Superintendent’s Report – December 2022
Lately we have been trying to defend our reputation against a minority of strong voices who use social media to amplify their voices. There have been numerous negative posts on local social media, and one anonymous letter sent to the Brattleboro reformer that resulted in responses from Hinsdale parents alleging that bullying is pervasive in our schools. Meanwhile your administration at HMHS received one bullying complaint since the beginning of the school year. The principal at HES received one bullying complaint since our November Board meeting.
A few of the negative posts have attacked individual employees. Public attacks on individual staff members are heartbreaking. I doubt there is a more difficult profession right now. Our Manager of Human Resources and I are speaking to HMHS and HES staff to remind them to do everything possible to support their colleagues, and to remind them that if they hear a student, parent, or a staff member disparage the reputation of a colleague, they are expected to report it to their supervisor or our HR Manager as soon as possible.
No one is completely immune to falsehoods, in part because of how our cognition is built and how misinformation exploits it. We commonly use mental shortcuts to make many of our judgements, which benefit us. But unfortunately, our cognitive tendencies can make us susceptible to misinformation if we are not careful. The more we hear something repeated the more likely we will believe it is true. This illusory truth effect arises because we use familiarity and ease of understanding as a shorthand for truth; the more something is repeated, the more familiar it feels whether it is misinformation or fact. We are hearing more negative noise regarding public education than ever and some of it is sadly becoming so familiar that it feels like fact. Sometimes the negative noise slips into the lives of our students and sometimes the negative noise slips into the lives of our parents and in both cases our employees have been recent victims of the misinformation.
Today, people are more likely than ever to grasp falsehoods and engage in group think with others who agree with them. Common sense is not as common as we want to believe.
Consider the following:
Sandy Hook conspiracy theory – This one was started by Texas talk-show host Alex Jones who has one of the largest talk show audiences in the United States. He promoted the lie that the Sandy Hook school massacre never happened but rather the parents of the 20, 6–7-year-old children killed in the massacre made the whole thing up to build a case for gun control. Several of the Sandy Hook parents were then threatened with their lives by the listeners of the Alex Jones talk show.
Birds aren’t real conspiracy theory – In 2017 a 20-year-old created a sign as a joke at a women’s march in Memphis, Tennessee that said, “Wake up America” the birds aren’t real. He listed a webpage link where he stated that in the 50’s the military working in Area 51 built planes that spayed poison at night killing the birds and replacing them with drones to spy on the residents of the U.S. Once it became clear to the young man that his made-up conspiracy theory had taken off, he took down his web page but due to his embarrassment denied that he was the creator of the conspiracy theory for several years until someone figured it out. It was too late, the “birds aren’t real” conspiracy theory is still circulating on the fringes of the internet.
Hollow Moon Conspiracy Theory – A scientist was trying to compare moonquakes and earthquakes and used the analogy that moonquakes were more like a bell because they last on average for 10 minutes not 30 seconds like on Earth. The conspiracy theory that the Moon is hollow took off.
Flat Earth Conspiracy Theory – The Flat Earth Society headquartered in California contends that the Earth and Moon are flat, and the moon and Sun are 4800 kilometers away and the stars are 6400 kilometers away. This conspiracy theory alleges that the traditional scientific explanation of the shape of the Earth and Moon to be a multi-international plot. There are tens of thousands of pages available on the Flat Earth Society web page that support this conspiracy theory. Last year the Hinsdale School District was chastised on social media for teaching our students that the Earth is a globe.
As of Wednesday, December 28th, the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Cheshire County over the past 14 days was 105. We currently have one known active case of COVID-19 in the Hinsdale School District. Since the start of the school year, we have had 59 known cases of COVID-19 in the Hinsdale School District. Of the 59 cases we have had 22 at Hinsdale Elementary School and 37 at Hinsdale Middle High School.
We continue to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) updated guidance for COVID-19 in schools. The guidance advises to stay home for at least five days when sick with COVID-19. Those with the following symptoms should stay home: After five days out and 24 hours of being symptom free (without medication) students/staff may return as long as they wear a mask for the first five days after returning. Those with the following symptoms should stay home:
- respiratory or gastrointestinal infections
• fever (temperature greater than 100 degrees F),
• sore throat,
- Testing is recommended as soon as possible for people with symptoms. We are currently not conducting tests, but do have tests available for families to test at home. Parents are asked to please contact the school if their child tests positive.
Quarantine is no longer recommended for people who are exposed to COVID-19.
All the recommended steps for HVAC systems in the Hinsdale School District have been taken. The district teaches and reinforces proper hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer especially during key times of day such as snack and meal time. We will also emphasize proper covering for coughs and sneezes.
Surfaces are cleaned once a day. If a person with COVID-19 has been inside a school within the last 24 hours, the space is cleaned and disinfected.
Hopefully the improvements made to our HVAC system and in our frequency of cleaning common surfaces will result in fewer colds and cases of the flu. However, as of December 7th we do have a dramatic increase of elementary students with cold/flu symptoms.
An educational webinar regarding school funding in New Hampshire will be led by the attorneys representing a group of taxpayers who are suing the state regarding the wildly different tax rates used to fund education statewide. The presentation will cover a brief history of school funding and the NH courts. The resolution of this lawsuit could have a huge impact on the school tax rate for Hinsdale. Learn how this lawsuit might impact your community. NH School Funding Fairness Project | Thursday, December 15, 6 p.m. Free Webinar
Our school district goals for 2022-2023 are as follows:
We are working on the recruitment of a planning team and hope to bring leaders from the New Hampshire Learning Initiative to help develop the Portrait of a Learner. We hope to use OSTPC funds to support this effort.
We are planning to resume curriculum design where we left off before the pandemic. This year we are planning on rewriting the Business Curriculum and the Family and Consumer Science curriculum.
Internal Communications: Our PA speakers have been updated. We now have a consistent policy regarding staff checking email. We have drafted a student threat protocol for inclusion during emergency procedures. The Executive Assistant to the Superintendent is laminating the Vision & Mission Statements for posting. Our Director of Technology is working on updating the website and will have a demo available soon. We are populating the Employee Resources Teams folder with important information for employees.
External Communications: We are working to post positive events about the district on a frequent basis on social media. We are developing a process we want to consistently follow to respond to negative social media to help support the staff who are targeted. We are adjusting a cell phone policy to present to the Board in January.
We have reviewed our wellness and holiday activities for employees. We are meeting with staff to review the social media protocol. We hope to participate in a State sponsored student wellness survey. We plan to propose the survey to the Board in January.
We still need several paras and substitutes in both buildings. We also need a HMHS literary interventionist, a HMHS science teacher, a HMHS special education case manager, a preschool case manager, a HES Title I tutor, a HES math interventionist, a district school psychologist, and several HASP club advisors. We desperately need a HES school nurse.
Our Business Administrator thinks that the schools have been very conservative with requests. She is directing the schools (when possible) to consolidate their supplies requests
Our Director of Technology is sending out weekly tech tips (Tech Talk Tuesday, and Windows Wednesday).