Superintendent's Newsletter

March 25, 2021


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Tragedies in our Nation

To our strong WPS Community:

We, at WPS, are deeply saddened by the recent cases of violence and discrimination against people of Asian descent, including the horrific killings which targeted the Asian-American community in Atlanta. Eight lives were taken during an act of terror that has been repeated all too often, with anti-Asian hate crimes drastically increasing over the past year. We support and stand together with our community members who are hurting and affected by this racist act, especially our community members of Asian descent.

Building a community of shared understandings centered on inclusion and celebrating diversity are goals we believe Watertown wants to achieve. And as a school community, we must continue our opposition to violence, racism, and bias in our schools and in our larger community.

Monday, our nation’s eyes turned once again to the tragic loss of life due to gun violence in Boulder, Colorado. Although neither of these incidents impacted schools directly, they can create a sense of insecurity for our students as they enter public spaces. Our schools must be places where every member of the community feels safe, heard, and valued. Events such as the recent acts of violence may diminish that feeling of safety for our students. If your child or a family member needs additional support processing these events, please do not hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher, principal, or any trusted adult.

To help you navigate both the shootings in Atlanta and in Boulder, we have assembled the following resources that you can use with your family when discussing these tragic events.

How to Speak to Children about Violence

Anti-Asian Violence Resources

Talking to Children After Racial Incidents

Introducing our new Director of Equity & Inclusion

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Dr. Kimberlee Henry was selected as our new Director of Equity & Inclusion for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond. Dr. Henry is a strategic and creative leader who is dedicated to advancing the District’s equity work in this leadership role to help Watertown Public schools become an anti-racist and anti-biased school system. Dr. Henry’s background in public schools as a teacher and principal at both the elementary and secondary levels, and present role as the Principal at the STEM Academy in Lowell, MA have provided her with extensive experiences to take forward in her new role. She has demonstrated in those roles a deep commitment to equity and anti-bias, anti-racist education. She has a Bachelor's degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Education from Simmons University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Central Connecticut State University.

Dr. Henry has important related experience creating and leading professional development sessions on equity topics that include: Culturally Responsive Teaching (Zaretta Hammond), Student and Teacher Identity Work, and Mindshifting (Carol Dweck). Her research is in the area of marginalized groups in the field of education and her dissertation title is, A World Apart: A Case Study of Black Female Administrators in Predominantly White Schools and Districts. In addition, Dr. Henry is a member of DESE’s Principal Readiness Advisory Council composed of school leaders and educator preparation program partners with a collective goal of making DESE's racial equity charge more explicit and elevating the importance of antiracist leadership.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Henry to our leadership team.

Scenes From Our Schools

COVID-19: Mandatory Student COVID-19 Pooled Testing and Handbook Updates

The District continues to provide weekly pooled surveillance testing to all Watertown Public Schools students, and as of April 5, 2021, this testing will be mandated for all students who are learning in-person. The School Committee unanimously approved the recommendation contained within the updated COVID-19 Handbook Addendum.

The purpose of this testing protocol is to identify and swiftly isolate asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic students who are COVID-19 positive. This protocol allows exemptions to COVID-19 testing in preschool - grade 12 for those individuals who have a health condition documented by a physician. A child shall be exempted from the requirement for mandatory COVID-19 testing if a nurse practitioner, physician, or physician’s assistant determine that it is not possible due to medical condition(s), disability, tactile sensitivity, or other health or safety factors for the student to participate in COVID-19 testing.

The Coronavirus is a highly contagious disease that spreads easily without proper safety mitigations. The adjustment from 6 to 3 feet requires a more stringent mitigation strategy, which includes mandatory testing for all students in Watertown. The majority of staff members at this time have started their vaccination regimen, and staff will continue to participate in weekly testing until fully vaccinated.

When families select in-person instruction five days a week at a distance of less than six feet, they agree to and understand the health and safety expectations as outlined by the District including but not limited to wearing a mask, participating in COVID-19 universal surveillance pooled testing, and abiding by social distance guidelines.

  • COVID-19 universal surveillance pooled testing will be completed once a week with a non-invasive anterior nasal swab testing protocol and is mandatory for all students who are learning in-person.

  • All students who will be returning to full 5-day in-person instruction will be required to fill out the “Commitment to In-Person Learning, COVID Protocols, and Consent for Pooled Testing” form prior to returning to in-person school. This additional safety measure is fully supported by the Watertown Health Department.

If a pool comes back with a positive result, all members who were part of the pool will be offered free individual reflex PCR COVID-19 testing through the District. A family may also choose to take their child to an outside clinic for a follow-up PCR test. A negative result on a PCR test will be required to return to school. Once the positive individual is identified, contract tracing will determine any close contacts that need to be notified. All students in an elementary classroom will be considered a close contact.

It is important to note that testing, combined with vaccinations, contact tracing, and isolation, helps control the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The availability of in-person instruction and the District's in-person health and safety implementation guidelines will be determined and continually assessed using up-to-date data and guidelines provided by the Watertown Health Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

For more information about pool testing, please refer to the following information video.

**If you or a member of your household has tested positive for COVID-19 or is in the process of being tested due to exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, please keep your child home and contact the school nurse.

We are pleased to share that the new Cunniff and Hosmer elementary schools, part of the district’s Building for the Future Project, will both be opening months sooner than expected.

The Cunniff Elementary School now is slated for an October opening, three months earlier than the projected January 2022 opening. The Hosmer Elementary School is now expected to open in February 2022, earlier than the planned opening for the start of the 2022-23 school year.

This truncated timeline is a result of collaboration among the Watertown Public Schools, Town of Watertown, Ai3 Architects, and project manager Hill International. Once the work is complete at the Hosmer and the Cunniff, we will turn our attention to the Lowell, beginning in February of 2022.

WHS: The School Building Committee (SBC) continues to plan for our new Watertown High School. The SBC submitted a two-site preferred option to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in December. Upon review of the two-site option, the MSBA requested that we continue to consider a single-site option. Over the past two months, the architects, Owner's Project Managers, and the WPS Leadership Team worked diligently to explore a one-site option, with swing space at a different location. Together, we determined a proposed design that is educationally appropriate, efficient, safe, and joyous! The new proposed one-site option and the potential swing space at Moxley Field will be vetted over the next several months, anticipating returning to the MSBA Facilities Assessment Subcommittee in May for recommendation to the full MSBA board in June.

2021-2022 School Calendar

The 2021-2022 School Calendar has been set, with a few adjustments to our normal practices. The first day of school next year will be on Wednesday, September 8, as the first day of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah falls on Tuesday, September 7.

Also, there will be two "no school" days for students- Friday, October 8 and Friday, February 18, to allow for the moving out of swing spaces and into the new Cunniff, Hosmer, and Early Steps, and also to provide time for the Lowell to move into their swing spaces.

And Juneteenth Independence Day, a Massachusetts state holiday on June 19, will be observed on Monday, June 20. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and is a chance to reflect on the need to continue the commitment to racial justice in our state and country.

The last day of school will be on June 21 with no snow days, or June 28 with five snow days. Please also note that students will attend school on Election Day, November 2. A calendar with all early releases will be sent out next month.

Upcoming Events

Wayside Town Hall Meeting on the Wellness of Watertown Youth

Wednesday, March 31st, 6:30-8pm

This is an online event.

Learn from recent survey data about the wellness of Watertown youth and their families. Share your own ideas about this data as well as your suggestions for how we can work together to further support their wellness. Enjoy a unique presentation from our Wayside Youth Coalition Peer Leaders.

Link to the Zoom Meeting:

Watertown School Committee Meeting

Monday, April 12th, 7pm

This is an online event.

The next Watertown School Committee meeting will be held on April 12, 2021 at 7:00PM.

Link to the Zoom Meeting: