Dear WPS Families and Staff,

Late last week, I shared the Governor’s announcement regarding the plans for reopening public schools across Connecticut in Fall 2020.  I promised to send you additional information as it is received from the Governor or Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE).

Late on Monday, the Commissioner of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona, sent to every superintendent Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn & Grow Together, the comprehensive requirements and guidelines for each school district to follow in developing reopening plans.  Primarily a document for district administrators and staff to guide reopening plans, due to the CSDE on July 24, 2020, it includes material that should be available to all families and staff.  I have attached a copy.

The Leadership Team is working intensively on planning for Fall 2020, and now the required submission to the CSDE.  The Fall 2020 Task Force is an essential advisory body.  Final draft plans will be reviewed by the Board of Education in public meetings ahead of submission to the CSDE.

I want to emphasize several aspects of the planning requirements and guidelines, some of which echo what I shared with you last week.

  • Repeating the headline of the Governor’s announcement last week, the CSDE wants districts to strive to “allow all students the opportunity to return to school full time starting in the fall.”
  • At the same time, districts are required to “safeguard the health and safety of students and staff.”  Indeed, the CSDE spells out a set of “mitigating strategies” which must be followed to maximize health and safety.  These include social distancing, cohorts (arranging students by the same class/group and teachers to stay together, with little to no crossover with other classes/groups), health protocols (masks, handwashing), facility modifications (reorganizing spaces and deep cleaning), modified transportation, and monitoring and containment if public health authorities have evidence of community transmission.
  • As the CSDE notes, meeting the health and safety requirements may result in Hybrid models which would involve a blend of in-person and remote teaching and learning. We are required to develop robust plans for distance learning (remote learning) to complement in-person instruction, as well as to prepare to shift out of school if required by public health authorities.  In addition, even with in-person approaches this fall, families will have the option to keep students home and request distance learning.
  • Given the initial deadline of July 24 with the CSDE, I can assure families and staff that within a couple of weeks we will have clear information on the likely educational design and approach for Weston this fall.  I want expectations to be realistic. While we will not return to normal this fall, with all students back in school for full days and full weeks, I can assure you that the educational program will be stronger than this spring, blending daily in-person and distance learning in a cohesive manner, with notable increases in the real-time work between teachers and students and the amount of instructional time.
  • Lastly, please remember that any plans for the Weston Public Schools must be approved by the Weston/Westport Health District, in coordination with the Town of Weston Emergency Operations Center and input from our Medical Advisor. Their current guidance is to be conservative and cautious in our planning, especially in light of the recent increases in infection rates elsewhere in the nation.

I will continue to update all families and staff regularly over the summer.  Shortly, you will hear from the Fall 2020 Task Force as to the results of the Parent/Family Survey, and what it suggests for the reopening of school.

For now, let me leave you with the sentiments of one principal, who speaks for the entire WPS Leadership Team.  This principal shared the following with me in an end-of-year reflection about what worked well and what could be improved with Distance Learning.

Although I have always believed in the importance of the relationships that must be developed between students and teachers, and have spoken each year about how essential they are to the success of each child, these last few months have deepened that belief and made me more resolute in ensuring each child is engaged in a warm, positive relationship with their teacher, and has a teacher who will take time to get to know them, as well as encourage and support them. I worry about the emotional and social effects of students not being in school for a prolonged period of time. Students need to be in classrooms, and interact with their teacher and other students in order to really learn and grow.  If we do need to continue with DL in the fall, we need to make schedules where there is more live time between teachers and students…I believe that going forward it needs to look more like school and have students actively engaged on-line and participating in class on a set schedule…We need to build time and lessons into the days and weeks that help students grow socially and emotionally. Whether we are back in school part-time or go back to DL full-time, we need to think about how we structure our days and time, and develop a mindset that helps our students grow academically as well as socially and emotionally. 

We all want to be in-school and in-person–that is the magic of education in Weston.  We all want academic, social and emotional growth, which is best fostered in schools and classrooms.  At the same time, we must be realistic as we head towards the fall in a nation still confronting a public health crisis.  Stated directly, we will provide teaching and learning this fall that attends to all aspects of our students, and in a stronger, more interactive fashion than we were able to do this spring.

Attachment: Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn & Grow Together (CSDE, June 29, 2020)