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Friday, April 30, 2021

Let's get REAL!

The district's REAL Coalition (Race, Equity, Access, Leadership) is committed to making progress on a coordinated and thoughtful plan to address racial equity and equity for all in the Needham Public Schools. This work is aligned with the Portrait of a Needham Graduate, the district's five-year strategic plan. Although the work is never easy, the district will keep going forward with a sense of urgency.

On behalf of the REAL Coalition Steering Committee, I have the privilege of launching Let's get REAL! a communication dedicated to keeping you apprised of our work with the School Committee, staff, parents, community members, and especially students, to build on our assets and tackle the challenges of ensuring racial equity and equity for all. Please check out this first issue and reach out to any of our 18 REAL Coalition Steering Committee members listed in the newsletter if you have questions or a request for more information and support. 

Many thanks to our staff, students, families, and the community for supporting this important work!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Reopening Schools to Full Time Instruction: Part 2

On March 8th we successfully brought back our Kindergartener, First, and Second grade students to full time instruction, and we now look forward to bringing back all of our remaining students beginning with the Third grade on April 5th!

Our reopening plan, approved by the School Committee on March 16th lays out the steps and details necessary to bring back students according to the following schedule:

• April 5th: Grades, 3, 4, and 5 return, full time, to school

• April 15th: Grades 6, 7, and 8 return, full time, to school

• May 3rd: 9th and 12th graders return full time (10th and 11th graders remote week of May 3rd)

• May 10th: 10th and 11th graders return full time (9th and 12th graders remote week of May 10)

• May 17th: All 9, 10, 11, and 12 students return together 

Preschoolers will also return to in person instruction on Wednesdays, although the final details around transportation are being worked out.  K-12 students will be in school five days per week, but each Wednesday will be an early release schedule. Students enrolled in the Remote Learning Academy will continue to receive instruction remotely for the remainder of the school year.

Principals, teachers, and staff are preparing classrooms, lunchrooms, and schools for the arrival of all students, and we are excited to have students be together - in some cases it will be the first time students have met each other and been together as a class!  We know the transition may initially be a challenge for some students, and we stand ready to support them during the last couple of months of the school year.

To see a presentation of our plans and learn more about the health and safety measures we will continue to have in place, please check out the Reopening Our Schools presentation.

With deep respect for the work of a talented and resilient staff; appreciation to

our families for their ongoing support and assistance; and gratitude for serving

the exceptional young people of this community, we are proud to finish up the

school year strong and set up our students for success as we look ahead to the fall.


Stay healthy!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Reopening Our Schools: What Comes Next?

With thanks to the Needham School Committee, principals and school administrators, and Needham teachers and staff represented by the Needham Education Association, we are looking forward to bringing back our youngest learners in Kindergarten, First, and Second grades four days per week starting March 8th. 

Elementary principals, teachers, and staff are busy setting up classrooms, organizing new schedules, hiring additional staff, and preparing for increased student learning. Teachers in grades Three, Four, and Five are planning to increase instructional time for their at home learners, and surveillance testing for the staff and a new health attestation form for families is also being rolled out in March. The full plan is available here

Teachers and staff have worked in creative, new, and innovative ways to educate and connect with students in this most unusual year.  They have introduced new teaching strategies, collaborated with colleagues, and dedicated evenings and weekends to prepare for their students.  Their efforts to support learners in these circumstances are both inspiring and unsurprising.  Needham parents and families, who have been incredible and patient partners throughout the entire school year, are also adjusting their schedules and looking forward to having their youngest children receive more in person instruction with caring teachers and staff. Thank you to our families for your ongoing support!

While we have worked hard as a community to get to this point I also acknowledge more work lies ahead.

After almost a year of disrupted learning for all of our students, Preschool through 12th grade, everyone - students, families, teachers - is eager to resume school as we knew it and move forward. Clearly, the academic and social & emotional health and wellbeing of our students requires that we be responsive to their very real needs.  The implementation of strong safety protocols in our schools, recent health metrics and data, and the rollout of the vaccine all suggest that we are tackling COVID, and we must continue to plan for a full and safe return to school for all students.

So what comes next?  Here are some of actions we will be taking as a district to prepare us for a full return to school:

• Review and understand new guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).  While the guidance from DESE and the CDC is incomplete and contradictory in places, both offer information that we can use to assist us with ongoing planning. 
  Timeline: Highlights from both documents will be shared at the March 2nd School Committee meeting and will be used for ongoing discussions.

• Advise and assist the Town of Needham Department of Public Health and Human Services with plans to offer vaccinations to community members, including NPS employees, beginning in Phase 2, Step 3 of the state’s vaccination program. 
  Timeline: A specific vaccination schedule is to be determined and will be based on the availability of adequate vaccine supplies.  The tentative schedule could involve teacher /staff vaccinations beginning in late March.

• Provide an update on the return of K, 1, and 2 students as well as an update on the strengthening of the 3, 4, and 5 elementary hybrid model to the School Committee and the Joint Committee on Health & Safety.
   Timeline: Share update about implementation of elementary plan as well as a status report on school staff vaccinations at March 16th School Committee meeting.

• Assess the academic and social & emotional health of students to determine shortfalls, needs, and gaps that can be addressed in the 2021-22 school year.
   Timeline: Ongoing efforts throughout the spring; share update with the School Committee in April.

 Identify the specific barriers/challenges that limit our ability to bring all students back for full in-person learning. Once identified, convene the COVID-19 Advisory Committee to 1) Consider possible solutions to the barriers/challenges; 2) Review new guidance and updates from the CDC, MA Department of Public Health, MA Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, and the NPS Joint Committee on Health & Safety around the reopening of schools; and 3) Advise the School Committee and administration on the full reopening of the Needham Public Schools.
    Timeline: Convene COVID Advisory on March 30th to review the status of health and safety, the hybrid models of learning, and plan for a full school reopening.  

• Communicate with staff, families, community and School Committee on the status of health and safety, planning for a full return to school, and other school-related updates. Facilitate student, staff, and family opportunities for conversations and input through open houses and surveys.
   Timeline: Ongoing efforts throughout the spring.

 

With a commitment to the health and safety of our students and staff, we can and we will fully reopen the Needham Public Schools and return to a new normal that will likely involve some level of hygiene protocols, mask wearing, and social distancing. 

We will lean on public health & education guidance; we will collaborate with our teachers and staff to plan; we will secure the necessary funding, resources, and space to return all students, full time to school; and we will prioritize the education of all Needham students now and into the 2021-22 school year.







 


Friday, January 8, 2021

Responding to the Attack on the U.S. Capitol

I sent the following email to our staff the evening our Capitol was attacked by a violent mob of extremists:

 




 

Wednesday, January 6th 

 

10:02 p.m.

 

Dear Faculty and Staff:

 

Like you, I have been stunned by the appalling events that took place in our nation’s capitol today, and I remain glued to the news to try and make sense of it all.  As I write this, the Senate and House of Representatives have reconvened and are proceeding with their Constitutional responsibility to affirm the Electoral College votes.

 

With our students arriving back into classrooms tomorrow, I know many are wondering what, if anything, they should or can say to students about what happened today in Washington, DC.  Please know that I encourage you to check in with your students and allow them to process the events that have unfolded.

 

Parents and families certainly have a primary responsibility to frame these events for their children within the context of their understanding and values, and I respect that.

 

As educators, we also have a responsibility to teach our students about these events in the context of our educational program and our values as a district, including the values embedded in the Portrait of a Needham Graduate.  I encourage you to allow students to process this historical event in developmentally appropriate ways, and please lean on one another, your principal, and curriculum leaders for support and assistance.

 

Sometimes teachers worry about saying or doing the right thing in the classroom, especially when it comes to a topic that could be construed as political in nature.  In fact, I have previously advised teachers to steer clear of advocating a political position in school, and I stand by that guidance. However, talking about what happened today is not about advancing a political position or promoting a political viewpoint, it is about acknowledging an assault on our democratic institutions, a duly certified election, and the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another.  What happened today was an unlawful attack on the nation's Capitol and the U.S. Constitution.

 

Allowing students to engage in discussion and conversation about these issues will never be considered partisan or political in our schools and classrooms.  Our students need opportunities to discuss and process these events within a safe educational setting with caring, knowledgeable, and trusting adults.

 

One of my favorite New England poets, Elizabeth Bishop, reminds us:  “Democracy in the contemporary world demands, among other things, an educated and informed people.” 

 

It’s our duty to help our students understand themselves, one another, their community, and their responsibilities as a citizen of our country, this imperfect union we call the United States of America.

 

Respectfully,

 

Dan


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

2020 Performance Report

While it is a challenge to keep routines, schedules, and traditions moving along and forward during a pandemic, it is important to take the long view and remember what our work is all about in the Needham Public Schools - the growth, development, and success of our students.


The Needham Public Schools annual Performance Report is designed to share data, stories, and program updates about the schools over the last academic year.  Within it we explain our successes and challenges in an effort to provide accurate and transparent information so that the entire Needham community can appreciate and understand how we empower student growth, engage the community, and carefully manage resources.  Typically the report is printed and mailed to thousands of Needham residents, business and our Boston families.  This year, however, we have produced an online version, and we encourage you to check it out on the district’s website:  Needham Public Schools 2020 Performance Report


Let us know what you think and how we are doing!  Please stay healthy and safe during the upcoming holidays.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Invite Hope to Stay

(Following are remarks I shared with the Faculty and Staff on September 1st upon our return to school to plan for a new year.) 


As I contemplate a new school year—a year like one we’ve never experienced—I am also taking stock in the world around us and the national events that dominate the news cycle, clog our social media, and unsettle even the most “chill” among us.

 

I want to talk with you today not about district goals, hybrid learning, your remote schedule, training or disinfectant; I want to share with you two words that have crowded my thoughts on my morning runs:  Fear & Hope.

 

I want to let you know what’s on my mind as we confront a new and challenging school year, and these two words keep surfacing in my thoughts:  Fear. Hope.

 

Let’s start with Fear.  Why not?  It’s the easiest to acknowledge.  There is a lot of fear around us, impacting folks in different ways.  I mean, it’s pretty scary out there:

 

• Videos of hurricanes in the Gulf and wildfires out West run like apocalyptic movies that we here in New England watch from afar on TV

 

• Record high unemployment that has impacted families, friends, and colleagues, many right here in Needham

 

• Political acrimony and animosity, especially at the Federal level, which nurtures conspiracy, resentment, and hate

 

• Violence against people of color, particularly Black men; Racial inequality & civic unrest fueled by longstanding systems of oppression and racism

 

• A global disease that has killed almost 900,000 people and upended the way of life for the entire planet.

 

There is a lot to worry about, a lot to be afraid about.  A lot to fear.

Sometimes fear is created by the cowards among us; those who hide behind power to manipulate reason and provoke terror. There is rage, anger, and deceit coming from the highest offices in this land all the way to the neighbor who maligns and denigrates the newly placed “Black Lives Matter” sign in your front yard.  There are those who nurture and exploit our fear; they blame the other for misfortune or economic malaise. They trade in half-truths and lies; they encourage bigotry, hate and intolerance for the other—the other person who looks, or prays, or loves differently—all in an effort to incite and instigate; all to embolden fear.

 

And there is another kind of fear, a fear which has its roots in a genuine and legitimate concern and worry about how, for example, we can manage this pandemic, help those who have lost loved ones or jobs, confront the ambiguities of social distancing, testing, and masking. We wonder:  Will my family be safe during this health emergency?  What if I get sick? How do I teach under these circumstances?  Can I be successful with my students? Who can I depend on?  With so many unanswered questions and concerns, it’s disconcerting, unsettling, and frightening.  And fear easily and happily fills the void.

 

In all of this, we wonder how as a family unit, a community, or nation we can navigate through the uncertainty, the charged messages, and doubt.  How do we manage the anxiety we are experiencing as parents, co-workers, and educators?  What a thing, this fear is; it can limit us and weaken and destroy our ability to move forward and to heal; it can cripple and capsize our aspirations and dreams.

 

Fear is stoked by those lacking courage and it also exists when we feel vulnerable and at risk.

 

I believe the antidote to fear and fear mongering is truthfulness and honesty; empathy and understanding; valor and bravery—all of this is the essence of hope.  This kind of hope dashes fear and makes room for listening, learning, leaning in, and stepping forward. On the eve of a new school year, even one as complicated and convoluted as this one, we find ourselves with fear all around us—but HOPE before us.

 

In this new school year, even with its uncertainties, we have a responsibility to build caring relationships with our students and support innovative learning… We have an opportunity to inspire civility, respect, and an anti-racist culture in which all children are valued and loved. We have an obligation to serve our students, empower their lives, and give hope to this world.

 

So what does hope look like in the Needham Public Schools in the fall of 2020? 

 

•  It looks like the work of over 300 Needham teachers who took the summer to reconsider curriculum, reinvent their instruction, and revise programs to meet the needs of all students in a new academic year;

 

•  It looks like the implementation of a Full Day Kindergarten program based in play, exploration, and self-discovery that demonstrates the power of student choice in learning.

 

•  It looks like the continued development of our Portrait of a Needham Graduate competencies which support equity and reinforce problem solving, collaboration, creativity, social responsibility, and student voice as key attributes of a successful grad.

 

•  It looks like the recently completed School Facilities Study which will be presented in September and outlines a pathway to re-envision Mitchell and Pollard.

  

•  It looks like the investment the School Committee and community made to provide increased special education supports in all areas to boost learning for our most vulnerable students.

 

•  Hope looks like the hundreds of Needham youth who filled the streets in June to protest the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of police and the racial injustices that persist in a nation we love. Their chants of “Black Lives Matter” must be heard as a cry for equity and their words are also a hope-filled call to action.

 

•  And hope looks like the planning of 20 educators who researched, designed and will lead the implementation of our very first ever K-5 Racial Literacy Curriculum which will complement and enrich a revised 4th and 5th grade social studies program that incorporates diverse perspectives and experiences.

 

We are incredibly fortunate as educators in this community to enter into a new season of hope, one that I believe can marginalize and vanquish fear. We have an extraordinary opportunity to tap into the natural and youthful hope of our students and bring them up!  This youthful hope allows the most cynical and tired among us to endure difficult times, to persist, and to move forward even when the evidence suggests otherwise.  The bubbling energy, tenacity, and courage of young people reminds us why we do this work, why we care so deeply.

 

Yet, this is not easy work.  Battling fear with hope is challenging. 

Confronting a culture of ignorance, racism, intolerance, and incivility—all tools of fear—is exhausting. Unpacking one’s own uncertainties, anxieties, and worries is equally daunting.  And we have a choice.  We can make a difference; we can choose to vanquish fear and unleash hope. 

 

One of my favorite American writers is Maya Angelou, and she said this once: “Hope and fear cannot occupy space at the same time.  Invite one to stay.

 

This morning, in spite of the demagogues and agitators who hawk fear; despite the dangers and turmoil that exist in the world; and in consideration of the genuine uncertainties and doubts in our own lives, invite hope to stay.

 

You see, in many ways our work as educators is an act of defiance and love in a weary world hungry for dignity, justice, and peace.

 

Invite hope to stay and remember in the coming year that in each lesson you prepare, every family you assist, and each student you build a relationship with you are committing an act of hope; an act of hope in the power, possibility, and promise of each child. 

 

There can be no bigger responsibility.  


And no greater joy.

 

Here’s to a great year.

 


Sunday, May 31, 2020

We Stand Together

The death of George Floyd, the black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer last week, has resulted in outrage that continues to grow with good reason. The administrators of the Needham Public Schools recognize the root cause in this moment and are committed to addressing structural racism – to expose it, undo it, and help our community heal from its wounds.

We believe there is no place for racism or hate in the classrooms of the Needham Public Schools.
Our schools, and our work with every child, must be part of the solution of addressing the injustices, inequities, and pain that mar and stain our democracy and disproportionately impact our communities of color. We believe all students and staff - indeed all human beings - have dignity and are valued members of our learning community.

With energy, hope, and a deep belief in the promise and possibility of each one of our young people, the district administrators are committed to working with the School Committee,
staff, parents, community members, and especially students, to tackle the challenges of ensuring equity for all. The Race, Equity, Access & Leadership (REAL) Coalition guides this important work. More information with respect to addressing racist and hateful acts, and the importance of equity within the Needham Public Schools, can be found on the district’s website: http://www.needham.k12.ma.us/equity