From the Superintendent
Preston Public Schools School Year
We are happy to start the school year in face-to-face instruction mode! We appreciate everyone for all of your support and assistance in making the school year a success.
We ended the FY 21 school year well by following our mitigation strategies and maintaining face-to-face instruction. In an unprecedented manner, our school and town budget passed on the first vote! Thank you to all of the voters for continuing to support our schools. The exceptional understanding and backing in our entire Preston Learning Community are deeply appreciated.
During the summer, we hosted a highly successful summer program initiating an innovative partnership with Mystic Seaport. Almost 100 students and an enthusiastic staff worked hard to make the program a wonderfully refreshing and engaging experience.
As we began the school year, we adjusted to an uncommon 15% staffing change. We are delighted to welcome several new, talented, and enthusiastic staff.
We continue to expand our partnership with the town. We are jointly exploring locating and hiring skilled individuals for our town Treasure and our joint Director of Finance.
Districtwide, we are beginning to implement various stages of our fully approved American Rescue Plan: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP: ESSER) plan that includes five primary goals and one overarching emphasis: A Commitment to Equity and,
- Learning Acceleration, Academic Renewal, and Student Enrichment,
- Family and Community Connections,
- Social, Emotional, and Mental Health of students and our school staff,
- Strategic use of Technology, Staff Development, and the Digital Divide,
- Building Safe and Healthy School.
As readers may recall, over 90 Executive Orders, a myriad of Amendments to the original guidance from the Connecticut State Department of Education were issued through the summer of 2021 that helped guide us through the challenges of the pandemic. These guiding documents are in response to when everything changed during the transition from winter to spring in 2020. Our district and its systems, personnel, families, and students had to respond to the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. We turned on a dime and transformed our district instruction into a virtual distance learning experience for students. Our dedicated and nimble staff quickly made adjustments, and our caregivers at home made a massive shift as well. We confirmed a high rate of connectivity that buoyed our hope that we would be able to sustain our instructional pace. We created Prototype I of our virtual instruction endeavors.
Now an entire year has passed, and we are moving into what we will call Prototype II. In this next iteration of our daily operations, we hope to sustain a low transmission rate and a stable face-to-face instructional model that will lift up our students and families. This year, the legislature has asked school districts not to offer remote learning as a baseline response to COVID. Instead, we are asked to be more precise in our contact tracing, encourage vaccinations, and maintain our mitigation strategies to reduce risk and maintain our instructional model. We will need to be ready to offer certain quarantined students an opportunity to continue their learning and keep students engaged when they are out of school. Our Learning Community has shown that we can do this!
It is prudent to embed the effort in a fundamental set of beliefs when pursuing an important task. We call these fundamentals our organizational precepts, and we used them as guides to make our decision to open school in a hybrid model. They begin with the concepts of prototypes we discussed earlier.
Prototype I: Inventors create many prototypes before they perfect their creations. The legend of Thomas Edison taking 10,000 tries to get the lightbulb right is a well-known example. If you think about it, we are in the process of reinventing school. So essentially, these last few months can be characterized as Prototype One. Prototype I indicates two things – initial success and much to do. Virtual learning and social distancing in some form are here to stay. Stepping back and looking to the future without having to rush a response will be a much better way to go as we work on the next of likely many prototypes.
Now we move to Prototype II – the reestablishment of routine and the stabilization of practice in our new environment
Quiet Burdens: All humans carry quiet burdens, emotional weights that define a part of who they are and how they think and act. These burdens are not necessarily physically evident, nor do they always manifest in daily life; thus, they are often hidden from view. Buried in these quiet burdens are biases and perspectives that can define one's sense of equity. If one is aware of one's own quiet burdens, then one knows that one is only seeking acceptance and understanding. If we know this about ourselves, then we know it about everyone we meet. If we know this, then our first and only response to a struggling individual must always be compassion, patience, empathy, and understanding.
Equity and Access: Preston Public Schools will ensure that the benefits of our learning community extend to all students with a particular focus on the under-education of students of color and students from low-income families. We will work toward maintaining a focus on diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our operations. Our District Strategic Plan states that we will create an “environment that seeks to encourage academic growth, develop a positive growth mindset, and create a healthy social-emotional and physically mature student. Our true goal for all of our children is academic success and to set each child on a path to a full, rich life achieved through a prosperous college/career/military life experience.”
To the best of our abilities and resources, personal social identifiers such as gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, language, disability, citizenship, religion, and/or income will not be obstacles to accessing educational opportunities and supporting student success. We will continue to use professional development, the reflections of our Social-Emotional Learning Team, and the various student-based clubs such as the Alliance for Acceptance to promote wellbeing, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
During the 2021-2022 school year, we will conduct an Equity Audit to help us assess our internal strategies around equity, access, race, and non-discriminatory practices. This audit, along with our own deep reflections and discussions, will help guide the district forward to ensure we are doing our best for all students.
Serious Joy! Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in 1990 wrote his seminal work Flow. In Flow, the author described flow as a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity. When one is fully engaged, time often feels like it stands still, the task is not a burden, and the mind is light, and breath is evenly paced. In children, we in Preston call this state, Serious Joy. Tasks can be challenging, time-consuming, and rigorous, but if they are presented correctly with the best-blended learning instruction and the highest-quality learning environment, the student can be so engrossed in their work that the experience flows. For our children, we will endeavor to “stay playful.” We will work to sustain the serious effort of quality instruction and the joy of learning.
The ONE: With an emphasis on wellbeing, safety, and social-emotional health, we will look to the future by planning for the One. The one student, the one staff member, or the one community guest whose health may be jeopardized or compromised, if we do not take the proper steps, prepare the environment correctly, and train properly. All of our efforts are about the One. As a frame of reference, we are all aware of the safety precautions we needed to take and continue to implement regarding peanut allergies or past flu epidemics. Our response to COVID-19 virus precautions will be substantially elevated above previous answers and will be every person’s obligation to protect the One.
The PALM: The PALM Philosophy is a metaphor being used in our district to keep us focused on our core mission is shared in the following way and is a cornerstone of our Evergreen Strategic Plan: Hold your palm out in front of you and visualize the face of a person you love. Place that visualization in the palm of your hand and gently close your hand. Bring your closed hand close to your heart and remember this: Whenever you are making a decision about children, recall what you hold close to your heart and in the palm of your hand. If you make decisions based on the one you love and hold so dear, you will never go wrong. You will always do well by the children in your care.
These precepts are the building block for our community of learners and the motivating design features that guided our decision to open for this school year fully. We will use these to guide our thinking and our actions to do the best we can for our students in the coming 21-22 school year.
UPDATE: As of September 28, 2021, the district has a 96% vaccination rate and 4% testing rate for all staff, reflecting a 100% investment in the health and wellbeing of our learning community.
Thank you for your interest and support.
Strive to be kind.
Welcome to Preston Public Schools.