On Monday, August 24, Dr. Dan Gutekanst, Superintendent of Needham Public Schools, hosted the second of six Family Meetings to discuss different aspects of Needham's school reopening plans. Principals from each elementary school were in attendance to provide information regarding the opening plan for elementary schools. The meeting was attended by nearly 650 people, and was recorded for those who were unable to attend live. The NPS website has several resources available with more information:
The meeting began with a brief presentation by Dr. Gutekanst. Items of note include:
Overview of Cohorts
Blue (A-K last names) and Gold Cohort (L-Z last names) - Each group attends in-person one week on and remote the other. The cohorts are heterogeneous and arranged by family when feasible. Students K-2 will receive an iPad (ordered and may not be available for first day of school); Students in grades 3-5 will receive a Chromebook.
Green Cohort (Full-time In-person) - Preschool students and most vulnerable (special needs; English Learners)
Red Cohort (Full-time remote) - About 580 students from K-12.
Instructional model for In-person and Remote Cohorts
Both cohorts - Homeroom teachers will meet both cohorts to “launch the learning” each morning.
Remote cohort - Students will participate in asynchronous and synchronous academic and special subjects each day for average of 5 hours, allowing students to work independently and with support. Assignments are meant to be challenging but not frustrating.
In-person cohort - Students are in school for regular day and will follow regular schedule for both academic and special area classes. Lunches and recess will remain, however, with modifications to accommodate distancing and space requirements at each school.
What does learning look like in-person and during remote week?
Daily contact with classroom schedule
Morning meetings to build community
Opportunity for students to log on and ask questions with teachers
Two live specials a week for remote cohort
Getting grades and assessed like normal
Cohorts being confirmed and additional information about student support, including special education, are being planned.
In the process now of assigning students to classes; class schedules available after September 1.
Continuing to work with Town on maintenance plans and needs; hiring additional help to manage building safety.
Bus and classroom schedules being developed; available after Sept. 1.
Current information available on the district's website, and is updated on a daily basis.
Planning training, preparing classrooms, and getting ready to open schools on Sept. 14.
Planning a staggered start of school to allow both cohorts to attend in-person during the first week, in order to meet teachers and each other.
Parents should make plans in case children get sick. Parents will be asked to sign a contract stating that an attestation will happen before sending kids to school.
The district has prioritized in-person learning because it believes it’s best for students. It is also prioritizing health and safety. The only way to maintain the in-person model is by being safe and staying healthy. It will continue to monitor health metrics.
The remainder of the meeting was dedicated to answering questions from parents. The general areas covered were:
Differences between Red/Blue/Gold/Green cohorts
Red cohorts will have students from multiple schools.
No plans for intersection between cohorts at this time. Individual PTCs will look for opportunities for families to interact.
Students in Red Cohort are locked in at this point.
There will be more synchronous opportunities for Red Cohort. 2.5 hours of live teaching per day.
Content will be delivered in parallel between all cohorts to keep all students in synch.
The school days of in-person learning for Blue and Gold cohorts may not be exact.
There is currently a discrepancy in the schedule where Blue or Gold cohort will go 3 weeks without being in-person around vacation weeks. Dr. Gutekanst is looking into it.
Staff and Logistics
NPS hires 200 new people each year. This year is no different. Anybody who comes to work will be vetted, trained and follow all health protocols.
School hours for in-person cohorts are the same as years past.
Kindergarten will start when everything else begins
NEDP will be offering after-school virtual activities and in-person. In-person NEDP is only available to students during in-person week.
Cost of bus will be the same regardless of model. Refund will be issued if no longer interested.
Work is in progress to offer in-person tours to kindergarten students and new students
Health and Safety
If a child in the in-person cohort is sick and needs to stay home from school, the child may participate with the remote cohort that week if well enough to do so.
Schools will not be taking temperature checks as it has not been recommended for schools to do so. Instead students will enter and wash hands. This is a community effort to do screenings at home, and keep home anyone who is sick.
The metrics to determine a move to full-remote or full in-person learning are being developed and will be shared when complete. The district is prepared for this model to last for the entire year and perhaps longer.
Masks: Mask breaks have been built into schedule. Some will take place outside but not during recess. It will be a challenge for everyone to keep on masks all day, but staff will be working with students on mask safety. Students will be asked to bring multiple masks to school each day, and additional masks will be available in case one gets dirty.
Contact tracing: The Public Health department will make schools aware of positive COVID tests. Entire family will be quarantined for 14 days. Contact tracing will take place for entire classroom and some students may need to be quarantined. Guidelines continue to change. Staff will try to limit interactions of different groups at school.