MURSD District Update
From the Office of the Interim Superintendent
August 25, 2021
August 25, 2021
Dear Mendon-Upton School Community,
As we are finalizing our back-to-school planning I would like to take this opportunity to formally introduce myself to you in my new role as Interim Superintendent of Schools. For the past eight years it has been a privilege and honor to serve the staff, students, and families in Mendon-Upton in the roles of Director of Curriculum and Assistant Superintendent. I can honestly say that when I get up every morning to drive into work, I am excited to come work and to lead in a school district filled with engaged and supportive individuals whose sole purpose is to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. While I have only been in the new role since August 1st, we have hit the ground running in our back-to-school preparations including facility improvements, summer learning academy supports, hiring new staff, and establishing warm welcomes for new students.
Throughout my various educational roles as an assistant superintendent, curriculum director, assistant principal, school committee member, teacher, and coach, I have approached these positions with a passion and drive for fostering safe and inclusive environments where all students can thrive. Currently, while we all find ourselves in a unique and challenging environment as we prepare for the reopening of our school year amidst the pandemic, we have a laser focus on the following themes:
prioritize the safety and social-emotional well-being of students and staff
establish multi-tiered systems of support grounded in equity and access
reconnect in a way where our students are known well, celebrated, nurtured, and have a sense of belonging
to create environments where meaningful, authentic, and engaging learning experiences flourish
It is challenging work, but I believe that if we maintain our values, partner with the school community through civil discourse, and lead with a positive outlook, together we can get through the most difficult situations.
I consider myself fortunate that my educational beliefs align so closely with our own strategic goals for our district. I believe that in a rapidly changing world, it is our job as educators to provide more opportunities for students to engage in relevant learning experiences that are authentic, innovative, and personalized. Ultimately, the purpose of school is to unlock each student’s potential. This is achieved by fostering a safe and collaborative culture built on positive relationships and driven by student-centered decision-making.
On a personal level, my personal core values are grounded in my own family history and experiences. I grew up in Gardner, MA, which at the time was a small working-class community, where we learned the following qualities: work hard, take pride in what you do, treat one another with respect, work as a team, and dream big. I now live locally in Grafton with my husband, and two teenage sons (13 and 15), where I try to instill the same principles in them.
On a professional level, I hope you will see that the cornerstones of my leadership practice include frequent communication, high visibility, collaborative decision-making, and a relentless focus on our mission: empowering all learners to thrive.
Although I have been in the district for some time, I believe that as I transition into this new leadership role, it is imperative that I engage in a process to re-examine our district through a new lens. Therefore, in my first few months as Interim Superintendent, my goal is to learn as much as I can about who we are today and our vision for the future. As I begin my work, I plan to spend much of my time listening and learning about our school community from the perspectives of students, faculty, staff, families, and community members. It also will provide the school community with an opportunity to get to know me in a different capacity as a person, a leader, and a colleague. Here is a link to my formal entry plan for this year. I will share more information in the coming weeks.
Wishing you all a great start to the school year!
Maureen Cohen, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent of Schools
YOU INSPIRE ME:
I'd like to begin with our maintenance and custodial staff who inspire me with their dedication and long hours they have been putting in this summer getting the buildings in beautiful condition for the start of the school year.
Send in your #MURSDInspires notifications and we will highlight some in our newsletters and we will send the messages to the recipients to let them know they make a difference. Thanks!
On July 30th, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) released a joint memo on COVID-19 Guidance for Districts and Schools--Fall 2021. As outlined in the memo, all schools are required to be in-person, full-time, five days a week for the 2021-22 school year, and all previously released DESE health and safety requirements are lifted.
As we enter this school year, we maintain similar guiding principles for our Fall 2021 School Opening Plan that we have throughout the health crisis:
- Building Strong School Community Relationships: We will continue to focus on relationships with our students, families and staff to create a safe and supportive environment where all members can thrive and have a strong sense of belonging.
- Prioritizing Health and Well-Being: We will continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, staff, and the community, adapting as needed to shifting health metrics and local, state, and federal guidelines.
- Supporting All Learners: We will continue to support all learners to ensure they receive high-quality, engaging instruction of grade-level standards with just-in-time scaffolds when needed.
- Pursuing our Strategic Vision for Learning: We will continue to strive to create learning environments and programs where our students will engage in deeper learning experiences that are grounded in authentic tasks and meaningful connections to our Portrait of a Learner Competencies, despite challenges from the health crisis.
Based on DESE guidelines, we plan to maintain the layered mitigation strategies that had the greatest impact which include masking, ventilation and air filtration, cleaning and disinfecting practices, hand-hygiene practices, and distancing as much as possible while still keeping all students in school. A number of the restrictions from a year ago have been lifted, so our goal with the district protocols this year are to communicate what we are maintaining. In the DESE guidance document most of the distancing protocols have been removed which will afford us the opportunity to return to school with less restrictions, while keeping the mitigation strategies that are deemed the most effective.
Below are a few highlights of some of the district protocols that remain in place. We realize that many specific school-based questions will arise, therefore, we are working on finalizing our school-based FAQs to address ongoing questions. The FAQs will be available before the start of school. School-based questions should be directed to principals and COVID-19 related questions should be directed to school nursing staff.
State Regulations: Commissioner of Education just received emergency powers from the MA Board of Education (August 24) to mandate masks in all MA public schools to start the school year. The official notice from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is due to be released soon with further details on this mandate. August 20 Press Release
School Committee Policy: At the August 23rd School Committee meeting, the MURSD School Committee voted to maintain the Face Coverings Policy that we had in place at the end of last year. Consistent with this School Committee Policy EBCFA on face coverings, all students, staff, and visitors -regardless of vaccination status - must wear masks when indoors and on school busses. Face-masks are not required: 1) outside or 2) when an individual is working alone or in a segregated space. Mask breaks will continue and will be held outdoors or in large well-ventilated places whenever possible. Click here for the full policy.
We will continue to maintain indoor physical distancing to the most extent possible in our indoor spaces, while prioritizing keeping all of our students in school and keeping all of our academic programming in place. Additionally, every school will continue to use outdoor spaces as much as possible as they did in the last school year.
All staff and students are required to wear masks on school busses. All students will be assigned seats on busses. Windows will remain open on busses at least two inches and adjusted as needed in inclement weather.
The state and local health officials report weekly on the level of vaccination in our community. As vaccines become available for our younger students, we will again run vaccine clinics in schools if we are permitted to do so and will share local vaccine clinic information with our school families. We strongly encourage all staff and students to be vaccinated. This is the most important step to take to return our towns to more normal living. Additionally, vaccination status will directly impact consideration of being a close contact or not and will impact time in school.
The chart below provides an overview of the testing options. The Routine COVID Pooled Testing is something we are reviewing to see if it will be beneficial to implement in our schools, but it will not be in place to start the school year.
Consent for in-school testing is required and we will be in contact with families regarding the consent process. DESE and DPH have identified EXEMPTIONS to both testing and quarantine which are outlined here:
1. Asymptomatic, FULLY VACCINATED close contacts
2. Classroom Close Contacts - if both individuals were masked spaced at least 3 feet apart
3. Bus Close Contacts - provided that masks were worn and windows were open
4. Close Contacts who have had COVID-19 within the last 90 days
The following is a district FAQ document for back-to-school questions. Schools are developing school-based FAQs which they will be sharing prior to the start of school.