The murder of eight people in Georgia last week, six of whom were of Asian descent, and the overall rise of incidents of hate against members of our American Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) community over the past year demonstrate how much more we still need to do to combat acts of hatred and bigotry in our society. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only served to exacerbate the xenophobia and anti-AAPI sentiment that has existed throughout our country’s history. I am saddened to hear of these most recent acts of hatred and stand in support with our AAPI community members in these very troubling times. I also want to reaffirm the commitment of the Masconomet Regional School District to addressing any acts of hatred against any members of our community. Bigotry and discrimination have no place in the Masconomet School Community.
Last fall, the Masconomet School Committee developed an Equity and Anti-Racism Resolution that states our commitment to maintaining a learning environment where all members of our community feel safe, welcomed, respected, and supported, and to eradicating discriminatory policies, practices, and structures in our District. The School Committee’s Anti-Racism Subcommittee continues to work toward these goals through developing policies and identifying programming to embed “diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism in all aspects of education and learning for our students, families, faculty and staff.”
Masconomet’s Vision 2025 strives to develop graduates whose success “is dependent upon their ability to embrace and thoughtfully act within our world that is racially, culturally, linguistically and economically diverse.” The acts of violence and discrimination of the past year against our AAPI community, and against other underrepresented groups in our society, demonstrate how developing these skills in our students is needed now more than ever.
On March 9, 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued “Guidance on In-Person Learning and Student Learning Time Requirements.” This guidance announced that all Massachusetts middle schools must return to full-time, in-person learning by Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Masconomet’s current plan is to return students in grades 7 and 8 to full-time, in-person learning on Monday, April 26, 2021, which is the Monday after April Vacation. In the March 9th “Guidance,” DESE also announced that all Massachusetts high school schools will be required to return to in-person learning later this spring. The exact date for this shift is expected to be announced by DESE in April. I anticipate that this date will be sometime in early May. Last night, I presented the School Committee with an update on where the Masconomet District stands relative to this guidance from DESE..
Our timeline for returning students to in-person learning after April Vacation will give our teachers and staff members more opportunity to receive the vaccine prior to working with larger numbers of students. As of today, preK-12 educational personnel became eligible for vaccination at Massachusetts’ state vaccination sites. I was also happy to hear that Governor Baker yesterday announced four dates will be reserved at the state’s mass vaccination sites to administer vaccines to teachers, school staff and child care workers. These dedicated dates, along with the promised delivery of more vaccine doses to Massachusetts, will go a long way to ensuring our educators are better protected from contracting COVID-19.
As per DESE’s announcement, parents will have the option of choosing whether to send their children to school in-person, full-time, or to have their children attend school remotely. This decision will be binding for the rest of the school year. Students who choose to attend remotely, will continue learning in their current classes through Blackboard, our online learning platform. Unless they are absent for a COVID-related reason (illness or quarantine), students who have elected to attend school in-person will be marked “absent” for any days they are not physically present in school and will not be allowed to attend classes remotely.
As with our current hybrid model, in-person learning at Masconomet will continue to implement health and safety mitigation strategies designed to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. These mitigation strategies include mandatory mask-wearing, hand-washing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, and contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine. One change in our mitigation strategy is in regards to physical distancing. Since October of 2020, our practice has been to ensure at least 6’ of physical distancing between students. As per DESE’s “Guidance,” 3’ is now the minimum distance required between students. As a result, we will be re-arranging our classroom spaces to meet this new standard. The exception to the 3’ physical distance standard is when students are unmasked, such as during lunch or a mask break, where 6’ of physical distancing will continue to be required.
Over the next several weeks, we will make the necessary preparations to return our Middle School Students to in-person learning on April 26, and our High School Students shortly thereafter. These preparations will include conducting a survey for parents, guardians and caregivers to indicate whether their children will attend school in person or remotely for the rest of the school year, measuring and re-arranging furniture in our classrooms to ensure the required 3’ distancing is achieved, and making necessary arrangements to ensure other critical operations, such as lunch, can be carried out with the necessary mitigation strategies. Parents should expect to receive the survey indicating their choice of in-person or remote learning early next week.
As we reach the one-year anniversary of our initial closing of schools on March 13, 2020, it seems we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that is the COVID-19 pandemic and can contemplate a return to some sense of a normalcy. Our adherence to COVID-19 mitigation strategies designed to stop the spread, combined with the increasing number of individuals who become vaccinated, will hopefully continue to result in a decrease in the number of people affected by this disease. I look forward to seeing the return of all of Masconomet’s students to in-person learning, beginning with our Middle School on April 26th. We will continue to update the community as more information becomes available regarding our reopening plan. Thank you for your continued support.
Dr. Mary Jo Carabatsos Hired as Masconomet Regional High School’s Principal
It gives me great pleasure to announce the hiring of Mary Jo Carabatsos, Ph.D. as the next Principal of Masconomet Regional High School. Through our interview process, Dr. Carabatsos distinguished herself as a school leader who is visionary, data-focused, thoughtful, and engaged in the lives of her students and faculty. In her work as the Dean of Teaching and Learning at the Brooks School, Dr. Carabatsos led the implementation of a competency-based assessment system that teaches students the skills necessary for lifelong success. I’ve spoken with Dr. Carabatsos several times over the past week, and she is eager to begin the process of meeting our community, learning more about Masconomet, and working with us to achieve the goals of Masconomet Vision 2025. I’m excited to have her join our team on July 1, 2021.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the members of our community who participated in our search process. Thanks to our Screening Committee, which was co-chaired by Patty Bullard and Phil McManus, and was made up of High School Student Justin Crosby; High School Faculty Members Jenna Almeida, Kathy Natale, and Melissa Stanley; Department Heads Irene Duros and Tammy Fay; and High School Parents Mark Butterworth, Alexis Kostas and Karen Porter for conducting initial interviews and recommending our three finalists. Thanks also to the members of our community who participated in the interview sessions during our virtual site visits, including the 60+ students of our Masconomet High School Student Council, high school faculty, department heads, and parents and community members. The feedback on the three finalists provided by these groups was invaluable in helping me to reach this decision.
Updated Guidance on Learning Models
Since February 11, we have received several communications from our state and federal governments around how we will conduct school in the spring of 2021. On February 11, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released updated guidance around student transportation. This guidance removed some of the restrictions relative to the number of students that can be transported on a school bus. On February 12, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) released “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation.” This document presents guidance for the best practices to both safely open schools and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Finally, on February 23rd, the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education released “Initial Information on Expanding In-Person Learning this Spring.” In this letter, the Commissioner expresses his goal of shifting away from remote and hybrid learning models and returning to in-person learning this spring and promises a plan to be released in March that provides for a phased approach to returning students to the classroom beginning in April with students in the elementary grades .
Masconomet currently has a strong COVID-19 mitigation plan in place that meets the requirements of the CDC. To date, we have had 92 reported student cases and 20 adult cases of COVID-19 since October 29, 2020, and no known instances of transmission of COVID-19 between students or staff while in school.
The elimination of the requirement of 6ft of social distancing for students on school busses has removed a major hurdle for a return to full in-person learning.
The requirement that students are separated by 6ft of social distancing while they are unmasked to eat lunch remains a major impediment to returning to in-person learning. We do not possess the physical space to accommodate the students in our largest high school lunch at 6ft distancing.
We are awaiting the Commissioner’s plan for returning more students to in-person learning to see what other changes may be made to the state’s reopening guidance. This plan has been promised in the next two weeks.
The District’s Executive Leadership Team and School Committee remain committed to safely returning all students to in-person learning as soon as it is practicable.
We have hosted two of our three finalists for the position of Principal of Masconomet Regional High School for second interviews. Katie DiNardo visited Masconomet on January 27 and Ryan Souliotis had his second interview on January 28. Our third finalist, Mary Jo Carabatsos, will visit Masconomet on Thursday, February 4th. All three candidates will follow a schedule that includes meeting with faculty, students and administration. Each candidate will also have a public evening interview with parents and members of the community. Information regarding each of the three finalists, including links to the recordings of the public interview sessions and feedback forms for parents and members of the community, can be found at https://mascosuper.school.blog/2021/01/29/masconomet-high-school-principal-finalist-public-interviews/
The Masconomet District has seen a decrease in the number of reported COVID-19 cases since our last School Committee Meeting on January 20. In the last two weeks, we have eleven reported COVID-19 cases among faculty and staff. This number is down from 17 reported cases for the two-week period from January 6 through January 19, and 40 reported cases between December 21st and January 6th. We continue to meet as necessary with our local public health officials to identify close contacts, although the number of individuals who are present in school while infectious remains small. Of the eleven cases reported in the last two weeks, only two were present in school while infectious, and in both cases no individuals were identified as close contacts of these two positive people due to their following our health and safety requirements. We cannot stress enough how important it is to follow the CDC’s guidelines on wearing a mask, maintaining 6 feet of social distancing and following proper hand hygiene.
DESE Pooled Testing Program
In early January, DESE announced the implementation of a pooled testing program for Massachusetts School Districts. Under this program, individual COVID-19 test samples are combined into “pools,” or groups of between 10 and 25 individuals. If a pooled sample shows a positive COVID-19 result, all members of this pool must be tested again to determine which individual in the pool has COVID-19. This approach greatly reduces the cost of testing to around $5 per individual included in each pool. DESE is offering to pay for the cost of the testing for the first six weeks of the program until the end of March. They also will have some support for districts in the logistics involved in developing the routines necessary to carry out the testing. After the initial offer period ends, districts will be responsible for the entire cost of the testing program. Information from DESE regarding this program is located at: https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/pooled-testing/
I have spent a great deal of time over the past several weeks gathering information about this program and consulting with our local public health experts regarding the benefits and drawbacks of participating. I have attended several webinars from DESE on the program, held conference calls with our local public health officials, met with our Masconomet Nursing Faculty and personally visited the Watertown Public Schools to observe their own in-house testing program and interview their personnel.
After careful consideration of all of the information provided by DESE and listening to the opinions of our local health officials and school nursing staff, the consensus is for us to not participate in this program at this time. While the offer of the DESE to cover a substantial part of the cost of this program is an enticing option, I am concerned that providing the personnel and financial resources necessary to implement and maintain this program will exceed our current capacity. This becomes an even less enticing proposition when weighed against the fact that Watertown’s testing program is not identifying significantly higher percentages of COVID-19 positive students and staff than what we are currently identifying in Masconomet without an in-house testing program. As I reported earlier, we have had eleven reported positive cases in the last two weeks, and only two of them were in the building while infectious. Our plan for mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene seems to be working to stop any spread of infection in our buildings. Our public health officials also expressed the concern that a testing program may provide a false sense of security in our community, which would lead to fewer people following the public health recommendations regarding mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing.
Our School Nursing Staff and Executive Leadership Team have scheduled time to revisit this decision at the end of February to see if conditions have changed to warrant participation in the program.
COVID-19 School Reopening Plan
Members of the School Committee and I have received inquiries from parents regarding when we might be able to return to more in-person learning for students. Our Masconomet School Reopening Plan, which was published on August 14, 2020, outlines the requirements from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that we must comply with in order to implement in-person learning. To date, these requirements still remain in effect.
In August, after conducting a feasibility study of our programs in light of the DESE and DPH requirements, we identified several major hurdles that would need to be overcome in order to meet the DESE and DPH requirements for full in-person learning. First, our classrooms are not large enough to provide for the minimum of three-feet of social distancing for staff and students. The Boxford Board of Health has recently reiterated that the preferred distance is at least six feet of distancing and our experience with contact tracing has demonstrated that if we were to reduce our spacing to three feet, we would have many more students and staff quarantined as close contacts. Second, our shared cafeteria spaces are not large enough to feed all of our students with the six feet of social distancing that is required when students are unmasked to eat. In our hybrid plan, moving lunch to our field house only allows us to feed ½ half of the students who would be in a lunch period with all in-person learning. Finally, social distancing requirements limit the capacity of our school busses to about 1/3 of full capacity, or about 25 students on a 77-seat bus. As the requirements from DESE and the DPH have not changed, these conditions still limit what we can do in regards to implementing full in-person learning. We will revisit our plan if and when the DESE and DPH issue new regulations. Any changes to our Reopening Plan would also need to be collectively bargained with our teacher and paraprofessional unions.
Notice of Elevated PFAS Levels in Drinking Water
We received notice from the Town of Topsfield’s Water Department that the water in Topsfield, including that supplied to Masconomet, has tested for elevated levels of PFAS, which are chemicals used in industrial manufacturing. The advisory from the Topsfield Water Department recommends that consumers in certain subgroups, including pregnant or nursing women, infants, and people diagnosed by their health care provider to have a compromised immune system, should not drink or cook with our water.
Drinking water at Masconomet will continue to be available via our touchless water filling stations throughout campus, however please be aware that the current filtration systems in these filling stations are not specifically certified to remove PFAS. We are currently working with the filling station manufacturer to identify, procure and install certified filters. We will let you know if/when this occurs. In the interim, we encourage all students and staff to bring bottled water with them each day in order to limit their exposure to PFAS and to stay properly hydrated. For those students and staff that do not bring bottled water or are uncomfortable utilizing the touchless water filling stations, we will make bottled water available during daily lunch services in the Field House Cafeteria service area. We will also only use bottled water or water that has been properly filtered for cooking foods (like pasta) served by our Food Services Department.
For more information, please refer to the attached letter from the Topsfield Water Department:
Sprinkler Pipe Failure
On Monday, February 1, a sprinkler pipe in our generator room failed, causing the fire alarm to sound in both buildings. Students were temporarily relocated to the field house and the auditorium while our local fire departments assessed the situation, and were eventually returned to class. Yesterday’s snow day gave us time to complete the cleanup, to implement some temporary solutions to the building systems that were impacted by the flood and to have the necessary building inspections completed. Asst. Superintendent Jeff Sands will be working with our insurance carrier to submit claims for this failure and any other long-term repairs that need to be done.
Two of our three candidates for the position of Principal of Masconomet Regional High School completed their visits to Masconomet this week. Katie DiNardo completed her interview on Wednesday, January 27th, Ryan Souliotis visited Masconomet on Thursday, January 28th. Our third finalist, Mary Jo Carabatsos, will visit on Thursday, February 4th. The finalists’ visit entails spending a full day at Masconomet, meeting in-person and virtually with groups of students, faculty and administration and concludes with a public interview for parents and community members. Each group of constituents who meet with the finalists are asked to submit feedback of their impressions.
The public interview sessions from this week have been recorded and are available for you to view at the links below. The form for members of the public to submit feedback on the candidates is located at: https://forms.gle/UzCfNGz6iA5EMEs16. Forms will be accepted through Monday, February 8th.
The finalists are:
Mary Jo Carabatsos. Mary Jo is currently the Dean of Teaching and Learning at the Brooks School in North Andover, a position she has held since July of 2016. From 2011-2106, she was the Science Department Chair at the Brooks School. Prior to working at Brooks, Mary Jo worked in the Andover Public Schools as a Science Program Advisor, STEM Project Manager and a High School Science Teacher. Mary Jo holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Bio-Chemistry from Boston College, a Doctorate in Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology from Tufts University and is pursuing a Certificate in School Leadership and Management from Harvard University. Mary Jo will be interviewing at Masconomet on Thursday, February 4th.
Katie DiNardo. Katie has been an Assistant Principal at Masconomet Regional High School since July of 2012. Prior to joining us at Masconomet, she was an Assistant Principal at Gloucester High School for two years and the Vice Principal for Watertown High School for three years. Prior to becoming an administrator, Katie was a Guidance Counselor at Watertown High School. Katie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the College of Wooster, and a Master’s of Education and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Administration from Cambridge College.
Ryan Souliotis. Ryan has been the Principal for Learning Community E at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School since 2017. Prior to working in Cambridge, Ryan held the positions of Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, History Department Chair and History Teacher at Lawrence High School from 2012 to 2017. Ryan holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science from Bates College, and a Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Franklin Pierce University.
After all of our finalists have completed their visits to Masconomet, I will be conducting meeting with the candidates’ references, and constituents at their current places of work. I expect to offer the position to one of these finalists the week of February 22nd.
I am pleased to announce the finalists for the position of Masconomet High School Principal. Our screening committee completed two interview sessions this week and have identified three candidates to move forward for a second round of interviews. Each candidate will now spend a full day at Masconomet interviewing with members of our community. Each candidate will also have a public interview for parents and community members on the evenings listed below. Participants in these sessions will be asked to provide written feedback to inform my decision on a final candidate.
The candidates are:
Mary Jo Carabatsos. Mary Jo is currently the Dean of Teaching and Learning at the Brooks School in North Andover, a position she has held since July of 2016. From 2011-2106, she was the Science Department Chair at the Brooks School. Prior to working at Brooks, Mary Jo worked in the Andover Public Schools as a Science Program Advisor, STEM Project Manager and a High School Science Teacher. Mary Jo holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Bio-Chemistry from Boston College, a Doctorate in Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology from Tufts University and is pursuing a Certificate in School Leadership and Management from Harvard University. Mary Jo will be interviewing at Masconomet on Thursday, February 4th. To participate in the Public Interview with Ms. Carabatsos at 7:00 PM on February 4, please use this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81920826038?pwd=MFNKeDE5ZVVVYkxiUnRQbWV5Q3JnZz09
Katie DiNardo. Katie has been an Assistant Principal at Masconomet Regional High School since July of 2012. Prior to joining us at Masconomet, she was an Assistant Principal at Gloucester High School for two years and the Vice Principal for Watertown High School for three years. Prior to becoming an administrator, Katie was a Guidance Counselor at Watertown High School. Katie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the College of Wooster, and a Master’s of Education and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Administration from Cambridge College. Katie will be interviewing at Masconomet on Wednesday, January 27th. To participate on the Public Interview at 7:00 PM on January 27th, please use this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83401764488?pwd=bXF0emFSOENPS21MQmNhbDZKSEJaUT09
Ryan Souliotis. Ryan has been the Principal for Learning Community E at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School since 2017. Prior to working in Cambridge, Ryan held the positions of Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, History Department Chair and History Teacher at Lawrence High School from 2012 to 2017. Ryan holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science from Bates College, and a Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Franklin Pierce University. Ryan will be interviewing at Masconomet on Thursday, January 28th. To participate in the Public Interview on January 28th, please use this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87067746788?pwd=WTNzV0R5RHdFUlNkY3NXMXJFVXkxZz09
I would like to thank the members of our Interview Committee for conducting interviews over two evenings this week, deliberating on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and recommending three very promising finalists. The members of our Interview Committee are:
Patty Bullard, Asst. Superintendent for Student Services, Co-Chair
Phil McManus, Middle School Principal, Co-Chair
Jenna Almeida, HS Teacher
Mark Butterworth, HS Parent
Justin Crosby, HS Student
Irene Duros, Guidance Department Head
Tammy Fay, Science, Technology and Engineering Department Head
The Masconomet Regional School District has seen a large increase in reported COVID cases in students and staff over the holiday break. Between December 21st and this morning, we have received reports of 40 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. This number is equal to the number of reported cases in the period from October 29th through December 21st. Through our contact tracing process with the Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield Health Departments, we have established that only two of the 40 individuals were in school while they were contagious. Through our contact tracing process, we have also established that none of these individuals contracted COVID-19 through contact while they were in school. We’ve been informed by our public health professionals that the most common mode of transmission is within households, where one family member is infected outside of the home and then, in turn, infects the other family members in the household.
The Towns of Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield have joined to hire a Public Health Nurse to work directly with the Masconomet and Tri-Town School Departments. Julia Lobel was hired for this position in late November and has quickly gotten up to speed in working with the school districts. I want to thank the towns for making this commitment. I know it has helped alleviate some of the pressure that was on our local health departments and has already proved valuable in coordinating the quarantining of positive cases and identification and notification of close contacts.
2021 MCAS Testing
Last month, I received notice from DESE that the MCAS Test administration that was originally scheduled for this month had been postponed. On January 5, I received an update from DESE Commissioner Riley regarding the MCAS. The Commissioner has proposed several modifications to the MCAS for the spring of 2021 including:
The postponement of the make-up MCAS administration for students in 12th grade. The Commissioner has proposed allowing current seniors who have not met the passing MCAS score in ELA and Mathematics to demonstrate proficiency through earning a passing grade in an approved Masconomet Course in lieu of earning a passing MCAS score.
A “significantly reduced” MCAS test for students in grades 3-8 through the use of a “session sampling approach.” This will impact the administration of the spring MCAS sessions to our Masconomet Middle School Students in the March – May timeframe.
The Commissioner has stated he will not name or recommend any new schools or districts as “underperforming” or “chronically underperforming” in the upcoming school year. DESE will also consider any available flexibilities that may be provided by the US Department of Education.
The testing window for the ACCESS test of English language proficiency, which normally concludes in February, has been extended through May 20, 2021.
Last spring DESE waived the requirement of passing an MCAS Science Test for students in the classes of 2020-2023. The Commissioner has now provided districts the flexibility of offering the MCAS Biology Test to members of the class of 2024 (current 9th grade) in June of 2021 instead of February.
Happy New Year! After consulting with our local public health officials this morning, Masconomet Middle and High Schools will resume classes on Monday, January 4th under our hybrid schedule. Cohort “B” will be in-person and WIN Block will take place during Period 4 on Monday.
Families who traveled over the holiday break should remember to follow Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Travel Order. Anyone who has traveled to a state designated as “higher risk” must quarantine for 10 days upon return to Massachusetts or produce a negative COVID-19 test result that has been administered up to 72-hours prior to your arrival in Massachusetts. Anyone who does not receive documentation of a negative prior to their return to Massachusetts must quarantine until they have received documentation of a negative test result. Documentation of negative test results should be provided to your child’s school nurse on Monday.
I also would like to remind everyone of the recommended precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Continue to wear a mask in public, wash your hands frequently and remain home if you exhibit any of the symptoms of COVID-19. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a few instances over the vacation week where individuals who were exhibiting “mild” symptoms did not stay home, went about their normal activities and subsequently tested positive. Staying home when exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms eliminates the need to quarantine others as close contacts and decreases the possibility of spreading COVID-19.
Finally, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has issued updated guidance around the time people identified as “close contacts” need to spend in quarantine. In accordance with the CDC, close contacts of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for the time period listed below:
At least 7 days, provided that all of the following are satisfied:
They are tested (either polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or antigen test) on day 5 or later from their last exposure to the positive individual and receive a negative test result
They have not experienced any symptoms up to this point
They conduct active monitoring for symptoms through day 14, and self-isolate if new symptoms develop.
At least 10 days, provided that all of the following are satisfied:
They have not experienced any symptoms up to this point
They conduct active monitoring for symptoms through day 14 and self-isolate if new symptoms develop
No test is necessary under this option for the purposes of exiting quarantine
At least 14 days after the last exposure to the person who tested positive, if:
They have experienced any symptoms during the quarantine period, even if they have a negative COVID-19 test; or
They are unable to conduct active monitoring of symptoms.
We continue to see an increase in the number of positive student and staff COVID-19 cases. Since my last report on December 2nd, there have been approximately 17 positive cases reported in both the middle and high school. Over 90% of these cases involve students or staff who were not in the school building while contagious. This may be due to individuals either attending school remotely or already being in quarantine because of a close contact with a COVID-positive individual prior to testing positive. We also continue to see large numbers of students and staff We continue our practice of calling together the members of our COVID response team when we do have a report of a COVID positive individual in our buildings for the purpose of identifying and notifying close contacts of the positive individual. To date, we do not have evidence of any staff or student contracting COVID while in school. Our local public health officials tell us that most of the COVID spread they are seeing is within households. As we approach the holiday break, I ask that you follow the “December Holiday Guidance” from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health located at https://www.mass.gov/news/december-holiday-guidance, which asks Massachusetts Residents to limit in-person celebrations to household members only, postpone or cancel travel this holiday season and to follow current gathering size limits and workplace safety standards. With the release of vaccines for COVID-19 coming in the new year, it looks like there’s an end to this long fight against COVID-19 in sight. Now, more than ever, we need to maintain our vigilance so that everyone we know and love will still be with us next summer.
High School Principal Search Update
We are well underway in our search for the next principal of Masconomet High School. The position was posted on Schoolspring.com, and other job posting sites. We currently have approximately 20 applicants for the position. Applications will close on January 4th. Asst. Superintendent Patty Bullard and Middle School Principal Phil McManus are leading our Screening Committee, which will be responsible for interviewing applicants and selecting finalists. The Screening Committee is made up of eleven members of our high school community and includes parents, teachers, department heads and a student representative. Interviews will be conducted during the week of January 18th.
On Monday, December 14, I sent out surveys to high school faculty, parents and students regarding the qualities they would like to see in our next high school principal. The responses to these surveys will be shared with the members of our screening committee to help guide their selection of finalists. The surveys can be accessed through the links below:
Finalists will be invited to visit Masconomet High School during the week of January 25th. These visits will consist of interview sessions with different members of the Masconomet High School Community, including faculty, department heads, and students. The “visits” will conclude with a virtual session for parents and community members in the evening. Everyone who meets with the candidates during the finalist interviews will be invited to provide written feedback to assist me in making a final decision. More information on the schedule for the finalists’ visits will be communicated in mid-January.
Remote Learning Day on December 17, 2020
Due to the predicted snowstorm, we will have a remote learning day for all students on Thursday, December 17, 2020. No students or faculty will physically attend school. We will follow our regular hybrid class schedule for the day. School offices will be physically closed and office and administrative personnel will work from home. If the storm causes widespread power outages, we may need to cancel school outright. I will be monitoring conditions overnight and will communicate any changes to our plan in the morning, if necessary. On Friday, December 18, students in Cohort A will attend school in-person.
Schedule for the Week of December 21, 2020
Monday, December 21 and Tuesday, December 22nd, will be remote learning days for students in grades 7-12. Students in our LRC Programs will attend in-person for both of these days. School will be closed for students and faculty beginning on Wednesday, December 23rd and will re-open on Monday, January 4th. Cohort B will be in-person on January 4th.
Standardized Testing in January Postponed
We have received notice from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that the MCAS Testing for 11th Grade that was originally scheduled for the week of January 18th has been postponed. We will therefore not need to alter our schedule for that week. DESE will notify us when this testing is re-scheduled. PSAT testing is still scheduled for Tuesday, January 26th. Only 11th Grade students will attend school in-person on January 26. All other students in both the Middle and High Schools will attend classes remotely that day.
Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and for better days ahead in 2021.
Since my last report on November 18, 2020, we have had an additional 14 positive COVID-19 cases reported in the Masconomet Community. This brings the total number of reported cases to 22 individuals since we began our hybrid model on October 21st. Most of these cases have been determined to have no close contacts in our school community. While 14 new cases is nearly twice the number we experienced over the first month of our hybrid schedule (8 cases), we still seem to be experiencing fewer cases than what is being seen in our communities as a whole.
As has been our practice since late October, whenever a positive COVID-19 case is reported to the school, either from our local departments of public health, or through a parent directly contacting the school, we call together our COVID Response team. This group is made up of members of the Masconomet administration and nursing staff, the Boxford Town Administrator, representatives from the Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield Departments of Public Health and the Superintendent of the Tri-Town School Union. The purpose of this group is to share information regarding positive cases among the relevant stakeholders, to discuss necessary actions in response to the positive case report, including the quarantining of the infected individual and the identification, notification, and quarantining of any people who are identified as “close contacts” of a COVID positive member of our community, and to evaluate the overall status of the District relative to COVID cases. As of today, this group has met a total of eight times since late October.
We have also received some updated information from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding the quarantine period for those identified as “Close Contacts” of a COVID positive individual. In this new guidance, a close contact must remain quarantined for:
At least 14 days from the date of last exposure; or
At least 10 days, provided all of the following are satisfied:
You have not had, and do not have, any symptoms;
You are tested on day 8 of your quarantine period or later using a molecular diagnostic test (e.g., polymerase chain reaction (PCR)) to detect the presence of the virus;
You receive a negative test result; and
You monitor yourself for symptoms for the full 14 days. If you develop symptoms, you should contact your health care provider and be re-tested.
Also, a reminder: Please remember that if a student or staff member tests positive, only close contacts should quarantine. Other students and educators in the classroom should not quarantine unless they are confirmed close contacts and instructed to do so by either their local department of public health or a member of our school nursing staff. A close contact is defined as only those who have been within 6 feet of distance of the individual for at least 15 minutes while the person was infectious. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s updated “Protocols for responding to COVID-19 scenarios in school, on the bus, or in community settings” guidance is posted at https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop/protocols/protocols.docx **Note: On December 2, 2020, we received notice that the CDC issued new guidelines for quarantining close contacts. This information will be updated when the Massachusetts DPH and DESE update their guidance for schools.
Delayed Opening on December 7, 2020
Monday, December 7, 2020 will be a delayed opening for all students in Grades 7-12. School will begin at 10:05. Cohort “B” will be in-person on this day. Both Middle and High School Principals will be communicating the class schedule for the day with their school communities.
Schedule for Week of December 21, 2020
Monday, December 21st and Tuesday, December 22nd will be all-remote days for students. We will run our regular 7-period schedule virtually for these two days. There will be no students attending in-person on December 21st and 22nd, except for students in our LRC Program at the Middle and High Schools. Students are expected to attend all of their classes remotely through Blackboard. Teachers will be taking period attendance and reporting student absences from class as usual.
Holiday Break will begin on Wednesday, December 23rd, and we will return to school on Monday, January 4th. Cohort “B” will be attending in-person learning and Cohort “A” attending remotely on January 4th.
Hybrid Schedule Update
We instituted the use of a “WIN” block in our daily schedule on Monday, November 30. In this schedule, we will replace one period per day with a “WIN” block, a directed study period where students can seek extra help from their teachers. The School Committee will be voting to approve an agreement on this change tonight. Members of the Executive Leadership Team and the Masconomet Education Association have also started meeting to discuss other possible changes to our hybrid schedule. We will be communicating any other changes as we reach agreements with the Masconomet Teachers Association.
High School Principal Search
As we learned at our November 4 School Committee Meeting, Masconomet High School Principal Delani has announced his intention to retire at the end of the school year. I want to thank Mr. Delani for his many years of service to Masconomet and especially for his leadership in this time of crisis.
I have developed a timeline for hiring a new Principal of Masconomet Regional High School to begin on July 1, 2021. The position will be advertised beginning on Monday, December 7, 2020, with a closing date of January 4, 2021. Initial interviews will be held during the week of January 18, and finalists will be interviewed for a second time during the week of January 25, 2021. Site visits and reference checks will be conducted during the first week of February and an offer to a preferred candidate is anticipated during the week of February 8.
The Initial Interview Committee will be Co-Chaired by Asst. Superintendent Patty Bullard and Middle School Principal Phil McManus, who are in the process of identifying the remaining members of the Interview Committee. We will also be conducting a survey of the high school faculty and parents regarding the qualities they would like to see in our next Principal of Masconomet High School in the next few weeks.
Standardized Testing in January
While the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) cancelled the MCAS Test administration last spring for all sophomores, it did not relieve these students of the requirement they pass the test in order to achieve a high school diploma. We have received notice from DESE that all of our current juniors will be given the MCAS test during the week of January 18, 2021. Additionally, we have received notice from the College Board that the PSAT will be administered for juniors on Tuesday, January 26th. Given our social distancing and space requirements, all other students in the District will be learning remotely beginning on Tuesday, January 19 and return to hybrid in-person learning on Wednesday January 27 in order to facilitate MCAS and PSAT testing for our 11th grade students.