Superintendent's Update - January 18, 2021

January 18, 2021

Dear Shrewsbury Families, Colleagues, & Community Members,

I hope this message finds you and your families well on this sunny Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

In reflecting on Dr. King's legacy and how it influences America's schools, his famous quote about education resonates today as much as ever: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education."  In alignment with this aspiration for true education, our schools continue to take steps to build our students' critical thinking skills and to help them develop their character in accordance with the universal value of respect for all, as we also continue the crucial work of advancing our core value of equity.  This included devoting the afternoon of this past Friday's professional development day to further learning about how our district can increase equity through creating a culture of belonging, with a keynote presentation by Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson, who also presented to our staff last October.  This coming week, our District Leadership Team will continue its learning through the next session of a course being tailored for us by educators from Harvard and MIT called Becoming a More Equitable Educator, which we intend to provide as a resource to our staff more widely after this initial trial run.  Our district's Equity and Anti-Racism Coalition met during the fall semester, but unfortunately its last two meetings had to be postponed due to the need to attend to urgent issues related to our work in navigating the pandemic, and we will be re-starting its work in the near future.  As I communicated to the community last June, we must be committed to this work over time, and I am confident that we are putting the building blocks in place to make lasting, positive change for our students, staff, and school communities.   

I also want to pass along information regarding adjustments our schools will be implementing to increase "live" learning time in grades K-12 in our hybrid model over the next two weeks.  In order to respond to new requirements issued by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, students who are in the hybrid model will be provided with more synchronous, live connections via Zoom on days when they are learning from home.  The specific plans, most of which will go into effect on Monday, January 25, will differ for elementary schools, Sherwood Middle School, Oak Middle School, and SHS, and details will be provided to families in communications from school principals and teachers in advance.  Broadly, students in grades K-6 will be able to have more time connecting via Zoom with teachers both through class meetings and academic times on days they are at home, while students in grades 7-12 who are at home will be connecting with each of their classes via Zoom for 15 minutes at the start of each scheduled period.  We believe that these adjustments to the hybrid model will enhance student engagement and provide more structure on asynchronous days, while further strengthening connections between students and educators.  We will also report on these adjustments in our update to the School Committee at their meeting this coming Wednesday evening at 7:00pm.

I hope you are finding ways to enjoy this holiday weekend despite the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.  The weekly SPS COVID-19 Data Dashboard will be updated tomorrow, and it will show that last week's cases among students and staff were fewer than the prior week (25 vs. 33); I urge you to continue to follow all public health protocols to prevent the spread of the virus and to further reduce our cases.  Also, please be reminded that any students or staff who chose to travel outside of Massachusetts for leisure over the long weekend must follow Governor Baker's travel order for testing or quarantine before returning to school in person.  

Thank you again for all of your efforts to support the education of our students during these trying times.  Let's continue to support one another through the current challenges as we await better days ahead.


Joe Sawyer
Superintendent of Schools

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