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Superintendent's Update - June 26, 2020

Dear Shrewsbury Families, Colleagues, & Community Members,

Please see the updates below and in this seven-minute video message that I recorded yesterday, which includes information about the state's new guidance for reopening schools in the fall, our district's work on equity and anti-racism, and our budget crisis.

Please note:

1) SHS Students Honored: At this past Wednesday's School Committee meeting, we honored several SHS students, including Speech & Debate state champions and this year's Senior Scholars.  Congratulations to these outstanding young people who have not only achieved much, but who have done so while representing their school and community with respect and class.

2) Equity Audit Report: A report on the equity audit that was conducted this spring was also presented to the School Committee on Wednesday.  You can find the equity audit report here.  This audit included interviews or focus groups with parents, staff, and students, school visits, and a review of various data regarding our district.  The audit’s findings raise a number of issues and important questions regarding how our district can provide a more equitable educational experience for all of our students and how we can ensure that all students and families feel accepted and respected regardless of their race, religion, socioeconomic status, or any other characteristic.  

3) Advancing Equity & Anti-Racism: These equity audit findings will be an important piece of our ongoing work to live up to our core values of equity and respect.  At Wednesday night’s meeting, I shared initial steps that our district will take to advance equity and anti-racism, which is critically important work, and I encourage you to read this planning memorandum outlining these steps. Over the coming weeks and months, our school district will be listening to our stakeholders’ perspectives on these issues and learning about how we might best address these issues through studying key research and literature.  We will also be establishing the Shrewsbury Public Schools Equity and Anti-Racism Coalition.  This coalition will consist of representatives from stakeholders including students, parents, community, and staff. If you are interested in being part of this coalition or otherwise helping with this work, please send a message to us at the email address equity@shrewsbury.k12.ma.us. Your message should indicate if you are interested in any particular goal areas outlined in the planning memo.

4) Fiscal Crisis: At Wednesday evening’s meeting, the School Committee enacted “phase one” of budget reductions for next year. It was with reluctance and disappointment that I recommended these cuts, as our students will lose out on important academic programming and supports, and also because many terrific SPS employees will either lose their job or will have their hours reduced as a result.  As a reminder, almost all of these $1.95 million of cuts were already recommended prior to when the Coronavirus pandemic began. Since that time, an additional multi-million dollar budget gap is projected due to the loss of state and local revenue due to the pandemic and the additional costs that we will incur to manage schools within a COVID-19 environment.  While we hope that some forms of state and/or federal funding will help close that gap, unless there is substantial alternative government funding or significant mitigation of next year’s costs, we will be faced with making additional cuts to personnel and programming. The School Committee and I truly hope we can find a way to move forward to next year without further personnel layoffs or furloughs that will compromise our educational program for students and create even more challenging working conditions for our staff.  I will keep you updated as we get more information and make decisions over the summer, leading up to the setting of the School Department budget at the Annual Town Meeting, which will now likely happen sometime in August. 

5) Colonial Fund Appeal: In the meantime, if you have the ability to help, I encourage you to make a gift to the Colonial Fund to help us with providing quality educational experiences for our students next year, which will be a critical time for learning in the aftermath of this year’s school closure.   I am extremely grateful that so far during this appeal we have had 150 donors make about $33,000 in gifts to the Colonial Fund, which will make a big difference for our students next year by supporting our district’s greatest needs.  To make a gift, go to https://schools.shrewsburyma.gov/future.   

6) In Case You Missed It – Reopening Schools in the Fall: Yesterday, I passed along information from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education regarding guidance for reopening schools for the next school year. Please click here to read this information and to submit any questions you have. We will be reviewing this state guidance as we continue our planning for the next school year. This is very complex work, which is compounded by our budget uncertainty, as I conveyed when I was interviewed yesterday for a report by WBUR on the state’s guidance on school reopening.

I hope you are able to enjoy this lovely summer weather, while continuing to follow public health and safety precautions that have resulted in Massachusetts having the lowest COVID-19 transmission rate in the nation and avoiding the community spread that is affecting other parts of our country.

Respectfully,

Joe Sawyer
Superintendent of Schools