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Superintendent's September 18, 2020 Newsletter

date 9/18/2020

Welcome back to students and families to the beginning of school year 2020-2021. The first few days of school are behind us, and we thank you for your patience as we work out the challenges that come with using this new technology in our classrooms. This is the first Superintendent’s newsletter of the year, which is published monthly to give you news from the district. During this year, we will also continue to issue Superintendent’s Bulletins as necessary to give you important information that may need to be delivered in a timely manner pertaining to COVID or operational news.

As you know, you can see all documents and Superintendent's Bulletins in the School Opening Fall 2020 information under the COVID-19 tab on the home page of the BPS website. We realize there is a lot of information and communication coming from your schools, and we thank you for your attention and time spent reading the newsletters and bulletins.

In this newsletter you will find information on the following:

SUPERINTENDENT'S OPENING SCHOOL 2020 LETTER

We have received communication from parents and guardians noting concerns they have for our children’s safety, emotional wellbeing, and education during the remote learning phase. I do not want to dismiss the difficulty of this time for families and children. I am sensitive to the strain on all of our families, and families across the Commonwealth, who have worries and stress related to our current circumstances. These three components are exactly the priorities we have communicated at each School Committee meeting, and they will continue to drive our decision making for phase movement to more in-person learning.
 
Safety
As discussed at our School Committee meeting on September 15, we have very good “metrics” in Belmont. Director of Facilities Steve Dorrance presented an initial summary on the air exchange assessment performed by BALA Consulting Engineers at the September 15 School Committee meeting, and a more detailed room-by-room, building-by-building report is forthcoming. In the initial summary the overall air exchange was favorable, given that we can open windows and use the air purification units we purchased. There was also a list of classrooms and spaces that were deemed unusable at this current time. We will analyze the challenges and concerns in those rooms and prioritize the facilities work needed to bring those spaces back to compliance. We will review those spaces that may not be available as soon as we would need them and make alternative arrangements (move rooms for staff and students) to make the return to school possible. These solutions are attainable and many are already in motion. 

Our local health department was consulted for all of our "meet and greet" sessions, and we will continue to use our local health experts for guidance and advice throughout the year. Our director of nursing and the director of the Belmont Health Department, in partnership with our neighboring districts, have created safety protocols that need to be in place for introducing children and staff to our schools. These protocols can all be found on our website and are updated as needed since we understand guidance may change; as recently as last Friday, the guidance shifted on important protocols related to COVID responses for schools. 

We continue to encourage all of our community members, adults, and children, to abide by the expected health protocols at home and in our neighborhoods. We want to emphasize the need to wear masks, social distance, wash hands, and stay home when you feel ill, and speak to your medical professionals whenever you are concerned. We saw on the news just this week that many districts have pulled back from their in-person/hybrid learning to remote learning because of a positive case or cases that would have negatively impacted the health of school children and staff. We all need to continue to be vigilant, and this will help our process of moving more students into schools.
 
Social and Emotional
Our children’s emotional wellbeing is as much a primary concern for us as their physical wellbeing. We have partnered with McLean’s Hospital to provide professional development to our educators which will continue throughout the year, and we will provide parent/guardian forums on these as well. We appreciate and understand the need for our students to socialize, get back to routines, and interact in a way that is safe and needed for their own emotional health. To that end, we prioritized "meet and greet" sessions for families and students this September, we approved the fall athletics season for high school students, began providing clubs and co-curricular activities for our 5-12 grade students, and partnered with our after school care programs to provide in-person time outside the school for the K-8 families they serve. All of these social interactions for our students will take place during our remote phase and move forward to our next phase as well. Now that school has started in-person for over 130 of our most vulnerable children while the majority of students engage remotely, we hope this will help lift the spirits of our students as we begin to engage academically.
 
Academic Engagement
We have worked hard to make sure our remote plan is robust and well-improved from last spring. Our committed educators have maximized the professional development offerings this summer. With federal grant dollars we have hired three Technology Integration Specialists (one for each level of the district) to support teachers, students, and families in navigating the challenges of remote instruction. We have been asking for these positions for years but we could not afford them until now. Districts we compare ourselves to have had these positions in each building for years. We have secured devices for every student and teacher in the district, and we will put our technology to good use while we are in our remote learning environment. Many other districts in the news today still await their shipment of devices. Like you, we would also rather be in-person with a teacher and students in a physical classroom and will keep moving toward that goal. In the meantime, we are proud of what our teachers have accomplished to prepare for the return to learning this week.
 
To be clear, our overarching goal of the Phased Plan was to move forward carefully and thoughtfully. This decision was made in early August when we were required to submit a plan to the state, which seems like a long time ago. The Phased Plan was designed to provide the district the ability to move from one phase to the next with certainty and not promise in-person learning until we knew for sure we could implement a plan with confidence. This measured approach has, and will, provide a consistent, stable, and predictable environment for everyone in our school community. Changing plans abruptly, like we have witnessed in many districts in the last month and week, is not a good learning environment for children, nor is it helpful for parents and guardians who are trying desperately to organize the logistics of their home and work life. We planned on having time to learn from other districts' experiences, and we have learned a tremendous amount this past month. As stated consistently, many districts that went to hybrid-phased plans found they needed to abandon their in-person models abruptly due to new cases of coronavirus in the schools. We are fortunate to not find ourselves in that situation. 
 
We are living in a new time and the health circumstances are fragile. As I have stated several times, I would rather we be the district that waits a few weeks and learns from the experiment of opening school with a hybrid return, than be the district that directly takes part in an experiment.
 
My goal is to provide a plan that protects the health of our children, staff and community, takes into consideration the emotional concerns we have for our children, and provides a remote learning plan that works while we move toward more in-person learning in a stable and predictable manner for our families.

SCHOOL COMMITTEE

Remote/Hybrid Pros and Cons: School principals presented the hybrid and remote plans, pros and cons, to the School Committee at the September 15 meeting. This presentation was emailed to families on September 16. Principals also held virtual public forums to give an overview and take questions regarding the remote and hybrid schedules, and have emailed families those presentations and links to the videos.

Athletic Fee Modification: The School Committee voted on September 15 to reduce the fall athletic fee from $450 to $325 for the fall season. This reduction is in response to the modified fall season due to COVID-19. If the fall season should end abruptly, families will be notified regarding the reimbursement process.

BECA Presentation: Belmont Educators of Color and Allies (BECA) presented their recommendations to Belmont Public Schools for anti-racism training for staff and anti-racist education/curriculum planning in the schools. The district has been pro-active engaging in culturally responsive teaching as a part of social emotional learning and anti-racism in the classrooms, and we are looking forward to further discussing BECA's ideas and suggestions and partnering with them as we continue this work.

Eagle Scout Ear Savers Project: At the September 8 School Committee meeting, Megan, a senior at BHS, presented her Ear Savers Project as her Eagle Scout Service Project on her journey to become one of the first female Eagle Scouts. She decided to have her project help the Belmont students and staff and is making more than 5,000 ear savers, a mask-wearing product that takes the strain off the ears and minimizes face gaps. She plans on delivering them to the schoools in early September. Please see her presentation and information on how to donate to help cover the cost of materials used.

Next School Committee Meeting: The next School Committee meeting will be on September 22 at 6:30 p.m. Items on the agenda include a review of the Phased Plan and a vote on the elementary hybrid model. For the full agenda and access to this meeting, please go to the School Committee page on the BPS website.

TEACHING AND LEARNING

Summer Professional Development: Educators were busy attending summer technology professional development workshops getting ready for remote and hybrid learning. Hundreds of educators and staff participated in the 70-plus workshops.

Educators Return to the New School Year: We held New Educator Orientation virtually on August 25, 26, and 27 where teachers learned about curriculum, instruction, and virtually met with school and central office administrators.

Some highlights from the beginning of school for our educators include a virtual presentation on equity learning on September 2 from Kimberly Thomas, an anti-racism practitioner and consultant from Equal Opportunity Schools. After the presentation, members of BECA (Belmont Educators of Colors and Allies) facilitated discussion groups that all district educators and staff attended and the district Leadership Council continued in a follow-up session with the speaker. We had very positive response from our educators who are looking forward to applying information learned from this workshop in their classrooms. Also during the first week of September, professionals from McLean Hospital held workshops with all staff on social and emotional learning and strategies for creating classroom communities, rituals, and routines that support students’ social and emotional wellbeing.

TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES

Family Technology Resources: We are grateful to the School Committee for approving the addition of an Elementary Technology Integration Specialist to the 2020-21 school year. Jennifer Pressey, grade 1 teacher at Butler, will join our other two specialists, Joanne Marks for the middle school and Mark Lefevre at the high school. These positions are funded by the federal CARES Act. We know the support from these positions held by Belmont teachers will benefit teachers, students and families. Technology Integration Specialists Webpage

Please see the newly created Family Technology Resources site. Here you will find information on Google Meet, Google Classroom, and other useful information that will be updated regularly.

BPS Technology Resources:  For any questions, issues, support please email our Technology Department at: studentsupport@belmontschools.net.

BPS Family and Student Guidelines: Appropriate Technology Use During Virtual/Remote Learning Activities: Belmont Public Schools is dedicated to providing engaging and effective remote learning opportunities for our students.  As part of our remote learning opportunities, BPS is offering many learning activities, classroom presentations and student meetings via a virtual platform. As you are engaging in these virtual learning activities, presentations and student meetings, the District seeks to clarify guidelines for appropriate technology use during virtual/remote learning activities.  These are as follow:

  • The District strictly prohibits screenshots, pictures, audio/video recording and distribution of any virtual educational experience in order to protect student privacy, proactively prevent potential cyberbullying, prevent the distribution of copyrighted materials and comply with Massachusetts law. Please note that in Massachusetts, it is illegal to record another person through any medium without his or her knowledge.
  • Students, and where appropriate parents/guardians, agree to engage in virtual educational experiences in a quiet, private area to the extent practicable given the circumstances, in order to minimize background noise and distractions and to protect the integrity of student engagement as well as student confidentiality.
  • Parents/guardians and other household members who normally are not privy to day-to-day classroom and group service discussions agree to respect and keep confidential any personal or private information (e.g. disability status) inadvertently discovered about other students due to proximity of virtual education.

As a reminder, the District’s Acceptable Use Policy applies to virtual learning, including school-issued devices and networks.

SCHOOL NEWS

WB Meet and Greet Gr. 1, 2, 3 First day of School PreK Schools held their "meet and greet" sessions on September 14 and 15, and preschool opened up in-person on September 16. Our Belmont community was happy to meet their new teachers and the teachers were happy to meet their new students. Please see more pictures in the gallery below.

HEALTH AND NURSING SERVICES WEBSITE NEWS

Health and Safety Protocols-BPS Nursing Website Please see the new Health and Nursing Services website page that gives you a wealth of information on many subjects including COVID-19 Protocols and the latest Immunization Requirements

USEFUL INFORMATION

For your convenience, below are links to useful information from previous newsletters.

Town and State:

Organizations:

FBE NEWS

The Foundation for Belmont Education (FBE) Virtual Apple Run 5K and 2K races will be run during October 2 to October 12. See the FBE website for more information.

 


WB Meet and Greet Gr. 1, 2, 3  Burbank Meet and Greet  Butler Meet and Greet Gr. 2  Wellington Meet and Greet  CMS Meet and Greet Gr. 5  BHS Meet & Greet Gr. 9  Technology Integration Specialists Webpage  First day of School PreK  First day of School PreK on the Playground  Health and Safety Protocols-BPS Nursing Website 


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