Update from the Superintendent: May 1, 2020

Update from the Superintendent: May 1, 2020
Posted on 05/01/2020

May 1, 2020

Dear CPS Community:

First, I want to acknowledge that Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui joined communities across the country in declaring today “School Lunch Hero Day” in the City of Cambridge. This year, we are especially grateful to the CPS Food & Nutrition Services team who -- along with other CPS staff, nonprofit partners, and community volunteers -- have done a remarkable job distributing free breakfast and lunch every weekday at eight sites across the city. Since school buildings were closed on March 13, our team has served more than 30,000 meals to Cambridge residents. Thank you for your incredible service!

Here are a few timely announcements to close out the week.

Update on MCAS Requirement for High School Graduation
Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a change in graduation requirements specifically for the Class of 2020. In order to earn a high school diploma, Massachusetts students must pass the Grade 10 MCAS exams in English Language Arts and Mathematics and one of four high school Science MCAS exams to fulfill the “competency determination” requirement. However, because all MCAS exams, including retests, were cancelled this spring due to school closures, seniors have not had additional opportunities to pass the exams. Therefore, the Board authorized an emergency measure: Any member of the Class of 2020 who has not yet passed the required MCAS sections may earn competency determination through successful completion of an approved high school course in English, Math, or Science this year or in a previous year.

Modified High School Graduation Celebrations
While the school closures are difficult for all of us, these circumstances are particularly disappointing for members of the Class of 2020, who are missing out on the important celebrations that take place at the end of senior year. As you know, in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the traditional Commencement Ceremonies for Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and High School Extension Program will not take place in their usual form this year. However, the CRLS and HSEP teams are working on alternative ways of celebrating the achievements of our graduates. We will find creative ways to honor the Class of 2020! Stay tuned for details.

CPS Family Survey Closes on Monday
Thank you to everyone who has completed the family survey about the needs and experience of CPS families and caregivers during the extended closure. More than 2,200 families have already responded, giving us valuable insights into what is working well and where we can improve. The survey is still open, so if you haven’t completed it, please look for the personalized email from “Panorama Education” and share your thoughts.

Many respondents acknowledged the hard work of CPS staff, often singling out particular teachers and administrators, who are supporting students and families during this difficult time. For example:

  • “A big thank you to the teachers who pivoted to online school so quickly, and for all the care that has gone into providing meals, Chromebooks, and Internet service to all the kids.”

  •  “My son’s teachers have been terrific, and we really appreciate the lengths they’re going to in order to maintain some sense of normalcy and routine.”

  • “CPS is doing an amazing job with keeping the learning process going and with communication. So glad to be a part of this community.”

At the same time, many parents shared their frustrations about trying to keep their students engaged while they are working from home. Some parents described unevenness in the delivery of distance learning across the system and gaps in the support they’re receiving at certain grade levels or in certain subject areas. Others expressed concerns about their children’s social-emotional well-being during the closure. Many parents noted anxiety about the future, especially about how schools will operate when buildings eventually reopen. So much uncertainty remains about what schooling may look like in the summer and fall, and parents understandably have questions for which there are not yet concrete answers.

Our team is taking a closer look at all of the responses, and we’ll provide a more detailed analysis of the findings once the survey closes. Your feedback provides valuable data and underscores the importance of a CPS recovery plan that anticipates and addresses both academic and operational needs, which we are working diligently to develop.

Submit Your Questions for a CPS Virtual Forum Series

We are producing a series of online virtual forums to answer questions from members of the CPS community. The videos will be available to watch online and on local cable access television channels, and we’ll post written versions of the questions and answers. We want to hear from you. If you have a question you would like answered in the forums, please submit it here. You may submit a question anonymously, or if you would like a personal response, you may include your name and email address. Questions will be accepted on a rolling basis. Remember that you can find some answers on our updated Frequently Asked Questions. We’ll announce additional details about the forums shortly, including a schedule of broadcast dates and times.

Learning Supplies Kits for Families of JK-2 Students

Dry EraserTo support distance learning, CPS is delivering more than 2,100 learning supplies kits to the homes of all students in JK through Grade 2, as well as some older students in substantially separate special education programs. The kits contain whiteboards, dry erase markers, erasers, and dice for math games. Teachers will incorporate these tools into their student engagement strategies. The kits will be delivered via the US Postal Service and are expected to arrive in homes next week.

New State Guidance on Distance Learning

Earlier this week, the State released new guidance for school districts about enhancing remote learning across the Commonwealth for the remainder of the school year. The most significant addition to the earlier guidance is that the Commissioner has asked schools to “focus on teaching the content standards most critical for student success in the next grade level.” The guidance specifies particular standards at the elementary (K-5) and secondary (6-12) levels across core subject areas for teachers to emphasize and/or reinforce during the remainder of the school year. Our academic team is working with school leaders to update the CPS Distance Learning Support Plan based on this additional guidance from the State and based on feedback from families and staff. We will share an additional update next week.

New City of Cambridge Emergency Order Requiring Use of Face Coverings

On Wednesday, a new City of Cambridge emergency order went into effect requiring everyone over five years old to wear a face covering at all times in all public places, businesses, and common areas of residential buildings. The order is designed to limit the spread of the virus. For more information, visit the City of Cambridge website.

Have a great weekend.

Kenneth N. Salim, Ed.D.

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