March 25 2020

Area School Leaders Issue Joint Letter on Current COVID-19 Situation and Future Planning

By: BNEWS

Burlington Public School leaders have joined with multiple area school departments in a joint letter about the current COVID-19 situation and what they are thinking about it. 

 

The school departments joining Burlington in the statements are Arlington Public Schools, Lexington Public Schools, Wakefield Public Schools, Bedford Public Schools, Melrose Public Schools, Watertown Public Schools, Belmont Public Schools, Reading Public Schools, Winchester Public Schools, Stoneham Public Schools and Woburn Public Schools.

 

The letter starts by stating that given the situation they believe the school closures could be extended beyond the three-weeks currently mandated.  

 

“As the Chief Child Advocates in our respective communities, we are coming together to focus on what is best for students in the coming months,” the letter begins. “We all believe that the initial three-week school closure will be extended. While this probable extension is creating many conversations about what learning should look like during this time away from the classroom, this vision of education will be best coming from those of us who work with children. Our shared belief is that, in future years when children reflect on this time in their lives, what they will remember most are the positive connections they felt at an uncertain time.”

 

The superintendents say that their concern right now is focused on the emotional and physical health of students. 

 

“School is a special place - a sacred place,” the letter reads. “All of our communities stress that learning has its foundation in the relationships developed between learners and teachers, whether adults or children. There is no way to replicate this environment in a digital format in the middle of a pandemic over a week/month or two. We are deeply concerned about the physical and emotional health of everyone in our school communities. As such, we commit to planning and supporting learning that lessens stress and anxiety.” 

 

“Part of this commitment means developing the skills and tools necessary to evolve and prioritize these relationships over the coming months,” the letter continues. “We are asking all of our educators to check in with their students. Many are already going far beyond connecting. They are doing incredible work untethered by current educational policy to ensure that students feel safe and remain connected to their learning. In our commitment to these relationships, new content and grades are not a priority at this time.”

 

The school leaders say that while the classroom cannot be replicated online, there are areas they are focusing on to help students continue to grow and learn. 

 

“We recognize that there are countless challenges for identified learners who need specialized instruction and know that we will not be able to solve all of these challenges in the short term,” they wrote. “As such, we will continue to focus on safety and connection while providing students with learning opportunities. Our biggest challenge in this effort is meeting the needs of our youngest students. The plan for these age groups is to focus on process skills, like observation and description, and to provide practice in key skill areas, like reading, to mitigate regression. These skills are an important objective of our content delivery with classroom instruction when school is in session. Much of our secondary curricular structure is already in place through a learning management system. Middle school and high school teachers will use this familiar tool to encourage critical and creative thinking skills.”

 

Finally, the letter ends with an assurance that the school departments will continue to do what they can to support students, their health and their education.  

 

“Our school communities will continue to make connections, value relationships, develop learning skills, understand service and community, maintain health and wellbeing, and focus on a greater good,” the educators wrote. “In remaining focused on the social and emotional needs of our students and offering learning experiences that support those needs, we believe that our students, your children, will be well served during this school closing.” 

 

Along with the joint letter from the area communities, Burlington Public School Superintendent Eric Conti and Assistant Superintendent Patrick Larkin put out a separate statement. This is what it says: 

 

Some highlights of our work in Burlington Public Schools over the last week: 

- Burlington partnered with neighboring districts to initiate a 2-week shut down ahead of the Governor’s decision to close school for three weeks.

- The district partnered with The Burlington Food Pantry/People Helping People to provide a week’s worth of food for any family in need. All of the district’s perishable food items were donated to the pantry. With higher than expected demand and the federal government redefining what communities can count as reimbursable meals, we may need to rethink our strategy.

 

- The District donated 1,000 masks and 2,500 pairs of protective gloves to the Fire Department.

 

- District technology staff identified students needing devices and initiated a safe distribution plan.

 

- There have been countless, reassuring contacts between teachers and their students. Thank you for sharing some of those messages.

 

- Neighboring districts are working on an extended vision of instruction if the closure is extended, as expected. This partnership is meant to share our talents across communities, but also reduce the comparisons. We are all working together for the betterment of all.

 

- We are communicating daily with the state about the expectations of state testing, graduation, special education and other decisions that will impact students. 

 

Looking ahead we need to define the “new normal” in Burlington through the remaining      closure and in preparation for an extended closure.

 

The centralized place for all school information will continue to be our website.

We are not attempting to replicate the school day in a digital format. As stated in our joint letter, we are focusing on maintaining connections and deeper learning. We are not introducing new content and grading as we would if school were in session.

We are adjusting as the state makes changes in their policies. We will communicate these changes as quickly as possible.

What does the “new normal” look like?  What should I expect?

Our BPS Remote Learning plan will begin on Monday, March 30th.

The details of the plan will follow in the next few days. All of our faculty and staff have been extremely helpful and committed to advancing learning for their students despite this dramatic change. We want to thank them for their flexibility and dedication. These times are providing many challenges, but also opportunities for us to rethink how connections and learning can happen. Our challenge is not to think of remote learning only as digital learning. There are many analog/traditional opportunities that we can take advantage of together.   

 

While there are more unknowns than knowns at this time, we look forward to solving the unknowns together. Burlington is an incredible and resilient community. These characteristics also define our students, faculty and staff.  

 

Our success in the “new normal” is only possible if we continue to work together to solve problems in the best interest of students.


Thank you,

Eric Conti, Superintendent of Schools

Patrick Larkin, Assistant Superintendent


 

 
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