Category Archives: From Newton Public Schools

Updated Learning Plan and Summer/Fall Plans

Dear NPS Families,

I write to share two important updates with you. The first is an update on our distance learning plan based upon both updated guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and survey feedback from families, staff, and high school students. The second update is on planning for summer and the 2020-21 school year.

Distance Learning

Thank you to all families who took the time to provide feedback on our distance learning plan. Below are some key takeaways from the staff, family, and high school student surveys:

Key Survey Findings

  • For staff, one of the significant challenges of distance learning is concern for vulnerable students and ensuring equitable access and engagement for all students.
  • The majority of parents/guardians responded that the amount of time that their child is interacting with teachers in real time is not enough.
  • The majority of parents/guardians at elementary and middle school responded that the amount of time their child is doing work or activities provided by teachers is just right. At preschool, the majority said it is not enough. High school parents/guardians were closely split between not enough and just right.
  • For high school students, 84% found the amount of work being provided as either just right or a bit too much. 58% of students are spending 2-4 hours per day “doing school.” 76% of all students find the challenge level of learning activities just right.

Updates to Distance Learning Plan

Given the state guidance, along with the feedback above, and working closely with our NTA partners, below is a list of the key changes that will be implemented as we proceed with our distance learning plan:

  • As many have already begun, teachers and staff will give students opportunities to learn new content and skills, while continuing to review and reinforce key concepts. The focus will be on a limited number of key topics and skills to prepare students for the next grade.
  • In our elementary schools, weekly schedules will be revised so that students will have at least four opportunities per week to connect live with a staff member, one of whom will be a specialist.
  • In our middle schools, we will add a weekly advisory or community meeting of 30 minutes at all schools to promote engagement and connection and to support students as they organize their work for the week.
  • At the high school level, the class schedule will be adjusted to allow classes to run for up to 30 minutes as educationally appropriate.

Our distance learning plan continues to place connection with school and social emotional support for students as a top priority. We know that families continue to experience this pandemic very differently and we seek to respect those differences. Providing regular connections with teachers and staff, as well as meaningful academic work, will be the focus of our plan for the remainder of the academic year. 

Summer and Fall Planning

We know that you have many questions about plans for both summer programming and the 2020-21 school year. While there are more questions than answers at this point, please know that our primary consideration will be the health and wellness of our students, staff, and school communities. We will be working closely with health officials to plan for school opening, while understanding that our plans will need to be flexible given the unknown duration of this public health crisis.

For the summer, we are awaiting state guidance on school programs, camps, and other services. We expect that some of our programs will need to be remote, with potentially some opportunity for in person interaction. We will provide you updates and information as we receive guidance and determine what is possible.

For the fall, we are creating planning teams to prepare for the many possible scenarios. One area of focus will be operations, including building cleaning protocols, bussing, food service, social distancing protocols, among many others. A second key area of focus will be our educational model and how public health considerations will impact scheduling, course content, and social-emotional support for our students. This team will develop a range of scenarios to accommodate the various guidelines that may be put in place to protect public health. We will continue to keep you updated as our planning moves forward.

As we embark upon the final six weeks of this truly unprecedented school year, I am struck by the creativity of our staff, the resilience of our students, and the kindness of our school community. While the past 8 weeks have been incredibly stressful, sometimes frustrating and sad, and always uncertain, I am hopeful that some of the life lessons learned by our children will serve them well. I hope you and your family are healthy and well.

Sincerely,

David Fleishman
Superintendent of Schools

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update is for the 5/11/2020 Newton School Committee meeting. This meeting was largely focused on examining the results of the Distance Learning Survey, conducted over the last several weeks. We will continue to study and analyze the feedback to allow us to improve the Distance Learning experience. To paraphrase our Superintendent, these surveys are about learning from our families, staff and students so that we can improve our Distance Learning Plan, making it better and more effective for all of our students and their families.

As a result, a number of changes to the Distance Learning Plan will soon take effect including:

  • Elementary – Each student will have 4 opportunities per week to connect live with a staff member.
  • Middle – An advisory or community meeting will occur weekly for 30 minutes to both connect and prepare for the week.
  • High – Classes will be scheduled for up to 30 minutes (increase of 10 minutes).

Superintendent’s Update:

  • Teams are currently working on planning for summer programming and awaiting state guidance within the next couple of weeks to help inform our efforts. The district is planning professional development around distance learning tools and best practices, in addition to equipping educators with the skills to address students’ emotional trauma due to COVID-19. The administrative team will soon move to planning for the possibility of distance learning in the fall and considering what school might look like at that time.

Discussions/Update:

  • Distance Learning Surveys Summary of Data shows that “crisis teaching,” our emergency response to a global health pandemic, requires significant time and planning to recreate public education and presents numerous challenges. State guidance continues to focus on equity—the greatest challenge in our current environment. Families have a range of perspectives on distance learning depending on their circumstances.
    • Staff Survey Analysis:
      • Staff cited “not having enough hours in the day” and working constantly, through weekends, to plan and implement distance learning.
      • Across grade levels, the most frequent challenge staff are experiencing with live sessions or whole class meetings is students not attending.
      • Concern for vulnerable students and concern for ensuring equity for all students was their biggest challenge.
    • Distance Learning Family Survey Analysis:
      • For parents/guardians who reported challenges accessing live sessions or whole class meetings, younger students (preschool and elementary) more frequently had trouble engaging during this time, while older students (middle and high school) more frequently had difficulty logging in and technological problems with the virtual platform(s).
      • Analysis of open responses questions, around 3,000 responses for each question, is still underway. A majority of those providing suggestions would like more time with teachers teaching new content as a suggested way to help children manage distance learning. Parents/guardians also suggested small group projects and/or social interactions over Zoom, as well as more simplified and centralized directions for their students each week.
    • High School Student Feedback:
      • Most high school students (58%) report “doing school” between 2-4 hours per day; 43% say the amount of work is a bit much and 41% say it’s just right.
      • 31% of students say missing the social aspect of school is the hardest part.
    • Resources for Growing Student and Family Needs:
      • Device Loan – 1,000+
      • Meals – 2,340+ a day
      • District Response Team in Partnership with HHS
        • Phone: (617) 559-6021
  • Equity Working Group Update:
    • Suggested Annual Elementary Equity Cap of $40, determined by multiplying $40 by the number of students at each school, reviewed every 2 years.
    • The Elementary CAS Limit is three “experiences” per classroom. Annual Concert Series and Preview performances will not count as an “experience” towards the Elementary CAS Limit. Large Periodic Events, such as a Ruby Bridges visit or a mural prepared with the assistance of an artist, will not count as an “experience” towards the Elementary CAS Limit, if they happen no more than once every 5 school years.
    • Recommendations reflect a switch from measuring how much is spent per pupil to how many CAS experiences each student receives. It allows a better balance between the role Creative Arts and Sciences programming plays within a student’s overall educational experience.
  • First Reading Policy Updates (BEDH-Public Comment), IGB (Student Services), JH (Student Absences/Excuses), JICH (Tobacco/Alcohol Use), JLCB (Inoculation of Students):
    • Addresses minor amendments to update changes in the law or eliminate duplicate policies. Additional updates will be upcoming in the next group of policy updates.

Consent Agenda

  • Unanimously voted against participation in School Choice for the FY21 school year.
  • Unanimously approved 4-6-20 and 4-27-20 Draft Minutes.

Next Meeting
On Wednesday, May 27th at 7:00PM the School Committee will have a VIRTUAL School Committee meeting.

We hope you found this summary useful. You can access all School Committee meeting documents via the NPS website (www.newton.k12.ma.us/schoolcommittee). Additionally, if you are interested in watching an SC meeting from home or a recorded meeting, you can obtain access via www.newtv.org. On the district Facebook page, you can find videos of past “Virtual Office Hours,” which are held once a month and provide the community with the opportunity to ask questions through the FB Live format.

As always, we are very happy to answer any questions or discuss any concerns you may have. Please feel free to contact us via the email address below.

Sincerely,
The Newton School Committee

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update is for the 4/27/2020 and 4/30/2020 Newton School Committee meetings. We have combined these two meetings into one newsletter as they both examined the significant impacts COVID-19 will have on our proposed 2020-2021 Annual Budget. During the 4/27/2020 meeting, Mayor Fuller and Maureen Lemieux, Newton’s Chief Financial Officer addressed the Committee to describe the “deep changes in revenue assumptions,” to ask the district to reduce its FY21 budget by $1,500,000, and to plan accordingly for even greater reductions in FY22. Superintendent Fleishman and Chief Financial Officer, Liam Hurley, recommended a number of adjustments to immediately ddress this request and begin the process of carrying funds forward.

Superintendent’s Update:

  • In positive news, the Newton South Global Community’s program received a Green Difference Award, recognizing their outstanding energy, environmental and STEAM efforts.
  • Distance Learning Update: Received Phase 3 Guidance from DESE focusing on 4 key areas of distance learning: prioritizing meaningful connections with educators and peers, providing engaging core instruction focused on the content standards most critical to student success, moving to new content material, offering opportunities for enrichment exercise and play and ensuring that programming is accessible. DESE has also prioritized asynchronous learning as opposed to live lessons where many students may not be able to join lessons.
  • Reviewing Feedback on Distance Learning: We’ve already received high school surveys and had very good response rate from staff survey. Next week we’ll begin to analyze the NPS Distance Learning: Family Survey to try to triangulate that data and think about how it compares with the specific guidance we are getting from DESE. The results will be shared during the Monday, May 11th School Committee Meeting.

Discussions/Update:

  • The Last Day of School: The last day of school for students will be Tuesday, June 18, 2019, and the last day for teachers will be Wednesday, June 19, 2019.
  • FY20 Fiscal and Operational Update:
    • Chief Financial Officer, Liam Hurley, presented our third Fiscal and Operations Update of the school year. As of March 31, 2020, the district has spent and encumbered $157.2 million, or 66% of the annual budget of $237,022,312. The current financial forecast includes projections for all areas of spending for the year, with a projected positive balance of $2.8 million.
    • New assumptions made because of school closure for the remainder of the year due to COVID-19:
      • Salaries, benefits, utilities, maintenance, contracted services, tuition, transportation and spending on supplies and equipment are all projected to end the year under budget.
      • Food Service, however, will require a $359,000 subsidy in FY20 due to the district’s contract with food service vendor Whitsons, contingent upon 180 service days, and expanded food service operations during the district-wide shutdown to provide students with nutritious meals at three school sites, 150 Jackson Road, North High, and South High. Coordination is underway with City Officials to open serving sites to all residents regardless of age. Also, negotiations will take place to determine Whitsons management fees for the year.
  • Facilities Update:
    • Chief Financial Officer, Liam Hurley, provided an update on several projects currently underway including:
      • Newton Early Childhood Program (NECP) – project has now been put out to bid and we expect to receive bids in May.
      • Lincoln-Eliot at 150 Jackson Road- the working group is recommending that the space program be revised for an enrollment of 396 students and 18 classrooms, plus an expanded scope including the existing auditorium.
      • Horace Mann Improvements- City Council voted to approve $650,000, reimbursing NPS for completed work and $150,000 for additional work, including the installation of sinks on the second floor and some interior updates. However, the additional $500,000 request covering installation of additional playground equipment, will now be deferred due to significant changes in City finances from the pandemic.
      • Lincoln-Eliot Building Envelope Project- work to start on replacing windows, project completion anticipated by the end of the summer.
      • Oak Hill Classroom Addition- Design Review Committee (DRC) approved the site plan for the three-classroom addition. The September 2021 completion date, may be adjusted as COVID-19 creates an uncertain bidding environment.
      • Phase 3 Solar Panel Updates.
  • Regular Yellow Bus Contract Modification:
    • NPS has agreed to pay Eastern Bus adjusted daily rates for the period that we are closed, honoring a request from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and requiring Eastern to continue to pay their drivers regularly scheduled wages and benefits.
      • In-City Yellow Buses will be paid at 61% percent of contracted daily rate, $350 per bus per day, for 34 buses.
      • METCO Buses will be paid at 63% percent of contracted daily rate, $408 per bus per day, for 8 buses.
  • FY21 School Department Budget
    • District must now reduce its FY21 budget by $1,500,000.
      • Savings in the maintenance account of $500,000 by reducing summer projects such as painting, floor tiling and other cosmetic work.
      • Remaining $1,000,000 will come from carry forward from this year.

Consent Agenda

Next Meeting
On Monday, May 11th at 7:00PM the School Committee will have a VIRTUAL School Committee meeting.

We hope you found this summary useful. You can access all School Committee meeting documents via the NPS website (www.newton.k12.ma.us/schoolcommittee). Additionally, if you are interested in watching an SC meeting from home or a recorded meeting, you can obtain access via www.newtv.org.  On the district Facebook page, you can find videos of past “Virtual Office Hours,” which are held once a month and provide the community with the opportunity to ask questions through the FB Live format.

As always, we are very happy to answer any questions or discuss any concerns you may have. Please feel free to contact us via the email address below.

Sincerely,
The Newton School Committee

NPS Student Gmail Activation

From the NPS IT Department

Dear Families,

Students in grades 3-12 have already been issued login information to various Newton Public Schools tools for online learning. This includes the Google Suite of Tools (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, etc). In an effort to increase communication between students and teachers including the sharing of learning resources we are turning on Gmail for students beginning on Monday, April 6. We hope to have this implementation completed in the morning on Monday, though it may take until Tuesday to fully implement. Here are some additional details about this rollout:

  • Student Gmail will be INTERNAL ONLY meaning emails can only be sent to and from recipients within the Newton Public Schools Domain (newton.k12.ma.us). Students will be able to email each other, to email faculty and staff, and to receive email from faculty and staff. Restricting email in this way helps ensure a more secure environment for students.
  • NPS does maintain an archive of all documents and email generated by students. This is to ensure safe and secure use of these services.
  • Every year students are provided with instruction on the acceptable use of technology in a school environment as well as on how to be a good digital citizen. All students are expected to abide by the district’s Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, including the Acceptable Use Policy, Acceptable Use Guidelines and the Rules of Behavior and Discipline of Students.
  • Student GSuite accounts are subject to Google for Education Privacy Policies and Google’s online use policies.

It is also important that parents play an active role in monitoring student online behaviors and email use, and provide guidance on the proper use of online tools. Below are some resources you can use with your child in teaching them about acceptable use of online tools:

Please see Gmail Login Instructions for two methods students can use to access their account. For technical assistance with logging into your child’s account, please email us at familytechsupport@newton.k12.ma.us.

Thank you.

Steven Rattendi
Director of Information Technology and Library Services

Update from the School Committee

Dear Friends,

This update is for the 3/16/2020 and 3/19/2020 Newton School Committee meetings.  We have combined these two meetings into one newsletter as they were both regarding the proposed 2020-2021 Annual Budget.

Overview:

  • Our projected enrollment for the 2020-21 school year is 12,596 students, a projected decline of 15 students.
  • The FY21 Superintendent’s Proposed Budget is $244,645,343, and includes an $8.3 million increase.
  • The proposed budget aligns with the current goals including Academic Excellence, Educational Equity, Social and Emotional Wellbeing, School Facilities, Technology Infrastructure, Transportation, Diversity of Faculty, Staff and Leadership and Community Goals.

Instructional Areas:

  • Elementary Education:
    • A reduction of 7.0 FTEs in elementary classroom teachers.
    • A reduction of 1.7 FTEs in specialist teachers in proportion to the adjustment in enrollment.
  • Middle School Education:
    • Multi-team teachers are increased at Day by 0.5 FTE, 1.25 FTEs at Brown, and 1.22 FTEs at Oak Hill.
    • Reduction of 1.2 FTEs in middle school literacy.
    • Reduction of 1.4 FTEs in middle school special education teachers.
  • High School Education:
    • The projected enrollment for FY21 is two students less than projected enrollment for FY20 and therefore matches current general education staffing levels.
    • Starting in FY22, high school enrollment is projected to grow each year through FY25.
  • Teaching and Learning:
    • Review current curriculum materials and instructional strategies to ensure cultural responsiveness.
    • Continue the process of revising curriculum in History, Science and Tech/Engineering, Digital Literacy and Computer Science, and the arts.
    • Continue implementation of Illustrative Mathematics.
    • Continue to support system-wide professional development for administrators on factors that contribute to narrowing achievement/opportunity gap.
    • Begin the implementation of new elementary reading programs.
    • Continue core training in the Responsive Classroom approach.
    • Continue the focus on interdisciplinary literacy in middle schools through diagnostic assessment and intervention, and use of common language.
    • Expand our analysis and use of data using the power of Google Data Studio.
  • English Language Learning:
    • A 0.5 FTE English Language Learning teacher position is decreased in the operating budget due to continued decreases in ELL enrollment.
  • Information Technology and Library Media Services:
    • Continue funding for critical major capital technology and equipment including replacing aged network equipment, servers and switches, and improvements to our cybersecurity and recovery capacity.
    • Continue funding for conversion of our telephone systems to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
    • Continue funding for the High School One Student: One Device initiative.
    • Elimination of stipends added in FY20.
    • Reduction of 0.4 FTE from Instructional Technology Specialist staffing and 0.4 FTE from Assistant Technology Coordinator staffing.
  • Student Services (including Special Education):
    • Shift of 1.0 FTE special education teacher from the Lincoln-Eliot and Franklin Elementary Schools to Angier and Peirce Elementary.
    • Shift of 1.0 special education teacher from FA Day to Oak Hill Middle School.
    • Reduction of 1.4 FTEs elementary psychologist staffing.
    • Reduction of 1.4 FTEs middle school special education teachers.
    • Reduction in high school special education staffing (TBD) due to a decrease in the number of IEPs.
    • Increase of 0.5 FTE Social and Emotional staffing to the end of grant funding.
  • Out-of-District Tuition:
    • Increase of $280,810 due to a projected rate increase of 3% for day and residential placements.
    • Increase of $350,000 due to a reduction in Circuit Breaker carry forward funds for FY21.
    • Decrease of $345,367 due to a projected increase in State Circuit Breaker funding for FY21.
  • Per Pupil Allocation:
    • The FY21 budget for per pupil allocation is $1,275,019 and is level-funded for all schools.

Non-Instructional Areas

  • Facilities: 96K added for maintenance.
  • Sustainability: New position created for Director of Planning and Sustainability.
  • Food Service: Overall participation up 2% across district.

Consent Agenda

Next Meeting
On Monday, March 23th at 7:00PM the School Committee will have a VIRTUAL School Committee meeting.

We hope you found this summary useful. You can access all School Committee meeting documents via the NPS website (www.newton.k12.ma.us/schoolcommittee). Additionally, if you are interested in watching an SC meeting from home or a recorded meeting, you can obtain access via www.newtv.org.On the district Facebook page, you can find videos of past “Virtual Office Hours,” which are held once a month and provide the community with the opportunity to ask questions through the FB Live format.

As always, we are very happy to answer any questions or discuss any concerns you may have. Please feel free to contact us via the email address below.

Sincerely,
The Newton School Committee

School Closing

March 12, 2020

Dear NPS Families,

For the past two weeks, we have been working closely with the Newton Department of  Health and Human Services to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. We have received many emails from concerned families and understand that this is a stressful and unsettling time.

Given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in our region, coupled with new guidance from the Governor, the state, infectious disease experts, and our local health partners, we have made the difficult decision to close the Newton Public Schools beginning tomorrow, Friday, March 13. There will be no school tomorrow, next week and possibly for a longer period. 

The decision to close schools is an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. It will only be effective if the community also takes steps to practice self-isolation, monitor for any symptoms, and avoid large gatherings. We need all community members to do their part or the school closure will not be successful in limiting the spread of the virus.

We know the cancellation of school, its associated activities, and events that use our school buildings is disappointing and extremely disruptive to our daily lives. However, we believe we must do so for the health and well-being of our community.

We expect to provide an update to you next week as we further assess the situation.  We also know you will have questions regarding learning opportunities for your children while school is closed and we will have more information on this subject late next week.

This is a unique public health situation that is rapidly changing. Our hope is that if we all work together, we can reduce the spread of this virus, protect residents, especially those most vulnerable, and resume normal activities as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

David Fleishman
Superintendent of Schools