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Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update is for the 4/27/2020 and 4/30/2020 Newton School Committee meetings. We have combined these two meetings into one newsletter as they both examined the significant impacts COVID-19 will have on our proposed 2020-2021 Annual Budget. During the 4/27/2020 meeting, Mayor Fuller and Maureen Lemieux, Newton’s Chief Financial Officer addressed the Committee to describe the “deep changes in revenue assumptions,” to ask the district to reduce its FY21 budget by $1,500,000, and to plan accordingly for even greater reductions in FY22. Superintendent Fleishman and Chief Financial Officer, Liam Hurley, recommended a number of adjustments to immediately ddress this request and begin the process of carrying funds forward.

Superintendent’s Update:

  • In positive news, the Newton South Global Community’s program received a Green Difference Award, recognizing their outstanding energy, environmental and STEAM efforts.
  • Distance Learning Update: Received Phase 3 Guidance from DESE focusing on 4 key areas of distance learning: prioritizing meaningful connections with educators and peers, providing engaging core instruction focused on the content standards most critical to student success, moving to new content material, offering opportunities for enrichment exercise and play and ensuring that programming is accessible. DESE has also prioritized asynchronous learning as opposed to live lessons where many students may not be able to join lessons.
  • Reviewing Feedback on Distance Learning: We’ve already received high school surveys and had very good response rate from staff survey. Next week we’ll begin to analyze the NPS Distance Learning: Family Survey to try to triangulate that data and think about how it compares with the specific guidance we are getting from DESE. The results will be shared during the Monday, May 11th School Committee Meeting.

Discussions/Update:

  • The Last Day of School: The last day of school for students will be Tuesday, June 18, 2019, and the last day for teachers will be Wednesday, June 19, 2019.
  • FY20 Fiscal and Operational Update:
    • Chief Financial Officer, Liam Hurley, presented our third Fiscal and Operations Update of the school year. As of March 31, 2020, the district has spent and encumbered $157.2 million, or 66% of the annual budget of $237,022,312. The current financial forecast includes projections for all areas of spending for the year, with a projected positive balance of $2.8 million.
    • New assumptions made because of school closure for the remainder of the year due to COVID-19:
      • Salaries, benefits, utilities, maintenance, contracted services, tuition, transportation and spending on supplies and equipment are all projected to end the year under budget.
      • Food Service, however, will require a $359,000 subsidy in FY20 due to the district’s contract with food service vendor Whitsons, contingent upon 180 service days, and expanded food service operations during the district-wide shutdown to provide students with nutritious meals at three school sites, 150 Jackson Road, North High, and South High. Coordination is underway with City Officials to open serving sites to all residents regardless of age. Also, negotiations will take place to determine Whitsons management fees for the year.
  • Facilities Update:
    • Chief Financial Officer, Liam Hurley, provided an update on several projects currently underway including:
      • Newton Early Childhood Program (NECP) – project has now been put out to bid and we expect to receive bids in May.
      • Lincoln-Eliot at 150 Jackson Road- the working group is recommending that the space program be revised for an enrollment of 396 students and 18 classrooms, plus an expanded scope including the existing auditorium.
      • Continue reading

Update from the School Committee

 

Dear Friends,

By now you’ve received loads of information from Superintendent David Fleishman, from the principals and the teachers regarding the NPS Distance Learning Plan. It’s a lot of information to process and we’ve heard from numerous parents and guardians who have shared feedback. During the Monday April 6th meeting, David Fleishman and the NPS administrative team offered us a “window into their thinking” for creating this plan and why the team believes it is the best solution for shifting instruction to an online model. We strongly encourage you to watch the recorded broadcast to hear directly from the team. Alternatively, you may review the Distance Learning Report to the School Committee.

The School Committee would like to provide you a window into our support for the district’s plan and will share some answers to commonly asked questions before we conclude the update with Monday’s Consent Agenda.

  • Why did NPS wait until April 6th to start distance learning? The district took a careful and thoughtful approach to readying our families for distance learning and supporting teachers and other learning specialists with the necessary planning time to create materials, curriculum, and weekly schedules. It was also important for Newton to obtain state guidance. On March 26th the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) established a number of guiding principles for distance learning and set equity as a top priority. To enable access and support equity, the district swiftly coordinated the distribution of over 900 Chromebooks to families and provided Grab N’ Go meals for all students.
  • Did the School Committee negotiate a Distance Learning Plan with the Newton Teachers Association? Yes, because distance learning is a significant change in working conditions, we had to discuss the terms of our new reality.  We were able to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement once our learning plans were created. On March 29th, the School Committee executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NTA.
  • Why cancel April vacation? Simply put, now that the distance learning plan is in effect, cancelling vacation allows students to continue their learning without further interruption.
  • Will this school year be extended? That’s a great question and at this time one that is still being evaluated. We can share that the SC will meet in Executive Session on April 13th to discuss the last day of school.
  • Is summer school on the table to catch students up? We’ll follow guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The NPS administrative team will conduct a thorough analysis of this option.
  • Why did other districts start distance learning earlier? It’s true that some area schools made early shifts to remote services, but these efforts largely suffered from a lack of coordination or didn’t provide technology assistance to families. Some districts were much smaller than Newton with fewer stakeholders to negotiate. Many districts have since revised and modified their plans in order to implement greater coordination. Newton has taken the time to benefit from state guidance, minimize student disruption and maximize our ability to provide a coordinated effort. Newton also prioritized providing basic services to students, such as meals and technology.
  • Why did we have to wait for students to get technology access? Newton’s values of equity and excellence demand that our district leave no student behind in our shift to remote learning. We are grateful to the Newton Schools Foundation for their generous grant to purchase an additional 300 Chromebooks.
  • How are we providing service to students with special needs? Supporting the needs of all learners required the district to craft a plan respecting students’ IEPs and 504 plans. NPS took the time to carefully plan our distance learning model so that students of all abilities feel connected to their teachers and can access materials.
  • Why are we only having 3 – 3.5 hours of learning a day? This was the guidance the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provided to each school district in the state. It rests in the premise that remote learning is not synonymous with online learning. Remote learning promotes “balance between learning through technology and remote learning that happens offline to support students’ curiosity and understanding.”
  • Will there be opportunity for parent and student feedback?  The short answer is ABSOLUTELY!  Principals and senior administration will be working on a survey to go out to all parents (likely by level – elementary, middle, high) in the next week or two.  Additionally, teachers and principals will survey older students as well.  Parents are also encouraged to let their classroom teachers know how activities are working for their child/family – both what works well and what is missing the mark.
  • Why is the School Committee voting on the FY21 Budget before knowing the full financial impact of the school closure for next year?  The School Committee completed the budget cycle as set out because it is an important marker in planning for next year and while we suspect there will be new information in the coming months, we did not have that new information in hand.  Budgets often shift during the year in a “typical” situation.  However, we recognize that assumptions in the current FY21 budget have a great likelihood of changing and we have scheduled an updated review for the April 27th School Committee meeting and added an additional meeting on Thursday April 30th.

Last, we understand your anxiety and concern. We share your fears, your frustrations, and that sense of loss for our normal routines and traditional activities. We need your help to make this work because what the students need now, more than anything, is to maintain connection with each other and their teachers. We appreciate your help making this distance learning plan work for our children in a way that faithfully upholds our values of excellence and equity.

Consent Agenda

  1. Unanimously approved 3/16/20 Draft Minutes.
  2. Approved FY21 Proposed Annual Budget pending an updated financial forecast on April 29th to consider the impact of our current school closure on the budget.

We hope you found this guide useful. You can access all SC meeting documents via the NPS website (www.newton.k12.ma.us/schoolcommittee). As always, we are very happy to answer any questions and listen to your feedback. Please feel free to contact us via the email address below.

Sincerely,
The Newton School Committee

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update is for the 3/16/2020 and 3/19/2020 Newton School Committee meetings.  We have combined these two meetings into one newsletter as they were both regarding the proposed 2020-2021 Annual Budget.

Overview:

  • Our projected enrollment for the 2020-21 school year is 12,596 students, a projected decline of 15 students.
  • The FY21 Superintendent’s Proposed Budget is $244,645,343, and includes an $8.3 million increase.
  • The proposed budget aligns with the current goals including Academic Excellence, Educational Equity, Social and Emotional Wellbeing, School Facilities, Technology Infrastructure, Transportation, Diversity of Faculty, Staff and Leadership and Community Goals.

Instructional Areas:

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

In an effort to balance our obligation to hold public meetings with the equally imperative duty to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19, the School Committee has implemented new Public Comment procedures with guidance from the Health and Human Services Department. Normally, the month of March is a busy time during which the Committee reviews, vigorously examines and welcomes numerous Public Comments regarding next year’s budget. Given yesterday’s decision to close schools, the risk of community spread posed by COVID-19 and the need to protect our most vulnerable residents, we simply cannot observe the normal process.

We hope that you understand and assist us to mitigate the risk as we refrain from large gatherings and maintain social distancing. This is not possible in the Ed Center’s School Committee chamber, which is small and easily overcrowded. Therefore, we urge members of the public not to attend in person and instead opt to watch the live broadcast on NewTV. For meetings with scheduled Public Comment, we ask members of the public to submit written Public Comment by 6:00 PM. Questions will be collated and read aloud during the Committee’s live broadcast at 7:00 PM on NewTV. Each Public Comment is limited to three minutes and must include your name and address. Please submit Public Comments to schoolcommittee@newton.k12.ma.us.  

Upcoming Meetings:

  • Monday, March 16 at 7:00 PM, Special SC Meeting FY21 Budget. The Committee will review changes to the budget affecting Elementary and Secondary education. No Public Comment Scheduled.
  • Thursday, March 19 at 7:00 PM, Special SC Meeting. Public Comment Observed, up to 45 minutes. Submit written comments to the SC via email.
  • Monday, March 23 at 7:00 PM, SC Meeting. Public Comment Observed, up to 30 minutes. Submit written comments to the School Committee via email.
  • Monday, March 30 at 7:00 PM, SC Public Hearing FY21 Budget. Public Comment Observed, No Time Limit. Submit written comments to the School Committee via email.

We hope you found this guide useful. You can access all SC meeting documents via the NPS website (www.newton.k12.ma.us/schoolcommittee). Additionally, we offer “Virtual Office Hours” once a month using Facebook Live to provide the community with an opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts with members of the School Committee. Videos of past “Virtual Office Hours” are archived on the district Facebook page.

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

School Closing

March 12, 2020

Dear NPS Families,

For the past two weeks, we have been working closely with the Newton Department of  Health and Human Services to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. We have received many emails from concerned families and understand that this is a stressful and unsettling time.

Given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in our region, coupled with new guidance from the Governor, the state, infectious disease experts, and our local health partners, we have made the difficult decision to close the Newton Public Schools beginning tomorrow, Friday, March 13. There will be no school tomorrow, next week and possibly for a longer period. 

The decision to close schools is an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. It will only be effective if the community also takes steps to practice self-isolation, monitor for any symptoms, and avoid large gatherings. We need all community members to do their part or the school closure will not be successful in limiting the spread of the virus.

We know the cancellation of school, its associated activities, and events that use our school buildings is disappointing and extremely disruptive to our daily lives. However, we believe we must do so for the health and well-being of our community.

We expect to provide an update to you next week as we further assess the situation.  We also know you will have questions regarding learning opportunities for your children while school is closed and we will have more information on this subject late next week.

This is a unique public health situation that is rapidly changing. Our hope is that if we all work together, we can reduce the spread of this virus, protect residents, especially those most vulnerable, and resume normal activities as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

David Fleishman
Superintendent of Schools