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7571 North Elyria Road, West Salem, OH 44287
Phone: (419) 846-3151
Fax: (419) 846-3361
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Superintendent Update

Dear Northwestern Family,

I wanted to share an update with you all.  A lot happening very quickly – some good and some concerning.  Regardless of the topic I am confident that we will continue to work collaboratively to provide our students with the best possible experience given the circumstances for the remainder of this school year and next year.

=         Congrats to Randall Hafner, selected as our 2020-2021 HS Principal and Anita Jorney-Gifford, selected as our 2020-2021 HS Asst. principal/ Athletic Director!

 

=         We are extremely saddened by Mike Burkholder having to leave his role as our Northwestern HS Principal.

 

=         Congrats to Sarah Seidel for joining our Northwestern family!  She will be our new School Psychologist!

Since Ohio’s K-12 schools will stay closed for the remainder of the current school year per Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement, I wanted to share some additional related information.  First of all, with that announcement we needed to complete our grading guidelines, which the Board developed and adopted this past Monday evening and we recently posted on our facebook account and should be posted on our district website Thursday.

Northwestern is working to develop procedures for collecting district-owned books, devices, and other items.  We will also be sharing procedures of how we will organize students retrieving personal items from their lockers.  This information will come out over the next few weeks from your building principals.

The state task force on which I serve has been discussing so many elements regarding school needs and plans.  Here is what I can share that we have been discussing in our weekly and special meetings since mid-March:

=         Flexibility:  Despite making an announcement about the current school year, the state has not decided when schools will reopen in the fall.  Local flexibility seems to be the feeling as decisions continue to evolve regarding how this might look.  The governor decides when.  By flexibility I mean that schools may begin in Aug., just after Labor Day, or possibly later.  That likely will not be decided for some time.  Conversations about keeping social distancing with students on buses and in schools is daunting.  Blended learning and attendance to reduced numbers, alternating day or alternating weeks have been discussed as possibilities, along with other ideas.  Also, of course, hand sanitizer, masks, temperature checks, etc. has been discussed.  We have a lot of time between now and then and a lot of discussions to take place state-wide and locally.  Our staff and parents will be part of many of these conversations before decisions are made locally.

=         Graduation & Prom:  High School Graduation Ceremony.  I have been a proponent of making graduation and Prom happen.  Even if we need to do both in June.  As of this time out graduation ceremony remains as originally scheduled.  I have been pushing a graduation ceremony with safety guidelines and being held outdoors.  I have personally discussed this with Governor DeWine and he listened.  The Governor is expected to make a decision on this in the next couple of days.  As far as Prom, this may be a local decision and be very unique as far as social distancing, safety protocols, and likely no couples dancing – or it may be cancelled.  We will share information as we know.

=         Recovery Framework Development:  Our task force is developing a framework with The Ohio Dept. of Education and the Governor’s office to support the recovery effort of Ohio’s education community in the wake of the school-building closures of Spring 2020.  This will likely serve as the foundation for a district - or school-level “discussion/planning” guide to come later, which will be a framework and include important considerations for schools and districts to use, as appropriate, to guide them in restoring educational achievement of each of Ohio’s students.

=         The new “normal” for a long while: Ohio is not out of the woods yet with regard to the coronavirus. It is still among us. Complete normalcy likely will not return until there is a vaccine.   Safety protocols to control the spread of the virus will continue, although surely evolve.

  • Finances: At least for some period of time, our school system will be under tremendous financial stress.  Not only is the economy impacting state revenues - and thus school funding - but it will also impact local revenues. We can likely expect some limited and short-term help from the federal government, but demand for funds will be coming from many public sectors, and will be shared with higher education – and we all know how public schools rank in the scheme of things.  Also, the federal government will want to recoup the stimulus monies and they are now seriously deficit spending.  Add to this that DeVos remains in charge of the Federal Dept. of Education and promotes charter Schools and money being siphoned away to those entities.  We are bracing for 20% in department budget cuts for the remainder of this year and for next year.  In addition, our local income tax revenue will also suffer.  We have already been dealing locally with 3 consecutive years of deficit spending and a dwindling carry-over balance.  The district is working to further reduce costs beyond the previous measures taken including the position reductions we have made the past three summers.

Guiding Principles that have been discussed:

=         Principles for what we need to do:

o   Ensure the Physical and Mental Health and Safety of Students & Staff

o   Assess Students to determine where they are starting from (in the context of State Standards)

o   Support Literacy, Content Literacy & Numeracy by Providing Intervention Opportunities

o   Ensure Teacher Support and Training to Support Children and Families

o   Support Social and Emotional Health

o   Prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable students including students with disabilities, low income students

=         Principles for the way in which we will work:

o   Promote collaboration (administrators, teachers, student services personnel, families, communities, community partners, etc.)

o   Continue to embrace the use of Multi-Tiered Systems of student supports

Challenges and Opportunities listed below:

=         Health Safety Measures (physical distancing, handwashing, sanitizing, masks, etc.): We will need to collaborate with the Ohio Department of Health, our Wayne County Health Dept. and other experts to provide clear guidance as to how schools will need to operate in all aspects – transportation, instruction, food service, athletics, etc. This should include guidance on social distancing, temperature checks, personal protective equipment use, etc. The sooner that guidance is received, the sooner districts can start planning for those logistical concerns and then turn their focus to curriculum.

=         Assessment of Student Educational Levels: Districts and schools will need to determine where students are in their acquisition and retention of knowledge. This understanding will then help inform their approach to instruction.

=         Curriculum (essential rather than the past broad AND essential standards): An essential curriculum might be most practical. There are literacy and math concerns.

=         Personalized learning: The delivery of instruction may need to become much more personalized. This is a good long term practice to promote regardless and we have been doing to some degree, but now this will be essential - especially given the variability that will likely exist among students.

=         Instructional Support and Pedagogical Practices: Some students actually prospered with distance learning from the ODE perspective.  How can or should distance learning fit into the overall instructional approach moving forward?  More than ever before we as educators need to focus on making learning practical and engaging.  I believe our teachers are doing an incredible job with this, but we will need to do more.

=         4th Quarter/1st Quarter Transition: This involves ideas like summer school, or early start (Jump Start) approaches.  This summer seems impractical, but in future summers possible, although this would be at a significant cost.

=         Professional Development of Educators: Focused professional development that relates to the whole range of issues will be fundamental. One interesting observation from the school-building closure is that from the ODE perspective there is an increased opportunity to take time to interact with colleagues and try new strategies, and then refine those strategies in very real time. Lots of collegial collaboration around supporting learning.  We have to find ways to move this forward this spring, summer, and fall.

=         Family Engagement: It has been observed that in many cases families have been more engaged in their students’ education during the school closure. There have also been indications that the teacher/family partnerships have become even stronger because of more frequent engagement between teachers and parents/guardians. How do we sustain this family engagement piece and the connections so families will universally reinforce and help extend learning from school to home and schools can support families and student well-being in other areas?

=         Social & Emotional Supports: What do these supports look like in a time of uncertainty and heightened anxiety? In addition to the other challenges students face, they may be scared that they might get sick if they even go to school, or get close to other people.

=         Derivative (Longer Term) Impacts of the 2020 Disruption: A number of state (and possibly federal) policies will need to be closely examined, and perhaps changed, in recognition of the disruption that took place in 2020. This might include the following:

o   Assessments

o   Accountability/Report Cards

o   Graduation Requirements: Need to revisit graduation requirements

o   Third grade reading guarantee

Challenges and Opportunities – Logistical:

=         Communication:  The importance of effective communication with everyone – staff, parents, students, communities, partners, etc. – cannot be overemphasized.

=         Professional Development Training to Address Health Safety Measures and Instruction - Staff will need face-to-face time to prepare for return to in-person settings. These meetings should occur before students return to the buildings.

=         Transportation (health concerns): What protocols/routines need to be used in buses? What will this require in terms of time, supplies, etc.?

=         Remote Learning Opportunities: To the extent that a district decides to continue some blended remote learning – or has to continue some remote learning - they will need to continue to address the need for internet access, as well as access to computers for students, as well as options for non-digital remote learning where internet and computers will not be available. This will also require appropriate training and technical support

=         Professional Development Training regarding Remote Learning – Many educators have learned a great deal very quickly during the school building closure; if districts intend to continue blended learning or remote opportunities educators will need ongoing professional development.

=         Course & Student Scheduling: School will look different. Will we need new models of course and student scheduling? How do we rethink the way we use time?  How will course structures change?

=         Extra-Curricular Activities (athletics, music, student groups): This has been one of the biggest unfortunate impacts of the closure. These activities are so important to students and communities – and yet, in some ways can be the most challenging from a health perspective. Being attentive to health considerations will be paramount. OHSAA will play a key role on the athletic side.

This is a lot – overwhelming for schools, families, and communities.  Yet, we will persevere together.  I appreciate the exceptional job our teachers, staff, and administrators have all been doing through this school building closure and the online education, food distribution, and shared supports for members of our community.  I also feel that our families have made this work through your efforts!  We are now also entering the long-term phase of preparing for next school year in many respects.

We have the right people for the job here – I am convinced and have all the faith in our collective abilities.  Keep up the great work.  And “thank you”.

Northwestern Superintendent

Jeff Layton

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7571 North Elyria Road, West Salem, OH 44287 | Phone: (419) 846-3151 | Fax: (419) 846-3361
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