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Superintendent's Newsletter November 19, 2020

date 11/19/2020

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and is a time we usually reflect on what we are thankful for. We at Belmont Public Schools are thankful for our educators and school leadership for all their creativity and thoughtfulness towards the approach of their work during this challenging time, and the Belmont community for their patience and partnership. We also want to thank the Foundation for Belmont Education, Belmont Boosters, PTOs/PTAs, SEPAC, and all our partners for continuing the work of supporting our students in creative and new ways, such as virtual runs (FBE Apple Run and Butler PTA Fun Run) and school book fairs. This year, we were not able to thank our veterans with excercises at the schools but we want to thank them, as well, for their service and sacrifice.

Please note that we have a half day of school on Wednesday, November 25, and will return to school on Monday, November 30. We wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and a restful long weekend. Please see the Health and Safety section below to view state and CDC guidelines for a safe holiday.

Table of contents for this month's newsletter:

SCHOOL COMMITTEE

BHS Hybrid Advisory Committee:  Principal Isaac Taylor and members of the BHS Advisory Committee presented two hybrid models to the School Committee at the November 17 meeting. The advisory group's task was to survey the BHS community (sent on October 29), re-evaluate, and create a new hybrid model. You can see the results of the survey and other information presented to the School Committee at the November 10 meeting on the School Committee Public Documents page of the website.

The School Committee voted to accept the recommendation of Principal Isaac Taylor and the Superintendent in support of moving forward with BHS Hybrid Model #2 at the November 17 meeting pending final discussions with our educators. We expect this hybrid model to begin the week of November 30. Through this model, the group concluded students in remote-only and hybrid learning will have increased instructional time, will be able to participate in a shared learning experience, and student schedules would not change. During discussions of Model #1, the challenges of including lunch proved difficult, as there would still be a large number of students moving in shifts to and from the cafeteria (half the student body is approximately 700 students). The high school does not have a space large enough for students to eat in. The cafeteria is too small for students to be able to socially distance, and the auditorium and field house are currently being used as additional classroom space. Hallway movement is an issue; as a public school, we have to provide a way for students to purchase lunch and cannot rely on students bringing in a bagged lunch. The safety issues around lunch, and the required cleaning of rooms after lunch, proved challenging and time consuming. The decision was also based on the fact that it would benefit students more to use the 70 minutes needed to have lunch in Model #1 for instructional minutes in teaching and learning for hybrid and remote students.

Having said that, please know we are planning on a cycle of review and discussion at all three grade levels and recognize the need for a continuous learning process. Throughout the year, we will continue to gather information so we can analyze, review, and assess the effectiveness of our hybrid and remote-only learning experiences. Today, we need to focus on the value of time with students in person, moving curriculum forward, and engaging our remote-only and hybrid students with the full program embodied throughout the day.

CMS and Elementary Hybrid Model Review: Butler Principal Danielle Betancourt and CMS Principal Karla Koza discussed the forming of the elementary and middle school advisory groups at the November 17 School Committee meeting. The make-up of these groups (educators and parents) is similar to the high school group. School leadership and advisory groups will facilitate the gathering of representative feedback through survey and will review and re-evaluate current models. Please watch for communications from your schools on how to volunteer for the groups and the timeline to complete the initial work.

In the case of CMS, we wanted to address the “at home” time for grades 5 and 6 before the Thanksgiving break. The amount of time without instruction was more apparent when the hybrid model began, and we all concluded this was not acceptable. Principal Karla Koza took steps to remedy the at-home learning day including the hiring of two FTE Media Specialist positions to support grade 5, an additional required asynchronous ENCORE class for all students, and expanding independent learning opportunities for students. Please see Principal Koza's presentation to the School Committee on November 17 for more information.

The community feedback over the last few weeks has been heard and valued. We hope the implementation of the advisory groups, creating timelines, looking at the models and comparison schools from other districts for design improvement, and conducting surveys for continued community input helps in moving this work forward. Please see the advisory group timelines for the elementary, middle, and high school presented at the November 17 meeting.

School Budget FY22 and Beyond: Belmont has passed only one operating override in the last 17 years (2015), and we are grateful for that positive vote. The override funding has lasted us well beyond the initial three-year funding plan. The Town benefitted by using one-time funds as part of the override to balance the budget over the last several years. This strategy to extend the override dollars with the use of one-time funds had an anticipated outcome of an eventual structural deficit.

The Town and School Administration will present FY22 budget scenarios at a joint meeting of the Select Board, School Committee, Warrant Committee, and Capital Budget Committee on November 23. The Town has tentatively scheduled a FY22 budget meeting for the public on December 9. Please see the Town Calendar for meeting details.

The School Committee will continue to discuss and review the FY22 Budget scenarios January through March 2021. Within that timeframe, we will solicit community input before presenting final budget decisions to Town committees in preparation for an override vote in April followed by a Town Meeting vote in June.

Rink Proposal Update: As you know, the Select Board at the November 9 meeting reported there is no viable public/private partnership at this time, and the Town is looking into adjusting the project requirements and modifying the RFP. The Town administration and School Department hope we can revisit this partnership in the near future.

Testing Survey: The School Committee sent a survey to families on November 13 exploring the feasibility of a COVID-19 testing program for BPS students. Part of this exploration is to examine parent/guardian interest in testing. The COVID Testing Survey is anonymous, and will remain open until November 20. Please submit one response per family. Thank you in advance for your participation. 

School Committee Calendar:

  • The next SC meeting is on November 24. Please go to the School Committee page Notices and Agendas for more information closer to the date
  • Please see the School Committee calendar for office hours on November 20
  • Please go to the button on the BPS website to submit questions and comments to the School Committee

TEACHING AND LEARNING

  • The newly formed Racial Equity Team model, developed by educators and the district, will lead to broader participation and leadership in antiracism work across our schools. The role of the Culturally Responsive Teaching Committee has changed as a result of this shift. Within this new model, the purpose of this district Committee is to:Define and share models of culturally responsive pedagogy for Belmont educators
    Disseminate protocols for the review and revision of curriculum and support educators in decolonizing the curriculum
    Develop and provide training to Leadership Council on the above
    Develop and provide CRT training through department and curriculum meetings (or building meetings if desired by building-based working group)
  • The Belmont Wellness Coalition (BWC) is a community coalition comprised of a cross-section of Belmont parents, staff, and students.  BWC, in partnership with the School Department, has created a survey with the purpose of better understanding students’ well-being, stress, and social emotional learning competencies. The survey is anonymous and the results will inform what areas the BWC and School Department will focus on in order to continue to better understand and support the needs of our students. This survey will be emailed in early December.

SCHOOL NEWS

  • U.S. Dept. of Education National Blue Ribbon School 2020 Congratulations to Burbank Elementary School on the designation as a Blue Ribbon School by the Washington D.C. Department of Education. The award recognizes "the work of educators, families, and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content". Burbank receives this award with only four other schools in Massachusetts. Burbank qualified as an Exemplary High Performing School as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. The award ceremony took place virtually on November 12 and 13. 
  • BHS Intro to Robotics teacher Daniel Birch found an alternative to the usual team-based approach using Vex materials. This year, his 23 students will each have on loan the parts needed to build an individual robot at home using Hummingbird Bit Kits from Birdbrain Technologies. If your Intro to Robotics engineer has not yet picked up their kit from BHS, please contact Liz Baker or Dr. Birch.
  • BHS Mentors for ELL Students Summer 2020 The English Language Education Department’s Language Mentor Program is off to a great start. The program began this summer and has now expanded to include over 70 high school volunteers who meet virtually with their English Learner mentees at least once weekly to practice English, form positive relationships, foster connections through similar and distinct cultural and language backgrounds, and have fun. High school students who participated in the program this summer reflected on their positive experiences, learning about new cultures, ways of communicating across language barriers, and teaching strategies. Many volunteers also got the chance to practice a language other than English. Families of mentees are excited that the program is continuing, as it gives their children additional time to practice conversational English as well as a chance to work with a positive role model from the high school. We do still have high school volunteers looking for younger mentees. If your child is an English Learner and you are interested in the language mentor program, please register for the program.

    In addition, the English Language Education Department is proud to offer two great ways to learn more about what is happening in the district and how to support your child: our Multilingual Parent Support Group with Donna Stanton, and our wonderful Multilingual Parent Guides written by Belmont parent-educators. The Multilingual Parent Support Group meets virtually twice a week on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Please email Donna Stanton at dstanton@belmont.k12.ma.us if you would like the link to join the group. Please see the ELE Parent Guides, written by Belmont parent-educators from the language communities: Chinese, Portuguese, English, Russian, Japanese, Spanish
  • BHS Marauders of the week for October 30 are Crystal Huang and Katherine Buckett, and for November 6 are Alex Fick and Preston Jackson-Stephens. Please read more about these students in the BHS News section of the BHS website

VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS

  • The visual art students continue to produce artwork at an incredibly high level thanks to the instruction and leadership of our art educators in all schools. The Visual Arts Department is working to develop an online gallery to exhibit student artwork over the course of the year.
  • BHS Broadway Night BHS Performing Arts Company premiere of Broadway Night is streaming online beginning on November 20, and it will also air on Belmont Media Center. This has been a major undertaking for Theater Director Ezra Flam, his theater support staff, and all of the actors and tech crew involved. Please see more information on the BHS website.
  • Band Director Alley Lacasse, Orchestra Director Margot Reavey, and Choral Director Kaitlin Donovan, are working to record BHS musicians band, orchestra, and chorus performances for distribution digitally in early December. 
  • We want to thank the Belmont Health Department for helping the staff, actors and musicians safely execute theater and music rehearsals and performances, and to Belmont Media Center for their assistance with the filming and airing of these performances.

ATHLETICS

Left to Right; Ashley Green, Jordan Coppolo, Kendall Whalen, Marina Cataldo Congratulations to the student athletes below, who signed National Letter of Intent (NLI) to compete at the NCAA Division 1 and/or Division II level:

(pictured left to right)
Ashley Green - Bentley University Women’s Lacrosse
Jordan Coppolo - Rollins College Women’s Lacrosse
Kendall Whalen - U Mass Lowell Women’s Lacrosse
Marina Cataldo - Boston University Women’s Diving 

Below please find the BHS Weekly Athletic Game Schedule 11/16 thru 11/21/2020

  • Please note that spectators are limited to one per player and must have a Middlesex League issued pass to attend a scheduled contest. 
  • Please note there is a maximum of 50 spectators per contests, and all MA guidelines followed regarding social distancing and mask wearing.
  • BHS Athletics is currently working with Belmont Media to provide streaming of as many of our home games as possible. Please check the Belmont Media website for their programing schedule.
  • Please view updates to the schedule on the athletic calendar.

Saturday, November 21 

9:00 AM Boys Varsity Soccer Woburn High School Home 
9:00 AM Girls Varsity Soccer Woburn High School Away 
9:00 AM Girls Junior Varsity Soccer Woburn High School Away 
11:00 AM Boys Junior Varsity Soccer Woburn High School Home 
11:00 AM Girls Varsity Field Hockey Woburn High School Away 
1:00 PM Girls Junior Varsity Field Hockey Woburn High School Away

HEALTH AND SAFETY

  • BPS COVID-19 Dashboard In case you have not seen it, there is a Belmont Public School specific COVID-19 dashboard located on the carousel front page of the BPS website. Information is updated weekly by the Belmont Health Department and School Department.
  • Reminder that influenza immunization is required for all children six months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities. This new state-mandated vaccine is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. All students (hybrid and remote) must have a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020 for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. Please submit evidence of your child's flu vaccine to your school nurse before December 31.
  • The Belmont Police and Health Departments have received multiple reports of school age children not wearing masks when gathered in public settings such as streets, squares, and park/playgrounds. Please remind your children to wear their masks when out in public so we can all be safe in our schools and community.
  • As we look ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday and break, it is important to follow state and CDC guidelines regarding social distancing and limitations on gatherings. If you travel to areas affected by the Massachusetts Travel Ban, you must follow the state guidelines and get a PCR test or quarantine. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your school nurse.
    Please see these links for important information:
    -Thanksgiving Travel
    -Holiday Celebrations and Gatherings
  • Please see the BPS Health and Safety Bulletin #2 for the latest notice and more information.

SEPAC

The next SEPAC Parent Information Session is about internet safety for your K-12 students, and will be held on November 19 at 6:30 p.m. Please go to the SEPAC page on the BPS website for more information on this and other upcoming events. 

USEFUL INFORMATION

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

Belmont Public Schools:

Town and State:

Organizations:


U.S. Dept. of Education National Blue Ribbon School 2020  BHS Mentors for ELL Students Summer 2020  BHS Broadway Night  BPS COVID-19 Dashboard  Left to Right; Ashley Green, Jordan Coppolo, Kendall Whalen, Marina Cataldo 


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