COVID update – #13 May 2, 2020

Hello Georgetown Friends,

I certainly hope it is true that April showers bring May flowers because maybe that would explain the rainy pattern we have been immersed in for the past month. Hopefully we will enjoy the beauty that May will bring with more sun and warmth! As I finish this note to you this morning, the sun is shining and I must say it is a welcome sight! I can’t believe it is Saturday already. Sometimes I wonder if in this time of quarantine you feel that time gets away from you. For me, I sometimes lose track of the days because they are so busy but then I feel like time is moving slowly and yet Friday comes and I wonder what happened to the week. These are certainly strange and unusual times!

As we end our 6th week of school closure and our third week of Georgetown Connects, our results have been mixed. While the participation level varies with teachers, courses and time of day, overall we have seen the highest levels of participation at the preschool and elementary levels and in our honors courses at the MHS. However, with the exception of only a few students , we are happy to say the vast majority of our students are engaging and showing effort at various levels in remote learning. As a reminder, our goal is to keep students engaged in the learning process and help them maintain a connection to their teachers and classmates to help with their social and emotional health during this closure. While not perfect, we are moving along with these goals and seeing success. We just need to keep moving along, one day at a time as best we can. When making any kind of change of this magnitude where everything is different and nothing is the same , it is easy to get fatigued as time goes on. In the first three weeks when we thought we were reopening on May 4th, we were all good to go and thinking we can do this and then when the news came that schools will be closed through June, the reality hit and somehow this no longer seems like so much fun. Many of us might be feeling like this is not what I signed up for, it is not working and you might be questioning how you are going to do this for eight more weeks but I know you will do your best. From the response I received to my last post, I suspect many of you are feeling a bit overwhelmed at this prospect and I can tell you that you are not alone. We are all in the same boat and I believe we will agree that this is harder than we ever thought it would be.

As the leader of the district, I continue to see my job as focusing on what we CAN do to make this situation the best it can be for ALL of us and ,most particularly, for our students. I am also hoping to continue to offer a perspective that is reasonable and realistic and to manage the emotions that are guiding many of our thoughts at this time with information and hopeful reassurance. While these are uncertain times and so many things seem out of control, our strategy will continue to be to control what we can, listen to the experts, develop action plans that are best for our district and keep everyone safe. I like the acronym that MHS Principal Dan Richards shared with his faculty last week as we were discussing the end of the year festivities and I am going to adopt it for the district. When we think about ways to move forward, we will do it in a SAFE way.

Sensible within health and safety guidelines
Accessible so that all can participate
Feasible in that the event/ action can be reasonably conducted
Every decision focuses on what is best for our school community ( I changed this one slightly)

A couple of things for consideration:

YOU ARE DOING ENOUGH ( more than enough)
I am hearing that many of you are feeling that you should be doing more to manage remote learning at home and you are finding it harder as time goes on. I want to reassure you that continuing to encourage your child to do their best and complete as many assignments as they can will be the most helpful thing you can do . It is also helpful if you can assist your child in sticking to a schedule and staying in a pattern where they know that doing schoolwork and participating in zoom classes is part of their daily responsibility until school reopens. As the weeks go on, it would be great if we can all reinforce a couple of key messages beginning with (1) this is important , (2) they can do it, (3) we are only asking for their best effort and (4 we are not going to give up on them. Together, the more we tell them that the work they are doing and the effort they are showing will be worth their investment and will make it easier for them in the fall is important and I also want to be sure that they know we are proud of them for sticking with this and continuing to learn even when it hard and they want to give up. Your most important job as parents in this time is to continue to be a cheerleader for your child and a partner with us in this process. We are grateful for all of the work you are doing and we appreciate YOU!

Grading is Not Important in Remote Learning And Here Is Why
I know this goes against everything that is consistent in education and it is a source of concern for some parents and students especially in the upper grades. I get it. If it makes parents feel any better, this is no easier for educators to accept . When we are under stress, it is normal for us to want to hold onto things that we know and hold dear but , we have to realize that given all the variables with remote learning, we have to focus our energy on the things that are most important and within our control. We realize that the move away from traditional letter grades for this three month period provides less accountability and the major question I hear is, “What does credit or no credit mean? Simply put, it means that if the student works on assignments and submits them and the teacher sees that the student has handed in work that is of a passing quality, the student will receive credit for the assignment. If they do a sufficient number of course assignments, they will earn a grade of Credit for the course. They may not complete every assignment but they should do as many as they can to earn a passing grade. While we always want to have high standards for students, we understand that they are working under different circumstances from home and showing their best effort around work completion and engagement is our priority. They should know that any work they do will help them in the future so we want to keep them interested and engaged as best we can. While some students are highly motivated by grades, many others are not and to worry about this on top of learning to manage their time at home when the structure and accountability of school is not in place may be more of a detriment than a help. We will return to the old system soon enough but for now teachers in grades 3-12 will provide feedback to students but no traditional grades are being recorded in the portal or on a transcript at this time. The only way for a student to get no credit is to show little to no effort and/or engagement despite repeated attempts by teachers and parents to engage the student. In these few cases, the school will be in touch to work out a plan since we want everyone to earn credit for their courses.

In reality, students in all grades will move onto the next grade and/or course in the fall so please do not worry about grades. We are basing promotion on performance for most of the year and engagement in remote learning. Next year, teachers will assess students in the fall and we will move on from there. I hope this takes some of the pressure off and helps you and your child enjoy remote learning a little bit more. As I said in my last post, our students will be alright but those who continue to be engaged will be that much better off. If we can all commit to conveying this message, it may add some motivation to our students to keep pushing forward.

Comparisons May Be Natural But Not Helpful
It is human nature to see or hear about things we like and to want them for our own children. We are used to this in the schools because there is no standard formula for how teaching and learning is supposed to look or be done either in school or remotely. The special thing about the teaching and learning process is that it evolves between teachers and their students as everyone brings their special passions,interests, personalities and skills to the process. As adults, we have our own preferences and comfort with teaching styles and the experiences we want for our children. Thank goodness, we are all united in our commitment to quality education and I am grateful for all of the positive feedback on the work our teachers have been doing and the kind comments and thoughtful suggestions we have received. However, I am hearing concerns about the variations between grade levels and people feeling that their child is missing out if they are not getting something others are getting in another grade. As I said this is natural but I ask you to consider that (1) there are multiple ways to attain the same goals and (2) different grade levels might require different strategies.

Since there is no road map other than the broad guidance from the Commissioner of Education and the guidelines we provided to staff when Georgetown Connects began three weeks ago, we should expect that there will be variations just as there are when school is in session. Teachers are all working within the same guidelines which include posting lessons and activities that reinforce previous learning, continuing to engage students in reading , writing and practicing core skills, extending critical and creative thinking skills through enrichment and continuing with their curriculum as students are ready to do so. They were also asked to meet with classes two times a week for social emotional check-ins and hold office hours to maintain contact with parents and students. Since we agreed to move forward with the curriculum, some teachers have chosen to use some of their zoom time to introduce new content when necessary although it is not required. Other teachers have chosen to record videos of themselves and post for students to watch and others have provided written directions and or online tutorials for students. Teachers were asked to be sure that students have the necessary background before being asked to work on new concepts independently. There seems to be concern that not every teacher is doing this in the same way and I understand the concern. We are continuing to evolve and still have eight weeks to go. I ask for your patience and urge you to let your child’s teacher know if your child needs more assistance/ direct instruction on a concept than is currently being worked on . As I mentioned before, there is not one way to learn remotely and every student and teacher is working under a different set of circumstances . Our teachers are also trying to figure out how to manage all of the expectations we have for them and ,at the same time , balance remote learning for their own children and manage their own personal lives. We are all in this together and I ask that we try and stay as positive as possible, keep an open mind and trust your child’s teachers to move forward with learning in the way that works best for them and their students. I know our educators will appreciate your support and we remain grateful for your faith in us!

Teacher Appreciation Week Begins Monday
I don’t know if you are aware but next week is National Teacher Appreciation Week and I hope you might have a minute to recognize our teachers in some small way maybe by dropping them a quick email. One of the positive things coming out of this challenging time is that teachers are finally receiving the recognition they deserve for the important job that they do every day. I have heard countless numbers of parents and caregivers express their appreciation and gratitude since they have been assuming the “teaching role” at home trying to keep their children interested, organized and engaged. I am so grateful that this has been my profession for 40 years ( I am surprised at this number too LOL) and I feel blessed to have the chance to work with so many dedicated and talented educators who continue to inspire me and do amazing things for our students. They are my heroes!

Celebrating Our Seniors
We are close to finalizing our plans to celebrate our great senior class so please don’t worry. We are on it. I had the chance to join a call with the senior class advisors about their priorities and we are all committed to making sure there is a safe and in person graduation ceremony and hopefully a prom. Stay tuned for information next week. I want to let you know that the last day of school for seniors will be Friday May 29th. I would like to thank all of the groups in town who have worked on special ways to recognize the Class of 2020 . You should notice a few of these tributes appearing throughout the town within the next couple of weeks. I am so excited and can’t wait to see the looks on the student’s faces! The Georgetown Boosters will be providing each senior with a lawn sign congratulating them. Another group of parents will be creating a beautiful arrangement of flags with names and pictures of each senior at Harry Murch Park so that every one coming into and out of town can celebrate this class. Funding for this project is provided by the Georgetown Light Department. Keep your eyes open for these displays and I want to thank all those who have worked on making these tributes to students possible. They have missed out on so much but I know they will be grateful for your kindness.

Other Things In The Works . More Information to Come
Final Plans for Graduation and Prom (Info available week of May 8)
Retrieving belongings- schedule being developed now (Info available week of May 8)
Special celebrations at Perley, PB and MHS
Summer Camps- Will we have them? NOTE: Special Education Programs will be done remotely.
Featuring success stories on Facebook Page Georgetown MA Public Schools
End of the Year report cards
Opening of school in the fall

Have a great weekend! See you next week!