Now is the time for NPS to educate all its students!

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Dear Superintendent Fleishman and school principals of Newton Public Schools (NPS):

We request that the Superintendent and the school principals of NPS show leadership quickly to provide all students with:

  • A structured program of teaching and assignments for the specific classes in which the students are enrolled based on the curriculum
  • Meaningful live teaching/discussion of the curriculum by their teachers, via platforms like Zoom or teleconferences
  • Structured opportunities for meaningful discussion about the materials with their teachers and their peers, via platforms like Zoom’s breakout rooms
  • Meaningful expectations for ongoing and measurable student learning with respect to the curriculum

These unprecedented times present an opportunity for NPS to lead the way for public school systems in Massachusetts. We are so proud that NPS has long been a leader of school systems in the state in providing excellent education to all of its students in an equitable manner. NPS is a large, well-resourced, and well-staffed school system with passionate students that is generously supported by the people of Newton. Our amazing teachers are energetic, innovative and love to teach. NPS has an obligation to use that support and those resources responsibly and effectively. This is a teaching moment of the highest calling for our educators. NPS senior management should be showing leadership in supporting all of its students and teachers to ensure all students are engaged and challenged, and they should provide clear communication while doing so.

The global COVID-19 pandemic will be a defining moment in many of our children’s school years, and the response by NPS senior management has been surprisingly lacking. During the weeks since NPS abruptly closed the schools on March 12, 2020, all NPS students and teachers have been taken out of routine, daily structure, and face-to-face social interactions. We believe NPS management has not shown leadership, has not empowered its teachers to educate all of its students, and has not lived up to its own core values -- excellence, innovation, respect and responsibility. On March 23, after a break of just one week, NYC public schools began providing online classes to a diverse student body of over 1.1 million students. It is both urgent and possible that NPS provide more meaningful education equitably to all its students now.

When Governor Baker ordered that the schools be physically closed until at least May 4, he noted that “this is not school vacation.” NPS must recognize a reasonable likelihood that physical schools may not reopen this academic year. Students and teachers across Newton are normally in school for seven hours per day; at the higher grades, this is supplemented by challenging homework assignments. All of this ended on March 12. Our students cannot afford to lose another three months of school. NPS management must try to imbue distance learning with the commitment to excellence and equity to which it aspires when students were in its buildings. There are baseline recommendations written to provide a “starting point” for all school systems in Massachusetts. These must not be treated as a “ceiling” for a robust and energetic school system such as Newton.

Obviously, it is not possible to translate the classroom experience online. NPS management must not use that as an excuse for watering down school services to the minimum expectations permitted under state law or guidelines. With proper leadership, this presents an opportunity for trying innovative approaches to education. We recognize that our NPS families are experiencing a diversity of situations, including the time and resources they have available to them. To that end, we applaud that NPS has already given out hundreds of new Chromebooks. To promote equity, we encourage NPS and the City of Newton to work together to make additional resources and new kinds of supports available when and where they are needed. If there are obstacles holding them back, NPS management should communicate that to the NPS community transparently. It is preferable to direct resources and attention where they are needed rather than abandon its own values by setting the least amount of expectations for all of its students and teachers. If necessary to meet the educational needs of all students during this time, new and existing funds and resources should be allocated or reallocated to provide teachers and students with support to make online teaching and learning possible.

The time for short-term thinking is over. In our communities, we have seen many in-person institutions quickly reinvent themselves and deliver their services online and interactively. In Newton, we have seen online classes offered by other school districts, private schools, universities, and even by churches, synagogues, and yoga and dance studios. If all of them can do it, so can NPS.

Now is the time for NPS senior management to step up and lead!

Sincerely,

David Goldstone, Kevin Dutt, Abigail Gillman, Melissa Goldstone, Toni Hicks, Benny Mikkelsen, Deborah Palestrant, Daniel Palestrant, Michael Prince, Jill Radsken, Ralph Ranalli, Michael Robinson, Aviva Sapers, Qing Shi, Michelle Barmazel Steinberg, Judith Sydney, and Stephanie Weitzman (all parents of NPS students)