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MSAD #51 Mid-Winter Update

posted Feb 3, 2021, 12:28 PM by Fran Prentice   [ updated Feb 3, 2021, 12:28 PM ]

MSAD #51 Mid-Winter Update
 

Silver Linings for 2021

Happy Groundhog Day! Given all the snow blowing around, I think the groundhog has retreated for a warm bed and more rest. 

As 2021 unfolds, we are faced with many of the same issues that arose in 2020.  A surging pandemic, national politics, and growing concerns about mental health did not go away when the clock struck midnight on January 1.  One thing that has changed, though, is our understanding and resilience in the wake of such monumental shifts impacting our daily lives, the lives of our children, families, friends, and neighbors.  Though the days and weeks can be tough at times, there are so many things-many of which we often take for granted-that have taken a new place and meaning in our lives.  Here are some examples…

  • The importance of family and our homes. Learning and working from home has taken on new meaning for most of us.
  • The importance of slowing down, of reflecting, of appreciating the little things in life.  Life doesn’t always have to be complex.   
  • The amount of students who have expressed that they look forward to being in-person at school each week, especially for older students.  There has been a renewal for many students as to their need for in-person learning.
  • That everyone is struggling with something during these times.  Finding ways to affirm others can go a long way in someone’s life.
  • Maine’s beautiful outdoors. It provides solace in hard times, a way to get fresh air, and a safe place to spend time no matter what season it is.

I have caught myself worrying how we are going to “recover” kids’ academic skills after the pandemic, and would venture to guess that many educators and parents have worried about the same thing.  It is natural for us to want to “fix” a problem, even when it is out of our control.  It is natural and human for us to seek solutions when the world is not operating at capacity. A colleague shared an article on this topic and I thought it was worth including in this update:

Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need to be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post-pandemic world.”    - Teresa Snuder, former superintendent in New York

If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it has taught us to find value in daily life and routines.  That our expectations can be lowered just a little bit, and all will still be OK.  That we are tougher than we thought, our children are tougher than we thought, and our community is tougher than any of us thought.  That the pandemic will be over and we will all move on, and be stronger for it.

 

Personal Well-Being (Mental Health)

I think there is little disagreement that this school year has been challenging for many students, staff, and parents with a rise in anxiety and depression, along with increased signs of helplessness and loneliness.   Additionally, the increase in screen time and the accompanying fatigue it causes are real areas for concern.  Thankfully, we have noticed more active connections between home and school this year in the area of student mental health, resulting in a layered approach to identifying students who may need more support from school counselors and social workers.  Attendance during in-person days and grades are key variables in following up with students who may be struggling.  Positive areas have been smaller class sizes when in-person, more individual attention available to students when in-person, and an overall reduction in behavioral issues when compared to typical years.

Here are some ways MSAD #51 has been responding to mental health during the pandemic:

  • Representatives of the district’s social workers and school counselors provided an update to the Board on February 1 about mental health needs and concerns.  
  • A team of staff has sought external assistance on mental health from NAMI, the state’s foremost organization for preventing suicide, as a result of the unexpected loss of five parents over the last two years.  NAMI will be attending a future Board meeting to discuss this topic further.
  • A joint meeting between MSAD #51 and the Towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth is being held to discuss coordination of efforts for responding to mental health issues in the community.
  • All MSAD #51 staff are being re-trained on suicide prevention in January and February.
  • School counselors and social workers are checking in on students whose grades have dropped, especially if this is a change from typical academic performance.
  • Teaming up with the Greely PTO to offer a Parent University session on February 11:  “Parenting through Uncertainty” with Eric and Rebecca Brown.  To register, click HERE.

Here are a couple of resources that may be helpful about mental health and wellness:

https://healthier.stanfordchildrens.org/en/how-to-talk-with-kids-about-covid-19/    

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html

More Federal Funds Headed to MSAD #51

The U.S. Department of Education announced that Maine will receive $183 million for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II funds) through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act. Allocations will be made based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I 2020 data. The Maine Department of Education will release the ESSER II application by the end of the month to school districts.  

Given the district’s small amount of federal Title IA funding annually, the ESSER II stimulus funds for MSAD #51 is $175,000. This compares to other districts with larger TItle I allocations in the millions of dollars. The language within the CRRSA Act urges schools to prioritize the use of funds for addressing student needs, ascertaining and addressing learning gaps due to the pandemic, preparing schools for reopening, and repairing and upgrading air quality systems in school buildings was underscored.  Due to the small amount, the Finance committee will discuss the best use of these funds.

Going GREEN?

I have been asked a few times recently if MSAD #51 schools will be moving to GREEN (100% in-person learning 5 days/week) this school year, especially now that vaccinations are starting to make their way through the state.  There are several reasons why this is unlikely.  First, the vaccine is not expected to reach “herd immunity” until later this spring or summer.  Second, there are many unknowns with the vaccine right now and a period of time must pass in order for the full effect of the vaccine will be better known.  Third, the state social distancing guidelines will likely stay in place until the end of the school year, regardless of the vaccine’s status.  These guidelines currently prevent districts from allowing students to be less than 3-6 feet in proximity in classrooms, common areas, and buses.  Finally, given the current surge in COVID cases in our district and community at this time, along with the state and nation, we are far from ready to make the switch to a more typical schooling experience.

Staff COVID-19 Vaccinations

On a related note, COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered to a small number of our staff.  The nurses and specialized staff such as PT, OT, speech/language etc. have been invited to receive the vaccine so far.  The Maine Department of Education announced that there will be a lag for other school staff to receive the vaccinations until vulnerable members of the population can be vaccinated first, such as older Mainers and those with compromising medical conditions.  If and when school staff are invited to participate, which could be several months from now, there may be very little notice given.  Due to the number of staff to be vaccinated in a short period of time, it is possible we may need to close the buildings for a day to accommodate.  This is a possibility only and we'll watch carefully how the state rolls out the vaccination to all school staff.  The importance of vaccinating staff is to help keep our schools open this year and ensure that we are ready for (hopefully) a more typical school year in 2021-22.

Livestreaming

A majority of teachers at GHS and GMS 6-8, along with a handful of elementary teachers, have been trained and provided a livestreaming equipment package in order to include students concurrently who are at home.  Many thanks to the technology department and livestreaming staff work group which ensured that equipment was received, catalogued, and set up for teachers.  Additionally, guidelines for effective livestreaming and best practices for using livestreaming in the classroom as a learning tool have been emphasized.

New Primary School Update

The MSAD #51 Board of Directors is under contract with an abutting landowner to the campus for purchase of land to support a new primary school in order to meet projected enrollment increases over the next 8-10 years.  Oak Point Associates, the architectural firm hired to develop a concept design for the new school, presented a first rough draft of a design to the Board on February 1 (see diagram below).  

The proposed new school would be built for 450 students in grades Pre-K, kindergarten, and grade 1. Next steps include continued development of the concept design that will be shared with the community later this spring.  Pending Board review and approval of a final concept design in June, a referendum would be scheduled for September which will include construction of a new primary school and the purchase of land abutting the campus to support the school.  There may be other items for campus improvement that are included in the final  referendum package in order to make building a new school on campus feasible.

Here is a rough draft of two possible concept designs for a proposed new primary school on the existing MSAD #51 school campus:

Equity Community of Practice Update

At the January 19 Board meeting, Southern Maine Partnership director Angela Atkinson-Duina from USM presented information about the “Equity Community of Practice” project that the district has joined with several other area school districts.  A subgroup of the equity leadership committee is representing MSAD#51 at the regional training with 9 other area school districts, with two sessions held so far.  Outcomes of the consortium include areas like developing an equity plan, reviewing district policies pertaining to equity, ensuring that the curriculum is equitable and accessible to all students, increasing books around diversity, providing training for students and staff for greater equity, among others.  Before an equity plan for the schools is approved by the Board, public input on the plan will be part of the process.  

Recently, the Maine Department of Education, in conjunction with six other state-level organizations and agencies, released this statement about the importance of equity education in all of Maine’s schools:  DOE Joint Statement of Commitment and Support for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Maine Schools.  

Here’s more information about MSAD #51’s participation in the Equity Community of Practice:

Members - SMP Equity Community of Practice with MAEC
Long Overview - USM SMP Equity Community of Practice with MAEC - FAQ
Short Overview - SMP Equity Community of Practice with MAEC

2021-22 Budget

The process for developing a budget for the upcoming school year is well underway.  Administrators have submitted their school and department budgets to the district office for review and the Board’s Finance Committee has begun looking at strategic priorities, enrollment-related needs, and preliminary budget numbers.  A first draft of the 2021-22 budget is scheduled to be presented in mid-March, to be followed by Board workshops, a public hearing, district budget meeting, and voter budget referendum in June.  Continued enrollment increases in grades K-5 and space constraints at MIW and GMS will be key areas for budget recommendations again this year.  One silver lining is that preliminary state aid amounts indicate the district will be gaining about $675,000 over the current year’s state subsidy amount.

Essential Standards

Given the pandemic that has been with us for nearly a year now, along with intermittent access to in-person learning during this timeframe, the importance of identifying the most essential academic standards in a content area at each grade level or course cannot be overstated.  Teachers at each school have worked in teams and departments to develop these Essential Standards and have continued updating these standards as the year progresses.  These are the most important skills students should be expected to have by the end of the school year.

State Assessment Changes

The Maine Department of Education announced that it has discontinued the Maine Educational Assessment, which is administered to students in all Maine schools in grades 3-8 and grade 11 in the areas of literacy, math, and science. Instead, the state is introducing a new assessment called the NorthWest Educational Assessment (NWEA) that is shorter in length and will be scheduled for a winter and spring administration (spring only in 2021).  Part of the reason for the change is to reduce the long wait time between the testing and receipt of students’ results, which has been several months in the past.  More information will be provided once the state makes it available to districts.