Superintendent's Update 9/24/21

Superintendent's Update 9/24/21
Posted on 09/24/2021

In this update:

Congratulations to the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School
AB Art Teacher Melissa Mastrolia featured on WBUR
School Committee Votes to Establish Mascot Screening Subcommittee
COVID Public Health Update & Blanchard COVID-19 Update
COVID Testing Program Update
Staff Vaccine Requirement
Statewide MCAS release
Introducing #ABConnects



Congratulations to the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School

In its most recent publication, Boston Magazine rated ABRHS as the number one high school in Massachusetts based on a variety of metrics.  While we recognize that school rankings are always subjective and not a strong measure of the success of any school, we should celebrate the value our community places on education and the investment that has been made in our schools.  Congratulations to our students, staff and families.


 

AB Art Teacher Melissa Mastrolia featured on WBUR

Congratulations to Douglas Art Teacher Melissa Mastrolia who also serves as the President of the Massachusetts Art Educators Association for her recent interview with WBUR.  Melissa discussed the return to school from an educator’s perspective and offered insight into what this year brings for students and educators.  You can listen to her interview on WBUR.


School Committee Votes to Establish Mascot Screening Subcommittee

At their meeting on September 23rd, the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee voted “to establish a mascot screening subcommittee to receive, review and recommend a mascot as proposed by the student bodies of the high school and junior high school.”  The vote establishes a two-part process per the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools.  The process is designed to put students and student decision-making at the center of the process, while also allowing for community engagement through the school committee subcommittee.

Students at the ABRHS and RJ Grey Junior High will work with staff to:

  • Design a process that allows students and staff at the high school and junior high, as well as the broader community to have appropriate levels of engagement to solicit, communicate, and narrow options for a new mascot.
  • Ensure that the recommendation from the student body is aligned with the Mission, Vision and Values of the District.
  • Make a final recommendation to the School Committee Subcommittee.

The School Committee Mascot Screening Subcommittee will:

  • Receive a recommendation from the high school and junior high school student bodies through the student representatives to the subcommittee.
  • Ensure that students, staff and community members have an appropriate opportunity to engage in the process
  • Ensure that the recommendation from the student body is aligned with the Mission, Vision and Values of the District
  • Return to the School Committee in Spring 2022 with a proposed mascot.

The School Committee Screening Subcommittee will be comprised of:

  • 2 school committee members
  • Superintendent of Schools
  • Athletic Director
  • Director of Performing Arts
  • 1 Staff member from the Junior High School or High School
  • 1 Coach from either Junior High School or High School Athletics
  • 2 Booster Club Representatives
  • 1 community member at large, with preference for alumni or other individuals closely connected to the school community
  • 3-4 student representatives from the high school. 

The student steering committee will be comprised of students that represent the diversity of the student body who are involved in a variety of student leadership positions, athletics, activities, and the performing arts.   They will be supported through the process by staff at the school level.

In the next two weeks, we will send information to our community to solicit interest in participating on the school committee subcommittee.  Simultaneously, the high school and junior high will begin to form a student steering committee that will elect its representatives to the school committee subcommittee.  We look forward to sharing more information with you in the coming weeks.


COVID Public Health Update

While Massachusetts reported 1821 new confirmed COVID cases as of 9/22, there has been some positive news in seeing the 7 day average of COVID-19 cases decline from a high of 1891 on September 13 to 1205 reported on September 21.  We hope to see this downward trend continue.  The 14 day average incidence rate as reported by the state is currently 10.2 for Acton and 18.3 for Boxborough.  Both of these metrics mark an increase from one month ago.  

In our schools, we have seen a total of 28 positive cases of COVID-19 among students and staff this year.  A detailed breakdown by school can be found on our COVID-19 Website.  We are carefully monitoring the Blanchard Memorial School, which, to date, has accounted for 13 of the total 28 reported cases this year.  More information about cases at Blanchard is shared below.

We have begun to hear positive news about vaccines for children ages 5-12 with some news reports indicating vaccines could begin to be available to this age group as early as late October or November.  Our staff have been actively pursuing the possibility of offering a vaccine clinic for elementary-aged students as soon as the vaccine is available.  We hope to have more information in the coming weeks as we learn more.

Blanchard COVID-19 Update

As stated earlier, Blanchard has experienced a total of 13 positive cases of COVID-19 this year: 

Week of 8/30

Week of 9/6

Week of 9/13

Week of 9/20

1 case

4 cases

7 cases

1 case (as of 9/23)

Through contact tracing efforts, we have reason to believe that we experienced in-school virus transmission.  While we can’t share any details about private health information, we can tell you that half of the cases at Blanchard in the last few weeks are actually a result of activities outside of school or transmission between siblings within a household.  And, as we review our data across the district, we have only seen five cases this year across the entire junior high and high school (~50% of our school age population), where almost 90% of our students are fully vaccinated.  This gives us great hope for the months ahead, as we continue to watch the developments around FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-12.  Once approved, we intend to provide Covid vaccine clinics for our K-6 students.

  

We met with our medical advisory team to discuss cases at the school in-depth and have determined to carefully monitor this situation.  There were no specific recommendations to changes in our current protocols that arose from this work, but we have determined to prioritize the Blanchard School to begin Routine COVID Safety Checks (formerly pooled testing) beginning next week.


COVID Testing Program Update

While we had hoped 100% of our families would consent to our testing program, we seen a higher consent rate than we did in the 2020-21 school year:  

School

% of Families Consenting 

to Testing Program

Blanchard

82%

Conant

74%

Douglas

82%

Gates

73%

McCarthy-Towne

82%

Merriam

84%

CHECP

49%

RJGJHS

70%

ABRHS

63%

Our Test and Stay program has been up and running for the last two weeks.  This program allows individuals who are not yet vaccinated to remain in school after being identified as a close contact in the 0-3 foot range as long as they take a rapid antigen test each morning at school, test negative, and remain symptom free.  To date, zero students in the Test and Stay protocol have tested positive for COVID-19.  At Blanchard alone, this means that more than 100 students who were identified as close contacts safely remained in school and avoided quarantine.

The implementation of Routine COVID Safety Checks (formerly known as pooled testing) have been delayed due to ongoing challenges with our vendor, including staffing and database management as this program comes to scale at a statewide level.  We are working through these challenges and will begin this testing program next week at Blanchard and will roll out to the remaining elementary schools as soon as possible afterward.  More detailed information was sent to families on September 22 by email.

We have paused on implementing the Symptomatic Testing program over some concerns with protocols and implementation.  We have reached out to the state to clarify the protocols managing symptomatic individuals in school and are awaiting a response.  Additionally, we are concerned about the number of students arriving at school with symptoms and want to reiterate to families that if a student exhibits symptoms before arriving at school, they need to remain home and be tested prior to being sent to school.  This is critically important for our mitigation efforts as our positive cases so far this year have generally reported extremely mild symptoms.  


Staff Vaccine Requirement

We are pleased to announce that we have finalized agreements with two of our three unions and have shared with our staff a requirement that all staff must be fully vaccinated by November 15, 2021.  We believe that having a fully-vaccinated staff will provide the safest environment for our students and staff as well as their families.  


Statewide MCAS release

This week, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released its Spring 2021 MCAS results.  As expected, there was a statewide decline in students' performance across both the English Language Arts and Mathematics tests at all grades. The exception was English Language Arts at grade 10 where there was a 3% increase in students meeting and exceeding expectations.

While there were slight declines (0-8%) overall in student performance at AB that mirror the state trends, the new growth calculations utilizing baseline SGPs, indicate that our students demonstrated moderate to high growth. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) this baseline method provides a more sensitive and realistic measure of student growth during a year of pandemic teaching and learning. Also noteworthy is the change in the percentage of our 10th grade ELA performance exceeding expectations from 25% in 2019 to 44% in 2021.

We anticipated that our students would need additional support as we recover from the Pandemic and have proactively taken steps to support our students and educators.  These include:

  • Working with our school committee last spring to target a significant proportion of our ESSER-3 Federal Stimulus Funds to hire full-time certified math specialist positions at each elementary school as well as two new literacy coach positions across our elementary schools.  
  • Implementing district-wide universal assessment tools (EarlyBird - K; iReady 1-8) for literacy and mathematics at the start of the 2020-21 school year and planning for expanded use of the platform this year.
  • Working to develop an easy to use dashboard for educators to visualize a variety of student assessments in one place to assist in helping them identify students who may need additional targeted support in a timely manner.

We look forward to sharing more information about our various assessments and support with the school committee and community in the coming weeks.


Introducing #ABConnects 

Acton TV is collaborating with Acton-Boxborough to produce a new show titled #ABConnects, for updates on the School District's programs and events. This first episode features a brief intro from me about #ABConnects and the start of the year! You can view the 5-minute episode here.  In October we are planning to bring residents inside the construction for the new Gates/Douglas school building.  


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