Superintendent's Update 11/19/21

Superintendent's Update 11/19/21
Posted on 11/19/2021

In this update:

Protocols for Inclement Weather

Important School Calendar Changes

Responding to Bullying, Harassment and Bias Incidents

Vaccine Updates and Clinics for Children Ages 5-11

COVID Public Health Update

Masks and COVID Protocols

Professional Learning Recap

Coffee with the Superintendent and School Committee Chair

I want to wish all of our students, staff and families a Happy Thanksgiving.  If you celebrate this holiday, I hope it is a time to gather and reconnect with friends and family.  If you do not celebrate the holiday, I hope this time provides a break for you and your family to rest and refresh.

Protocols for Inclement Weather

It is that time of year again in New England when we begin to think about snow, ice and possible school closings.  This year, we will use traditional “snow days” in the event it is unsafe to operate our schools or buses.  It is important to note that the state does not provide an option for remote school days, so this is not a decision that can be made locally.  Our No School, Delayed Opening & Emergency Release Procedures are posted to our website and I would encourage families and staff to review them.

Important School Calendar Changes

Last night the school committee voted two changes to the calendar for the current school year:

  1. December 23, 2021 will now be a ½ day for students and staff.  We hope this additional half day accommodates families who may be travelling and helps in a small way to reduce the stress that our students and staff have experienced this year.
  2. June 20, 2021 will be a no school day in recognition of Juneteenth, which occurs on Sunday, June 19th.  While we are not currently scheduled for school on June 20th, should we have more than two snow days, we will be closed on June 20 and will reopen on June 21 for any additional remaining days of school.  To learn more about the Juneteenth holiday, you can visit a variety of sources including https://www.juneteenth.com/

Responding to Incidents of Bullying, Harassment and Bias

It is hard to read or watch the news without hearing about challenges that schools have had in responding to issues of bullying and harassment.  We recognize that we are not immune to these behaviors.  This year we have worked with our school attorneys to provide in depth training to all of our school and district administrators in recognizing, investigating, and responding to issues of bullying, harassment and a range of student behaviors in our schools.  We require mandatory annual training for all school staff in these areas.  Additionally, we are planning training for all of our coaches to increase awareness of student behaviors and to help make sure we continue to create positive and safe environments for our students.

We are also in the process of publishing a set of protocols for how our schools will respond to incidents of Hate and Bias.  We have sought feedback on our draft protocols from organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and the Department of Education.  We have also reviewed the recently released document from the Governor's task force and have incorporated best practices shared by the Attorney General’s Office in a recent webinar.  We are in the process of seeking additional feedback from our DEI family advisory committee and some of our student and faculty affinity groups.  We intend to publish this document early in the new year and follow-up with a presentation for families to better understand what to expect from us in response to incidents in our schools.  We are also in the process of building out our website with even more information and resources on bullying, harassment, and bias.

Vaccine Updates and Clinics for Children Ages 5-11

Last Saturday, AB Schools partnered with the Town of Acton including the health, police and fire departments, along with Acton Pharmacy to offer a vaccination clinic for children ages 5-11.  The event was tremendously successful and we provided nearly 600 children with their first COVID vaccine.  We will host a second clinic this Saturday and have another 600 children registered for vaccination.  We are tremendously grateful to Dr. Bentley and our nurses, along with all of our partners from the Town of Acton, Acton Pharmacy, and our students and community volunteers who have made this possible.  Unfortunately, we are unable to take walk-in appointments at the clinic, but we still have first-dose appointments available for AB students!  To sign up, click here.  Or, visit the MassVax site at https://vaxfinder.mass.gov/, where you can filter vaccines by the 5-11 year-old age range and find available appointments.  

We are also extremely excited this week to be including vaccination statistics for our elementary schools!  Our current Covid vaccination rates for each school are:

(Receiving 1 or 2 doses)

  • Blanchard:  203 vaccinated / 494 enrolled (41%)
  • Conant:  212 vaccinated / 406 enrolled  (52%)
  • Douglas:  176 vaccinated / 384 enrolled (46%)
  • Gates:  131 vaccinated / 370 enrolled (35%)
  • McT:  215 vaccinated / 451 enrolled (48%)
  • Merriam:  247 vaccinated / 457 enrolled (54%)
  • (Overall elementary percentage = 46%)
  • Preschool:  3 vaccinated / 10 eligible 5-year-olds enrolled (30%)

Fully Vaccinated:

HS:  1575 vaccinated / 1710 enrolled (92%)

JH:  731 vaccinated / 830 enrolled (88%)

Also, in the last eight weeks, we have administered a total of 2375 tests to detect the presence of Covid. Of these, 1650 were pooled test samples containing 5-10 student specimens in each, and 725 were under our Test & Stay program that have kept unvaccinated close contacts in school.  This last weekend, we partnered with the Acton Health Department and Acton Pharmacy to administer Covid vaccines to just shy of 600 elementary students between the ages of 5-11.  This coming weekend, we will do another clinic, for which we have just over 500 children signed up.  We are eager to move into our "next" Covid phase, particularly as we head into the break and expect many gatherings and celebrations.  However, we are seeing an increase in the number of breakthrough cases in adults across the community, so we urge families to continue to take health precautions (including wearing masks and distancing) as they gather with their loved ones between now and the New Year.

COVID Public Health Update

Massachusetts’ 7 day average of COVID-19 cases has risen slightly since two weeks ago from 960 to 1512.   The 14 day average incidence rate as reported by the state is currently 8.1 for Acton (up slightly from 7.2 two weeks ago) and 9.9  for Boxborough (down from 15.5 two weeks ago). 

In our schools, we have seen a total of 18 positive cases of COVID-19 among students and staff in the last two weeks, and a total of 70 cases this year.  This is a slight increase from the previous two week periods, but no cases are linked to any pattern of in-school transmission.  While we have seen a slight uptick in our schools, our schools with extremely high vaccination rates (JH and HS) continue to see extremely low case incidence rates.  A detailed breakdown by school can be found on our COVID-19 Website

Masks and COVID Protocols

We previously communicated that as we enter our next phase of the pandemic where all of our students, including those ages 5-11 have access to vaccines, it is time to begin thinking about relaxing some of the COVID restrictions we have in place.  We will be sharing more information with you in December, but I want highlight some of our current planning:

  • We are tentatively targeting Tuesday, January 18 as a date to relax mask requirements in our secondary schools.  This allows us to get through the holiday travel season and allow time for our elementary students to be vaccinated (who may have siblings in secondary schools).  Based on current state requirements, only students or staff who are fully vaccinated would be able to remove masks.
  • We do not yet have a date to relax elementary mask requirements, but will communicate more about this as our vaccination rate reached the 80% threshold requirement by the state prior to relaxing mask requirements.
  • We are currently looking at amending protocols to allow volunteers to participate in school activities again.  We will be developing some protocols for this and communicate more when we have additional details.
  • We want to begin planning a more normal return to student activities, including field trips and events as we progress into spring.  We will provide additional details as we have them.

I anticipate that the next several months will be another period of transition for our schools as we work to return to more normal operations.  I want to recognize that we may continue to see periodic changes in the course of the virus, but with the wide availability of vaccines which have reduced the risk of transmission and greatly reduced the risks of serious complications, we want to begin a gradual and planful course of actions to return to normal school for our students.

Professional Learning Recap

November 2 was a professional learning day for educators in our schools.  Our staff spent the day engaged in a variety of professional learning activities at their various schools.  A sampling of our professional learning activities included: 

  • Creating identity maps, completing a museum walk, and answering questions about their Cultural Reference Points.
  • Engaging in a workshop with Dr. Kim Parker, entitled Centering the Literacy Lives of BIPOC Children & Youth in Our Practices. Dr. Kimberly N. Parker is an award-winning educator and literacy specialist who frequently delivers professional development for educators to expand their inclusion of diverse literature in their classrooms.
  • Using the School Reform Institute Compass Protocol to build community and have educators reflect on how they learn best. Completing an independent quick study of MTSS modeling UDL strategies by offering a wide variety of resources.
  • Revisiting Project Based Learning check-lists in order to expand their thinking around what a project is and thinking more deeply about bringing an equity lens to the way we refine and build projects
  • Meeting with the school’s  Instructional Leadership Team members to begin the process of looking at data through an MTSS lens.
  • Joining working groups to contribute to various aspects of the School Improvement Plan work including Advisory, Student Supports, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), and School Culture and Climate. 
  • Learning about and participating in community building circles
  • Focusing on strategies to implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in secondary classrooms.

You can read more about each school’s work during the professional learning day here.

Coffee with the Superintendent and School Committee Chair

Adam and I will continue to host opportunities for families to engage with us as we go through the year.  Our next meeting is on November 17th at 7:00 p.m. via zoom.  We will send a link to families a day or two before the meeting.  Upcoming dates include:

  • Dec 15 at 8:30 am
  • Jan 12 at 8:30 am
  • Feb 9 at 8:30 am
  • Mar 9 at 8:30 am
  • Apr 6 at 7 pm
  • May 4 at 7 pm
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