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I Love the First Day of School!

2010_0824firstdayofschool0026 (2)Today is the first day of the 2014-2015 school year in Worthington!  I love the first day.  It’s a new beginning for everyone.  It’s a chance to improve on last year and an opportunity to prove that what you did well last year was not a fluke.  In our house our school supplies were purchased just after the 4th of July.  My girls are excited about their teachers, their new colorful and carpeted classrooms, and the opportunities that await them.  As a child I remember being anxious about the first day.  Would my new parachute pants still be in style with the cool kids?  Would the teacher make me read out loud in front of the class?  Would this be the year that they actually let us use the climbing wall in the gym?  Would the cafeteria still serve the bagels dipped in melted butter?  Would Beth Davies actually talk to me?  All important questions….(For the answer to these questions you’ll have to read all the way to the bottom of this post.)

This year will mark  my 20th first day as a professional educator.  I still get anxious thinking about the first day of school, but it’s very different than it was in my youth.  In thinking back I was reflecting on my first days:  I spent kindergarten in Cleveland and grades 1-3 in San Francisco.  I have no real memories of these schools and am not even certain of the school names.  After moving to Worthington to begin my 4th grade year I spent three first days at Worthington Hills Elementary, one first day at Perry Middle School,  the first, first day ever at McCord Middle School, one first day at the Kilbourne Building and three first days at Worthington High School.

For some reason the first day of class in college isn’t really significant, so I’ll leave those years out.  As an educator I spent my first day as a teacher at Potomac Elementary in King George, Virginia.  I spent one first day at King George Middle School.  I spent two first days at Evening Street, two more at McCord Middle.  I spent one first day at Creekview Intermediate School, five first days at Navin Elementary School and one first day split between Navin and Northwood Elementary in Marysville.  Today is my seventh first day as a member of the Worthington Schools central office team.

First days are both an end and a beginning.  The first day marks the end of an incredible effort by principals, secretaries, custodial and maintenance staff, transportation staff, the welcome center, etc…  The hard work of getting schools ready and students in the right places is mostly done when the first day arrives.  It’s also the beginning.  The beginning of a new journey.  A marathon that will take many twists and turns we do not yet know about.  Each school year has it’s own unique story.

As an educator I’m anxious for the first day the way I hope my kids are.  I’m not nervous and I’m not fearful.  I’m just excited!  For my own kids I’m excited about what they’ll get to learn, do, and experience this year.  I have total confidence in the adults in their schools and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to send my children to them daily.  Enjoy the first day of school.  It’s always a special day!

Every first day starts for me with this saying….

This is the beginning of a new day

you have been given this day to use as you will.

You can waste it or use it for good.

What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.

When tomorrow comes this day will be gone forever.

In it’s place is something that you have left behind….

Let it be something good.

And now for the long awaited answers….

Q1:  Would my parachute pants still be in style with the cool kids?

A:  Just barely.  I was always about 8 months late on the trends that lasted for 8 and a half months.  I didn’t totally embarrass myself but I think I likely only wore the parachute pants once.

Q2:  Would the teacher make me read out loud in front of the class?

A:  Always! And as a student with a learning disability in reading this was incredibly painful.  Of course I would always try to determine ahead of time exactly what paragraph I would have to read and while the other students were reading aloud and I was supposed to be listening, I would be secretly practicing my passage.

Q3:  Would this be the year they actually let us use the climbing wall in the gym?

A:  I was incredibly lucky in this area.  Dr. Gary Moore was my Phys. Ed. teacher at Worthington Hills and the man is a genius.  Seriously, before he created SuperGames he was my gym teacher.  Not only did we use the climbing wall, when we got to the top he let us jump off and try to catch a trapeze bar.  Apparently the school district had no liability concerns in the 80’s.

Q4:  Would the cafeteria still serve bagels dipped in melted butter?

A:  Yes!  The actually allowed this.  For lunch you could buy a bagel dipped in hot butter.  I’ve been on cholesterol medicine since I was 18.  We may know why.

Q5:  Would Beth Davies actually talk to me?

A:  “Crashed and burned”  I never had a chance…

There’s a New Principal at Mill Valley Elementary

1619485_10203585895671939_1181489392_nLast night the Marysville Board of Education approved the contract of my friend Amey McGlenn as the next Principal of Mill Valley Elementary.  The decision by Marysville Superintendent, Diane Mankins was not only a good decision, it was a GREAT decision and I’m happy for Amey, for the staff at Mill Valley, and mostly for the kids of Marysville.

In the spring of 2001 I left Worthington Schools (I was the dean of students at McCord Middle School) to become an assistant principal at Creekview Intermediate School in Marysville.  Creekview was a new concept still under construction and when I began my job in June of that summer Mr. Kannally and I worked out of the Mill Valley Elementary office.  (Tim got the guidance office and I worked in a closet used at the time for the old Ohio Reads program…#NewGuyProblems)

In 2002 when I was again opening a new school, this time Navin Elementary, I had the unique opportunity to hire a significant number of new teachers.  One of those new teachers was directly out of college in Rhode Island.  She was a brash, confident New Englander with the last name of Fregeolle.  She would teach 4th grade in room 212 with teammates Karen Hanson, Becky Yurasek and Michelle Jenkins. And teach she did….

I could tell many an Amey McGlenn story.  But from the start as a 24 year-old first year teacher she was a star.  She connected with kids and parents.  She was organized and well-prepared and she always exhibited a level of maturity beyond her years.  Marysville recognized these traits and she’s broadened her impact as an instructional coach and now will broaden it again as a school principal.

Amey will lead instructional improvement and will create a positive culture in Marysville.  She’ll lead in a school in a community she not only lives in, but she’s passionate about.  I watched my mentor in educational leadership do three important things.  I strive to do them (but don’t always succeed) and I believe Amey will strive to do them:

1.  Take care of people

2.  Model service to others

3.  Listen

As an old guy in educational leadership teachers I hired right out of college are becoming principals.  It’s really a cool experience.  I’m proud of Amey’s work to date and excited about the impact she’ll have as a building leader.  If you’re looking for a school for your child outside of Franklin County (inside is a no-brainer http://www.worthington.k12.oh.us) I’d look to Mill Valley Elementary.  Their new principal is an east coast transplant with firmly planted midwestern roots.


School’s Out For Summer….

photoToday is the last day of the 2013-2014 school year for Worthington.  Originally we were scheduled to complete the school year yesterday (5.29.14) but because school was closed for seven days throughout our extremely cold winter, today was used as a make-up day.  Across the school district students will complete finals, enjoy field days, classroom parties, and clap-outs.  It will be a good day!

In our house it’s been a good year for each of my daughters.  We’ve been blessed with teachers who really match the personalities of our kids and who clearly care about both their academic and emotional needs.  I personally hate to see this year-end as our kids have loved being in school.

As a former teacher the last day was always bittersweet.  It meant the end of meaningful relationships but it was also a relief.  It meant rest was near as was a chance to rejuvenate.  I think I was as excited as the kids were when the final school bell rang.

I know how I felt and thus when I received an email yesterday from one of my daughter’s teachers I was both shocked and thankful.  I was shocked because the teacher was inviting the entire class to a movie at a local theatre one morning next week (the week after school was out!). The movie ties into the current unit of study and they didn’t have time to watch it during the school year.  So, on her first week off of school, her first week of freedom from these 24 kids, she is inviting all of them to join her to watch the movie.  I was shocked.  Who does that?  Why isn’t she going to the pool, sleeping in, reading a book? Does she really want to see my kid another day?

I was shocked, but mostly I was thankful.  Thankful because my child spent the last year in the care of someone who likes kids this much and thankful that our school district employees teachers who don’t care if it’s a scheduled day or if it’s into the evening – they’re going to go above and beyond for kids.

Today is the last day of school this year.  But, my kid will see her teacher again next week.  How cool is that?


Thank You Teachers!

photo (55)As the 2013-2014 school year winds down I am completing my 19th year as an adult in public education.  During my career thus far I spent six years as a teacher in the classroom and have spent the past 13 years as either a school principal or a central office administrator.  I’m an educator by trade and I’m very proud of that.  But, I have a confession to make.  I’m not a teacher.  And, when I was a teacher I wasn’t a great one.  I connected well with students and with families, but I never really was able to make the magic happen in the classroom that I’ve witnessed with great teachers.  Thus, I recognized my abilities and put them to use in other areas in public education.

My time as a teacher helped me immensely.  What I learned is that teaching is a really challenging  job!  It’s much more difficult day-to-day than my current job is.  It’s physically and mentally demanding and the pressure for student achievement in 2014 is something I never had to experience during my time in the classroom.  In my life however, I have been very lucky.  I’ve spent a career around those who really make a difference.  I’m married to a teacher.  My sister is a teacher.  I’ve been the principal of three different schools where I watched first-hand teachers making a positive difference in the lives of kids every single day.  In my current role as the Assistant Superintendent of Worthington City Schools I have the opportunity to work with 19 different schools and over 700 teachers.  I’m in awe of the dedication, self-sacrifice, and caring that I see everyday in our schools.

As a parent I have been incredibly blessed with teachers who work hard to connect with my children.  They are teachers who structure their classroom so learning occurs at high levels and where creativity and individuality is valued.  My children have teachers who will remain as trusted adults for a lifetime.

And I, like you hopefully, have teachers who I still believe shaped my own life in positive ways.  At 41 years of age I don’t often remember the subject matter a teacher taught me, but I still remember specific conversations I had with Bill Wolford, Jan Fish, Tim Dove, Mark Ellwood, Gary Moore and Noel Noblette.  All teachers who went out of their way to shape my life.

This week is teacher appreciation week.  Really every week should be teacher appreciation week.  Sure, teachers get some of their summer off.  Sure, from time-to-time we all encounter teachers whose style we don’t agree with.  But, let’s be real.  Everyday I trust certain adults with the life of my children.  I trust teachers!

This week I want to thank the teachers of Creekview Intermediate, Navin Elementary and Northwood Elementary in Marysville.  I am in awe of your work!  I want to thank Tami Hinz for showing me 15 years ago what an amazing teacher is like (and thus helping me realize I should maybe be an administrator.)  I want to thank Mrs. Fuller, Mrs. Eakins, Mrs. Benedict and Mrs. Jarzecki at Evening Street for being difference makers with my own children this year.  I want to thank my wife who works much harder than I would choose for her to as she strives to connect with students digitally.  I want to thank all of those teachers who made a difference in my life and all of those teachers who come to work everyday in a high stress environment and work tirelessly to help every child see success.  I want to thank Mark Hill who works to advocate for all Worthington teachers and all teachers statewide via STRS.

This week take a few minutes and reach out to the teachers who are making a difference everyday.  Let them know you appreciate what they do.  #ThankYouTeachers!

Spring Break 2014

unnamedI’m back in the office this morning but I spent most of this week (spring break in Worthington) in Ft. Myers, Florida.  15 years ago my parents purchased a condo in Ft. Myers and they now split their time between Ft. Myers and Columbus. Four years ago my sister and nephew moved to Ft. Myers and thus the trip was one to spend time with family. (The weather was nice too!)

My sister is my opposite.  It’s unlikely that two family members could be so different.  She is currently the art teacher at Colonial Elementary in Lee County Schools.  (I can’t draw my hand.). She is creative, spontaneous, and adventurous.  I am linear, steady and conservative.  We have great parents.  Somehow we came from the same home.

One of the joys of this trip was getting to see my sister,  the art teacher, in action.  On our first evening in Ft. Myers she ran an art fair in conjunction with her school’s parent teacher conferences.  After meeting with the home room teacher, parents and students moved to the cafeteria where there was face painting, sand art, a photo booth, painting, popcorn, cookies and punch.  (Volunteers were necessary and thus along with school staff I took the photos.). On this evening I watched a couple of hundred students and their families benefit from my sister’s creativity and passion.  On our final evening in Ft. Myers we went to an art exhibit hosted by the Alliance For the Arts.  The art teachers in Lee County all chose 10 – 15 pieces of art and each school displayed their work.  The parking lot and surrounding areas were full of families with smiles on their faces coming to see the student work.

As a school administrator and as a big brother it’s really neat to see my sister making a positive difference in the lives of kids.  Next year she’ll likely be at a different school because her current school, which serves a student population that is over 90% free or reduced lunch, is being reconstituted.  Reconstitution is a reform option under No Child Left Behind for when a school consistently fails to meet improvement targets.  The theory of action is that by moving out the current teachers and bringing in new teachers the school will see more success.photo (54)

From my perspective, and from the research I found, this is a flawed strategy and rarely works without other significant systemic changes. The strategy assumes that the new teachers will be somehow more committed, more talented, more something…  I personally don’t think we can or should put system failures on the backs of teachers, but that is our simplistic answer to many things in education today. (I’m not objective here….  It’s my sister.)

So, where she’ll teach next year I’m not certain.  After watching her this week I am certain that wherever she is she’ll use art to help students learn and grow, to build creativity and problem solving, and to put smiles on the faces of families.

The Spelling Bee

LW-BeeLogo-e1357182352258Last Wednesday night was the annual Leadership Worthington Spelling Bee hosted at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  In my position with Worthington Schools I was asked by several different groups to participate on a spelling bee team.  I take those invitations as a great compliment.  Obviously, to at least a few people I have hidden the truth well.  The truth is, I can’t spell at all and the thought of participating in a spelling bee creates a visceral physical reaction.

As a child I remember the class spelling bee well.  We would all line-up around the classroom and were asked by the teacher to spell a word in front of the class.  Those students who spelled the word correctly stayed standing, those of us who misspelled our words would return to our seats.  As a student who was diagnosed with a learning disability at least in part for lacking any understanding of phonics and word creation this was my personal hell.  I remember praying that the word I was given would be posted somewhere else in the classroom and I could just read it off the wall.  Or at the very least, maybe the word would be hard enough that it wasn’t a total embarrassment in front of my classmates that I couldn’t spell the word.  Most years I was out quick and the fear and embarrassment was short lived. (Short lived, but long remembered.  Many things that happen in our youth are remembered forever.  As teachers we have to be cognizant of this truth and plan our activities carefully to not cause unintended consequences.)

When I was in college (pre-internet and “spell check”) I lived with my blue Webster’s dictionary on my desk.  In graduate school at Ohio State my beautiful wife, who can spell everything, became my personal spell check.  Today, “spell check” catches most of my mistakes, but I sometimes have to choose a different word because I am so far off in my original spelling that “spell check” has no suggestions.  It’s so bad that when I write a hand-written note I usually first type it on the computer and “spell check” it before I copy the words onto the note.

All of this to say, I can’t spell and I envy those that can.  That said, disregarding my personal spelling shortfalls, the voluntary community spelling bee is a really great event.  Worthington students competed at 5:00 P.M. with the team from McCord Middle School prevailing.  The adult competition is always intense and this year was no different.  Teams collaborate and work together and a grand competition ensues.  It’s good for everyone who chooses to come together to participate.  I’ll support the spelling bee every year.  You’ll just never see me compete in the spelling bee.

Expressing Gratitude

photoIn early November I was checking my Twitter feed and came across a post from Brad Rieger (@BradRieger on Twitter) the Superintendent of Sylvania Schools in Toledo.  In his twitter post Brad told the story of a local hospital executive who had provided each of his board members with a copy of John Kralik’s book, “A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life.”  I’d never heard of the book, but using the very handy and sometimes dangerous “one touch ordering” from Amazon.com, I had a copy of the book on my IPad in less than a minute (one touch ordering is a post in and of itself.  It’s possibly the greatest and/or worst technological innovation of all time.)

Kralik’s book was first published with the title: “365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.”  It’s a simple book written as a first person account of a southern California lawyer who has hit middle age and is down on his luck.  He sets out on an ambitious plan to write one thank you note each day for a year and in so doing begins to transform his thinking as he notices and acknowledges the generosity of others both large and small.

I read the book in just a few quick hours and it struck a nerve.  I purchased multiple copies of the book and gave them to people I care about and to whom I thought could also benefit.  I then decided that I too would become intentional about showing gratitude and about hand-writing notes.  With digital communication such as texting, email, and this blog, I hadn’t written too many actual cards and notes in the last few years and I decided that if I was really going to connect with others as I desire to do, I needed to take the time out of my schedule to do so.  I haven’t set any specific targets on how many notes I may write, but I am clearly very blessed and I work surrounded by others striving to make a difference.  Thus, I’ve written a lot of notes over the past four months.

My goal is for this pattern to continue.  It’s important that I take time and thank others for the work they do.  I believe this to be important both personally and professionally.  It’s important both for the person receiving the acknowledgment, and also for me.   When I write a note I also benefit.  It helps me focus on what is good and what matters most.

The author Jon Gordon wrote “One Word That Will Change Your Life.”  My one word for 2014 is connect.  Randy Banks challenged all of Worthington new teachers in August to commit, connect and contribute.  I’m focusing on connect this year and I’m hoping my hand-written notes further that goal.  If you’ve received one of my notes, you’ll now understand a little of the why.  Pass it on. Take the time to write a note to someone you’re thankful for.  If you haven’t yet received a note, I hope you will soon. Connect.

(One final note: in the book Kralik kept a spreadsheet of everyone he wrote notes to.  I thought this was overkill and thus chose not to keep a record.  Bad mistake on my part.  Some of you have probably received several notes from me, because I have no memory of who I wrote one to last month, in January, etc.  I’m just writing them anytime the urge strikes. Obviously I don’t think it hurts to thank a person multiple times, but…in case you think I’m note stalking you…it’s unintentional, I’m just thankful for you.)

The Note

photoLast night was a Monday evening and thus we had a Worthington Board of Education meeting.  In order to allow for as much public participation as possible our Board of Education meetings do not begin until 7:30 P.M.  Because of this, every other Monday is a fairly late night and last night I arrived home at 11:15 P.M.  My family was all in bed.

photoWhen I entered our kitchen there was a note waiting for me from my nine-year old daughter.  It was folded in a way that only a 3rd grade girl could fold and it had a simple “To: Dad” on the front.  I looked at the note and smiled and imagined that the contents would say something like “Dad, sorry you had to work late tonight.  Miss you, Love, your favorite daughter.”  As you may imagine that’s not what the note said.

Instead the note from my daughter was her attempt to provide constructive feedback on her school experience.  The note simply said, “Mrs. _____ is a mean substitute” and then because she is a third grade girl there were hearts, a star, and a peace sign drawn on the note.  (I guess the peace sign was a hint that, “dad, I’d rather not have this substitute again, but don’t take this too far.”  Maybe I’m reading into things.)

In Worthington we contract with the Educational Service Center Central Ohio for our substitute teachers.  Most school districts in Central Ohio now use this approach and for the most part it is a win/win.  Substitutes can sign up in one location and have access to work in any consortium school district and we get a larger pool of substitute teachers who may choose to work in our schools.

Substitute teaching is very difficult.  You are asked to go into a school that you don’t know well, work with students you likely don’t know at all, and teach material that you may or may not have had time to prepare ahead of time.  Furthermore, each school and classroom has different expectations for rules, procedures, etc.  It takes a special person to do this job well.

Having a substitute is also difficult for students.  As humans we are creatures of habit and our students come to understand the classroom environment with the regular classroom teacher.  With a new adult in the room everything changes.  Sometimes subtly, sometimes significantly.

With that in mind, my own children rarely come home with positive things to say about their substitute teacher.  When I press them for specifics it’s usually that the substitute did things differently than the teacher my children have come to love and they just don’t like the difference.

If you see a substitute teacher, thank them for what they do to help children.  It’s a tough, tough job.  If you’re a classroom teacher and see a substitute in your school, please make an effort to say hello, to welcome them, and help them throughout the day.  I’ll probably save this note, but certainly I won’t act on it.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words….

photoThey say a picture is worth a thousand words.  This picture was priceless for me.  Please let me explain.

Pictured above is Worthington Kilbourne Junior Varsity Basketball Coach, Colt Cunningham and current Worthington Kilbourne High School sophomore Drew George.  Back on November 7th, Drew was diagnosed with an extremely rare and acute case of leukemia.  I wrote about Drew and how you may be able to help here.

On Friday night Drew was in attendance for the basketball games between WKHS and New Albany.  All spectators in attendance wore orange in support of Drew.  What struck me, both in person, and in this picture, is the genuine connection between Colt and Drew.  To me that is what being a Worthington educator is all about.

In our business we spend many hours analyzing new curriculum, deconstructing the standards, creating assessments, managing class size and student case loads, striving to create energy efficiencies, and looking to reduce the taxpayer effort for our schools.  We have multiple meetings about “Pump” tracks at Granby, and we submit STEM grants to the State of Ohio. Lately we spend hours debating when school should be in session during winter weather.  All of those things are important.  But really, it’s all just noise to what matters most!

Over the last few weeks a group of administrators at our Worthington Education Center have been striving to define the professional Worthington teacher.  What does that person do regularly as a part of practice that needs to be imbedded in our culture as we continue to turn over our teaching force?  Our list is long.  Maybe it should be short and maybe it’s really simple.

Did you connect with your students and are you making a long-term positive difference in your student’s life?

25 some odd years ago I was a student and an athlete at Worthington High School.  Scott Gordon and Tim Cave were coaches of mine who taught me life skills that I think about every single day of my life.  They made that connection.  Almost 15 years ago I was the football coach and dean of students at McCord Middle School when Colt Cunningham was a student.  I can’t claim to have had any influence in Colt’s development, but in my mind, maybe, just maybe, I was able to play a small part in Colt’s desire to become a Worthington teacher.  In 2014 it’s Colt that’s passing on that connection and making a difference for kids.  He’s one of many such educators doing this throughout Worthington.

As a “Both / And” school district we expect a lot of our educators.  We expect all of our students to achieve at high levels and to grow at least one year.  We expect communication and collaboration with students, families and colleagues.  We expect that our teachers connect with students outside of school and build meaningful relationships.  We expect these things because they have been going on in Worthington for many years and they are passed on from one generation of Worthington teacher to another.  I’m lucky to have been a small part of that chain and I’m blessed to be able to see teachers like Colt pass it on.

The picture says it all!

Commit, Connect Contribute

Inside Recess Again….

untitledWe’re deep into this season called winter.  So deep that when we actually do have school it seems that inside recess for elementary students is a given.  It’s that inside recess that caused the problem…

Early Friday afternoon I received a text message from my wife.  I was eating lunch with colleagues from the Worthington Education Center as we were engaged in an important all-day planning and strategy meeting.  The text said simply “The school called and they think our daughter may have broken her arm.  I’m going to take her to Children’s.”

My first thought was stink!  My second thought was, well at least it’s only an arm.  My third thought was, they must have been outside for recess.  (Friday was fairly warm for January in Ohio and although there were patches of ice, students may or may not have been able to be outside.)  Even in my official position with the schools I was having thoughts about whether the students really should have been outside for recess.  These thoughts tend to run through a parent’s mind when you’re taking your child to the emergency room whether or not they are valid.  I think it’s just natural.

When I arrived at the emergency room to meet my wife and daughter, my daughter looked pretty rough.  She had been doing some serious crying and was not willing to move her arm.  In looking at the arm I understood why the school thought she should be checked out.  There was a large bump by her wrist and it was starting to swell.

Gently I tried to piece together what happened.  Were you outside for recess?  Did that boy push you again?  No and no.  It turns out they were indeed inside for recess.  (Our amazing school principal used excellent judgment as always :))  My daughter was engaged in an intense game of Nerf basketball, lost her balance going for the ball and fell backwards.  In falling backwards she landed on the arm.  No one pushed her, no one even touched her.  She just lost her balance.

After a fairly short wait we were able to have her arm X-rayed.  Funny thing, in talking with the doctor after reading the X-ray her arm was not broken.  It would be bruised but fine.  However, the X-ray did show that the thumb she fell on while ice skating two weeks ago was broken.  Hmmm….

My fifth grade daughter looked right at me and said, “Dad, I told you it hurt, you told me just to move it around and to quit crying!”  Well, I may or may not have said something like that.  The thumb was only purple for a few days and she played both soccer and lacrosse with it.  But, apparently it was broken.

So, I probably won’t win any parent of the year awards for 2014.  My daughter decided both her thumb and arm were healthy enough to play floor hockey this morning, so we think she’s good to go.  If only the students could go outside for recess….

(BTW:  Our school handled the situation really well.  We appreciate the office staff who took good care of our daughter, communicated with us throughout the process, and checked up on her this weekend.  It’s really good to be able to send your children to people who care about them and that you trust!  I hope everyone in Worthington has this same experience…not the broken bones part, or the bad parenting part, I mean the experience with the school.)

Finally, most of my blogging will be on our Absolute Excellence site.  Please check it out and subscribe if you have not yet moved over.

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