March 28 Update from Principal Stembridge

Good afternoon Newton South Families,

I hope you and yours continue to be well, and that you have found ways to safely enjoy our spate of good weather! At my house, we are finding that working from home blurs the lines of “work” mode and “home” mode – I have been reminded more than once that I am not the principal of our house! Usually alone time on my commute allows for transformations from work to dad and spouse mode… I have some social-emotional learning of my own to accomplish!

I am writing to share updates on our upcoming transition to structured distance learning starting April 6.

First, I want to acknowledge and thank you for your patience and understanding as we all adjust to new circumstances. These are challenging times, and we have heard over this past week that many in our school community struggled to connect with our enrichment options for a variety of reasons – some technical, and many non-technical. Our plan must include an acknowledgment and respect for the diversity of situations our NPS families are experiencing, including the time and resources they have available to them.

While we learned on Wednesday of Governor Baker’s plan to keep schools closed until May 4, we had already been planning for a longer closure. Our planning process was outlined in David Fleishman’s March 22nd email to the community. 

Our phase 1 of learning from home began last Thursday with departmentl-level enrichment opportunities, and continued last week through the end of next week featuring course-level learning opportunities. All of our teachers have been in contact with their students sharing these plans and experimenting with ways to connect with students from afar. For example, Teachers have been trying Googlemeets and Zoom, and are all now using Schoology to communicate with their classes. Guidance counselors and deans have also been reaching out to their students and families.

Phase 2 will begin April 6.  Because this situation is fluid and moving a large high school to distance learning is complex, the transition to phase 2 will continue to evolve. The transition from phase 1 to phase 2 will not be abrupt, and it will not signal the end of our improvement of distance learning at Newton South. Phase 2 will be more structured, and will be in line with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Guidelines that students work 3.5 hours each day.

Importantly, April 6 will be the start of expected student learning activities, and will include students submitting work for credit. To that end, we will be extending our Term 3 to last through June, and next week we will share our assessment and grading plans for student work as well as for how we will determine year-end grades. All students are encouraged to engage in the learning options next week so that they are prepared to fully participate in phase 2. By the end of the week we will share updated phase 2 plans, including a weekly schedule and tools to help students organize their work for the week. This schedule will include the opportunity to connect with adults and peers, and to practice, process, and reflect on learning.

In preparation for the rollout of this plan, this week we have been focused on the following:

Practice – our teachers and staff are reaching out to students with technology tools to see what works best in a remote learning environment. Practicing with technology tools, both for connection and learning, allows us to understand what will work in our second phase of school closure. Teachers in our school and throughout the district are trying different approaches, but they are all still operating under the same guidance originally laid out by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Collaboration – we have teams working within our school and across the district to develop a school and systemwide approach. At the district level, we continue to collaborate with our neighboring districts, including Brookline, Needham, and Wellesley, who have developed plans similar to our own. We will continue to do so in the coming days, as well as working to interpret guidance from the DESE.

Technology deployment – as a public school district, it is essential that we ensure that all of our students have access to the learning that can occur. One aspect of this is access to a device. We are continuing to identify families who need a device and delivering it to them.

It has been joyful to hear about the interactions between teachers and students on a variety of mediums, and of ways that teachers and students have been stretching their practice. As I have said before, we are fortunate to have an amazing team of educators at Newton South, and they are fully engaged in developing their knowledge and practicing how to meet the needs of our wide variety of learners. 

We will be back in touch with you next week with our updated plan to support learning during this extended school closure. In the meantime, please encourage your student to participate both in the opportunities for connection with their teachers and the enrichment activities. This will serve them well as we prepare for phase 2 of our distance learning plan.



Joel Stembridge

Principal, Newton South High School