Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update is for the 5/11/2020 Newton School Committee meeting. This meeting was largely focused on examining the results of the Distance Learning Survey, conducted over the last several weeks. We will continue to study and analyze the feedback to allow us to improve the Distance Learning experience. To paraphrase our Superintendent, these surveys are about learning from our families, staff and students so that we can improve our Distance Learning Plan, making it better and more effective for all of our students and their families.

As a result, a number of changes to the Distance Learning Plan will soon take effect including:

  • Elementary – Each student will have 4 opportunities per week to connect live with a staff member.
  • Middle – An advisory or community meeting will occur weekly for 30 minutes to both connect and prepare for the week.
  • High – Classes will be scheduled for up to 30 minutes (increase of 10 minutes).

Superintendent’s Update:

  • Teams are currently working on planning for summer programming and awaiting state guidance within the next couple of weeks to help inform our efforts. The district is planning professional development around distance learning tools and best practices, in addition to equipping educators with the skills to address students’ emotional trauma due to COVID-19. The administrative team will soon move to planning for the possibility of distance learning in the fall and considering what school might look like at that time.


  • Distance Learning Surveys Summary of Data shows that “crisis teaching,” our emergency response to a global health pandemic, requires significant time and planning to recreate public education and presents numerous challenges. State guidance continues to focus on equity—the greatest challenge in our current environment. Families have a range of perspectives on distance learning depending on their circumstances.
    • Staff Survey Analysis:
      • Staff cited “not having enough hours in the day” and working constantly, through weekends, to plan and implement distance learning.
      • Across grade levels, the most frequent challenge staff are experiencing with live sessions or whole class meetings is students not attending.
      • Concern for vulnerable students and concern for ensuring equity for all students was their biggest challenge.
    • Distance Learning Family Survey Analysis:
      • For parents/guardians who reported challenges accessing live sessions or whole class meetings, younger students (preschool and elementary) more frequently had trouble engaging during this time, while older students (middle and high school) more frequently had difficulty logging in and technological problems with the virtual platform(s).
      • Analysis of open responses questions, around 3,000 responses for each question, is still underway. A majority of those providing suggestions would like more time with teachers teaching new content as a suggested way to help children manage distance learning. Parents/guardians also suggested small group projects and/or social interactions over Zoom, as well as more simplified and centralized directions for their students each week.
    • High School Student Feedback:
      • Most high school students (58%) report “doing school” between 2-4 hours per day; 43% say the amount of work is a bit much and 41% say it’s just right.
      • 31% of students say missing the social aspect of school is the hardest part.
    • Resources for Growing Student and Family Needs:
      • Device Loan – 1,000+
      • Meals – 2,340+ a day
      • District Response Team in Partnership with HHS
        • Phone: (617) 559-6021
  • Equity Working Group Update:
    • Suggested Annual Elementary Equity Cap of $40, determined by multiplying $40 by the number of students at each school, reviewed every 2 years.
    • The Elementary CAS Limit is three “experiences” per classroom. Annual Concert Series and Preview performances will not count as an “experience” towards the Elementary CAS Limit. Large Periodic Events, such as a Ruby Bridges visit or a mural prepared with the assistance of an artist, will not count as an “experience” towards the Elementary CAS Limit, if they happen no more than once every 5 school years.
    • Recommendations reflect a switch from measuring how much is spent per pupil to how many CAS experiences each student receives. It allows a better balance between the role Creative Arts and Sciences programming plays within a student’s overall educational experience.
  • First Reading Policy Updates (BEDH-Public Comment), IGB (Student Services), JH (Student Absences/Excuses), JICH (Tobacco/Alcohol Use), JLCB (Inoculation of Students):
    • Addresses minor amendments to update changes in the law or eliminate duplicate policies. Additional updates will be upcoming in the next group of policy updates.

Consent Agenda

  • Unanimously voted against participation in School Choice for the FY21 school year.
  • Unanimously approved 4-6-20 and 4-27-20 Draft Minutes.

Next Meeting
On Wednesday, May 27th at 7:00PM the School Committee will have a VIRTUAL School Committee meeting.

We hope you found this summary useful. You can access all School Committee meeting documents via the NPS website (www.newton.k12.ma.us/schoolcommittee). Additionally, if you are interested in watching an SC meeting from home or a recorded meeting, you can obtain access via www.newtv.org. On the district Facebook page, you can find videos of past “Virtual Office Hours,” which are held once a month and provide the community with the opportunity to ask questions through the FB Live format.

As always, we are very happy to answer any questions or discuss any concerns you may have. Please feel free to contact us via the email address below.

The Newton School Committee