On November 14, Superintendent Dan Gutekanst and the School Committee hosted a virtual open house for families. Prior to the open house, families were invited to provide feedback through a short questionnaire which would help guide the conversation.
Feedback from families was shared:
As you think about your child's learning experience this fall, what is working well?
My kids are thrilled during the weeks they are in person and even with all the restrictions love spending time with their friends and teachers
The in-person days are SO good for them - socially, academically, emotionally, physically
Morning meetings on remote days are great
Having the same schedule from week to week has worked well
There's something nice about being able to see what my kids are learning and seeing first hand how they're doing
They're getting better at using all of the technology
Middle school level is great with the live Zooms throughout the day
My child started a new school, High Rock, and has made some new friends ... that would have been impossible in all-remote learning
I feel grateful Needham has been organized and visionary enough to create a hybrid model in which my child has had the opportunity to make new friends
What would strengthen the learning experience for your child?
Significantly increase synchronous teaching/reduce asynchronous work for all hybrid remote elementary school days
Access to teachers for questions/answers throughout asynchronous periods on hybrid remote days (even if not their specific teacher)
Going back full time
I would love the teachers to assign a heavier workload; not busy work, but the kinds of in-depth projects that might have been impossible before
Please find a way to do more with pencil and paper for the cohorts at home ... No Lexia, Freckle, STMath
Going into school more often each week; a week in and then a week off is not working for my child
Fewer digital platforms to navigate
Longer class time for middle school
Is there anything else you want to know more about?
How can more live teaching be incorporated into the remote weeks?
With multiple elementary schools, how are we sharing best practices for the hybrid model, and what are some changes that have been made based on what schools have learned from each other? (see "Best Practices")
Why aren’t we live-streaming more classes, especially elementary ones?
What specific criteria and health metrics are being reviewed to determine when our kids can get back into the classroom full time? (see "Health & Safety")
Would you consider a hybrid model with A, B & C cohorts, with each attending school in person 2 out of every 3 weeks?
The state is pushing for full-time, in-person learning even though the number of COVID cases is skyrocketing - what is the District's position? (see "District position on full and in person learning")
Could NPS prioritize full in-person learning for our youngest students?
How is the School Committee and District approaching planning for the 2021-22 school year? (see "District Priorities")
Dr. Gutekanst then provided more information in certain areas:
Instructional technology teachers are providing new tools, support, and ideas for all teachers
Grade level teams at each school collaborate, share promising practices, create lessons, and innovate each day, especially on Wednesdays.
The District used Federal and State grants to purchase new tech tools for teachers and staff; recent purchase of iPads for classroom teachers will enable more flexibility, including live instruction/streaming
Literacy and math curriculum leaders assist with collaboration across schools and levels
Online staff resources are available: Instructional Technology
The #1 priority is health and safety for all students and staff
Joint Committee on Health & Safety meets weekly and includes public health experts
State health metrics have changed, with new definitions of red/yellow/green. Under the new system Needham is considered green (even though we would be red based on the previous criteria).
Please continue to follow the 4Ws (Wash hands, Wear a mask, Watch your distance, Wait at Home) — waiting at home for test results is especially important.
Full in-person learning is the goal — NPS believes full-time and in-person learning is the most desirable and best experience for students
NPS follows CDC, DPH and DESE guidance on 3-6 ft. physical distancing, mask wearing, hygiene protocols, and limiting bus transportation to about 25% capacity.
An increase in in-person learning will require revised guidance — reopening will be based on state and federal guidance and local public health metrics
Dr. Gutekanst reviewed the district’s four Strategic Priorities and identified the proposed FY21 Actions that align with the Portrait of a Needham Graduate plan and incorporate the critical steps they are taking in response to the pandemic.
The floor was then opened up for questions and comments:
Many of the comments centered on remote learning days, especially at the elementary level. Issues raised included children not being able to work independently and online materials being inadequate and/or inappropriate. Dr. Gutekanst and School Committee members agreed that this is the area most in need of improvement moving forward, and acknowledged the difficulty it creates for families to support their children's learning.
Suggestions were made for ways to possibly increase in-person learning in the spring. A working group is being formed to look at improvements/changes that can be implemented over short and longer-term, and these ideas will be considered.
Appreciation was frequently expressed for how hard the teachers are working.
A concern was raised about the number of in-person days for Gold cohort students in January and February. Dr. Gutekanst stated that the calendar should not be changed again because it will result in both disruption and inequity.
Some families who are interested in transferring from full remote (red) to hybrid questioned the process of applying for transfer and possibly not being able to attend their neighborhood school. Dr. Gutekanst acknowledged that transferring between models is even more complicated than anticipated due to staffing and space constraints, though every attempt will be made to accommodate families. Transfer requests should mostly be for families who have experienced a change in their health needs/concerns.
Concerns about students' mental health were raised. This is a major concern for teachers and staff. Families who need support are encouraged to reach out to counselors, teachers, nurses, etc.