NPS Distance Learning Plan - 4.2.20
April 2, 2020
Dear NPS Families,
Below you will find details of our distance-learning plan, which will move into its next phase on Monday, April 6th. We know that our families have been anxious for a more structured schedule that re-engages students in learning, reconnects them to their school community, and provides clear direction and support. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we have embarked upon the challenge of moving a large organization centered upon in-person connection to a distance learning environment.
During the time since our schools closed, we have tested online learning resources, practiced with video-conferencing tools, learned from experiences in other districts, and collaborated with colleagues. We have had planning teams at each level, consisting of central office leaders, principals, curriculum coordinators/department heads, Special Education administrators and technology staff. We have also closely consulted with the leadership of the Newton Teachers Association.
The planning teams have focused on our system goals of academic excellence, equity, and social and emotional learning. The equity focus was crucial to helping us identify ways in which all students can access distance learning. This includes students who receive special education services, those who are English Learners, and those who have limited access to technology devices and/or Internet in their homes. We have also listened to feedback from families are facing a wide variety of circumstances in their homes, in their work, and in their lives.
This collaboration, focus, and reflection has allowed us to create a distance learning plan that will keep our students connected to their peers, their teachers, and the trusted adults they have come to know and love in our school communities. It will keep them engaged in learning in meaningful ways, while also recognizing limits on the content we will be able to cover in this environment. Finally, it acknowledges the wide variety of circumstances that our families and our staff find themselves in right now and seeks to balance moving instruction forward and maintaining the social and emotional health of students, staff, and families.
PLAN, SCHEDULE, STRUCTURE
Consistent with guidance provided by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the purpose of distance learning in the Newton Public Schools will be to support connectedness as a community and to engage students in continuing and deepening their learning.
The distance-learning plan includes a structured weekly schedule that teachers will create for their classes. A description of the types of learning experiences included in this plan, as well as sample schedules, can be found in the distance learning plan document. The specific times during which your student will connect with their class, as well as the weekly plan for learning, will come directly from their teacher or their team of teachers. You can expect to receive detailed communication by Monday, April 6th.
Instructional practices for distance learning cannot be equivalent to the traditional classroom setting. In very short order, parents and guardians have had to increase the amount of time spent supporting their children’s learning at home while juggling other personal, familial and/or professional responsibilities. Additionally, our educators, while balancing the same challenges as our families, have had to acquire new skills, expertise, and ways of working and collaborating to support all learners. With this in mind, the plan seeks to:
- Create a coherent weekly student experience in each class and overall that addresses the needs of all learners, including students with disabilities and English language learners.
- Emphasize universal design from the start to ensure expectations can be met and support can be accessed by all students.
- Build a learning plan that acknowledges the reality that not all students and staff will be able to access the internet consistently on an individual device at set times.
- Create a plan for students to complete the school year, the courses they are enrolled in, and receive full credit, with a reduction in content learning expected due to the school closure.
TECHNOLOGY GUIDELINES AND ACCESS
Guidelines - Given the more extensive use of video-conferencing, Newton Public Schools has developed guides for families and students and for staff when using these tools to participate in distance learning.
Access - To date, we have distributed more than 600 devices to students and we continue to receive requests daily. Distribution of devices will continue, with a focus on students who do not have access to any device at home. We would like to extend a thank you to the Newton Schools Foundation for their recent grant to support the purchase of additional devices to support distance learning throughout the district. For more information, please visit our COVID-19 technology page by following this link.
APRIL VACATION - CANCELLED
After reflecting on the current situation, I have decided to take the unprecedented step of cancelling April vacation. We will observe Patriot’s Day on Monday, April 20th and then continue our distance-learning plan for the remainder of the week. I believe the continuity of learning and the connection to school is of utmost importance to students and families right now. While some districts will maintain their break, we need to do what is best for our system.
Because we will be holding school during April vacation, the official last day of school for students will now be Thursday, June 18th. This proposal follows guidance from DESE of a 185-day school year. In addition, we will also be closed on Friday, April 10th for Good Friday, as previously scheduled.
The School Committee will officially vote on this change at their regularly scheduled meeting next Monday. I appreciate the support of the Newton Teachers Association in making this change.
You will hear from your student’s teacher or team of teachers by Monday, April 6th. They will provide you with a specific schedule and their weekly plan for learning. In addition, they will share with you the technology tools they will be using so you can prepare with your student.
Following the implementation of our distance-learning plan, we will be sending you a survey to gain feedback and to hear about your experience. We do expect to refine our plan over the next few weeks as we learn what works best.
Please understand that this plan will very much be a work in progress and there will be bumps in the road along the way. It is not possible to completely transform a learning environment without unforeseen challenges. That being said, I have no doubt that the creativity, work ethic and resilience of our staff will result in learning opportunities and connections we never thought possible. Thank you for your patience as we have constructed this plan. I will continue to be in touch as we move forward.
Superintendent of Schools
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