Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 3/9/22

COVID Case Report

The Masconomet Regional School District has had a total of two reported COVID cases since February 28, 2022.  Both of these reported cases were staff members.

At-Home COVID Testing Program

Masconomet continues to participate in DESE’s At-Home Testing Program.  In this program, any student or staff member who opts into the program will be provided one at-home rapid COVID test kit every other week for as long as DESE continues the program.  We currently have 622 students and staff who have signed up for the program.  Parents and faculty members may still opt into the program at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSceWxzZKEwUeuOCzGM2aOPdAw8gN0hxxOHKNJqTIoGOFhAPxQ/viewform?usp=sf_link  Our next test kit distribution will be during the week of March 14th

2022-2023 School Year Calendar

The School Committee has approved the calendar for the 2022-2023 school year.  The full calendar can be viewed at: https://www.masconomet.org/Page/2#calendar1/20220310/month

In 2022-2023, teachers will return to work from summer vacation on Monday, August 29, 2022.  Orientation for students in grades 7 and 9 will be held on Tuesday, August 30th.  The first day of school for all students in grades 7-12 will be on Wednesday, August 31st and regular classes will be held on Thursday, September 1st.  There will be no school on Friday, September 2nd and Monday, September 5th in observance of Labor Day. 

Starting the school year before Labor Day will allow us to end earlier in June.  The last day of the 2022-2023 school year with no added snow days will be Tuesday, June 13th, 2023.  The last day including five make up days for snow cancellations will be Wednesday, June 21st, 2023.

The current calendar does not identify any delayed opening or early dismissal days for professional development.  These days are still under consideration and will be added to the calendar later this year.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Search Update

I am moving forward in the process of making a final choice for the position of Assistant Superintendent of Student Services.  Our two finalists, Lynne Bennett and Brad Denton, both had onsite interviews during the week of February 7th.  Last week, the Masconomet Executive Leadership Team visited the Arlington, Massachusetts Public Schools to conduct a site visit for Ms. Bennett.  Later this week, we will be conducting an in-house “site visit” to meet with members of the Masconomet faculty and administration regarding Mr. Denton.  I want to thank everyone who has taken part in this process through serving on the screening committee, attending the candidates interviews and submitting feedback on the two candidates.  I plan on making a recommendation to the School Committee of a preferred candidate on March 23rd

Presentation by Tom Guskey on April 4

On Monday, April 4th, 2022, Masconomet will be hosting Thomas Guskey, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Kentucky.  Dr. Guskey is the author/editor of over twenty books and numerous articles on educational measurement, evaluation, assessment and grading.  Dr. Guskey will be speaking to our faculty during the scheduled delayed opening on April 4th and then will be meeting with members of the District Leadership Team.  In anticipation of Dr. Guskey’s remarks, we have provided all faculty with a copy of his book, On Your Mark; Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting (2015).  In this book, Dr. Guskey explores the current practices of student grading and grade reporting, explores the underlying flaws in these practices and challenges educators to develop more authentic and relevant grading practices that truly reflect what students are learning in the classroom. 

Middle and High School Schedule Committee

One of the agreements reached between the Masconomet Teachers Association and the School Committee in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was approved by the School Committee on February 16, 2022 creates more flexibility in our daily schedule.  I am currently in the process of assembling a team of faculty and administration, including representatives from the Masconomet Teachers Association, to consider new daily schedule options for the Middle and High Schools that reflects these changes that were agreed on in the CBA.  I anticipate that I will be presenting our recommended new schedule at a School Committee Meeting in June. 

Masks Optional at Masconomet Beginning February 28, 2022

Dear Masconomet Community,

Effective Monday, February 28th, masks will be optional for all students and staff in the Masconomet Regional School District. 

Wearing masks will still be required in the following situations:

  • An individual who tests positive for COVID-19 returns to school following the 5-day isolation period, when around others, other than when eating, drinking, or outside, through day 10 of exposure (aligned with DESE/DPH guidelines).
  • An asymptomatic, unvaccinated individual (close contact) returns to school following a 5-day quarantine period, when around others, other than when eating, drinking or outside, through day 10 of exposure (aligned with DESE/DPH guidelines).
  • Individuals riding on school transportation vehicles (in compliance with the ongoing federal order).
  • Any staff or student must wear a mask while in our school health offices and isolation rooms.
  • We reserve the right to add to this list as other situations that require masking present themselves.

As we move to this latest phase in our response to the pandemic, I am asking that families partner with us to reinforce our district’s commitment to respecting each other’s differences.  Continuing to wear a mask, or not, at Masconomet is a personal choice that we expect will be honored and accepted by everyone.  We must understand that we are not all in the same place relative to our comfort level with easing pandemic restrictions.  For some, the decision to continue to wear a mask may be due to a specific personal or family health concern.  For others, moving away from specific mitigation strategies may be uncomfortable and take some time for adjustment.  I ask that you speak with your children about the need to be respectful of all choices about personal health and safety at this time. 

Over the past two years, our students and our faculty have overcome many challenges in continuing to learn and work through the pandemic.  While I’m hopeful that we have reached the beginning of the end of the pandemic, I would caution anyone from letting their guard down too soon.  If we’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that COVID isn’t truly going to go away, and we will have to continue to adapt the ways we live, work and learn as this disease moves from pandemic to endemic.  While we are making mask-wearing an optional mitigation strategy, we are also now offering the strategy of increased COVID testing through the regular distribution of at-home COVID test kits to any staff or student who opts to receive one and plan to continue offering symptomatic COVID testing for students and staff here on campus.  Faculty and students who signed up for test kits by this past Monday will receive them by today, February 17th.  It is still possible now to opt-in to begin receiving test kits during the week of February 28th.  For more information, including the sign up link, please go to: At-Home COVID Testing Program. 

I hope everyone has a safe, enjoyable and healthy February Vacation Week!

Sincerely,

Michael M. Harvey, Ed.D.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Public Interviews

Both of our finalists for Assistant Superintendent for Student Services, Brad Denton and Lynne Bennett, completed their visits to Masconomet this week. During their visits, each candidate met with representative groups at Masconomet, including the Executive Leadership Team, Student Services Department Personnel, and Department Heads. The candidates also had an open forum with members of the faculty at the end of their visits. The visits concluded with an evening session held via Zoom for parents, and community members. Everyone who met with the candidates was asked to complete a feed back form that I will use to inform my decision.

Both evening sessions were recorded so anyone who was unable to attend may view the sessions below and submit written feedback on their impressions. I plan on recommending a preferred candidate to the School Committee on March 23, 2022. The feedback form can be accessed at: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfK2Y9jSONEa_yEW9-XWx1HKx0A4wQcYSHztTPxo2a872q9QQ/viewform?usp=sf_link

Brad Denton’s Public Interview Recording:

Lynne Bennett’s Public Interview Recording:

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 2/2/22

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Finalists

I’m pleased to announce the two finalists for the position of Assistant Superintendent for Student Services for the Masconomet Regional School District, Lynne Bennett and Brad Denton.  Both candidates will be available for evening interview sessions for interested members of the community at the dates and times below.  Interview sessions will be recorded and posted to the Masconomet website for later viewing.  For the full announcement, including the bios for each finalist, please go to: https://mascosuper.school.blog/2022/01/31/assistant-superintendent-for-student-services-finalists/

New COVID Testing Program

As I wrote to the Masconomet Community on February 1st, in accordance with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Department of Public Health (DPH), we are updating our COVID-19 Testing Program, effective February 14, 2022.  We are opting into an at-home testing program that will increase testing of our participating students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Through this program, we will be distributing one COVID-19 rapid test kit containing two tests every other week to any student or staff member who opts to receive one.  Participating individuals will be expected to administer one test at home each week on Sunday and to report any positive test results to their school.  For more information about this update to the statewide testing program, please click here

We will begin distribution of test kits in school during the week of February 14, 2022. This will allow all students and staff who opt into the program to take a test on February 27th before returning to school from February Break.  In addition to this new at-home antigen test option, we will continue with symptomatic testing during the week.  As part of this shift in the program, we are discontinuing Test and Stay and contact tracing for in-school close contacts as of February 18, 2022. This means that if your child is a potential close contact in school, they may continue to come to school and do not have to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic.  Out of school close contacts will still be subject to current quarantine guidelines.  2This new at-home testing opportunity is voluntary and only those who opt-in will receive tests.  Opt-in forms will be sent out electronically later this week.

COVID Case Update

As I report the latest COVID cases at Masconomet, I want to repeat that the numbers I report represent only the cases that have been reported to the District through our local public health agencies.  These cases are identified either through the administration of a PCR test outside of school, a rapid antigen test at school through our Test and Stay and Symptomatic Programs, or have been reported by a physician to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  Because they do not contain results from rapid antigen tests that are administered at home and not reported to a physician, they are likely to underrepresent the actual number of cases that exist in our community.  The numbers I have presented in the past do seem to reflect the general prevalence of COVID in our community, but they are by no means meant to be comprehensive.

The reported COVID cases at Masconomet for the last two weeks are continuing to trend in a positive direction.  For the two-week period from  January 20th through February 2nd, we’ve had fourteen reported COVID cases at Masconomet.  That’s down from 39 cases for the period from January 6th through January 19th.

Our average daily student attendance has also returned to more normal rates from their highs in early January.

Masconomet Average Daily Attendance, January 2022

Masconomet High SchoolMasconomet Middle School
Dates:Avg. Daily Absences/Total StudentsAverage Daily % AbsentAvg. Daily Absences/Total StudentsAverage Daily % Absent
1/3/22-1/10/22167/104216%66/59511%
1/25/22-1/31/2262/10426%30/5955%

For the sake of comparison, the Middle and High Schools both averaged around 5% student absences during the same weeks in January of 2020.

The month of January 2022 had a total of 84 reported COVID cases, which is almost twice as many cases as the other 5 months of the 2021-2022 school year combined (44 total cases in Sept., Oct., Nov., and Feb.).  In January, there were 49 reported high school student cases, 18 reported middle school student cases and 17 reported faculty cases.

Test and Stay and Symptomatic Testing Programs also saw their highest usage during January 2022.  We administered a combined 161 rapid tests through these two programs in January 2022.  There were 15 positive results from these 161 tests, which is a 9% positivity rate.  Our positivity rate for all other months in the 2021-2022 school year is 2%.  Since September 21, 2021, we have administered 381 total tests and had a total of 19 positive results, which is an overall 5% positivity rate.

Masconomet Test and Stay and Symptomatic Testing ResultsTests AdministeredPositive Results% Positivity
Month of January 2022161159%
All Other Months in 2021-202222042%
Totals for 2021-2022 School Year381195%

Mask Waiver Update

As I explained in my last update to the School Committee, Masconomet reached the 80% vaccination threshold set by DESE for allowing vaccinated students and staff the option of removing their masks on December 7, 2021.  Masconomet received the waiver from DESE on December 17, 2021.  The Town of Boxford still maintains a face covering order that applies to Masconomet.  Ultimately, this local public health order prevails over any other state requirement.

In October of 2021, the Boxford Board of Health communicated to me that they would be open to considering a waiver for Masconomet from the face covering order under two conditions. The first condition was meeting the 80% vaccination threshold and receiving the waiver from DESE. The second condition was:

“That, as made clear in the DESE Communication of 27 September 2021, unvaccinated students and staff shall continue to be required to wear masks.  We will require your confirmation that this will be done and how you will enforce this requirement.”

Letter from Boxford Board of Health dated October 4, 2021

As we’ve discussed at several School Committee Meetings since October, this provision from DESE and the Boxford Board of Health that unvaccinated students and staff be required to wear masks presented a challenge that did not have a practical solution.  As I explained in my last School Committee report and in more detail in this report, our positive case numbers in January did not support the removal of masks from anyone at the school.  On January 16th, I also explained that we were in the process of implementing DESE’s new testing program that I referenced earlier in this report and that this would require the focus of our Executive Leadership Team for the near future. 

Since my last report on this topic to the School Committee on January 19th, there have been some new developments.  Last Friday, January 28th, Rob Curtin, Associate Commissioner at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education held a conference call with superintendents who have a school that has reached the 80% vaccination threshold and received the DESE waiver. Waivers from the DESE mask requirement are done on an individual school basis.  There are approximately 30 schools out of well over 1,000 public schools in the State of Massachusetts that have received this waiver.  Because of our building layout and our shared spaces, we requested and were approved to have Masconomet Middle and High School viewed as one “school” by DESE for the purpose of the waiver. 

Associate Commissioner Curtin began the January 28th call by polling to see which districts had a school that was mask-optional on January 28.  Only one school, Cohasset High School, indicated that it was.  Two other schools, King Phillip Regional and Norwell High School, indicated they were returning to “mask optional” status on Monday, January 31st.  These schools had implemented optional masks in November and then returned to mandatory masks after Thanksgiving because of the surge.  A few other superintendents indicated their schools were moving in the direction or removing masks in the next few weeks.  To my knowledge, only one other school district on the north shore, Essex Northshore Agricultural and Technical School has even received a waiver.  The notion that Masconomet is somehow “behind” on moving to a mask optional environment is entirely false.

After providing the context on schools that are “mask optional” for the group, Associate Commissioner Curtin informed the superintendents on the call that the purpose of the meeting was for DESE to notify districts that DESE had enacted a policy change in the January 10th extension of the mask mandate that until this meeting had not been explicitly communicated to school districts.  In the January 10th extension, DESE changed from a “requirement” that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks in schools that had received the DESE waiver to a “recommendation” that unvaccinated individuals wear masks.  Associate Commissioner Curtin explained that this change was made because schools that had enacted the DESE waiver had found it nearly impossible to enforce mask-wearing for unvaccinated individuals.

In effect, implementing the mask waiver under the new DESE policy means that masks will be optional for all students and staff at Masconomet, including the 19%, or roughly 400 members of our school community, that are unvaccinated.  Earlier this week, I emailed Dr. Dick Taylor, the Chair of the Boxford Board of Health and set a time to speak with him this week to inform him of these changes to the DESE policy.  During this meeting, I will ask him to have the Boxford Board of Health at its next meeting on February 16th consider voting to exempt Masconomet from the Town of Boxford’s face covering requirement under the new DESE policy.  I plan to propose for the Boxford Board of Health’s consideration that Masconomet would implement a “mask optional” environment beginning on March 14, 2022.  Ultimately, I believe that it is important that we move towards a more “normal” world, but we also need to make sure the current downward trend in case numbers continues and we do not have another surge in cases after February vacation before we make a change.  Waiting until mid-March will also allow us the time to work towards solutions to any concerns that the Boxford Board of Health may have before they grant a waiver from their face covering order.

Masconomet At-Home Testing Program

Dear Masconomet Community,

Over the past two years, we’ve implemented several layers of strategies designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and keep all members of our community safe.  We began the 2020-2021 school year with masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and the development of an extensive contact tracing process where we identified and quarantined anyone who was a close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual.  As we moved into the 2021-2022 school year, the development of effective vaccines for COVID-19 allowed us to limit close contacts subject to quarantine to unvaccinated individuals who were exposed outside of school and to implement a “Test and Stay” Program that allowed unvaccinated individuals who were identified as in-school close contacts to remain in school as long as they participated in daily COVID testing.  

These mitigation strategies have proven to be effective. In-school transmission of COVID-19 is a relatively rare occurrence.  DESE has reported that unvaccinated students and staff identified as in-school close contacts who are tested through the test and stay program test negative over 90% of the time. (https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop/2022-0118new-testing-program.pdf).  At Masconomet, our data is similar to that seen on the state level.  Of the 363 rapid COVID tests administered at Masconomet since late September of 2021 to both in-school close contacts and to individuals exhibiting COVID symptoms, only 19, or 5%, have come back positive.

Because of the low incidence of COVID-19 spread in schools, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is recommending a change in our focus around testing to the identification of symptomatic individuals.  This shift in testing strategy will entail the regular distribution of at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits to all students and staff who opt into this program.  The expectation is that those who choose to participate will administer one rapid test each week on Sunday.  If this test is positive, the individual will observe the mandated isolation period for COVID-positive individuals (currently 5 days after symptom onset or positive test result), and report their positive result to their school.  Individuals are also highly recommended to report a positive test result to their physician.  Along with this shift in focus to identifying symptomatic individuals, Masconomet will continue its symptomatic testing program for students and staff who develop symptoms during the school day.  Along with this new testing plan, we will be discontinuing regular contact tracing and mandating isolation for asymptomatic close contacts and will be ending our Test and Stay Program on February 18th. 

Our plan is to implement this shift to regular at-home COVID testing during the week of February 14th.  During this week, all students and staff who opt into the new at-home program will be issued a rapid COVID-19 test kit with the expectation that one of the two tests in the kit will be used on Sunday, February 27th, the day before we return to school from February vacation week.  Over the next two weeks, we will be sending out more information on this new program, including a link to sign up to receive the test kits.  

Thanks for your continued support as we learn and adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the COVID pandemic.  

Sincerely,

Michael M. Harvey, Ed.D.

Superintendent 

Upcoming Vaccine Clinics in the Tri-Towns

Here are links for upcoming COVID clinics for staff where they can get first, second and booster doses:

Standing clinics in Topsfield and Middleton on Thursdays for ages 12+ (5+ starting on Feb 3rd) 

  • Thursday Feb  3, 1-3pm Town Hall Topsfield
  • Thursday Feb  10, 1-3pm Flint Library Middleton
  • Thursday Feb  17, 1-3pm Town Hall Topsfield
  • Thursday Feb  24, 1-3pm Flint Library Middleton
  • Go to https://home.color.com/vaccine/register/capeann  to register

Vaccine clinic at Masconomet:

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Finalists

It gives me great pleasure to announce the finalists for the position of Assistant Superintendent of Student Services for the Masconomet Regional School District.  This position was advertised in early December, with a closing date of January 5th.  Selected applicants were interviewed by a screening committee composed of representatives from district administration, faculty, Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC) and students last week.  I would like to thank the members of the screening committee for lending their time and expertise to the initial interviews.

The two finalists have been selected to participate in a second round of interviews, which will be held on February 7th, and February 10th.  During these interviews, the candidates will meet with representatives from the Masconomet staff during the school day.  Additionally, candidates will participate in sessions with parents and interested members of the community via Zoom teleconference at 7:00 PM.  Links to the Zoom sessions are provided in the finalists’ bios below.  Everyone who participates in either the in-person meetings at school, or the Zoom sessions will have the opportunity to provide written feedback regarding their impressions of the candidate.  I will be using this feedback as part of my deliberations in deciding which candidate to recommend for the position.

After this round of interviews is completed, the final step in the search process will entail site visits to the candidates’ current districts and reference checks.  This step will be completed after we return from February Vacation.  I anticipate recommending my choice of candidate for the position to the School Committee at its March 23rd meeting.

Brad Denton – Candidate Visit on Monday, February 7th

Brad Denton is currently the Assistant Director of Special Education for the Masconomet Regional School District, a position he has held since 2009.  Mr. Denton joined the Masconomet District in 2006 as a Special Education Program Coordinator.  He also worked as a Special Education Teacher at Peabody High School for three years.  Mr. Denton holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from St. Lawrence University, an M.Ed. in Moderate Special Needs from Lesley University and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Educational Leadership from Salem State University.  Mr. Denton’s resume is available here.   Mr. Denton will have his public interview on February 7th at 7:00 PM via Zoom at this link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84199607172?pwd=Z0VNakxJeERDbS9CTjJ3dk1SYVpMdz09

Lynne Bennett – Candidate Visit on Thursday, February 10th

Lynne Bennett has been employed as the Special Education Administrator for Arlington High School in Arlington, MA since 2014.  Prior to her work in Arlington, Ms. Bennett has served in several roles in special education administration, including Evaluation Team Facilitator with the Haverhill Public Schools, the Head of School at Wayside Academy, and the Director of Student Services for the Danvers Public Schools.  Ms. Bennett is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and actively maintains a private practice.  She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Bridgewater State University, a Master of Social Work Degree from Simmons University and a Certificate in Educational Leadership and Special Education Administration from Cambridge College.  Ms. Bennett’s resume is available here.  Her public interview will be on February 10th at 7:00 PM and available through this link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82051562322?pwd=TzBEMGNlQjFDYk5mY0cwQzJ5YnVWdz09

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 1/19/22

COVID-19 Case Report

The numbers in this week’s COVID case report represent the cases that have been officially reported to the District through our local public health departments or in the case of faculty, reported directly to administration.  As I mentioned in my last Report, the prevalence of at-home rapid COVID tests that are not entered into the state’s COVID tracking system, leads me to believe that these numbers under-report the actual number of COVID-positive individuals in our community.  For example, the reported number of cases at Masconomet for the period from January 13 through January 19 has fallen to 19.  During this same time period, the High School averaged 107 students absent per day.  This leads me to believe that we have many more positive cases than what is being reported through the Massachusetts DPH system.

The trends in reported case numbers and our overall attendance do seem to be moving in a positive direction.  As previously mentioned, Masconomet had 19 new reported COVID cases for the period of January 13 through January 19.  This is down from 20 new reported cases for the January 6 to January 12 period and 34 from December 30 to January 5.  High School attendance has followed this trend, averaging 107 students per day in the January 13 – January 19 period, which is down from 138 students absent per day from January 6 – January 12 and 170 students per day from January 3 – January 5.

For the month of January, Masconomet has had a total of 73 new reported cases, which is up from 39 total cases in December.  High School students make up the largest number of reported cases in January at 40.  Middle School Students had 16 and staff had 17 new reported cases in January. 

Our staff absences peaked around January 6th, at approximately 29 district-wide and have since fallen to around 17 district-wide yesterday.  These absences are not limited to just COVID-related absences and include all reasons for staff to be absent from work, such as personal days, professional days, family sick days as well as personal illness days.  While the number of absent faculty has fallen over the past two weeks, we need to remember that we do not have anywhere near the number of substitute teachers available to even cover this lower number of absent faculty.  I want to recognize the efforts of our building administration and support staff for doing their best to arrange for class coverage throughout this period and thank them for again keeping us going during this most recent pandemic-related challenge.

Message Regarding Use of At-Home Tests

As I mentioned earlier, we have received many reports from families of students testing positive on rapid at-home COVID tests.  Please note that at this time, at-home testing is considered an unofficial test and results are not recorded in the public health system as a confirmed case. Our local public health departments advise that you follow up with a PCR test to confirm a positive rapid-test result as soon as possible (ideally within 48 hours). 

The current guidelines from MA Dept of Public Health for people who test positive for COVID on any test, PCR or at-home, are for 5 days of isolation, with exit/return to school & activities on day 6, IF symptoms have improved and the individual is fever free x 24 hours. Isolation is followed by an additional 5 days of strict mask wearing to minimize the residual risk of transmission with this method.  

Timeline:

Day 0 – symptom onset or positive test

Day 5 – last full day of isolation

Day 6 – exit isolation with symptom improvement and fever free

Contact tracing is not done by schools or public health for unofficial at-home test results. Anyone testing positive n an at-home test will need to notify their own close contacts. Anyone within 6 feet for 15 minutes or greater, indoors, during the 48-hour period prior to symptom onset should be notified of exposure. This is considered the contagious period. They should be notified to quarantine (stay home if they are not vaccinated) and monitor for symptoms, and seek testing 5 days from the date of last exposure.

Please also note that if an at-home test is not confirmed via PCR, your child may be subject to additional quarantine time if they become a close contact at school, as they will continue to test positive for up to 90 days.  At-home tests are not acceptable for future quarantine exemption, or for travel purposes as there is no record in public health. For example, if your child becomes a close contact at school or in sports and needs to test again to get out of quarantine, or they need to test for travel, or to attend an event, they will stay positive on tests for up to 90 days.  

DESE Announces New Testing Program

On January 18th, Governor Baker announced a change in the state’s testing programs.  Currently, districts in Massachusetts are offered a choice of three types of testing:  surveillance testing, also know as pooled testing, where all individuals in a school or district are tested on a weekly basis in a pooled sample; test and stay, where unvaccinated in-school close contacts are tested daily using a rapid test for a period of several days; and symptomatic testing, where individuals who develop symptoms during the school day are given a rapid-test.  Masconomet has been participating in the symptomatic and test and stay programs since September 21, 2021.  In this time, we have administered a total of 342 rapid tests and had 17 positive results, 13 of which have been since January 1, 2022. Most of these positive tests have been from symptomatic individuals and not from close contacts in the test and stay program.

Yesterday morning, Governor Baker announced that schools would be offered a new testing program.  In this program, districts that choose this new option will be given one at-home test a week for every student and staff member who opts into the program.  Students and staff would administer the test at-home and agree to notify the district if they had a positive result and follow current isolation procedures for COVID-positive individuals.  Districts that choose this program would no longer need to contact trace for in-school close contacts and would no longer continue the test and stay program.  Symptomatic testing of students and staff during the school day would continue for districts that choose this new option.  In their communication to school districts, DESE “strongly recommended” this new program.  Districts that choose to opt-in by January 21st may be able to distribute test kits to faculty as soon as next week.  We are currently reviewing the materials for this new program and will provide more information if we decide to participate.  The table below from DESE outlines the differences between the proposed new program (Center Column) and the testing programs that are currently available (Right Column).

Updated K-12 Testing Options (effective 1/31) Discontinue contact tracing and Test and Stay <strongly recommended>Original K-12 Testing Options Maintain contact tracing and Test and Stay 
Symptomatic testing and/or pooled testingYesYes
Test and StayNoYes
Individualized contact tracing for in-school exposuresNot requiredYes
Weekly at-home antigen testing (students and staff)Yes, with initial shipment for participating staff during the week of January 24; initial shipment of at-home tests for participating students during the week of January 31No

Vaccination Rate and Mask Mandate Update

As I reported on December 15, 2021, as of December 7, 2021, 80% of all Masconomet students and staff in the District were fully vaccinated.  This number has climbed slightly to 81.7% as of January 18th.  Per the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, school districts that have reached 80% vaccination for students and staff are eligible to receive a waiver to allow vaccinated individuals to go unmasked while in school.  Masconomet received this waiver from DESE on December 17, 2021.  In my December 15th report, I also explained that the next step in allowing vaccinated individuals to go unmasked in school would be to seek a waiver from the Boxford Board of Public Health from its Emergency Order Requiring Face Coverings.  Because of the current surge in COVID cases, and given the other associated challenges that I’ve reported this week, such as high rates of staff and student absences, and a new testing program to research and implement, I have not approached the Boxford Board of Public Health regarding this waiver, nor do not anticipate doing so in the near future.  Commissioner Riley has extended the state-wide mask mandate in schools through February 28th.  I will inform the School Committee when I feel it is appropriate to re-visit this decision.

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 1/5/22

New CDC Guidance for COVID Isolation and Quarantine

On December 27, 2021, the Center for Disease Control issued new guidance relative to the amount of time COVID-positive individuals need to isolate and unvaccinated close-contacts need to quarantine.  The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Public Health released Updated Guidance on Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios on December 30th that reflects the CDC’s guidance.  Earlier this week, we sent the following guidance to families that reflect the new guidance:

Guidelines for Positive COVID cases:

Positive cases will now isolate for 5 days (instead of 10 days) and can return to school/work/regular activities on day 6 so long as they are either asymptomatic, or their symptoms have improved, they are fever-free for 24 hours, and they continue to wear a mask through day 10.  There is no need for public health nurses or school nurses to verify symptom improvement has occurred by day 5 with cases (students/parents).  Everyone should know to stay home if they are sick with fever, cough, congestion, sore throat, etc.  When students return to school and school-associated activities, they will continue to follow the mask mandate currently in effect and will need to socially distance while at lunch for an additional 5-days.  Both schools have designated spaces for students to socially distance during lunch.

Calculating the Quarantine and Post-Quarantine calendar 

Day 0Symptom Onset
Day 5Last full day of isolation
Day 6Return to school following the school masking policy Socially distanced Lunch
Day 11Follow the school masking policy  Lunch as preferred 
Quarantine Guidelines for Asymptomatic Close Contacts:

Asymptomatic, fully vaccinated close contacts: Close contacts who are asymptomatic and

fully vaccinated are exempt from testing and quarantine response protocols.  At this time, fully vaccinated is defined as two weeks following the completion of the Pfizer or Moderna series or two weeks following a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

Unvaccinated, School-Based Close Contacts: Test and Stay will remain in place for unvaccinated students and adults who are identified as school-based close contacts. The testing period has been shortened to 5-days (from 7 days) from the last known exposure date. Students who participate in Test and Stay will be eligible to attend school and school-based activities as long they continue to receive a negative test result.  Students who are eligible to participate in this program will be notified by a school administrator or their school nurse. 

Unvaccinated, Out-of-school close contacts: If you are unvaccinated and have been identified as an out-of-school close contact, you are not eligible for test and stay, but the quarantine period has been reduced to 5-days (from 7 days). You can exit quarantine on day 6 so long as you can produce a Negative COVID test and you have remained symptom-free.  Although the PCR test is the most accurate form of testing and is advised, antigen-testing will be accepted.  Proof of negative results needs to be forwarded to the school nurse prior to returning to school (copy of lab results or picture of the negative test).

Symptomatic Close Contacts: Please refer to the DESE/DPH protocols for symptomatic individuals. 

At-Home Covid Testing: At-home tests are unofficial results and the local board of health cannot follow up with at-home tests and perform appropriate contact tracing. Positive cases identified through an at-home test should isolate for 5 days and notify their own close contacts. PCR testing within 48 hours of a positive at-home test is advised for confirmation of the at-home test result.

Rapid Test and Mask Distribution to All Masconomet Employees

On December 22nd, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education made a supply of KN95 masks available to interested school districts in Massachusetts.  Masconomet received its supply of 10,000 KN95 masks on December 29th.  Thanks to Asst. Superintendent Jeff Sands for picking up the masks and delivering them during the holiday week.

On December 29th, DESE announced that it had procured rapid COVID-19 test kits for all K-12 employees in the state.  These tests were made available for pickup on January 1st.  Thanks to Keith Starosciak, our HVAC Technician for volunteering to pick up the tests on New Years’ Day.  One test and 30 masks were made available for all employees to pick up at Masconomet on Sunday, January 2nd from noon to 3:00 pm at Central Office.  Thanks to Patty Bullard for helping me with distributing tests and masks to over 100 employees who came to pick them up.  Jackie Bolduc and I then spent Monday January 3rd manning a location in the high school for any employee who was not available on Sunday to pick up their tests and masks.  As of this afternoon, over 200 employees have received their supply of tests and masks.

COVID Case Report

As we return from the holiday break, we are seeing the impact of the latest COVID surge on our school operations.  The latest challenge is getting accurate information of positive cases.  In the past, we have only reported positive cases that came as a result of a PCR COVID test.  These are the tests that are confirmed at a lab or doctor’s office.  Positive PCR test results are cataloged in MAVEN, which is a state-wide COVID-tracking database.  For the past two years, our practice has been to track these cases that were reported to us through our local public health departments via MAVEN.  This week’s COVID Case report is consistent with that practice.  However, I must say that the numbers I have received from our local public health departments are not reflective of what we are seeing and hearing in our school health offices and are very likely to be underreported.  For example, we have had over 200 students absent at the high school and 60 students absent at the middle school today, January 5th.  These numbers are dramatically higher than the “official” counts I’m going to present here.  Because of this discrepancy, I’ve decided to temporarily suspend the afternoon calls to the community reporting COVID cases until I have better information on our actual case numbers.

Since my last report on December 15th, we have seen an additional 55 positive cases.  Twenty-nine of these cases were reported over the holiday break (between 12/23/21 and 1/2/22), so they were not in school while infectious. 

Looking at the Case Counts by School and Month, for the month of January, we are at a reported 34 positive cases. 

Of the 27 middle school cases in December and January, 15 were reported after December 23rd, and 17 of the 25 high school cases in December and January were after December 23rd.  Most of these students, therefore were not in school while infectious and many have already completed their isolation requirement and returned to school.

Fourteen of the reported COVID cases in January are faculty.  The number of absent faculty has been climbing all week.  Today, January 5th, we had 17 faculty members absent at the High School and 12 at the Middle School.  This is up from a total of 12 absent staff members combined for the Middle and High Schools on Monday, 1/3. We will continue to monitor both of staff and student absence numbers over the coming days.  Our goal is to remain fully in-person as long as it is possible; however, if these trends continue we may need to consider closing school if we cannot adequately staff our schools. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, days closed due to COVID will be considered the same as a weather-related closure and will need to be made up at the end of the year in June.

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 12/15/21

COVID Case Report

Our COVID case numbers continue to reflect the surge that is going on in Massachusetts and nationally.  The number of new positive COVID cases for the two-week period from December 2nd through December 15th has climbed to 16.  This is up from 10 for the preceding two-week period.  We are now up to a total of 59 cases for the 2021-2022 school year.  The following chart depicts the number of cases by week and reflects the upward trend in COVID cases since the beginning of November.

The following chart shows the case counts by school and month.  We continue to see an increase in the number of positive cases at the Middle School relative to the number of total cases.  Nine of the 18 (50%) positive cases in December are Middle School Students. 

Students who are close contacts to any COVID case continue to be notified of this by their schools.  Fully vaccinated students who are close contacts are exempt from quarantining and are asked to monitor for symptoms.  Unvaccinated close contacts who remain asymptomatic are also invited to participate in our Test and Stay Program.  Since the beginning of our Test and Stay Program in September, 121 individuals have taken 169 tests.  We have had three positive tests of the 169 administered which is 1.7%.  One of these three was a false-positive result.  Because of our Test and Stay program, 118 individuals have been able to remain in school after being exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual.

COVID Vaccination Update

I’m pleased to report that our COVID vaccination rates have increased to a total of 81.2%.  This is up from 78.35% on November 30th.  The Middle School vaccination rate has increased to 74.29%, which is up from 69.75% on November 30th

Masco Vaccination Rates* as of 12/14/21November 16, 2021November 30, 2021December 7, 2021December 14, 2021
MS Students169.41%69.75%73.78%74.29%
HS Students179.87%80.12%82.34%82.53%
All Staff288.78%89.14%89.14%90.16%
Total77.05%78.35%80.78%81.20%

Because we have reached the 80% vaccination threshold set by Commissioner Riley, we have applied for a waiver to allow vaccinated individuals to attend school without a mask.  We expect to hear back from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding this application by the end of this week.  If the waiver is approved, we will then begin discussions with the Boxford Board of Health regarding their Public Health Order that all individuals in public buildings wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.  I spoke with Kendell Longo, Public Health Agent for the Town of Boxford, today to let her know that we anticipate receiving the waiver from DESE this week and that we will be reaching out to the Boxford Board of Heath after we receive the waiver.  As we still have many details to work out, we should not anticipate any changes to our mask mandate until later in January at the earliest.

Again, our data show that a much higher percentage of positive COVID cases at Masconomet are in our unvaccinated individuals.  Based on our 81.2% vaccination rate, unvaccinated individuals at Masconomet are infected at a rate that is roughly 7.5 times greater than that of vaccinated individuals.  (Vaccinated rate of infection is 21 per 1624 vaccinated individuals or 1.2%.  Unvaccinated rate of infection is 34 per 376 unvaccinated individuals or 9%)  The clear message is to get vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Vaccinations do make a difference.

Masco Vaccination Status, 12/15/21Number of Positive Cases
Unvaccinated34
Vaccinated21
No Vaccination Data Available 4
Total Positive Cases59

Use of At-Home COVID Test Kits

I wanted to share some information that comes from our Community Public Health Nurse, Julia Lobel.  According to the MA DPH and DESE, if your child or a member in your household tests positive on an at-home COVID test kit, such as those sold over the counter at pharmacies, your child, or member of your household, must isolate for a minimum of 10 days and seek confirmatory PCR testing, ideally within 48 hours of home testing. All at-home COVID test kits are not created equally and are not official test results, so they are not reliable for use in the school community.  At-home test results are also not reported in the state public health system; therefore, the local board of health is unable to follow up with cases and perform contact tracing base on an at-home positive test result. Your child cannot be cleared to return to school using these test kits and they may put your child in an extended quarantine.  If you have specific questions regarding this protocol please reach out directly to your school’s Health Office.

Booster Clinic for Masconomet Employees

I want to thank Julia Lobel and the Public Health Departments of Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield for arranging a vaccine booster clinic for Masconomet Employees.  The clinic will take place during the school day on Friday, December 17th. All Masconomet employees received an email earlier this week with instructions on how to register for a booster shot appointment.

Happy Holidays!

Our last day of school for 2021 will be on Wednesday, December 22nd.  Schools will re-open on Monday January 3rd.  I want to wish everyone a happy holiday and a happy and healthy 2022.

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 12/1/21

COVID Case Report

On Monday, November 22nd, DESE Commissioner Riley held a conference call with superintendents.  During this call, he advised us that we should be expecting a spike in cases between Thanksgiving and the holiday break.  He also reminded us to continue to follow the COVID protocols issued by DESE and the Department of Public Health and to consult with the DESE’s Rapid COVID Response Team if we felt it necessary. 

At Masconomet, we have been experiencing this predicted rise in COVID cases since the beginning of November.  We have had a total of 43 positive cases since the beginning of school in September.  The following chart tracks the number of cases by week and shows the trend of increasing cases:

The following chart shows the case counts by school and month.  We are seeing an increase in the number of positive cases at the Middle School relative to the number of total cases.  Six of the 13 (46%) positive cases in November were Middle School Students. We will continue to monitor this situation.

District Vaccination Rates

Our District Vaccination Rates have increased slightly over the past month; however, we still have not reached the overall 80% rate needed to apply for a mask waiver from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Masconomet Vaccination Rates, November 2 – November 30, 2021*
 November 2, 2021November 9, 2021November 16, 2021November 30, 2021
MS Students169.24%69.24%69.41%69.75%
HS Students179.64%79.62%79.87%80.12%
All Staff288.41%88.41%88.78%89.14%
Total77.82%77.81%78.05%78.35.%
* – Methodology follows DESE Policy on Vaccination Thresholds dated September 27, 2021. 1 – Source: Direct data feed from Massachusetts Immunization Information System (MIIS). 2 – Source: Survey of District Employees requesting Proof of Vaccination Status.

Masconomet COVID Cases by Vaccination Status

We have also seen a 50% higher proportion of COVID Cases from individuals who are not vaccinated:

Vaccination Status1Number of Positive Cases
Unvaccinated26
Vaccinated13
No Data4
Total Positive Cases43
1. Source: Boxford Health Department Reports of positive COVID cases to the Masconomet Regional School District, 9/1 – 12/1/21

The clear message in this table is to get vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals account for twice the number of positive COVID cases at Masconomet. Vaccinated individuals are also exempt from needing to quarantine if they are a close contact of a COVID-positive individual. Vaccines are now available for anyone ages 5 and over. To find a vaccine appointment near you go to https://vaxfinder.mass.gov/

Delayed Opening on Monday, December 6th

Both the Middle and High Schools will be starting at 10:00 on Monday, December 6th.  Teachers will have a professional development program on this morning from 7:35 to 9:45.  Teachers will choose from a menu of activities for this morning.  The list of options includes:

  • “Anxiety and School Performance,” presented by the Massachusetts Partnerships for Youth.
  • “Introduction to Newsela,” presented by Newsela staff.  Newsela is an online teaching resource.
  • “Newsela and Culturally Responsive Teaching” presented by Newsela staff.
  • “Newsela and Guided Inquiry,” presented by Newsela staff.
  • “Introduction to Formative,”  presented by Ben Hodges and Ryan King.  Formative is an online assessment software package.
  • “Strategies for Struggling Students,” presented by Meg Smith from our Student Services Department.
  • “Rethinking Grading” presented by Dr. Carabatsos and Dr. McManus
  • “Co-Teaching Pair Meetings.”  Classroom teachers and special educators who co-teach will use this time for planning instruction.

Search Process for Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Position

As I announced on November 17th, Assistant Superintendent Patty Bullard has announced her retirement.  We will follow the process listed below to identify her successor:

  1. Advertise position beginning December 6, 2021 with applications due January 7, 2022.
  2. Interview Team developed during December and January.  Interview Team will be co-chaired by Dr. Carabatsos and Dr. McManus.
  3. Resume screening will be done by Executive Leadership Team from January 11 through January 14, 2022.
  4. Initial Interviews will be conducted by Interview Team during the week of January 24th.
    • Interview Team will forward at least two finalists to the Superintendent.
  5. Second interviews and visits to Masconomet for finalists held during teh week of January 11, 2022.
    • Masconomet visit includes:
      • Meeting with faculty and staff.
      • Public meeting with parents in the evening.
      • Meeting with students during the school day.
      • Meeting with Department Heads, Executive Leadership Team and other key staff members at Masconomet.
      • All individuals meeting with the finalists will be asked to provide written feedback to the Superintendent.
    • The Superintendent will conduct a second interview with each finalist.
  6. The Superintendent will conduct site visits and reference checks for finalists during the week of February 7, 2022.
    • Superintendent selects site visit team and leads each site visit.
  7. The position will be offered to preferred candidate by February 18, 2022.
  8. The Superintendent presents his recommendation of the preferred candidate at to the School Committee at the March 9, 2022 School Committee Meeting.
  9. The new Assistant Superintendent for Student Services will begin at Masconomet on July 1, 2022.