March 23rd 2020

Monday Closure Briefing

Good evening,

I wish I had more definitive news from the Department of Education regarding school closure length etc. but unfortunately at this time we do not have any more information than I shared last week. We have been told to begin thinking about what steps we would take if this school closure period was extended. That is the only information on that front I have at this time. I have been working with area superintendents and district administration closely on this topic and many others. We will certainly update you as soon as anything definitive is decided.

What are some of the students across the district doing at this time?

Each day this week I am going to try to share an example or two of one of the many amazing things that teachers have been doing across the district during this stressful time. I am pleased to share the following example provided to me by Sue Wynn, 4th grade teacher at Swallow Union:

In 4th grade we study energy and use Rube Goldberg machines as our anchoring phenomenon.  Students were challenged to make their own Rube Goldberg machines this weekend. They did a great job.

But this one was by far the best…and done by, as we all know, a very special kid.  I am so glad is healthy right now. Wait until you see the end.

Feel free to send Sopia an email.

Prepare to be AMAZED!!!

What are some of the things that teachers and para-professionals are doing across the district?

This morning the majority of our staff joined Dr. Katie Novak for a unique Zoom PD session to help teachers and paras get more familiar with the more advanced facets of what is called “Designing Curriculum for Deeper Learning”. Teachers worked as a class and then in smaller cross-curricular groups to talk about possible interdisciplinary projects they might have their students undertake. Focused on essential questions such as “how does the scarcity of water affect the lives of those in areas which are experiencing such a challenge?” Katie will be offering similar PD on designing for deeper learning each week.

Beginning Thursday morning, we will be offering PD targeted to our para-professionals. This week  Luke Callahan, Director of Digital Learning and Katie will begin offering a Technology PD focusing on the use of Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Docs, and Google Meeting. Next week the PD topics will be designed by our Special Education Team Chairs. 

Teachers across the district have been meeting by Zoom in small and larger groups to discuss what is working and what needs to be tweaked with the activities and resources posted on our Continuity of Learning website. 

What have administrators, Central Office Staff, and curriculum directors been doing?

Karen Gartland, Kelly True, Alison Sancinto, and Marla Yarid-de la Cruz have spent many hours curating the Continuity of Education Resources website. Luke Callahan has been organizing pick-ups of Chromebooks (and next week iPads – see below). Principals and assistant principals have been holding staff meetings, working with teachers and parents remotely, and meeting as a group to begin to design our response for what may come next. The Central Office team has been working to ensure that food is available for Free and Reduced Lunch students, that building boilers and freezers are still working and maintaining our assets. Our maintenance team has been working inside and outside the building on fields (and tonight snow plowing to ensure that lunch pick-ups will be available for all who need them. They will also be helping us to deliver lunches to those who can not come to school to pick them up. Our administrative staff are working remotely to continue to pay bills, run payroll, answering phone messages, and work on our budget and accounting documents. Special Education staff have spent hours getting IEP’s out to families just prior to the shut down and just after the shut down. 

Devices for students in pre-school thru Grade 1:

In order to support the opportunity for students in pre-school through Grade 1 with accessing the resources of our Continuity of Learning website we will be distributing a limited number of iPads next Tuesday March 31st. In order to make the use of these devices family friendly we must load a number of apps onto the iPads so they will not be ready until next Tuesday March 31st. As we have a VERY limited number of iPads we will be providing them to families on Free and Reduced Lunch with students in pre-K through 1st grade first. Families who meet this criteria should email Luke Callahan at to have an iPad reserved for them before Friday, March 27th at noon. If there are any iPads not reserved by that time by families who qualify for a priority reservation, I will announce it in my Friday evening email and they will be open for reservation on a First-come, First serve basis. 

What is the expectation for students?:

While all of the activities currently on a resources web site are optional and un-graded, high school students are strongly recommended to visit their teachers Google classroom sites and utilize the resources each teacher has posted to provide them with continuity in their learning. We were recently informed today that students who are taking AP exams will have an opportunity to take the AP exams! Therefore it is critically important that students who wish to take the exams in order to achieve college credit avail themselves of the resources on their teachers’ Google sites. 

Why have Massachusetts schools not gone to full-blown virtual learning like some states:

It should be clear from all the Facebook posts by those across the country that virtual learning is never the exact same thing as having a talented teacher in front of your students. That being said, the regulations regarding education in Massachusetts are not the same in other states. The laws guarding the access to an equitable education in Massachusetts are stronger than they are in many states and state regulations/laws supersede in many cases Federal laws. Currently the directive we have received from the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education is that the resources we are making available currently are to be for Continuity of Learning. As I have previously shared, we have been directed to begin to think about what changes we may make if the length of the closure changes, and we are doing that – at length and through many hours. However, at this time we can not formally change course until we have guidance by the DESE as to what that new course, if any, might be. While I know that this may frustrating to some, we must ensure that if we modify what we are doing that we take into consideration the right of every student to equitable access to education. 

Have a good night, more tomorrow.

Laura Chesson, Superintendent