Show and Tell to Help Kids Get Used to School in 2020-21

            Halloween is still several weeks away, but if a child sees his principal wearing a facemask on a computer screen, perhaps he or she won’t be spooked by the sight on the first day of school. That, and a ton of pertinent information, has been Derek Medeiros’ message to Rochester Memorial School students gearing up for a return to classrooms on Wednesday, September 16.

            The Rochester Memorial School principal recently held a Zoom question-and-answer session with families and told the Rochester School Committee that the videos are meant “to orient the students to what they’re going to see so that’s not a shocking experience when they walk in on the first day.”

            Rochester Memorial will have new signage on the ground and on its walls. The sneak preview, complete with administration behind masks, is an ice breaker for the new year.

            “Just to give them a nice little preview on what they’re going to see,” said Medeiros, who told the parents, “I apologize if you feel inundated the next week or so.”

            If inundation lessens apprehension, that may lead to more comprehension and better education.

            One of the more affable educational leaders in the Tri-Town, the RMS principal is known online for the “Medeiros Minute” on the school’s website that makes its comeback this academic year.

            Medeiros’ Principal’s Report, issued during the Rochester School Committee’s first official meeting of the 2020-21 academic year on September 2, was full of appreciation to the behind-the-scenes workers who have made a return to class possible. “Thanks Mr. Ouellette. I think, if I ask them to move one more desk, I might get one thrown at me,” he joked.

            From the rearranging of classrooms to ensure safe-distancing practices and common areas, HVAC and ventilation maintenance and improvement, and all kinds of tweaks toward proper safety and sanitizing standards, Medeiros showed excitement to get the year off and running.

            “The parents and guardians had some wonderful questions… a lot of positive feedback,” he said, alluding to placement letters going out on September 2, the establishing of cohorts and moving students around, and communicating with kindergarteners’ families.

            “It’s certainly a busy time, but we feel like we’re moving on,” he said. “We’re excited to see our building coming back to life.”

            Chairperson Sharon Hartley, who will continue to serve this year as the chairperson of the committee, called its hybrid meeting to order at 6:36 pm. Before breaking into Executive Session five minutes later, Hartley said she is happy to be back in school on Wednesday, September 16. Lasting one hour and 20 minutes, the committee’s Executive Session was held to discuss collective bargaining and non-union personnel.

            Upon the rejoin to public session, Hartley praised the administration for its attention to detail and reported from her visit with senior citizens at a Council on Aging function. She was encountered with questions and concerns, but when she relayed the information emanating from the many meetings this summer there was a collective sigh of relief and a mandate to relay their thanks.

            “There are no concerns in terms of being able to occupy the building,” said Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson, who attended the school committee meeting in person. “We’re in a really good place with classroom spacing and traffic flow in common areas… building transportation needs continue to be examined… strict guidelines in terms of the number of students… on buses.

            “Everything that we do is going to be a little bit different this year, and it really takes a lot of time.”

            Nelson wants to see Rochester Memorial’s support staff “really sit down and talk about the needs of our students; they know our building best in terms of coming up with plans that make sense for Rochester Memorial.”

            Nelson thanked everyone involved for their patience and support. “I’ve truly been humbled people by so many difference roles have reached out not only to myself but to educators in general with their support,” he said, noting the ideas and references that have been sent his way.

            Nelson said that the ORR School District issued between 450 and 550 Chromebooks, and said ORR’s IT team has been working to ensure they are sanitized and in working order. also checking on everyone’s needs including hot spots.

            ORR’s Learning Management System (LSS) has endorsed Google Classroom as its official program throughout the district because they do not want to spread too thin with access platforms. Asynchronous (i.e. prerecorded lessons) online education will be accessed using a program called Screen Pacify that has no capacity limits. Synchronous online learning will use the Zoom platform with secured licensing for all of the district’s educators.

            Nelson said ORR plans to move away from the card model used in the spring distribution of Chromebooks, having determined it is “not the best practice.” Instead, ORR will be providing each student their own Chromebook. “We don’t want to be in a place where, if school was closed, we don’t know which Chromebook went with each student,” he said.

            The hybrid (two days in per week) attendance model is how the school year will start, but by no means is the program meant to cast away other possibilities.

            “I know that we all want to see our students in person,” said Nelson. “What I feel most proud in terms of our back-to-school plan as it currently stands is: I feel it accomplishes the goal that we sought out.”

            ORR did its best to prepare to be able to pivot to another learning model based on “what we know at that time,” according to Nelson, who stressed that the hybrid model being used to open the new academic year is subject to change.

            The Rochester School Committee took the opportunity via the Zoom connection to welcome Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell, Assistant Superintendent of Finance & Operations Howie Barber, and Director of Student Services Craig Davidson.

            “This is my eighth day, but thank you for having me today,” said Pearson-Campbell, who has designed a 10-day COVID-19 plan for preparation as faculty and staff in district schools.

            In his financial report, Barber reported a $20,000 emergency relief grant through the Plymouth County arm of the CARES Act and credited Rochester Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar for her assistance.

            Davidson started working a few nights and weekends and will start full time on Tuesday, September 15.

            Nelson outlined the segments of the Policy Subcommittee engaged to make ORR District schools actively anti-racist. He reported having met with the five school committee chairpersons with the common theme an idea for each school adding a subcommittee on anti-racism. Forgoing discussion, the Rochester School Committee voted unanimous in favor of a subcommittee on anti-racism. Member Kate Duggan was announced as the first who will serve on the subcommittee.

            The committee also accepted with a unanimous vote the Anti-Racism resolution including the responsibility of each school to create a policy, commit to annual professional development, to champion inclusion and diversity, to identify systemic racialized practices with the understanding that school leaders can no longer remain silent, and guarantee that racial oppression is eradicated.

            Hartley made sure to include that the policy needs to be posted in a prominent place so it can be seen and students will know how to access it.

            Nelson said the new policy will go in the student handbook at Rochester Memorial.

Rochester School Committee

By Mick Colageo

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