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COVID-19 Planning for New Heights School

FREE Meals available during Distance Learning. 

Free meals are available to all families who live in the Stillwater school district during the school closure. If you do not live in the Stillwater School district please check your assigned districts site. For more information and meal pickup locations click here. If you have any questions please contact Lindsay Berberich at 651-439-1962 or




Hello New Heights Families.

By now most of you have probably seen, heard or read something about the governor of MN relaxing the Safe Schools Plan and has called for the re-opening of school systems across the state of MN.  As you can imagine, trying to follow all of the changes that have occurred since the pandemic first broke last year has been quite a journey; an exhausting one for all of us.  As one very respected scholar put it, it has been like "navigating a maze of one contradiction after another."  "Follow the science" has become the mantra, but the scientific method and process is that we conduct trials and experiments knowing that some of them are going to fail.  Then, you try and try again.  In this case, experts are telling us that the science suggests that schools are more important to students in communities if they are open, but they have to be able to open safely.  As you can further imagine, all schools have different facilities and different states of readiness.  That means that some schools are going to rush into opening as soon as next week, while other schools are going to work toward opening a little later, and some schools have already announced that they will remain in distance-learning until at least the start of school next fall.  

We have closely read the updates to the governor's Safe Learning Plan for schools and we are confident that our plan is in alignment with the best wishes and hopes of the government.  The plan encourages schools to open, but also directs us to consult with our in-house teams and layout mitigation strategies that will allow for some form of opening, hopefully by early to mid March.  All school systems do not operate the same, meaning even locally here in Stillwater, the district does not operate K-12 buildings such as New Heights.  We meet with the district routinely to try to mirror what they are doing as closely as we can, but the district is a massive machine with many more resources and personnel than New Heights has.  In some cases, New Heights will have to react somewhat differently, as in this case. 

New Heights has been open for in-person activities since January 27th, beginning with our youngest students in grades K, 1 and 2 in conjunction with the governor's wishes, and in alignment with Stillwater.  Then, we recently brought back our students in grades 3 and 4 on February 10, and we will have our 5th and 6th graders back on February 24th, next week.  We are learning a little bit with each wave, but we need to be careful to not overload our capacity to do this safely.  That is why we are going to stay on our planning timeline and hold-off on bringing our 7-12 grade population back to school for in-person learning until 4th quarter, which will start on April 5th.  Waiting that short amount of time will allow for us at school to be optimally prepared to serve our students safely without falling into the urge of rushing into this without adequate preparation time.  To use a good example, Stillwater recently opened up for in-person learning and almost immediately had to re-close an entire elementary only a few days after opening because students and staff were testing positive for Covid.  We do not want to be artificially optimistic and rush in too soon only to be potentially forced into walking these plans back because we weren't fully prepare  The potential for problems is too great when rushed.

Next week our entire elementary will be back in session 5 days per week, and beginning March 1st, they will be back 5 days per week and back on our normal hours of 9:05 to 3:40; currently our hours are condensed-9:30-2:15.  Beginning the week of March 8th, we will be inviting students who would benefit from in-person support in grades 7-12 to attend up to 4 hour sessions a few days per week, but those plans are still under development.  We are also in the process of surveying families to identify exactly who intends to return to in-person activities on April 5th vs. those who still intend to do distance-learning for the remainder of the year. Knowing the actual numbers will assist us in preparing for appropriate spacing in classrooms and in the cafeteria. After that identification is complete, we can then ensure that the mitigation strategies, including proper spacing, ventilation, and other matters will meet with expectations.  Many of our staff are in the process of getting vaccinated, and although the CDC has changed it's opinion as to the necessity of teachers being vaccinated, we feel it would be best for staff and students that the vaccination process be completed to avoid unnecessary risks or absences of teachers because of possible side effects from taking the vaccines.  By the time we get to April, the weather will be warmer, windows will able to be opened more often, and we are also working on purchasing a system of air purifiers for all classrooms, hallways, the gym and the cafeteria.  These air purifiers are quite expensive and in order to purchase them, we have to wait until the government releases the funds promised to the schools, which won't occur until sometime in March.   Once the funds allocated to New Heights become available, we will finalize the purchase and be able to confidently tell our families that we can offer safer, purified air to all who occupy the building for years to come.  In the meantime, keeping our population smaller, temporarily, and allowing the elementary-aged students to resume in-person learning with fewer distractions for a few more weeks seems to us to be a very appropriate plan at this time, given all circumstances.  We will be contacting families soon about some special in-person sessions for those who want or need extra support ASAP, but again, we need a week to organize because prior to the governor's recent plan, he told schools to have teachers work from home as long as they could be effective.  The teachers followed that directive and are making plans to return to school Monday so that we can begin to work together to be ready for all student to return April 5th.

Finally, we understand that all families and individuals have opinions about how all of this has played out and we respect that.  This has not been easy for anyone, but we can confidently say that there hasn't been a single case of Covid that has originated from the school or that has been transmitted to anyone from school. One way to look at that is to believe the school is safe and therefore ready for students to return.  The way we prefer to view it though is that we were appropriately cautious last fall, closed when the data dictated, and we intend to continue to be cautious and responsible in our efforts to bring our students back as soon and as safely as our staff can do it.  That is the best we can do.  

We thank you for you choosing New Heights as your school of choice, and we also thank you for your patience during these trying times. We are working tirelessly to make this happen.

Have a great, warm(er) and safe weekend.


Tom Kearney-Principal


Hello Parents of K-6 students.  As you likely have heard, Governor Walz has announced that schools that have the capacity to reopen, based on a multitude of data and mitigation strategies, may start to plan to re-open schools starting with the youngest students and phase in other grades over time up through 6th grade.  As of now, New Heights is planning to re-open for our K-2 students at the same time as the district's tentative plans, which would be on Wednesday January 27th.  Two weeks later on February 10th we intend to start the 3rd and 4th grades, and then 2 weeks later on February 24th we would intend to start the 5th and 6th-all other students would remain on distance learning until the numbers drop to below 30 positive cases per 10K residents in Washington County.   

At this time, we are planning for an approximate 9:30 arrival and 2:15 dismissal.  This time schedule seems to be a good way to get our students back into the flow of school, but not to overwhelm them as it has been almost a year since our students were in school full-time.  Under the new guidelines, students will still have to wear masks at all times while indoors, even for gym class, but will not have the same restrictions when it comes to distancing; simply meaning they will not have to remain 6 feet apart from all other students at all times.  Teachers will have to wear both masks and face shields while teaching, and will also have to remain distanced from students whenever possible.  

We feel we were able to offer a very safe school experience during hybrid in the fall and the only reason we had to return to distance learning in November was as a result of the explosion of Covid cases in Washington County.  You will recall that the numbers rose rapidly and forced schools into distance learning to be compliant with the governor's safe schools plan.  Since that time health experts have apparently changed their professional opinions regarding the approach to education.  They believe the data supports opening schools for the youngest students as soon as possible, and New Heights is among those schools who feel we can re-open slowly and safely.  According the governor's order, January 27th is the first day we can open.  Please note, we do not have the flexibility according the governor's order to alter the grades or open up for students outside the grades in this note.  There is a specific order and schools cannot decide for themselves to open outside the parameters given.

At this time, we are asking you to contact Julie in the main office regarding your potential need for transportation.  She will need to have your updated information, especially whether or not you intend to return your child to in-person learning starting on January 27th for students in grades K-2, February 10 for students in grades 3 and 4, and February 24th for students in grades 5 and 6.  Please let her know in an email if you will be sending your child for in-person learning, if you need transportation, and please verify your address, which student you are sending, and if you will need both am and pm bus service.  If you have more than one location for pickup and drop-off, we will need to know that as well, along with the specific days of the week for each location.  If you feel email will be confusing, feel free to call the main number 651-439-1962 as soon as next Monday and you can talk with Julie to provide your information. 

We will need to verify your information so we can get our students appropriately routed well before the expected start date of the 27th, so please start to consider whether or not you would intend to send your child to in-person learning at the school and whether or not you will need transportation if your child is eligible for busing.  

All families can still decide that they prefer distance-learning for now, but those who are feeling ready to return to school, this will be your opportunity.  Happy Holidays!  We look forward to having students back at school in the coming year.


Hello All.  With just a week and a half of school left before the holiday break, I thought you might want an update as to the state of things regarding our current learning model and the prospects of returning to hybrid learning in the coming weeks and months.

So you will likely recall that there are several indicators that inform the decision to move from one learning model to another, but primarily the original Safe Learning Plan informed school leaders to use the positive cases in each county per 10K residents as the primary indicator for which learning model schools should be in.  In mid-September, the number seemed to be hovering at a fairly safe number of 12 positive cases per 10K, but remember, the number that we get from the county dashboard is always two weeks behind.  So the 12 cases per 10K in September was actually more reflective of the time frame just before school started.  For whatever reason, that number started to move up fairly rapidly once the school year started.  By the time we got to October 10th, the number per 10K got to 32.49; at which point 7-12 grade students are strongly encouraged (required) to be in distance learning, while K-5 could still attend for in-person hybrid.  By the time we got to Halloween, the numbers had surged to the point where the only realistic and safe decision was to move all students to distance learning; which is where we are now.  At the time we moved to distance learning, we could see (predict) where the numbers were heading.  The high mark hit on 11/29, reaching 455 positive cases on just one day, and the 14-day total, which is what dictates terms to schools, hit 155.97; more than 300% of the number that tells schools to move safely into distance learning mode.  

Since that decision was made, there have been some developments that are somewhat promising, suggesting that we will have students back in the building at some point late in the spring.  The movement is slow and it is still too early to predict exactly when that day will be.  The new 14-day case rate has dropped 23 points to 132.48, and if things keep on this way, we will have a lot to be thankful for soon.  However, The last few weeks of December are still reason for concern because there will be lots of gatherings and celebrations, which the CDC expects to generate another surge in positive cases again.  I am hopeful that Americans now know how to exercise good judgement and will have their family celebrations wisely and safely and will minimize the spread of Covid as we head into the new year.  If we can be safe now, we will get back to school and life as "normal" soon. 

I am also glad to hear about the advancements of the vaccines, and that they are getting distributed at this very moment.  People will be getting the vaccines very soon and that process will play a huge role, hopefully, in getting our schools back to something close to normal within the coming months, but the process will expectedly take time.  In the meantime, we will continue to offer our distance learning platform to all of our families, reach out to those who seem to need the most help, and we will further do our part to exercise compassion and flexibility to our students by planning realistic, flexible lessons for them to participate in through the Google Classroom platform. We understand that this time has been and continues to be stressful for many people, but we trying to do our part so that school is nowhere near the top of the list in terms of the things that are causing stress in your lives.  If you are discouraged about school or technology, we encourage you to start with individual teachers first, but you can also contact the school's main office or me directly with your concerns.  We will try to work through the issues with you so that you and your children can get through this time with as small an interruption to their education as possible.

Some may have questions as to the reasons why schools are closed when many in the media are calling for them to reopen immediately.  I will remind everyone that there are a few things to consider, including the unreasonable politicization of many topics during this past year, including how distance learning is impacting lives.  We understand those arguments firsthand, as we are trying to figure out how best to navigate through this unprecedented time.  The schools have not gotten a consistent message from our government as to how to handle this, probably because they don't really know.  In fact, we have actually gotten very little direction lately, but we are sticking to the original plan and guidelines for the time being.  The main reason we feel it is necessary to remain in distant learning for the foreseeable future, other than safety, is logistics, simply meaning that the only way we can have students coming into school every day to receive a quality school experience is to be able to guarantee that our teaching staff and administration is able to report to work each day.  The rules are clear about exposures, close contacts, and positive tests.  In some cases it is possible for one or more staff to have to be home in quarantine for up to 3 weeks depending on when they had symptoms or had a close contact.  Our students will not benefit from having substitute teachers who aren't qualified to teach in the place of their actual teachers.  In fact, there are no subs available, which is the primary reason aside from safety that schools are struggling to stay open; they don't have the staffing.  We simply can't staff the buildings with appropriate personnel while the cases are as high as they are.  The media simply doesn't report on that aspect of the schools having to be closed.  Students won't benefit from subs- they benefit from the close relationships they formed with their teachers; at least that is the case at New Heights. 

We all recognize that distance learning isn't the same as in-person learning; not even close.  But, I would hope we can agree that during a pandemic, it is certainly better than nothing at all.  We have learned a great deal about how to reach our students in circumstances where formerly they would just be sitting at home with no connection to school whatsoever.  We send out virtual communications and lessons to all of our students daily, and a very high percentage of the students are replying, responding, and getting their work in at a satisfactory level.  We are working hard to build a system of supports for those who are still struggling.  If you are a family whose children are struggling during this time, we hope you will accept our invitation to contact the school and work with us to develop a plan that will minimize any potential academic and emotional setbacks to your children.  Experts tell us the end of the pandemic is in sight, so let's work together to keep moving forward so that when school is able to return to in-person instruction, your kids will be ready to join in where we left off.

For what its worth, we hope you are able to find ways to enjoy this time with your families and to also find ways to continue with traditions such as the holiday season that is just ahead of us.  As one small gesture, we are going to be sending all of our families an invitation to attend a virtual presentation of The Guthrie's, A Christmas Carol, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday December 22nd at 1 pm.  You will receive instructions on how to participate in this free holiday event.  We hope you will accept the invitation and plan to watch a holiday classic with us.  We can't all be together in person, but we can participate together in spirit and celebrate the good things we have to be thankful for this holiday season.  Please plan on attending.

Thank you for reading this update and Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us at New Heights School!

Tom Kearney



Good Morning.  I have been notified that the busing has been routed, although at this moment I am still waiting to hear how you will be notified of your stops and times.  Typically you would be given route stop and time information by transportation, but I will gain clarification on this later this morning.  It appears that our day will run from approximately 9:45 until 1:15.  Today or tomorrow you will all receive a schedule which will inform you if you are on the "A" schedule meaning Monday and Wednesday, or "B" schedule meaning Tuesday and Thursday.  Of course this applies to in-person hybrid-flex learners only.  If you opted for distance-learning, you have informed the school that your family does not intend to come to campus except by appointment.   All learners will be expected to engage in lessons 5 days per week and are to make home-to-teacher two way communication on each day in order to be included in "positive" attendance counts.  This is new regulation we must follow.  Families will receive more info later this week describing how students and parents can contact teachers, as well as "office hours" of teachers so that your children can get the help and support he or she needs.


All parents should be aware that the governor's order, now currently law, does exempt certain people or types of people from wearing masks.  This could include someone who has breathing or respiratory issues, or it may be a sensory issue related to a disability and the student simply can't handle wearing the mask.  Teachers and service providers can wear face shields rather than masks if they believe the non-transparent mask will or could interfere with the education process.  The point to be made here is that if your child has a medical reason to not wear a mask you should get a medical note to submit to the school.  Additionally, we are currently reviewing the IEPs of our students to determine which of our students may be eligible to not wear the face coverings and when that flexibility may apply.  Of strong importance, this is not an issue of simply not wanting to or not liking wearing masks.  There has to be a stipulated and documented reason for the excuse or exemption.  Almost certainly students will go home and tell their parents that some students are not wearing masks at school.  You can assume that the adults of the school and the leadership are aware and we are following the governor's order.  There will certainly be times when (all) students decide to take the mask off or move it around to get comfortable or simply take a breath without a face covering.  Who among us hasn't?  However, if this becomes a situation where the student habitually or constantly begins to defy our safety protocols, that student, depending on circumstances, may forfeit his or her opportunity to attend school on campus and may be placed in distance-learning mode for a while or even permanently.   We hope it doesn't come to that, but I feel it is important to let you know where this could all be heading.  Hopefully we will do a great job during the first sessions next week of having our students understand what is required and where the flexibility will be during this unusual time.  Your child may come home and report a classmate for not wearing a mask.  If you call the school to report it you will also have to know that we cannot talk to you about other students specifically due to the right to privacy.  Again, except in isolated situations, you should assume we are aware and the non-mask-wearing student probably has a legitimate reason for the exemption.  Our school is small and our teachers are every bit as concerned with their own health and the health of their families as you are for yours.  We are going to be making safety for all our top priority.  I can't make that point strongly enough.  I just hope you understand there will be issues and we will be on top of it.

That is all for this morning.  Look for schedules and bus information coming soon.

Tom Kearney


Hello New Heights Families,

We are finishing up our first 5 days of planning as a staff in-person at the school.  It has taken some time to adjust to having so many people in the building, especially since almost nobody was here for the past 6 months.  We have been meeting in committees refining our strategies and expectations for ourselves and for our students.  We are not quite ready to release those details, but many solid ideas and points of clarification have been introduced and discussed, and we feel we are going to be able to offer a solid in-person "skinny" school experience, while offering a fair and balanced approach to the hybrid-flex as well as the full-time distance learners.

We originally asked people in a survey whether or not they would "request" a device for the start of the year, and many families are thinking they will "request" a device.  At the time we put the survey out, we were leaning a bit more heavily on the possibility that the school would be in distance-learning for all, but since then, we are now planning for hybrid-flex, meaning some students will be on campus for at least 2 days per week.  In that scenario, we will be needing our computer lab units to remain on campus, at least most of them, as we will still have most students on campus and they will have to be in the lab at times doing their work and getting support on some lessons that they have to complete for Google Classroom activities.  That will reduce the number of units we will initially have to distribute. Yesterday we sent out a new survey and changed the questions to more accurately identify who actually "needs" a device as opposed to who "wants" a device.   The point is that some families will have higher needs than others.  We can't outfit every student or even every home with a device, so we are going to ask people to please complete that new survey and submit it today if they haven't already. Once we analyze the responses, we will begin to prepare units for distribution.

Here is a gentle reminder about supply acquisition for parents as you prepare for the upcoming school year.  I had my teachers take one last look at the supply list.  We do recognize that some families will be on distance-learning and others will be on hybrid-flex, but most of the suggested supplies will still be needed by the students to complete assigned work regardless if at home or at school.  We understand that money might be tight and that all families won't be able to complete the list up front, and that is okay.  Get what you can find and get what you can afford.  If getting small amounts now and small amounts later works better for your budget, then that is what you should do.  The school supplies at the big box stores are on sale now, so maybe that is an incentive to get things now as cheaply as you can.  Non-negotiable items include face coverings and hand sanitizers, so please be mindful to get them now.  While each student should have several masks that he or she can tolerate for a few hours per day, they should also have a personal hand sanitizer to use at various points of the day. Each student will be given a bin to leave in his or her designated space each day.  Masks should go home to get cleaned, but hand sanitizer should stay in the class so they always have it available here at school. We feel families should provide their own hand sanitizer primarily because some are more harsh than others and the school does not want or need to be responsible for irritations to the skin from a product we provide.  While there will be hand sanitizers here for common use, it is still better to have a product each student is comfortable with and is familiar with.

We are very close to sending schedules home, but that won't occur until early next week.  I am still waiting for bus routing to be completed and once I get the routes and times I will release the schedules.  I am very encouraged by the responses to my emails from parents.  Yes, I know my emails are long, but I have always felt more info is better than not enough.  I have tried hard to provide not only the facts of this situation, but I have offered my opinions as well.  I am being as transparent as possible, which I imagine may be a change for my new families.  There are no politics here at New Heights.  We are simply interested in serving our families to the highest degree possible.  There will be times where we fall short of expectations, but it won't be for lack of effort.  You are always welcome to let me know when you have a concern about any issue.  I may not always have the answer or solution when you call, but it won't take long for me to get one for you.  Hopefully you see that in these communications.

That's all for today.  Keep an eye out for more emails from me next week. We are getting close to kicking off the year and next week we will be here finalizing our plans to kick off the start of the year for both distance-learning and hybrid-flex.  Have a great weekend everyone, and enjoy the beautiful weather.

Tom Kearney


Dear Families,

For families/students choosing Hybrid-Flex, students will be divided into two groups. Each group will be in school for approximately 3 to 3.5  hours per day, two days each week. Group "A" will attend school in- person on Monday and Wednesday. Group "B" will attend school in-person on Tuesday and Thursday. Both groups will be expected to participate in Distance-Learning activities during each of the three days that they are not on campus.  Details will be coming soon regarding the type of work and expectations for students during Distance-Learning days.

Families and students are not choosing group A or B, as those groups will be assigned according to the master schedule and families will be notified soon regarding which schedule they are assigned. Families are actually choosing either Hybrid-Flex or Distance-Learning.  As of today, we have determined that families have chosen Hybrid-Flex or Distance-Learning from the answers they provided on the recent surveys.  If you have not declared through the surveys which option is best for your family to begin the year, you need to contact the school and declare your option by this coming Friday, August 28th by 3 pm.  Families who may also be unsure or would like to change their previous choice from the survey should also contact the school by the same date and time.  Once we have collected that information, schedules will be finalized and sent out next week.

Thank you for your patience and cooperation during this trying time.

Tom Kearney


Hello.  Here is a quick update as to where we currently are in planning for the upcoming year.  Today, based on the surveys and direct communication we have had with all of you, we compiled a bus list and have submitted it for routing.  We are confident that the district will get this routing done in short order and we should be able to start school in person for hybrid students as scheduled on September 8th.  Of course there is a chance the routing runs into trouble and we could possibly have to begin in distance learning mode, but let's stay optimistic.

The staff and I are working on developing the protocols and policies about how to conduct school safely.  You will get more information as things get solidified.  We know there will be new rules about drop off and pick up, and who is allowed in the building.  We have to minimize the number of people coming and going for safety reasons.  We are also going to be strictly limiting things that kids can bring to school.  We will be starting with 3 to 3 1/2 hour days for 2 days per week, so there is no room for toys, playing cards, games, etc.  We also can't have our students sharing items, so we are developing a system for kids to store their school belongings in bins to leave in the classroom as we won't be using lockers.  We need to limit the number of things we have to sanitize each night, so lockers are out of the question.

None of us chose to live in a Covid world.  This is causing all sorts of issues for everyone, but we still believe we have to try to create a safe and meaningful school experience.  Whereas I recognize that many of you are becoming less patient because you need to know how to plan, you hopefully understand that our situation is fluid and changing by the day.  Before we could even begin to establish a realistic plan, we had to wait for the governor and we also had to get in line with our district because they provide the transportation service our students rely on.  After those organizations established their plans, we reacted.  So while our plan seems late in coming, it is partly because we needed to understand the plans of others that affect us.  So we are now getting closer to fully knowing when school will start, what time of day, how many days per week, who is on what day, who is staying home altogether, and what our special services are going to look like.  

I hope that tomorrow I can send you a schedule that will show what your student(s) days on campus will look like.  You will want to note that your choice will be in place for the month of September and you can only change from distance learning to hybrid in person once at the end of each month.  We will allow students to move from hybrid to distance learning at any point literally over night though for what should seem to be obvious reasons.  Most school systems are holding families to the decision for at least a quarter and some are making it for the entire year.  We are being more flexible than that, but you should really choose your plan wisely.  Call me if you would like to chat about.

That is all I have for today.  The teachers came back to the building yesterday for the first time since March.  It's good to be collaborating in person again.  This staff is dedicated to making the school year work for your children no matter what.  We will do our part and trust that you will do yours too.   I am sorry that we are unable to host our annual open house this year, but hopefully soon this thing will pass and we can gather at the school again' that will be quite a celebration!  So good night for now and watch for further correspondence coming to you as soon as tomorrow.  We are here working very hard and we are excited to see our students return.

 Tom Kearney




I want to begin by thanking you for your having trust in the school to either continue at New Heights or for placing your trust in us for the first time by enrolling your child during these unusual times in our world's history.  Second, I want to apologize for the delay in our late summer communication.  Normally by now you would have received a fall packet with all sorts of instructions and guidelines, as well as lunch applications, menus, clothing guidelines and shopping lists for classroom supplies. The reasons for the delay are probably obvious, but I will share my thoughts to clarify. 

A few weeks ago, I notified you of the (late in coming) governor's plan and how the number of positive Covid 19 cases per county would dictate the mode schools within each county could operate in.  For example, schools, depending on the number of positive cases, may be able to open fully for all students, fully for elementary but hybrid for secondary, hybrid for all, or distance-learning for all.  At that time, schools based in Washington County could have opened fully for elementary and hybrid for secondary.  Although New Heights would be allowed to open fully for elementary, we subsequently learned that our resident district, Stillwater, who also provides our transportation, intends to open hybrid for all, which means New Heights would also have to open hybrid for all because Stillwater won't bus our students more than their own students for obvious reasons, meaning our only true options are distance-learning or hybrid for all-just the same as Stillwater’s schools.

Since all of that information became available we went to work assuming to open in a hybrid model as discussed, but as of last week we learned that the district is still engaged in some level of debate at the school board level as to how they intend to open in September.  The Stillwater school board held a special meeting on Friday afternoon to finally agree and decide how to open, but did not make a final decision, meaning the start of the school year is still undecided.  We have already delayed the start of the year until September 8th, and we won't officially know what the district is going to do until tomorrow evening and the decision will impact our families as well because of transportation.

Since this crisis began, I watch dozens of hours of news coverage per week, I read articles about Covid-19 to understand how the spread is impacting the world, I participate in several Zoom meetings with other school leaders to collaborate and hear about ideas on safely opening schools, and recently I have been paying particular attention to areas that have already opened for school in other parts of the country, paying particular note to the things that haven’t gone as hoped and planned.  I have been trying to configure a strategy with the most beneficial scenario for opening school as safely as possible. I know that the district has concerns about what transportation is going to look like, and that it may take weeks before things get ironed out. The entire education community is still trying to put safety measures in place in the schools, but we also know that once kids come into the schools, plans will only account for so much.  We know that many of you are going to opt for distance-learning to give you time to see how things are going, and once it is demonstrated that we can offer a safe school experience, you may likely want to return your kids to in-person schooling and keep inching toward a more "normal" life.   We completely understand that.  Others want their kids in school now.  They want their kids to get the most out of the school experience and they believe that optimal benefits won’t occur unless their kids are actually in school.  For many, distance-learning didn't go very well last spring and the thought of another year like that may be almost unbearable; a point we also completely understand.

So in order to make the most informed decision, we recently put out a survey to all families and gathered as much information as we felt we needed to get ready for the school year, and despite gathering that data, things have continued to change just as I suggested they might in a recent correspondence to our families.  The Covid 19 issue is fluid, meaning it continues to move in all directions quite rapidly.  The number accelerated a full point since last week and more school systems in the state are starting to declare distance-learning for all, including St. Paul, Mpls, Bloomington, Roseville, and many charters around the state have also declared distance-learning, while Stillwater is still trying to decide.

So, hopefully this will at least help to explain all that we are considering and why the decision to open in hybrid hasn't fully been announced, as well as why we haven't sent the packet with supply lists yet. We don't want you out shopping for items your kids may not need until we are able to be back at school as normally designed.  All of these reasons are leading me to offer this possible solution to the start of the school year.  At this point, we are inclined to opt for a slow approach, which would mean starting all students in a flexible hybrid model for the month of September.  This morning I was able to secure an assurance from transportation that New Heights can carve out a “skinny” schedule, meaning students will be a able to come to school for approximately 3 hours per day 2 days per week rather than to attend 6.5 hours per day 2 days per week.  We will be able to arrange a schedule for students and families that makes more sense for our school because we are smaller, more relational, and we are better able to address our students’ needs more quickly simply because we have fewer students in our school.  By starting this way, we would allow for the district to iron out its transportation issues, which currently looks like it is going to be a huge problem.  New Heights students would be transported later in the morning after the other schools have been dropped off and would then be transported home before the other schools.  To a degree, New Heights would have its own routes and each student will have his or her own assigned seat, which should give our families comfort.  Starting the year this way would also allow us to observe and learn from the other local schools, especially in terms of anticipated and unanticipated issues they encounter.   This could include issues relating to masks, meals, transportation, Covid-19 cases both accurately and falsely identified, quarantining students, teachers and staff issues, issues related to sanitizing the building effectively, and we will also learn about peoples' true comfort and concerns about attending school after they experience it for a few days rather than just guess about how it might go.  We feel it will be better to phase the start of the year in rather than start with full days not knowing confidently what to expect.

In different form from last spring, we are now able to allow small groups of kids into the school for services, especially students who need more personal attention.  For those who will opt to come to school, it will likely be for two days per week for approximately 3 hours per day (10am to 1pm).  Some families may still opt for distance-learning, but they could still schedule times to come to school and interact with the teachers they most need assistance from by making an appointment during the week.  Depending on the needs of any student, we would be able to schedule an appointment either virtually or in person here at the school in order to get those needs met.  We know that every student won't need to be here during this time, so opening slowly with partial days during the month of September would allow the school to continue to observe and learn from our neighboring districts assuming they remain open, we can continue to train our students and families here at the school on Google Classroom and help them to navigate through the technical aspects that make distance-learning difficult, but also provide opportunities for our struggling and more "challenged" students to get some specialized assistance in person as their family's schedules permit.  This option is sort of a "hybrid flex," meaning those who need to be at school more can come in with a fixed schedule 2 days per week for 3 hours or as needed by appointment.

Let's face it, the situation we are in isn't a good one by any standard.  We all wish life could return to normal very soon. We realize there are competing opinions out there; some are pushing for schools to open full-time, while others seem to insist we keep a safe distance from others and stick to ourselves until Covid 19 is gone.  It is troubling that we have not been able to agree and come together with an actual solution, but that can’t paralyze us to the point where we do nothing at all.  In my thinking, we need to get students back in school, but I also believe we should phase it in slowly by starting with a few days per week and for shorter days until we get a true sense of how it is going. 

Early tomorrow you will get a new brief survey asking which option you will opt to take.  We ask that you strongly consider the options provided and try to make the best choice for your family knowing that September is going to be a trial month.  We will tabulate the responses rapidly and reconstruct a schedule to begin as soon as possible.  We may have to start the first week with distance- learning for all, but that is unclear today because I have to hear from families one more time through the survey before making the schedule.

To conclude, below is a list of things that are going to occur over the next week to ten days so you will understand what is coming up.

  • Stillwater School Board meets this Thursday (tomorrow) to decide what mode to open with September 8th.  This decision has a huge impact on what New Heights does to start the year.

  • If Stillwater is to open hybrid, New Heights will open Hybrid, but with shorter days (approximately 3 hrs.)

  • Families will complete the new survey ASAP to provide New Heights with each family’s preference to begin.  Survey will come to you tomorrow morning.

  • New Heights will tabulate responses and reconstruct the schedule for September and the schedule will be communicated to families likely early next week.

  • A supply list will be generated and sent to families as soon as possible

  • All schools and families are continuing to monitor Covid 19 numbers knowing school could be forced to distance-learning mode for all quite quickly.

  • Families can continue to come to school for Google Classroom Training as needed-more trainings can be scheduled to meet demand.

  • New Heights teachers report back full-time Monday August 24 and will be getting ready for Hybrid

  • Safety and health protocols are still in development.

Thank you again for your understanding and patience.  I do not expect all families to love this plan, but I do ask that all families try to understand that this issue is extremely taxing and difficult on all of us.  I really believe that this temporary approach may be the most sensible of all options I have heard of so far.  We are eager to get your survey responses and we are even more eager to see your children back at school again in only a few weeks.

Thomas Kearney-Principal & Superintendent


COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms are similar to other respiratory illnesses and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The majority of respiratory illnesses are not COVID-19. 

District officials are closely monitoring information and following the recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in terms of the district's response to this virus. 

Find the latest information from MDH on COVID-19 online.
If you have additional questions about the virus, please contact the MDH COVID-19 Hotline at 651-201-3920. Calls are answered Monday - Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

School closure will only be successful in slowing the spread of illness if each of us does our part to stay well. We encourage you to follow the advice of the Minnesota Department of Health to help prevent the spread of this illness:

  • Wash your hands frequently.

  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

  • Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick. 

Helpful Resources

Washington County Public Health

MN Dept of Health

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
World Health Organization (WHO)

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