Sunday Musings

It’s a beautiful fall day today…crisp, cool, yet warmed by the sun. I spent most of a quiet morning looking over teachers’ self assessment around differentiation. I tried to give each teacher constructive and encouraging feedback on their responses and I also gained a lot of knowledge about where we are as a school, what we’re feeling confident about, and where we can go next to build our collective capacity to differentiate in our classrooms.

Differentiation is hard. If it wasn’t, we’d be doing it already! The concept of differentiation has been around for years AND it’s challenging to wrap your head (and your practice) around it. We’ve been working with Dr. Doubet, author of the book we are reading together, Differentiation in Middle and High School, and using our professional development grade level meetings to build our understanding and keep our eye on our North Star: Deeper Learning for Equity through Differentiation and Developmental Designs. Developmental Designs is our social/emotional learning framework that we’ve been promoting for going on three years, and differentiation is the curriculum, assessment, and instructional complement to it.


Principal’s Address for Open House

Good afternoon, Henley Families, and welcome to Open House.

I can’t tell you enough how excited we are to be here today. The teachers have been busily getting their rooms ready. Our custodial staff, I can’t say enough about our custodial staff. We had an all county professional development event here on Friday, so they had a very quick turn around to be ready. And, of course, they nailed it!
So, first and foremost, I want to thank you for sharing your child or children with us. I have two boys of my own, one of whom goes here and it’s a big deal! We take responsibility for the safety and wellness of your child and we appreciate the trust you give us every day. We’re looking forward to 180 days of engaging learning.
My name is Beth Costa, I am starting year five as the principal here. For the first time in five years I have the same administrative staff returning. Michael Combs, 6th grade administrator and Becky Fisher, 8th grade administrator.

I wanted to start off Open House by sharing some of the work that we are doing this year around Equity and Learning. I’ll get more into this at our State of the School address in September, but I thought it would be important for you to know about our goals for the upcoming school year. Last week we opened our school year with our teachers. We did a lot of summer learning that connects to our Henley Guiding Principles and our division’s strategic priorities and so the first thing we did when we got back last Monday was took some time to debrief our summer learning so that teachers could hear from their colleagues and connect it to their own learning. Teachers engaged in Community Conversations, they went to Developmental Designs workshops, conferences on differentiation and grading practices. I know summer is their time to recharge their batteries, but let me tell you, our teachers were busy.
So, then on Tuesday we listened to Dr. Haas’ Back to School Address at Monticello HS. He, too, talked about equity and starting the year off well. It was great to have him set the tone for a strong year.

On Wednesday we worked with Dr. Kristina Doubet on Differentiation. We are all reading and using Dr. Doubet’s book to strengthen our ability to differentiate curriculum, assessment, and instruction to better meet the needs of all learners. Our goal is to “teach high” with high expectations for students and then to get really good at scaffolding for learners who may need more support to meet the same expectations as their peers. It’s pretty exciting work.
And then finally on Thursday, we looked at some concepts that we have been honing in on, like collective efficacy, equity, social/emotional learning, differentiation and we aligned those concepts with our North Star with is Deeper Learning for Equity through differentiation and developmental designs.
If you are new to Henley, Developmental Designs is our social/emotional learning framework.

The Developmental Designs approach is founded upon seven evidence-based principles that form the core of successful teaching and learning in the middle grades.  Knowing the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual needs of the students we teach is as important as knowing the content we teach.  We learn best by actively constructing our own understanding and meaning.  The greatest cognitive growth occurs when learning is leveraged by social interaction.  Goals are best achieved through the incremental mastery of tasks.  Social learning in a supportive community is as important to success as academic learning.  There is a set of personal/social skills that students need to learn and practice in order to be successful socially and academically: Cooperation  Assertion  Responsibility Empathy  Self-control  Trust among adults is a fundamental necessity for academic and social success in a learning community.

This will be the third year of sort of operating within the Developmental Designs framework. We use the framework to set our climate goals of knowing all students, helping them to feel safe, and then to use what we know to plan and deliver engaging learning experiences. With our population continuing to increase, we want to make sure that we still operate as a close community. We use a team approach to support students. Teachers and students are teamed either on the Henley team or the Hornets team. With very few exceptions, kids on the same team will have one of two language arts teachers, one of two math teachers, and then the same SS and Science teacher. To keep class sizes as low as possible, we did have to hire more teachers this year, but we are trying to maintain the middle school teaming structure.

We’ve been using Developmental Designs also to guide our Responses to Student Behavior. A major premise of Developmental Designs is Assume Nothing Teach Everything. We know kids come to us with varying skills, whether those skills are reading, writing, problem solving, or working well with others, collaborating, sharing, or any other pro-social skill. We use the Developmental Designs structure to help kids develop those skills and positively contribute to our school community.
As we get into the year, I’ll go deeper with families around the way we handle discipline and things like bullying and meanness, but I do want to pause and introduce you to our counseling staff and Dean of Students. Matt Hopewell is a new addition to our team after a very successful year last year as a part time Dean of Students. Matt’s role is unique in that he only works with kids. He provides classroom support, he meets with kids who are having conflicts. He is in that perfect position between counselor and administrator.

As with any middle school, we do see meanness and bullying. If you are a rising 6th grade family, I am sure that middle school behavior is very big on your mind right now. I want to let you know that we have a lot of things in place here to support our students. Their social, emotional well being and safety is our top priority. Almost 100% of our staff is trained in the Developmental Designs framework. We use Empowering Language in the classrooms and common areas to help kids make the right choices. We have a system where kids can take a break if they are having trouble with focus in class or if they just need a break. We do use a whole host of interventions, many of which are case specific to address the behavior and change it. Our goal with student behavior is change. Some times it takes longer for change to occur and we are committed to using Developmental Designs as opposed to a more punitive system of consequences. I assure you we apply consequences, we just don’t start with them.
So, a school day for your child. We have four instructional blocks a day-Our day actually starts at 8:00 with morning drop off. We provide a very helpful service to families who need to drop off their child early. From 8:00-8:35 we gather higher numbers of kids and at 8:35 Ms. M will take the first wave of students out to morning recess. Kids play games, talk, socialize before the bell rings to start the day. Students on buses can also get off for morning recess.

We start off the day in Advisory, which is much like a morning meeting. Announcements also happen during Advisory. We have a student broadcast team led by Mr. Myers. We take attendance for the day during Advisory. Jen Wilkes takes all of the attendance for the building. It would really help her out if you would call the attendance line (main office number and then you get the prompt to pick attendance). You can imagine how hard it is for her to have to all of the phone calls for absent kids, so you calling will be much appreciated.

Then students have their first academic block. Our classes are about 73-75 minutes long. They have lunch block during the second block of the day. We allow kids to go out for lunch recess for about 13 minutes…it’s a nice outdoor break. We then have our third instructional block of the day before going out to our all school recess. After recess we have our last block of the day. We pack up and head to our STING class, which is now moved to the end of the day. STING is a block of time, 24 minutes where students can get extra help, study, read, make up work, etc. We anticipate that some students will check out early, which is actually fine with us as long as the teacher doesn’t need to work with the student. This is a bit of an experiment for us, so we are hopeful that it actually turns out to benefit both students and our school community.
We have kids pack up before STING so that we don’t have students at their lockers at the same time as the wave of students going down the hall trying to exit the building. We did this during the last nine weeks of the school year last year and it really helped. Our teachers walk with students at the end of the day…they’re not in line, but they are just walking with them as they leave for the day.

What you can expect from us…we know you value communication. So do we. You can expect that you will hear from your child’s teachers if there is an issue. We have a new learning management system this year to replace Blackboard. Teachers will post their syllabus and pacing guide, plus use the calendar feature to update assignments. Schoology really does make it easier on the student, the teacher, and the family. It’s very user friendly. Students will get their laptops on Monday, so we’ll be teaching them how to navigate the new system. We only have two schedules this year instead of four. We have one Blue day and One Orange day, so we hope that it’s clearer for students and families.

What other topics can I discuss before we let you get going? As I said, we’re going to do this again in early September. My goal was to just talk a little about our goals for the year, share some logistics and then let you get started at the Open House. It’s a very free flowing format. I can stay and answer questions for a few minutes, but other than that, I thank you for coming and hope you have a great afternoon.

Summer Updates

Summer is officially underway and our halls continue to buzz with students. For a couple of weeks Henley was far too quiet; it’s really great to have kiddos back with us for our Henley Horizons and Algebra 1 Boot Camp programs. We’re already hearing positive feedback from families as our teachers design STEAM activities and a diverse range of learning experiences for our students. It’s not your typical summer school program. I want to acknowledge the hard work of our team: Becky Fisher, Kimberly McLaughlin (Ms. M), Chris Bullard, Eric Drongowski, and Shane Farrell. Their work matters!

I’d also like to acknowedge the hard work of our master scheduler Brian Eberly. We can’t describe the countless hours he spends building a very complex schedule and then ensuring that students have the right classes. It’s a huge undertaking, filled with many stops and starts. Brian’s positive, “can do” attitude is critical for this important job. When our students get their schedules on August 14, it’s because of everything he did starting this past January until now. Thank you, Brian.

I am working on a brief survey to send to you so that I can get some feedback about how we are doing. Your responses will help inform our decision making for the coming school year. I promise to use the information I receive, so please participate. I also welcome you sending me an email or setting up a brief meet so that we can talk face to face. I have some time this month and next before school starts.

Last thing…SAVE THE DATE! Our Open House will be held on Monday, 19 August from 2:00-5:00. We are holding two different sessions so that teachers and students have more time to say hi and figure out their classrooms and schedules with fewer people in the halls and classrooms. The schedule is as follows:

1:30 Principal’s Address (Open House will have not yet started)
2:00-3:30 Open House for families with last name A-M
3:00 Principal’s Address
3:30-5:00 Open House for families with last name N-Z

Of course, if you cannot make one time, please come when you can. If you are flexible with time, we’d appreciate you sticking to this schedule. Thank you in advance for your cooperation!

The principal’s address is something I’d like to do this year to help orient new families to Henley. Topics I will be discussing are things like what to expect from our Henley team, communication, student behavior, and other informational items. If you have something specific you think should be addressed, please do not hesitate to email me directly.

I hope you are having an absolutely amazing summer so far. I am enjoying a different pace of life as a middle school principal, but I am already looking forward to a great start to the 2019-2020 school year!

Beth Costa, principal

Henley Hurricane Helpers: Backpack Drive

Dear Henley Families,

In last week’s Henley Happenings, I shared that a group of sixth grade students had organized a relief drive to support those impacted by Hurricane Florence. A Henley parent, Jay Roberts, contacted me that day to say that his sister lives in New Bern and that she can connect us with a middle school to support directly.

Our students decided to partner with Mr. Roberts and have now created the Hurricane Helpers Backpack Drive to focus their efforts on students in Craven County. Students have lost their homes and their schools have become shelters. Our goal is to send 250 backpacks filled with items that will help them when they return to school.

The students are proposing that families fill a backpack with either school supplies or clothing:

  • School supplies include everything a student would need at the start of the school year.
  • Clothing could be specifically for a middle school student-shoes, shorts, socks, shirts, etc.
  • Other toiletry supplies could be included-a comb, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.

We hope that you will consider helping the students of Craven County. Our drive will run from tomorrow, 24 September to Wednesday, 3 October. Mr. Roberts will load up his trailer full of backpacks and head to North Carolina on Thursday, 4 October.

Backpacks can be dropped off at Henley. It would be a HUGE help if families could put a sticker or label on the backpack indicating its contents and any helpful descriptor (e.g. 7th grade boy, or school supplies for girl, etc.).

We are so pleased to be able to help and hope that you can support our drive. Anything in this case will help. If you’d rather, we’ll accept gift cards or monetary donations. We’ll use the cards and money to fill backpacks before October 3. If you can donate a gently used backpack, trust that it will get filled!

Thank you for your support and let me know if you have any questions.


Beth Costa, Jay Roberts, and the Henley Hurricane Helpers

Henley Happenings: August 21, 2018

Dear Henley Families,

Tomorrow is the first day of the 2018-19 school year! We have been waiting for this day and hope that your child(ren) feels ready to begin this journey with us.

I have a lot of information, but I will repost this on the Principal’s Blog (linked on the Henley home page) for your reference:

  • Here is the schedule for the first three days. As previously shared, we will have extended Advisories designed to build relationships with your student(s), to ease them back into school, and to share important routines and structures for the new year.
  • If you have not had a chance to view morning drop off and afternoon pick up videos, here is another opportunity to orient yourself to our procedures:
  • Albemarle County has generously supported our parking lot and roadway procedures during the first several days of school. You will see additional police officers on Rt 250 and in our parking lot. We hope the videos have been helpful and thank you in advance for your cooperation and patience.
  • In an effort to raise money for the World Peace Games, Megan Williams, teacher and coach will be auctioning off two reserved parking spaces in the front of the school. Be on the lookout for more information about her raffle.
  • For the first ten days of school, Transportation asks that we don’t write “guest” bus passes for students to ride a different bus so that they can get their accurate bus ridership numbers established. Thank you for your understanding.

Thank you for all of your support as we start the school year. Let me know if you have any questions.



Beth Costa, principal

Henley Happenings: August 16, 2018

Dear Henley Families,

As we get closer to Wednesday’s start, I just wanted to connect with you regarding a couple of informational items:

  • For 6th grade families, please remember to bring in your child’s TDaP form prior to the first day of school. Your child must have his/her immunization to start the first day.
  • We are working on the schedule for the first three days of school. Similar to the elementary school’s morning meeting structure, we build in time as an Advisory period where we connect with students, have fun, and build community. During the first three days, we alter the bell schedule to have more time in Advisory to get to know each other, develop our school-wide social contract, and handle important transition experiences (e.g. lockers, lunch procedures, changing classes, etc.). We will publish the bell schedule early next week so that your child knows what to expect the first three days.
  • We will begin a normal bell schedule on Monday, 27 August.
  • The second segment of our video series-Afternoon Pick-Up- can be found here:
  • We will have additional staff on hand for dismissal. In my experience, buses are delayed for the first several days of school, and we dismiss car riders and walkers on time, so traffic in the parking lot isn’t compounded by bus departure. Once we have a normal dismissal for all students, we will need to prepare for additional car stoppage time.
  • A reminder that counselors are working as quickly as possible to complete schedules. Thank you in advance for your patience.

Looking forward to seeing many of you on Monday! As always, call or email with feedback and/or questions.



Beth Costa, principal

Happy New Year!

Just a couple of days ago, the “rollover” occurred, signaling the start of the 2018-19 school year. The rollover moves students from one grade to the next in our database. We celebrated students “moving up” in June; this is the electronic moving up event.

Welcome to the new year and, if you are a sixth grader, welcome to Henley! Despite having empty halls and classrooms, we have been very busy with summer activities. Our teachers have been actively participating in professional development, our custodial staff has been preparing our spaces, construction crews have been creating our new learning labs, and our counseling/admin staff has been hiring new teachers and finalizing students’ schedules. We have accomplished a lot and we have a lot left to accomplish.

I hope you all have been having a great summer and I look forward to seeing you on Monday, August 20 from 3:00-5:00 for our Open House event. It is an opportunity for all students to walk their schedule prior to the first day of school and to meet your teachers. Please save the date!

Beth Costa, principal

National School Walkout: Student Demonstration Safety Plan

Dear Henley Families,

I hope you and your child(ren) have had a great week! We have been extremely busy at Henley preparing for EXPO, getting ready for band performances, and learning, learning, learning.

I have struggled with the best way to share the information and safety plan for the upcoming National School Walkout Student Demonstration scheduled for March 14 at 10:00 am. I finally settled on writing a narrative in the hopes of conveying all of the information needed to understand Albemarle County’s position and Henley’s response and objectives to support the physical and emotional safety of ALL students.

To begin, since the announcement of the national demonstrations, we have had numerous conversations with members of our central office staff, as a Henley administration and staff, and with Henley students across all grades. My goals in meeting with and talking with these groups were as follows:

  • To understand the purpose of the demonstrations
  • To hear how ACPS would determine guidelines for the demonstrations
  • To align our Henley Middle School plan for student safety with ACPS
  • To understand the perspectives of various student groups either participating or not participating.
  • To evaluate and adjust our plan as new information became available.

I have now met with staff and students and I feel we are in a good place to share our plan with the school community.

On Wednesday, March 14 at 10:00 am, students have a right to participate in The National School Walkout demonstration. The school’s role is one of support. No staff member from Henley will encourage or discourage a student from participating. Student organizers have proposed to meet in grade level groups to hold their demonstration. The 6th grade will meet on the lower soccer field near the track, the 7th grade will meet on the upper soccer field, and the 8th grade will meet on the black top. Student leaders have written purpose statements that outline why they are walking out. They wrote these in the hopes that their peers who choose to participate will be respectful while attending. It will be up to the adults supervising to ensure that peace and respect exists. For example, this is not a time to run around, laugh, and disrupt the demonstration.

It will be up to the students to lead the demonstration. The school will not announce or signal at any point. Teachers who have students will remain in their classroom with students who are not participating. Teachers who are not teaching, counselors, and administrators will go outside with students as supervisors. Staff will not participate. After 17 minutes students will return to class. If students need additional support, we will have staff available.

We have been talking a lot in our Advisories, not specifically about the demonstrations, but about how to respectfully disagree. We want students to learn that sharing differing opinions, experiences, and worldviews is an exceptionally important part of living and coexisting in a peaceful society. Our students’ worlds are growing and it is important that we help them develop the important life skills that foster and promote civility. Our discussions in Advisory were designed to reinforce these lessons at a time when we might be challenged by events in our lives and in our world.

There will be many students who will question whether they should participate. This is where we could use your help. Please have a conversation with your child about his/her intent. We want students to have individual choice without the fear of other students saying or doing anything to influence a decision. At this age, students are particularly mindful and sensitive to the words and actions of their friends and peers, so a conversation in advance can be so important.

Our school goal is for all students to feel safe at school. We work towards this goal everyday and Wednesday will be the same. Thank you so much for your partnership in your child’s education. As always, please email me directly with any questions (


Beth Costa, principal

Henley Happenings

Dear Henley Families,

I have had a chance to talk with parents and students very informally over the past few days. Wednesday’s tragic events weigh heavily on our minds and hearts. I wanted to share with all of you that I take our school’s responsibility to keep every child safe very seriously. I assure you it is our first priority.

We will spend time over the next several days and weeks reviewing our Crisis Management Plan. We will work with ACPD and our School Resource Officer to improve our security measures. We have been interviewing for a School Security Assistant who will maintain a strong presence in our school and help visitors entering our building. This person will stay in place until our security addition is complete.

While we do secure the building and maintain a watchful eye, we recognize that another effective strategy is our relationships with students and our creation of a culture where students report things that do not seem right. To that end, we are increasing our efforts to share this message and strategy with students.

We will continue to use the advisory period as a platform to know all students and to make them feel safe and welcome in our environment. Our teachers have dedicated a significant amount of time to establish a positive climate in their classes and we believe that we can use the power of our relationships to keep each other safe. Please help us reinforce that message at home. Henley is a safe school and we continue to work every day to keep it a safe place.

A couple of other items for you:

  • Monday’s advisory reminds students that if they See Something, Say Something. If you would like to see the lesson, I have provided the link HERE.
  • On Thursday, we will conduct a lockdown drill. Wednesday’s advisory lesson will be around reviewing procedures with students and helping them prepare.
  • Tomorrow’s Snow Make-Up Day is a Blue 1234. Tuesday is also a Blue 1234. Our snow days have almost all been Blue days, so we are trying to catch up!
  • We hope you will join us for Thursday’s forum: Conversations in our Community: Social Media in a Teenager’s World. The social media conversation begins at 6:30, but if you are interested, ACPS is hosting a Learning Technology Expo in the Western Albemarle High School media center (2nd floor) beginning at 6:00 pm. Come see what students and teachers from all over the county are doing with technology.
  • We had a great weekend of student activities-basketball, Destination Imagination, and District Jazz Band. Follow @henleyhornets on Twitter for celebrations, learning opportunities, and other important information.

Thank you for your partnership and for trusting us with your child(ren). We value your input and look forward to hearing from you if you have any feedback or ideas to make Henley an even better learning place for all kids.



Beth Costa, principal



Henley Happenings: January 17

Dear Henley Families,

This is not the email sharing a weather update or school closure, although I can say that our hallways were “abuzz” about the predicted snow!

I wanted to share a couple of things as we move into the week and the end of the 1st semester:

  • The first semester, or second nine weeks, ends Friday. Teachers have a workday on Monday, 1/22, to finalize grades and plan for the second semester. We are waiting to see what tomorrow’s weather brings before we publish due dates for grades, so please be on the lookout for those.
  • Our Advisory lessons on social media and technology have started. One thing I would like to bring to your attention is a new app/tool called Sarahah. Sarahah is a social networking service for providing anonymous feedback. I bring it to your attention because some of our students have reported that unkind posts have been shared anonymously. While the intended use is to post nice or helpful feedback, the anonymous nature of the tool allows for cyberbullying to occur easily. Here is the Common Sense I am sure many use it as intended, but please reinforce with your child(ren) that their negative posts can be harmful and have a negative lasting impact. Used the wrong way, Sarahah could bring out the worst in our children as they struggle to navigate their way through the digital world.
  • To that end, Henley Middle School is teaming with Western Albemarle to host a Social Media Forum. While we have not set a date, we are looking at an early February evening. We want to share information with you, bring in experts and professionals who can help with best practices, and strategies for helping and supporting your child. Please join us. I will have the date to you as soon as it is set.
  • Beginning second semester we will make our Morning Announcements accessible via our website. If you or your child ever wants to check the announcements, they will be available on our homepage
  • Lose something? Our Henley Lost and Found is growing. Please have your child look for lost articles of clothing, water bottles, and lunch boxes if they have misplaced something. We will donate clothes to charity and dispose of lunch boxes at the end of January, so have them look before then.
  • EXPO Night for our 8th grade students and families is January 25th from 5:00-6:30. The change resulted from the team’s desire to make EXPO Night more authentic. 6th and 7th grade EXPO will occur on its original date-March 28th.
  • A HUGE thank you to all of our families who donated food or money to host a holiday luncheon for our teachers. We really appreciate all you do for us!
  • We did not have enough interest in our Modernization Bus Tour of other middle and high schools; however, I will be sure to share more information as we continue with our planning for next year and beyond.
  • Should we have some weather this evening and tomorrow, please be safe! As always, if you have concerns or feedback, please contact me directly.



Beth Costa, principal