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March 23, 2020: Continuity of Education
Acting Superintendent Paine
Monday, March 23, 2020

March 23, 2020 Message From Acting Superintendent Paine _____________________________________________________________________

Continuity of Education

By far, the hardest part of making decisions in this new environment is the speed with which they must be made. It is my nature when affecting people in ways I cannot know to proceed cautiously and leave room for change and adjustment. In this case, the decisions we are making as a school district affect thousands—not as a group, but as individual children, teens, and adults. Many of you are feeling untethered and need answers and stability at a time when caution and flexibility must be our guideposts. We are working to build a new community of teaching and learning, and at first there will be a need to stop often, step back, assess, adjust if necessary, and continue on. These are and always have been the constants amid change. So, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on the past week in the way of a timeline and then see where we are now.

Sunday, March 15:  We announced the first school closure, which we said (but perhaps didn’t believe) would be for two weeks. At that time, the decision was that, for those initial two weeks, we would not try to provide structured remote learning because, “Families will need to respond in ways that make sense for them and that may not be known to us. We hope to ease stress on families as they adjust to this situation.” I said that we would reassess within the closure window, and when the time was right, update you on possible remote learning plans. 

Tuesday. March 17: We announced that teachers would begin contributing to educational resources that students could access if they had the means. To begin that process, we provided Learning Resources and Activities for Students and Families.

Wednesday, March 18: After Governor Mills recommended a 30-day cessation of classroom instruction, administrators and I met again to discuss next steps. In consideration of all the different human conditions the pandemic has wrought among families and employees, we settled on a plan to ask each teacher to connect with their students by whatever means they had been using and to begin the process of providing them with educational content. 

Friday, March 21: In conjunction with area superintendents and in response to the Governor’s recommendation, we announced that schools would be closed until at least April 27. The admin team and I met to discuss how to proceed with our continuity of education plan. We decided that we would continue an approach of teachers connecting with students and providing educational content to support their learning, while at the same time addressing early high priorities. For the time being, those priorities are

    • Getting the class of 2020 to graduation;
    • Getting bridge-year classes(middle school to high school) over the bridge;
    • Providing teachers with guidance in communicating using technology;
    • Providing non-digital educational content to our grade 5 and under children; and
    • Safely allowing students and staff to collect belongings from school.

As we progress through our district-wide plan for continuity of education in a remote environment, each building principal is working out details with their teachers and communicating with families and students. If you haven’t already, you will hear from them soon.

From where I stand, I have asked that a few guidelines be honored, and others have taken shape in the process. These include but are not limited to

    • Remember that some students and families are in mourning and sad right now, just as we are.
    • The most important thing is connecting with families and making sure all children are included.
    • Grades and scores do not necessarily facilitate learning, but feedback and guidance do.
    • Too much digital content, especially in a new platform, can overwhelm families.
    • Structures and schedules must be flexible to allow for access and engagement.

My main priority in this moment is that we are responsive and not intrusive. For that reason, we have given teachers the autonomy to find the way forward that works best for their students and families. Parents and guardians, please give your child’s teachers a little time to reconnect and work out a routine, and then let them know how it’s going. And please remember that the closures of schools and daycare centers and workplaces have had a profound effect on teachers too.

I am grateful for the teachers who have responded with dedication and enthusiasm for connecting with their students. I am grateful for the administrators who have been working through all of this with me, and confident in their deep devotion to their learning communities. I am grateful to all RSU 2 employees for their patience, initiative, and strength. And I am grateful to those in the community who have generously reached out with encouragement and support in these trying times. I may not have responded to all of you yet, but I’ve heard you.

In this new, weird world we're in, tensions can run high. Communication, flexibility, and care for one another will go a long way toward creating an experience we will all look back on with amazement and pride for what we accomplished together in the face of adversity.

Sending you best wishes.

Mary ________________________________________________________________________

Update to my March 21 message on the topic of providing meals during the pandemic-driven school closure. I have added an UPDATE to that message, which I have copied below.

Some have asked why RSU 2 cannot deliver food by bus to children as other districts do. The reason is that, in our district, too few bus routes meet the current eligibility criteria, which is the same criteria used to approve meal sites. I’m happy to tell you that I have been informed that our state and federal agencies are working to give districts such as ours more flexibility in delivering food, so that families do not have to travel to the meal sites.