NPS School Committee Update

4/14/2020
FROM: schoolcommittee@newton.k12.ma.us
SC Meeting Update – April 6, 2020

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

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