July 17 Update

MAINE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT #35

Serving the communities of Eliot, South Berwick & Rollinsford

180 Depot Road       Eliot, ME 03903      (207) 439-2438

 

John S. Caverly, M.Ed.

Superintendent of Schools

 

July 17, 2020

 

 

The dog days of summer are almost upon us!

Under normal circumstances, it is amazing how the count down to the last day of school quickly changes to excitement for a new school year.  This year has certainly changed that view for many of us as we plan for a somewhat unknown future ahead.  As a school district, we are attempting to navigate those waters now.  I have received a large number of emails from families across the district sharing their vision of how school at Marshwood should look next year.  Those thoughts have ranged from students not returning to school buildings until a vaccine is developed and administrated, to having students return in September without any safety protocols.  These are polar opposite viewpoints.  I want to be clear that we will base our plans on the Center for Disease Control and Maine Department of Education’s Requirements and Recommendations.  With that being said, we know that a plan cannot be created that will meet the beliefs, wants or needs of everyone in our district.  However, it is our goal to create a plan that meets students’ needs, creates some flexibility for families, and returns as many students as possible to school safely.

How can we chart a course for what education looks like during a pandemic, especially with information changing daily or weekly?  Our approach has to be based on CDC and Maine DOE requirements and safety recommendations.

My intent with this letter is to share the process we are using to design plans for the fall of 2020, and to share the results of the parent survey, which was initially sent to families on July 6th.  The survey was for informational purposes only and was non-binding.  It allowed the district to collect some data on where families were in their thinking about school in the fall.  We know that the responses we received were from a particular moment in time.  Opinions and information change continually as the pandemic evolves, thus a main component of our plan will be flexibility wherever possible.

The district survey noted above was sent to families across the district.  The survey focused on general feedback about a full return to school, participation in a hybrid model of instruction, and fully remote learning. In addition, questions were created to address transportation and whether families would have their children return to school prior to the availability of vaccination.

The district’s current enrollment is approximately 2,190 students.  We received 1,142 responses.  That is a 52% response rate, which for a survey of this type is outstanding.  The summary of results is as follows:

-84% of families would send their child to school in the fall to participate in a hybrid model of instruction (partial in person, partial remote) if the district meets all the CDC guidelines for a safe return.

-75% of families would send their child to school in the fall full time if the district meets all of the CDC guidelines for a safe return.

-18% of families would not send their child to school until a vaccine is available and administered, even if CDC guidelines for safe return are met.

-54% of families would be able to transport their child(ren) to school.

 

In addition to this data, we are collecting a number of additional pieces of information as we build our plan, including updated Maine Department of Education Guidelines, Center for Disease Control Recommendations, and staff and student needs.

In June, I created a district-wide committee to investigate possible scenarios for the fall.  We used the Department of Education framework to start our conversation.

That framework included planning for the following:

1.     Full Return to School

2.     Full Remote Learning

3.     A Hybrid (Partial in-person, partial remote)

4.     A Full Return to School and then a transition to Remote Learning

 

The district-wide committee was made up of our District Administrators, Building Administrators, the QEA Executive Board, and the District Nursing Coordinator.  The first thing discussed was the safety of our students, staff, and community.  As a district, we will base what we do on CDC Guidelines and Maine Department of Education Guidelines, and will develop a plan that complies with safety guidelines.

As a group, we chose to focus on the creation of a Hybrid Plan, as we all felt that the other plans may have similar characteristics to the Hybrid Plan.  As stated above, a Hybrid plan involves both in-person and remote instruction and would be customized to meet students’ developmental needs.  For example a senior in high school has more independence in learning than a 1st grade student.  This is critical as we discuss remote options.

The district then established three building-level teams that would begin to create customized plans for each building and grade level.  It is important that our elementary schools are thinking about students needs similarly, therefore Central School, Eliot Elementary School and Marshwood Great Works School worked together as a group.  Marshwood Middle School and Marshwood High School met independently. Each of these three groups has met several times.

A letter was sent to staff earlier this week to gather information about district staff’s potential return to the classroom in the fall.  It is important that we create an environment that is safe for both students and staff.  Some staff may require accommodations to enable a return to work, therefore it is critical that we understand what those accommodations may be as we build our plans.

In addition, we are thankful that the district budget passed on Tuesday. It is critical to know what financial resources will be available as we build our framework for return.

The Maine Department of Education Guidelines were released today.  Once the district has the opportunity to process and apply that information to our plans, a second more specific survey will be sent to families, which will focus on more specific scenarios.  Again, families will not be asked to commit to a plan at that time, but will be asked what they would do at that moment in time.

This second round of survey data will be used to refine a final framework for return. Once a plan is created for the district, the plan will be presented to the MSAD 35 School Board for approval.  Once the plan has been approved, parents will then be surveyed a final time and asked to commit to one of the options that will be available.  I am hoping to have the district-approved plan to the community by the end of the first week of August.

In the spirit of total transparency, the pandemic continues to evolve.  Currently, numbers in the State of Maine are trending in a positive direction. We all hope that this continues but we must remain cautious.  If numbers escalate negatively, we may need to adapt our planning.  We need to be mindful of this fact as we plan, but we cannot become overwhelmed with variables over which we have no control.  We will continue to navigate this situation together as it comes.

Thank you all for your support and understanding.  This is unlike anything I imagined when I became Superintendent of Schools in MSAD 35.  This community is extremely important to me.  Not only do I work here, but also I live here, have had children that have attended our wonderful schools, and have invested my heart to the children of this district.  I take this responsibility seriously and understand the range of concerns that families have across the district.  You have my commitment that we will create a plan that has some flexibility for families while at the same time works to have as many children as possible return to schools safely.

I appreciate your support through this difficult time.

 

John Caverly

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