Principal Updates

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Mt. Ararat Middle School

66 Republic Avenue, Topsham, ME 04086

Phone:  (207)729-2950     Fax: (207)729-2964

Website:  mams.link75.org

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March 27, 2020

 

Dear Parents/Guardians,

 

I want to start by saying a huge THANK YOU to all the parents/guardians in the MAMS community.  We are so grateful to our families who have worked so hard to help their middle schooler acclimate to this new learning environment.  We also appreciate how everyone has been so patient and understanding as we, as educators, have navigated this unprecedented time. Every member of our entire MAMS staff team has been working tirelessly these past two weeks to create a meaningful and manageable continuity of learning plan, while also continuing to make connections to their students, responding to inquiries, and collaborating with their colleagues.  To that end, we have been devoting much time this week to build upon our original 2-week learning plan, and to develop a longer-term plan in light of an extended closure. I have a few items for you:



When Will MAMS Be Back In Session?  The current plan is that school will be closed until Monday, April 27, upon completion of April vacation.  That being said, our school system is monitoring directives from local, state, and national government officials for greater clarity on whether we can stick with this date, or if it needs to be extended further.  As educators, we are all hoping that we can return to school as soon as possible.  Until we receive the reopen order, every in-person school-related event/activity is canceled/postponed until further notice.  Sadly, this includes Spring Sports, Clubs, Dances, and all other school events. Ugh.



What Will Virtual Learning Look Like Until School Re-Opens?  In most ways, the virtual learning plan will be very similar to what you have seen over the past two weeks.  However, we have made some slight changes, based on feedback we have received and to address the following goals

 

  • Make the learning plan easier for students to navigate on a day-to-day basis:  Originally, we wanted to replicate the school day as much as possible by asking students to engage in learning for the classes that they would have had that day.  In the regular MAMS schedule, students typically have six different classes every day, taught by up to six different teachers. We are changing this expectation in our virtual learning plan because we have found that having too many different tasks every day was becoming hard for students to manage.  Instead of having students receive six different learning plans each school day, each student will instead receive one Weekly Learning Plan.

 

  • More focused learning, thoughtfully laid out over the week:  The Weekly Learning Plan will be sent out by teams to students and parents at the start of the week.  In it, teachers will collaborate to ensure that each day’s learning will be simple and straightforward.  It is not necessarily more or less workload than we have seen so far, just a different organization that we hope will be more manageable for young adolescents (and their parents).  Efforts will be made to not have as many different subject areas covered each day, and instead will focus one or two subjects a day. For example, a team’s weekly plan could look something like this:


MONDAY

TUESDAY

WEDNESDAY

THURSDAY

FRIDAY

English Language Arts

Math

Exploratory: Health

English Language Arts

Math 

Social Studies

Science

Exploratory: STEM

Social Studies

Science


  • Make Wednesdays an “Exploratory-Only” day:  We heard from students that they have struggled to meaningfully engage in their Exploratory expectations (Art, STEM, PE, Health, Learning Commons, World Languages) on top of their other academic demands.  Because this learning is also very important, we wanted to simplify expectations by devoting an entire day for this learning to occur. On Wednesdays, students will receive a learning plan for their Exploratory classes and not receive any expectations for their other classes.  Students should focus just on the exploratory classes they are currently enrolled in (see separate section below on Exploratory schedule). The exception to this plan is that your child may still be asked to complete practice activities for their Band or Chorus classes on other days of the week, however new learning for these classes will only occur on Wednesdays.  

 

  • Make it easier for parents to monitor their child’s learning:  Just as trying to sort through six different learning activities every day was tough for students, it can be even harder for parents.  By consolidating the learning expectations into a weekly plan, we hope that it will allow parents to more quickly get a reading on what is expected of their child each day and by the end of the week.  We encourage parents to use this simple, one-page Weekly Learning Plan, as the master “checklist” for the week, rather than having to try to develop a new one every day.  
  • Clarify the teaching and learning expectations for teachers:  When we started virtual learning last week, we were in uncharted territory in terms of what we would teach.  Many teachers used the time to practice what students were learning before closure, while others started to engage in some new learning.  While all of these activities were worthwhile, we needed to get on the same page with what our curriculum would be during this extended closure.  Therefore, our teachers have been meeting and collaborating this week to develop simple and clear expectations for the new learning that could occur in an off-site virtual format.  Each content area team has identified a small number of learning goals (typically 1-3) that could be ‘taught’ and assessed in the coming months. Just as students and parents have struggled to adjust to all the moving parts during this time, we believe that by focusing the learning on meaningful, common sense expectations, it will also help teachers be more focused in their instructional planning and be able to support individual students in a more organized manner.  

 

  • Begin to meaningfully assess student work and record-keep individual student progress:  Because we have identified the core, essential learning goals that we will focus on with students, we will also be keeping track of the extent to which students are meeting those goals.  When a student has produced sufficient work to meet a given learning goal, the teacher will denote in the Empower Grading Program that they have met that goal. We will not be scoring work using grades (1, 2, 3, 4), but rather noting the status of “YES” or “NOT YET” for each of these core goals.  See the “Quarter 3/4" below for more information.

 

What If a Student Can’t Access the Virtual Learning Plan?  We know everyone is struggling to adjust to this new scenario and some families are more able to access the virtual learning plan than others.  Please know that we fully support this, and your child will not suffer any direct or indirect consequences of not participating in the virtual learning.  Therefore, if a family cannot engage in the virtual learning plan, they instead have the option of using our Offline Learning Packets. This week, our teachers, in addition to developing the virtual plan, have also been developing comprehensive paper packets that contain learning activities related to the core, essential learning goals in Math and Literacy for each grade level.  When we return to school, we will ask to collect these packets so that we can assess student work and record-keep the learning goals that they met through this independent work. Students/families that are doing this work offline are still encouraged to reach out to teachers if they have questions or need support. These packets could cover learning through the end of the year if need be.  We plan on mailing these packets to every family who did not pick up a school computer, as well as any parent who requests one. If a family is doing the online work with their own personal device and receives a packet, they are under no obligation to do both -- we just wanted to ensure everyone who needs a packet gets one. Our assistant principal Meg Hayes Teague (hayesteaguem@link75.org) is coordinating the logistics of this Offline Learning Plan, so please contact her if you would like to receive these packets.  For safety’s sake, staff plan to wear personal protective equipment (gloves/masks) during the assembly and mailing out of these packets.   We hope to have these packets completed by next week and we will also post PDFs of the packets on our website for anyone to access remotely.

 

What Does MAMS Expect of Parents During Virtual Learning?  First and foremost, we want you to make any decision that you feel is best for your child and we will fully support you.  This whole thing is really, really hard for all of us. We know that most of our parents are helping oversee their child’s learning plan while also themselves working full time, either from home or away.  Everyone’s daily routine has been completely thrown up in the air and we are all struggling to re-adjust. Therefore, please trust that whatever you do as a parent is enough.  Your child will not suffer any negative consequences from the school if they are not able to fully engage in this learning.  Please trust that we won’t judge you or criticize you. Most of our staff are also struggling with these same demands themselves, so our first response will always be trust and empathy.  I don’t normally share memes or social media posts via these updates, but I feel I need to make an exception when it comes to this topic.  I stumbled upon this Instagram post the other day, and I agreed with everything in it and wanted to share it with you:

 

What’s the Plan for Quarter 3-Quarter 4 and Report Cards?  To clarify expectations and communication during this time, the middle school and the high school will also be simplifying our reporting systems:

  • Eliminate “Quarter 3 and Quarter 4” and collapse into one “Semester Two” marking period.  At the end of the school year, we will make a “Semester Two Report Card” available to parents via the Empower portal.
  • This end of year report will contain all graded learning goals from before the closure, as well as a record of all the learning goals a student may have met during the closure period
  • During this closure period, we will only report on the learning of these core essential learning goals.  We will not report on work habits, or calculate the honor rolls.
  • We typically switch students’ Exploratory schedules at the change of marking periods.  Fortunately, the bulk of the changes occur at the semester change, so most already occured in January.  The exception is STEM and Art. All students who have STEM currently were supposed to switch to Art at the start of Quarter 4 and vice versa.  To address this, the Exploratory Learning Plan sent out on Wednesday, April 8th, will also include instructions for those students who need to switch their STEM/Art classes at that time.

What’s the Plan for the Content That is Missed During the Closure?  MAMS is not alone in this.  Because a vast majority of K-12 students across the country are in this predicament, there is little chance that your child will “fall behind” their peers during this time.  Because our school’s learning goals are tied to state and national standards, there is a likelihood that these will need to be adjusted next year to account for the disruption to everyone’s education.  In addition, our school has a comprehensive Response to Intervention (RTI) program (Target Time) that will likely be re-visioned when we return to address the learning gaps that we know will exist. Our teachers are highly-trained experts at this work and I have full faith that we will get back on track.  Just as we always have, our relentless focus will be on “catch up growth” for all those students with learning gaps. More to come on this once our return is in sight.

 

Supporting the Emotional/Mental Health of our Community.  I am so proud of all our MAMS staff in all that they have done these past weeks to continue to make meaningful virtual connections with our students and parents.  Specifically, our MAMS counseling team has been working around the clock to support families and students during this crisis. HERE is their weekly update, which they will also be including in Team communications moving forward.  Please reach out to one of our counselors/social workers if your child and/or family is struggling in any way.  We are poised to provide as much direct support as possible, and/or can also refer families to available community resources.  

 

Is the MAMS Building Open? No. Our building is now officially closed to public and staff access in order to follow strict sterilization procedures focused on stopping the potential spread of disease.  We are, however, opening our parking lots and driveways up for any family who would benefit from accessing our free wifi network (password = 126604086). We know that students may still have personal items and once the school re-opens we will have a protocol for accessing those items.  In the meantime, our custodial team has had to enter some lockers where it was clear that rotting food or wet clothes may still have been kept to clean those items out. Therefore, if your child is hoping to grab that uneaten PB&J sandwich from their gym locker, they may be out of luck. 

 

How to Contact Staff During Closure. This closure has strained our normal communication systems and we are actively trying to develop new systems on the fly.  Currently, email remains the best way to reach staff. HERE is the full MAMS Staff Directory with everyone’s role and email address.  We encourage parents to reach out for any reason. Also, I am working with district technology staff and local utility providers to try to improve our school’s phone system to make it available for staff and parents offsite.  When this system is up and running, we will let you know, hopefully soon.

 

April Vacation will still occur during the week of April 20-24.  We will not be issuing learning plans that week, and we encourage students to “unplug” from learning and focus on relaxing and spending time with family.  I will also be directing our staff to use this time for the same purpose. 

 

8th to 9th Grade and 5th to 6th Grade Transitions are still on as planned for next Fall!  High School Principal Donna Brunette hosted an incoming 9th grade Parent Information Night on March 9.  Here is her presentation for anyone who may have missed it.  We will likely have to cancel the incoming 6th grade Parent Information Night scheduled for Tuesday, April 28.  However, we are planning to create an alternative virtual event for our 5th grade parents. I will communicate this plan directly to 5th grade parents as we get closer to this time.  

 

Our ‘Parent Academy’ and ‘Parent Coffee’ events in March/April had to be canceled due to school closure.  However, we are exploring ways to continue to offer these sessions in a virtual format.  The most recently Parent Academy focus was going to be “Teens and Anxiety,” a topic that has grown in importance due to recent events.  Stay tuned on this.  

 

The MAMS Facebook continues to be a day-by-day communication tool for our school. Our guidance secretary Ms. Vicki Smith continues to post updates and news regularly there, so we encourage parents to subscribe to this page if they haven’t already. Here is the Facebook link to subscribe.  We have been trying to post community updates, as well as any changes to the meal program there.  In addition, Ms. Smith is continuing to send the “MAMS Daily News” page to students every day via email.  

 

We are your partners in this endeavor, so please reach out if we can help in any way. If any questions, comments, or suggestions arise, please feel free to send me an email at: ottowj@link75.org.



Sincerely,

Josh Ottow

Principal

 

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