FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT
October 16, 2020 - Update - Reopening Nauset Public Schools
I'm Tom Conrad, the Superintendent of the Nauset School District, and welcome to the "Superintendent Spotlight" show. The Spotlight today will highlight re-opening our schools.
I would like to talk about where you're at with the opening of school and I'll begin with talking about elementary schools across the district. Of course, our elementary schools are located in Orleans, and Eastham, Wellfleet, and Brewster. We had a high percentage of our students choose in-person learning in terms of returning back into the building. Over the last few weeks of this model, we have seen a number of students who had chosen to go remote learning or home schooling petitioning to come back into the in-school model. That would be consistent across all of our elementary schools, and that process involves parents speaking with the principal of the school, and the principal of the school taking the time to look at our safety protocols, a 6-feet distance between students in the classroom, and ensuring that we have the space to add additional students to the plan that we opened up with in the early fall.
The other piece relative to our elementary schools, I'm pleased to tell you that the transportation program has gone very, very well, in part, to the numbers of parents who have volunteered to drive their sons and daughters to school and back home from school. And as you remember, when we talked over the summer, we were going to be in a position to lose around 65% of the capacity of seating on our buses using the state model and the seating plan relative to buses. So that has been a real pleasure.
My observations are telling me that the students are very, very happy to be back into school, and the parents are glad that their students are in school as well. Our teachers have made a number of adjustments, and are in excellent position to move our curriculums forward while we're still following all of the protocols that we talked about relative to the safe distance, wearing masks, washing hands, and so forth.
The one piece that I would talk about going forward is, in all of our schools, is that we continue to have a strict policy relative to anyone coming into our buildings. I think it has brought a level of comfort to both students and staff members to know that there won't be a number of outside people coming into the buildings, walking around the school. As of now, we are going to continue with that policy in place across all of the elementary schools, as well as the middle school and the high school. We are sensitive to our after-school programs that have been run by the school in many of our schools, and we're also sensitive to recreation as well as other programs, particularly as we head into the winter season, around sports. But at this point, we're holding the line, and we'll be watching this very closely before we make any moves to expand the people coming into the buildings.
I want to make aware to you is that, in talking with Esther Fitzgerald, who is the Director of Adult Education, after consulting with me, decided she will be retiring. At this point, it has happened. Her two assistants, Marge Rotti and BJ Newmier, likewise have decided that they're going to retire as well. I think one of the concerns with our adult education program, although we have some programs off campus, we also have programs that would be taking place in our buildings. At this time, it is safe to say we've suspended adult education until this winter when we begin to look at a spring calendar of events and the possibilities of having adult education going forward.
I want to be very clear on adult education. I absolutely believe we must have it going forward. I think it is a key component of the community, and I hope, as soon as we can in the near future, we begin looking at some type of staffing, to begin the planning and approach that we want to take relative to getting adult education back up and running at some point. It will not be in the next couple of months, I can tell you that.
All right, so we've got the elementary, better understanding of what's happening in our elementary schools, our adult education program, and now we're going to be talking about the region. Ss you know, the region involves the middle school and the high school. We were fortunate too, from day one, with the middle school opening up, and they're in a hybrid model that involves students coming onto campus and a mixture of on-campus study as well as remote work as well. That has gone well. And once again, the same issue as I mentioned in the elementary situation. We have had a rather large number of students come back into the building and who have stepped away from the remote learning. Our Principal has had to look at the space to ensure that we are following the protocols and guidelines that we had set up for ourselves in terms of keeping everyone safe.
I'm really pleased to see students at the High School. As you know, this show comes from the high school. As of yesterday, the high school students came back onto campus. We have a group of students here today and on Friday. They are in a hybrid model. I am hearing from the administration that students are excited, really excited, to be back on campus and to begin their work. I have walked around the campus, and it is amazing how our teachers have got right to work. Kids are, across the campus, digging in to their coursework, and the teachers are certainly getting more comfortable with this over the last two days, and I'm sure into next week. As the Superintendent, I am just so happy that we have all of our schools open. The vast majority of our students are in school learning, and we continue to support the remote learning, and in some cases, the students that are in home schooling.
Transportation in general, has been certainly manageable with the help of our parents. I can tell you that going forward, I hope to meet with Paul Hilton, the head of the Cape Cod Collaborative, who are our partners in this transportation system. My goal is to have an up-to-date understanding of the capacity on our buses, and be in a position eventually where we could take a waiting list if we believe, over time, there could be some seats that would open up.
Just to make sure that we're all understanding the same information, students are assigned to the bus, and they have a seat assigned to them when they get on the bus. They have that seat until they indicate to us that either they don't need to ride the bus any longer or for other reasons won't be riding the bus. That would be the situation that would open up a seat. I want to be assured by the Collaborative that we have the data that tells us that sort of information in terms of when we have an open seat so that if there are parents who are still hoping to be able to get their sons and daughters on the bus, that can happen in a smooth and efficient way. So we're working on what it would look like after this meeting with Paul Hilton. My advice to you is sometime in the middle of next week go on our website and we'll try to headline transportation and this information for you so you can follow any instructions that we think are important for you to follow if you have interest.
We are most concerned, of course, about bus drivers. Right now, we are in a position where all our runs are certainly covered, and we have a couple of drivers for after-school activities. But if you have any interest for a part-time job, although it's as you know a demanding job, there's no question about it, you could call my office and I would make sure that someone from the Collaborative would get back to you about how you might get started. We are willing to work closely with anybody that would like to try and get their license so that we get some type of surplus of drivers in our District.
Let's talk about the sports program. A number of people have asked what's been happening, and where we are with this. As you know, there is an organization in the state called the MIAA, Massachusetts Interscholastic Association. They set strict guidelines relative to what we could do as well as some changes to the rules of sports that would go forward.
At the high school, we have our boys and girls cross country. We have field hockey going on. We have boys' golf going on, and we have boys' and girls' soccer going on. We have, in some of those sports, both our varsity and JV programs. Our Athletic Director, John Mattson, has indicated to me that we have almost 225 students in the program, and the students have been fantastic in terms of following the directions. For instance, they have to wear their masks, and other restrictions. There hasn't been any pushback by our student athletes. They are, quite honestly, very excited to be able to get back into playing their sports, and it's going very, very well.
They are playing an abbreviated schedule. They are only playing schools on the Cape. An example would be Sandwich and Falmouth and Barnstable, so forth, Monomoy, and ourselves. We are not traveling to the islands during this season, and although they are members of our league,that is to be seen what happens when we get to the winter season. For those of you who are wondering, are we having it, and sports it might be, that is being discussed next week at the MIAA. Then, depending upon the league's decisions, we'll see what happens. But at this point, we don't have any firm answers for that.
The next piece I'd like to talk to you about is an initiative that has been in the works for now well over a year, and it is the Strategic Plan. We were looking at a Strategic Plan that would be developed for the next at least three years, maybe out as far as five years.I want to give you some information about that and speak to that in depth. This Strategic Plan was made up of the following people: Gail Briere, Missy Carpenter, Emily Degnon, Martha Gordon, Moira Noonan-Kerry, Randall Burkett, Tom Conrad, Sean Fleming, Jessica Larsen, and Judith Schumacher. The focus was, of course, to have a plan for the system moving forward that would elevate our program, and go into areas that we think are in the best interests of our students, and the future education that we'll be providing.
To give you an idea of the major themes that we were talking about, it includes 21st-century skills. The professional development that would be necessary to support these new initiatives going forward, social-emotional learning, global citizenship, and community schools. So those thoughts are broad in nature, and so we have put together a major document relative to the thinking around these five themes, and we are now in a position where we're going to begin to push it out.
Quite honestly, although it was ready to go last spring, obviously we didn't feel it was appropriate at that time, with all the challenges we faced, to put this on top of the work that was going on by our staffs and our schools. At this point, I can tell you that I have directed my office to send out copies of the Strategic Plan to each of our 30 school committee members for their review. I've also sent it out to all of our building administrators for their review and study and because, in Massachusetts, we're responsible for a school improvement plan that is an effort that takes place each year in each of our buildings. As these committees are formed, the members of the committee will also be in a position to have the Strategic Plan in their deliberation as they look at the implementation of the plan into our schools.
The next move that we would make is making sure that every staff member has a copy of this Strategic Plan as well. You might be asking, "Well, wouldn't it be obvious that the teachers would get it first?" I'm sensitive to the opening of our schools this fall, the work that has gone into making this as successful as it has, and I'm telling you, the teachers have never worked harder. I wanted to take my time in terms of introducing that into the workload that they already have. I'm sensitive to the levels of stress and hard work that is in place with the changes that we've made. Over time, you can see, in the near future, we'll be in a model where anyone in the system will now have this to begin reading and becoming very familiar with the five themes.
Also taking place during the next few weeks is we'll be looking at how we can push this information out into our communities. We want to obviously make sure that the citizens of our District are well versed and have the opportunity to understand the overall plan and be able to take the time to dig in, just like our teachers, just like our administrators and board members, because it truly is a community effort in terms of the initiatives that we're interested in. So that's at least the beginning of the process for us. You will be hearing again from me on the Strategic Plan. You'll be getting the opportunity to actually see it in the near future. The building administrators will be working with it, and I'm sure speaking to it as well as we go forward. We don't see this as a quick process. We think it's going to take a significant amount of time to move forward with the work that we want to do in these areas, and we'll keep you up to date as well as we can to make sure you're comfortable in knowing what this Strategic Plan is, what are the goals going forward, and how do we plan to make sure that that happens in the near future.
The other piece I'd like to speak to that has been put on the sidelines since last spring is the high school building renovation program. Last year, up until when the virus hit us, there were at least 40 to 50 meetings throughout the four communities, and opportunities to hear information on the project. Then, when the virus hit, it just stopped. And the only piece I can tell you is that, we have a building committee in place and that the building committee requested that there be an extension to the eventual vote on this project. It has been pushed out as far as May of this upcoming year. So that would be late into the spring of this current school year. There is the desire at this point to bring back the building committee and to begin looking at the startup of the work on this project in terms of getting back into community meetings, working with parents and boards of selectmen and finance committees and to look at this project going forward.
I can tell you that the MSBA, which is the Massachusetts Building Authority, who had awarded the $36 million towards the project, has extended that opportunity out to this May. But there's a very good chance that it will be the only extension that we'll see going forward. And so, in other words, this project must be decided sometime between the new year and May of this coming spring. So I think it's going to take a little bit of time for the building committee to get back organized and ready to come out with the information. Your patience is appreciated. We certainly understand the window of time that we have to get back to the work of the project, and educate our community, and answer questions that any and all people have relative to this project.
I think the only other piece I'd like to say as we finish up this report to you on where we're at is I certainly want to thank so many people. I want to thank, first and foremost, our staff and our administrators. I can't tell you the sort of time that has been committed to get us to this point, in terms of having students on all five campuses. Everybody in the system has some responsibility to making this happen, and I want to thank them very, very much. I certainly want to thank particularly our school nurses, who have a huge responsibility this year going forward with following our health and safety protocols, and quite honestly, taking the lead in that for us to make sure that we keep our staffs and our students safe each and every day.
I certainly want to thank the communities for their continued support in helping us relative to grants that we have received through the federal government to offset the cost of a number of pieces of equipment that were necessary for us to be able to open, and as well as anything that, because of the virus, needed to be paid for through these grants that the communities have had, as well as the grants that we have received.
I want you to know that I have been moved by so many people sharing their thoughts. I've been moved by a number of people who don't have children in the systems, retired in many cases, telling me how wonderful it is to see the yellow buses on the roads. I get it. I think that the idea that there's some piece of going back to what we once knew is present. So I promise you that we're going to continue to try to communicate to you any changes or any other factors that we think are really important for you to understand. We're going to continue to work as hard as we can to give every one of our students the very best education that we can give them. Because if you've heard me speak before, if not for education for our sons and daughters, what would it be? I am committed to make sure that we're doing everything we can to give as much as we can to each and every student. I'm going to try to hold onto that as long as I can. I want to thank you, and good evening.
WEATHER ADVISORY – 2020
Dear Parents / Guardians,
I want to update you on my plans for school closings or delayed opening of school in the event of severe weather. When storms are forecast, I will collect information on road conditions from public works and public safety authorities in each of the four Nauset Towns. Should the conditions be determined to be unsafe for bus or private transportation I will make one of two decisions – close school or delay the opening of school. Decisions will be made as early as possible but no later than 6:00 a.m.
When schools are closed, all school activities are cancelled for the day. When schools have a delayed opening, all schools and bus routes will begin two hours later than normal. Students should be at their assigned bus stops two hours after their normal arrival time. School will end at the regular time. Morning (a.m.) preschool will be cancelled but afternoon (p.m.) preschool will run its normal schedule.
Only on a very rare occasion when a storm occurs or worsens while school is in session, it may be necessary to close schools early. In these cases, every attempt will be made to minimize the likelihood that children will return home to locked or empty houses.
I will utilize the Parent Square automated phone system which will call your home early in the morning to alert you if schools will be closed or if there will be a delayed opening. This system will also be used if there is ever a need to close schools early. Please be sure to notify your school if your phone number has changed.
In addition, you will find information on school closings on the major TV and radio stations as well as on our web site: www.nausetschools.org.
Finally, I encourage you to make your own individual decision about sending your child to school during inclement weather.
Thomas M. Conrad, Superintendent