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..

4/24/20
 

Hello Families,

Today marks the end of week four of Distance-Learning.  While being nowhere near perfect, our system is evolving and I do believe we are successfully reaching all families, and we are getting a reasonable level of work completed and submitted by most students.  That said, our goal is to make this system work somehow for ALL students and families.  Today I reached out to several families whose kids are seeming to have more barriers than some other students.  In those cases we will bend even more to find a good, balanced approach so that the barriers they may be experiencing are broken down to point where ALL students can achieve some success with distance-learning; especially with yesterday's announcement that students will not be returning to school buildings for at least the remainder of this school year.  Our students have to come through this without academic or emotional harm; at least that is our goal.

I think it is worth reiterating that whatever it is that we are going through, it can get better, and it can get worse.  That is why it is crucial that our families understand that they need to be working closely with us and supporting our students at home to learn how to do school in times such as these.  We recognize that all students and their parents don't have the same level of tech savvy.  But, we have created a very scaled-down way to keep our students engaged during this crisis.  All that we are asking is for our students to engage with us a little bit each day, maybe up to around 2-2.5 hours per day on a schedule that works for the student and his or her family.  We have taken time schedules down and are allowing students to check-in with school by sending a single email to all of his or her teachers each school day within a 24 hour period.  We are taking calls at school from those who need technical guidance and support. We are offering flexible timelines and due dates, expanded grading parameters, rewarding effort as much as skill, and we are even hosting social meetups online so our students can connect with us and with other students.  When you look at the entire package, it's actually pretty accommodating, yet some families are not communicating with us at all, and at the end of this term, whereas I truly hope to see no student fail a single class, I fear some students, for lack of engagement, may end up getting failing grades and the consequences that go along with that.  There is still time to fix this, so if you are a parent of a student who is refusing to work or who may be overwhelmed with all of this, I strongly encourage you to contact the school so I can hear your issue and work with you to resolve it before time runs out for this year.  By my count, after today there will only be 25 days of school left.  There is still time fix it.  Just give me call next Monday or send me an email and we can work it out.

On the more positive side, I never knew how much energy and talent so many of my teachers and students possessed until this issue came on.  Some people say things like..."Great things emerge during times of crisis."  After the last month, I agree with that type of thinking.  I know our students want to come back.  I know our parents want them to come back.  And I know our teachers want to teach with a group of students in front of them each day.  Hopefully this summer things will level off and we can get back to school as normal next fall, but for now, hang in there, try to get the kids to do some of the work, and don't hesitate to reach out for help by contacting the teachers directly, Mrs. Massmann or Mr. L, the case managers, or call the main office and one of us can guide you through the issues you are having.  Remember that we are here to assist your family through this time however we can.

Have a safe, sunny weekend!

Tom Kearney

4/23/20

Hello New Heights Families,

By now you may have heard that Governor Walz has officially declared and announced that due to Covid-19 issues, all public schools are ordered to continue to serve our students through distance-learning through the end of this school year.   Because we are still trying to find the right balance for our families, it is probably the best thing to extend distance-learning.  I feel we can still learn how to do this better and cutting it off after next week would have been awkward in the sense that we would have had only 5 weeks of distance-learning and students would have returned to school for only about 25 days.  This way we will have have a full quarter of distance-learning and if the need arises again next year, as some experts are already predicting it might, then we will have had a good chance to refine the system and make sure that all of our students and teachers are prepared and equipped to succeed in school activities.  

I will cut the message shorter than usual today by adding that students will not be expected to participate in scheduled school activities on Friday May 1st or Monday May 4th, as the governor is declaring those days as professional development days for teachers.  I think the main idea is to give them a little more time to work together to plan out the rest of the year.  That said, students should be chipping away at any assignments the teachers have issued and getting them turned in for grading as soon as they can.  The teachers should be making themselves available to any student who requests help, and they should even be reaching out to students who seem to be struggling, but who aren't reaching out for whatever reason.  We want all of our students to come through these circumstances without academic or emotional harm, so parents should not hesitate to communicate with us at school if you feel your child is struggling and needs our help and understanding.  I especially encourage you to reach out to me, Mrs. Massmann, or the special education case managers if you feel your child isn't getting the assistance he or she needs.  The teachers and I are ready, willing, and able to assist you now and in the future.

Good night for now, and be safe!

Tom Kearney

4/17/20

Dear Families,

 

Now that we are 3 weeks into distance learning, we are needing to learn more about what is working and what isn't.  Please check your email you should have received a message today with a link to a very important survey and remember to "submit" the survey so we get the results.  If you have more than one child enrolled and your children are having mixed experiences you may choose to take the survey more than once.

Thank you and be safe!

Tom Kearney-Principal

4/15/20

Dear Families,

there isn't too much new that I can share.  The governor still hasn't given any new info as to students returning to the building or not, so I maintain my position that it isn't going to happen and we should stay on our current course of distance-learning for the remainder of the year.  I will let you know if anything changes about 2 minutes after I hear it officially.  We recognize that this is causing some issues for some families, but we are here and willing to do whatever it takes to see our students succeed during this very trying time.  My data and anecdotal reports from teachers still shows that probably 70% of our students are logging in regularly, are trying to do the work, and are asking for assistance when needed, including anxiety-based fears about Covid-19 and not being able to come to school and connect with friends and teachers.  Probably 20% are making some attempts to login, are doing some work, but aren't completing assignments, aren't asking for help, and aren't particularly responsive to our communications home.  And probably 10% just aren't even trying to login, aren't doing any work, and aren't showing any effort to respond to us at all; which is sad and troubling because we can't really do anything in those cases.

I have said routinely throughout this entire ordeal that we don't want to see a single student penalized because of this terrible event, but in order to get through it, all families have to do their part to communicate with the school and tell us what the issues or barriers are preventing your children from getting the work done.  We will reward effort.  We have put computers in some homes, we can steer you to low cost or free internet, and in some cases, we can even print off copies of work if the computer-based work is too complicated to navigate through for you or your kids.  We understand how tough this may be, but we also are in the business of helping kids learn how to get through difficult times by educating them and helping them to build capacity to overcome and persevere through tough times.  That said, I will request again that if you are having difficulty in getting your kids connected to the work or getting them to do the work, call the school and let us know about it.  I reminded the teachers today to get all grades loaded into the JMC grade-book so you can all see the results of your kids' work soon. If you don't like a particular grade, contact the teacher via email and ask them about it or ask for resources or help, which I know they are ready to offer.

 

So, that's all for tonight.  I just wanted to remind everyone that school is still in session and we are here, electronically, ready to serve you and your children every school day.

 

Have nice, safe night.

 

Tom Kearney

4/13/20

Hello Families.

I hope you were able to enjoy this past holiday weekend; the wintry weather notwithstanding.  By my count, we are now in the 3rd week of distance learning, and some data is starting to reveal some trends, both positive and negative, that I should make you aware of.  

 

First, it does seem that most students are finding a way to get online, receive the assignments, and navigate through them enough to stay engaged and earn enough points to be "passing" class successfully; some students are actually thriving.  That said, there is still a large number of students who, at least in some classes, aren't submitting any work to some, or even any of their teachers.  This is troublesome because we aren't hearing from certain students or from the parents regarding the source of the trouble they are having.  In some of these cases we are getting the daily emails from them for attendance, but we are getting zero work completion.  This tells us that the students know there are certain requirements to meet, but after communicating the attendance, the students are going dark and we aren't getting any other info from them.  At a minimum I'd expect the student or a parent to contact us to let us know what the barriers are.  There is a great chance that we can assist and help the family get back on track, but it's admittedly pretty difficult to provide assistance when we don't know what the student needs.

We all agree that the circumstances we are living in right now are pretty bad.  That said, we are being given a new challenge to overcome and still offer a meaningful level of education and support to our families.  We have worked hard to do our part to ensure that all of our students can be engaged and supported during this time, but in order for that to work out, the kids and parents have to step up and try to engage in the work we are sending home; we will reward effort.  At the bare minimum we have to hear from you if this is too much and you need something else from the school to help you get through this time successfully.  The work we are sending home can be done on a computer, tablet, iPad, gaming console, or smart phone, and if your family is not equipped with internet or a computer, we have to hear from you so we can make other arrangements for you.  Simply not doing the work is going to be problematic, especially for the students, and we are trying as hard as we can to prevent a single student from failing any courses.  In order see that goal come true, some students are going to have to step it up soon by communicating the issue to us at the very least.

As it stands, I am still of the belief that things will continue on as they are now until the end of the school year; which is only 34 school days counting today.  If that holds true, the education system we have in place now isn't going to change much between now and then except for adjustments we can make because the families are requesting these changes.  In order to do that, we have to hear from you.

 

My strongest recommendation that your sit down with your children and talk this out.  If you know they are engaging in the schoolwork everyday, you should still ask them how things are going and ask them if they need anything.  For those whose kids are struggling, try to get down to the core of what the problem is.  The primary issues are likely to be frustration with technology; lack of clarity in teachers' instructions; difficult to get motivated; or, there could just be a simple belief that this will all go away and schools and students won't be held accountable.  That, I can say, isn't going to happen.  We are obligated to provide school work to our students and see to it that they are given a chance to do it.  So please chat with your kids and make sure they understand that we are all in the same boat and we need to work together to ensure a successful outcome, which means no students fail any courses during this awkward time.  If they are trying to do the work, we can adjust, but if they aren't trying to do the work, it's hard to make any adjustments.

I will continue to be at the school every day unless something changes dramatically to prevent me from coming in, but I don't see that occurring.  You can call the school or email me or the teachers if you need support.  We are here to help you through this time.  Please check in with your kids and ensure they are aware of their responsibilities during this time.

Thank you.

 

Tom Kearney

4/6/20

Hello Families.

From my vantage point, we as a school community survived week 1 of distance learning.  It looks like things went pretty well in the sense that most of our families and students seem to have some level of connectivity, some type of device, and they are receiving our lessons, messages, and are figuring out how to make a school schedule work for them.  Just by eyeballing it, attendance looks solid with only a few families struggling to check in each day, but we are reaching out to them and we are trying t make this work for everybody.  I will say that we do have some situations where the kids are checking in for attendance, but they aren't doing the work; which we can easily see from our google classroom control center.  So, parents, please be checking in with your kids and perhaps ask them to share something they have been working on with you.  This is no different than when some of you pick your kids up from school and have a nice sharing session on the ride home.  Simply asking your kids to share a tidbit here and there is a great way for you to sense their engagement levels.  And don't forget, it is our goal to start to adjust lessons around students' needs, so if they aren't doing the work, it's hard for us to know where to adjust.

As most of you know, we have also just entered into the 4th quarter.  That means report cards were sent home.  True, a little bit of time was shaved off of 3rd quarter because we didn't return to school from spring break, but, regardless of that, the grades our teachers calculated are based on the work completed by the time students left for spring break.  In a few cases, there were some grades in our 6-12 grades that need some attention, so if you saw the report card and noticed a poor grade, remember that the end of 3rd quarter and the grades really mark the midway point of the semester, so there should still be plenty of time to bring those grades up.  Now that things have changed, how we do that might have to look a bit different.  So, it is my best recommendation to contact the teachers whose classes your children are struggling in first rather than those your kids are getting A's in.  While it might be nice to hear great things about your kids, it is probably a better use of your time to chat with the teachers where things aren't going so great so that together you can build a fix-it plan and get those grades up to passing.

In addition to making those contacts, some of you might be thinking that it is also conference time.  Well, with our current situation, there is no way to have conferences here at the school like we normally do, so we have decided to make conference day into conference week, so you are encouraged to send an email to each of the teachers with whom you'd like to chat with about the progress your kids are or aren't making at the turn of the quarter.  As I said, you can do this with any and all of the teachers, but you might find it best to spend time with those where some additional support may be needed.  All of the teachers are willing and able to chat with you by phone, email, or even by scheduling an e-video conference by using a tool like Skype or Zoom if you wish.  Most teachers are already conducting conferences, but this is going to be at your urging by contacting the teachers via email.  Remember each teacher's email address can be found easily on our school's website at: www.newheightsschool.com.

Having a week under our belt, we have noticed some patterns emerging and we as a staff chatted about it this morning on a video conference.  I encouraged the teachers to reach out in a variety of ways to families we aren't hearing much from, or from those who aren't producing yet.  We truly want to help, so if there is something we can do, start with the teachers, but you can also call the main office and someone will answer during normal business hours and take your call.  Hopefully we can assist you in getting through this tough time.

Last week I would have written to you on Friday, but I was awaiting the governor's announcement about school and whether or not the students will be returning, but as of today he still hasn't made a concrete decision about the kids returning to school as normal.  Regardless, I encourage all of you to proceed with the mindset that the students will not be returning to the building again this school year.  I see too many things that are going to prevent that from happening, which is why I further encourage you to help your kids get on board with distance learning.  We have a unique opportunity to build capacity for learning from home as a result of this horrible situation.  If there is something good that come from it, maybe its learning how to do school from home.  Yes, we agree that it is out of our comfort zone, but isn't that what learning and growing are all about?  I see this as a great chance to expand our tools in education.  I see snow days in the future not being wasted, but being maximized because we will have learned how to interact with each other in a school-like capacity during this time. It can also benefit kids who have other issues occur in the future like extended illnesses, suspensions, family trips, anxiety, etc.   While I do not see distance learning taking the place of a brick and mortar program for most families, it can be used to allow students the chance to stay home when life's challenges kick in, but not so much that passing classes is jeopardized.

So please stick with this challenge for now.  Hopefully we will see the curve flattened and soon we can return to something more "normal," but while we are waiting and practicing safer living, let's keep up on school and learn how to do this together.

That's all for now, but I hope you are all safe and able to cope with all that is going on.  Let us know if we can help.

Tom Kearney

4/02/20

Hello.

Today was a productive, but otherwise uneventful day.  While we are a great distance from "being there," I do sense that most families are putting forth effort to our current school plan.  I have had plenty of supportive emails and calls; a few "what's going on?" emails; and few suggestions to make life "easier" emails; all of which I  appreciate.  I met with all teachers electronically today and even they didn't have too many questions or big concerns  We all agree that this week is about seeing how families react to the new, strange, format.  Its tough to ask families to do homework when you operate a "no homework" school.  It is sort an oxymoron.  That said, we have to do something and this is what we have, so let's try to make it a win/win for school and home; if we both win, wouldn't that be a tie?  Anyway, we have reached out to families who have had some struggles, and I expect we will have more to reach out to every day.  The staff are excited to learn new ways to use Google Classroom so that they can make the lessons more personal and authentic to each student's needs. 

Please remember to have your child, or help him or her, send attendance emails each day.  I am willing to allow one email for each elementary student to the primary teacher and each secondary student 6-12 can include all teachers in the address so in effect, each student is sending one email to all teachers to make things more efficient.  In my mind that is relaxing the standard I set, but I have bigger fish to fry so I am willing to bend for now.  That is as easy as I am going to allow this to be, so please make sure that each child in your home sends the one email per day and I strongly suggest you have them put "attendance" in the subject to clarify the email's purpose.  The email provides a record that the school will keep, so if the email isn't sent, there isn't much to argue about when we call home the next day and ask about it.  If the one email doesn't include all teachers, I'll have to go back to 6 per day.  That's the best I can do.

Have a good night.  Check with your kids and make sure they are logging on to do the work every day.  I am very impressed so far with how well this going given the world's circumstances.  Who knows, maybe we're on our way to becoming a homework school.  Careful what you wish for.

Good night.

Tom Kearney

4/01/20

Hello Parents.

So the expression, "I don't know what I don't know" applies to just about everything that has transpired over the past 3 or 4 weeks, meaning we have never in our lifetimes had to deal with this type of issue.  Yes, there have been pandemics and wars, but never the likes of this bugger.  So, suffice it to say that our new education delivery system is going to have some quirks that we are going to have to work out.

One thing we are noticing already is that many of our secondary students in grades 6-12 logged in and checked in with teachers by sending the attendance email as I requested, but some students didn't do either and some students logged in and checked in with some teachers, but did not log in or check in with other teachers.  So, as a reminder of what we need to do, kids in grades 6-12 must send an email to each teacher they are scheduled with, meaning 6 in most cases, each day.  That is separate for doing the work.  It is possible to check in and be present in class, but not complete any work.  So, the kids not only have to be present regarding attendance, but to get credit for the classes and earn passing grades they have to do the work too; at least enough to get a passing grade. 

As I have stated many times, we know this isn't ever going to be perfect, and yesterday was only the first day, so let's regroup and realize that we are probably going to fail this week until we get used to our new normal.  I strongly urge families and teachers to take a step back and accept that we just need to get off the ground and get used the bells and whistles of the new system.  Start slow by having your kids spend the time it takes to get familiar with Google Classroom and how it works.  We gave our 6-12 grade students gmail accounts earlier this school year before we ever knew about the Corona Virus; which is extremely fortuitous.  If the students familiarize themselves with how google classroom works, they should have no trouble being successful, at least enough to pass the classes.  

As our teachers see what the kids are producing for work they should adjust until the balance of work assigned meets work completed.  It is difficult to subtract anything from zero, meaning the kids have to do their part by logging in and trying to do the work; we can't adjust to them if they don't do anything.  Some teachers are reporting no email and no login from several students yesterday.  We are here at the school for those who have questions.  Please remind your children to get online and communicate with us, or you can call us for assistance.  Having just checked, I am certain that 100% of secondary students are accounted for, meaning we know they have accepted the invitation for at least some of their classes, have emailed in for attendance for some classes, or have called the school to tell us that they are having an issue.  What we can't account for is why some haven't accepted "all" class invitations, emailed "all" teachers, and why some haven't logged in to some or any classes to do the work.  So, this now becomes an investigation for parents to conduct, because we aren't with your children to understand what they are doing instead.

Finally, you will soon start to receive calls from Chrissy Carlson, our school nurse and secretary, regarding absences.  The call will not be authoritative in nature, but simply to gather info and offer support as to what issues your child or family is having as a barrier between them and getting this school work started and ultimately completed.  Please respond honestly with Chrissy regarding absences and let her know what issues are occurring.  You can also contact me by calling the school or emailing me at: tkearney@newheightsschool.org.  I want this to work for all involved.  We are here to help.

There is still plenty of time today to have your kids login to classes and get some work done, and also to send the emails letting the teachers know your child is engaging in class.  Failing to send the attendance emails and failing to "submit" the work will result in absences and failing scores.  Please help us to avoid that.  Remember, we are all in this together, so let's all work together to get through it.

 

Tom Kearney

3/31/20

Good Morning.  As planned, the state's distance-learning platform was launched yesterday, but as New Heights had yesterday scheduled as a teacher grading day to complete 3rd quarter grades, we delayed our launch until today.  By now all of you and your children should have been well aware that 4th quarter begins today, the main difference is that the students can't come to school and will be all learning from home until further notified.  While the governor has announced that he hopes for students in Minnesota to return to the schools on or around May 4th, I urge you to be planning for school to remain as it is today for the rest of the school year.  If we see this pandemic clear out and allow us to return to our former lives in a month or so, I'll be grateful and welcome everyone back, but as the data continues to come in, it looks more and more like we will be extending distance-learning and social distancing for a longer period than the next 30 days; I truly hope I am wrong.

That said, and while you are all home and safe presumably, today is the day we start taking attendance of your students and they should be receiving lessons electronically from their teachers in one of several formats.  They may be getting lessons on Google Classroom; from emails; or other means pre-arranged by the teachers.  Elementary students will be primarily hearing from their base-class teacher, so that means Mrs. Hogan for K-1, Mrs. Kost for 2-3, and Ms. Geil for 4-5.  If you haven't gotten contact from them today you should email them directly.  ALL teachers' emails are found on the school's website at: www.newheightschool.com.  

Secondary students in grades 6-12 will have several teachers to interact with.  All classes have been set up in Google Classroom and ALL 6-12 grade students have been "invited" to join each of his or her classes through the gmail accounts we established with/for them earlier this year,  We surveyed each family to hear about preferences in e-learning vs. printed packets, as well as how much and what types of technology and internet connections are in each home.  After a thorough review of this data, we have determined that the vast majority of our families have at least some form of tech in the home, and we even provided some tech for those families who said they did not feel they had adequate tech in the home to do e-learning.  A very small percentage of our families requested packets and we are still working out what that looks like, as the entire educational community is concerned about close-proximity contact with families and the paperwork exchange that would  be necessary in packet-based work.  Therefore, in only those absolutely necessary situations, not preference, will we be offering packet work for pickup,or delivery in cases where we know the families do not have a reliable source of transportation.  

As for attendance, all schools are required to take attendance each school day.  I have sat in on conference after conference and one thing is clear, all schools are approaching this differently.  So, until you get notified otherwise by me, here is what attendance is going to look like.  All elementary-aged students or their parent/guardian must make 2-way communication with the primary teacher as listed above, meaning k-1 Hogan, 2-3 Kost, and 4-5 Geil each school day.  This can be as simple as an email, text, or phone call, preferably e-mail or the method each of these teachers has communicated to you already, once per day-day meaning 12 am to 11:59 pm eac school day; and that means 11:59 Friday night as we head into the weekend.  That means class is not being conducted where we expect all students necessarily to be on SKYPE-like e-calls and gather together daily.  Logistically, that isn't going to happen.  We need to have assurance from our elementary families that the parents are assisting in facilitating the work for the students individually.  This means establishing a place for the kids to get the work done with relative quiet so they can concentrate on school work.  The teachers will send the work along with instructions and expectations for how to do it and how to submit the completed work, along with how to contact them with questions.  The teachers are required to make times available each day for parents or students to contact them with questions.  They will be constantly monitoring emails and whatever other means they offered you in terms of contacting them.

Secondary students in grades 6-12 must send some form of message to EACH teacher daily or that student will be marked absent for the day in each class where he or she does not communicate with the teacher.  The message could be anything, including something as simple as "hi" or the more complicated version..."hello."  We considered having teachers monitor whether the work was being done through google classroom and counting that as attendance, but I see that as putting all of the responsibility on the teacher and there will be too many disputes.  So, each students will be sending 6 emails per day, one to each of his or her teachers to confirm that they were present in mind about school for each class they have.  Then, the students will be receiving work from each teacher, but this will look different for each class.  Some teachers may be assigning things for the students to do each day, but those assignments may be grouped in 1 email or 1 set of directions.  Some teachers may also post a high volume of work for a week or more, but they may put suggested dates to allow for students to budget their time, while others may choose to keep working as they have energy and focus to do so.  Whichever way the teachers assign and post the work, the student will still have to send the attendance email each day to each teacher.  The teachers will communicate expectations and timelines for work, and will also have to make themselves available to offer assistance to students somehow.  Look for that communication from them, and send them emails if you aren't clear about what to do.  

Finally, as I said when this thing became official, there are going to be snags, mistakes, and problems.  We know that.  We are going to start slow and during this time we are going to work with our families to build capacity to work in this new format.  There may be times in the future where we need to know how to do this, like on snow days etc..  This new distance-leaning platform is going to help us to educate our families in ways we can't yet predict, so that is probably the main reason we need ALL families to try to do this the way we have designed it.  We know many of you may be outside of your comfort level, but that is normal and that is how we learn.  If we shut it down and refuse to do it, it would be like continuing to ride our horses to work in 2020 and use candles to light the classrooms and offices.  We have evolved into a hi-tech world and maybe its time schools join the party.  I may have taken a long time to come to this party if not for this crisis, but now that we are somewhat forced into a corner, I want for us to come out of it stronger and more capable than before, and I know we can do it.

 

So, please be looking for contact from all teachers today at some point and have your kids send emails to the teachers to check in.  We will likely compile attendance and review it tomorrow for today, meaning I am giving each family until 11:59 each night to do the check-in.  You can't check-in tomorrow for today.  The plane will have taken off by then and it isn't coming back.

 

Have a good day and help us to make this new era in learning a success.

Tom Kearney

3/27/20

Dear Families, as planned, New Heights is fast-approaching our new education delivery system, which is generally known as Distance-Learning, and is set to begin officially next Tuesday.  Remember that this new plan does not necessarily mean that all instruction has to take place electronically online and on devices, but given the trajectory of the world, we feel that at least attempting to learn to do the majority of school work on-line, temporarily, will be of benefit to everyone involved.  Whereas this system was thrust upon all of us with no advanced warning due to the world pandemic, I reiterate that because this system is new, and we know there are going to be mistakes made on all sides, we are encouraging everyone to not panic and just try to go with the flow.  We ask that everyone go at this slowly and methodically, and like anything new, there will be frustrations and failures, but that is exactly how people learn to overcome obstacles in life.  We try, then try again and again, often many times before achieving success, let alone perfection.  Through lots of communication, we will learn about what is going well and what isn't working.  We will be diligent about making real-time adjustments and corrections so that our students can get back to learning and communicating with peers and teachers in a positive, meaningful way.  We also understand that technology can fail too.  But, those of us who rely on technology in the business world know, we need to understand how to use technology in our daily lives for better or for worse-even when it doesn't always cooperate and do what we want it to. 

 

Some of the lessons learned in the next several weeks will include how to cope with the frustrations technology offers; how to work while alone and isolated; how to seek help from people who are not readily in my space; how to budget my time and stay on task when the comforts of home are all around me; and hopefully, how to not get frustrated and quit.  We all battle the same demons when it comes to those frustrations, but our children have to learn that school is just the beginning.  Once in adulthood, these obstacles are still there, but if they learn to cope with them now, they will have built the capacity to deal with it later and that is what the workforce needs; capable problem solvers who don't give up.

So, starting Tuesday, your children will be receiving work, primarily through electronic means.  We have worked hard to get this platform ready, but Tuesday is the test. Most teachers are not at school, but are reachable through Google Classroom or other means, which they should have communicated or will communicate to each family soon.  If you have questions about the school work, your first place to turn is going to be the teacher who assigned the work.  They are expected to be available and checking emails constantly throughout each school day, but I am even encouraging them look at emails at night and on the weekends to make sure to cover the needs of the students.  If you have trouble reaching the teachers, you should call the school or email me at: tkearney@newheightsschool.org.  This is going to be an adventure, and I am not sure how it going to turn out, but we are doing everything within our power to make this as painless as possible; I am actually optimistic that with some effort it will be a positive experience overall.

Finally, of primary importance, is for me to express that safety and health are by far the most important things to manage right now.  I view the education piece as something we are putting in place to keep our students from sliding backwards.  We know the students miss school for the most part and they want to be connected.  They maybe didn't realize it until coming to school wasn't possible.  We have had lots of families express how much their kids miss coming to school and want to reconnect.  So, while that isn't possible in the traditional sense, we are doing the next best thing within our power; offering a way to connect through technology.  That said, school isn't the most important thing right now, which is why you should expect leniency from the teachers in the amount of work issued, the time it will take, the complexity of the work, etc..  We know that everyone is, and should be, focused on avoiding the Corona Virus, which means remaining isolated from others, constantly cleaning your surroundings, and keeping a positive mental attitude until this things blows over.  We could be back to near normal by May, but I think you should prepare for the school situation to be like this for the rest of the school year; hopefully and with luck I will be proven wrong.

I will continue to communicate routinely on a variety of matters, and I am checking my emails constantly.  There are only a few of us who are still coming to the school building currently, and I am not receiving anymore visitors after today.  If you did not schedule to come and retrieve things by today, I am sorry, but you will have to wait until we get the "all clear."  Just like I am advising you, I need to stay healthy and limit my proximity to others so I can lead my school and take care of my family.  So far I feel good and I have a lot of focus and energy to lead the staff, and I intend to stay that way.  Watch for frequent, hopefully shorter, emails in the coming days and weeks, and know that we are still here for you, but just in an a evolving way.  Have a nice, quiet, safe weekend.  Stay strong and focus on getting through this thing!

Thoughtfully,

Tom Kearney

3/25/20

Hello.  Governor Walz spoke to the state of Minnesota at 2 pm today and officially declared that all public schools are moving to distance learning at least until May 4th in order to slow the spread of Covid 19; it may last through the rest of the year, but that announcement will come later after reevaluating the next two weeks or so.   

As you are well aware, we have been working hard preparing for this instance and we will be ready to launch our distance learning platform next Tuesday, March 31st.  You have received several emails from me and from some teachers, and students in grades 6-12 have all been assigned Google Accounts to communicate with teachers, other students, and even do a large portion of the school work in Google Classroom electronically.  Others have indicated that they either need or want to receive packets.  In most cases, we will be sending those families e-packets to emails for the families to print and complete, and in some extreme cases, the school has found a handful of devices to lend to families so they can be connected during this troubling time.  In even fewer cases, we will be working with families to figure out how to get the packets.  This is not as simple as just wanting packet work.  We will provide packets to those families who need packets for various reasons.  The vast majority of you understand that the most efficient and safe way to get the school work is electronically, and some families simply don't have the resources to be able to do it that way.  

At this point, you may want to begin setting up a space or spaces in your homes for your kids to use as a distraction-free learning area for portions of the day.  You will also want to establish some times with the kids that are designated solely for school activities.  I recommend a set time each day so that the kids become students in a routine way.  Remember that the general expectation is that the elementary-aged kids in grades K-5 will have between 90 minutes and 2 hours of work per day on average, while the kids in 6-12 grade should expect around 30 minutes of work to do per class totaling somewhere between 2.5 to 3 hours of school work per day.  Some kids will cruise through it while others will find it difficult to work from home.  Our teachers are expected to be available to take emails, calls, google classroom meetings, etc in order to serve your family's needs.  We all recognize that this isn't going to be perfect, but is what it is and we expect our families to cooperate with us to keep your children and our students moving forward educationally, socially, and emotionally.  

I will echo the governor's expectations/request that we all take this pandemic seriously by limiting our interactions in close proximity to others so that we can slow and prevent the spread of this highly contagious virus.  The only way to knock it back currently is to stay away from people and not get it, and not spread it; which is exactly why schools, churches, sporting arenas, beaches, malls, virtually all public places are now closed for at least 2 weeks.  Please stay home and stay healthy.

Finally for today, some people have come to school to get their student's belongings, and others called or emailed to say it wasn't important enough to come in.  I appreciate both of those positions.  Come if you need to, but don't come if it isn't crucial.  We are giving you until Friday to contact us and schedule an appointment to get your child's belongings, but after Friday, we are giving no access to the anyone until the governor lifts the expectations.  Remember that I am only allowing one person in from each family and I am only giving ten minutes to get the belongings.  I only have so many people with me here at school and only so much time to get ready for next week.  We can't afford unnecessary visits or non-essential requests for access.  Please understand why we have to do it this way.

Stay home and stay safe.  Enjoy this forced time with your family.  You will hopefully find new ways to enjoy each other during this time.

 

Tom Kearney

3/25/20
 

Dear Parents,

 

we recognize the difficulty of our current situation of having to close schools and ultimately change the way we are going to educate our students, your children, for an undetermined number of weeks.  Because our students did not know that they would not have access to the school when they left for spring break, we know some of them left some belongings at school and they may want to retrieve them.  Because of the possibility of social spread, we are going to offer our families an opportunity to come to the school to get these items, but I am putting some strict parameters around this opportunity; they are as follows:

Beginning immediately after you receive this email, you can call the school at 651-439-1962 and schedule a time beginning today from 1-until 4 tomorrow 9-3 and Fri 9-3 to enter the school, access your 6-12 grade student's locker or your K-5 grade classroom desk and retrieve the contents.  I will be scheduling on a first call-first scheduled basis and I will only allow 1 member, preferably a parent, of each family to enter the school.  That person will be given 10 minutes to enter the school, retrieve the belongings and exit the building.  You will need to bring your own bag or container for these items.  We will schedule every 10 minutes beginning at the top of each hour and we will be strict about enforcing who is allowed in. The person who will be allowed in cannot be ill, feel ill, or have been ill recently, or have traveled outside the U.S. within the last 2  weeks.  Finally, I require that anyone wanting to come to school and follow this procedure only come for ESSENTIAL ITEMS ONLY and not come for games, toys, winter clothing, or any other non-essential belongings.  The Covid 19 issue will eventually pass, so there is every reason to postpone coming to the school until we get the all-clear from the government.  We will honor your request to come and access the school, but we will ask what you hope to retrieve and why you need it.  Please be sensible about requesting access to the school and only do so if your child absolutely needs the contents of his or her locker or desk.  You will not be permitted to enter any other area of the school at this time.

I also encourage you to watch or listen to Governor Walz today at 2pm.  He will be giving an update to the situation and likely making some declarations that could impact Minnesotans in a variety of ways.

3/24/20

Dear Parents,

As we are nearing the launch of our distance-learning platform next week, it is crucial that your child in grades 6-12 knows his or her Google email account and also knows the password.  We are strongly encouraging you to ask your kids if they remember the account's email address we assigned to each of them earlier this year, as well as the password.  If they do not remember, please email administrator@newheightsschool.com and tell us the name of your child and you will receive the name of the email account and a new password in a return email.  The password will be assigned and your child will not have the ability to change it because we need to make sure they do not lock themselves out.  The email you get in return will be the record of it so you will always have it moving forward.  This is not a complicated thing to do, so hopefully all 6-12 grade students will have their gmail account name and password by Friday, provided you contact us to get the information.  If they do not have the email address by the time we launch next week, they will be risking being absent from these lessons and that will not be a good thing.  Beginning Tuesday, your children are required to attend school in this new format, Distance-Learning.

Please do this as soon as possible.  It may take a day to get a response, but we will keep up as fast as we can..If your child does remember his or her info, please verify this by having them show you their account.

Thank you for your cooperation and action on this important matter.

Tom Kearney

3/23/2020

Dear Families, I hope you are all safe and that you are finding ways to adjust to this temporary new "normal."  

I want to remind you that the governor of Minnesota, in the interest of public safety, has closed school beginning last week and that the closure will last for New Heights through next Tuesday, March 31st.  Between now and then our teachers will be working to create a new way for your children to receive lessons and materials from school, access the help they need, and complete the necessary school work for the remainder of the year.  There are are several ways we intend to this, but the 3 primary ways are electronically through tools like Google Classroom or Moby; electronically through emails; and by providing a way for some of our families to access packets, which could possibly include those made at the school for pickup, or by sending our families an attachment in an email for the families to print and complete.  We are still figuring the last piece out, but we will have an update to share by mid-week.  

I know some parents are at home with restless kids right now, and that you want some relief.  That is why I suggested to try to include your kids in some of the things that need to get done around the house, including everyday things like cooking, cleaning, organizing, etc..  Many daily living skills are a mystery to kids, and quite honestly, teaching them how to do these things is a skill they can use for the rest of their lives.  While I know some of you are requesting that the school send some work now as a lifeline, we are really very busy creating a system most schools in the state have never used before; a system of education to be delivered to our students without the need to come to school.  That is consuming our time, aside from just trying to figure out what is going on in our world right now.  While some of your children's teachers have sent some work home already, it isn't expected until next Tuesday.  By next week, your family will start to receive communication from the teachers with clear instructions for the work they are sending home.  In some cases, parents may be called upon to assist, but that depends on the ages of your kids.  In most cases, your kids, ages 10 and older, will be able to do the work sent home with little need for assistance, but if they do need help, our teachers are going to be available for contact through a variety of means.  Each teacher will inform you of what that looks like-note, each teacher will approach this a little differently.

A school day typically takes about 6.5 hours to complete under normal circumstances, but while learning is going to be taking place at home, you should expect school-related activities to take more like 2-2.5 hours per day.  I am also encouraging teachers to be flexible with when that work gets done.  We will not, in most cases, be expecting kids to all be present at the same time each day, but there will be some sort of "attendance" requirement, meaning we are expected to be able to determine that the kids were involved in school-related activities during each weekday.  I will pass more info on to you about that as it develops.  It could look like phone calls, emails, texts, or evidence on Google Classroom accounts that work has been completed.  The details are still in development, but the government expects us to make it happen to ensure that our families know that they aren't alone in this, and that the parents know that they do not have to become school teachers during this awkward set of world circumstances.  To be clear, we are here for you.

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts involved in this, but I can assure you that we are working very hard to make it happen and make it as painless and as valuable as possible.

I encourage you to be patient for the remainder of the week, and to watch for school-related communication to come from me and from the teachers.  We are closing in on launching this new, temporary version of school next Tuesday.  If we all do our part, we will get through this thing.

Have a nice, quiet evening.

Tom Kearney

3/20/2020

Dear Parents, I hope you are continuing to adjust to our new circumstances, but also that you are finding ways to relax, enjoy some added time with family, and also find some quiet time to meditate and reflect on life personally.  Today I heard a psychologist suggest that we need to unplug for a while each day, or maybe even a few days, by not staying glued to the news. Some of us are probably so engrossed in this Covid 19 issue that we are plugging into the news  constantly hoping that each coming news segment will offer the hope or cure we are all waiting for. My guess is that is isn’t coming today or tomorrow, but if we follow the social distance guidelines and stick to our homes and limit outside exposures, we will flatten the curve sooner, reduce new exposures while the medical professionals continue to work and finding the way to beat this thing; which is exactly why we are keeping kids home from school right now.  This public health safety plan is not an overreaction by any means. The entire effort is designed to reduce contact by proximity and keep people safe by keeping appropriate, safe distances from others until we figure it out. The added bonus here is that we are still working at school and are creating a platform for your kids to still get school contact, continue to build skills, have something meaningful to do while at home, maintain a healthy weekday routine, all while staying safe.

 

Thank you to everyone for your contributions to the survey we sent out earlier this week.  That said, we learned a lot about how parents and students may prefer to get the work delivered, but now we have some new questions that need to be answered.  Later this afternoon, we will be sending a second survey. Keep in mind that much of what we are planning will come to most families in the form of e-learning, meaning that your kids will have to use some form of technology and internet to complete many of the lessons; however, we also recognize that some families may have some limits to the amount of technology they have access to, so you will need to complete the survey specifically as it applies to your household so that our staff can account for all of our families’ needs when planning.  We recognize that all families do not have the same amount or type of technology available, which we know can cause all sorts of problems. Additionally, New Heights is not in a position to provide devices to our families, but the survey will tell us more and we can begin to react to it once everyone completes it.

 

Moving forward, we are going to continue to work at planning with the expectation that students will not return to the building this school year.  With that in mind, we will continue to send frequent updates, maybe daily for a while, to you so that you can at least know what we are trying to do for your family; your kids particularly.  Early next week we will try to send out a revised list of resources that you can access. You may want to know about free or reduced cost internet, food, medical, mental health, or whatever. You may even want some advice on how to keep your kids active; we can assist.  So keep watch for these updates from me or the teachers and staff, as they may contain something that your family is needing. Once the teachers start sending lessons, you will get some level of guidance as to what a daily schedule should look like for school-related issues, how to contact teachers or admin, how we will be recording attendance, what special education resources will likely be in place, etc.  These things are also new to us, so it is important that we continue to feed the information to you as fast as we get it.

 

Finally for today, I know many of you are probably coming to grips with the fact that school is going to be happening at home for a while, so you may want to come to the school and retrieve your child’s belongings.  There is a question on today’s survey for you to answer which gives me an understanding of how many people may want to come and get things. Once I get that info I can build a plan for you to come to the school. Many kids don’t leave much of anything at school, while others have a desk or locker full of things.  Once school starts up again on the 31st, kids may need some of the things they left at school. So just know that I am thinking about it and we will work with you to retrieve their things sometime in the near future.

 

As always, I encourage you to find ways to stay busy, keep calm, and continue to adjust to this temporary situation safely.  If we all do our part, we WILL come out of this stronger on the other side.

 

Have a pleasant weekend!!!

 

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)

© 2018 Updated by New Heights School 

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