•  Sutton Public Schools

    Sutton Logo

    Office of the Superintendent

    Theodore F. Friend, Superintendent

    16 Putnam Hill Road • Sutton, MA 01590 • (508) 581-1600 • friendt@suttonschools.net

     

    March 30, 2020

     

    Dear Sutton Public Schools Family:

     

    Life in the 21st century has been on hyperdrive.  We are accustomed to a world that is overworked, overwhelmed, and overscheduled.  I often think about our young educators with growing families and the challenges of just getting out of the house in the morning.  This is a time for reflection, a time to reconnect with our family and what is truly important. As you know, I love to hike in Rutland State Park and I have been heartened to see so many families enjoy a hike in the woods with the sweet sounds of nature and the smell of pine.  Turn off the TV, computer and video games and enjoy the outdoors with your family.

     

    As we move into a longer period of remote learning, please keep in mind the need for families to detach from the technology that drives this frantic pace of life.  As you design lessons, limit the time on computers, develop learning opportunities that are fun and engaging, and, most importantly, doable with the help of parents.  I know that I am mentally exhausted, so just imagine trying to work at home, assist your children with school and watch the news each night, not easy.  

     

    The ability to take additional time to thoughtfully plan our approach helped us develop a remote learning system that is manageable, meaningful, sustainable, and designed with students, staff, and families in mind.  

     

    I also want to express my sincere appreciation for our custodial staff who keep our buildings clean and sanitized, our food service providers who continue to provide meals to families in need, and for all those working around the clock to keep us safe.

     

    Thank you for everything you do for our students and for being part of our Sutton Public Schools family.  Our new approach to teaching and learning will be a challenge, but I know you will give it your all. Wishing you peace, health, and happiness in the days ahead.

     

    Sincerely,

    Theodore F. Friend

    Superintendent of Schools


     

    Table of Contents

     

    I.  Plan for Long-Term School Closure

    II.  Sutton Public Schools Remote Learning

    The Purpose of Remote Learning

    Remote Learning Guidance

    Must Dos

    Suggestions

    Remote Learning Resources

    III. Getting Started:  Here’s What You Need to Know

    SPS Remote Learning - A Paradigm Shift

    Office Hours and Length of Day

    Employee Roles and Responsibilities

    Grades for Third & Fourth Quarters

    Retrieving Your Belongings from School

    Students with Disabilities

    High School Seniors at Risk of Not Graduating

    Student and Family Concerns

    No Formal Parent/Teacher Conferences

    Professional Licensure and Supervision and Evaluation

    Federal Government Announces State Waivers on Standardized Tests

    Other Resources You Need to Know

     IV.  Professional Learning:  Cultural Proficiency & Social Emotional Learning

     V.  What You Need to Know About Technology

    Tech Tools You Can Use

    Student Data Privacy

     


     

    I.  Plan for Long-Term School Closure

    As we settle into a new way of life, we should prepare for an extended school closure.  Currently, our return to school date is May 4, 2020, but it may likely be longer.  

    II.  SPS Remote Learning

    The Purpose of Remote Learning

    Sutton hosted and participated in a series of virtual conversations with the superintendents from 12 neighboring public school districts.  SPS refined its approach to remote learning through this process.

    The purpose of remote learning is best expressed by our mission statement:  “The Sutton Learning Community cultivates a positive, collaborative, engaging and safe environment that fosters academic excellence, social responsibility, personal growth and lifelong learning.”  In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we hope you will take this mission to heart. Teachers will no longer be expected to teach mastery of content to students; instead, the purpose of remote learning in Sutton Public Schools will be to engage students in deeper learning.

    Learning is vitally important, but there are different ways of acquiring new knowledge.  Take, for instance, this great article from Education Week, “Remember, Online Learning Isn’t the Only Way to Learn Remotely,” by Kate Ehrenfeld Gardoqui.  As the author points out, “This time of school closure provides a magnificent opportunity for us to envision the kind of learning that is different from what happens in classrooms.”  Now is as good a time as any to try out new ideas and new ways of thinking!

    Remote Learning Guidance

    We recognize that the level of instruction for remote learning will not be equivalent to what is taught in the traditional classroom setting.  We need to be more sensitive than ever to the needs of our students and families. Remember that parents will be in charge of their children’s learning, so there may be less familiarity with content and pedagogical knowledge, less structure, less support, and less time for learning.

    • Students will be participating in self-directed learning in alternative educational settings with less structure, no teacher, and lots of other things happening in their lives.
    • Parents cannot be expected to take your place as instructors; they may not know the content and even if they know the content, they may not know the pedagogy.  For example, the elementary math we now teach is 100% different than the elementary math many of us learned.
    • Parents also may be juggling work or working from home, taking care of younger children or family members, or dealing with illnesses.
    • Learning time will be significantly shorter, and you can expect that it will be reduced by at least half each day and week.
    • Educators are encouraged to work together in teams and be mindful of the amount of work that is given to students and families.
    • As you plan, it is critical that you keep all students in mind, especially our most vulnerable populations, as we navigate this new learning environment.  Consider the needs of our students with disabilities, students for whom English is a second language, students who live outside of Sutton, students living in single parent homes, students in families where both parents work outside the home, students who have multiple siblings and limited devices, and students whose families have limited resources.

     Must-Dos

    1.  Learning activities should support reinforcement and practice of previously taught curriculum, and may also include enrichment activities.  We believe it is important to limit our students’ screen time. Please note that many of these activities can be done without a device. Here are some really cool examples of what that can look like.

    2.  Activities should engage the independent learning level, and students should be able to work on those activities with minimal support from parents and caregivers.

    3.  No summative assessments should be administered.

    4.  Timewise, only plan for about half (at most) of what you would expect students to do if they were in class.

    5.  Parents should only be expected to provide the same level of support they would provide for homework and no more.

    6.  Elaborate projects or materials (including devices, printers, apps, etc.) should not be  required.

    7.  Assignments/activities should be given on a regular schedule, but new assignments do not need to be given every day.  Some examples include:

    You could post assignments every Monday morning with the expectation that students work on them a little bit every day that week, including explicit suggestions for how students can break large tasks into manageable daily sections.

    You could give students a menu of options of possible activities and suggest they complete a certain number of tasks each week.

    8.  Work does not need to be graded and will not count towards report cards, but feedback can and should be given for any submitted student work.

    9.  Regular communication with students will help maintain a sense of classroom community and is strongly encouraged.  Communication can take many forms including group emails or posts to Google classroom, written feedback on students’ work, or check-ins with students using a video chat platform.

    The most important outcome is for students to feel cared for and supported by you, and to be meaningfully engaged in learning activities each day for some portion of the day.  We want to stay in touch with them and their families during this difficult time, providing guidance, support and encouragement along the way.

    Suggestions

    1.  Co-plan and crowdsource activities with your colleagues (e.g., classroom aides, general education, special education, teachers of English Language Learners, counselors, nurses, librarians, math coaches, and literacy specialists).

    2.  You are free to experiment, and you do not have to follow the standards.  For those who would like more structure, your building principals have provided ideas, suggestions, links and templates for you to use.

    3.  Employ reusable or iterative activities when possible (e.g. games).

    4.  You do not need to develop traditional lessons from scratch every day.  You can make use of on-line resources and direct students to those.

    5.  Engage students’ imaginations and problem-solving skill sets and let them work on projects with their siblings.  See here again for an example of what this can look like.

    6.  Not all assignments need to culminate in a tangible product of some kind.

    7.  Design units to offer cross-curricular applications.

    8.  Incorporate problem-solving and inquiry-based activities.

    9.  Facilitate student-led questioning and discussions.

    10.  Incorporate real-world problem-solving activities.

    11.  Meet diverse learning preferences by allowing students to make choices for how to demonstrate their skill mastery.

    12.  Explore current events and foster critical thinking by integrating media, reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills into multifaceted lessons.

    13.  Stimulate creativity by incorporating graphic, visual, auditory, media, and print resources and experiences.

    Remote Learning Resources

    SPS educators have wide latitude in selecting the remote learning content you will teach during this period of school closure.  Several outside resources are worth exploring and may be of interest to you. As schools and students, families and educators adapt to the current health crisis, WGBH - in partnership with the Massachusetts DESE and WGBY/New England Public Media - is supporting us by gathering some free, trusted digital resources from PBS LearningMedia and award-winning educational preschool  programming.  PBS LearningMedia resources span disciplines for grades PreK-12, are aligned to state and national standards, and include videos, comprehensive lessons, and other activities.

    III. Getting Started:  Here’s What You Need to Know

    The traditional school day as we once knew it has completely changed, and this is no longer business as usual.  We do not know what the future holds, and we recognize that you must balance the needs of your own families with the needs of our students and school community.  The expectations that follow have been developed for students, staff, and families and with these uncertainties in mind.

    SPS Remote Learning – A Paradigm Shift

    Job one for educators in Sutton Public Schools is to connect with students and families.  We are in the midst of a global health crisis, necessitating a shift in our teaching and learning priorities.  We cannot possibly replicate the school day under these circumstances, nor can we expect parents to take on the role of their child’s teachers.  Educators are not expected to “go it alone,” and we strongly encourage you to work together in grade level or interdisciplinary teams. None of us knows what the future holds, and we recognize that there may be times when you need to attend to your own families and children at home.  Be there for one another. We encourage you to rely heavily on your colleagues and to develop systems that are manageable for you and for our families. A good approach is to provide students with fun, interesting, interdisciplinary weekly challenges. Develop consistent ways for students to stay connected to you, to their peers, and to their learning community.  You are not expected to teach a daily lesson. Parents in other districts report being deluged by teachers working in isolation, and we want to avoid those issues and make life easier for students and families during what may be one of the most stressful times in their lives.

    We encourage you to think creatively and find ways to enrich students’ lives through deeper learning.  Reach out to your students and families to let them know how much you care. SPS Remote Learning is not intended to replicate the traditional learning environment or the number of hours in a school day.  Encourage activities that students and families can do outside, while practicing safe social distancing and try to avoid assignments that always require a device. Students can write in journals, observe nature, watch Ted Talks of Interest and share their learning (either in a Google Hangout or in writing) - the possibilities are endless.  Remote learning in the Sutton Public Schools is not intended to replace the academic day, so educators should not feel pressure to replicate what was once accomplished in the classroom.

    We are all about to embark on quite an adventure together.  Like any adventure we may have some butterflies or fears of the unknown, but it is exciting to think of exploring new vistas together and new routes to get there!  We have been given the freedom to plan lessons and activities that let us and our students get off the highway and take some detours; to use resources that allow us to travel in ways different from what we typically do, and to arrive at our destinations at a pace of our choosing.  And most importantly, like all good adventures, we will not go it alone, we will do this together!

    In the next week to get our adventure rolling, we are asking that you work with your colleagues to plan activities and lessons for your students together.  You can plan by grade level, by subject area, in interdisciplinary teams. It’s up to you. If you need additional support, your department chairs/principals can be guides for your adventure.  You say where you want to go, and they help you get there. The reigns are in your hands. You may encounter failures and bumps along the way, and that’s o.k. Set a course, and be ready to adjust as needed.

    As you plan the journey for you and your students, consider a few key points:

    • Support student choice/student agency.  Design your lessons and activities to include options for students, for example, a menu of choices, a variety of materials and resources to choose from, different lengths of activities, and tapping into different learning styles and modalities.
    • Differentiate.  Consistently consider the process, product, pacing, and resources in your lessons and activities to ensure all students can partake in some way
    • Focus on deeper dives into learning.  Engage and challenge students in new ways.  Now is the time to try that thing you’ve always wanted to do that you know will excite students and bring joy to learning.
    • Collaborate.  Rely on each other and the host of resources out there to support you and your students.  Plan together. Share resources and ideas.
    • Communicate, communicate, communicate.  With students, with parents and with each other.  This can take the form of email, Google docs, via Google Classroom if you are using that already, video conferencing, and telephone just to name a few.  Reach out and support one another. Sustaining relationships is a key objective, and it will get us through the hard times.
    • Student feedback.  Communication also includes feedback on student learning.  We are taking the emphasis off traditional grading and encouraging feedback on student work instead.

    Office Hours and Length of Day

    School as we knew it a week ago has completely changed, and we continue to send parent communication to help manage expectations.  The length of your work day will be flexible, customizable, and pared down considerably. You are not expected to hold traditional school hours, nor are you expected to adhere to the curriculum.  All educators need to be available for three “office hours” per day.  This will provide students and families with opportunities to chat with you on Google Hangouts, email or talk with you by phone.  Your role will be one of support for students and families as they explore topics in more depth and navigate changes in their day-to-day lives.  We ask that educators work in grade level or interdisciplinary teams to develop weekly challenges for students to encourage engagement, enrichment, and deeper learning.  We encourage you to get creative, and experiment with ways to link this deeper learning to our SPS core values, mission, and vision.

    Employee Roles and Responsibilities

    The guidance in this document applies to all categories of employees.  The roles and responsibilities of all SPS employees should conform to the guidance in the letter you are reading currently.  If you have questions about your responsibilities during this time, please reach out to your supervisor or your building principal.  Completely changing the way we approach teaching and learning can be stressful. Please know we are here to support you in any way that we can.  If you are feeling overwhelmed or at a loss during our transition to remote learning, please reach out to your supervisor, building or union representative, or any district administrator.  We are here to support one another and to help you succeed.

    Grades for Third & Fourth Quarters

    The Simonian Center will not be issuing 3rd quarter report cards as new academic skills were not targeted during the remote learning time.  Instructional practice was devoted to limiting regression of skills and to engaging in skills maintained through home life and project based learning.  Elementary School will hold off on the 2nd trimester report cards until we return to school.  The work students are doing will be acknowledged, but not graded.  At the Middle and High School levels, grades will be issued for the third quarter (third quarter closes on April 3, 2020) based on work assigned/completed prior to school closing.  Teachers are asked to record grades on the work that was completed through our last day of school (March 12, 2020). All remote learning work in the fourth quarter will be recorded as Completed/Not Completed.

    Retrieving Your Belongings from School

    We trust that most of you were able to retrieve your belongings from school.  However, if it is absolutely necessary for you to gather additional belongings (e.g. books, binders, laptops, IEP materials, etc.), you may email Roger Raymond to arrange for limited entry into the school building.

    Students with Disabilities

    The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has encouraged school districts to explore virtual IEP meetings.  On March 26, 2020, Russell Johnston, Senior Associate Commissioner and State Director of Special Education, held a webinar with Special Education Directors across the state.  To date, DESE has not required that districts hold virtual IEP meetings during the period of school closure. DESE guidance, at this time, is that district resources are better spent on developing robust learning opportunities rather than holding virtual IEP meetings.  We will be looking for further guidance on timelines, possible flexibility with Team meeting membership, and confidentiality. Russell Johnston will be updating Directors on an ongoing basis.

    IEP meetings, IEP amendments or written consent are not required to implement special education services and supports to students with an active IEP during the period of school closure since the services provided will not result from team decisions or recommendations.  We are currently evaluating our resources, and will communicate with families as we make practical remote service decisions prioritizing these services that students need to maintain skills.

    On March 21, 2020, U.S. Secretary of Education released new information clarifying that federal law should not be used to prevent schools from offering distance learning opportunities to all students, including students with disabilities.  This new resource from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) explains that as a school district takes necessary steps to address the health, safety, and well-being of all its students and staff, educators can use distance learning opportunities to serve all students.  (Excerpt from Supplemental Fact Sheet - COVID-19 and Serving Children with Disabilities; U.S. Department of Education sent this bulletin at 03/21/2020 07:26 PM EDT).

    High School Seniors at Risk of Not Graduating

    The Superintendent of Schools has participated in a number of conference calls with Commissioner Jeff Riley and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff.  High school seniors at risk of not graduating is a concern for all public schools, DESE is aware of the issue, and more guidance is forthcoming. The global pandemic presents challenges for us all, and now more than ever we need to provide additional opportunities for students to succeed.  We plan to use a Completed/Not Completed system and develop ways for high school seniors in danger of not passing to make up any failing grades.

    Student and Family Concerns

    Especially in this uncertain time, Sutton Public Schools remain committed to our core values, including “Care for Yourself and Others.”  As educators, we know that our students' basic needs must be met, and they must have the proper tools before they can learn. As we engage in remote learning opportunities, all staff should be observant of students and families who have not communicated regularly during the period of school closures.  Staff are encouraged to reach out to these families. These check-ins are opportunities to ensure our students and families remain connected and engaged in learning, and to surface unmet needs. Teaching staff should continue to work closely with the Counseling Department to provide support to students and their families.  We are fortunate in that the larger Sutton community has ample resources and volunteers to help families with a variety of needs, including access to food, transportation, internet, and much more.  

    No Formal Parent/Teacher Conferences

    Due to the COVID-19 period of school closures, the formal Sutton Public Schools Elementary Parent/Teacher Conferences are canceled.  We recognize that many staff do not have conference materials at home (e.g., student work, assessments, documentation), and you may not be prepared for remote conferences.  While we are not holding formal parent/teacher conferences at this time, remote learning will necessitate more frequent communication with families than in the past. SPS staff should work with families and establish a plan for how best to stay in touch during this period of school closure.  Guidance for the best ways to make contact with families can be found in the “Tech Tools You Can Use” section of this document. Staff are asked to do their best to accommodate families that do not have access to their preferred mode of communication. Specialists (e.g., teachers of English Language Learners, special educators, literacy/math specialists, counselors) should contact parents and caregivers directly and schedule a time to talk.  We know that you will do your best to offer ongoing feedback and support to our students and families.

    Professional Licensure and Supervision and Evaluation

    The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued the following guidance on March  21, 2020:  “Governor Baker has issued an executive order extending licenses for certain licensed professionals, including licensed educators.  The order states that a license that is “in good standing” as of March 18, 2020, and that has expired or will expire during the state of emergency, is now extended and will remain valid until 90 days after the end of the state of emergency.”  DESE expects to issue additional implementation guidance soon.

    The evaluation process will be simplified.  Teachers are not expected to show evidence on TeachPoint if they have not done so at this point.  Supervisors will check off a box for the four categories and then enter a small summary at the end.

    Federal Government Announces State Waivers on Standardized Tests

    On March 20, 2020, U.S. Secretary of Education announced in a press release that students impacted by school closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year.  Upon a proper request, the Department will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year.  Additional legislative action by the State of Massachusetts and a formal request by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is required to take advantage of this waiver. If school closure is extended further for Massachusetts, it is very likely that state assessments will be waived for the 2019-2020 school year.

    Other Resources You Need to Know

    Education will look and feel radically different than it does during a typical school day.  Educators and support staff will be an even greater source of support for students and families now than in the past.  You will likely be asked questions about COVID-19 and how to access community resources. You can play a vital role in assisting students and families through what may be one of the most trying times in their lives.  We ask all staff to familiarize yourselves with resources on COVID-19 and Sutton Community Resources and Supports. You will be asked questions about the COVID-19, and it is important to provide thoughtful, factual information.  Your school nurse can provide assistance in answering questions. You may also want to learn more on your own or with your students. Here are some resources to help:

    • Coronavirus Resources for Teachers:  Facing History And Ourselves has developed helpful resources to support teachers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
    • SPS Community Resources:  This document includes a list of resources that the SPS community may access during school closures, including options for families based in Boston.  The document is updated as more information becomes available.
    • Do Your Part: Help Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic:  SPS Staff, we need your help!  We are hearing that children who are old enough to be home and unsupervised are getting together with friends.  Children don’t always listen to their parents, but they do listen to their teachers and trusted adults. We are asking all SPS staff to remind students and families each day to “Do Your Part.”  Encourage students to go outside to get some fresh air and exercise, and tell them that it is critical that they adhere to social distancing guidelines. The Board of Health has asked that the Town of Sutton send the message that we are all potentially infectious, so please do not congregate, have no contact, and stop the spread.

    IV.  Professional Learning:  Cultural Proficiency and Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

    This period of school closure may provide you with an opportunity to continue your professional growth with online professional learning.  

    COVID-19 has brought out the best in people and, in some cases, the worst.  The discrimination and xenophobia that we are witnessing in this country reminds us how important it is for all people to be aware of their own cultural identities and views about difference and capable of understanding and respecting others.  Everything changed practically overnight with COVID-19 in our society and in our public schools. People with higher levels of cognitive flexibility and adaptability have been able to adjust better to the changes around us.  Now, more than ever, there is a need to explicitly teach the skills that build resilience in our students.

    Consider using your time during our extended school closure to explore two excellent resources that SPS may adopt to help us graduate cultural proficient and socially and emotionally competent young adults:  Facing History And Ourselves and Habits of Mind.  FHAO offers upcoming webinars, on  demand learning, and workshops, courses, and seminars.  For those interested, The Institute of Habits of Mind offers a 22-hour online course.  Learn about ways to integrate the sixteen habits of mind into your lessons: persisting; managing impulsivity; listening to others with understanding and empathy; thinking flexibly; thinking about our thinking (metacognition); striving for accuracy and precision; questioning and posing problems; applying past knowledge and new situations; thinking and communicating with clarity and precision; gathering data through all the senses; creating, imagining, and innovating; responding with wonderment and awe; taking responsible risks; finding humor; thinking interdependently; and learning continuously.

    V.  What You Need to Know about Technology

    Tech Tools You Can Use

    Sutton educators have access to the entire suite of Google tools.  Because these tools are regularly used with students, we highly recommend that educators use Google Classroom and other G Suite tools that are familiar.  Additionally, for our younger students who may need families to share information with them, Google Sites or other website platforms that teachers have used are a great location to share activities and information for students and families.

    We know many of you are interested in learning about the most effective tools you can use to communicate with your students and families.  At this time, we suggest you stick to the basics, and use technology tools and apps that are familiar and easy to use. Great tools that are available district-wide include:  Google Hangouts Meet, Google Hangouts Chat, and Screencastify, which is a neat tool that you can use to send a short video greeting to students and families. These tools have video conferencing features available and are part of the G Suite communication tools that can help us all stay connected to students and one another.  Google Hangouts Meet is a good alternative for those who prefer not to share personal phone numbers. When you create a Google Hangouts Meet, there is an option to join virtually or by phone. If you use Google Hangouts Meet to schedule phone calls with students and families, all you need to do is send the telephone number given along with the pin number.  You can use Google Hangouts Chat to bring your classroom or team together to do work. SeeSaw is another great tool that many Kindergarten and special education teachers use to share student work. Finally, many of you are inquiring about the use of Zoom for video conferencing. As Zoom is FERPA and HIPAA compliant, you may use it, although you are not required to use it.  Here is a quick recap of the SPS recommended technology tools.  If you click on the link, you will learn more about each one:

    Should you need assistance with these tools, our technology staff will be available remotely to support you and provide you with professional learning opportunities and individual sessions to help you learn how to use these tools.

    Student Data Privacy

    We understand educators are seeing and hearing a lot of information about digital tools that are being used in other districts and perhaps with their own children or relatives.  While we encourage the use of digital tools in remote learning, we need to take into account student safety and student data privacy. Many software companies offer “free” apps and software, but consumers should be wary and exercise caution.  Student data can be extrapolated and used for marketing and other purposes, and personally identifiable information about students may be revealed.