Thursday, August 6, 2020

Thank you, Mrs. Rodriguez

Thirty years ago a young mother registered her eldest son in kindergarten at Novi Woods.  In the next several years she registered her two younger children at Novi Woods as well as she and her husband raised their family in the Novi Community School District.  In those thirty years, that same mother became what we called a "lunch lady" and now call a noon aide at Woods.  She was hired as a paraprofessional helping to support students with special needs, and for the last ten years she has been the secretary at Novi Woods.  Actually, her official title is Administrative Assistant to the Principal, but even that fancy title does not give her role justice.  Now, I am sorry to share that Mrs.Sandy Rodriguez will be retiring as of September 1.

To be very clear, Mrs. Rodriguez does not want to retire.  She loves her job.  She loves this community.  She loves this school and district.  She loves her colleagues.  Most of all, she loves her students.  But as a two-time cancer survivor the global pandemic has brought a new cloud to many educators' decisions about retiring.  Her decision to retire was emotional and painful.

Mrs. Rodriguez is perhaps the most resilient person I know.  She went to chemotherapy every three weeks for years and did not miss a day of work.  In fact, she would casually tell me, "Don't forget I'm going for my chemo drip tomorrow morning at 8, but I'll be in by 10.  Call or text me if you have any emergencies.  I can help from a distance."  My reply would fall on deaf ears.

    "Sandy, it's OK to not come in tomorrow.  Go home if you're not feeling well."

    "Well, David.  I figure I can feel crummy at home or at school.  At least if I'm here I can do my job and help others."

That's just who she is.

I think what Sandy was really trying to tell me is that she never wanted cancer to define who she is.  Rather, she's used her love, positive attitude, compassion, efficiency, faith, and willingness to listen to inspire and support others.

How does a school secretary inspire and support others?  That list is too long for this blog, but Sandy has an amazing ability to:
  • know when a student needs a hug or redirection.
  • listen to teachers when they just need someone to listen to them.
  • sort out the "magical guest teacher puzzle" whenever we have a staff member who is sick or out for professional development.
  • happily help parents and families find opportunities whenever problems arise.
  • welcome all visitors with grace and class.
  • filter, prioritize, and act on emergencies, accidents, and the unique issues that arise whenever more than 500 people work and learn in a school each day.
  • understand when a principal needs a joke, a "to do" list, or a closed door conversation.
  • celebrate even the smallest victory for any student.
My favorite time of the day with Mrs. Rodriguez is usually about 45 minutes after dismissal.  (Her contract says she can leave 30 minutes after dismissal, but she never does.)  The office is quiet, and she and I usually take a deep breath together as we reflect on the day.  She never leaves unless her desk area is clean and organized, and no matter how crazy the day has been---and there are occasionally some crazy days---she finds a bright spot or a bit of hope to celebrate---each and every day.  And she says something like, "Tomorrow is going to be even better."

Tomorrow will be better--even without her, and Mrs. Rodriguez would have it no other way.  She's already committed to helping transition our soon-to-be-announced new secretary.  Tomorrow will also be different.  While there will be some bumps along the way, Novi Woods has an obligation to make each new and different day a little better.  That's my commitment to honor our students---and Mrs. Rodriguez.

My wish for Mrs. Rodriguez is that she eventually finds peace in her decision to retire and for her to completely enjoy her many grandchildren and remarkable family.  Twenty five years ago her eldest son was in my very first 5th grade class in Novi, and now he is a parent!  Mrs. Rodriguez and I have known and worked together for a long, long time.  She is a special colleague, an inspirational person, and an even better friend.

Thank you, Mrs. Rodriguez.  I love you.

P.S--You can email Mrs. Rodriguez your well wishes at  I know she would love to hear from you.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Collection of Videos for a Unique Time

Late on Thursday, March 12, 2020 our state's governor ordered all schools to close their buildings beginning Monday, March 16, in response to the Covi-19 pandemic.  At that time we believed our schools would be closed for three weeks.  Unfortunately, our buildings remained closed until the end of the academic year.  Schools and educators and communities rallied to help continue learning to support our students.  Special projects were created.  Teachers hosted weekly Zoom activities.  We held virtual fieldtrips and socially-distant clapout parades for our graduating 4th graders and seniors.  The list remarkable.

In an attempt to encourage reading and to maintain our school's learning community, I took to creating videos for my students.  The plans were grandiose at first and then we struck a rhythm that I hoped would provide comfort and solace in even a tiny way.

I am grateful for the feedback and encouragement, and I wanted to collect all of the videos in one place for any students to watch again or to inspire future educators.

Stay safe!

David Ascher

"The Novi Woods Neighborhood"

Our bus drivers participated in Episode 10, and they want to help us. Students, you can email your bus drivers. They will respond to you.

You can email ( or write Mr. Ascher at:

David Ascher
111 S. Lafayette Street, Box 145
South Lyon, MI 48178

I will write you back as quickly as possible. Please help me by making sure your first and last names and address are clearly written in the note. Thank you.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Figuring "This" Out Together

Everyone is figuring "this" out. How do students and teachers learn and teach from a distance while managing our personal struggles and unique situations.  Parents are figuring out how to parent under some of the most stressful situations ever while balancing their own professional commitments.  I wish I had "the" answers.  I do know that each family and teacher is absolutely trying their best to make "this" work.  Have we seen some successes?  For sure.  Are some days more of a struggle than others?  Absolutely.

I have been privileged to participate in many online class Zoom meetings with teachers and students where our staff is listening and supporting kids.  I've also spoken with many parents from my building who are working through this new reality.  Some days are clearly better than others for all of us, but for our students I believe the tone we set in this new environment is just as important as what is being taught and learned.

Our local newspaper interviewed several professionals from our district and they offered tips for parents.  You can read that article here.

In addition, a teacher shared the email below with her parents following an online Zoom session with her students.  (She gave me permission to share here.)  While the details might not be grade-specific for your family, it sets the tone we most need to hear.

We are definitely traveling new roads together during this crisis, and I am grateful for good days--and even the tough days--as long as we agree to work through them together.  Our kids deserve and need that.

Thank you!

We had a super big talk this morning about the lessons coming home. I wanted to recap what we had talked about this morning. We had several big points:

  • Doing school this way is hard. We do not normally learn this way. At school, we do examples, work in groups, brainstorm with partners, pause and ask questions and more. We do not learn alone. Now we are asking our kids to learn independently and it is not easy. 
  • It's okay to try it and move on.  I gave them permission to try each lesson, but if it isn't working, they can skip it and do an iReady lesson instead. We had a really tough reading lesson on Tuesday this week. We talked about if we had done the lesson together, we could have talked it out and brainstormed ideas. Doing it by ourselves was super hard and caused major frustration. They have my permission if a lesson is too hard and they have tried it, they can replace it with an iReady lesson. 
  • Prioritizing is key. I told the kids today, it is okay to pick and choose. I told them math is priority number one and they agreed. We talked about if you have time to watch the science movie and do the activity, but not time to read the pages, that's okay. If you have to skip social studies, but do writing, that's okay. We do not want any kid to be at a breaking point with schoolwork. We talked about how parents and kids can choose what fits best for that day or that week. Sometimes less is more. 
  • Together is better. It is okay for them to Zoom or call a friend and do their homework together. As I said before, in school, we learn from each other. Doing work together actually helps the kids because they are verbalizing their learning. If they want to get a "study buddy" and work in groups of 2, 3 or 4, we are totally fine with that and in fact, encourage it! 
  • Keep in contact! It's okay to email me and say your child is having a tough week. It's okay to let me know that you'll be taking the week off. We don't want anyone stressing out over some school assignments. The main thing is that your child's heart is happy and they are thinking and keeping their brain active. That's it!
We are all new at this. We are growing and learning together. It's okay to adjust as needed and do what's best for your child. You 100% have my permission!

Lastly, one of the biggest bumps for many students relates to challenges with technology. We are happy to share that the Oakland Schools Helpdesk has some support to offer.  Please read the OS excerpt below:

Technology Services are available to parents/guardians whose district provided technology is not functioning properly or their student can’t remember their password.  Parents/guardians can also contact the Oakland Schools Service Desk.  Please let the parents/guardians know that the Service Desk will not be taking calls directly from students however, but only from parents and guardians.  Parents or guardians can grant approval for the service desk staff to speak directly to their student as long as the parent remains present during the entirety of the conversation.

 If you have any questions or require assistance, please contact the Oakland Schools Service Desk by creating a service ticket or by calling 248.209.2060.   

Oakland Schools Service Desk
Phone: (248)209-2060

Monday, March 16, 2020

Dear Novi Woods Students

Dear Students of Novi Woods Elementary School,

For most of you I've been your principal since you started school.  The staff and I have welcomed you since you were an incoming kindergarten student.  In some cases, I've known you since even before you were born because your older siblings have attended Woods!  Clearly we are a community in our school.  While we are "Growing Great Leaders" each day we are do so much more.  We help each other.  We listen.  We sing.  We dance.  We laugh.  We cry.  We inspire.  We hurt, and we create!  We struggle and achieve.  We make mistakes.  We forgive.  We love.

By now you know our world has been turned upside down given the Covid19 pandemic.  I know I find myself in absolute awe of what has changed in just one week.  Sports, restaurants, worship services, libraries---and schools have been forced to close.  This is not normal.  It is unique, and I pray that it is not what to expect as you grow.

We will not be together each day.  As of this writing, our school will be closed for a month.  I'm not sure what to feel.  I worry, but part of me is excited to sleep-in just a bit.  I have not been doing a great job at putting away my cell phone or turning off the television, but I also feel I need to stay informed so I can better understand the situation.  I'm glad our college-aged daughters are home, but I also don't know what they will do if their schools stay closed.  I know your parents and families may be feeling the same way on similar topics.  Please be patient with the adults.  We just don't have all of the answers right now, and that feels weird.

However, I have decided to set some goals while we are out of school.  I intend to read more.  I want to exercise each day.  I will play my guitar more.  I want to call my parents and other senior citizens  more.  I want to spend more time with my wife and daughters, and I want to help you.

Starting very soon look for a video from me to share what I am doing and how we might be able to help each other and our community.  I will share the video with your parents, and they will share with you.  In the meantime, think about what you can do at home to be great leaders!  How are you helping?  How  are you being patient?  How are you learning to turn off the television, phones, and computers?  What are you reading?  How are you staying safe?  How are you supporting other people.  I know you've been thinking about these questions--just like me--just like your teachers and  parents.

Look for the video soon.


Mr. Ascher

PS--It takes teamwork to make the dream work!  We can do this!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


"We're short."

Our school secretary and I know exactly what that statement means when we text each other at about 6 AM.  Each morning I receive an emailed report showing the substitute teacher needs for the day.  As much as we try to be proactive with our guest teacher needs, it is almost impossible to plan for flu season.  Unfortunately, our staff was hit pretty hard this year with the flu.  In fact, we even had some  long-time guest teachers who could not sub because they were ill.  We had staff out for 3, 4, and even 5 days at a time.  Although I had to convince some colleagues to not come to school, I am grateful that our staff knows it is ok to be out.  Coming to school with the flu is not good for anyone, and it's surely not good for our students.   

So, we were short guest teachers several days.

Our staff and students support each other whenever a need arises.  We are flexible, and learning continues.  We have teachers who volunteer to cover during their planning periods.  We have guest teachers who can occasionally come in if it's an emergency.  People do whatever it takes.  Sometimes, however, I get the opportunity to be a guest teacher.  Over the last week, I was a guest teacher for several classrooms, and I learned so much.  Actually, I re-learned so much.  As you can imagine I was a teacher prior to being a school administrator, but it's amazing what I have forgotten.  So, here's my quick list of rememories!
  • Our students and teachers have special relationships, and they care for each other deeply.  I had students wanting to make cards for their teachers, and I read guest teacher plans that provided deep insights in how to best support and help specific students.
  • Lots of kids use the restrooms--a lot.  I had forgotten what it takes to manage students  entering and leaving the classrooms.  Some of this, I know, was just trying to get out of work.  Much of  it, however, really was due to needing to use the restroom.
  • Technology is great when it works!  One lesson I taught involved showing a brief movie clip about electromagnets.  Of course, I couldn't figure out how to get the sound to work.  While, our technology department is great, I learned later that this was more "user" error (that's me) than the technology not working.
  • Routines matter, and our kids like to know what is happening next.  Student after student in multiple grades reminded me when I was subbing that, "Mrs. ---------- doesn't do it that way."  The intentional routines our teachers teach and our classrooms learn help us to be more effective and efficient with our teaching and  learning.
  • Everyone needs a break.  I found myself looking forward to lunch time when I could breathe, grab a quick bite, and plan ahead for the rest of the day.  Based on my observations, I believe the students felt the same way.
  • Students help each other.  I know this as a principal, but it's even more special when you facilitate it throughout the day.  Students learn together.  They help hold each other accountable.  They laugh together, and sometimes they even "plot" against the principal to see if he really will be consistent.  (I was mostly consistent.)
  • I didn't need to know everything.  No matter how clear I thought I was being, it wasn't quite clear enough for everyone.  I tried really hard to help with some fraction concepts.  A couple of times I had to put my hands up and say, "Mrs. -------------- will help you when she returns."  Then, another student came up and was able to explain the concept much better than I had for the last 5 minutes.  
  • Hearing a story read out loud is still a favorite time of the day.  Classes loved it when I read a story to them.  I'm so glad teachers read books and stories to our students.
  • Joy is contagious.  As challenging as it is to be a guest teacher, I have example after example of how joyous teaching and learning can be.  
It was reaffirming to live these experiences in our classrooms with our students.  It's difficult to be a guest teacher and a principal at the same time, but it also gave me many opportunities to re-learn and reflect on what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.  I work in a remarkable school with remarkable students and staff, and I am grateful.

PS--Wash your hands and stay healthy.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

What brings you joy?

Our school just completed a survey.  The survey was unique but also very informative.

A little over two weeks ago a group of teachers created a hands-on, interactive, board in our front lobby.  The board has a bear and a penguin surrounding a question.  The words ask, "What brings you joy?"  The letters in JOY were large, and a small bucket with markers was left in front of the board.

Over the course of the holiday season, kids and staff have written their responses to that simple question, "What brings you joy?"

I didn't quite know what to expect.  What would be the overwhelming response from 400 youth and  their teachers?

I figured we would have some toys listed or maybe some food.  We do.  I thought we would have family and friends listed.  We do.  More than anything I thought it would be possible we would have expensive items listed.  We don't.  Each time I walk past the responses, I see something new, but I have yet to see anything that costs an exorbitant amount of money.  In fact, most of the responses are are about experiences and relationships with other people.

With great help from our secretary, this is a list of some of the unique items written on our board.

family, travel, pets, people, pigs & blowfish, winter break, fishing, old family photos, mom & dad, video games, toys, cats, dogs, cats, dogs & foxes, unicorns, football, moon, friends, God, taekwondo, penguins, playworks, books, my teacher, beyblades, ice, reading, play dates, animals, soccer, volleyball, my baby, my class, coffee, sports, smiles, helping others, basketball, cousins, being a good leader, summer, coding, snow days, my faith, ice cream, hockey, turtles, hot chocolate, food, chocolate, plane spotting, Minecraft, ice skating, life, Wizarding World, math, Novi Woods, Nintendo, India, playing, my son, recess, San Diego, sharing, sunny days, my kids, free time, gym, laughter

"Family" was, of course, the overwhelming response from students, staff, and any visitors to our survey.

For several years now leaders in our district have been engaged in work collecting and listening to student voices.  We've partnered with our intermediate school district and representatives from The University of Michigan to collect data from alumni and students at all levels, K-12.  Over 9000 student responses were analyzed by many of those same high school students.  Recently all district administrators were privileged to participate in a discussion with those students about what they discovered in the data.  

While I can't do the entire project full justice here, the themes I heard over and over again were that students wanted positive relationships and engaging environments at school.  The students told us that they wanted their voices to matter, and that their perspectives could make a great difference in the learning and social-emotional climate of the entire district.

As we close one calendar year and begin another, I am encouraged by listening to each other.  I am encouraged that we have created a learning community where all voices can make a difference, and I am grateful that we take time to get to know and respect each other.  I am also reminded that we need to intentionally teach our young people to do this more, and the best way to do that is to model it in our schools and our families.

Here's to a great, new year!

Now, where did I put that unicorn?

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Loving relationships make a difference

He ran to her and hugged her.  It was really more of a long, lasting embrace, and then he whispered to her, "How are you feeling?"

While still embracing she told him, "I'm doing better.  I love you."

"I love you, too!" he proclaimed.

There wasn't a dry eye in the room as the hug continued.

This may seem like a scene from a movie, but it's just one example of how our students are remarkably supported in our school.  Let me explain.

Our district is fortunate to partner with our local youth assistance.  Youth Assistance is a proactive, service organization working to support young people in our community.  They meet this mission in many ways, but I am most familiar with their Silver Lining Mentor program.  

Youth Assistance recruits and trains seniors citizens to work with young people, and then they collaborate with our school to find students who may need a little extra love and attention.  Staff identifies students who could benefit from this type of care, and then gets parent permission for the student to participate.  The mentors come once a week for about 30-45 minutes and spend time with students playing games, listening, talking, and encouraging.  What I believe is most-special about the program is the mentors stay with the student from grade to grade.  Some of our students have had the same mentor for 3-4 years!

One could argue that all students need a Silver Lining Mentor at school.  While I suppose that's a hope, it's probably also not practical, and many students already have that sort of support from their own grandparents or other extended family members.  We have about 5 students with Silver Lining Mentors currently, but that number fluctuates from year to year.  The program, as you can imagine, creates powerful relationships that make a difference for the participating students and their mentors.

The entire illustration above is even more special.  In order to tell that story and protect names, I will call the student David (my name) and the mentor Frances (my grandmother's name).

As I was walking down the hall, I noticed David, and he told me, "Mr. Ascher, will you please tell Ms. Frances that Friday is my birthday?"

Frances has mentored David for three years, and their bond is very special.  He looks forward to her visit each week, and I know she looks forward to visiting.  Unfortunately, Frances had to have serious surgery on her back, and she has been unable to see David for a couple of weeks.  It has taken something major like back surgery to keep Frances away from mentoring David.

I told David that I would definitely contact Frances for him, and that he may want to make a card for her because of her surgery..  I could mail the card him.  David told me he had already started a card.

David's teacher and our school secretary reached out to Frances, and she told us she was going to try her best to surprise David and visit him on his birthday.  

Three days later and on David's birthday, Frances arrived just as she said.  It was only her second day out of the house since the surgery, and it was clear she was still in a lot of pain.  Our secretary went to get David, and the rest of us in the office waited in anticipation.  I mentioned to another student and his mother that they may want to wait for just a moment to leave early in order to see what was going to happen.  Frances hid over to the side.

David came to the office with his teacher and our secretary, and then...

He ran to Frances and hugged her.  (The other adults were all chiming at once to be careful because of Frances's surgery.)  It was really more of a long, lasting embrace, and then David whispered to Frances, "How are you feeling?"

While still embracing she told him, "I'm doing better.  I love you."

"I love you, too!" he proclaimed.

There wasn't a dry eye in the room as the hug continued.

I am grateful for each of our Silver Lining Mentors and the many people who volunteer their time to help students in our school--formal and informal.  The work they do is not always so dramatic as what we observed with David and Frances, and perhaps we can't always measure their impact-at least in student achievement or other statistical measures.  I am convinced, however, that building more strong relationships, encouraging, listening, and...loving our students is just as important.