Dear North Smithfield Families and Staff,
During the Tuesday, August 18th, School Committee Meeting (https://youtu.be/xDKkf7xOc3Y), I made a number of recommendations regarding school reopening. I want to take this opportunity to reiterate and expand upon my recommendations.
School Reopening Recommendations
Districts in the state have begun to announce a return to school under full Distance Learning as well as a variety of other models. At this time, we firmly believe that some in-person learning is preferable to none. At Tuesday’s School Committee Meeting, I recommended to the North Smithfield Schools that we conduct a “soft” reopening under the Hybrid Model for all students in PK-12.
With an anticipated 20% of our students choosing a full Distance Learning option and with 40% of our students in person between Tuesday - Friday we can:
Under a full reopening model, at this time, we cannot guarantee that everyone who needs a seat on the bus will have a seat. Under a full reopening model, we cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing in classrooms, students will sit in rows with masks on, facing forward, with limited movement and conversation.
We want the schools to be open and social, less restrictive and prison-like which will be difficult to achieve under a full reopening model.
We will need the first few weeks to get everyone used to new processes and routines and to tune and refine. After a few weeks, we will assess the conditions in the schools, community, and the state, and ideally move towards a fuller opening, remain on hybrid, or shift towards Distance Learning.
I understand the need to reopen fully and, virus permitting, that is definitely our goal, especially for our elementary students and students with special needs.
Staffing Concerns and Early Student Dismissal
At the School Committee Meeting, I expressed concerns about staffing due to the Department of Health requirements for all employers in all industries to permit employees to stay home if they are sick. Across the state, superintendents are anticipating that with general illnesses, staff going in and out of quarantine, and the general lack of substitute teachers, we will have difficulty keeping our classrooms fully staffed.
North Smithfield has an option that many schools do not have. We have one of the longest school days among public schools in the state. Our school day is closer in length to private, parochial, and some charter schools.
The school day will be reduced for students by 45 minutes. This move will allow our teachers to provide class coverage during the day to offset the anticipated lack of substitute teacher availability and create time at the end of the day to better support the mix of student in-person and Distance Learning needs.
I do understand the disruption in family schedules that reducing the student school day by 45 minutes will create for some. We have not committed to this solution but are strongly considering it. We will know more when the Governor makes her school reopening announcement on August 31st.
Whether families choose full Distance Learning, or Distance Learning as part of the Hybrid Model, or Distance Learning is necessitated due to quarantine, it will look different than it did last year. Our Distance Learning delivery will be:
A separate email/form will be going out allowing parents who indicated they were interested in a Distance Learning option to reconsider as well as families who did not sign up for Distance Learning to add their student’s names.
In addition to general summer cleaning and maintenance, our Facilities Department is preparing for school reopening.
Of note, the Rhode Island Departments of Education and Department of Health recommended at the beginning of the summer that schools install plexiglass student partitions in classrooms. Our focus instead was to tune, service, and upgrade our HVAC system controls and unit ventilators. Last week, new guidance to districts and schools advised not to spend money on plexiglas partitions and instead improve school and classroom ventilation. North Smithfield again was ahead of the game.
Here is a brief list of some of our projects and purchases:
Our teachers and staff desperately want to reopen and welcome all students back, but given budgetary constraints, restrictions in busing and gatherings, taking extra health and safety precautions, accommodating the mix of in-person and Distance Learning needs, everything this year will be a balancing act like we have never seen before.
Michael St. Jean,
Dear North Smithfield Families and Staff,
We remain in a holding pattern as to the specifics of school reopening. Again I wish I could give you specific information, but I can’t. Many of you probably have heard by now that school opening in Rhode Island will be delayed.
Message From Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education:
In addition to the standard educational preparation you do each year, there are a number of complex operational and logistical challenges we are all tackling this year. These include preparing our buildings for appropriate safety measures, developing and practicing all-new classroom practices for staff and students, pressure-testing our transportation plans, implementing COVID testing and response protocols, and more. In light of these challenges and after listening closely to your concerns, I am sharing the following 2020-21 school year calendar adjustments with you:
For those that filled out our Distance Learning Intent form, thank you. We know this decision depends on the timing, the state of infection, and the model under which we open. Everyone will be given the opportunity to add or remove students from the Distance Learning Intent List once we know what reopening will look like.
Here are the preliminary counts by grade:
KG - 15
01 - 16
02 - 31
03 - 29
04 - 36
05 - 24
06 - 39
07 - 29
08 - 42
09 - 26
10 - 21
11 - 33
12 - 18
For now we have an approximate count of students which will help immensely in shaping our instructional methods, busing, and the use of space in our schools and grounds.
Last year, due to the suddenness of the change-over from in-person learning to distance learning, we all experienced some inconsistencies and had to make adjustments. Our teachers have been reviewing their distance learning procedures from last year as well as taking input from students and parents and colleagues.
For the coming year we are retooling our distance learning approach, making it more structured and rigorous, with a focus on teaching new content instead of skills reinforcement. We are approaching distance learning as a means to improve instruction for the long term and not as a temporary stop-gap measure. Now that we have these preliminary counts we can revise and prepare for publication our distance learning instructional plan.
This will be a delicate balancing act mixing in-person with distance learning, with many variations depending on the grade level, content area, and individual student needs. It is a challenge North Smithfield accepts and will rise to, but it will require a considerable amount of coordination and cooperation among all of us.
PPE and Facilities
Our facilities department continues to improve our schools and classrooms and prepare for reopening and beyond:
We will keep you informed as information comes in and plans are finalized. Until then your continued patience and understanding is appreciated.
Michael St. Jean,
NSPS School Opening Website:
Rhode Island School Reopening FAQ
Rhode Island Response Protocols Playbook: Pre-K to 12:
Dear North Smithfield Families,
I wanted to update everyone on our very fluid reopening plans. Since my last letter to you, there have been several updates at the State level:
Distance Learning: Pre-Existing Medical, Quarantine, and Option
NSPS will offer a full Distance Learning option for students with pre-existing medical conditions and try to accommodate families who request the Distance Learning option. For this option, NSPS will require a Quarterly commitment to Distance Learning. Distance Learning will be provided to students who must temporarily quarantine.
Reopening Plan Revisions as 8/4/2020
Splitting between in-person, full or partial models, accommodating distance learning for medical needs, or as an option, is going to seriously stretch our teachers and staff and resources, but we will do our best to accommodate the community’s needs and support our students as best as we can.
Plan #1: Full In-Person
Plan #2: Partial In-Person
Plan #3: Limited In-Person
As always, thank you all for your patience, understanding, and input as we try and pin down this moving target.
Michael St. Jean,