March 9, 2021
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Update on the Bridge to Return, Phase 4
Good Afternoon, Members of the Watertown Public Schools Community:
On Friday, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to grant authority to the Commissioner of Education to reopen schools for in-person learning. The Commissioner indicated that he would exercise this authority in a phased-in manner, beginning with elementary students on April 5, followed by middle school students and then high school students.
WPS will continue to plan for in-person learning, including the timeline for Watertown and school schedule adjustments. Today we received formal guidance from the state regarding the return to in-person instruction. As we process this guidance, I would like to share information on the impact that this announcement will have on our schools:
Starting Monday, April 5, students in grades K-5 will be able to return to in-person instruction five days a week. The principals and their teams have developed a return to school schedule that will begin with shorter days, moving to full days after vacation;
The timeline for the full return for middle school and high school students will be determined in the coming days;
Transitioning students back into school every day will require support, patience, and understanding, as changes to schedules and routines for children can be both exciting and disruptive. In the coming weeks, we will prepare for helping students and families with the transition;
Teachers are eligible for vaccinations on March 11, and we will continue to seek out ways to facilitate vaccinations that limit the disruption to teaching and learning;
To accommodate the move to in-person instruction, our classrooms will need to shift from six feet of distance as it currently is, to a minimum of three feet- seat edge to seat edge;
Families will have the option of either being fully in-person or fully remote for the remainder of the school year as the current hybrid model will no longer be available. Students who continue to be in the remote model will have a schedule that mirrors the in-person students;
We ask families to complete a survey to indicate if they wish to switch their child’s current model that will be sent today, Tuesday, March 9. The survey will ask for your preference for your child(ren)’s learning model- full in-person or full-remote. The survey will be due on Friday, March 12. If you do not complete this survey by Friday, March 12, we will assume that you are remaining in the model you are currently enrolled in (hybrid students will become full-time). A translated version of the survey will be available.
Please note that we may need to make adjustments to class and teacher assignments to accommodate the requests of all families- this will depend on the results of the survey;
Lunch, whenever possible, will be held outdoors at the elementary level;
Given the short duration of time before the end of the school, it is not feasible to put together an Extended Day Program.
When possible, all students should be participating in the COVID-19 testing, especially as the social distancing space is reduced. If you have yet to sign up your child, please use the information at the COVID testing webpage.
Universal free lunch will continue to be provided through the end of the school year.
As always, the school model may change based on the presence of the virus.
It should be noted that a return to school in April does not mean a return to normal. There will still be guidelines for social distancing (albeit less than six feet when masked), lunch without masks at 6 feet, physical education, music, and other operations impacted by COVID 19 restrictions. We will do all that we can to keep our students and staff safe, even with reducing social distancing to no less than 3 feet. Our numbers are very high for student pool testing, and we will continue to implement all of our existing mitigation strategies for the foreseeable future.
There are also many logistical challenges to moving from a hybrid model to full in-person learning. Each of our schools has varying space constraints along with staffing structures. The solutions to these challenges may differ depending on the schools, including lunch, classroom spaces, seating, recess, and other school-related activities,
The reopening plans will be discussed at length at the School Committee meeting on Monday, March 15 at 5:00 pm via Zoom.
I acknowledge that this change will require much consideration on the part of our families. To that end, I will be holding a meeting tomorrow evening, Wednesday, March 10, at 6:00 via Zoom to discuss the impact of this change and answer any questions that people may have.
Superintendent of Schools
Finalist Interviews for the Position of Director of Equity and Inclusion
We are pleased to announce that we have two exceptional finalists for the position of Director of PK-12 Equity and Inclusion. I would like to thank all 15 members of the Screening Committee for their help and their time in the selection of the finalists.
The two finalists are Caleb Encarnacion-Rivera and Kimberlee Henry. Finalist interviews will be held via Zoom Webinar this evening, March 9, at 7:00 and 8:00, and all who are interested in viewing the interviews are invited to do so. I will be conducting the interviews in a conversational format between myself and the candidate. While public participation is not part of the final interview process, I will remain on Zoom at the end to hear feedback from the community. Please see the information below about the candidates:
7:00: Caleb Encarnacion-Rivera: Mr. Encarnacion-Rivera currently works for Worcester State University as a Program Coordinator and Facilitator. In this role, he works as the program coordinator for the Youth Civics Union, a youth-led activist coalition centered around participatory action research for diversity, equity, and inclusion policy change. Additionally, he served as the Program Consultant for the Latino Education Institute. His work was centered around diverse and inclusive program development, as well as designing programmatic structures to include the agency of community and students within equitable social action projects. Mr. Encarnacion-Rivera holds a Master of Education in Education Policy and Management, a Master of Arts in Teaching, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Development and Social Change.
8:00 Kimberlee Henry: Dr. Henry is currently employed as the Principal of the STEM Academy in Lowell, Massachusetts. In this role, she is the leader of professional development focusing on systemic racism, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, including serving on the Social Justice Task Force. Previously, Dr. Henry has served in various school leadership roles, including principal, assistant principal, and district-wide Civil Rights Coordinator. Dr. Henry holds a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, a Master of Science in Education, and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.