Reopening 2020 Superintendent's Updates for families

Superintendent's Update, November 18, 2020

Update to the WPS Community: Thanksgiving Break-- 2 Remote Learning Days 11/30 and 12/1

Good evening,

We hope today finds you well. As we look ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday and break, it is important to follow state and CDC guidelines regarding social distancing and limitations on gatherings in order to keep you, your family members, and your children’s educators safe and healthy. We are all in this together, and our ability to sustain safe, in-person learning depends on all of us following the guidelines set out regarding holiday travel.

We care about your safety and the continuity of our students’ learning. If you do elect to travel to areas affected by the Massachusetts Travel Ban, MA guidelines require a PCR test prior to your child’s return to school, or they must quarantine for 14 days. Currently, only Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are on the lower-risk list.

Please note that out of an abundance of caution and to ensure appropriate staffing after the break, all students and staff, including our high-needs populations, will engage in remote learning on Monday, November 30, and Tuesday, December 1. This will allow WPS families and staff who traveled to high-risk states ample time to obtain PCR test results prior to returning to the school buildings on Wednesday, December 2, and still maintain teaching and learning.

If you traveled to a high-risk state and you are not able to obtain a PCR COVID test or while awaiting results, your child(ren) must quarantine for 14 days. Kindly let your school nurse know if you are traveling out of state to any location not included in the lower-risk category so they can support your child’s school reentry.

Separately, prior to our transition to a hybrid schedule at Watertown High School, we are offering free individual baseline testing for all high school students on Monday, November 30. Principal Giacobozzi will be sending out details to students and families shortly. We are looking into options to offer free pooled testing to our middle school and elementary students prior to returning to in-person learning as well--- details to follow. For more information about student testing, please see the following FAQ.

Free testing sites throughout the state are provided through the Massachusetts Stop the Spread initiative.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your school nurse or principal.

Kind regards,

Dede Galdston, Ed.D

Superintendent

Superintendent's Update, November 6, 2020

Update to the WPS Community: WMS Moves to Hybrid Next Thursday and Friday


Good evening,
I hope today finds you well. Below please find my continued communication around our reopening of schools inviting our Watertown Middle Schools students to be in-person in school starting next week.
Phased Move to Hybrid at the Middle School

At this time, we will be continuing with our phasing in of students into the hybrid model at the middle school level beginning on Thursday, November 12th for our Cohort A students and Friday, November 13 for our Cohort B students. For those WMS students currently learning in the schools, your principal or teacher will share any schedule modifications as Bridge to Hybrid students return next week. In collaboration with the Watertown Health Department, we believe that it is safe to move to hybrid at this time for several reasons.

First and foremost, we are continuing to follow all of the recommended safety guidelines for schools:
  • Our staff have the necessary Personal Protective Equipment,

  • All of our classrooms have been configured to allow for six feet of distance between students and staff,

  • Each classroom has an air purifier and functioning windows,

  • Our HVAC systems were assessed by an independent consultant,

  • Our classrooms are cleaned each day and disinfected using misters, and

  • We have tents to allow for outside breaks even when the weather turns.

The safety of our students and staff members is central in our decision-making. We are proud that Watertown is one of the first districts in the Commonwealth to provide asymptomatic PCR COVID-19 testing for staff, with an 18-24 hour turnaround time. Additionally, we are close to finalizing details to provide voluntary student testing beginning as early as next week for our Watertown Middle School students, with testing for Watertown High School students and elementary students starting on November 30. We will provide families with all of the necessary information regarding universal asymptomatic testing for your child in the coming days.

The State collects data from all school districts with positive COVID-19 cases in their schools. Over the past two weeks, the total cases per day per 100,000 students is 5.63 across the state, and if you were to use the color-coded system, schools standing alone would be yellow. Additionally, at this time the state has reported little or no transmission in schools. With two cases of COVID-19 in our schools, Watertown has not had any transmission within our schools, in part due to the excellent contact tracing within our town and our schools, and the safety precautions we have put into place.

We have been in-person with 300+ students in specialized programs since September 22, and we have been in the hybrid model for our elementary students for two weeks. What we have learned from our in-person experiences is that our students are taking safety around the virus seriously: they are wearing their masks, keeping appropriate distance, and most importantly, they are happy to be back in school. We are confident that the health protocols in place, along with the immediate implementation of quarantines, and testing staff now and students in the future, are all reasons why we are preventing transmission within our schools.

Social Distancing and Mask Wearing

The Governor issued an order regarding masks earlier this week that took effect today. While the order does not apply to schools, we currently are following the practices outlined in the order. Students and staff are to wear masks at all times both inside and outside of the school buildings except during the brief mask and snack break. We will remind our students that they need to keep their masks on even outdoors except for at these two specific times. Please remind your children to wear their masks, even when they are gathering outdoors.

After seven months of living with this virus, COVID-fatigue may be setting in, making it easy to let down our guard. I’d like to ask everyone to please keep up your defenses and battle this virus "mask-on". Don’t forget to do the mandatory quick health screening before sending your children to school, keep your children home when they are not well, wear masks, and promote frequent hand washing and/or hand sanitizing. These simple steps will help us maintain safe in-person learning.

Quarantines

Even when we take all of the right precautions, sometimes we still get sick. This often equates to our students, teachers, and staff being placed in quarantine. We have heard from our community that there is confusion around the specifics of close contacts and when quarantine may be necessary, especially as families may be traveling over the Thanksgiving Break. To provide more clarity, we’ve created a WPS Quarantine Guide.

School Nutrition

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced an extension of free meals to all children. These meals will now be available for the entire 2020-21 school year. Please visit our School Nutrition Department’s Website for updated information about meal distribution.

Finally, for our middle school students and families, your principal will provide more detailed updates in their upcoming newsletters and communications, including start and dismissal times, entry and exit procedures, transportation and drop-off/pick-up procedures, and any other necessary protocols for moving to hybrid. As we continue to phase in our Bridge to Hybrid model, I would like to thank each of you for your resilience, flexibility and commitment to our strong WPS community. I hope you have a restful weekend.

With great appreciation,

Dede Galdston, Superintendent of Schools

Superintendent's Update, October 26, 2020
WPS COVID-19 Update

Dear Members of the WPS Community:

We are very excited to transition to our hybrid model of learning for students in grades K-5 tomorrow (Cohort A) and Wednesday (Cohort B), with WMS and WHS starting later in November. Our team worked hard to ensure a safe return to in-person education and we look forward to welcoming many of our students to our buildings for the first time since March. Each of our schools shared specific information on the logistics for returning and I encourage you to review these communications and/or visit your school’s website for more information if you have questions.

Adhering to strict safety protocols as a community has allowed us to keep our number of new cases and positivity rates low in Watertown over the past several weeks. I am especially appreciative of our staff participation in our on-campus COVID-19 testing program. At this point, we are entering our fifth week of testing with no positive cases, which is good news.

Separately, this morning we were notified of a positive COVID-19 case at the Hosmer Elementary School and we have conducted close contact tracing and following the specific protocols we have in place to address such a scenario. This will not affect our reopening plans for tomorrow.

Our first responsibility is to keep our students and staff safe, and as such, anyone who could have been a close contact with the positive individual has been contacted. A close contact is defined as only those who have been within 6 feet of distance of the individual for at least fifteen cumulative minutes in one day in school spaces, on the bus, in an elementary classroom, or at an extracurricular activity.

Additionally, as part of our safety protocols, we are cleaning and disinfecting the Hosmer School with a focus on those areas frequented by the community member who tested positive. We will continue to be vigilant in adhering to all of the protocols that have been put in place in an effort to safely continue in-person learning. We are also following all Department of Public Health protocols, including collaborating with our local Board of Public Health to complete contact tracing.

We planned for this scenario during our reopening process and have a comprehensive plan in place to sanitize the school, inform families whose children were at risk of exposure or in close contact, and support the affected individual as they navigate this experience. As we move forward, it is critical that we not become complacent in our adherence to the simple steps we can all continue to take as a community to prevent transmission in our schools. Wearing masks, hand washing/sanitizing, and social distancing remain the most important practices we must continue to follow as we transition to hybrid learning for students.

Our partnership with parents is a critical component of the launch of in-person learning in WPS. It is important for our parents and guardians to provide the first line of defense each day by assessing your children’s health before sending them to school. As we transition to hybrid, please monitor your child for COVID symptoms and keep your child home if they show any symptoms or are not feeling well. Our Nursing Department has put together a daily health assessment that we ask you to reference each morning. If your child has any of the symptoms listed, please do not send them to school.

For elementary students, as we move to hybrid we understand that there may be extenuating circumstances that prevent your children from attending in person (ex., under quarantine, showing symptoms, extended sickness). If they are not able to attend school in-person for these reasons, please contact your child’s principal and they may be able to continue their learning and be marked present by: following along Google Classroom/SeeSaw; attending morning meeting and closing circle time; attending the remote session on Mondays and on the two extension days.

Finally, despite all of our concerted efforts, it is likely that we will continue to deal with some level of positive cases after we reopen. The COVID-19 Handbook Addendum provides an overview of the steps and timeline that will be followed in response to symptomatic individuals or those in close contact with someone who is symptomatic.

We are committed to continuous communication with and support of our families. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please contact Kathleen Desmarais, our Director of Students Services, at kathleen.desmarais@watertown.k12.ma.us or by phone at (617) 926-7760.

I will be holding a Reopening Forum tomorrow evening, Tuesday, October 27, from 6:00-7:00 pm via Zoom for anyone who is interested. Thank you for your continued support in partnership to ensure a safe hybrid start.

Dr. Deanne Galdston
Superintendent of Schools


Superintendent's Update, October 22, 2020

Our Transition to Hybrid


Good afternoon Watertown Families,


The State released the weekly COVID-19 metrics today, which indicate that Watertown remains in the ‘yellow’ status, our positivity rate is low, and therefore we will be crossing the Bridge to Hybrid at the elementary level beginning on Tuesday, October 27 for our Cohort A students and Wednesday, October 28 for our Cohort B students.
We are also considering moving our Watertown Middle School students from remote to hybrid beginning the week of November 9, based on continued monitoring of the data and the school’s readiness. The Watertown High School transition to hybrid remains on November 30.

Your child(ren)'s principal will provide more detailed updates in their upcoming newsletters and communications, including start and dismissal times, entry and exit procedures, transportation and drop-off/pick-up procedures, and any other necessary protocols for moving to hybrid. For those students currently learning in the schools, your principal or teacher will share any schedule modifications as we bring our Bridge to Hybrid students into school.

For the past five weeks, Watertown Public Schools adapted and adjusted to reopening in the midst of a health crisis that has seriously impacted teaching and learning. Our teachers and staff are working tirelessly to provide students with appropriate and engaging learning opportunities, remotely for the majority of our students, with our 330 students in specialized programs coming into schools for support services and learning, supported by over 180 teaches and staff members. We have seen many successes and worked to mitigate any challenges, continuously learning along the way. As we have consistently stated, our ultimate goal is to provide learning opportunities in our schools when it is safe to do so, and based on today’s assessment, we are pleased to welcome back our elementary students in grades K - 5 in our hybrid model next week.

Our teachers, staff, and administrators have been preparing for this day by setting up classrooms; labeling entrances, exits, and hallways; measuring distance among the desks; procuring PPE; and generally getting ready for teaching in a fundamentally different way. We welcomed our students with high needs into our buildings to provide additional support and services, and learned from this experience that our students adapt well to our new circumstances and are ready to return to the schools in-person, understanding that this year is different. What we see is that our students are taking the necessary steps and precautions to keep themselves--- and their friends/teachers--- safe. Our fine custodial staff have developed a cleaning protocol according to CDC standards and continue to work diligently to keep our buildings safe and clean. And each of our elementary classrooms has an air purifier to keep the air clean.

A few essential reminders:
All children must have masks and wear them at all times (in the classroom, in the hallways, in the bathrooms, and even outside), except during scheduled mask breaks. Every morning, you must assess if your child has any COVID-19 symptoms and if so, keep your child at home and call the school. Take time this weekend to review the COVID-19 Handbook Addendum which includes the list of symptoms and safety protocols, and reach out to your principal if you have any questions.

It has been quite a journey over the past several months, and I know that we still have a ways to go. I appreciate your support and I understand that there are many opinions about school reopening. What I know for sure is that we all want what’s best for our children- parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and community members.

I will be holding a Reopening Forum next Tuesday evening at 6:00 via Zoom for anyone interested in an update about how our first day went and to learn about next steps. Please also look for my October newsletter next week.

With great appreciation,

Dede Galdston, Superintendent of Schools


Superintendent's Update, August 14, 2020


Watertown Virtual School Enrollment Process

Good evening,

While schools will continue to look and feel very different than in the past, we are committed to creating engaging learning experiences for our students that will enable them to progress and grow as learners in the coming school year. We are focused on ensuring that all students develop their academic abilities as well as their social-emotional learning competencies whether in-person, hybrid, or remotely.

At this time, Watertown will be offering families two options for school this fall: the Bridge to Hybrid and the Watertown Virtual School. The Bridge to Hybrid will have a phased-in approach to hybrid learning and the Watertown Virtual School option will be fully remote for a longer duration. More information about the WPS reopening plan can be found here.

We understand that many families would like to participate in a fully remote learning experience rather than the Bridge to Hybrid. Students (PK-12) will have the option to be part of the Watertown Virtual School (WVS), which is designed specifically to respond to the needs of those students who are immunocompromised and require remote learning. This option may also be appropriate for students who thrive in a remote learning environment and can be selected by any family in the district. Families choosing this model will remain in Watertown Virtual School until at least February 8, 2021 (mid-year), and may remain in the program until the end of the year.

Watertown Virtual School is a separate distance/remote learning school run by the Watertown School District. It will be staffed by licensed Watertown teachers using the same curriculum that all Watertown Public Schools students will use, with adjustments made for online learning. If families choose to enroll in Watertown Virtual School at the elementary level, students may be placed in classrooms that are not necessarily composed of students/teachers only from their neighborhood school, but will have opportunities for online interaction with their neighborhood school peers during specials and Spanish.

For those families interested in the Watertown Virtual School, please fill out the WVS Enrollment Form by Monday, August 24 at 3:00 pm. Students with enrollment forms received after August 24 will be placed on a waitlist until staffing and space limits are determined.

Watertown Virtual School Enrollment Form

Watertown Virtual School (WVS) Features:

  1. Similar schedule, nearly identical assignments to in-person or hybrid models, with consistent live engagement opportunities
  2. Remote model will be different than last spring’s in a number of ways, attendance required, required assignments, feedback and grades provided
  3. Synchronous teaching and learning following the outline of a traditional school day schedule (hybrid)
  4. Assessing our students academically and social emotionally
  5. Supporting and advancing curriculum that is aligned to state standards throughout the year
  6. Consistent teacher as learning coach & main point of contact with families
  7. Building in SEL and opportunities for staff and small groups of children/adolescents to meet and build relationships.

The components of the Watertown Virtual School are still in development and may depend upon the number of families that choose this option. The plan may be coordinated entirely by WPS staff or academic content may be provided through a state-approved program for distance/remote learning that is in the midst of being developed with frequent updates provided by the Commissioner. Participating in this option means that students and staff will regularly participate in complete online instruction.

For families of students with disabilities who require or prefer a full, extended virtual learning experience in the Watertown Virtual School, WPS will provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) remotely, assuring all aspects of the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan are implemented.

I will be holding a Community Forum on Tuesday, August 18, at 6:00 pm and I am more than happy to discuss and share information about the Watertown Virtual School options. Interpretation services can be provided for the forum. Please reach out to Ariel.Kennebrew@watertown.k12.ma.us if you would like to request an interpreter.

We are pleased to be able to offer this excellent opportunity to our Watertown families and look forward to a successful online program. A more detailed plan for the full WPS Bridge to Return can be found on the Watertown Public Schools website.

Best,

 

Dede Galdston

Frequently Asked Questions about Watertown Virtual School

When will the Watertown Virtual School start?

The first day of school for students will be the same for all Watertown Public Schools, which will be September 22. Technology distribution and orientation will take place September 17-21 for all WPS students. As such, please plan on being available during these three days.

What’s the difference between the comprehensive Bridge to Hybrid and the Watertown Virtual School?

The comprehensive Bridge to Hybrid will be available to all students and will last as long as a decision is made to return to in-person learning. With that in mind, it’s meant to be a short-term online solution. The first possible date for the transition to hybrid learning will be October 27.

Watertown Virtual School is designed to be a long-term option for families who want a fully remote learning experience for their students. While taught by WPS teachers, elementary students may not be taught by their regular teachers from their neighborhood schools, depending on enrollment. Elementary Virtual School students will, however, participate in Spanish and specials with students from their home schools.

We ask that students remain enrolled in Watertown Virtual School at least through the end of a semester, or February 8.

What’s the same about the comprehensive Bridge to Hybrid and the Watertown Virtual School?

Our curriculum and commitment to providing the best for our students remain consistent in both offerings.

At the Elementary level, students in both models will be placed in A/B cohorts and will follow the same online schedule. Sample elementary schedules can be found here.

At WMS, students in both models will be placed in A/B cohorts and will follow the same online schedule. Sample middle school schedules can be found here.

At WHS, students in both models will follow the same online schedule. WHS students will not be placed in cohorts. Sample high school schedules can be found here.

Can a student move from the Bridge to Hybrid to the Virtual School?

Classes will be developed based upon the number of students who enroll in the Watertown Virtual School. If there is space available, students may be able to join the Watertown Virtual School during the course of the year.

Is the Watertown Virtual School free?

Yes

Is there an enrollment cap for the Watertown Virtual School?

At this time, we are not planning to have a cap on the Watertown Virtual School enrollment. Families who submit enrollment forms after August 24 will be placed on a waitlist as we assess staffing and class size limits. We encourage any family interested in the Watertown Virtual School to submit the enrollment form by August 24.

Will Watertown Virtual School use the same curriculum as the Bridge to Hybrid Program?

Both the Watertown Virtual School and the Bridge to Hybrid will offer the same content standards that students would receive in a normal school year, using the platforms Seesaw for grades PreSchool to 2 and Google Classroom for grades 3 through 12. In grades K-8, teachers in a given grade level will utilize a ‘Weekly Learning Plan Template’ ensuring students across the district are focusing on the same learning targets and standards. Here are the DRAFT WMS Weekly Learning Plan and DRAFT WHS Weekly Learning Plan .

While in a fully remote model, all WHS students, even those choosing to enroll in WVS will be attending live classes over Zoom. Continuous planning is underway this summer, and we’re planning that Watertown High School Virtual School students may continue to have access to the same Zoom instruction with the same teachers during a hybrid opening at the high school. If we are not able to arrange that, WVS students will continue to learn virtually, and teacher assignment may change.

An additional option for families who want a fully online program will be available as well, using the Edgenuity Platform. This program may be administered by our partners at the EDCO Collaborative and will be monitored, not taught, by WPS faculty. The Edgenuity program will cover the same Massachusetts standards and learning targets as the Watertown Virtual School but will use the fully online platform. Thus, the majority of learning will be asynchronous and online. This is a good option for families who are not able to follow a traditional school schedule. Click on this link for the Edgenuity student experience demonstration.

Are Watertown Virtual teachers also teaching in the Bridge to Hybrid School?

It is possible that at the middle school and high school level, WPS teachers may be teaching in both models, as students take content-specific courses.

How will specialized courses at the high school including Advanced Placement (AP) classes be offered at the Watertown Virtual School?

We will be offering AP courses either through students virtually attending courses at WHS, or by accessing online curriculum through Virtual High School (a program that WHS has used for several years), or the Edgenuity curriculum.

How will science be taught?

Science courses will include online lab simulations and at-home lab experiences.

Will the Watertown Virtual School offer music, band, or chorus classes?

Students will attend specials and electives with their Bridge to Hybrid peers virtually. All specials, whether in the Bridge to Hybrid program or the Watertown Virtual School program will be online. At the elementary level, specials and Spanish are the times when WVS and Bridge to Hybrid students will come together in their home schools.

Students can join or remain in activities, athletics, and clubs that are offered as extracurricular activities.

What technology will be provided?

Watertown Virtual School will provide Chromebooks for students in grades 1 through 12 and iPads for students in grades Preschool through kindergarten.

Link to the Watertown Virtual School Enrollment Form