Friday, July 10, 2020
Dear Norwood Community,
I hope you are enjoying this unusual summer and finding ways to relax, restore, and have fun. It was wonderful seeing so many of you during the virtual town hall sessions held earlier this week. Michele, Mike, and I welcomed the opportunity to share a planning update on the reopening of school, to hear from you, and to answer your questions the best we can at this stage. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact us directly.
Currently, the ever-changing nature of the pandemic and evolving local and state guidelines make it impossible to provide a conclusive and definitive plan for the start of school in September. However, our task forces have been hard at work putting plans and schedules into place that encompass the myriad of details that preserve the Norwood experience while supporting and protecting community health. Our number one goal is to open school with all students, faculty, and staff on campus five days a week. We are extremely fortunate that our spacious campus and longtime commitment to small class sizes allow us to be one of the few schools in the area to be able to offer, subject to state mandates, a five-day a week, on-campus schedule.
Even so, teaching and learning will look and feel different this year, whether we are physically distanced on campus, in distance-learning mode at home, engaged in a blended version with some students on campus and others at home, or toggling between the two scenarios. A detailed plan will be provided during the week of August 10 when, after assessing feedback and the most recent mandates and recommendations from public health officials, we hope to be able to confirm our decision to reopen. For now, I am sharing the following modifications and procedures, most of which were shared during the town halls, to give you a sense of how school will most likely operate in the fall.
- On-campus learning will take place in small cohorts (homerooms in Lower School; advisories in Middle School) of 10-12 students with one teacher. Each cohort will have its own dedicated classroom where each student will have a workspace at least six feet apart from other students. Specials teachers and some subject-area teachers will rotate into the classrooms.
- Real-time virtual learning will be available for students who are unable to be on campus. Classrooms will be equipped with new “HawkEye” cameras that will allow students to join in-school classes from home via live 360° video conferencing following the usual schedule. Classes will not be recorded.
- Students, faculty, and staff will be the only people permitted to enter school buildings, except in the case of emergency.
- In keeping with recommendations from local and state public health officials, students will be required to wear family-provided masks, with time given for “mask breaks.” We recognize that this may prove challenging for our youngest students, and we will work carefully and creatively to make mask-wearing comfortable for all students. We recommend that you try different types of masks this summer to find one that works for your child. Faculty and staff, too, will be required to wear face masks, and some may wear faces shields when the use of a mask may impede the learning process.
- At this time, we are not planning to conduct temperature checks at school. Instead, families and employees will be required to conduct an at-home Daily Health Assessment, which will include a temperature check and screening of symptoms. Anyone with a temperature above 100.4 and/or presenting with certain symptoms will be not permitted to come to school. A doctor’s note will be required in order to return to school if a child has symptoms of COVID-19.
- The School will follow CDC guidelines should someone in the community test positive for the virus or has had close contact with a person who has tested positive for the virus. In accordance with state and local laws and regulations, the School will notify local health officials, employees, and families immediately of any case of COVID-19 in our school community while maintaining confidentiality in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- The day will begin and end at the usual time: arrival between 7:45-8:00 a.m. for all students; dismissal at 2:35 p.m. for grades PK-2 and at 3:35 p.m. for grades 3-8. It is unlikely that we will be able to offer Early Birds, and we are working hard to be able to provide After Care as safely as possible. The Enrichment Program will not be available.
- Numerous doors will be used for arrival and departure. For example, pre-kindergarten will have a dedicated door directly into and out of its classroom suite; kindergarten cohorts will reside in the Murray Arts Building and will be the only grade to use the Murray entrances. Plenty of adults will be on hand in the morning, both outdoors and indoors, to guide students to the correct entrance point and minimize traffic in common spaces.
- Lower school students will bring lunch from home, like always, and eat with their cohort in their classroom or outside. We are working with our lunch service provider, Ridgewells, to determine whether we will be able to offer a boxed lunch for middle school students. It is possible that middle school students may have to bring lunch from home. Either way, the middle school cafeteria will not be used, and students in grades 5-8 will eat with their cohort in the classroom or outside.
- When appropriate and available, designated outdoor spaces will be utilized for learning, lunch, and recreational purposes as often as possible. Classroom and office windows will be kept open as weather permits.
- Water fountains will be closed, but students may bring their own water bottles from home and use the School’s contactless water-bottle filling stations.
- Each student will have their own backpack or tote where they keep their supplies, including personal art supplies, provided by Norwood, that they can use in every class. Lockers will not be used in the Middle School.
- For other equipment, like robotics kits and microscopes, for example, each student will have their own item for their exclusive, individual use for a period of time, like a whole unit or a full week; after sanitizing, the item can be used by another student for another chunk of time.
- In addition to an orientation program for new students, we are working on a short orientation session for all students to acclimate them to the many new procedures and protocols. It is possible that we may bring pre-K and kindergarten students back a week early to give them the opportunity to experience the newness of school in a quiet setting.
- Each learning scenario—On-Campus, Blended, Toggle, and Distance—will follow the same academic schedule, enabling a smooth pivot from one mode to another should health and safety concerns change. A major focus of each scenario is community and connection: building strong teacher-student relationships, cultivating peer friendships, and making sure every child feels known, loved, and respected.
In addition to the modifications and enhancements listed above, increased cleaning and hygiene practices are in place. The School will conduct frequent, scheduled disinfection of high-touch surfaces throughout the day—including restrooms, classrooms, offices, the elevator, door handles, stair rails, light switches, desks, tables, and chairs—as well as nightly deep cleanings in compliance with CDC standards for cleaning and disinfection. Additionally, touchless sinks, automatic flush valves, and step-and-pull door openers have been installed in restrooms around the School. Frequent and thorough handwashing will continue to be a top priority.
There are, of course, some things we simply do not know at this date. We do not know, for example, if we will be able to offer After Care or bus transportation. We do not know if we will be able to offer lunch service for our middle school students and employees. We do not know if and when we will be able to resume interscholastic athletics or in-person chapel. While these decisions are informed in large part by state mandates, we do count on your feedback for guidance. Please participate in the next parent survey (see below) to provide important feedback as planning continues to move forward.
I want to emphasize that while there isn’t one “magic bullet” that will protect us from virus transmission, we can layer several risk-mitigation practices (masks, physical distancing, temperature screening, hand hygiene, and sanitizing) to reduce risk and build a strong defense. There may be times when we can reduce or remove some of our defensive layers; there will be other times when all layers must be in place, but whatever the situation, it is imperative that we work together to achieve a common goal: maintaining a safe and healthy community for all students, faculty, and staff.
While we are very much focused on the reopening of our campus in the fall, we are not neglecting the lessons learned while engaged in distance learning during the spring. Should distance learning be needed at any point, it will follow a similar schedule to our planned on-campus schedule, providing a consistency of experience whether a student is in the physical classroom or learning from home. To prepare for the new school year, iPads have been purchased for every student in grades K-2; Microsoft Surface laptops will be provided for each student in grades 3-4. Each student in grade 5 will be assigned a Surface Go, and each student in grades 6-8 will receive a Surface Pro. Microsoft accounts will be established for every student in grades K-8 to enhance access, connection, and sharing. In addition, during the summer, faculty members are engaged in professional development work that focuses on best practices around tech resources (Zoom, OneNote, and other key resources) and a variety of virtual teaching methods. They are also working on best practices that support social-emotional development while in distance learning mode, which includes maximizing teacher and peer relationships, minimizing parent involvement, and providing more real-time feedback.
Parent Survey #3
Feedback from our parent community has been invaluable since we moved to distance learning in late March. We are tremendously grateful for the time you took to complete two surveys, one in April and another in June. Now, I am asking for your support again. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey
to help inform important decisions about offerings like After Care, bus transportation, and lunch service. Thank you for submitting your feedback by Friday, July 17.
Summer Professional Development
The unexpected and quick move to distance learning in the spring was indeed challenging, but it also allowed our faculty to deepen their craft and to explore new modes of instruction. They are eager to reconnect, face-to-face, and are hard at work preparing for our four learning scenarios for the fall. Teachers are examining best practices for delivering instruction remotely, designing and creating positive and engaging learning communities using effective technologies. All the while, they are continuing to engage in ongoing professional development in anti-racism, attending to students’ social-emotional needs, and differentiation.
In my June 5 letter, I reported that Mimi Mulligan, our longtime director of admission and enrollment management, is returning to the classroom as a sixth grade homeroom advisor and math teacher. Since that announcement, we have hired Alex Ragone to be our new director of admission and enrollment management. An experienced independent school administrator, Alex joins us from Williamsburg Northside School (age 2 – grade 8) in Brooklyn, NY, where he served as director of enrollment and marketing. Previously, he was the founding head of school of AltSchool (grades K-8) in New York City, the director of middle and upper school at City and Country School in New York, and director of technology and eighth grade dean at Collegiate School, also in New York. Alex started with us remotely on July 1.
We are thrilled to add two new teachers to our talented faculty: Diana Hashem will join Cathy Caruso in pre-kindergarten, and Stephanie Orji will join Cathy McCoy, Lara Salyer, and Esther Stanton in second grade. Click here
to get acquainted with Diana, Stephanie, Alex, and our other new employees, who were previously announced.
In other staffing news, Jennifer Hemann, our assistant director of admission for the past nine years, has been appointed our new human resources manager. Jennifer’s exceptional interpersonal and organizational skills will be a real asset to our human resources function. In addition, as a former business owner, she has experience with employee relations, payroll, benefits, and training. Jennifer started in her new position on July 1.
Upcoming Town Halls
The next round of town halls will take place on July 21 (Lower School), July 22 (Middle School), and July 23 (faculty and staff). Michele, Mike, and I look forward to seeing you again on Zoom for another update on our reopening status. Please feel free to contact us in advance with any questions you may have that we can address in the sessions. Zoom links are provided at the end of this letter.
While planning is ongoing throughout the summer, I can say with confidence that we will be fully prepared to deliver a program that allows for deep, engaging, and joyful learning; connection and community; flexibility and adaptability; and a campus environment that addresses the health and safety concerns of all students, faculty, and staff. Again, and I can’t say this enough, thank you for your support, patience, and goodwill as we face these unprecedented challenges and decisions. All of us at Norwood look forward to a healthy, happy, and successful school year!
Matthew A. Gould, Ph.D.
Head of School