II. District Vision and Guiding Principles for Reopening

In planning for the start of the 2020-2021 school year and the eventual reopening of our schools in the midst of the current public health crisis, our guiding values in making decisions that impact our students, families, and staff has not changed. The health and safety of our school communities has continued to be our priority. In addition, as we work through the enormous complexities of developing a back-to-school plan for this fall, we want to continue to be responsive to your concerns, while the same time trying to balance what we currently know about this virus and the risks it presents with what we know is best for children with regard to teaching and learning.

Our planning process has centered around four core guiding values: 

  • Health and Safety - prioritizing the health and welfare of our students, staff, and families through a process that takes into account the physical and mental health risks that Covid-19 and the necessary mitigation efforts present.
  • Equity - ensuring that students are properly supported by eliminating barriers to access and developing structures that prioritize our students with special needs, English learners, and our youngest learners, as well as students from groups disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and/or mitigation efforts.  
  • Student Progress - ensuring that students’ education and personal development remains on track through a high-quality and comprehensive instructional plan, along with strong social-emotional and mental health supports as well as opportunities for safe social interaction.
  • Healthy Process - developing a process that is transparent and inclusive through consistent and multiple opportunities for student, family, staff, and community engagement and input utilizing a variety of outreach methods -- many in multiple languages -- including surveys, Town Halls, weekly committee and/or team meetings, public comment, email, frequent written updates, and personal outreach. 

There are multiple key factors that we considered in developing a comprehensive plan for reopening, all of which are part of the infrastructure of our reopening plan. The complexity and unpredictability of this virus highlighted the importance of ensuring that all of these key factors were and continue to be part of our decision-making process. Those key factors include:

  • DESE Guidelines – to ensure alignment with state educational requirements
  • Medical and scientific evidence – to ensure that our efforts and decisions are informed by current medical and scientific evidence of the virus’ impact and trajectory
  • Local health guidance – to ensure alignment with local health and safety requirements and to understand the impact of the virus in our own community at any given time
  • Access to and processing speed of testing students and staff – to minimize risk of spread of the virus through proactive and early detection
  • Ventilation and filtration of our school buildings – to minimize risk of transmission by improving air flow and reducing use of high touch point areas
  • Emerging best practices – to understand what has worked and what hasn’t in other communities that have returned to in-school instruction
  • Unique context of our community – to ensure that our protocols are reflective of the particular risks of living and working in an incredibly dense community, and the impact of the virus on communities of color and low-income populations
  • Impact on our families and staff – to ensure that structures and supports are put in place to address evolving physical, social-emotional, and mental health needs as well as financial impacts of the virus
  • Need for adaptability – to provide continuity of learning based on changing conditions and the trajectory of the virus
  • Union considerations – our planning continues to be collaborative to minimize the impact that change in working conditions have on students and staff as we move into a new way of teaching and learning.

This has and will continue to be collaborative work. Throughout the process, our thinking and planning has been informed by the work of multiple committees as well as by feedback and input from students, staff, and families gathered through surveys, Town Halls, emails, and direct outreach, much of which was done in multiple languages. Several groups were established to address specific challenge areas in planning for a safe return to our schools and will continue to collaborate throughout the re-entry process. Those groups and their work include: 

  • City/District Reopening Task Force – working in partnership with the District Management Group, the Mayor’s Office, Somerville’s Health and Human Services Department, the Infrastructure and Asset Management Department, and the Somerville Department of Public Works to bring all of the components of the reopening planning work together in developing a comprehensive plan for the 2020-2021 school year
  • Environmental Health and Safety Committee – looking at health and cleaning protocols required for a safe return to our schools when conditions allow
  • School Principals and District Cabinet Teams – developing school-based plans that align with state educational requirements and local health guidelines and protocols to support students and staff within the current context
  • Grade Span Teams – to look at and provide feedback on guiding questions related to instruction, curriculum, and classroom learning
  • School Reopening Committees – to help operationalize school-specific plans prior to and throughout the school year

Ultimately, our vision is that this collective energy and passion of our school and broader communities lead to an engaging teaching and learning experience that values our wonderfully diverse community of learners and inspires creative approaches to how we teach and learn that we can continue to build upon beyond this crisis.

We’re Listening

At the beginning of June, the District administered surveys to families, staff, and students to understand the experience of remote learning during the school closure period in the spring. Approximately 1,400 family surveys were returned, representing over 2,200 SPS students. A second survey was administered at the beginning of July, focusing primarily on families’ preferences for returning to school in the fall. 

When asked, Assuming a modified school schedule with appropriate safety measures in place, how do you prefer your child/children return to school in the fall?, 30% selected a Hybrid model with alternating days of attendance. Forty-three percent selected some type of hybrid model (alternating days or alternating weeks). A similar percentage of families selected Fully In-Person (29%) and Fully Remote (27%). When combined, the data for those preferring hybrid or full in-person, suggests that over two-thirds of families prefer some in-person experience for their child. Reasons cited include parents’/guardian’s need to return to work, concerns about learning loss, and the social-emotional benefits of learning in person for their child.  

Although for safety reasons all students in Somerville Public Schools will begin the school year in a remote learning space, we continue to plan and prepare for the opportunity to return to in-person learning experiences in the Phased Hybrid Model and will move toward a phased transition as conditions allow. Survey results indicate there is a preference for Hybrid Learning, with the vast majority of parents preferring some in-person experience. Environmental, health, and safety conditions drove our decision to begin in remote learning. More information on the plan for Phased Reopening can be found later in this document.  

July Family Survey: Return to School Preferences

June Family Survey: Remote Learning

  • Seventy percent of families responded that helping their child at home during remote learning was stressful. Twenty-two percent of families responded that this stress was due to not knowing the topics their child was learning. 
  • A majority of parents/guardians reported that they would like to help more with their child’s learning at home (58%). Parents reported that instructions on the academic topics and how to help their child (43%), a website link with resources on how to help their child (29%), and a parent meeting on how to help their child (29%) would be beneficial. 
  • When asked to consider ways to improve their child’s learning during remote learning, families cited the following changes: more small group meetings (22%), more recorded lessons (17%), and work that is more relevant and interesting (17%).  
  • According to parent survey results, the most difficult parts of remote learning were balancing work and their child’s remote learning (31%), keeping track of child’s meetings, assignments, and passwords (29%), and their child’s lack of interest in the assignments (13%). 

Feedback from families has helped to guide our plan for the 2020-21 school year. Our models of learning continue to be developed with expressed needs from families central to the design. More information can be found in the Instructional section of this document.

June Family Survey: Social Emotional Health

  • Parents were asked to consider changes in their child’s behavior since schools closed. Respondents indicated that their child was more easily upset (21%), unable to focus (18%), or disinterested in activities (17%). Only 9% of respondents indicated that their children had not experienced any of these behavioral changes. 
  • Families report being closer to their children and spending more time together (39%), although 13% percent also report that remote learning during the closure has been harmful to their relationship with their child due to struggles over completing work and assignments. 
  • The biggest concerns cited by parents were their health or the health of their family (34%), job security (28%), and their child’s learning loss (14%).  

Social Emotional and mental health needs will be extremely important during the 2020-21 school year. We have increased support in these areas for students and staff. More detailed information can be found in the Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health Supports section of this document. 

We appreciate all of the feedback we have received thus far. We will continue to provide avenues for communication and community guidance. Additional survey results can be found on the SPS Back to School web page under the Surveys and Survey Results heading.