AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT ABOUT SCHOOL CLOSING

March 28, 2020

Dear Needham Public Schools Families:

During this extraordinary health emergency, I hope you and your families are well.

During the two weeks since our schools closed, our teachers, principals, and administrators have worked to provide enrichment and learning opportunities for students as well as planning for next steps to support our students' social, emotional, and academic needs. With the Governor's most recent announcement extending the period of school closure to May 4th and using guidance provided by the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), we will now pivot and focus as a district on the following priorities:

- Maintain and nurture strong connections and relationships with students and families;

- Prepare and implement for remote learning to advance the curriculum in thoughtful and measured ways so all students can learn and grow; and

- Provide services and supports to help meet the many needs of all students, particularly our most vulnerable students.

When the Governor announced a three-week school closure on March 15th, our district responded with a plan to provide opportunities for student engagement beginning March 23rd and carrying through April 3rd. That initial plan--providing enrichment, exploration, and opportunities to connect--will continue through Friday, April 3rd.

Before I outline for you the district's next steps to implement the priorities above and carry us through May 4th (or possibly beyond), I'd like to respond to families wondering why we were not advancing the curriculum yet, or grading work, or enforcing the educational mandates associated with specific subjects. Needham Public Schools followed a thoughtful approach, informed by DESE, to address an emergency health situation and the challenges of providing equity in education when schools are closed. Some families have suggested that Needham was doing little or nothing for children when all other districts were providing a rigorous, highly structured, and online learning opportunity meeting the needs of all learners. Of course, that simply has not been the case. Our response to this health crisis has been imperfect and imprecise, but it has reflected what the Commissioner of Education suggested, and it has focused on providing opportunities for students to remain connected and engaged.

Moving forward, Needham Public Schools is committed to providing continuity for our students as they look to make academic progress and enhance their knowledge, skills, and competencies. The district's plan for remote learning, consistent with DESE's newest guidance, will roll out in phases and for all grade levels starting the week of April 6th. Specific structures and schedules for remote learning will be provided and shared with families by your principals in the coming days. Teachers will use different tools and online learning platforms to help stay connected with their students, including Seesaw at grades K-2 and Google Classroom or Schoology in grades 3-12.

Remote learning encompasses a wide variety of learning opportunities, including large group video or audio conferencing calls, 1:1 phone or video calls, email, work packets, projects, reading lists, online learning platforms and other resources to effectively engage with students. While technology can be a supportive tool, the Needham Public Schools and DESE believe that student learning can and should continue offline. This could include exploring the natural world and and engaging in hands-on projects and artistic creations that stem from students' own passions and experiences. The individual student experience will vary depending on student needs, access, and capacity for remote learning. I expect that we will see, and encourage, creativity from teachers and students in this regard.

Clearly, we will not be able to replicate the classroom experience in your living room. Developing relevant and engaging lessons for over 5,700 students across 14 grade levels in multiple disciplines for an unknown length of time in an environment that allows no personal contact with a teacher, the critical element in the classroom, is a daunting task. Many teaching and learning practices will look different in remote learning and, inevitably, we will face some challenges as we embark on this new path. Our staff remains enthusiastic, is being innovative, and is working hard to provide each student with the programs and services needed to make progress academically, socially, and emotionally. The teachers and staff will also be participating in professional development to deepen existing skills and to learn new technology to support students.

I am so impressed with how our staff is responding to this health crisis; they have been creative, caring, and responsive. I have observed teachers drop off a laptop to a student without one at home; I've seen nutrition services staff help out at the Needham Community Council; I've participated in Zoom conferences with over 150 staff asking how they can provide more for our students; I've seen principals, administrators, and teachers meeting late into the night and throughout the weekend to prepare for a new and different way of engaging students. It has been impressive and leaves me humbled. Let's please remember to thank and be kind to our educators as they learn to instruct and support students from a distance.

Finally, I know that some families are feeling overwhelmed. I recognize that it is enormously difficult to juggle work and support your own children, especially with the newness of helping them to manage remote learning. Little of this is easy or clear. All of us, educators and parents, will make mistakes, get frustrated and, at times, become impatient. And that's OK. It is a time for all of us to embrace ambiguity, maintain perspective, and encourage empathy--for ourselves, our children, and their teachers.

We will get through this because of our amazing young people, their families, and the caring staff I have the privilege to work with from the Town of Needham and the Needham Public Schools. We will move forward in thoughtful ways with the curriculum without losing sight of our primary role in helping to nurture relationships between and among students. I am inspired by students like high school junior and representative on the Needham School Committee, Aidan Michelow, who shared this comment at the March 17th School Committee meeting: "I think it's important to keep in mind the bigger picture... be flexible... and make sure we're staying healthy."

Please take care of your family and continue to reach out to me with your questions or concerns. My phone number is 781-455-0400, x11203 or dan_gutekanst@needham.k12.ma.us

Respectfully,

Dan Gutekanst
Superintendent of Schools

_______________________________________________

Welcome to the website of the Needham Public Schools! I hope you will find the information you need to learn about the people, programs, and activities that make our school system a dynamic learning experience for all students.

​The Needham Public Schools has developed a framework for educational excellence, innovation, and equity - a Portrait of A Needham Graduate - that will inform the district's work going forward. Needham Public Schools will support all our students in becoming creative thinkers and problem solvers, communicators and collaborators, socially and culturally responsive contributors, responsible and resilient individuals, and empowered learners. Our students' collective and individual success depends on developing these Portrait competencies in preparation for the future that awaits them. I encourage you to review the Needham Public Schools 2019 Performance Report for examples of current teaching practices aligned with this Portrait vision, along with ideas and challenges for boosting student learning around each of the district priorities.

​Through this website, the Needham Public Schools commits itself to share timely information with students, parents, staff, and community members who depend on updated and helpful information and assistance. I invite you to join the superintendent’s listserve to receive periodic emails about various school programs and events. Please join now!

​Additionally, the Needham School Committee wishes to hear from members of the community about issues and concerns critical to the schools and its many programs. You may contact them at schoolcommittee@needham.k12.ma.us and ask a question or make a comment.

​We are proud of our school district and are happy to share information about the Needham Public Schools with you.

Sincerely,

Daniel E. Gutekanst, Ed.D.
Superintendent 
Needham Public Schools
                   Portrait picture     
PORTRAIT OF A NEEDHAM GRADUATE VIDEO 

VIDEO #2:
STUDENT PERSPECTIVE
 ON PORTRAIT OF A NEEDHAM GRADUATE
   

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