Category Archives: From Newton Public Schools

News from Newton Public Schools

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update covers the 7/21/2020 Newton School Committee meeting. Before we present the information about our meeting, please note that the School Committee plans to hold several meetings prior to the start of the school year intended to deeply analyze and provide clarity on specific aspects of the district’s reopening plans. We’ve heard from many and share your concerns for a thoughtful, rigorous examination of the plans in order to build trust as we navigate the upcoming school year.

Superintendent’s Update:

  • Welcome Martine Albama our new Director of Human Resources and Staffing. Martine comes to us from the Boston Renaissance Charter School, where she has been the Director of Human Resources for the past five years. She is experienced, knowledgeable, supportive of her staff and a skilled problem solver.
  • Honored to visit with students in the Calculus Project whose remote sessions have gone really well with 100% attendance as they pilot new remote learning strategies over the summer. For students, the highlight so far was a visit with John Urschel, who left the Baltimore Ravens to pursue a PhD from MIT.
  • Sad to acknowledge the passing of Cindy Bergen, a 25-year member of the NPS community. She began her career as a math teacher at Day Middle School. She was dynamic, smart, caring and a wonderful listener. She was a leader behind the Calculus Project and every year going forward we will award a scholarship in her name.

Discussions/Update:

  • Update on Planning for the 2020-21 School Year:
    • Guiding Principles:
      • Health and Safety–NPS will develop personal safety and building operations protocols that prioritize the health of staff and students.
      • Academic Engagement–Develop universally designed instructional practices with multiple entry points designed to move flexibly between educational models.
      • Equity–Narrow achievement gaps by increasing equitable and universal opportunities for all students, irrespective of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or disability to access education and to achieve to their maximum potential. Ensure access to distance learning models with devices and internet.
      • Social and Emotional–Develop trauma-informed, healing-centered environments that prioritize interpersonal relationships and community connections. Support student well-being through enhanced mental health provisions, development of culturally sensitive, high quality, comprehensive tiered support for all learners and excellent specialized instruction.
    • Planning Structure: Planning teams include public health officials, educators, administrators and department leaders meeting in large and small teams utilizing data collection from surveys.
      • Building Operations: Health and Safety–Guided by Health and Human Services, the development of protocols and public health risk reduction pillars:
        • Physical distancing–Arrange classrooms with the goal to maintain 6 feet distance between individuals when stationary for more than 10 minutes.
        • Face Coverings–All people should wear a face covering/mask throughout the day except while eating, drinking, or during mask breaks. Allow masks/face coverings for K and 1st grade. Keep back-up supply of masks in main office, classrooms and health room. Face coverings/masks that become wet or soiled should be removed, stored or discarded and replaced with a new mask.
        • Hygiene–Wash/sanitize hands upon arrival to school and frequently throughout the day. Place hand sanitizer by school entrances and in school rooms. Allow students to have personal supply of hand sanitizer. Regular cleaning schedule for custodians includes enhanced protocols (high touch surfaces).
        • Avoid Exposure to Illness–Staff and Students will be required to complete a daily health assessment at home prior to coming to school. Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms, is being tested for COVID-19, or tests positive for COVID-19 must stay home for the amount of time required by PCP and/or health department. Anyone who is determined by a health department to be a close contact of someone who is positive for COVID-19 must remain out of school for the length of time required.
        • Preparing our schools–Create health and safety protocols for access to and movement within buildings, develop building checklists, conduct feasibility testing at all schools, inventory furniture and determine needs, acquire personal protective equipment, review access to administrative areas, generate templates for classroom layouts.
        • Building Systems Management–Cleaning protocols and training, expanded custodial hours, cleaning supplies, ventilation.
        • Transportation– Special Education Transportation Guidelines, PPE and cleaning protocol for buses and vans, working with Complete Streets, STSG, and SRTS, challenges: Bus Capacity, METCO routes, Guidance from state released late on Wednesday, July 22nd recommending 1 student per bench.
        • Food Service–Ongoing summer meal distribution, food safety management and delivery, Grab & Go, challenges: school lunch length, distancing, in-classroom meals, staffing requirements, distance more than 6ft when masks are removed to eat.
      • Summer Survey Overview–70% response rate
        • Elementary highest response rate (76%); preschool lowest response rate (52%).
        • Relatively representative of subgroups across district.
        • Families of white students slightly overrepresented; families of Asian and Hispanic/Latino students slightly underrepresented, Families of ELLs and SWDs slightly underrepresented.
        • Hybrid model: Majority of families said they would send their student to school in the hybrid model (75%), with similar patterns in elementary, middle, and high school.
          • The majority of families prefer a couple of days a week for the hybrid model (63%) compared to every other week (26%).
      • Academic Planning–School Schedule, Curriculum, Assessment, Social and Emotional Support, Professional Development:
        • School Models and Schedules–Three models to develop per DESE requirement (In-Person with safety protocols, Hybrid and Distance). Provide full virtual option for families that opt out of hybrid or in-person models. Prepare for smooth transition from one model to the other based upon public health data.
        • Evaluation of Model Options–6-foot distancing requirement makes in-person model not feasible for fall. Hybrid model means students are in school buildings some days and learning at home other days. Full virtual option for students who will not return to in-person. Models designed to enable smooth transition from one to the other (should public health data require).
        • Academic Guiding Principles–Consistency across schools, teams, grade levels and classrooms. Clear expectations for students and staff re: feedback, assessments and grading. Identification of core content students will be expected to learn. Focus on social and emotional health.
        • Special Education Planning–DESE issued separate special education guidance:
          • Supporting schools to have robust tiered supports to meet the needs of all returning students.
          • Preparing to fully implement IEPs.
          • Identifying high needs students for more regular attendance (if hybrid).
          • NPS inclusive culture requires a careful and integrated planning approach to effectively identify high needs students and utilize all contributing faculty members.
          • Assessment Center operations – summer.
      • Technology, changes and improvements to help students engage in learning:
        • Access
          • 1:1 Devices PreK-12
          • Home Internet – HotSpots
        • Consistent Platforms
          • Seesaw PreK-3
          • Google Classroom 4-5
          • Schoology 6-12
        • Training on Tech Tools for Teachers, students, families.
      • Human Resources:
        • COVID related staffing issues: High Risk Staff, Staff with child care challenges, COVID related illness staff/household family member.
        • Classroom coverage if infection/quarantine.
        • Compliance with Families First Coronavirus, Response Act, the Emergency Medical Leave Expansion Act, the ADA, applicable CBAs.
        • Collecting information from staff pertaining to ability to work in-person/remote only/LOA.
      • Summer Professional Development–Online flexibly-scheduled modules and courses for NPS educators throughout August:
        • Anti-Racist Practices
        • Technology and Distance learning
        • Culturally Responsive Teaching
        • Universal Design for Learning
        • Trauma Invested and Healing Centered Practices
      • Communications & Engagement:
        • Clear, consistent, and timely information will be provided to staff and families.
        • Information will be easy to understand and actionable when necessary.
        • Website will provide central location for information and updates.
      • Feedback will be sought consistently throughout school year and will inform any necessary adjustments to education and operations.
    • Timeline:
      • June 2020–Establish planning teams for development of return to school scenarios.
      • July 2020–Survey families on return to school options, concerns, questions.
      • Late July–NPS community updates.
      • Early August–Detailed update on Distance and Hybrid models
      • Early-Mid August–Decision on school opening model.

Consent Agenda

Next Meeting

The School Committee will hold another VIRTUAL School Committee meeting at a date to be determined and properly noticed in early August. On the agenda will be a discussion of the FY21 System-wide Goals, the FY21 Superintendent Goals and a discussion on the Student Organizations JJA Policy. Additionally, there will be a discussion and vote on the FY21 School Committee Calendar and Agenda Items.

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. Feel free to contact us via email at schoolcommittee@newton.k12.ma.us.

Sincerely,
The Newton School Committee

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update covers the 6/22/2020 Newton School Committee meeting. Before we present the information about our meeting, we wanted to draw your attention to an upcoming survey that the district will ask you to complete. This is our primary opportunity to hear from you! We urge you to take the time to complete this survey so that it can truly reflect your perspective and feedback. It will be used to help plan for next year.

Next, having concluded the most unlikely and improbable school year imaginable, we hope that each of you, parents, guardians and students, take this time to recuperate and heal from the emotional and mental drain of the last few months. Many of our administrative team, our faculty and staff are still working hard to envision various scenarios for school next year. Given the magnitude of the challenge before them, we hope that they will soon get to enjoy a richly deserved break which it is restorative and filled with self-care.

Superintendent’s Update:

  • We’ve spent lots of time addressing our inability to honor, in person, our transitioning and graduating students, but another group who can’t be traditionally honored are retiring faculty. Our gratitude and best wishes to:
    • Joe Siciliano, Newton North math teacher, retiring after 52 years of teaching in the Newton Public Schools.
    • Loreta Lamberti, Principal at Angier Elementary for 32 years. Loreta was passionate about building a positive school culture, developing strong and lasting relationships with families and was a leader on social and emotional learning before it was even a term.
    • John Jordan, Principal at Brown Middle School for 31 years. John led by listening, learning and caring. In addition to Middle School Advisory, which he started, John’s legacy is the number of teachers who served under him who are now Newton Principals.

Discussions/Update:

  • Summer and Fall Planning:
    • Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidance for the fall will differ from summer guidance. Fall guidance expected as early as 6/23/2020. The State will likely have a continuum of models and we will need to prepare for three scenarios (modified in-person, hybrid of some students in and some out, and full Distance Learning) depending on the public health status.
    • What do we know about the fall right now? Continue reading

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update covers the 6/8/2020 Newton School Committee meeting. Before we present the information about our meeting, we wanted to draw your attention to news regarding Unit C staffing for next year. While most NPS staff are permanent and long-term employees, we do have a number of staff contracted annually. For the coming year, NPS will not renew the yearly contract of approximately 100 of our roughly 700 Unit C paraprofessionals. Unit C includes special education aides, behavior therapists, classroom aides, and other educational assistants. In a typical year, the district examines these contracts to determine which positions to renew. Over the past 5 years, about 50 positions on average have not been renewed. This is no typical year as schools navigate the disruption to educational models and budgets caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fact that we are still uncertain what school will look like next year, infinitely complicates NPS’s staffing decisions. Non-renewal of these contracts allows the district the flexibility to hire the highly qualified, differentiated skilled team we will need to provide the services all of our students require for both special and general education. Please know that NPS is planning for a range of scenarios with a variety of educational models, working hard to meet the academic, social, emotional, health and safety needs of all of our students.

Lastly, please know that NPS has no plans to alter the staffing models of our employees in Unit A, teachers or Unit B, administrators, curriculum coordinators, deans, department heads and assistant principals.

Superintendent’s Update:

  • Congratulations to the Class of 2020! Sunday, June 7th’s Celebration Lanes event at both Newton North and Newton South was a fun celebration for students, parents, teachers and staff.
  • We have received state guidance regarding summer programs. We typically serve around 900 students during summer for our Extended School Year (ESY) program. This will be done remotely, factoring in safety and social distance.
  • Parents and guardians should have received an email sharing information about our plans for the fall. The state has a 42-person team made up of various stakeholders including parents, educators, superintends and mayors all working to create guidelines for remote learning or safe in person school for next year.
  • Unit C special education aids, who pay a critical role in our educational system, are facing uncertainty in staffing for next year. We are inviting back 80% of our Unit C paraprofessionals. We are unable to hire everyone back due to the uncertainty of knowing what school will look like next year.

Discussions/Update:

  • Distance Learning Plan Update: Highlights, Challenges & Lessons Learned. “In general, school districts spend 2-4 years creating distance learning programs. We’ve had to create a crisis distance learning plan in a matter of weeks.”—David Fleishman
    • Elementary Schools
      • Highlights – increased creativity, problem solving, and growth in utilizing technology as a tool for learning, increased interdisciplinary teacher collaboration, relentless faculty commitment to students and families and consistent and helpful communication from district leadership.
      • Challenges – delivering virtual learning in a way that K-2 students can access independently and mitigate time impact on families, providing consistent feedback and holding students accountable, magnified inequities among students/families, teachers’ capacity to work from home and manage their own families, gauging the extent to which students are making academic and social emotional progress, social connections for students and supporting students/families in crisis.
      • Lessons Learned – Need to use the skillsets of our support staff to provide additional direct support to students, need to use technology platforms that are developmentally appropriate for grade levels, increased rigor and time on learning (live virtual classes/small groups) will benefit student learning, growth, and connection.
    • Middle Schools
      • Highlights – Technology platforms to help organize students and enable parents to provide support, online instruction with peer-to-peer conference, padlet, virtual bulletin boards for teachers to share promising practices and in the moment PD and dialogue. Also recreating Transitions & Traditions with classroom visit screencasts and Step-up Day virtual tours.
      • Challenges – Creating a technological platform for distance learning, developing a variety of engaging activities for online live sessions, responding to students social and emotional needs, widening achievement gap, providing academic, organizational, and technical support and reaching out to individual students. Also, transitioning students from one school to the next, especially preparing them socially and emotionally for the shift.
      • Lessons Learned – Need for robust technology platform, professional development for teachers to: create engaging online learning sessions with increased instruction, develop means to meet students social and emotional needs in a distance format and integrate online and onsite learning experiences.
    • High Schools
      • Highlights – Continued focus on relationships and culturally responsive instruction, focus on equity, mental health & connecting with ALL students, strong collaboration, bonding and creativity among teacher teams and with all educators in the building, cohesiveness of leadership teams, experimentation with new tools and ways of teaching, collaborative response to crisis and demonstration of student leadership as part of that response.
      • Challenges – Student Perspective: lack of social contact for students and teachers, supporting students/families in crisis and students who struggle, responding to inequities that are now more magnified and addressing them more immediately, supporting our students when incidents occur in our school and in our world, and student accountability and learning from feedback rather than using grades/GPA as motivators. Teacher/Leadership Perspective: everything takes longer and requires more top-down leadership at times, teachers’ capacity to work from home and manage their own families, how to teach electives, managing information flow/frequency, supporting educators when incidents occur in our school and in our world and taking action to be anti-racist schools and keeping that at the forefront with any other work.
      • Lessons Learned – Simplicity is better, share lesson plans, use the hive mind of departments, won’t be able to do everything, need clear, effective communication from everyone, how we build on this experiment in intrinsic motivation, how to use this moment to deepen our conversations about race and justice. Also, equity must remain our focus and students need time to connect with each other and their teachers.
    • Equity Committee Recommendations:
      • Remove CAS from Annual Elementary Equity Cap.
      • The Elementary CAS Limit is three “experiences” per classroom.
      • Change Annual Elementary Equity Cap to $40/student.
      • Defer implementation of recommendations to FY22 (effective July 1st 2021).
      • Committee set to vote on the suggested policy recommendations during the Monday, June 22nd meeting.

Consent Agenda

  • The School Committee voted Tamika Olszewski as EDCO Board Member, 7 voted in favor with 1 absence (Ray-Canada).
  • Approved 5-11-2020 and 5-18-2020 Draft Minutes, 7 voted in favor with 1 absence (Ray-Canada).

Next Meeting

On Monday, June 22nd at 7:00 PM the School Committee will have the last meeting of the school year. It will be 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. Feel free to contact us via email at schoolcommittee@newton.k12.ma.us.

Sincerely,
The Newton School Committee

Updated Learning Plan and Summer/Fall Plans

Dear NPS Families,

I write to share two important updates with you. The first is an update on our distance learning plan based upon both updated guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and survey feedback from families, staff, and high school students. The second update is on planning for summer and the 2020-21 school year.

Distance Learning

Thank you to all families who took the time to provide feedback on our distance learning plan. Below are some key takeaways from the staff, family, and high school student surveys:

Key Survey Findings

  • For staff, one of the significant challenges of distance learning is concern for vulnerable students and ensuring equitable access and engagement for all students.
  • The majority of parents/guardians responded that the amount of time that their child is interacting with teachers in real time is not enough.
  • The majority of parents/guardians at elementary and middle school responded that the amount of time their child is doing work or activities provided by teachers is just right. At preschool, the majority said it is not enough. High school parents/guardians were closely split between not enough and just right.
  • For high school students, 84% found the amount of work being provided as either just right or a bit too much. 58% of students are spending 2-4 hours per day “doing school.” 76% of all students find the challenge level of learning activities just right.

Updates to Distance Learning Plan

Given the state guidance, along with the feedback above, and working closely with our NTA partners, below is a list of the key changes that will be implemented as we proceed with our distance learning plan:

  • As many have already begun, teachers and staff will give students opportunities to learn new content and skills, while continuing to review and reinforce key concepts. The focus will be on a limited number of key topics and skills to prepare students for the next grade.
  • In our elementary schools, weekly schedules will be revised so that students will have at least four opportunities per week to connect live with a staff member, one of whom will be a specialist.
  • In our middle schools, we will add a weekly advisory or community meeting of 30 minutes at all schools to promote engagement and connection and to support students as they organize their work for the week.
  • At the high school level, the class schedule will be adjusted to allow classes to run for up to 30 minutes as educationally appropriate.

Our distance learning plan continues to place connection with school and social emotional support for students as a top priority. We know that families continue to experience this pandemic very differently and we seek to respect those differences. Providing regular connections with teachers and staff, as well as meaningful academic work, will be the focus of our plan for the remainder of the academic year. 

Summer and Fall Planning

We know that you have many questions about plans for both summer programming and the 2020-21 school year. While there are more questions than answers at this point, please know that our primary consideration will be the health and wellness of our students, staff, and school communities. We will be working closely with health officials to plan for school opening, while understanding that our plans will need to be flexible given the unknown duration of this public health crisis.

For the summer, we are awaiting state guidance on school programs, camps, and other services. We expect that some of our programs will need to be remote, with potentially some opportunity for in person interaction. We will provide you updates and information as we receive guidance and determine what is possible.

For the fall, we are creating planning teams to prepare for the many possible scenarios. One area of focus will be operations, including building cleaning protocols, bussing, food service, social distancing protocols, among many others. A second key area of focus will be our educational model and how public health considerations will impact scheduling, course content, and social-emotional support for our students. This team will develop a range of scenarios to accommodate the various guidelines that may be put in place to protect public health. We will continue to keep you updated as our planning moves forward.

As we embark upon the final six weeks of this truly unprecedented school year, I am struck by the creativity of our staff, the resilience of our students, and the kindness of our school community. While the past 8 weeks have been incredibly stressful, sometimes frustrating and sad, and always uncertain, I am hopeful that some of the life lessons learned by our children will serve them well. I hope you and your family are healthy and well.

Sincerely,

David Fleishman
Superintendent of Schools

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.

Discussions/Update:

  • 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.

Sincerely,
The Newton School Committee