Summer Update - Plans in progress for Fall 2020

I hope this newsletter finds your and your family healthy and safe during these complex times. I have included in this update information regarding starting the school year with remote learning, the status of and my thoughts on the planning process for the fall, community engagement (including a link to the current return to school survey issued in July) and likely changes to the school calendar. Things are changing rapidly and I know as soon as I send this email, there will be more to share. For the most up to date information, please refer to the Superintendent summer communications or follow me on Facebook

Start with Remote Learning: SPS schools will begin the 2020-2021 school year with full remote learning as the initial phase of our reopening model. The decision has been made with respect to safety. Specifically, an assessment of school buildings has determined the buildings cannot be retrofitted before the start of school to meet ventilation and filtration needs. Additionally, the city cannot implement a virus testing protocol in time for an early September start, necessary to identify and track possible virus transmission in the school community. In the effort to return students to in-person learning in the future, the city and SPS will continue the work to bring buildings online and establish a virus testing system, along with securing Personal Protective Equipment and designing safety protocols and new school operating procedures. Additionally, public health professionals are developing community metrics to track and assess the viability of in-person education, based on the progression of the virus and transmission rates. 

Although I am disappointed that we will begin the year with full remote learning, specifically for our students who we know struggle most with remote learning, I believe this was our only choice in the interest of the health and safety of our community. I will continue to advocate and support planning for returning students to our schools, when safety concerns have been addressed and the status of the virus transmission allows. 

Planning: I understand that many are frustrated waiting for plans and decisions. The state has been slow and incomplete with guidance and has left the bulk of decision making up to individual towns and cities, each burdened with the task of defining parameters and consulting experts. Some districts have publicized plans before completing negotiations with their collective bargaining units and have had to redo plans, which are not finalized. Conditions of buildings in other districts may be in different and other districts may have different expectations regarding the importance of virus testing. Somerville continues to pursue several elements in their planning process, but the three primary are (1) defining, assessing and implementing conditions for a safe physical return, (2) planning curriculum and instruction for both in-person and remote learning in collaboration with staff, (3) engaging with stakeholders, staff and families regarding status of planning and concerns. As decisions are made, they will be shared. 

There has been criticism of the district and those with differing opinions regarding in-person education. I encourage the constructive debate and sharing of thoughts and concerns with SC, the City, SPS and the community. Direct outreach is also being done with members of the school community that are traditionally underrepresented. Feedback is appreciated and taken seriously. Please know that district administration is all hands on deck -- working long days and weeks addressing concerns from improving communications to securing tents for outdoor learning spaces. 

There is no debate that schools must be safe for students and staff, and that in person learning is the best for students, but we cannot have the second without the first. Until building ventilation is addressed and a virus testing plan is implemented it is not safe for large groups of students and staff to return to school in-person. Although members of the community have diverse perspectives on the conditions necessary to return to in-person learning, the city, district and the SC will continue to utilize science, data, and the advice of experts in public health and virus transmission in decision making. 

Although the decision has been made to begin school with remote learning, I see an opportunity, assuming appropriate safety measures, for targeted in-person activities. I would support plans to, as quickly as possible, phase-in targeted in-person learning for students who we know struggle most with remote learning. This could include students with special needs, those learning english, those with home environments not conducive to remote learning, and our youngest students starting with pre-K-2nd grade. Additionally, I would support scheduling in-person relationship building, possibly outdoors, between teachers and families or limited groups of classmates. 

Families were understanding but also frustrated by their experiences with the emergency remote learning this spring. It is clear that more structure and increased expectations are necessary. This could include schedules, daily synchronous learning (live instruction), supplimental asynchronous learning (prerecordered), and collaboration with peers. All plans will be developed based on DESE guidelines and in collaboration with district collective bargaining units. We are fortunate to have innovative educators and creative staff who are committed to determining the best ways to safely educate our students during this pandemic. 

The district has announced that it will support students who choose 100% remote learning, over any in-person programming that may be offered in the future. For families that choose to take a year off from SPS schooling, I would support maintaining their seat in the student’s SPS program or school.  

SPS has offered staff professional development throughout the summer focused on remote learning, racial equity and cultural competency, social emotional learning, building community remotely and developing and delivering content in a remote learning environment. I look forward to the collaboration with our innovative and dedicated staff on plans to deliver the most effective remote learning to reach all our students and the phase in of in-person learning, as implementation of safety measures and the status of virus transmission allow. 

Community Engagement: In addition to the weekly SC meetings consisting of updates and significant public comment, the Mayor and Superintendent are hosting/have hosted town hall meetings (recorded to view later), both multi-lingual and English, that include updates and Q&A. I will be participating in a Town Hall for families with students with special needs, hosted by the Somerville Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SSPAC) this Thursday August 6th. Visit the SPS SC Meetings web page to learn more about how to sign up for public comment during our virtual meetings. Our SFLC/parent liaisons have been doing direct outreach to families that may not access these virtual platforms. If you know of a family that needs more information, services or support please refer them to the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC)

Also, please take the time to fill out the SPS Family Survey on Reopening Models if you have not done so already. You can also review the findings from the June family survey, and find links to recording of past town halls and all Superintendent communications on the SPS Fall 2020 Back to School Planning webpage

School Calendar: The state has offered relief on the 180 day teaching requirement, allowing for up to an additional 10 days for planning and PD prior to teaching students. Although changes to the school calendar have yet to be reviewed or approved by the SC,  the start date for school will likely be pushed out from September 2nd. Administration has stated they will propose September 18th for SC consideration this coming Monday evening. Watch for a formal notice from the district for any changes in the SPS school calendar for 2020-2021.  

Thanks to all for your engagement and patience during these scary and frustrating times. Please do not hesitate to contact me, or any other member of the School Committee if you have questions or concerns to share.

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Spring 2020 Newsletter

Virtual Office Hours: Join me this Thursday, March 27th at 7 pm via Zoom, along with Ilana Krepchin, Ward 2 Representative for Office Hours. The full schedule of SC Virtual Office Hours is posted on the SPS website, including links to access. Any additions to the schedule will be updated on the SPS website and communicated on my Laura Pitone Ward 5 School Committee FB Page.

I hope this newsletter finds you and your family safe and well. Work, school and life has been strange, sad, scary and complicated for many, and certainly unexpected and different for all. More are exercising deep compassion -- for our families, our community, the inflicted, those caring for them and all our basic needs and hopefully for ourselves. It is one thing I hope we retain and even grow post pandemic, broad compassion.

The district staff has been incredibly busy revamping and delivering educational experiences for our students as well as meeting basic needs. I will share a link to the Superintendent's communications about accessing services (food, devices, internet access) for families. This newsletter will cover  the Budget for FY2021, Remote Learning, Plans for Fall, a SHS Construction Update and ways to support our community through Donations and Volunteering.

Remote SC Meetings: The SC transitioned to remote meetings in late March. The schedule, posted weekly, for remote SC meetings and links to register to attend can be found on the SPS website. Regular meetings continue to include public comment, please enter the meeting a few minutes before the start time to sign up.

Budget FY2021: The budget process is being reconsidered in the context of unknowns and concerns about available funds. It is difficult to make decisions and advocate when fundings is unclear. The city is estimating a 20% drop in revenue, due to reduced proceeds from meal and hotel taxes, parking fees and construction permits, as well as a 20-25% reduction in local aid (from the state) next fiscal year which begins July 1st. 

The city and schools have already incurred and expect additional health and safety expenditures. The CARES Act monies will alleviate some of the pandemic related expenses, but is not expected to cover all. The district is also considering additional costs for training and resources to support students as they transition back to school this fall and reregulate, as well as efforts necessary to stem and overcome significant learning loss that many of our students will experience. With all these unknowns the budget timeline is in flux. Watch for information about the rescheduling of the budget hearing.

The city is committed to maintaining essential services including our schools, and therefore not seeking across the board cuts in all departments. The district has been asked to create scenarios for FY2021 that would be a 3% and 5% reduction level service (projected costs to deliver the same level of service at the pervious year). The current draft budget is a 1.67% increase from FY2020 at $77.5 M. This draft budget (termed the “level service budget”) has cut all planned investments, brings in house some services and programming, adds additional mental health services, eliminates raises for non-union staff, and maintains union contractual salary increases. The administration has been creative in finding ways to cut costs while maintaining staff and programming, but that will be increasingly difficult if a 0% increase from FY2020 ($1.3 M) or a 3% ($2.3 M) or 5% ($3.9 M) reduction from level service is requested. Somerville has invested a great deal in enhancing our schools and all efforts will be made to minimize the impact to our students. 

Remote Learning: The district has developed a remote learning plan posted on the SPS website and continues to offer training and support for technology and remote learning for staff. The transformation of the student experience over the last months is amazing, but we still have a great deal to learn. The district is creating surveys for feedback from families on remote learning. I am also interested in hearing first hand what is working well and what needs to be improved. Contact me via email or join SC virtual office hours to share your experiences. 

Plans for Fall: As the future of this public health crisis cannot be predicted, district administrators are researching and collaborating with educators in and outside Somerville to explore options. As of now, school is expected to be a hybrid model which includes both in person and remote learning. Options are being explored, from alternating in person weeks to morning and afternoon shifts. Final plans are subject to collective bargaining. Sanitation protocols will be developed, classroom configurations and furniture considered and face coverings likely required and distributed by the district. Per the Superintendent, the district may prioritize in person time for younger students, who struggle most with access to and engagement with remote learning experiences. Although these plans will evolve over the next months, families should anticipate some level of remote learning when school begins this fall. 

Somerville High School: Congratulations to the class of 2020! The High School Staff have organized a “drive up” graduation that allows graduates to individually walk across the stage, receive their diploma and have their photo taken. Students will be scheduled at 30 intervals in three hours groups over two days to allow for social distancing. 

Construction at the High School resumed last Monday, May 18th. Safety plans have been implemented including temperature checks, frequent cleaning of common services, socially distanced cleaning stations and break areas. Although the building will not be ready for occupation in September 2020 and a new schedule is being developed targeting completion by January 2021.

Donations and Volunteering: The City of Somerville website has links for both volunteering or donating to the Somerville Cares COVID-19 Fund. Packing at the food pantry, delivering food or meals, connecting with isolated elderly, are a few of the volunteer opportunities. 

Although this is a long newsletter, I cannot end without mentioning how grateful I am for our dedicated staff and thankful for the patience, flexibility and persistence of our students and families. 

Contact me if you have any questions, concerns or ideas: lpitone@k12.somerville.ma.us. I am happy to meet for a socially distanced walk, schedule a call or correspond over email. Click here to signup to receive my newsletters (sent a few times a year) or for more frequent updates follow or like my Laura Pitone Ward 5 School Committee Facebook Page.

Laura Pitone, Ward 5 School Committee Representative

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Virtual Office Hours Spring 2020

The School Committee is hosting virtual office hours starting Thursday, May 28th. The SC reconsidering the budget for 2021, in the context of dramatic revenune challenges the city faces and the predicted reductions in local aid. Additionally, I am interested in hearing about student's remote learning experiences, both what is working well and what needs to be prioritized for improvement. The Somerville Public Schools website includes all the zoom links.

Thurs 5/28, 8 am with Emily Ackman & Ellenor Barrish
Thurs 5/28, 7 pm with Laura Pitone & Ilana Krepchin
Fri 5/29, 9 am with Carrie Normand & Sarah Phillips
Sat 5/30, 10 am with Carrie Normand & Ellenor Barrish
Sun 5/31, 4 pm with Andre Green & Ilana Krepchin
Tues 6/2, 8 am with Andre Green & Sarah Phillips

There may be additional dates/times, which I will update here, but the SPS website link above will have the most updated list.

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Fall 2019 Newsletter - SC Goals, Equity Policy and New Hires

In addition to promoting SC Office Hours, I wanted to share about district leadership hires, the status of the new Homework Policy, continued work on the Equity Policy, changes to School Committee representation, and proposed 2019 - 2022 School Committee Goals 

Office Hours & New Hires: Join me and Ward 5 City Councilor Mark Niedergang at Office Hours this Sunday November 3rd from 10-11:30 AM at the Armory Cafe (191 Highland Avenue).  Don’t forget daylight savings! Click here to access the full Office Hours schedule. 2019 SPS leadership hires include an Assistant Superintendent, the newly established Director of Equity and Excellence and several adminstrators. Read more about 2019 leadership hires here.  

Equity Policy: This policy is being created in collaboration with district administration, as well as fielded in focus groups with SPS staff, and considers how SPS defines equity and how legacy policies, processes and systems can interfere with our vision. Click here to read more here about the Equity Policy, which will be deliberated on by the SC beginning November 4th. We have recently added the concept of intersectionality, the goal of diversifying parent/guardian leadership, that clarifying equitable resource allocation may result in differentiated allocation and language regarding protection for students and staff who report policy violations. 

School Committee Goals 2019-2022: I am excited to share that the updated SC goals are based on SC long range planning work in 2017 and are inspired by the draft Equity Policy. The goals are strategic in nature, focused on systemic changes to address root causes of the opportunity gap for our students. The goals target four areas -- Human Capital, Enrollment and Programing, District Resources and Milestones of Learning. Overall the vision is to rebuild systems to ensure that all students get what they need to create equal opportunity for future success. Although the goals are not yet approved, you can read more about the goals and access the October 21st draft here

Homework Policy: The rollout of the updated SC Homework Policy has been delayed due to concerns from SPS educators about the rollout process and changes in the policy. Administrators are hosting focus groups with SPS educators over the next several months to provide input for consideration by the School Committee. The target is to implement an updated Homework Policy at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The purpose of updating the homework policy is to better reflect current research regarding the value of homework as well as input from parents/guardians and staff. For more detail on the Homework Policy process and concerns click here

Somerville High School Construction: We have been told that the building project is still on track for occupation of the new building at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Thanks to all the administrators, teachers and students who have been so flexible and supportive during the construction. The most up-to-date information, including photos of the project and links to meeting minutes, can be found on the SHS Building Project website. If you have any questions about the project email: shsfuture@somervillema.gov

Changes to the School Committee: Thanks to outgoing Ward 2 School Committee Representative Dan Futrell, a champion of social and emotional learning as well as a leader in finance and budgeting on the School Committee. Ilana Krepchin, as the only candidate for the Ward 2 seat on the ballot this fall, was voted in by the SC as Ward 2 representative to serve the remainder of Dan's term through December 2019. Additional thanks to both Lee Palmer and Paula O'Sullivan, Ward 3 and Ward 6 representatives, who did not seek re-election this fall. Lee's advocacy for health and wellness and against high-stakes associated with standardized testing as well as policy leadership as Chair of the Rules Subcommittee were great assets to School Committee. And I will continue to seek Paula's sage counsel. Her experience as an educator, analytical approach and attention to detail contributed significant value to our work in her time representing Ward 6. I look forward to working with Ellenor Barish, the sole candidate on the ballot for Ward 6, as well as the top vote getter in the contested race in Ward 3. 

Election Day 2019: If you are a Ward Five resident, I ask for your continued support by voting for me on election day this Tuesday November 5th. Although I am running unopposed this year, your vote signifies your support for my efforts as School Committee Representative. Regardless of where you live in our city, I hope you can take the time to vote. 

Your Voice: Contact me if you have any questions, concerns or ideas: lpitone@k12.somerville.ma.us. I am happy to meet for coffee, a walk, schedule a call or correspond over email. And don't forget the School Committee now hosts public comment at the beginning of every regular SC meeting. This is an opportunity for Somerville residents to share their thoughts, on public record, on topics relevant to the School Committee. 

Keep me posted:  Click here to signup to receive my newsletters (sent a few times a year) or for more frequent updates follow or like my Laura Pitone Ward 5 School Committee Facebook Page

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Creating School Committee 2019-2022 Goals

No photo description available.The School Committee and SPS Administration have been collaborating this fall on updated goals for the district. The foundation of this work is the 2017 Long Range Planning and efforts to create an SPS Equity Policy, and as such the goals are strategic and focused on systemic changes. The SC draft Equity Policy highlights the difference betwen equality and equity. With equality all receive the same (“equal”) where equity necessitates providing for individual needs to insure equal access to opportunities. Decoupling the link between educational outcomes and any personal characteristic, including socioeconomic status or race, is the root of achieving equity. 

The four strategic areas of systemic change addressed in the draft goals are: Human Capital, Enrollment and Programing, District Resources and Milestones of Learning. The 10/18 Draft of the 2019-2020 goals can be viewed here

The Human Capital goal includes diversifying the educator workforce, which research shows benefits all students, with a specific target for increasing the percentage of educators of color. Creating a system that attracts, retains and provides opportunity for advancement for educators will be the focus of this work. Enrollment and Programming goals will include creating an informed prediction, based on data, of what future enrollment may look like through the city, with the district can use to plan for future facilities and equity in access to programming for all students. The District resources goal will specifically pilot a new model of student based budgeting which will distribute resources based on student need, which may result in differentiated resource allocation. Lastly, the Milestone of Learning goal will design a robust system of aligned developmental academic and social-emotional benchmarks at different points in a student’s career. All these goals target systemic changes to improve equity and opportunity access to benefit all students. 

 

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Status of the new Homework Policy

What is going on with the Homework Policy? In short, the homework policy was updated early in 2019 but has not been implemented in response to concerns about the rollout process and a desire for more input from teachers. The Homework policy currently in effect can be found on the SPS website (file IKB). The goal of updating the homework policy was to better reflect current research regarding the value of homework as well as input from parents/guardians and staff. Early in 2017 a task force of SPS administrators with representation from STA (Somerville Teachers Association) lead the research, analysis, and recommendations provided to the School Committee. The most significant changes were reducing the amount of homework versus the current policy. However, after the updated Homework Policy was approved in February 2019 it was clear that many teachers were unaware of the initiative and had concerns about the changes. Therefore, the implementation of the new policy was delayed. Concerns included homework limits, in particular for middle graders, risking preparedness for high school and beyond as well as a desire to explicitly emphasize the importance of reading. 

Moving forward administration and the STA agreed to host staff focus groups over the next few months to provide input to the School Committee with the overall goal of finalizing an updated HW policy for implementation at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Thanks to SPS teachers for speaking out and agreeing on a path forward. Thanks to the many advocates for their attention to this topic and patience as we reconsider the Homework Policy to best factor both current research and the values of our school community. If you are interested in viewing a copy of the Homework policy that was approved in February 2019, but which has not been implemented, you can find it in the SC Meeting Minutes from February 4, 2019 (search on “Homework Policy”).

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Fall 2019 Coordinated SC Office Hours

Please share your thoughts and ideas with the School Committee during Fall Office Hours hosted from 10/22 to 11/3. I will joined by City Councilor Mark Niedergang at the following:

Tuesday October 22nd 8:15 - 9:15 amThe Kennedy School (5 Cherry Street)

Sunday November 3rd 10 - 11:30 amThe Armory Cafe (191 Highland Avenue) - Don't forget daylight savings time

The full schedule is posted here you can visit the School Committee Page on the SPS website to see this schedule in the four primary languages (English, Haitian Creole, Portugues, and Spanish). 

 

 

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2019 Leadership Hires

Update 10/30: SPS announced hiring Dr. Jessica Boston Davis as our first SPS Director of Equity and Excellence in an interview style blog post that provides insight to her background and vision for the role. 

I was excited to meet some of the new leadership joining SPS at our last regular School Committee meeting of the 2018-2019 school year last week. The district has also proposed a Director of Equity and Excellence position that has been posted as an anticipated position, pending approval of the City budget. Although this position has yet to be filled, I encourage people to learn about the Director of Equity and Excellence via the job description.

  • Nicole Viele will be the new Assistant Principal for Beacon House at SHS, assuming the position vacated by the retirement of Jane Cummings. As the SHS director of athletics for the last several years she has formed strong relationships with students and families that are so important in her new role. A former Special Education teacher who has been at leader in athletics at both the high school and collegiate level she is looking forward to this new opportunity.
  • John Braga will be the incoming Assistant Principal at the Argenziano School. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Mr. Braga comes via Boston Public Schools with a background in English language learner education as well as student and family outreach.
  • Current Assistant Principal at the Winter Hill Community Innovation School Courtney Gosling will be stepping up as Principal. Ms Gosling is a former Assistant Principal in Salem with years of classroom teaching experience. Outgoing WHCIS principal Chad Massa shared that "the Winter Hill could not be in better hands".
  • Dr. Mary Ellen Cobbs will join the Healey School as its new principal. She is a seasoned principal, most recently in Melrose, who is looking forward to returning to her urban education roots. 
  • Liz Doncaster will be SPS Interim Student Support Director, stepping up from her current position as Assistant Director. Ms Doncaster has honed her leadership skills at SPS, with 12 years at the Capuano as well as serving as the former Director of Summer School. 
  • Stanley Vieira is returning to his Somerville roots to assume the position of Director of Athletics. A 1987 SHS graduate, with experience in both athletics and student services, he comes to SHS via his most recent position as the Arlington Director of Athletics.
  • Chad Massa will be the SPS Interim Assistant Superintendent, assuming the role formerly held by Dr Almi Abeyta, who has joined Chelsea Public Schools as its new Superintendent. His years as principal at the WHCIS has prepared him well for this opportunity in the SPS Central Office. 10/30 Update: Read more about Chad Mazza in the SPS "Welcome Assistant Superintendent Chad Mazza" blog post. 
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Newsletter - Spring 2019

The district's Equity Policy work, the proposed FY2020 budget, progress on the new Somerville High School -- both the building and redesign of the student experience -- and my Campaign Kick-off on 6/4 are shared in this newsletter. I have also included links to more detailed blog posts on the Budget, the Equity Policy, and the future of SHS.   

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Envisioning the Future of Somerville High School

In addition to the new building, SHS is more than one year into a grant funded planning effort with staff, students and community members to envision the future of Somerville High School. The scope of the work includes subcommittees focused on out-of-school learning, personalization of the student experience, performance-based assessments that may include multiple flexible pathways to graduation and reconsidering scheduling to make these ideas possible. SHS leadership presented some of the initial thinking to the School Committee, which included a proposal for a new schedule creating more flexibility for internships or other off campus training (subject to collective bargaining.)

During the April 3rd Educational Programs Subcommittee of the School Committee, the SHS School Improvement Council shared the work to date of the SHS subcommittees. Below I have included an exerpt from the minutes from this meeting, drafted by Chair Paula O'Sullivan. This provides detail about the possible future experience of students at Somerville High School - more personalized, more flexible and better preparing our students for success after high school. 

Minutes for the 4/3 Educational Programs Subcommittee by Chair Dan Paula O'Sullivan:

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Laura Pitone for Ward 5 School Committee
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