WPS Leadership Update

September 23, 2021

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Superintendent's Update

The first few weeks of school have been quite successful, with our students acclimating to the new year and the new protocols quite well. Our students are respectful of the requirements for mask-wearing, pool testing, and distancing to the extent possible, and for the most part, classroom environments, teaching, and learning is happening in a more familiar way.


However, we are still in the midst of a pandemic, with a highly contagious variant amongst us. We have reached 70+ percent of children ages 12-19 being vaccinated in Watertown, and are optimistic that a vaccine for children ages 5-11 is on the horizon. If your child is eligible for a vaccine, please consider providing them this vitally important layer of protection against this highly contagious illness. And flu season is also around the corner. Now, more than ever, it is highly recommended to get the flu vaccine as well.


We have experienced six cases of COVID in our schools since the beginning of school, and have had to quarantine several students who were deemed close contacts. At this time, we have yet to experience transmission amongst the students and we will continue to monitor for transmission through testing and our soon-to-be-launched Test and Stay program, which allows close contacts to stay in school with a daily negative COVID rapid test. Information about the 'Test & Stay' Program can be found below.


In addition to information on the 'Test & Stay' Program, you will also find important information about focus groups that are being held as part of our Equity Audit, an update on our school nutrition program and a request for feedback on plans for utilizing the American Rescue Plan (ARP) grant funding.


I will be holding my monthly Community Conversations beginning next Tuesday, September 28th at 9:00 am and 7:00 pm. The format this year will be a blended meeting, with people attending in person in room 301 of the Phillips Administration Building and remote participation via Zoom. I am happy to review any of the information contained in this update at the Community Conversation or any other items that you would like to discuss.


As always, if you have any concerns or questions, please reach out to your child's principal or the appropriate district administrator to address your concerns.

Test & Stay Protocols for Close Contacts

We are excited to begin our 'Test & Stay' protocols on Monday, October 4. This will allow unvaccinated students who are identified as close contacts to a COVID positive individual at school to remain in attendance instead of quarantining. The process is:


  • Unvaccinated close contacts will need to test negative for COVID using the BinaxNOW rapid antigen test every morning before school for one week following the in-school exposure. The BinaxNOW will be provided at school prior to the start of the school day. Please note that Test & Stay only applies to COVID exposures in school.
  • Unvaccinated individuals who are close contacts of a positive case outside of the school setting need to quarantine.
  • *In order to have your child participate in the 'Test & Stay' Program, please sign this consent form at your earliest convenience. Consenting in advance will help to expedite the process if your child needs to participate in Test and Stay.


Reach out to your school nurse or to the Director of Students Services, Kathleen Desmarais, kathleen.desmarais@watertown.k12.ma.us if you have questions regarding this program. Please see this document for more information.

WPS Equity Audit Focus Groups for Families

Watertown Public Schools has hired Public Consulting Group (PCG) to conduct a districtwide Equity Audit. The goal of this audit is to identify strengths and areas for improvement in WPS and to make recommendations on how we can move towards achieving the best outcomes for each student in our community. An essential component of this work is hearing from a wide range of voices from across our district.


As a part of the Equity Audit, PCG is conducting a series of family focus groups and we invite you to participate. These focus group will be held virtually on:


Tuesday, October 12th at 7:00 PM

Wednesday, October 13th at 7:00 PM

Thursday, October 14th at 8:30 AM


Please sign up for a focus group using the following link as soon as possible: WPS Equity Audit Family Focus Groups Registration


La auditoría de equidad de WPS El formulario para participar en los grupos de enfoque para las familias


Once you sign up you will receive a calendar invite that will include additional information regarding the details of the focus groups and a summary of what to expect. Please contact Sydney Menzin with PCG at smenzin@pcgus.com if you have any questions.


We appreciate your participation as we work towards identifying and addressing practices, policies, and communications that may contribute to inequities across our district. We are committed to building a WPS in which each learner reaches their full academic and personal potential in safe, welcoming, equitable, inclusive learning environments.

ESSER III Feedback Requested!

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021, Public Law 117-2, was enacted on March 11, 2021. The ARP Act provides additional funding for school districts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Education portion of ARP is known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III or ARP ESSER) Fund. The purpose of the ESSER III fund is to support the safe reopening and sustaining safe operations of schools while meeting students' academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Part of the process of determining how to allocate Watertown's grant is to solicit feedback form stakeholder groups on our anticipated district priorities with regard to COVID recovery. Below you will find a copy of the survey or the survey can be found at this link.


You can read the full scope of requirements here.


The Watertown Public Schools received an allocation of $2,868,929 to be spent through June 2024. Therefore, this will be a multi-year plan for anticipated activities. Once the grant has been awarded, the final proposal will be published on our website for the community.

School Nutrition Update


A message from Mr. Brandon Rabbitt, WPS Director of School Nutrition


The Watertown School Nutrition Department is thrilled that the USDA has allowed all schools nationwide to serve FREE meals to all students through USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO). This option maintains the nutrition standards of the standard school meal programs to the best of our ability – including a strong emphasis on providing fruits and vegetables, fluid milk, whole grains, and sensible calorie levels


However, our program, as well as most other school nutrition programs across the nation, faces many obstacles this school year including staffing shortages, nationwide food distribution issues with procuring food and paper products, navigating serving meals in alternate dining areas as well as utilizing swing spaces and central kitchens during our school construction projects. All of these issues have been exacerbated by an increased need for school meals in the district, serving an average of 2040 meals per day (compared to 1120 meals per day in September 2019).


Factors impacting our school meals here in Watertown include:


Staff Shortages: We currently have two open full-time positions in our department and are in need of substitute food service workers. Our amazing team goes above and beyond every day to provide the best service possible despite all of the challenges we have faced this year.


Supply Chain Issues: Watertown School Nutrition purchases with a collaborative purchasing group with about 90 districts and below are some of the areas of concern:


  • Milk distributor: Our distributor currently does not have enough drivers so they need to limit milk deliveries
  • Produce distributor: The contract was awarded to Russo’s and since they have decided to close their doors they are unable to fulfill the contract for all 90 districts involved in the contract. We are actively working on procuring another produce distributor.
  • Grocery Distributor: The Distributor who was awarded our 90 district grocery bid informed they would not be able to fulfill the bid at all. We were able to secure another grocery distributor but have already received multiple letters about product shortages and driver shortages resulting in us not receiving the items we need for our menus and sometimes delaying deliveries days after they were scheduled to arrive. This is a constant struggle and will result in menu changes. We will do our best to communicate menu changes with families.
  • Paper Distributor: Our distributor sent us a long list of all of the products that will not be available for, at minimum, months. This includes the lunch trays, to-go containers, sporks, and other items we use daily.


Alternative Dining Areas and Multiple Lunches: Providing grab & go style meals for students to consume in socially distanced outdoor spaces requires specific products and packaging which has resulted in limited options and has become increasingly more difficult to execute due to the supply chain issues stated above.


Please Note: Due to these issues our menus are subject to change without notice. We will do the best that we can to inform families of menu changes whenever possible. The USDA has granted a program waiver for missing food components due to supply chain disruptions.


Your patience and understanding are greatly appreciated as we continue to navigate these challenging times and work hard to provide the best meals possible to our students.


Sincerely,


Brandon Rabbitt, RD, SNS

Director of School Nutrition

brandon.rabbitt@watertown.k12.ma.us

Positions available in WPS

Are you or do you know someone who may be looking for an opportunity to work in a school system? We have positions open for a school nurse, substitute teachers, instructional assistants, family liaisons, tutors, school nutrition workers, and more! All open positions can be found on our Human Resources webpage.


The Watertown Police Department is also actively seeking crossing guards for our schools. Please see the posting for these positions here.

Community Conversation with the Superintendent

Tuesday, Sep. 28th, 9am

Phillips Administration Building 31 Marshall Street, Watertown, MA 0472

Please join the Superintendent for her monthly Community Conversation on Tuesday, September 28 either in person in room 301 of the Phillips Administration Building, or by Zoom. There will be two opportunities for meeting: 9:00 am and 7:00 pm.

Your Voice Matters: A Listening Session with BIPOC Families

Thursday, Oct. 21st, 6:15-8pm

25 Whites Avenue

Watertown, MA

The School and Police Departments acknowledge that not all people of color face equal levels of injustice, and that our efforts to serve the community are not always successful. Recognizing that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are severely impacted by systemic racial injustices, we hope to learn how best to serve and support!


For the first of many listening sessions, we are specifically inviting our BIPOC community to speak openly with our department leaders. You are also welcome to post questions and concerns, anonymously, using this link: https://padlet.com/kimberleehenry/sx3iht8o8gqkrsu7

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Meet our WMS and WHS SROs

Tuesday, Oct. 26th, 7pm

68 Waverley Avenue

Watertown, MA

The Meeting will be held in person in the WMS Auditorium. If you wish to join by Zoom, please use this link to attend.


Register in advance for this meeting:
https://watertown-k12-ma-us.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAqdOuhrDwvH9QekkWqKDX2uLMTxh5phD2Z