Newtown Public Schools Transition To ‘Distance Learning’
Newtown Public Schools are set to transition to distance learning on Wednesday, March 18, thanks to approval from the State of Connecticut.
Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue wrote a message to Newtown Public Schools parents and staff on the evening of March 16 to officially announce the news.
The Superintendent’s Message
“On Wednesday, March 18, we will implement the Newtown Alternative Learning Plan... The document identifies the purpose of distance learning and provides a reasonable, structured framework for teaching and learning [kindergarten to twelfth grade], which utilizes both digital and print resources. Additional resources will be added for students to access, but we feel strongly that the current plan will support meaningful instruction during the school closure,” the superintendent wrote.
School leaders and staff “took great care in developing a plan that took into consideration what families might be going through at this difficult time,” the message continues. “We understand that the situation of staff, students, and families can change at any time. Please know that this plan will only work with a strong partnership between our staff and you, our students’ primary caregivers. Ongoing communication will be key and feel free to reach out when you have a question about the plan and its impact on your own child. If you feel you have difficulty in the home accessing digital materials, either through an issue with devices or lack of internet service, let us know immediately. You can reach us at Central Office at 203-426-7621.
“All of us are navigating uncharted territory while our primary goal is to do what is best for our students,” the message reads. “This plan is the first of its kind in Newtown, and we know that there may be ‘bumps’ along the way. While students should feel a sense of ownership and independence for accomplishing the work, your encouragement and guidance will greatly contribute to their success. Our staff will be there to support students in any way they can and all of you, as well.
“Be well, take care of each other, and thank you for your patience during what is an extremely challenging period for all families and staff,” the superintendent concluded.
Getting Through An Unprecedented Time ‘Together’
“I really hope that people think about each other and what is happening around the state and the globe. This is an unprecedented time and we need to get through this together,” Dr Rodrigue said on March 17.
With the Newtown Alternative Learning Plan’s approval, Dr Rodrigue said the learning being finished at home will count as school days.
“We’re not scrambling now. We are off and running; as of tomorrow each day will now count [as a school day] for students and faculty,” Dr Rodrigue said.
The decision to close schools and creating the Newtown Alternative Plan was not easy, Dr Rodrigue shared.
“This was not at all easy. We had to think through hundreds of scenarios to ensure we have captured every nuance that could occur both on the homefront and the teaching side,” the superintendent said.
For special education students, Dr Rodrigue said district staff worked hard to meet the needs of students “given the circumstances.”
Before the plan was implemented families were surveyed so the district would know which families needed technology support, either in terms of devices or access the internet. Devices were offered and, in some cases, “hotspots” were created for internet access.
Ahead of schools closing, teachers sent home packets with students. For kindergarten to fourth grade students, learning will be completed through “print media,” Dr Rodrigue explained. For students in fourth to twelfth grade, Google Classroom will be utilized to support the packets through learning activities from teachers, using recorded video, electronic messaging, and more. Dr Rodrigue said the district expects to send more packets with school work to district families soon.
“This wasn’t meant to be a distance learning plan that took it to a level that we haven’t gotten to yet in our own classrooms. It is reasonable, equitable, and it is structured enough for each level,” Dr Rodrigue said.
The superintendent stressed that the plan does not replace teachers in classrooms with students.
“This is multi-faceted, coordinated, and it is unprecedented,” Dr Rodrigue emphasized.
Feeding Those In Need
A food service for families in need — both for families already approved for free and reduced food prices and for those feeling extra pressure — is being provided through Whitsons Culinary Group, the district’s food service provider.
The food program will also begin on March 18. A schedule is set for families to pick up food at three district schools on certain days, at certain times. Dr Rodrigue said precautions are being taken: Whitsons Culinary Group is working under the “strictest precautionary measures.” A survey was sent home to district families to determine the full need for the food program.
“We feel confident that we have really thought through all of our plans, both in learning and food to do our part as a caring culture here in our school community,” Dr Rodrigue said.
A more in-depth look at the Newtown Alternative Learning Plan will be in the March 20 print edition of The Newtown Bee.