Superintendent’s Report – March 2021
We are fortunate that we have been able to manage a five day a week in-person learning experience this school year. Our in-person learning model was chosen by about 80% of our students this year. Thankfully, we have the new addition at Hinsdale Elementary School. Without the new addition we would have likely initiated a hybrid model at Hinsdale Elementary School.
Our understanding of how COVID-19 spreads has changed since the beginning of the school year. I think it is time to reevaluate our current model with a focus on the current understanding of the true risk to our staff and students. There are many positive trends emerging which may help shape our thinking. First, since the middle of January the seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent. During that same time hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent. Meanwhile, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the U.S. Cheshire County reflects the same trends. In mid-January Cheshire County had an all-time high average of 17 new positive cases a day. In comparison, we were averaging about 10 positive cases a day in late February. Thankfully, we anticipate all our staff will have an opportunity to receive a vaccine under Phase 2a which will begin in mid-March.
Recently the Governor established an executive order #85 that conflicts with our policy regarding how we respond to a positive case of COVID-19 in our schools. Under the Governor’s order, we must provide at least two days of in-person instruction per week for our students and can only close our schools for 48 hours as a reaction to a positive case. Of course, we usually provide five days a week of in-person instruction for our students so the Governor’s order would only conflict with our current policy when we go fully remote for ten days after a positive case in our schools.
Our nurses and administrators recommend we include the rate of transmission in Cheshire County and the indicators for community transmission as defined by the CDC to determine school closings. The rate of transmission is defined by the total number of new cases per 100,000 in the past seven days and the percentage of COVID-19 positive tests over the past seven days.
The CDC categories include low transmission, moderate transmission, substantial transmission, and high transmission. Over the past seven days Cheshire County has had 70 new cases of COVID-19. The low transmission category would be less than 9 per 100,000. There are approximately 77,000 people in Cheshire County so we would need seven or fewer cases over the past week and a positivity rate of less than 5% to end the week in the low transmission category. We would need fewer than 37 cases and positivity rate of less than 7.9% to end up in the moderate transmission category. We would need fewer than 76 cases and a positivity rate of less than 9.9% to end up in the substantial transmission category. If we have more than 77 new positive cases and a positivity rate of greater than 10% in Cheshire County over the previous seven days we would be in the high transmission category. Currently we are averaging about 70 new cases a week in Cheshire County with a positivity rate of about 2.2% with college age people becoming a growing part of the total number of positive cases. We would recommend that if we reach the positivity rate of 10% and have at least 77 positive cases in Cheshire County during the previous seven days we close both schools for two days to do a deep cleaning and to allow our staff to implement stricter protocols.
In addition to the adoption of the “risk of community transmission model” we would continue to do contact tracing and to ask students and staff to quarantine if our health care professionals determined that to be the appropriate course of action. In addition to mandated quarantines we recommend closing a HES classroom for two days when we have a positive case there and closing the entire middle/high school for two days when we have a positive case there.
Several education bills of interest have recently passed the New Hampshire House. House Bill 110 has the state send education aid to the city or town and not to the school district. Supporters contend that some school districts kept the money intended to help reduce property taxes the last two years instead of turning it over to the city or town to reduce property taxes. The Bill passed the House 190-152.
House Bill 320 requires a student to pass the naturalization test given to those seeking to become American citizens before high school graduation.
House Bill 455 allows any student to attend any public school in New Hampshire or any other state and require the resident district to send adequacy payments and differential aid to the receiving district. If this bill becomes law school districts would have to offer “school choice” beginning in the Fall of 2021.
Senate Bill 158 would adjust the formula for funding an adequate education. Under SB 158 the base cost for an adequate education would increase from $3,700 to $6,107. There would also be an additional $1,490 for each student who is eligible for free or reduced lunch. We would receive an additional $2,200 for each student who is an English language learner. We would receive an additional $4,290 for each student who is receiving special education services. We would also receive an additional $845 as part of a “small school” weight. In addition, we would receive $1,420 for each student in grades 6-8 and an addition $420 for each student in grades 9-12. If SB 158 becomes law, Hinsdale School District stands to receive an additional $600,000 in base adequacy and an additional $288,000 in special education adequacy than we received this year from the state.
House Bill 608 is the house bill relative to the formula to determine the funding for an adequate education. The house bill slightly increases the base per pupil cost for an adequate education; the bill increases differentiated aid and establishes fiscal disparity aid to school districts based on equalized property valuation per pupil. Overall if the House Bill 608 became law today or if Senate Bill 158 became law today Hinsdale would receive an increase in education aid from the state as compared to current law.
We continue to work to meet the 2020/ 2021 Board Goals.
The 2020-2021 Hinsdale School Board Goals are as follows:
- Curriculum and Instruction
We are considering many options that would help us achieve catch-up learning. All the options currently under consideration would be eligible for grant funding. Laptops for our ninth grade students and our 12th grade students, English language arts materials, and middle school math support materials are currently under consideration. We intend to have a list of priorities to the Board for the April Board meeting.
Establish continuity and collaboration in instruction between the school buildings.
Our Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment has created a draft strategic plan which, if implemented, should help coordinate a smoother learning transition between HES and HMHS. Given the additional level of complexity due to the pandemic I am hopeful we can use grant funds to help us achieve this end.
Ensure all staff has access to pertinent trainings.
There are many examples of needed training that should be grant fund eligible. Our Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment is focusing on professional development opportunities over the summer.
Our Director and Personalized Learning and our Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment are coordinating professional development opportunities for PACE related adjustments to curriculum and instruction. Once again newly available grant funds should help us achieve this end. The $250,000 grant managed by Karen Thompson should help us achieve this goal.
PACE-All grade levels will move towards performance assessment and enhanced personalized learning.
Our Director of Personalized Learning is managing a $250,000 grant that was recently approved and should fund our effort to help us move forward with our PACE directive. Our Director of Personalized Learning and our Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment are work with the leaders at the New Hampshire Learning Initiative to create meaningful professional development for our staff.
Internal-Improve overall communication.
Our Board continues to frequently update the public as part of the new Communication Plan approved by the Board in September. The new communication plan is driven by the need to more quickly and thoroughly communicate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
External-Maintain communication to promote a collaborative relationship with the community in the following ways:
Continue to hold a minimum of two community forums during the school year.
Maintain a presence on other committees, boards and through attendance at community events in town.
Maintain relationships with town governing bodies.
The School Board was all present for the Public Hearing for the School District at the Hinsdale Town Hall on Wednesday, February 3rd.
Promote a culture of kindness and open communication.
Our Director of Human Resources has been providing staff with frequent wellness related updates. She is also coordinating donuts and coffee in the staff rooms on Friday afternoon as appreciation for the difficult work our staff is accomplishing during this trying time.
Ensure clear behavioral expectations are communicated and followed up on regularly through the development and implementation of a district-wide behavior plan, the progress of which will be reported to the Board monthly by the Superintendent. The Behavioral Support Team in each school have been working on their building school wide behavior plans. Recently our District Behavioral Support Team Steering Committee agreed to recommend that $10,000 be placed in the 2021/2022 budget to fund our effort to reach this goal. The District Behavioral Support Team met on January 27th and has set their next meeting date of April 14th to continue to coordinate this effort. Board member Kaylah Hemlow chairs the Behavioral Support Team. Under the new ESSA II grant Social Emotional Learning is a priority. The ESSA II grant of $857,000 will provide additional training and resources as needed through September 2023.
Promote an atmosphere that supports an inclusive, professional learning community.
We are planning to use grant funds again next year to continue to support our Professional Learning Communities. As noted our pool of grant funds is significantly larger than in past years.
Support and promote anti-bullying practices and ensure policies are being followed.
Superintendent will spot check the bullying logs and report monthly to the Board.
We have had zero incidents of bullying at HMHS and zero incidents of bullying at HES reported since our last Board meeting.
Support the development of a diversity plan that can be integrated throughout the district.
We intend to bring a new Diversity Plan to the April Board meeting. The plan will emphasize our effort to acknowledge the diversity of student accomplishments in all areas. We plan to discuss the plan at our administration meeting scheduled for March 17th. Our Director of Student Services chairs our Diversity Committee.
Support initiatives to recruit and retain professional, high-quality staff that are innovative, dynamic and dedicated to the success of all students.
We have three para positions that remain unfilled. Thanks to Board action we now have four long-term substitutes that are being used to help meet our social distancing guidelines.
Support ways to conduct business in the most efficient and effective manner.
The Para Negotiations Committee has come to an agreement with the Hinsdale Support Staff Association leadership. This agreement has been approved by the Board and ratified by the HSSA. Holly Kennedy and Sean Leary are the Board representatives on Para Negotiations Committee.
Many of our students will need catch-up learning next year. Thankfully, we expect to receive significant federal grant allocations to cover all our expenses related to catch-up learning. We have already received three federal grants to help us this year. Last fall we received $188,000 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act. We also received $101,000 from the Federal Public School Response Fund Grant. On January 29th we learned that we will be receiving $857,000 from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. The $600 billion Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act was passed by Congress in December and $857,000 is our share of that appropriation. The $857,000 must be used by September 2023.
Work with the administration to present a warrant article to rebuild the expendable trust funds.
Given the personal hardships in our community, that were a result of the current pandemic, the Board chose not to present a warrant article to rebuild the expendable trust funds this year.
Work with the Administration to proactively monitor the fund balance. Our Business Administrator is presenting his estimate to the Board each month.
Maintain ongoing communication with the Budget Committee regarding any potential changes in funding and expenditures and continue to provide detailed backup information for the budget. Our public hearing on the Budget occurred on February 3rd. After the public hearing the Budget Committee approved the budget presented by the Board.
Continue to review security audit information and move forward, in a fiscally responsible manner, to ensure our buildings are secure and our students and staff are safe. We are focusing our efforts on providing the needed PPE and frequently sanitizing our buildings. We have available grant funds to cover our needs. In addition, FEMA has just announced another round of funding for schools.
Continue to align the district budget to support the 5-year technology plan.
Due to the number of students who are engaged with our remote learning model we are focusing on identifying the grants funds to support the technology needs for remote learning.
Ensure all staff has access to pertinent trainings.
We continue to provide the training that is needed to meet the needs of our remote learner. We will soon be able to use grant funds for additional training and are planning quality summer professional for any staff member who wishes to participate.
Twice yearly School Board tours of all school buildings –1 tour during the school day and 1 tour when classes are not in session. Our next tour of the Hinsdale Elementary School is scheduled for Friday morning, March 26th.
Fully utilize all building spaces.
We are currently doing a great job of utilizing our building spaces for instruction as evidenced by our ability to provide in-person instruction five days a week.