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.