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 Lberberich@newheightsschool.org.

 

Updates..

9/1/2020

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

8/28/2020

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

8/26/2020

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

8/25/2020

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

 

8/19/2020
 

Dear New Heights Families, PLEASE READ THIS ENTIRE MESSAGE AS IT CONTAINS VERY IMPORTANT DETAILS!

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
 

8/5/2020 

 

Hello All.

With the start of school scheduled for September 8th, and with the ongoing issues primarily revolving around Covid-19, I am writing to provide you with an update, especially in light of last week's governor's announcement regarding guidelines to safely open schools and, more specifically, what New Heights is planning as of today.  

So the governor's plan calls for local decision making to be done by schools, districts, and community experts, primarily local health department officers at the county level.  Remember that the option to open schools is completely dependent on the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the county level.  That means that New Heights, if school was going to start today, would be able to allow our K-6 students to attend full time, but our 7-12 grade students would have to attend in a hybrid model, meaning small groups likely two days per week on campus and 3 days per week at home doing distance-learning.  While these are options for us to consider and decide on, New Heights, as do all school officials, has to take several things into account, but some are going to dictate the options we have more than others.  

One of the biggest factors to consider, other than health and safety, is how we are going to get our students to school each day.  New Heights is too small to run our own bus service, so we share transportation with the Stillwater district.  That means that we can only have school on days the district runs buses so, in effect, New Heights follows Stillwater's calendar and plan.  That also now means that New Heights will be following the same plan Stillwater has in place for it's schools.  That means that as of today, New Heights and Stillwater, are planning to do a hybrid model for all students.  The plans are still in development, but it most likely means that our students will be able to come to school 2 days per week and learn from home 3 days per week, but any family can also choose full time distance-learning because they are not convinced yet that it is safe to attend school.  For those families, you will not need to explain the reasons for your choice, you can simply decide that you are opting for distance-learning and we will support you that way.  We have not worked out the details yet as to which students will attend on which days, but those details will be worked out very soon and you will be given appropriate notice; it does appear that no students will be on campus on Fridays.  There will also be a provision for families to edit their choices and switch from one mode to the other, but there will be certain times to make those changes to avoid constant hopping from one to another.  Again, details are being worked out and you will be notified about all of these types of things soon.

In order to understand where our families are in terms of options, we are going to add a link to an important survey for each family to complete.  This survey will guide us or at least inform us as to the inclinations of each family during this time.  We know there are people who want or need training to assist their kids during distance-learning.  We know some kids struggled last spring and didn't get much work done.  We know there are concerns about social-distancing and safety, as well as transportation, meal service, and a plethora of other topics concerning your ability to make the best informed decision about which learning mode to choose next month.  In addition, we just learned that the start of school will be delayed and moved from September 1st to September 8th to give our local schools a little more time to prepare our buildings for a safe school experience, given our circumstances.

As I tend to watch a lot of news every day, I hear a lot about how frustrated some people are that schools likely won't be fully opened for their kids this fall.  I would want to believe that most of us in the education field don't want to be in hybrid or distance-learning modes, but would rather be open full time for our students and families because we know how important the education cycle is to our students, especially our youngest students.  That being said, we also want to ensure that we can all come together safely at school and enjoy the relationships that normally occur within our buildings.  Regardless of what this news channel or that news channel is saying, the health professionals still can't guarantee that everyone can attend school safely without it becoming a super-spreader event.  Therefore, we are going to open under CDC guidelines as safely as we can, which currently means on a part-time basis with you having the option to get your schooling conducted completely through distance-learning if you prefer.  Another possible option is for some families to consider homeschooling, but that means parents are doing all of the planning and teaching, and most of you probably don't know how or where to begin that process.  We strongly discourage you from taking it on yourselves.  You would soon find that teachers, like doctors or auto mechanics, are better trained to take this task on for you, even during this messy time in history.  Things aren't the way we want them to be any more than you do, but we are going to do our best to figure it out and we will do what we can to educate your kids until a time when we can get them back to school the way it was designed; at school, in person, all week, all day.  We will do that for you as soon as we possibly can.

Below you will find a link to the important survey I told you about.  We ask that you please complete this survey at your earliest convenience.  Please do not ignore or disregard this chance to share your personal and actual opinions about how things are going for you now and how they went last spring.  We will do our best to react quickly to your answers so that we can educate your kids as appropriately and effectively as we can starting next month.

Stay alert for future announcements from me and the school.  The goal post keeps moving and things could change quite quickly.  I plan to try to communicate with you at least once per week moving forward, and as always, you can contact the school by email or phone at anytime.  Teachers are already making preparations for the upcoming year for whatever mode we are in.  Our staff is extremely committed to ensuring that no student is left behind and are working hard to demonstrate that to you on an ongoing basis as we move forward.

That is all for now, but again, please complete the important survey by clicking on the following link.

Back to School Readiness Survey

Thank you and stay safe.  See you soon!

Tom Kearney

COVID-19

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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