Category Archives: Carol’s Corner

COVID 19 Update

Good morning Georgetown Community. I posted this information on my blog last night but ,as is the case with this whole situation, there are already changes to what I posted. Please keep watching the blog but I will also be sending emails via AP Notifier as well since I know the message goes to all families. As we watch the news, we see that more and more things are shutting down as this virus continues to spread. Restaurants and bars are closed or only allowed to do take out. Gyms and stores are closing and people are not supposed to gather in groups larger than 10 people. Parents are being told to avoid taking children to playgrounds, libraries and on play dates to avoid close proximity. I know it is extremely difficult for your children and for you and hopefully these precautions will help to flatten the curve and affect the community spread. These are strange and extraordinary times in which we find ourselves but if we are learning anything from the experience of other countries, we have to take this seriously.

We have been very busy in the schools putting together a plan to help ease some of the concerns from students and parents while our schools are shut down for at least the next three weeks. It is sounding more and more likely that this closure may be extended based on the predicted escalation and timeframe of this virus which may not subside until the summer. There are many questions being raised ,some of which we do not have answers for right now which I know adds to the anxiety but I want you to know that they are being discussed. Here are a few updates but the situation is fluid so keep looking for more information that will be posted in the next day or so.

1. Breakfast and Lunch Grab and Go Available Next Week
We recognize that there are families for whom the school lunch program is a critical part of the day so we are working on the logistics to offer pre-made grab and go breakfast and lunch meals for any student who needs them at no cost. Our hope is to provide well-balanced meals while keeping sanitation and food safety as a top priority, hence the decision to offer the packaged foods opposed to making meals from scratch in our school kitchens. The offerings will all be in accordance with federal and state regulations for healthy eating, calorie intake and component balance. Meals will include a main component (sandwich or cereal) a fruit or veggie, water or milk and a bag of chips or cookies. We will do our best to accommodate and dietary restrictions or allergies if requested. Families are asked to email Food Services Director Sean Riley at rileys@georgetown.k12.ma.us by tomorrow (Wednesday March 18th) before 12 PM to sign up for the program so enough food can be ordered. Originally we asked people to call Sean’s office but we think e-mail is more reliable at this point so please e-mail him and let him know how many meals you will need. This is not just open to students who receive free and reduced lunch but will be provided to any student who needs a lunch. There is a change in the location and time of pick up. Meal can be picked up in the lobby of the Middle High School between 10:00 and 11:00 Monday- Friday beginning Monday, March 23rd. Students will pick up lunch and the next day’s breakfast at the same time.

2. Medication Pick Up
You already received an e-mail from your building Principal but I want to remind parents that medications for your child can be picked up at the schools from 9-10 am on Tuesday March 17 and Wednesday March 18. No one will be able to enter the building after Wednesday as deep cleaning will begin and once that process begins, the school will be closed until we are authorized to reopen. Please don’t miss this opportunity to pick up medication if this pertains to you.

3. Enrichment Activities Available
I have received a number of inquiries about whether work will be sent home to families during the shutdown and the answer to that question is yes. As educators, we know that three weeks is a long time to spend without providing learning opportunities so our professional staff will be providing a range of learning opportunities and activities from which our students can choose. We have been working with staff to collect these resources so we can make them available but this will be an ongoing process. Some teachers have already sent information to their classes and others are contributing links and other resources that will be available on line. Our Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Collin MacDonald has been working on this process and more information about where these resources can be found and how to access them will be coming out soon. These resources will include suggested sites provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) public television and submissions from teachers. I have noticed that some parents are posting some great ideas on as well. I just want to remind you that these are enrichment activities and not assignments that will be collected and graded. The state is considering these days like snow days but they will not all be made up. The goal is to keep students motivated and engaged in the learning process. We encourage students to read daily and use these resources as an extension of their learning. Just practicing simple things like practicing basic skills, keeping a journal, doing some cooking, discussing fire safety ( from Fire Chief Mitchell) , making a video, facetiming with friends or using google hang out, getting some physical exercise and the list goes on. Special education teachers will work with classroom teachers to ensure that there are a range of activities to support student’s learning styles, abilities etc. The state department has told schools that special education services will not be provided while the schools are closed and when schools reopen, the impacts of this time away will be assessed by the team. During this time, we feel confident that there will be a full complement of resources to meet the needs of our students with special needs. If this is not the case, please let me know and I will see what can be added to the list of resources.

I hope you can appreciate that this is taking a few days to coordinate but I really want really want to thank our staff for their dedication to making this process work and contributing some really great resources. Everyone is really stepping up to make this challenging situation better for our students and families and I really appreciate all the offers to help in any way that is needed! I am also hoping that parents can set up a place to share resources that other families might find helpful. I would be happy to share that is something is developed and again I want to thank the many parents who are offering to help to make this easier on everyone. What a wonderful community we have here in Georgetown! Right now the best thing you can do is stay home and enjoy your families and keep everyone safe as we ride out this public health emergency.

New Information Hot Off the Press
While most of the resources are available on line, we realize not all of our families have access to a printer at home. The elementary teachers in grades K-4 have made copies that can be picked up for families who need or prefer a print copy for the child to complete.

K,1,3,4– You have already received the work on line but if you need copies you can pick them up at the Middle High School Lobby on Monday March 23rd from 10-11. They will be on a table in the lobby clearly marked.

For 2nd grade parents, you should pick up the packet for all children in this grade on Monday March 23rd from 10-11. This packet is in hard copy only and was not sent on line.

4. Adjustments to Calendar
For the first time in my experience and maybe ever, DESE and the Commissioner will be waiving the requirement for students to attend school for 180 days. The last day of school in any district can’t be later than the 185th day scheduled when the calendar was approved. In Georgetown that means the last day of school right now will be June 25th. We have been told that cancelling April vacation is not recommended but like everything else that can change. I would not plan on it however but I will let you know when a final decision is made.

DESE has told us that there will be adjustments to the MCAS schedule and, depending on how long this closure lasts, legislators might vote to forgo administering the test this spring. We already know that the 10th grade ELA and the grade 3-8 MCAS will need to be rescheduled and we are waiting to hear more about the schedule for the Advanced Placement tests. SAT tests have been postponed as of yesterday. I know there are many questions from seniors regarding end of the year activities, graduation, last day of school etc. but until we get a handle on the length of this closure, we don’t have concrete answers. I promise as soon as we can give these answers I will let you know and I regret that students have to have this angst in their senior year. If I could change it I would.

I will continue to update you and if you have any specific questions, concerns, ideas or comments for me, please email me at jacobsc@georgetown.K12.ma.us. You can try calling my office at 978-353-5777 ext.140 but with staff working from home, I may not get the call right away. I am trying to have calls forwarded to my home but e-mail would probably be best.
I wish all of you a Happy Saint Patty’s Day and stay well and in good spirits.
Carol

Governor Increases Time Out of School

Good evening Georgetown community. Tonight we got an update from Governor Charlie Baker that the COVID 19 virus is escalating and all Massachusetts schools will be closed for the next three weeks returning on Tuesday April 7. To those of us who have been following this virus almost nonstop, the medical information is compelling and an aggressive and comprehensive plan must be enacted. Things have been moving so quickly and I have been engaged in conversations with medical experts, my colleagues at many levels, my administrative team  , the School Committee, teacher’s union leadership and many town departments heads and the local Board of Health. Since the decision to close happened quickly on Friday I am still working with groups and individuals to discuss the logistics of keeping education at the forefront of children’s lives. I have received a lot of inquiries about if and when we intend to provide opportunities for students to learn remotely and to provide meals to students who qualify. I apologize for not having all of these answers this evening but I expect to have more information as I complete my discussions with key staff and local leaders in the next couple of days. I know we are all anxious. Watching the news can be overwhelming but I appreciate that you follow me to make sure you have the most up to date information about how the schools are handling this crisis . That is critical so we can all be on the same page but you don’t have to wait for my posts. You should always feel free to contact me at jacobsc@georgetown.K12.ma..us and I will respond as soon as possible. Right now it is hard to imagine but this virus will eventually run its course and more quickly if we all do our part to follow the recommendations . We are not out of the woods but we will get through this together. I will do my best to communicate with you and lead us through this crisis with everyone’s help. Our first priority right now is to stay healthy and to take one step at a time together. I will have more information later tomorrow and I wish you all a relaxing and pleasant evening ?

 

 

 

Coronavirus Update

With all of the information published on the news about the potential for the Coronavirs to potentially become a global pandemic, I expect that you might have some questions about how we are preparing for this in the schools.  The Board of Health has been actively involved in communication with the CDC and other local agencies to ensure that there are plans and procedures for the potential dispensing of vaccines and providing a space to shelter if needed in  the schools. I know that the Board of Health Agent Deb Rogers has been working for some time with the state to be sure that all aspects of a response plan are approved and ready in case it is necessary.  Deb will be my contact and we have already discussed our current preparedness protocols including our existing sickness protocols and plans for emergency shelters and distribution sites and we will be monitoring documented cases of the flu (and other viruses should they arise), and school attendance as needed.  At this time, we are ready and waiting to see if further action is needed but I want to assure you that the town departments and the Board of Health are on top of this situation should action be required.

As you may recall, many years ago we all dealt with the H1N1 and Noro viruses in a similar situation and the same protocols used in that case are ready at hand.  We will continue review any new recommendations and I will be updating parents via this email blog Carol’s Corner.   We are operating under the advise of the state’s DPH and following recommendations from both MDPH and the CDC and will continue to do so.  All local health departments in the region will continue to monitor the situation and take part in weekly conference calls. The state and local health departments have the legal authority to quarantine, if and when necessary. The schools were disinfected over the break and will continue to be cleaned thoroughly during this flu season to assist with the spread of germs.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has shared guidance for school administrators and school health personnel regarding the new Coronavirus, known as COVID-19. As of this writing, Massachusetts has one confirmed case of COVID-19 and the risk to our residents remains low. In the US, there are only 53 cases confirmed.  Only one of these cases was confirmed to be passed through human contact (husband to wife).  At the same time, the risk for the influenza virus is very high. It is important to note that residents are much more likely to become sick with a cold or the flu than to be exposed to COVID-19. The guidance letter sent to all schools is available at the DPH website at: www.mass.gov/2019coronavirus.  Here is a useful fact sheet in many languages to assist you in learning about this virus:  https://www.mass.gov/guides/information-on-the-outbreak-of-2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19#-printable-fact-sheets-

Trends with the Coronavirus currently indicate that the primary group hit hardest by the virus are males 50+ with existing chronic conditions.  We remind you that washing of hands is the best defense so you should wash your hands regularly for the length of time that it takes to sing the alphabet twice.  Please remember to cover your mouth if you cough and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose with your hands.  Families, please keep your children out of school if they are sick and they should be fever free for 24 hours prior to coming back to school.  We will help all students make up missed work and instruction.

Reminders
For up-to-date information regarding the 2019 novel Coronavirus, please visit the DPH COVID-19 web site at www.mass.gov/2019coronavirus More detailed information and additional guidance is available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov  For questions, contact the DPH Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at (617) 983-6800

Warning From The Fire Chief

I am sending along a warning I received from Georgetown Fire Chief regarding a fire hazard.

I wanted to make you aware of a new viral video that involves the unsafe use of electricity and fire. It involves using the plug part of a phone charger, plugging it most but not all of the way into the outlet, and the sliding a penny down the wall onto the exposed prongs. The result is sparks and in some cases fire.

There have been two incidents in Massachusetts that we are aware of: one in Holden where a concerned mother sent a photo of a scorched outlet to a news outlet, and one at a Westford High School, which DFS investigated. The student(s) responsible for starting the fire at the Westford Academy will face charges.

This video is a concern and similar to past viral videos that encourage unsafe behavior. You might reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations. Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers. S.A.F.E. educators might reach out to their school partners because teaching why this is dangerous could be a good science lesson. 

GMHS Vape Detection Program in the News

I am pleased to share with you a recent report that aired on WGBH regarding the increase in vaping among youth and what is being done about it at the policy level and at the school level.  As you may know, thanks to funding from the Georgetown Cares Coalition, vape detectors were purchased and installed in many bathrooms at GMHS last fall to serve as a detergent to  students vaping in the bathrooms. These are sensors that are triggered when vaping is detected and alerts are sent to members of the administration and the School Resource Officer. We are the first district in the state to be using them and, over the course of this year, we have received many inquiries from other districts who are considering purchasing them.  At a recent meeting of Georgetown Cares, it was voted that there will be 14 additional detectors installed for the fall. These will be located in the remaining bathrooms and  locker rooms at GMHS and in the bathrooms on the third floor at Penn Brook where the fifth and sixth grade students are located. This is being done NOT because we believe students of this age are vaping in school but the research is showing that students are beginning to vape in the upper  elementary grades  and the  middle school years. We just want to be sure this acts as a deterrent for our students.

The link below appeared in the news and includes our own Middle High School Principal Dan Richards.   Check it out!

https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2019/04/25/as-teen-vaping-explodes-an-old-fight-against-big-tobacco-is-back-on

School Committee Presents FY 20 Budget to Fin Com

The School Committee’s Recommended Budget was reviewed with the town’s Finance and Advisory Board on Wednesday, February 27th. The budget was presented by members of the School Committee’s Budget and Finance subcommittee Michael Hinchliffe and Cheryl Lachendro, Director of Finance and Operations Suzanne Sutherland and myself.

The School Committee adopted budget of $15,834,279 was a 4.9% increase over the budget for FY 19 (the budget year in which we are currently working) which sounds like a lot but there is a story behind the numbers.  Each year, we generally supply the town with three figures fairly early in the budget process but definitely before we present the School Committee’s Recommended Budget to the Finance and Advisory Board since we are the largest and last department to present to them. Interestingly when we built the budget and looked at salary and non salary lines, the overall budget went up by 3.1% which is a very respectable and fair number after we first built-in contractual raises and made a few reductions in some non salary lines to present a number that the town  was likely to be able to afford. This number also includes funding for all regular and special education programs that we deliver in our schools but did not account for a significant increase( +24%) in the cost of tuition and transportation for special education students who receive their education out side of the district at public and/or private special education facilities that have more extensive and costly resources that some students require according to their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). In the case of next year’s budget  for FY 20, the difference in cost is an additional $270 K which is why the budget request was 4.9% and not 3.1%. This is a very tricky and uncomfortable discussion to have because it is not the intention to pit regular education and special education against one another. We have a responsibility to educate every student regardless of cost as is necessary but the biggest obstacle is the high cost of the services and not the fact that the students need the services. There is an extensive and collaborative  process by which these decisions for outside placements are determined and , if and when, the decision is made to authorize a placement , a team of people has  signed off that the service is necessary in accordance with the law.

The good news is that the proposed FY 20 budget is a level services budget which maintains all of our current high quality programs and services for all students, maintains our high quality workforce, protects reasonable class sizes at all levels ,keeps up with required technology upgrades and maintains of our school buildings and grounds. While the budget does not include any additional positions, the budget would maintain what we have which we could make work for next year. The Finance and Advisory Board was very respectful of our request and has assured us that they understand the challenges that we face in particular with high cost of out of district special education services. This is not unique to Georgetown and my superintendent colleagues across the state are experiencing the same challenges as they find that their in-house programs are not sufficient to meet the needs of some students.  In fact, this is a major topic of conversation and debate in the legislature when it comes to revising an outdated funding formula to adequately fund education without so much falling back on the taxpayers of the communities across the Commonwealth. There are no easy answers on this front but there is a strong commitment and a greater understanding that schools and towns have to have greater relief from the state when it comes to supporting education.

UPDATE:  The School Committee and learned this week that the Finance and Advisory Board will be reducing our request by $79,265 due to funding other priorities and lack of available funds. We will be meeting with the School Committee Budget and Finance Subcommittee to discuss how we will make that reduction. We appreciate the consideration that the Finance and Advisory Committee gave to our budget request , and while disappointed,  are grateful for the increase in our budget for  FY 20. If you are interested in viewing the proposed budget, it can be found on the district’s website or by clicking this link https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=rm#inbox/FMfcgxwBWKVXztcQktrsXDkJJNrWTBKm?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1.

If you have any questions about the school budget, please reach out to me at jacobsc@georgetown.k12.ma.us or Director of Finance and Operations Suzanne Sutherland at sutherlands@georgetown.k12.ma.us