Superintendent's Newsletter

July 26, 2020


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Looking to the Fall: Three DRAFT Reopening Scenarios

Good evening WPS Community,

I hope that you are enjoying these longer days of summer, albeit masked and socially distanced. This letter is designed to continue to keep you abreast of the complex data and challenges we are considering as we thoughtfully plan for our students’ and staff members’ safe return to our schools.

In late June, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) provided districts with guidance on reopening schools in the fall. One of DESE’s requirements is for all districts to consider and study the feasibility of three reopening scenarios: in-person, remote, and a hybrid of the two. Over the past month, the Reopening Task Force and the District Leadership Team studied the feasibility of all three scenarios and are ready to share our initial draft plans with you and the broader WPS community.

Overarching Goal for Reopening

Protecting the health and well-being of every child and staff member---along with the need to reimagine, renew, and reopen our schools to support equitable outcomes for every student--- is a critical and central goal of our work. This summer’s specific challenge calls for us to use an equity-focused, scenario-based framework of planning for an uncertain future (in-person, hybrid, remote) as we welcome students safely back to school. It is an iterative process.

Essentials for Reopening

We want to assure you that the most important factor when considering reopening in the fall is the safety of students and staff members. To that end, there are certain principles that we consider essential for returning to our school buildings.

  • Universal Personal Protective Equipment for all Staff
  • Masks required for all students in grades 2-12; masks and/or face shields required for our PreK-1 students
  • 5-6 feet of social distance in classrooms
  • Additional support for special populations of students
  • Outdoor learning opportunities, when possible (tents and outdoor spaces)
  • ‘Weekly Learning Plans’ for all classes or grade levels
  • These plans will allow for concurrent learning plans for students in remote learning and in-person learning, which will enable smooth transitions into the remote learning environment if it becomes necessary
  • Adequate time for teachers to plan and meet in collaborative groups either every day (PreK-8) or one full day (9-12)
  • Multiple days prior to school reopening for staff to plan, collaborate, and train for welcoming students’ return
  • At this time, there is a strong possibility that in-person school will begin after the previously scheduled September 8th date

Three Plans for Reopening (In-Person, Remote, Hybrid)

The WPS Reopening Task Force has met weekly since late May, considering the four major areas for reopening our schools: Physical Learning Environment, Teaching and Learning, Student Support, and Operations. We recently added a fifth working group for Remote Learning.

At this time, we have developed three possible plans that can possibly work in Watertown. These draft plans were developed with the input of the Task Force and the District Leadership Team, considering the initial guidance from the State in June along with several other documents that DESE has provided over the past several weeks (COVID-19 protocols, courses that require additional considerations, transportation, special education). Please note that these plans are only drafts, and do not represent the final option for Watertown. I will broadly share the finalized plan on or before August 10, after reviewing feedback.

In-Person Plan:

The State required that we study the feasibility of bringing all students (except for those opting for remote learning) to return in the Fall. We determined that this is only feasible if we reduce classes to no more than 12 students in the elementary schools and 13-14 at the middle school in order to maintain at least 5-6 feet of distance. The variation in class sizes is due to different physical classroom sizes. To achieve an in-person scenario, we would have to add an additional 15-18 staff members and utilize several spaces such as our libraries, gymnasium, and cafeterias as classrooms. It is not feasible to consider in-person learning at the high school or the preschool/PreKindergarten level due to space constraints for appropriate social distancing, and therefore hybrid plans are currently being developed at those levels.

Highlights for in-person learning at the elementary and middle school levels:

  • 4 hour days
  • Staggered starts
  • Multiple bus runs
  • 5-6 feet of distance in classrooms
  • Dismissal before lunch, with “grab and go” lunch offered
  • Specials, world language, electives, and other SEL supports will be remote in the afternoons, either synchronously (live) or asynchronously

Remote Learning Plan:

We understand that many students may be unable to attend in-person programming for a variety of reasons. Students (PK-12) and staff who are approved for this model will engage in 100% remote (synchronous and asynchronous) teaching and learning experiences. This plan may be used for those who select it for the 2020-21 school year or used during full school closure(s), if that becomes necessary. Students who may be out for extended periods of time may also be part of the Remote Learning Plan. According to State guidelines, the WPS Remote Learning Plan must adhere to the 900/990 hours to meet time on learning.

Highlights at all levels (elementary, middle, and high):

  • Whether the school is utilizing the “in-person” or “hybrid” model, the Remote Learning Plan will operate 5 days/week
  • The ‘Weekly Learning Plan’ is the same in Remote Learning, Hybrid, and In-Person
  • Students in remote learning engage in a schedule and opportunities that closely mirror the in-person experience
  • Grab-and-Go breakfast and lunch available for pick-up

Hybrid Plan:

The hybrid learning plan provides PK-12 students and staff with a combination of In-Person and Remote teaching and learning experiences (or hybrid work experiences for non-instructional staff).

  • Students in each school are divided into two cohorts to attend in-person 2 or 3 days/week.
  • Students in grades 1-8 will attend every other day for four hours. Cohort A - Monday/Wednesday and every other Friday; Cohort B - Tuesday/Thursday and every other Friday
  • Specials, world language, and electives will be held remotely every afternoon.
  • At the high school, students will attend either on Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday for the full day, attending six classes. They will extend their learning remotely on the days that they are not physically attending school.
  • Preschool/Prek and kindergarten may attend every day in shifts for two hours or every other day. Their schedule will be determined based on the feedback we receive in the coming days.

What’s next?

The School Committee will consider the three WPS reopening scenarios tomorrow night, Monday, July 27, at their scheduled meeting, beginning at 7:00 p.m. We will present all three options and discuss the benefits and challenges of each of them. Beginning on Tuesday, principals will be holding chats with staff to review the plans to gather input and feedback. I will be holding several Superintendent Coffees with educators and families throughout the week as well. The Task Force will meet once again on Thursday to continue the dialogue. We will send an overview of the three plans to DESE on July 31 and share what we learned when we studied the feasibility of each one.

The Leadership Team will take what we have heard from the School Committee, faculty, staff, and families and recommend our preferred option to the School Committee, who will then deliberate and vote in early August. Based on the School Committee’s vote, we will then further refine the plans for broad distribution to the WPS Community and submission to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education no later than August 10.

Attached you will find a detailed schedule of upcoming opportunities for community engagement regarding the Fall Reopening Plans. I will be hosting coffees via Zoom on Tuesday, July 28, at 1:00 pm or 6:30 pm, and Thursday, July 30, at 9:00 am and there will be additional community forums weekly throughout the month of August and early September, as the plans evolve and we get closer to the beginning of school.

I want to thank the 78-member Task Force, which included teachers, staff, parents, administrators, and School Committee members. Their input has been invaluable. And I truly appreciate the 1478 parents who filled out the School Reopening survey. It was essential to hear from you and to make adjustments based on your input as we developed the three draft plans.

We understand that many of you have concerns about returning amidst the pandemic and we do, too. Please know that the health and safety of our students and staff members continue to be at the forefront of all of our decision making. We believe that we will be able to keep your children and our staff safe using our detailed procedures and continue to educate students well.

With appreciation and kind regards,

Dede Galdston

Big picture
Watertown continues its mission to Build For The Future, with demolition beginning at both the Cunniff and the Hosmer Elementary Schools. The School Building Committee "broke ground" on June 24 for both the Hosmer and the Cunniff, and soon thereafter the contractor set up operations on the sites and began excavation. If you are driving down Mt. Auburn or Warren Street, pause at our school sites and see the progress that has been made.

The School Building Committee met last Wednesday to continue the conversation about the location of the potential new Watertown High School. The architect further refined options at Victory Field and at the existing site, which may include the Phillips Administration Building. Please see the attached presentation for a better look at the options that were presented. There will be a WHS Building Project Community Forum on Wednesday, July 29, at 6:00 pm. At the forum, our architects will update the community about the status of the Feasibility Study and will discuss the current site options.

Town Manager's COVID-19 Update- July 24, 2020

The Town Manager's Weekly COVID-19 Update for July 24, 2020 contains excellent and detailed information for Watertown community members.

School Committee Meeting

Monday, July 27th, 7pm

This is an online event.

The School Committee will meet to consider the three options for reopening school in the Fall.

If interested, please use the following Zoom link

Agenda for the meeting

Candlelight Vigil

Tuesday, July 28th, 7:30pm

Watertown Town Square

The Candlelight Vigil is sponsored by the Kingian Response Team in Collaboration with the Watertown Police Department.

The Vigil will include a Silent Reflection in Memory of George Floyd

and Other Lives Lost Because of Racial Bigotry and Injustice

from 8:15-8:23 pm

Please follow the Link to the event flyer!

Watertown SBC High School Community Forum

Tuesday, July 28th, 6pm

This is an online event.

Please follow the link to the flyer for the WHS Building Project Community Forum on July 29, 2020.

Zoom Link for the Community Forum