Amherst-Pelham Regional High School

Main Office: 413-362-1700

Attendance Line413-362-1718

Weather Cancellation: 413-362-1898


21 Mattoon Street,
Amherst MA 01002

Please find Mr. Jackson’s back to school letter to the faculty below: 


While you may have started to eye your school clothes, I hope this letter finds everyone still in shorts and sandals.

Since we need to use a significant part of our first day together – Monday, August 28 @ 8 am in our library – to orient everyone to PowerTeacher Pro[PTP], I’ll rely on email to overview the upcoming year. In addition to this letter, I will send you in the next day or two a list of updates and priorities for this school year. Many of these items we’ll take up in greater depth later on. The schedule for when you will be in front of either Doug or Codey from IS for the PTP training can be found at the end of this letter.

I want to start with a wide-angle thought. Every year we learn more about this central truth:

Cognitive functioning is context-dependent.

And its corollary:

Contexts that settle and affirm facilitate focus.

Whether a context activates or allays our fears and insecurities has a lot to do with whether the best part of brains engage. I’m a good case in point. What I know about myself is that there are settings within which I feel competent. I can focus on the task in front of me and not be distracted by wondering whether I belong or am at risk of being exposed. I am equally mindful of the contexts within which I am reduced to that person who is looking for a way out. Two such settings are when I have to engage either my accountant or my car mechanic. When talking to these two, I nod my head a lot, hoping the earnest look on my face will prevent them from asking me any questions. I don’t even fake it particularly well and end up probably paying the mechanic more than I should.

Same person, same brain – but, given the context, very different levels of cognitive functioning. I assume this is true for many of us.

It’s also true for the kids. For many, I assume school is an auto mechanic or accountant-like experience. There are a host of reasons why kids, when encountering mainstream school life – trying to make their way in class and in the halls – end up feeling out of place, marginalized and diminished. And, when they do, they withdraw, act out or dissemble, strategies that salvage some face, but undermine any shot at long-term academic traction

As a school, we know to worry about context. This is among the many reasons I am proud to work here. At both the individual and institutional level, we go to great lengths to think about the important intersection of who kids are and how we receive them. We know that our doing so increases the likelihood of  kids’ performing to the best of their abilities.

Writing this letter, I started thinking about Justin Xiong. It’s hard not to interpret his ARHS experience in this way. His physical challenges, if received differently by us, would have consigned  him to a school day full of struggle. Instead, by his own and his mother’s account, he had a fulfilling year with us. He thrived academically because the context within which he found himself addressed his challenges in a way that enabled him to focus.  

Over the last few years, we’ve looked at a variety of ways that kids present and asked how our school and classroom contexts settle and affirm so as to enable them to focus. We’ve looked at the experience of students of color, of students with IEP’s and students who are transitioning their gender identities.

We’ve also looked at our school and classroom contexts generally and tried to think about how to strengthen their capacity to settle and affirm. In my judgment, this is what unites such efforts as advisory, classroom climate, social norms, managing difficult moments and bullying/ harassment response practices.

At the same time, to keep things complicated, I’m mindful of the potential costs of overemphasizing context. We hear a lot about helicopter parents. When I go too far down the context road, I sometimes think I’m a helicopter educator. When ‘support’ becomes ‘over functioning’ I’m not always sure. So, I want to be equally clear about the other considerations that balance out this picture. Student effort, volition, persistence: they all matter in a big way. Struggle is a good thing.‘No’ has as many important uses as does ‘yes’.

Living in this tension is to the heart of our work. I believe we do so faithfully: we are vigilant about removing barriers at the personal and institutional levels; and, we layer kids with expectations that are formative in the way we know that clear, high expectations can be.

Reminding ourselves of this tension is a good way to begin the year. I created a Team Drive entitled: ‘SY’s 13.14 – 17.18: School and Classroom Contexts’. You all have access to it. I’ve started to upload agendas and other documents about the context-related work we’ve been engaged in since SY 13 – 14. Revisiting this work is a useful exercise. We can refresh ourselves, picking up strands that we may have lost and work to make the whole bigger than the sum of the parts. It can also help us think about where we turn next.

Lastly, I’ve mostly used ‘context’ to refer to our hallways and classrooms. Since I’m writing after the explosion of hate and white supremacy in Charlottesville, I am also mindful of ‘national’ contexts and their power to course through our lives however many miles away events unfold. We will open the school year with the nation roiling and the worst of our racist past and present glaringly on display. So, on Tuesday, August 29th, after Convocation, we will fold  into the mandatory trainings a beginning conversation about how to ensure our school context does two things: settles and supports our kids and, also, contributes to using this historical moment to help prepare them to make the realization of democracy and its ideals part of their life’s work.

See you shortly.



Congratulations to the ARHS class of 2017 for all of their hard work! Please find Mr. Jackson’s remarks from Graduation here, or you can watch the ceremony on YouTube here.   

Mark Jackson’s letter regarding Dialogue Day 

Good Morning:

Yesterday morning, for 75 minutes, the entire school engaged in what we have come to call ‘Dialogue Day’. 

Our basic premise is that ‘dialogue’ – the skill/habit of responding, rather than reacting, when one’s core beliefs are challenged – is a learned skill, something at which we can all get better. We think of this as an essential skill, one that can help strengthen our democracy. Graduating 18 year olds who are able to engage in genuine dialogue about the complex challenges faced by our nation and planet and avoid shutting themselves off from other perspectives is the larger goal. 

The setting for this work was provided by the students and faculty themselves. Their own interests and life stories provided the basis for the menu of options from which every student could select. 

Most of the sessions were student-led. The entire faculty and staff fanned out across all of the sessions to provide general support and facilitation in the small-group discussions sections that followed an initial presentation.

I visited almost all of the sessions and observed students engaged respectfully in questions that dominate the headlines and leave most adults scratching their heads. 

School-life, like life generally, ebbs and flows. Some days are better than other. 

But today was one of those days where the considerable strengths of the ARHS students and faculty were on clear display. I wish livestreaming was an option. I’m sure you would’ve been as proud as I am to be connected with this remarkable group of people.  

Thank you.

Mark Jackson’s letter regarding Autism Awareness Night on 4/13/17


On Thursday evening, in the HS library, five current HS students, four recent graduates and two current middle school students spoke about their life stories. In the audience were their teachers, their parents, siblings and grandparents, and assorted other folks. My estimate was that 60 or so people attended. 
The common thread among these students was their Autism Spectrum Disorder[ASD] diagnosis. 

The structure of the evening – small groups of students talking to small groups of adults – was one we have used before: first when the MSAN students spoke to the faculty in 2013 and, second, when students with IEP’s and 504’s spoke in the fall of 2015. These settings were the right contexts for students to feel able to let others in. Their comments addressed a range of topics – from how they make sense of their ASD diagnosis to the ways it challenges and benefits them and whether they consider it a difference or a disability. 

While there were some laughs, the evening was largely filled with poignant, you could hear-a-pin-drop kind of moments. Each of the speakers demonstrated an acute self-awareness. They described the struggle to read cues and make their way through life without the cushion of taking for granted much that others consider routine. They were equally clear that the diagnosis has some perks – that they have insights and perspectives that would be unavailable to those without their unique lens. For me, these remarks were the light of the evening. That they could see themselves as in some ways advantaged suggested that there was some peace to be made with the diagnosis. The other end of the experience – represented by their wrestling with the ‘difference v. disability’ question – suggested that a fact of their lives was fending off a sense of stigma. I was left wishing them a quieter life, one that didn’t require such vigilance to maintain and make their way. 

I am better for having attended. I left not only moved, but more informed about how my relationships and interactions with these kids could actually help, not hinder, them as they work their way through their four years of high school. I assume this was the case for many in the audience. 

What was also clear was the way the evening benefited the presenters. They were all poised and composed. They were telling a story they knew well and their expertise settled them. This was a dimension of the evening I want us to think more about. 

Lastly, the evening was a joint effort. The district’s SEPAC group[Special Education Parent Advisory Council] advanced the idea of an autism workshop. Faye Brady, Kathy Olson[HS], Amber Ryan[MS] and Jen McIntyre[ES] designed the event and, importantly, prepared and shepherded the kids through it. Our debt to them is large. 

Enjoy the break.



Mark Jackson’s Address to the ARHS Cast and Crew of ‘Anything Goes’ 3/5/17

To All ~ 150-200 Of You

At ARHS, right now, each grade has approximately 240 students. That makes ‘grade level’ the largest subsection of students.

But, beyond ‘grade level’, the ‘musical’ is next. No other class, club or sport comes even close to the numbers of students who are involved in the musical. When I stopped into the cafeteria to listen to your debrief of Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, I had trouble concentrating of what was being said. I was more drawn to the sheer size of the group. It was the first time I had seen you all gathered in one place. 

But, while the group’s size alone is noteworthy, what the numbers really point to is the complexity of the undertaking. Each one you made a meaningful contribution to this giant, elaborate, headache-inducing, sleep-robbing, homework-avoiding production. And, from what I hear from Mr. Bechtold, you did so with grace and perspective. He has said to me at least twice over the last month that you’ve been kind to each other through it all.

He’s a keen observer of people your age. So, this is an extraordinary statement. That you can look across the room right now and see three people who were on your last nerve over the last month or who snapped at you or may have rolled their eyes when you said something doesn’t change the point. I didn’t say you were all angels. But, amid all the buzz about this number or that scene or costume or set, I want to make sue that what I regard as your biggest accomplishment doesn’t get lost. 

Humans beings have a longing to be part of something larger than themselves. Many people go their whole lives searching for it. And when they find it, they too often screw it up. They lose along the way the ability to keep their eyes on the larger prizes of goals and relationships. They resort, instead, to thinking about themselves and their own private and, often, petty, agendas. Rather than become enlarged and enhanced by the group, they allow themselves to be diminished by it. 

You didn’t do that. and I admire all of you for it.

But enough of the ‘philosophy’. Even Moon would cry ‘uncle’. 

I think Cole Porter is cool. Have for a while. I I know a lot of the words and, if I hadn’t been warned before hand by someone I live with not to sing along, I would have. So, I’ve been making up for my silence last night by singing and humming throughout the morning. This will probably continue deep into next week. 

On behalf on the entire ARHS community. thank you. Like you do every year,  you’ve warmed a lot of people, reminding them of all that they respect and admire about you, our school and our community. 

Be well.

Mr. Jackson

Principal Mark Jackson’s letter to the faculty about the results of the Presidential election. November 2016

Principal Mark Jackson’s letter regarding fan behavior at athletic events. September 2016. 

Principal Mark Jackson’s podcast addresses guiding concerns for the school year, the social norms campaign, and upcoming events related to strengthening our school community and raising healthy teens. September 2016

Mark Jackson’s Address to the Graduating Seniors, Mullin’s Center, June 10, 2016.

Mark Jackson’s  Second Podcast   on Consideration of Homework in the Transition to the Semester. 2/11/16

Mark Jackson’s First Podcast  on Transitioning to the Semester Schedule. 1/7/16

Good Morning:

Last Thursday, I spoke with a teacher about the gender identity conversation she had with her E period class. She said the conversation began with a student saying out loud something like: ‘can we finish already…teachers have been asking me about this all day…’ After I finished laughing, I thought about the implications of the comment. This young man confirmed that we were all in. That we created a common experience for the student body. One that established paying attention to issues of gender identity as a community norm. As we press on the priority of developing a safe and inclusive climate – both in the classroom and school-wide, this was a great way to make the larger point that, when we work in concert with each other, we can establish norms that matter for kids. 

Another interesting twist: I heard from a world language teacher that she posed the gender identity question in the target language. She said it made for great pronoun practice. 

One more: this link is to an article that Pat Romney sent me last week. I read it twice. I encourage you to read it. It connects to us in a several ways. One way is that it confirms our approach to orienting 9th graders. The 9th grade assembly, run entirely by upper class students, directly addresses what the article calls ‘belonging uncertainty’: it targets the sense kids have that they don’t belong here, that this is a place for other kids, but not for them. This confirmation was reassuring. The article also has growth mind set implications. I’m working on distilling some practical applications and will send them to you over the next couple of days. I want to take your feedback on their relevance for us.…