- March 31, 2020
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- March 12, 2020
- March 10, 2020
- March 6, 2020
- February 27, 2020
As we enter a new month, I wanted to update you on a few different topics. I have attached a video at the end of this message, as some things might be easier to understand if I explain them verbally, especially regarding high school grading moving to a semester grade. I will include the pertinent details here, as this message is translated into twenty four different languages for our West Hartford families. I have often wondered over the past couple of years if the internet has been a net positive or a negative for society. This situation has certainly eliminated all doubts for me, as our ability to maintain online learning and messaging for our families in their home language is truly a miracle of modern technology. I know that for some families, engaging your children in this style of education is especially difficult because of unique learning challenges, and I am grateful for your partnership as we try to find solutions to help us to try and meet every student’s needs, as much as possible. This system will not be perfect, and I appreciate everyone’s patience.
Here are the basics of the information that I am sharing.
- In the first two and a half weeks of students being at home, we distributed over 15,000 meals to our kids.
- We have now loaned out over 1500 digital devices so that our students can access the educational resources we have been utilizing.
- We distributed over 1000 paper learning packets as we got our technology up and running.
- We have also worked with outside organizations to deliver backpacks of groceries to families who cope with food insecurity.
- We have collected all of our masks, gloves, and any PPE to distribute from our schools to our first responders and our health professionals in the community.
- At the high schools, there will not be a third quarter grading period. We will still have progress reports that you can access through the Powerschool parent portal, but after much research and discussion, we felt that the best thing for our students would be to give one semester grade, rather than a third and fourth quarter grade. With the uncertainty of when or if we will be back in the physical settings of our schools this year, and uncertainty around missing work, we wanted to be sure that no student would be negatively impacted by rushing to get grades out. I had a virtual meeting with many Admissions Directors from colleges and universities across the country this past Friday, and asked them if there would be any issues with that. The reply was universal that this is not an issue, and that they only use semester grades, as we do when establishing GPA. If any senior needed an official copy of their third quarter grades for any reason, we can provide a letter from Conard or Hall with what would be the third quarter grade, as well as any explanation.
- April Spring Recess will go on as planned, however April 28, which was to be a day off due to the Connecticut presidential primaries, which have since been postponed, will now be a school day.
- The last day of school will now be on Thursday, June 18. Graduation remains as scheduled, on Monday, June 15.
Over the next few weeks, we will see much pain and suffering in our community, our state, and our nation due to this pandemic. Please take care, stay home, and stay safe.
Dear West Hartford Families,
By now, you have received communication from your school’s principal regarding the resumption of school (be it in another form) on this coming Monday, March 23, 2020. I do not know when our physical buildings will reopen to welcome our staff and students again; that decision is with the governor, for now. We will be in session, in some form or another, until mid-June, and the official last day of school will be announced in the coming days. Our “virtual” schools that open Monday will have the same wonderful educators who, I can tell you from numerous google conversations this week, are thrilled to be able to reconnect with you and your children so soon. I believe that the dedication, planning and positive spirit of so many will make the best out of an immensely difficult situation.
I know that this has been a long week for all of us. We are all worried about the health and safety of loved ones, nervous for our friends and family members that have lost their jobs, and fearful of what might be in front of us. To get through this time, I have adopted a today’s problem vs. items to think about tomorrow strategy so that we could focus on what is essential, right now, and get to work. I want to share with you how much has been done in just five days this week because you should know just how many people have worked tirelessly in support of our community. .
We have delivered over 5,000 meals to our children, and the numbers have risen at each of our Grab and Go sites as the week has gone on. We have loaned out over 1300 chrome books over the past two days to families so that they have the essential tools for this new style of learning. Finally, yesterday and today over 1000 staff members have gone through intensive professional development on distance learning, and are ready to go on Monday morning to do all that we can to meet the needs of your children.
I am more proud tonight to be the superintendent of West Hartford Public Schools than I ever have been. There are simply too many people to thank who have gone above and beyond over the past ten days, but I would be remiss if I did not share a few, for they are often unsung heroes. Thank you to our custodial staff for cleaning, disinfecting and scrubbing our buildings thoroughly. Thank you to our IT staff, who broke town computer carts, and prepared thousands of devices to go out to our kids. Thanks to our nutrition services staff, and many volunteers, who ensured our children would be fed. Thanks to our nurses, who took care of so many as they always do, and tracked down question after question to ensure our health. Now, I hope that we can help you to return to just a bit of normalcy, or at least our new normal.
My executive team, our principals and administrators, and our teachers and staff are ready. We know that as we get things up and running, they will not always go perfectly. With that said, our platform, and our plan, will be followed by districts across our state and our country as they hear about it. In a time of despair, I hope that the West Hartford Public Schools can provide some hope to our community, as an example of what can happen when we pull together. Thank you for your trust, your patience, and your continued partnership. We are all in this together.
Hello all, today you should have received an email and a phone call from your school's principal with a link that takes you to information about our online educational resources, our technology loaner program schedule, and details on internet service providers. As this week goes on, more and more of the information that you will be getting will be about school and learning, and the new normal. As such, I will be shifting much of the communication to our principals. I will still provide details on new facts, and will provide overall updates about our situation. Thank you for your time, patience, and support.
Good afternoon all.
I want to thank you again for your support, and the efforts of so many to help to flatten the curve. I was heartened by the cooperation of our region’s governors, including Ned Lamont, in announcing today more strict closures of bars and restaurants (other than takeout/delivery), gyms and movie theaters, and gatherings of more than fifty people. I know, however, that this affects the livelihood of so many friends and neighbors, and people that we will need to help. With so much sacrifice happening by so many, I will admit that I was crestfallen last night when I saw postings on Instagram and other digital platforms of some of our kids taking selfies at parties and in basements, in large groups, with parents aware of this. I wrote on Friday that it was not my place to tell people how to parent, and while that might still be true, please let me remind you again that this behavior is putting our kids, our families, and our community at risk. Let’s not pretend that we know of every child or family’s underlying health risks, as some may as yet be undiagnosed. It is time to be selfless, not selfish. I know that we would all like things to be the way they were, but that is not our reality, and it will not be for a while. Many Americans are being asked to sacrifice in a way now that we have not had to since World War Two or the Great Depression. For others, the sacrifice amounts to staying home. It is not too much to ask.
What brightened my mood today was our grab and go program. With one day’s lead time, we were able to provide breakfast and lunch bags to our kids, and we will be doing that on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (multiple meals are included at each pickup) for as long as this lasts. I am so very thankful to all who had a hand in making sure that the basic needs were met for so many of our kids. Please remember those others in our community that are not enrolled in our schools, and donate food or money to West Hartford Food Pantry or money to The West Hartford Town that Cares Rather than hoarding, it is time for us to be sharing.
The next challenge we face is in distributing enough devices, and partnering with internet providers, so that all of our students can begin to receive the best education that we can put forward. Our principals and administrators were in today to continue our plans for this rollout. Tomorrow, we will send out details on where and when to go to sign out computer devices for your children who are in need of one. Also this week, you will be receiving communications from your building principals on our remote learning plans. Teachers will have virtual in service days, and by the start of next week, I expect that school will resume, in a digital format. It will not be perfect, but I have no doubt, because of the excellence, professionalism and caring of our teachers, that it will be second to none in the state.
These are trying times, and they are scary. For the past two weeks, I have learned much more than I ever thought I would about viruses, public health, and pandemics. During this time, one of my favorite resources, since I watched him testify before Congress, has been Peter Hotez, the Dean and Chief of the Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine. Yesterday, I found out that he graduated from Hall High School in 1976, and that Mike Rollins, our Department Supervisor for Science at Hall and King Philip, taught him AP Biology when Dr. Hotez was a sophomore. I take great pride in the products of West Hartford Public Schools, and it is heartening to know that one of them is helping to lead the fight against this disease, as you can see here https://www.nbcnews.com/
At the end of work today, all of us will be working remotely, other than when we are needed in the Emergency Operations Center. Our phone lines will be forwarded, so please forgive any glitches or delays in response. Please watch your email, as next steps will be coming out this week in our planning and rollout.
Dear West Hartford Community,
As this whirlwind week comes to an end, I want to thank you for your patience and support as we navigate the new reality created by this pandemic. Now is the time for us to come together, as a community, a state, and a country, in an effort to not just lift each other up, but to all do our part in an effort to “flatten the curve”, and mitigate the impact of COVID19 as much as possible, from this day forward. It is not my job to tell anyone how to parent, but we took the extreme step to close our schools, as did colleges and universities, in an effort to stop or slow the spread. This does no good if people host large parties, or if our kids are hanging out in large groups, and going out together in these groups, increasing the chances that they are spreading this virus to those who can least afford to get it. Please help us, as a society, by sending the message that this is serious, and what used to be the norm just can’t be for the foreseeable future.
As I knew I would, I received many questions yesterday, from “what about April vacation”, to “why aren’t we doing distance learning right away, I hear other districts are”, and “So, we will definitely open in two weeks, right?” I try in my communication to say exactly what I know, and to not get into conjecture, because our situation changes not just every day, but every minute. We have been planning for this diligently, and I assure you that my team is not caught flat footed in any way. As I said, we were hoping for the best, but hope is not a strategy. Rather than dump all information at once, we will be sharing plans in regular communication, as the situation merits. Please remember- we have not even missed one day of school yet. I do not know when we will be back in school- to be blunt, two weeks is an absolute best case scenario. So far, this pandemic has not followed best case scenarios, and you should know that I am operating under the assumption that we will be in school until June 30.
As for what people are calling “distance learning”, let me be clear- we have been meeting with our teachers union leadership, and they have been great partners to us. Distance learning does not mean sending home a packet of word searches, and the state has strict rules about what it takes to receive a waiver to engage in this. Early next week, Paul Vicinus and Gretchen Nelson will send a communication that details some of our education plans, including for those children that have unique needs.
The best news that I have is that starting Monday, WHPS Nutrition Services will be providing grab and go meals to our students and sharing community food program information with families! These Herculean efforts will result in many of our kids and families most basic needs being met. Please see the attached letter or follow the link for WHPS Grab & Go Meals and Community Food Programs to get details, as well as to see how you can help.
Now it is the weekend, and it is time for all of us to exhale. My central office team and I will be working throughout, as will our administrative leadership and office staff at our schools, or remotely if necessary at some point. Our schools will be undergoing cleaning in accordance with CDC recommendations, and will be closed, so please call your school before you go there to see if it is appropriate. I think it is important that this weekend, we spend time with our families and absorb our new temporary reality. The Moore family will begin (re-watching for my wife and I) The West Wing with our kids. If you are looking for a good book, this site lists many open source materials, which are free https://www.google.com/amp/s/
Click the following newsletter link for West Hartford School Meals & Food Programs. To translate the newsletter into your preferred language, scroll down to the bottom and click on 'Translate' to select language.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I have promised that I would provide open, honest and direct communication with you during this pandemic, and that I would try to lead our schools in a way that takes the needs of all students into account. I am writing you today to let you know that West Hartford Public Schools will be suspending operations at the end of this week, and will be closed starting Monday, March 16, 2020. We will hopefully return to regular operations in two weeks, but that decision will depend on the events at the time.
I do not take this step lightly. I know that some would have me wait until there is a positive COVID 19 test in West Hartford, but the simple reality is that there have been, at this point in time, well under 100 tests given in the state of Connecticut. When the state epidemiologist Matthew Cartter says “If you have a fever and a cough and you are in the southwestern part of the state you should assume that you have COVID 19”, I believe that it is the time to act. This pandemic does not stop at borders, be they of towns or nations. I have been in regular contact with Aimee Krauss, the Director of Health for the West Hartford- Bloomfield Health District, and she agrees with this decision.
I know that this action brings up many questions, and I wanted to announce it today so that our families had tomorrow and the weekend to make further plans for work and childcare arrangements. One good thing is that we have an influx of college kids coming home to West Hartford that are ready to be child care providers. We raised great young adults in this community, and we are fortunate to have them here to step up in our community’s time of need. If you choose not to send your child to school tomorrow, that is your right as a parent, but we will be up and operational.
West Hartford is a community with 27% of our families meeting the requirements for free and reduced lunch, as well as many others who are food insecure. These neighbors weigh heavily on my mind as I make this decision, and Roszena Haskins, our Director of Diversity Advancement, will oversee our efforts and partnerships with local organizations to make sure that we are doing our part to ensure that every member of our community is taken care of.
Obviously, in the coming days you will want to monitor your emails and our website as I communicate about these and other topics that we have spent the past two weeks preparing for. As of now, these days will be made up so we can expect to be in school until the end of June. Paul Vicinus, my Assistant Superintendent, is overseeing our academic response, and should the need arise due to an extended closure, we have plans for distance learning that we will share as time passes.
I want to thank Deb Polun, our Board of Education Chair and all of the members of the Board for their support. I have also spoken with Mayor Cantor and Town Manager Matt Hart, and their agreement in doing everything we can to make the people of West Hartford safe is greatly appreciated.
This is a difficult time, but we will get through it if we stick together, lift each other up, and take care of our families, friends and neighbors. I hope that we can follow the example of St. Louis in the pandemic of 1918, where the actions of leaders saved the lives of many, as detailed here https://www.history.com/news/
I greatly appreciate your support, and I am so proud to serve as your superintendent. If you have further questions, please go to the web page on the town website devoted to this topic, or on this WHPS page, https://www.whps.org/covid-19.
Dear West Hartford Community,
It has been a very busy weekend and beginning of the week for us, as Connecticut has had its first confirmed cases of COVID19, though West Hartford does still not have any confirmed cases. As was expected once we heard about the spread of COVID19, we are now moving away from policies of containment towards those of mitigation. Last evening, my team, as well as Mayor Cantor, Town Manager Matt Hart and the Directors of town services took part in a statewide conference call with the Governor and many state commissioners, including the Departments of Education and Public Health to update us on the current situation in our state and to plan for the future.
It is easy to tell people to wash their hands, and to engage in efforts to raise awareness and preparation when things seem more hypothetical. Now, however, we get to the point where we are forced into decisions that are so difficult because they impact the lives of our children, our families, and our communities in negative ways. I became a teacher because I so loved working with teenagers, and seeing them become their best selves, and be celebrated not just in the classroom, but on our stages, in our gyms and fields, and at academic competitions. Sadly, in the effort to minimize the risk to public health and our entire community, including our parents, grandparents, and those with compromised immune systems, West Hartford Public Schools will host no public events with over one hundred people present, per the strong recommendation of the State Department of Public Health and the governor’s office. The CIAC has also announced that all winter sports tournaments are cancelled.
Many people will be angry when they hear this, and good people can disagree about what is appropriate. I am sure that there will be a community or two in our state that goes on with events, against the advice of the Department of Public Health. I am not a doctor, and for me to dismiss the recommendations of epidemiologists and the state Department of Public Health would be the height of hubris. I also have a good friend who is a superintendent in Washington state, in an area that is currently being hit very hard by this, and we are trying to learn from places that are already making some even more difficult decisions.
For each performance that was scheduled, be it Hall’s Pops and Jazz, Conard’s musical, Artbeat, Spring concerts, we will be discussing with our faculty and staff who oversee them the best way to move forward. This could mean postponements with the hope that in a couple of months we are in a better place, or live streaming events without an audience, or working with our partners at WHCTV to broadcast events live and online. More will come about each specific event from the schools and those that run the events. Field trips have also been cancelled, as we can control the environment in our schools, our cleaning practices, and the availability of soap and towels in our bathrooms, but I cannot guarantee that at other venues. The state of Connecticut is also cancelling events with over one hundred people at universities and at meetings and conferences.
There is some good news that is emerging. It seems that COVID19 is least harmful to kids, has mild effects on them, and, even when diagnosed with it, they seem to recover quite well. Please remember, however, that we have many children in our schools, as well as staff members, with compromised immune systems that we need to take care of. Also, children can still be carriers, and can pass it on to our older relatives for whom this disease is particularly dangerous. Please continue to wash your hands, and to stress the importance of hand washing with your families. At parent conferences when you meet with your child’s teacher, don’t think that they are rude when they waive hello instead of shaking hands. We are just trying to engage in and teach safe practices.
It is my great hope that in June, everyone thinks we made mistakes in being cautious. I hope that West Hartford never has a case of this. Decisions that we are making now, with the advice of health professionals, are being done to keep our kids and families safe. I do not enjoy anything about this, and hope that you understand our intentions. Thank you for your support, and if you have further questions, please go to the web page on the town website devoted to this topic, or the WHPS page, https://www.whps.org/covid-19
I wanted to reach out to all in the West Hartford Public Schools community to keep you informed about our current planning, and efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID 19. It is important that we all take this time to prepare for the possibility of disruptions caused by the spread of this disease, as we have seen this week here in the United States. At this time, there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus 19 in Connecticut or in West Hartford, but we have seen cases in our neighboring states. We continue to take precautionary measures, however, including
• We are encouraging our students at all grade levels with posters, notes in bathrooms and near sinks, and lessons in our elementary schools to wash their hands thoroughly for twenty seconds with soap and water.
• Our custodians are thoroughly wiping down and cleaning our buildings every night, and during the day to stem the spread of health risks.
• We are making available to our teachers disinfectant solutions and spray bottles that they can use to wipe down areas throughout the day in their classrooms.
• We are tracking student absences daily, looking for any spikes in any schools or neighborhoods.
In addition to these, we have also made some decisions about travel, as you might have heard. We have cancelled our overseas trips for high school students in April, and any travel to areas where emergency situations have been declared. I know that this decision was not uniformly popular, and that it presents financial loss for some of our families. I truly hate to do it. I know the great educational value of travel, as I took students on seven different trips to Europe as a teacher. It would be irresponsible of me, however, to allow travel at this point in a situation that is changing so rapidly. We will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds in regards to planned field trips or large gatherings in the coming weeks and months.
As I urged in my message last week, please help us to stay fact based in our sharing of information, and try not to instill panic, especially in our children. We have created a new page on our district website with resources, facts, and links to important messaging from the state Department of Public Health and the CDC in order to dispel myths and as a resource for any questions. Please bookmark this page: http://whps.org/covid-19
I will continue to use our school messenger email system to stay in touch with all of you and to provide updates. Many residents of West Hartford, however, are not in our system, and the town might be reaching out to them also. The West Hartford Community Advisory Notification System provides town government with the ability to quickly provide residents with information about local emergency situations and other important community notifications. Residents can sign up to receive notifications on their home, cell or business phone, email, text messages, and hearing impaired receiving devices. The West Hartford Community Advisory Notification System will be one of the ways that the town will provide emergency information about the COVID 19 virus should the need arise and we would like to have has many residents as possible on the system. Please share this information with relatives and neighbors who live in West Hartford but do not have children in our schools.
It is also important for residents to sign up for the CT Alert system. CT Alert is the statewide system that the State of Connecticut administers to notify residents about widespread emergencies. A drawback to this system is that it only calls numbers that are listed in the white or yellow pages. It does not notify residents by cellphone or email unless they have signed up and provided a cellphone number or an email address. Residents must enter these numbers into the system.
Here are the links to the West Harford Community Advisory Notification System and also the CT Alerts.
I believe that it is always important to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. My team has worked tirelessly over the past two weeks to cover all the bases, and many questions remain, with a lot of what ifs being thought about, including scenarios involving closings, cancellations, and distance learning. I will continue to be open and thorough in my communication to all of you, and will provide you with regular updates. Thank you all for your support.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I am writing to share with you that I and the members of my leadership team continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, as more cases are confirmed in the United States and in other countries. As you know, based on the news conferences held by both the governor and the president yesterday, this is a rapidly developing and changing situation affecting many countries. Right now, there are no confirmed cases in West Hartford, nor in the state of Connecticut.
We believe that now is the best time to prepare for a wide variety of contingencies. This week I have been in touch with our town leadership, the West Hartford Bloomfield Public Health District, our legislators, and officials at the state Department of Education as we plan our next steps. Today, I met with all of our principals and updated them on our current situation and future planning. Right now, we are advising all teachers and our families to continue operating as we do during any flu season. If you are sick, please stay home; maybe instead of shaking hands we can just wave “hi” to each other; and please WASH YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY. This is the best way to stay healthy no matter what germs are going around. We also have our custodians on deep cleaning and wipe downs of surfaces at night to stop the spread of flu. In fact, the good news is that over the last couple of weeks we have seen a decline in absences from what has been a pretty typical flu season.
With the risk of a pandemic, we know we must do more. Information from the West Hartford Bloomfield Health District, which is participating in daily briefings with the Center for Disease Control and Connecticut Department of Public Health, can be found on the town’s website, http://www.westhartfordct.gov/
There are still decisions to be made, some sooner than others. We do have two overseas trips planned for high school students in April, and we are in current negotiations with those tour operators to try and protect the investments made by families. More information will be shared with those students and families next week, when we have more information from the tour companies. We have ordered more cleaning supplies that will be available not just for our custodial staff but to all staff to help wipe down surfaces at different times during the day. We also keep track of all absences, and visits to our nurses to track any spikes or dips in illnesses.
I will do my best to keep you informed in the coming days and weeks, and hopefully this will just be a long preparation drill that is not put into action. Please monitor your children for any anxiety about the topic, and talk to them if they have questions. Suggestions for how to talk to your children can be found here https://store.samhsa.gov/
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that is spreading across the United States and the world. The general risk of infection remains low and our first priority, as always, is the health and safety of our children, and our community. We continue to monitor this situation very closely and we are in daily contact with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District and health officials for the State of Connecticut. We will continue to update this site as new information is received.
Our custodial staff has been and will continue to provide extra cleaning of frequently touched surfaces in our schools. We ask that you discuss these precautionary steps with your child(ren) as well:
Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then through the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Important Links for WHPS Families
Please monitor your children for any anxiety about the topic, and talk to them if they have questions.