we need to take time to take care of ourselves, and reach out for support and help. Our counseling staff is here for you and your families. We have a number of resources on our JMHS Website for families (link). FCPS also has a number of resources for families (link). We are encouraging teachers to care for their mental and emotional health as well, and providing resources for teachers so that they can best support the Madison students and community.

During these times, we need to all be kind to ourselves, to each other, and acknowledge the difficulties of the situation. We need to adjust our expectations to meet the reality of what we can safely and realistically accomplish. As  students reflect on their first quarter grades, please remember that there is time to learn, to grow, and additional opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding on the essential content and skills. The rolling gradebook is a county-wide shift that is here to support student growth over time and not penalize students for a challenging first quarter. Students and teachers will continue to work together for growth and learning.

I am here for the community, my administration is here for you, the counseling and teachers are here for the students. Working together, and supporting each other: that’s the Madison spirit.

Thank you for all that you do to support our faculty and your students.

October 2020

Dear Madison Community,

We are thrilled more than ever to be welcoming you back to the 2020-21 school year. Our faculty is excited to be distance learning with students, building relationships, and moving forward during this unprecedented school year.

Dr. James Lane, Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction helped us kick-off the school year by joining us for our first faculty meeting in August. Dr. Lane shared Virginia’s commitment to Equity, Deeper Learning, Innovation, and encouraged us in our efforts towards these same goals. Dr. Lane also reminded us to focus on the aspects of our jobs that bring us joy - which for all of us is our students.

Several times since August, we have asked our faculty to step back and reflect on the aspect of our profession that brings us joy by asking: What is our why? Why do we teach? See a collection of our faculty's responses here.This passion for students can be seen in many comments our faculty shared when asked about their first week of classes: 

“The students are already blowing me away!”

“My students are determined to make the best of this situation.”

“The freshman class this year is precious and resilient.”

“There are a LOT of adorable pets in Vienna, VA!”

“My students’ energy is inspiring.”

We know that social-emotional learning is key to supporting students during this time, and teachers spent the first weeks of school building relationships with and between students. We will continue to focus on social-emotional student needs through our weekly Care and Connect times: Wednesdays and Fridays during 4th period. Students reflect on their growth, ask questions, share ideas and experiences with their peers, and have time to connect with their teachers for more learning and support.

We are also keeping the goal of Deeper Learning for all students central in everything we plan and do, while making the necessary changes to adapt to these changing learning times and expectations. Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy. Throughout the year, we will share stories and examples of Deeper Learning in Action around Madison.

Thank you for all that you do to support our faculty and your students.

Monthly Messages from School Year 2019-2020

June 2020

Dear Madison Parents, 

Our school is dedicated to Creating a Culture of Caring. We know that not every student's or parent's experience is the same at Madison. The Black Lives Matter Movement has called us to confront the inequities that still exist in our schools. As Superintendent Brabrand and the FCPS School Board have highlighted, “...there are still many situations and instances of racism, hate, and oppression across our country, particularly for Black people. This cannot be ignored.” 

We want to hear about your story and experience. We are dedicated to creating opportunities for students and parents to have a voice in the steps we take to improve Madison. All principals in the Madison Pyramid will also be providing opportunities to listen and hear from their students and parents.

Today, I sent an email to our students offering an opportunity for them to participate in Student Listening Groups. The purpose of these groups will be to listen and learn from our students. Our goal is to ensure diverse student perspectives and points of view are represented. Three sessions will be offered for students next week on June 17th.  Other opportunities will be provided for students who can not attend and students who prefer to respond in writing may do so in the Google form they were provided. Questions that students are initially being asked to consider are:

  • What is the student experience at JMHS?
  • How can we foster a culture of anti-racism at JMHS?
  • How can we ensure every student feels valued?
  • How can we provide every student a voice?
  • How can we foster student well-being at JMHS?
  • How can students and adults collaborate to improve our school? 

For parents who are interested in sharing their experiences, we want to provide a variety of options. We know that parents have preferences for how they prefer to communicate and manage their time depending on work schedules, child care, comfort level, etc.  As a starting point, we welcome parents who would like to engage in this discussion to complete this Google form. This Google form will help us identify who wants to share in this important dialogue and the preference for having this discussion.  Once we have collected this information, we can then begin reaching out.

Normally, we would not be asking students or parents to stay connected to us over the summer months; however, we feel this is critical in our efforts to make sure every Madison student feels valued, included, and loved. 

Conversations and dialogue are just the first steps to taking meaningful, thoughtful action. We are committed as a Madison administration and staff to make meaningful changes that are systemic and impactful.  

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

April 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

While so much has changed about our lives over the past month, one thing has remained constant: we are incredibly proud to be a part of the James Madison High School community. Our faculty has embraced the challenges that have come with distance learning, shifting their plans sometimes overnight to meet the needs of students. Our students have shown resilience and commitment to their education, engaging in new modes of learning, and showing up for each other like never before. 

Our common understanding of Deeper Learning has taken on a new meaning for our staff as we embark on our new journey of distance learning: Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy. Our school’s focus on Deeper Learning has never been more relevant, and the questions that have inspired our focus ring true now more than ever: How can we design meaningful learning experiences that engage students beyond grades? Which skills are most important and relevant for our students to learn? What do we want Madison students to be like as adults?

Since Spring Break our students and teachers have enacted each aspect of Deeper Learning across our virtual school community. We are proud to highlight a few examples of Deeper Learning through Distance Learning with you. 

  • Ms. VanPelt, our Family & Consumer Science Teacher, is collaborating with colleagues across the county to film food demonstrations videos for students to view and try out at home. Check out this week’s video featuring Grilled Wings & Jalapeno Poppers
  • Mr. Gongaware & Ms. Sarfati’s AP Environmental Science students celebrated Earth Day through the use of two digital tools: FlipGrid and PadLet. Students created “chalk drawings” representing the effects of air pollution on the environment, and shared images celebrating their favorite outdoor spaces. 
  • Scroll through more examples of how distance learning is happening across Madison here.

We can’t say enough how inspired we are by the persistence of both our faculty and our students since the school closure, and we are thankful for the support you give to our school. We hope you and your families are healthy and safe. The Madison faculty is here for you; we miss you, and we look forward to connecting with all of you throughout the rest of the school year.

March 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

Many of you are familiar with the powerful way that Project Zero, out of Harvard Graduate School of Education has inspired our faculty as we move towards a Culture of Deeper Learning for all. Passionate about arts education, Nelson Goodman founded the Project Zero Research Group in 1967 with the intention of learning more about the role art integration might have in schools. The project was named, ‘zero’ to signify that at that point in time, there was no research related to the field of arts education. Over fifty years later, Project Zero has expanded its focus to explore the challenges facing education today and tomorrow including the projects that have continued to inspire us: Making Thinking Visible, Agency by Design, Cultures of Thinking, and Artful Thinking

As we learn more about Project Zero and Deeper Learning, like Goodman, we often turn to our art department both for inspiration and for their leadership in what Deeper Learning can look like for all of our students. We are excited to put a spotlight on some of the Deeper Learning experiences that our art students are engaged in this year: 

  • Students in Studio Art are working on a Recycling Project where they are creating and innovating to re-purpose old or unused objects such as broken locker doors, records, picture frames, skate boards, and shoes, and give them new life.
  • Small group Studio Art Design students explore emotions and the communication of emotions through mixed media emotive portraits. 
  • Students in Digital Art 3 are making real-world connections through the investigations of contemporary issues such as education accessibility, clean water, and sustainability. Students will research their chosen topic and create public service announcement posters. 
  • Students in Photo 1 are going beyond the surface of a simple writing prompt by ‘answering’ the prompt through handmade books. Students are telling stories through both writing, photography, and beautiful handmade creations. 
  • Students in 3-D Studio Art are kicking off their annual Monster Project, an experience that connects students with an authentic audience of neighboring elementary school students. Our students become pen-pals with second graders who share images and written descriptions of a monster they have created. Our high school students creatively bring these designs to life, and present the second grade designers an actual monster at the Annual Pyramid Art Show later this month. If you want to hear more, the project was featured on the MADucation podcast last year.
  • Check out some of the artists’ final products

These learning experiences connect with our school’s common understanding of Deeper Learning: Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.  

Many of these projects and more will be featured at the upcoming Annual Pyramid Art Show on March 19, from 6-7:30 pm in Warhawk Hall. We hope to see you there!

February 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

It’s February, and we LOVE all the Deeper Learning happening around Madison. This month we will continue to highlight Deeper Learning with a specific focus on FCPSOn: the initiative that provides equitable access to meaningful learning experiences and technology that supports student learning needs both at school and at home.

We have numerous teachers participating in a Portrait of a Graduate Presentations of Learning cohort to facilitate opportunities for students “to apply Portrait of a Graduate skills to real-world problems through teacher use of the Learning Model.” Students across contents are creating Deeper Learning Portfolios, such as this example from a sophomore, to reflect on their growth and leveraging FCPS approved digital tools and resources to do so. FCPS utilizes G Suite for Education. With this array of tools, students gather and organize evidence into folders in their Google Drive, document their learning and progress by uploading artifacts to their own Google Site, and reflect on their growth in POG over time through narrative captions and self-assessments. Students add photos, videos, and other external text structures to their websites. Access to this technology transforms the student experience by redefining what they can do online. There are varying levels of instructional technology integration; read more about the SAMR model here

As we introduce our students to various approved digital tools, it is essential that we continue to reinforce Digital Citizenship, “...the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior (and its positive and negative impact on self and others) with regard to technology use.” This is a shared responsibility among school staff, students, and parents/guardians. At Madison, we have partnered with Common Sense Media Education in an effort to ensure our students have the skills they need to leverage technology in school and beyond. In addition to required FCPS trainings and lessons, Digital Citizenship is at the core of our Culture of Deeper Learning. We have theater students creating videos around relevant digital dilemmas, health and PE students collecting data around social media use and impact for wellness projects, and school-wide wellness days planned to foster more face-to-face interactions. If you would like to dig deeper into these conversations with your family, check out these suggestions and tip sheets.

There are numerous other ways teachers and students use technology for Deeper Learning. Some common tools we integrate and use to learn and create include: Adobe Spark, FlipGrid, Padlet, EdPuzzle, and Newsela. Furthermore, many of our courses utilize interactive online textbooks and adaptive programs like NoRedInk and MathSpace. World language teachers use Padlet to make their students’ thinking visible; science teachers use EdPuzzle to provide a flexible venue for students to review concepts and provide them with formative feedback, and social studies teachers use FlipGrid as a venue for students to reflect on their learning. Students experience high-quality instruction that incorporates digital tools in meaningful, authentic ways; FCPSOn is an important aspect of Deeper Learning at Madison High School.

January 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

Happy New Year! We are excited to start 2020 with the first in a series of MADMemos that will highlight examples of Deeper Learning happening around Madison. In December’s memo we shared a short video, The Future of Work. The video ends with an important question that has motivated us to continue our journey towards a Culture of Deeper Learning: Will our children be ready for their future? 

Three years ago, we started the WINGS program to provide seniors an opportunity to experience what their future might look like after graduation. Twenty students piloted the program that first year. Now in year three, approximately 250 students have shown interest in participating in the WINGS Senior Internship Program. The WINGS program is an opportunity for seniors to spend the last two weeks of the school year in an internship. Students have a chance to expand their interests and gain professional learning experiences before they leave high school. Internships over the past few years have included working at a local animal hospital, planning large-scale festivals in Washington, D.C., working with the National Park Service, assisting archeologists on an active dig site, and shadowing elementary school educators. The Deeper Learning experiences that Madison students experience daily at school are transferred into applied learning and contributions to our community. At the end of the two weeks, students reflect on what they learned and the skills they developed from the experience, then present to their peers and the administration in a WINGS Exhibition of Learning. We will share more information about this year’s exhibition in May - and we hope to see you there! 

Tenth grade students were also recently engaged in a Deeper Learning experience that developed cross-disciplinary skills that will prepare them for their future. During the last few days of school before winter break students gave presentations to parents, Madison administration, FCPS Central Office employees, and Ted Dintersmith. Students presented their research on student-selected topics regarding problems they identified at Madison and current educational experiences, provided research, and generated student-focused ideas to improve learning experiences and student mental health. Students read and discussed some of the Deeper Learning sources posted on our website, and excerpts from Dintersmith’s book What School Could Be. Students engaged in their own research focused on proposing changes to improve learning experiences and mental health for students. Student presentations and the project experience will be highlighted on Ted Dintersmith’s Innovation Playlist

Both of these recent opportunities highlight an important part of our school’s common understanding of Deeper Learning for all: authentic experiences. We all know how powerful learning is often experiential, and as we pursue Deeper Learning, we strive to create more authentic learning opportunities and experiences for our students. We look forward to sharing more examples from across the school in the months to come.

December 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

As the calendar year closes on James Madison High School’s sixtieth year, we have been reflecting on how thankful we are to be a part of the Vienna community. Sixty years ago we opened our doors, and four years ago we embarked on our journey towards Deeper Learning. As we shared in September’s MADMemo, we think of Deeper Learning as learning that goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

 We spent a portion of time at last month’s PTSA meeting sharing our Deeper Learning journey and the reasons why we are driven to pursue such a culture for our students, faculty, and community. Our presentation is linked here and on our website, along with this link with current research that supports Deeper Learning. As many of our seniors are finalizing their post-high school plans, we would like to share a little bit more about Deeper Learning and its implications for our students after they graduate and begin new chapters in their lives. 

The focus on Portrait of a Graduate in FCPS and across Virginia has prioritized student learning around the skills and attributes needed to be successful in our modern, global community. The FCPS School Board’s Student Success Goal states“All FCPS PreK-12 students will continuously progress in their development of Portrait of a Graduate attributes...with student opportunities to apply Portrait of a Graduate skills to real-world problems through teacher use of the Learning Model.” Madison is a leader in this endeavor in FCPS. Students across contents are creating Deeper Learning Portfolios and will reflect on their growth throughout the school year in Portrait of a Graduate Presentations of Learning. 

 Recent changes to the college admissions process reflect a shift in focusing on standardized data to focusing on these same Portrait of a Graduate competencies, the whole child, interdisciplinary learning experiences, and learning portfolios. Just this year a record number of colleges dropped the requirement of the SAT or ACT test, as highlighted in this article. Students applying to college this year using the Coalition Application have the opportunity to share a Portfolio of Interdisciplinary Learning Experiences with their applications. The Common Application is piloting a similar platform with several colleges and universities this year, and several Virginia schools will participate next year. Providing students rich learning opportunities that will be relevant not only in the new college application process, but also in their lives beyond high school is part of what drives our pursuit of Deeper Learning. 

Ted Dintersmith, a 1970 JMHS graduate and venture capitalist interested in educational innovations across the country, and specifically the state of Virginia, shares a brief and thought-provoking video on his innovation playlist titled, The Future of Work. The video ends with an important question that motivates us to continue on our journey towards a Culture of Deeper Learning: Will our children be ready?

November 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

At Madison, we are committed to ensuring that our assessments reflect deeper learning experiences and provide an accurate reflection of a student’s current level of content knowledge and skill ability. Part of our Deeper Learning for All journey at Madison includes consistently examining our assessment practices across our school to meet this mission.

Two years ago we began to take concrete steps to establish a more equitable and fair grading system across all of our departments. Traditionally, teachers have determined their own grading scales, categories, and weights in their gradebooks. This created multiple assessment outcome possibilities and inequity across classes and grade levels. As we reflected on the assessment practices at Madison, and across the county, we concluded that revising our grading practices would provide students with more equitable grades, more accurate feedback, and create more opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding of content standards and essential skills. 

Based on current research of best practices for Deeper Learning in assessment, we identified four grading practices that provide students a more equitable assessment experience:

  • Uniform grading categories: This year all teachers shifted their gradebooks to use the same three categories in their gradebooks: preparation, formative, and summative.
  • 4.0 Scale: In 2019-2020, we began to shift to a 4.0 scale. This year, most classes are using the scale and by school year 2020, all teachers will have transitioned to a 4.0 scale. The 4.0 scale standardizes that an A, regardless of class or teacher, is a 4.0, and an A-, regardless of class or teacher, is a 3.7. 
  • Standards-based grading and mastery learning: Many teachers and teams are implementing standards-based grading systems to accompany the 4.0 scale. Standards-based grading provides a clear delineation of what mastery “looks like” for each standard and skill, and the feedback via assessments focused on the standards and skills provides students concrete feedback on their level of mastery. Students and teachers use this data to track progress in order to reach “mastery” over time and deepen learning. These practices are similar to the standards-based grading and reporting from elementary school and common in FCPS.
    • Some teachers have adopted the “rolling gradebook” as part of the mastery-based learning experience. The rolling gradebook allows for students to spend more time learning content and practicing skills deeply over time and embraces reassessment on standards and skills throughout the year.

We know that these assessment changes have led to many conversations in classrooms, between students, teachers, counselors and parents, and at home. Our administration, leadership team and faculty will be focusing on grading and reviewing practices throughout the year to ensure accuracy, equity and Deeper Learning for All.

We invite all parents to learn more about Deeper Learning and equitable assessment practices through the following venues in the near future. More opportunities will be offered in the future.

  • At the November 11th PTSA meeting we will spend part of that time sharing: What is Deeper Learning at Madison and how do equitable assessment practices align? 
  • Interested in learning more about the “Why”? Read about shifts in assessment, grading and instruction across the country: “The Case for Competency-Based Education”
  • Read more about the research and Madison’s practices on the JMHS website, under the JMHS Parent’s Guide to Grading & Reporting. We have added additional information and responses to Frequently Asked Questions about the assessment practices described above.

Thank you for your support of our students and staff at Madison.

October 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

Last year several members of the Madison faculty participated in the Stanford Design School’s Shadow a Student Challenge, an experience designed to give educators “a crash course in empathy” as they spend a day walking in the student’s shoes. The faculty who participated were so energized by the experience we have created the opportunity for every member of the Madison faculty to shadow a student during the course of this school year. Ted Dintersmith, a venture capitalist focused on supporting educational improvements and innovations, and more importantly, a Madison graduate, class of 1970, highlights the experience on his Innovation Playlist

Understanding more about the experience of school from the perspective of our students is central to our goal of Deeper Learning for all. As teachers embark on this challenge, they will set a goal for the day, seek out a student to shadow, reflect on the experience, and commit to a change in practice based on their new perspective. Students will be learning more about this experience through a special segment on the Madison News Network, and many students will hear about it from faculty who are interested in shadowing them for the day. Faculty will be reaching out to the parents of students they are interested in shadowing for permission. 

Shadowing students is just one of the opportunities we have designed for faculty to collaborate with students this year. We hope that this experience will set the groundwork for more collaboration between faculty, students, and parents as we continue to pursue a culture of Deeper Learning for all at Madison High School.

Throughout the school year, we will be sharing snapshots of Deeper Learning at Madison during PTSA meetings, and look forward to continuing the conversation about Deeper Learning opportunities for students through these meetings and other forums. 

One recent example of Deeper Learning at Madison: Ninth grade students in biology had the opportunity to learn from certified county and federal forensic scientists. Ms. Kimbrell shared, “The forensic scientists that came to Madison are from the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID).  Many of the scientists that visited are going to deploy in the next few months to take on various investigation cases around the world. We are thankful for their service to the community and beyond!” Students were provided examples of forensic processes that apply to their learning about light processes, biology, and the importance of close observation and evidence. The fusion of science, math and technology showcased the interdisciplinary nature of learning and application of learning in career and civic life. Students and teachers reflected on the experience: 

“Last week, we had 6 forensic scientists come to Madison and teach us about different ways to solve a crime.  Different ways included taking fingerprints from a crime scene as well as using different UV light sources to uncover different types of writing like ransom and suicide note... In addition to teaching us about ways to solve a crime, they gave us background information we needed for our Investigation unit in biology.  We are solving our own investigations and learning about DNA, bone structures, and how everybody has a different make-up of their body and everything within it.” - Nooshon Farhadi (9th grade student)

In future months, we will continue to showcase examples across the grade levels and disciplines. You can also find out more about Deeper Learning at Madison at this link.

September 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

Welcome back to another wonderful year at Madison High School! It’s been a great start to the 2019-2020 school year already.

This summer, over twenty of our faculty and staff attended some of the preeminent professional learning conferences last spring thanks to the generosity of the JMHS PTSA. Most recently, twelve faculty members attended the annual Washington International School Summer Institute for Teachers, also known as WISSIT. During this week-long conference, our teachers immersed themselves in research based practices of Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education’s research group and learned from the researchers themselves, including Ron Ritchhart. Ritchhart’s work has been the foundation of our focus on Creating Cultures of Thinking in our school over the past several years. 

The teachers who attended WISSIT this year have already shared their learning with colleagues and students over these first few weeks of school. Tonia Anderson, a Latin teacher reflects on her learning at WISSIT:  

“Our collaborative and interactive learning experience at WISSIT provided a great model for what our classrooms can be – with students directing and taking ownership over their own learning, incorporating thinking and learning routines to help them understand how they each learn, and using art to make connections with culture. I want to select some thinking routines and art pieces that will work best with each level of Latin and incorporate them in a systematic way throughout the year.” 

The experiential learning that WISSIT provides for our teachers mirrors the kinds of Deeper Learning experiences we are working hard as a faculty to provide for our students. During our first staff meeting this August, we shared our common understanding of Deeper Learning at JMHS with the faculty: 

Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

Our professional learning plan for faculty this year is an attempt to fulfill this aspirational understanding of Deeper Learning by providing teachers opportunities to pursue their own paths of inquiry that unlock their individual passions and honor their own identity as learners. 

We are excited to continue on our journey of Deeper Learning at Madison, and we are grateful that you are all learning with us.