Update from Principal Stembridge

Good evening everyone,

I hope that you and your family are faring well.

What a strange, alternate world we suddenly inhabit. On a normal March evening with some overnight snow accumulation predicted, we would speculate and wonder whether we would hear from Superintendent Fleishman early tomorrow morning. I am happy to announce that our plans to begin our next phase of learning at home tomorrow will not be impacted by the weather!

Our approach, as ever in the Newton Public Schools, is to ensure that our educational program is accessible to all of our students in our school community. We’re not just thinking about Internet access and devices, but also learning needs, home environments, and situations that students and families find themselves facing. Some of our students are caring for younger siblings so that parents can work double shifts, or managing illness, or are without structured learning supports that they rely on. Too, our teachers are adjusting to new responsibilities at home that require new levels of multi-tasking and engagement. There is no simple way to virtually replicate what we do for all of our students when we are in school. So, we will be doing it differently, in a way that is respectful and supportive of our entire school community. As a bonus, I hope that you are all enjoying the later school start times this week!

Last week we shared some “tide-you-over” learning opportunities by academic department while we worked to understand our new reality of virtual learning and to develop plans for this week. (If you didn’t get a chance to see my message to students, shared via schoology last week, you can do so here: https://tinyurl.com/u8ffzeq– I’m learning new tricks too!).

This week we have prepared multiple options for students for each course. I am so proud of our teaching staff! They are professional, creative, positive, and enthusiastic. You will see and experience the love and care with which they have crafted this week’s opportunities, and they are eager and excited to connect with your children. Your child will hear directly from each of their teachers through schoology in the next 24 hours. They will be learning this week, along with your students, about what works well and what needs tweaking. Each week will bring new options and opportunities for learning, and we will be connecting with our students as we go. I am confident in our amazing teachers, and we can trust that they will figure this out. As one of our teachers wrote to me: “we got this!”

To be clear, this week and next we are preparing a strong foundation for our future, and we can transition from here to more structured learning if/once we learn that we are out for an extended period.

As we go, we are also concerned for everyone’s emotional health and well being. Guidance counselors and deans will be checking-in with students and families – if you have questions or are in need of assistance please do not hesitate to reach-out to us!  And stay tuned for more opportunities for us to connect as a school community – Mx. Parker and Mr. Banks are determined that we will have a spring pep-rally some way, some how!

I know there are many questions about term 3 grades, spring activities and other upcoming events, and the future. Answers to these first depend on when we return to school, and second (in many cases) on continued physical-distancing guidelines. We have already started to consider options, and will provide updates as news unfolds and with guidance from the state, the city, and our district leaders. For now, we simply do not know, and are focused on creating the best learning and community environment we can given our circumstances.

Finally, on a personal note, I’ll share that, like you, my wife and I are finding that this is all so unsettling for our young people. My son John, who graduated from NSHS last year, is suddenly home from college. He is experiencing the loss of his academic program, close contact with friends, and the cancelling of upcoming projects most keenly. The world he thought he knew seemingly no longer exists, and it’s somewhat terrifying. I’d say he was mostly taking it in stride – at least externally – until a completely empty pasta isle at the grocery store prompted a mini-existential crisis. He does not have my 50+ years of experience to rely on – his adult understanding of his world is still forming, and the idea that there would not necessarily be mac and cheese on-call made it clear that life is a little different now. And since then, every day brings a bevy of human emotions – anger, self-pity, determination, sorrow, and yes, laughter and love.

We endeavor to provide our young people with the structure to create forward momentum, the connections to provide community, and the love and support to find comfort and agency in the days ahead.

I am honored to work with such smart, caring, thoughtful, passionate, and professional educators, and to do so in service to Newton South students and families.

We got this.

My best,
Joel Stembridge
Principal, Newton South High School