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Dear West Hartford Community,
Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards”. With the 2020-2021 school year ending today, I wanted to thank all of you for your partnership in educating the children of West Hartford through a year unlike any other. When I think of all that we have learned, and adapted to, it is hard to believe that last September was only nine months ago. During this year, we had to create new schedules for your families to adjust to, along with protocols not just around masks, lunches, and visits, but often disruptions to the very ways in which we teach and interact with our kids. Meanwhile, we tracked over 4700 possible contacts for staff and students through contact tracing during this time, and dealt with the impacts of quarantines and positive cases. But today, on our final day, thanks to the impact of vaccines, our COVID dashboard shows zero positive cases, and zero people in quarantine throughout the district. It has certainly been a long haul.
We will be dealing with the impact of COVID on our society for a long time. This summer, we have invested heavily in summer school opportunities for our children. Next year, we will have increased supports in reading and math tutors, coaches, and smaller class sizes. The investment of our resources is focused on direct impacts to our children. We will also have more social workers and special education teachers to help meet the social emotional needs of our children and families. Meanwhile, we will continue to focus on social justice and investing in our equity work with our staff and the larger West Hartford community.
We are planning a return to school in September that will be more like previous years, where our mitigation steps will be less intrusive on our day to day learning. As we get closer to the school year, we will have a better idea from the Department of Public Health about which steps are absolutely necessary to ensure a safe school environment, while we also balance the need for normalcy and interaction. We will publish all of our plans on our website, and we will communicate them through our school newsletters. If our case counts remain as low as they have been, we will probably not need to have a COVID dashboard next year, or to send daily emails from Dr. Morrow about cases. I hope that the transparency with which we operated this year has allowed you to trust that you knew what was going on, while also protecting the private medical concerns of individuals.
It goes without saying that our teachers, custodians, nurses, paras, cafeteria workers, substitutes, teaching assistants, bus drivers, counselors, school psychologists, social workers and administrators deserve so much credit for educating our children this year. I also want to thank our Board of Education for their tireless support of our schools, and my Executive Team for their commitment to excellence. Finally, as superintendent, the support of West Hartford for your schools makes all the difference in the world, and our partnership on behalf of our children will continue to help to clear paths for our students, and make their futures even brighter. Take care, and have a great summer.
Dear West Hartford Community,
It has been a while since I have written to you with an update, and as you all know, things over the past six weeks have gotten dramatically better. Vaccines have led to a dramatic downturn in cases in our country, in West Hartford, and in our schools. As spring shifts to summer, that optimism that many of us felt as the calendar turned to 2021 is being realized as restaurants return to full capacity, people go back to work, and mask rules in many settings have been relaxed. This is all very good news, and is allowing us to plan for a return in the fall that will be much more normal than I would have thought possible a short time ago. As you know, the governor’s executive order still requires masks for all in school settings for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.
While we are busy planning for the end of school, and a summer filled with learning opportunities and activities in our various summer schools, we are also looking ahead to our return next fall. I am thrilled that 100% of our students will return to full time, in person learning this September. I look forward to welcoming all of our families back to school on the first day, and to the excitement of a new year filled with possibilities. As more and more people are vaccinated, it will allow us to loosen many of the mitigation strategies that we have had in place this year, and to get down to the business of education with fewer barriers. Our children do not just need our teachers and our buildings, they need each other.
Over the summer, the Department of Public Health will give more guidance for the fall. I have every reason to believe that things will continue to improve as even more people are vaccinated, including our younger students as vaccines become available to them. The single biggest factor in getting back to normal for all will be our vaccination rate. If you have not yet been vaccinated, or have children eligible that have not been vaccinated, we urge you to take part in this miracle of science and education that has already proven to be dramatically effective in stopping this pandemic. Getting the vaccine doesn’t just protect us, it protects those who might be immunocompromised for some other reason and cannot get the vaccine themselves. By stopping spread, we stop their exposure, and protect our neighbors, families, and friends.
One tangible difference that we have already made for next year is that we will not be operating under the block schedule at our secondary schools in the fall. With the changes that have happened recently, this becomes a layer of mitigation that is not necessary, and allows us to return to our traditional schedules. I know that some like block schedules, and would like to see us move towards them, but that would be done after study and discussion, and for academic reasons, not public health ones. As I said when I introduced the block a year ago, this move was never intended to be permanent.
I hope that the end of your school year goes well. This spring has been a welcome change from the previous fifteen months, as we are opening things up instead of shutting them down. As always, I appreciate your support, and your partnership in our West Hartford Public Schools.
Dear West Hartford Community,
A year ago this week, I wrote to you to share that we would be closing our schools due to the spread of coronavirus in Connecticut. This letter brings some much better news. I am thrilled to announce that on Wednesday, March 17, we will move out of hybrid and return our middle and high school students to daily in-person instruction. This change will not impact those who have elected RLE for the full school year. This has obviously been a long time coming, and I am happy that we will welcome our students back to our schools, not just to meet their academic needs, but so that they can be with their friends, and close out the last three months of this school year with some degree of normalcy.
Many factors have been taken into account in this decision. Not only have we seen a significant decline in our cases in town and in our schools, but our test positivity rate continues to fall. The warmer weather we will begin to see this week allows us to move outdoors in some instances, and increase our ventilation opportunities. These layers of mitigation strategies, combined with our commitment to mask wearing, become more important as we have more students in our classrooms. Much like the elementary schools since October, with everyone in school there cannot uniformly be six feet between student desks, and clearly, hallways will be more crowded. But we continue to learn about the virus, and with the decrease in cases, the most important metric, it makes our return to school possible. We will maintain the schedule that we have followed during the day, as we still would struggle to have lunches with so many students in the cafeteria. This schedule limits hallway passing and ends the day with our grab and go lunch period rather than having it in the middle of the day. I know that this is not ideal, but it is the best way for us to operate safely.
Tomorrow you will get more communication from your school principal about our return. We know that there will still be some positive cases, and that there will be instances where students are in quarantine. As such, we will continue to stream our classes, so if there is a unique need for someone to sign in from home, that is still possible. As an educator, however, it is my opinion that our children don’t just need their teachers, they need each other. Socialization is a crucial aspect of adolescence, and I hope that these three months offer some more connections than we have been able to have over the past year. Of course, we must be vigilant. Masks need to be worn. Though our vaccination efforts are really picking up steam, this won’t be possible for children for quite some time. We still need to be very cautious until we see further drops in cases.
I look forward to seeing all of our schools come to life even more this month, as we begin to feel some real optimism about the future. Thank you all for your patience, and your support of our schools. It has been a long year, and I hope that this summer there is time to fully reflect on all that we have lost, all that we have learned and accomplished, and to make concrete plans for our future. Please take care and welcome back.
Dear West Hartford Families,
I wanted to write to you before this long weekend to give a quick update of where we are, and what is ahead of us as we continue this school year that has been unlike any other. Thankfully, there is a lot of good news to report. Over the past three weeks, we have seen a continuous decline in the spread of the corona virus not just across the country, but here in West Hartford, and in our schools. Vaccine production is being ramped up, our most vulnerable populations are being inoculated with the promise of more supply available in March and April, and our school personnel will soon be added to those that are eligible. Finally, though it doesn’t look like it with snow on the ground, and more in the long range forecasts, our days are getting longer and soon we will see signs of spring, which will allow us more opportunities for outdoor learning and gathering as it warms. These are all reasons for hope.
I have received frequent communication recently that tends to take one of two themes, either that we need to open everything up and get out of hybrid at the secondary level immediately, or that with the news of new variants, that we have to tighten things up more than ever, and should have more virtual learning. As always, we are in continuous communication with the Department of Public Health regarding where we stand, and we continue to receive updated guidance. One thing that we do know is that the same effective mitigation strategies that we have used, like masking and cohorts, are also effective with the new variants. We will continue to monitor our case counts, and the spread, and will be ready to respond if we have a sudden shift to a dramatic increase of cases. Please remember, however, that the news is still good, as hospitalizations continue to decline. Even in the UK, where a new variant is dominant, the case count is currently down to 24 cases per 100,000 people (vs the U.S., where we are still at 31 cases per 100,000).
I have said since last summer that our goal is to get all of our students (other than those who have had to elect remote learning for the year) back in school every day, as elementary has been since October. We are on track to do this, and we are actively planning for it. I do not have a definite date yet- we will continue to monitor our decline in cases, as the amount of Covid in the community is in and of itself a key mitigation strategy. More people in school would inevitably mean more people in quarantine at times, and we have to accept the fact that for the remainder of this year, we will see some level of virus. As cases decline, however, this becomes more manageable. Many tell me we should do this right away, and that “The CDC and the Biden administration say we should reopen all schools”. The fact is that the vast majority of the country is trying to get to where West Hartford is right now, with students in full time in elementary, and coming for full weeks at a time in secondary. When the federal government talks about reopening schools, they are talking about the half of all American students that have not gone to school in person for one day all year. It is a national crisis that we will feel the effects of for years.
After this long weekend, we will be halfway through February. Assuming our current trends continue, I expect us to return to every day at our middle and high schools in March, or if the decline slows, perhaps April, when we can do it safely for our students and staff. We will still have modifications, and follow a daily schedule that we do now, as lunch is still a significant issue at these large schools. I expect streaming will continue, not just for those in quarantine, but for some whose situation might necessitate it. Our RLE will remain unchanged for those who elected that option for the year. If the variants cause a dramatic increase in cases we would not be able to move forward, but I hope that continued efforts to limit spread, as well as an increasing number of vaccines will help to control these variants before they get out of hand. With that said, there is reason for optimism, not just for the remainder of this year, but for the 2021-2022 school year, when we will have a lot of work to do, but we will see a return to a new normal. I hope that you and your families have a good break this weekend, please stay safe.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I write this to you at a point in time that I believe is a true crossroads. We have seen a large uptick of COVID cases in the community, which is inevitably reflected in our numbers of cases in schools, as you see nightly in our notifications from Dr. Morrow. At the same time, we have seen the approval of a COVID vaccine, with a rollout beginning shortly that portends better days that are ahead, and hope for a brighter 2021, with a resumption of a “new normal” that will hopefully begin soon. During the past few weeks, I am so thankful to our West Hartford Public Schools staff for keeping our schools running, and for your partnership, as families, in ensuring that our educational priorities can be met.
As we approach the end of 2020, these last few weeks and days of school have been very difficult. As our numbers increase, contact tracing becomes more arduous, and more burdensome, just in terms of volume. I am very thankful to the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District for their partnership. With the volume of cases that we see increasing, it necessitates that more people are in quarantine, and that our student and staff absences increase. As you all know from my previous communication, we have been committed to following the advice of our local health district and the state Department of Public Health in staying open. When the situation changes, as it did at Bugbee this week, we adjust our plans.
I am pleased that we have been able to stay in session throughout this year, and we will remain in session next week. However, for the three days before the December break, (Mon Dec 21st- Wed Dec 23rd) we will need to move to remote learning for those three days only. There are three major reasons for this decision. First are the staffing issues that are created by the numbers we have in quarantine, which we know will increase in the coming days. As hard as it is to cover those positions now, the three days before a break are almost always exceedingly difficult to find substitutes. Second, when we get notification of a positive test, it is important for us to contact trace immediately so that we can notify people and get them into quarantine. While our principals and nurses have done this on weekends, and even on Thanksgiving, to do it on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day presents great challenges, not just in making calls, but with getting in touch with people to give them the news that they should quarantine. FInally, with those three days being remote, it gives us two full weeks between in person school days so that when we resume on January 4, our dashboard and numbers will be able to be reset.
Our West Hartford Bloomfield Health District supports this decision, and many of our neighboring superintendents that have remained in school until now are doing the same. I wanted to give you all enough time to plan for those three days, as I know this will present challenges for many. I hope that this break will allow for some family time, an opportunity to reflect not just on what we have lost but on what we have learned in this most difficult year of 2020, and a chance, perhaps, for some optimism that things will improve as we turn the calendar to 2021. Please take care, and hold on for a while longer in making some sacrifices now to ensure a better 2021.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I wanted to reach out as I have received many questions over the past few days about our plans moving forward. To get right to the point, West Hartford Public Schools will remain in session, with secondary students in hybrid, elementary students fully in person, and our remote learners continuing as they are. This does not mean that the situation could not change, or that Governor Lamont and the Department of Public Health will not decide that the entire state should move to virtual learning. From what I know currently, however, it seems clear that our schools are some of the safest places in our community when it comes to spread. Still, ten weeks into the school year, we have not seen transmission within the schools, nor clusters of cases from school.
It is important as superintendent that I value and model continuous learning, obviously. To ignore what we have learned so far this school year about this disease, and stick to plans we made previously, when we had less information, would be wrong. I hope that I have built up enough credibility so that you all know that I take this pandemic very seriously, and the responsibility of our schools to help keep our community safe is real. What the Department of Public Health has said to us over the past few weeks is that contact tracing tells us that students are safer in our schools, wearing masks, than they are out in the community, especially at the younger grade levels. Transmission occurs in family and friend situations, in youth sports and the events around them, and when people are not wearing masks. It is now clear to DPH and to me that schools are not super spreaders, and we should plan accordingly. This week, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education and Commissioner of Public Health sent a joint letter to superintendents where they urged:
"We also know that in-person learning is benefiting our students’ social, emotional and physical well-being. The CSDE and DPH do not think that arbitrary, date-based closures of school are warranted at this time. We will continue to consult with and work with school districts, local health departments and medical advisors on individual decisions around closures, but are not recommending that districts proactively close for a prolonged period of time in anticipation of changes in disease prevalence. In-person education is too important for our children to disrupt their education further, unless and until local conditions specifically dictate the need to do so."
We have multiple calls weekly with the Department of Public Health and our West Hartford/Bloomfield Health District. If the situation forces us to change, or the advice shifts from the Department of Public Health, so will our plans. We know the benefits of in-person instruction, and I look forward to a time in 2021 when we can move on from hybrid, and have all schools open fully, with all students attending, other than those who have chosen remote learning. I was heartened by Dr. Scott Gottlieb in his call with Governor Lamont yesterday, when he said “we are in the eighth inning”. I know that the time right now is frightening, and challenging, but there is finally some light ahead, with therapeutics, vaccines, and improved treatments.
It is so important over Thanksgiving that we all do our part to ensure that we do not exacerbate the spread, so that we can get through these difficult months. Please continue to refer to our Covid Dashboard for the latest guidance and case reporting, as it is updated each weekday and also includes information and guidance on out-of-state travel, quarantining, and testing.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I hope that this week finds you well, though we have certainly all been sobered by the increasing numbers of COVID cases both in our state, and here in town. As West Hartford was moved into “orange status” yesterday, I was part of a call with the state Department of Public Health and municipal leaders, in addition to our regular weekly call with superintendents. I want to get right to the point of the matter. With the increasing case numbers and the pure density and size of our middle and high schools, they will be staying in hybrid (with significant enhancements, which I will explain further) for the foreseeable future. At the elementary levels, however, we will remain in person. The Department of Public Health and the state epidemiologists on the call were clear on how much has been learned about just how effective mitigation efforts are in preventing spread of the disease, and that their guidance has shifted from the summer. The fact is, here and across the state, we are not seeing spread in elementary schools. Positive results that come in are the result of community contact and spread, not through schools. As Governor Lamont said yesterday, “in-classroom time is proving to be a low risk activity”. Recent studies presented in NPR, the New York Times, and The Atlantic have stressed that based on what we have learned since August, both here and in other parts of the world, schools do not seem to be super spreaders.
I have met with area superintendents who are in the same situation as we are, and the vast majority, including our neighbors, are following similar plans. Yesterday, I met with our principals, and many spoke passionately of the social and emotional growth that has been seen since all the elementary students came back. And, the simple fact is, remote learning is more effective at the higher levels than it is for our youngest students.
At the secondary level, we want to increase our in class time, and streaming capabilities, while maintaining that weekly afternoon connection for those students who are not physically in school. We have been in constant discussions with many districts to learn from each other, and adopt elements of plans that are working well. Many superintendents are using the end of the first quarter to make some changes to their plans. In West Hartford, middle schools will now be in session until 1:30 PM every day, with grab and go lunch at the end of the day, while high schools will attend until 1:00 PM with grab and go lunch at dismissal. Students at home will sign in and need to be in class all day as these classes are streamed, and attendance will be taken, and then they will sign in again (at 1:30 high school, 2:00 middle school) for individual small group classes with their teachers. I know that you will have many questions, and your principals will communicate more about this new school day schedule next week. We will shift to this Hybrid 2.0 schedule on Wednesday, November 11. For our remote learners, there will be some schedule shifts also, as we share some teachers between our remote and in school buildings.
I have had one goal since the beginning of this pandemic, which is to make decisions using the best data available, while remaining flexible. We know a lot more than we did in the summer, and since the start of school in September. There are warning signs ahead, and we will listen to our Department of Public Health both at the state level and our local health district as we move forward. If we have to change, we will, but my goal, for planning purposes, is to get to the Thanksgiving holiday, and then look at the time between Thanksgiving and December break and make decisions for that time frame. I know that we all need consistency for planning purposes, while also being able to react to changing situations, and evidence. Spikes in hospital capacity or evidence of spread in schools could change our plans. Lastly, please make sure that your children are safe this Halloween, that we all make good choices, and that we all do our part to bring down our numbers.
Dear West Hartford Community-
In this very long year, it has been the norm that when you see an email from me, I would not be surprised if you wonder what bad news is coming. Today, however, I finally have good news to share. This week’s report from the state on COVID-19 spread in West Hartford showed a significant decline, to 5 cases per 100,000, with our test positivity rate also dropping by a full point, as you can see on our COVID-19 Dashboard. I met this morning with the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health Department, and we agree that we can move on from the pause that we announced last week, and plan for returning our elementary students shortly. We want to confirm our numbers with the state, and watch next week, but it is our expectation that we will return at the elementary level on Wednesday, October 21st, with all students, as some now call our “purple cohort”. Starting on Wednesday makes for a half day reentry, and allows us some time to prepare and verify our numbers. Your building principals will send schedules and procedures in communication to you next week. There will be no shift for those who elected remote learning, however there will be minor changes to some of the specials offered to accommodate the shared staffing and changes in teacher schedules.
At the secondary level, we are working on both changes to our hybrid model, and plans on a possible return, either of which could happen right around Election Day. More information and plans will follow as we examine secondary trends around the state. We continue to see no evidence of spread in schools, and I am very happy that the community spread increase we saw has abated. It is difficult to make any decisions on any one day of data, or even a weekly aggregate, so the state will be shifting to two-week rolling averages, according to the Department of Public Health.
All of the data that many ask about are shared on our district website. We will continue to notify and post numbers of those who tested positive, and those in quarantine. This is not required by the state, and it is, in fact, unique. I want everyone to understand the metrics that guide our decision making, and to be aware of what is happening in our community. Working in partnership, it remains my hope that West Hartford comes out of 2020 as a more closely knit community, driven by our better angels to lift each other up rather than tearing us apart.
As we enter this three day weekend, I want to thank our whole staff for the work they have done to keep our children healthy and learning. Our nurses, teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals, security officers, cafeteria workers, secretaries and principals all have played a role in the safe start to our year. I hope that you all have a restful weekend, and can enjoy a few days of autumn in Connecticut.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I had planned to write a very different letter to you today, confirming our move back to full in school instruction at the elementary level on October 13. While the case positivity rate in the state had increased, West Hartford’s had been stable. In just the past two days, however, we saw some concerning trends in our numbers of cases in town, and this morning’s report from the State Department of Public Health contained more bad news. Due to the rising numbers of COVID 19 in West Hartford and some adjoining communities, I met with the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health District and the decision was made to not have all of our students return to in-school instruction on the 13th. For the time being, we will remain in hybrid instruction. We will monitor our case numbers, and if the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health District sees a decline in cases, we can revisit returning all students to school (other than those who elected our RLE program) in a few weeks.
I know that this decision will create difficulties for families in finding childcare options. I know the frustration that many of our parents of students with special education needs feel concerning their child’s goals and progress. I know many of you will be angry, frustrated, and disappointed, and feel let down by this outcome. I assure you that until this morning’s data, we were still planning on returning, and the communication was already written. I also promised, however, that we would follow the science, listen to the experts at the Health Department, and adjust our plans if appropriate. The safety of our children, our staff, and our community at large has been my priority throughout this pandemic. For those of you that are angry with me, I understand, and I know I will hear from you, but I do not apologize for doing what I believe is right.
Some will be interested in the metrics used to make this decision by me and the Health District. This chart on our Covid Dashboard explains it better. Basically, our COVID case rate per 100,000, which is the leading indicator by town, has doubled in the past seven days to 8.9. There were 39 new positive cases this week, and our test positivity rate is 2.3%, all higher than the state and Hartford County averages. Other large communities have seen a similar increase this week, and while this is still in low risk as defined by the state, we are right on the edge of moderate risk. Pausing our plans allows us to determine if this increase is a one time spike, or a new trend in the number of cases. Rapidity of increase is a part of the metrics that the state Department of Public Health asks us to factor in our decisions.
There is some good news. Although we have seen positive cases in school, we still have not had any spread within our buildings. Our mitigation strategies are working. Masks work! The hybrid plan is yet another mitigation strategy that allows for better distancing, and fewer contacts. We will be redoubling our efforts to connect with those students who are struggling, and to make our hybrid plans better. We have learned a lot in the past month, and we will continue to improve. More communication on that will follow in the coming days and weeks. We are at a difficult time in our nation’s history, and if we choose to work together, to lift each other up, we will get through it, and be stronger, as a community and as a country. Thank you for your support.
With the news of three positive cases in the past week at our two high schools, (two at Hall, one at Conard), I felt it appropriate to reach out and provide answers to some questions I have been getting. While we knew all along that we would have positive cases in our schools, it is still disconcerting to all of us to see any of our community infected. We are following the strategies we put in place with our reopening plan over the summer, and the good news from all of this is that so far, none of the cases had a nexus within our schools. Across the state, according to the Department of Public Health yesterday, they have not found cases spreading in schools, rather individuals are contracting the virus in out of school settings. This tells us, once again, that we need everyone’s help in order to protect our community. Your children need to wear their masks with friends, both inside and outside of schools. Please continue to limit gatherings, not just to protect your child, but to protect others. Finally, it is critically important to go through our checklist every day, and not allow your child to go to school if they are experiencing symptoms.
Some have asked why we have not closed schools for “deep cleaning”? The reason is that our schools go through our deep cleaning protocol every day after school- it is why our schools are closed to visitors, and why clubs are not meeting after school, to provide the time necessary. If we have to close, it would be due to a cluster, or because we do not have time to work with the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health District to perform all the contact tracing that is necessary. Many asked why we were going week on/ week off instead of two days a week, like other districts when in hybrid? The reason was so that an onset of symptoms would possibly happen during an “off” week for students- this has, in fact happened in two of our three situations, thereby limiting the need for quarantining others.
The protocol for who goes in quarantine, be they student or staff, is based on exposure: Were they within six feet for fifteen minutes or more? Were they around the person who is positive without masks? Seating charts are vital, and they have made our contact tracing go much quicker than otherwise. If there is doubt as to a distance or time, we err on the side of caution.
Throughout this time, I have pledged open and direct communication with the community. We update our dashboard at noon every day to reflect our current realities. We will communicate any positives to the entire community, even though it certainly creates anxiety in many. The most important metric we analyze for is if the disease is spreading in the schools. I will not allow us to stay open if we are an incubator that is leading to spikes within our community. With that said, however, there is still no indication of spread in our schools, the community numbers are still low overall, and we are still working towards a return of all to school, first for all elementary schools, on October 13. If the situation changes, we will adjust, and we monitor it daily.
We all appreciate your trust, your patience, and your support. While this time is not an easy one to live in, with constant stressors and fears, we must be examples of resilience to our children. I am deeply thankful to our teachers and staff who are coming in every day and providing a happy and nurturing environment to our children, while knowing that reading, math, and other academic subjects barely scratch the surface of what we are truly teaching.
Good afternoon, I hope that you are safe and have power. In this most difficult year, this storm has put another roadblock in all of our lives. The vast majority of our schools and offices are still without power. I was hoping to update the public on our plans during a meeting of the Board of Education Tuesday night, but that was also a casualty of the storm. Since my last message, many other Connecticut districts have announced they are opening under a hybrid plan, and more will follow in the days ahead. Historically, this weekend is when we would be mailing class lists. We have one month until we open, and much to do. In the weeks ahead, you will get schedules and communications from your home schools more directly related to your child’s year, and I will continue to communicate on any large scale district decisions or plans.
The hybrid opening is our path to a full reopening. There is nobody who wants our schools to reopen for all students more than I do. I believe, as I stated in my letter Friday, that the safest way to reopen our schools is through a hybrid plan that allows all to return to start the year, and get our operations up and running. I need not tell anyone who has read our large plan what a monumental task this is. We have to provide distancing measures, rework our airflow and HVAC systems, teach children of all ages to wear masks, rework our schedules and class lists, develop new traffic patterns, provide a safe eating environment for 9300 students, decide how to provide those meals, and assure almost 1500 teachers, administrators, office staff, custodians, tutors, paraprofessionals, teachers assistants and nurses that we are doing this in the safest way possible. We also need to meet the emotional needs of so many who will find the return to be deeply stressful. Hopefully, through a staggered start, as has been the model throughout the world where school reopening has been successful, the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year can be as smooth as possible under the circumstances.
The hybrid reduces the number of students in school at one time. Here are the basics. We would split the student population into two groups (by last name), the Red Group and the Blue Group. Students with last names beginning with the letters A-K are assigned to the Red Group; those with last names beginning with letters L-Z are assigned to the Blue Group. Families and households with students who may have different last names will be assigned together to help with cohorting. I am aware that many want to choose their group, be it for social, transportation, or neighborhood reasons, but it just is not feasible. While the Red Group is attending school, the Blue Group will access learning online. Groups will alternate between in-school and online learning one week at a time. The first week of school will be split in order to acclimate students to the schedule and attend to beginning of the year tasks.
We are planning for a full return to school. By Oct 9th, we will have evaluated the health metrics in West Hartford and Connecticut overall. It is our desire and plan that at that point we would reintegrate elementary schools first, with all PreK-5 students returning the short week of 10/13-10/16. Assuming all goes well, we would then look to bring back middle and high schools to a full-reopening in late October. For elementary parents with child care concerns, this will limit the total number of days any child is home to eleven or twelve total days. Please remember, however, that these plans are written on paper, not stone. We will have to react to the situation as it is, and I think we all realize that there could be times this year when we are in hybrid, times when we are in school, and times when we are all virtual. For those of you who chose to opt into the at home learning option, now that we have all of the names, we will be creating class lists and communicating with you directly.
Please refer to our website for more detailed information on our hybrid plan to include sample schedules by grade level. We will also review this plan at the Board of Education meeting that will be rescheduled for next week, pending power restoration. Parents and Guardians of students with Individualized Education Plans or 504 plans may have additional questions regarding services and special considerations for programming. A more detailed description of services, by level or program, is found here.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I write to you today to take you into my thought process about how we should reopen our schools in September. I have tried since March to be clear and direct in my communication, but the number one statement I have made to all of our principals is that we will be honest, we will not “manage” or “spin” our statements, and, if the situation changes, so will we. Up until a Monday press conference, all superintendents had been instructed clearly that the state will be fully reopening schools, and any local alterations to that plan would not be approved. We operated accordingly to that point, but with the new guidance stressing not just case prevalence, but school density, it is now up to me and the Board of Education to make a decision about public health. The good news is that I believe deeply in West Hartford’s plans, I am thankful to all of the medical professionals that have assisted us, and I know the care, detail, and thought that went into each option.
It is important to start with the statement that I believe that education is an essential service, and that the number one priority at all levels of government should have been the resumption of school in the United States. Sadly, that is not the reality, and there are many parts of our country where the numbers of cases dictate that schools cannot open safely, and will be virtual. In Connecticut, we are more fortunate, with low test positivity rates, though I am concerned about recent increases in the number of young people, especially 13-18 year olds that have tested positive. Many of you have written to me that regular testing of students and staff should be a key part in the resumption of schools, as it has been in our professional sports leagues, and as the CDC recommended from the beginning. Sadly, the lack of availability of testing for our nation’s children, and the costs attached to each test make this impossible, at least for the near future. So, one of the most important strategies in mitigation is not available to us. I believe strongly in our other layers of mitigation efforts, however. In our plan, we detailed how masks, HVAC efforts, creative scheduling, keeping students in pods, and distancing as much as possible all work together to create a safer environment.
One of the elephants in the room when we discuss our efforts to return to all students full time is the number of teachers and other employees who have pre-existing conditions. As I write this, we have seventy teachers who have contacted HR to say they do not believe that they can come back to work in school if all students return this fall. I am hesitant to share this information in that some will choose to demonize these professionals. I believe that all teachers, myself included, are essential workers, but I also understand the deep concerns held by so many for their own health, or that of a loved one. If this list grows, which it almost surely will before September, it makes it nearly impossible for us to operate with all students returning, all of the time.
Many have asked about our hybrid plan, and I want to lay out the benefits and weaknesses. The biggest weakness is that not all students are in school full time, which is our ultimate goal. This creates difficulties for our working parents, who have to find child care. The benefit of the plan that we have put forward, an A/B plan by week, is that you know ahead of time the week-long periods where you will not need child care for the majority of the day. Another superior part of our plan is that by making every day a Wednesday schedule, we can go to school five days a week, have extra time to clean, and students that are on an “off week” still have daily small group instruction with their teachers every afternoon. Finally, everyone is back in school, though not yet full time, and by sending half of the students each week, we can guarantee desks six feet apart, less density on buses, and further distancing measures.
I have to be able to look every parent, staff member, and resident of this community in the eye and know that I am doing all that I can to keep them safe. I will present to the Board of Education on August 4th our intention to start the year in our A/B hybrid plan, ease into the year as safely as possible, and to re-evaluate the situation in West Hartford and our state in October. People that chose to opt out into virtual learning still can. If the knowledge that we are going with our hybrid model makes you rethink your choice for this year, please contact your school. More details on our plan, including sample schedules, are online on our Reopening Schools 2020 website. More information will follow as we try to work with the community and outside agencies to aid in child care concerns.
Dear West Hartford Community,
Over the past few weeks, I have communicated with you some general thoughts on what we hoped to have in place during the coming school year, with the goal of returning to our physical school classrooms in the fall. After delving into the state’s guide to reopening, (CT Dept of Education) we can now provide some more detailed plans for the fall. The purpose of sending you this is not just to be informative; we need your feedback to move forward with our blueprint. At the end of the information, there is a link where we will ask you to share your family’s plans for the fall, by July 17.
It is important to note that we must be flexible, and be able to react to future conditions. I am thrilled to see so many people in Connecticut wearing their masks in public, and to know that the sacrifices made in the spring were not in vain. Connecticut is currently a success story in flattening the curve, and it is so important to do all that we can this summer so that we can return to school this fall.
Some have asked why I support reopening our schools if the “safest” outcome would be to continue in online learning. I believe we can mitigate risks, while acknowledging that we can never fully eliminate them, and the benefits from a return to school will be dramatic for so many children who have been deeply impacted by our closure. I was encouraged by the guidance sent last week by the American Academy of Pediatrics in their policy paper on the need to reopen America’s Public Schools (American Academy of Pediatrics), and it has helped to inform our planning. Of particular interest was the following paragraph:
Policy makers must also consider the mounting evidence regarding COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including the role they may play in transmission of the infection. SARS-CoV-2 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents than other common respiratory viruses, such as influenza, on which much of the current guidance regarding school closures is based. Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.
Our plan is grounded in the belief that education is an essential service to our children and our community. It rests on flexibility and a few guiding principles
- student and community safety;
- equitable educational opportunities for all students through on-site school instruction;
- high quality alternatives for remote (online) learning coupled with family choice regarding on-site school instruction or remote learning;
- integration of a full range of services - inclusive of social emotional programming to support student needs during reintegration and beyond.
A more detailed blueprint will be available later in July, but I am happy to share some specifics here:
Dear West Hartford Community,
I wanted to send a quick update that on a conference call with the Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona today, as well as during Governor Lamont’s press conference this afternoon, it was made clear that we will be able to return to school this fall, in person. In last week’s message, I detailed what I hoped that West Hartford would be able to do, pending the state’s guidance. I am happy to report that I believe from everything we heard today that we can go forward with these plans.
Next week, the state will release the formal document detailing state Department of Education guidelines. We will be spending the next couple of weeks marrying that guidance with the preparations that we have already been doing. Our committees will be meeting to vet different aspects of our plan, which we will also share with the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health District. We will present it to the Board of Education and communicate it to you in July so that entire school community can plan for the coming school year.
The 2020-2021 school year will be incredibly important for all students after what we have gone through over the past few months with the pandemic and school closures. Emotionally, academically, and socially, our children’s needs will be many. Connecticut’s response to the pandemic has us well positioned for the fall, but it is important to remain vigilant. The state will also be requesting options in case of spikes in the virus, so we will have a hybrid plan and an all-virtual distance learning plan that could be implemented if needed. Our plan will include an on-line option for families who wish to keep children home for a variety of reasons, as I promised before, and our communication in July will include information on how and when people will need to decide this by.
There is much to do, but I am excited to welcome our teachers, students, and staff back in our buildings in late August. I appreciate your patience and support throughout this process, and I will be communicating with you again with detailed plans in the coming weeks.
I wanted to reach out to all of you, as we close this school year that has been unlike any other, to thank you for your partnership, your support, and the commitment to education that is the hallmark of West Hartford. Monday night, I was fortunate to stand in my yard and wave to graduates (including my daughter) as they drove by in cars that they had decorated for the occasion. I was incredibly moved, and touched, by the number of kids who, on their night, were saying thank you. As I speak to people who turned out for the parades across town, it has become clear to me that this was more than just an opportunity to congratulate our seniors. It was our chance to come together as a community, as families, and express hope for the future not just of these young adults, but for all of us. I found it to be a well needed dose of optimism in these exceptionally trying times.
I know that many of you are looking ahead to the break from school for your families, and perhaps an easing of the pressures that we have been under. My team and I have already been spending a lot of time planning for the next school year, which starts in under 80 days. There is a lot of work to do, with many unknowns. What I am sure of is that the return to school buildings will look and feel very different. We have put together different committees to address a variety of needs, from medical and safety, to social and emotional, to community outreach, as well as curriculum and working conditions. These committees will share out their work, and I will continue to provide information and updates both in written communications, and in meetings with the PTC (Parent-Teacher Council, with representatives from every school).
I know that you all want to know what the plan is for the 2020-2021 school year. If there is not a strict guideline from the state in terms of what the schedule must be, and it is left up to individual districts, I plan to be open and welcoming our students back. There will of course be some dramatic changes, but it is so important, for everyone, to get our students back in school- this has been made clear to me by so many who have written to me, or stopped me on my walks through town, and I genuinely appreciate the feedback. For some, for health reasons, it might not be your choice to send your child back. We will not leave you behind. We will have virtual options that both the state and the district are working on, and more details will follow.
The governor has signaled that he and the education department will be issuing guidelines in the next couple of weeks. With time ticking away, it is vital that we have time to get ready. We will send out more detailed plans as we get into July, and we have the further guidance from the state. I am attaching a video where I discuss some of these possible changes, because I want you all to get an idea of what we are thinking. I urge you to remember, however, that these are thoughts, and the situation could change, either by the governor’s announcements, or health conditions, with feedback from the Department of Public Health. Nothing is yet written in stone. I hope that the beginning of summer brings joy to your families, and again, I am deeply thankful for your partnership.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I hope that this note finds you and your family healthy and in good spirits as we enter our third month of quarantine and on-line classes. With the final month of school upon us, it is important that the remainder of the year is productive for your children and manageable for you as a family. I know that there are some frustrations, and for every email I get requesting us to slow down and reduce the workload or abbreviate the school year, I get another asking for the schools to provide more face to face time and ramp up. We continue to try to strike a balance in meeting the essential learning needs of every child while also recognizing the different realities families across West Hartford face. Education at any time requires a partnership between parents and the school, so please do not hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher, or building administrators, to explain any unique situations or circumstances involving your family so that we can help provide for your child’s needs.
There are a few important updates that I need to share with you. First off, and most importantly, we continue to operate our Grab and Go program successfully, and provide thousands of breakfasts and lunches every week. We are also continuing to partner with other local food programs to ensure proper nutrition for students facing food insecurity. In addition, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) will implement a Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer Program (P-EBT). Later this month, students who are certified to receive free or reduced-price school meals will automatically receive an EBT debit card that contains the cash value of one school breakfast and lunch ($5.70 per day per child) for each day during the COVID-19 school closure. Please visit the WHPS Grab and Go Distribution webpage for a program pamphlet and more information about the P-EBT Program.
Last week, we surveyed our seniors and parents about possible options for graduation for the class of 2020. We have had a committee looking at different possibilities for some time, and the size of our schools present some challenges. If you just had the graduates, two guests each, and faculty, we are talking about over twelve hundred people per ceremony for Conard and Hall. The Department of Public Health has been clear that nothing like this could be possible through June, and that the remainder of the summer is extremely unlikely, even with distancing measures. With that being said, I know first-hand what these seniors are missing out on during these three months, as I am the father to a daughter graduating from Conard. When coupled with the uncertainty for future months, and what college plans will be like for August, these graduates deserve some closure. By the end of next week, Conard and Hall will announce graduation plans that we hope people will be excited about, even if they are not what they had pictured for so many years. Safety will be our biggest priority, while also celebrating over 700 of West Hartford’s finest young adults, who deserve recognition for their achievements.
Which brings us to planning for next year. I know that you all have many questions about what August and September is going to look like- the only thing I know is that it is going to be very different. When I am asked what we are planning for, my honest response is “everything”. We will need guidance from the state, as West Hartford Public Schools does not have an epidemiologist on staff, and from the Department of Public Health about what is advisable, and acceptable. The recent cases of Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory System that have arisen in multiple states is certainly cause for concern, and if you have children, you should know what to look for. The NYC Department of Health has developed a fact sheet for PIMS: https://www1.nyc.gov/
Much of the future is unknown, and we have about three months to prepare. In the coming weeks, we will be asking about things like buses to and from school. If you and your family qualify for buses, but you know that this fall you will be driving your children instead, we will need to know so that we can accurately plan around the number of students per bus, and ensure that those children that need a bus in order to get to school have access to one. I will continue to update you as decisions are made, as will your building principals. I feel very fortunate to be in my position, not just because I have a job, but because I get to serve West Hartford, a community that has been so good to me and my family. I appreciate your partnership, your patience, and your resilience.
Dear West Hartford Community-
As the calendar turns to May, we have lived through a very long April full of nervous and sleepless nights, mourning the loss of loved ones, and trying to maintain a balance of work/home/school that has never been more difficult. I am also deeply aware and thankful for the many acts of kindness, camaraderie, and deep sacrifice made by so many to help keep us safe, and to care for those who are suffering. The isolation is difficult, and we all hope that, with each passing day, we come closer to a time somewhere in the future that will allow us to gather as a community in a way that is safe for all.
There is some good news. Connecticut, it appears at this point, has begun to flatten the curve, and it seems like the measures that we enacted have allowed us to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed in a way that we saw in Italy. Some have written to me with the opinion that this has not been that bad, or that the disease is “paranoia”, or has been overblown, and schools should not have closed. I will speak directly to you not out of malice, but from experience; you are wrong. I have written condolences pretty much daily to staff members and families in town that have lost parents and grandparents, and those are just the ones I know about. If you or your family and friends have not been touched by this disease, consider yourself very, very fortunate.
I will be writing to all of you next week about when schools will reopen, as this is in the purview of the governor, and he will be announcing soon. As always, no matter the date given, West Hartford will operate in a manner that does all that we can to keep our children safe. The fact is, at some point we will reopen, and schools will need to be in session in order for our families to get back to work. The economic crisis is also real, and I feel for all of you that have suffered financially during this time, and are worried about your future, and that of your children. I promise that our school community will be here for you, as partners, and we understand the urgency and the need to take care of each other now more than ever. I hesitate to even mention that nationally, and in Connecticut, there have been reports about harassment both online and in person towards people of Asian descent. It saddens and enrages me that at a time when we need to come together, there are some that still seek division and blame. I am thankful that I have not had any cases of this reported to me here in West Hartford, and it is important to share with our children that we ALL stand together in this time of struggle.
I cannot tell you exactly what school will look like yet- we are examining every possibility, and planning and preparation has begun in earnest for creative ways to keep our students, and our staff, safe. Every option that we can consider is on the table for the eventual reopening, and we know the massive challenge ahead of us. I will continue to communicate our plans with you when we have them, and I hope that we will continue to earn your trust. I am attaching at the end of this a request from the state to gather your thoughts about the eventual reopening plans. Please take part, and share your opinions.
The Commissioner of Education has enlisted the help of the six Regional Education Service Centers (RESC) to form teams of Connecticut education stakeholders for the purpose of gathering, analyzing, and sharing the issues, concerns, and ideas related to the process of reopening schools. An online tool will be used to make the gathering of feedback more efficient and to reflect all the different regions and constituent groups across the state. The tool, "ThoughtExchange," is entirely confidential and anonymous to use. Your participation and feedback are essential to the process and necessary for our State leaders to consider as decisions are made about reopening our schools. I encourage everyone to use the link below to share your thoughts and help evaluate the critical issues.
Thought Exchange Link: https://my.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I hope that this message finds you well, and that you are all staying safe. As we have seen the number of confirmed cases in our community climb, I also know of the increase in anxiety and fear. One glimmer of hope over the past couple of days has been that it seems as if our mitigation attempts are beginning to work to flatten the curve. I hope that this is a trend, and that we can all continue to stay safe and stay home long enough in order for us to begin to move past the immediate effects of this virus.
The biggest single piece of news that I have to share is that Governor Lamont today extended until May 20 our time out of school. He was careful to point out that this did not mean that we would definitely be back in school at that point, and that the chance remains that we will not be able to get back to school until the fall. I hope with all my heart that we can get everyone back into our schools, but once again, hope is not a strategy. We continue to plan for a variety of possible realities for the remainder of the school year.
After we get back from break, we will continue with our Distance Learning model, and we hope to continue to improve. In just three weeks, much of what we are doing has become “the new normal”, and teachers are learning from each other new strategies to ease connection, and our technological know-how has grown dramatically. I am excited for when we return to our brick and mortar schools to see how all of this new professional development for our teachers changes the way our classrooms look and feel. I think we have all seen some new possibilities that are intriguing, in the middle of this difficult time.
I also want to thank all of you for your support. I know that some would have preferred that there were no April break. I am hoping that by having it now, if we can return to school in June, we will have traded five digital days for days that we can all be together, in school. It is important during this next week that we stay vigilant, and stay home. It is easy to let down our guard, and think that the worst might be behind us. It is more important than ever that we continue to stay apart, so that we can all be back together sooner rather than later.
After the break, we will communicate more about grading policies, we will be discussing with seniors graduation possibilities, and we will tweak some delivery models. I hope that if you are celebrating holidays that they are joyful, and that the family time you have is marked by love and affection. During the break, we will continue to provide meals, and as always, I hope that we can continue to take care of each other. Thank you all for your patience and support.
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/