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Superintendent Offers A Look At Distance Learning



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Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue recently shared her gratitude for district parents, educators, staff, leadership team members, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Anne Uberti for making the Newtown Alternative Learning Plan work.

“I think they are doing an incredible job,” Dr Rodrigue said in an interview March 27.

The superintendent also updated the Board of Education about distance learning at its special meeting, held on March 26 at Newtown Municipal Center, with video communication for most board members.

“It’s evolving every day,” said Dr Rodrigue about the program. She added that the district is listening to parent and educator feedback.

The district is also continuing its efforts to support technology needs, she told the board. There is a plan to roll out programming on Chromebooks and iPads for kindergarten, first, and second graders shortly. Finding ways for students and teachers to bond virtually is also a current focus, according to Dr Rodrigue.

Following the meeting, Dr Rodrigue said there are areas where “reasonable improvements” could be made, after reflection.

The Newtown Alternative Learning Plan was implemented on March 18, and while Dr Rodrigue said Newtown was in front of the decision to move to distance learning compared to other districts in the state, the amount of time spent preparing for the transition was still much less than it would have been for any other normally implemented new platform. She said that while the district was at the forefront of the decision in the state, “even that was not enough time.”

District families, for instance, need more Chromebooks “than we even thought we would need,” Dr Rodrigue explained.

Meetings between colleagues have changed. Teachers and administrative team members have been “meeting” using Google Meet. Dr Rodrigue said the level of professional development taking place through online collaboration is “incredible.”

“Our teachers have stepped up beyond belief. They are true superstars in all of this and the same is true for all of the administrative team,” Dr Rodrigue said. She added that the administrative team members are at the helm, and they are helping to guide the district in this “new frontier of technology and distance learning.”

The day to day interactions have changed too. All school principals are “doing something” to introduce the day to students, according to Dr Rodrigue.

Newtown High School Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco and Reed Intermediate School Principal Dr Matt Correia have been sharing video messages.

Dr Correia’s message on March 31 included welcoming students, staff, and families to the “online version of morning announcements.” He reminded students to log in to their teacher’s Google Classrooms and e-mail teachers if they do not know what they are expected to complete.

“I also challenged you this week to try one of your specials teachers’ assignments,” Dr Correia said. “Our specials teachers have put a lot of great activities on their Google Classroom sites, and if you have time take a look at one of these activities. Your challenge is to try at least two of these this week.”

Reed’s “full value focus” of the month, Dr Correia continued in his message, is to “let go and move on.” He suggested making a commitment to being “a better you,” working harder, or changing an attitude. He also shares birthday messages for students in the videos daily, when possible.

In closing his March 31 message, Dr Correia said, “I hope you enjoy your time with your families, I hope everyone is well. Remember students: work hard, be good to yourselves and each other, and remember to show your Reed pride.”

In her March 31 video message, Dr Longobucco reminded those watching that it was “the tenth day of distance learning” and it marked “one week into the fourth quarter.”

“As we move through this distance learning process please make sure you know when your teachers are posting and when assignments are due,” Dr Longobucco said. “Many of your teachers have established set routines for each week. If you aren’t sure, reach out and ask them.”

She shared the video message from NHS’s library, which was clearly empty in the background of the footage, to highlight that the school’s library/media specialists “have been working hard updating their digital resources page.”

In each of her videos, Dr Longobucco shares a free resource, and the highlighted resource on March 31 was, “a reminder that we are fortunate at NHS to have a relationship with Kids in Crisis, who offers a 24-hour hotline for assistance. If you are ever in need, remember someone is always there to answer.”

“We’re all in this together and have a great day,” Dr Longobucco shared before ending her message.

Dr Rodrigue said seeing how each of the district principals “are trying to keep some sense of normalcy for students” through their morning communications is “really quite amazing.”

The superintendent has plans to highlight student achievements, and she is thinking about ways to celebrate students through virtual experiences, like a digital spirit day.

“It’s something we have to do, certainly for our health and well being,” Dr Rodrigue said, adding that the new learning strategy is not easy for students or parents. “There are things we can do to lift people’s spirits.”

Whether the students return to school for April 20 or later, Dr Rodrigue said she thinks distance learning will “teach us lots of lessons about ourselves, about our student learners, about our families, and about some of the things we take for granted.”

She said she knows that, together, the district will “get better at it.” Distance learning is not perfect, Dr Rodrigue added, and it is being implemented in the midst of a global health crisis.

“The staff is there behind the scenes to support each and every learner,” Dr Rodrigue offered. Later she added, “We are all in this together.”

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