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Riverside Back to School Information 2020-2021

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Welcome Back: Letter from Principal Shelley

September 2020

Dear Riverside Families,

We hope that you share our excitement about the start of school on Monday, though I know that there is some trepidation for all of us as we prepare for a very different opening than we have ever had before.  Our staff members have worked tirelessly to prepare for our "all remote" model, and I can assure you that their warmth, enthusiasm, and creativity will shine -- even through a screen.  I have some important notes and reminders to share about Monday and the weeks ahead as we seek to work towards a "commitment to community":

1) First, I have encouraged our teachers to reach out to all of you in their classes to introduce themselves and to establish general plans for this week -- particularly Monday.  In essence, all students will be meeting with their homeroom teacher on Monday morning around 8:30 am as a starting point, and most (if not all) are planning to start with Zoom next week just in case we have issues with Canvas.

2) Speaking of Canvas...we are excited about all of the possibilities that this new platform offers, but everyone in our school community faces a learning curve so I have preached patience and flexibility with our staff members as it may take a few days to make sure that everything is working as smoothly as possible.  I know that as the weeks and months progress, our teachers will become increasingly proficient in the nuances of this platform as they find new, creative ways to actively engage students.

3) Attached are copies of the handouts that we provided at our distribution process this past week -- including both English and Spanish versions of instructions regarding Chromebooks and iPads.  These forms will walk you through every step needed to access "Class Link" -- which contains the icons for Canvas and other district programs.  Thus, you will not need to download a separate Canvas app -- it is all set up through the district device.

4) Should you have any technical issues with your device, your log-in information, or other programs, please send an email to both your child's teacher and to our tech guru Mike Remoli (mikeremoli@princetonk12.org).  As noted above, our teachers are flexible and empathetic so please know that we will work with you on any issues that you may have and make sure that your child is not missing core experiences.

5) For families who were unable to pick-up a device and/or their child's classroom materials -- or should you need for Mike to work on your device -- we are planning to be open for all of those issues between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm every day this week.  We will have some type of signs directing you to the appropriate location, and if this time frame does not work, please reach out to our main office so that we can figure out a plan B.

6) As shared with you in earlier communications, our elementary schools are approaching this fall differently from the spring as we will be following a more "traditional" school schedule -- with dedicated times for Morning Meeting, Reading, Writing, Science, Social Studies, Specials, and even FOCUS.  Yet, please know that the intent is not for students to be on screen the whole time, and we have worked with teachers on age-appropriate guidelines for "screen time" for academic subjects -- with the daily totals increasing with age in accordance with guidelines from scientists and medical professionals.  Thus, the school day should be a blend of synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and that variety will also be evident with our "specials" as those will all take a different form.  We are also cognizant that we have myriad family structures and dynamics that will present challenges to these schedules, and if that is the case for you, please reach out to your child's teacher and communicate often. 

7) We will also be focusing heavily on SEL (social-emotional learning) as we know how important connections are during this time of uncertainty and trauma for so many individuals and families.  All of our teachers will be using their daily "Morning Meeting" time for this purpose, but we will also be intentional about prioritizing these values and activities.  And...if you are concerned about your child's social-emotional status or growth in any way, please reach out to our wonderful guidance counselor Ben Samara (bensamara@princetonk12.org).

8) We are required by the state of NJ to keep daily attendance, though that is tricky in an all-remote environment, and our staff has agreed to a process that we will all use.  Each homeroom teacher will take attendance on the first Zoom (Morning Meeting) and the last Zoom (generally math, reading, or writing) each day, and if students are present for both of those, we will be counting them "present" for official purposes.  

9) I have attached a copy of the "Upstander" expectations for virtual learning that we passed out this past week as we strive to guide our students in appropriate behavior during remote school -- being respectful, responsible, and positive.  Our teachers will use this document as a touchstone to build classroom expectations and norms.

10) I know that you likely have tons of questions about our upcoming switch to a "hybrid" model in early to mid-October, but our immediate focus is on Monday and the rest of week #1.  I should have much more detailed information to share with you by next weekend -- including your child's assigned "cohort" for kids in the hybrid model and the teaching situation for those of you who have elected to remain "all remote" -- and I am looking to hold another parent forum via Zoom at some point in late September to explain everything in greater detail and to answer your questions.  

11) Two key dates for this week:

-- Wednesday, September 16th, 7:45 pm:  A Fireside Chat with Dolly Chugh (She is the author of The Person You Mean to Be.  Kudos and thanks to Gita Varadarajan and Anne Lord for another great opportunity with our Talking Circle that they have created and nurtured.  I will share that Zoom link again on Wednesday along with a reminder.)

-- Thursday, September 17th, Times TBA:  Back to School Night (I will also plan to share those details in an email blast early in the week.)

12) Final Thoughts:

 -- Please remember that our primary goals next week include:  a) making sure that all kids have full access to technology, b) building community and prioritizing social-emotional learning and connections, and c) establishing norms and routines to lay the foundation for a successful learning experience.

-- Special thanks to Ben Samara for putting together a wonderful introductory video. View it here.  Enjoy!

-- In Jon Muth's children's book The Three Questions (based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy), the protagonist named Nikoai seeks an answer to three questions:  a) When is the best time to do things?, b) Who is the most important one?, and c) What is the right thing to do?  Through the parable, the boy learns the most important thing in life is to do good for the one who is by your side -- or, in the year 2020, maybe through your computer screen -- essentially prioritizing compassion and engagement.  In this time of uncertainty, that is our challenge and our mission for each kid every day, and we pledge to be unyielding in our desire to maintain that focus.

Wishing you all an engaging, meaningful, and inspiring school year.

Sincerely,

Mark Shelley
Principal

August 21, 2020 

Dear Riverside Families, 

As you have hopefully all seen by now, the superintendent recommended to the school board on Tuesday night that we begin with an "all remote" model for learning when school starts on Monday, September 14th, and the plan calls for a phased in re-entry to a hybrid model in October if possible.  We will certainly be in touch about all of those details in due course, but I wanted to write this evening to offer some more immediate notes and thoughts that will hopefully address some of your concerns and answer many of your questions: 

1) CLASS PLACEMENT:  Our staff members worked diligently throughout the month of May to develop well-balanced class rosters that meet individual student needs and that provide for a healthy, engaging, and positive learning environment for all kids.  Even though we are moving to a remote model, we are maintaining those same class lists as we believe that they represent what is best for our children individually and collectively.  Typically we send that information to you in early September, but given the current scenario, we are going to attempt to communicate your child's teacher assignment next week as long as we can coordinate that distribution date with the other three schools as we all send those simultaneously.  I hope that this revised time frame will afford you all some extra time to coordinate child care and shared learning arrangements with other families if needed. 

2) EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS AND TECH DEVICES:  We are working to organize a process for each family to come to Riverside in some type of staggered fashion during the second week of September to drop off any materials that you may still have (computers, books, etc.) and to pick up books and other materials needed for this school year.  We also want to distribute the district tech devices to you at that point (iPads for Pre-K through 1st grade and Chromebooks for grades 2-5).  We will share more details about that process as we develop the plan, but for returning students, please make sure to check all around your house for any materials that you may need to return to Riverside. 

3) CANVAS:  Our district has adopted Canvas (a web-based program) as our new learning management system ("LMS" in educational lingo) to replace PowerSchool Learning, and there will be training videos and materials for parents.  Our teachers may still have students engage with other websites and electronic platforms, but we expect that Canvas will be the launching point and hub for all of those links and all of the information that you need on a daily basis. 

4) DAILY SCHEDULE:  One big change from the spring will be our adoption and use of a more traditional daily school schedule (8:30 - 3:00 on each weekday except for Wednesdays when "school" will end at 1:00 pm to afford teachers the necessary time to collaborate and plan for virtual instruction).  Please note that this in no way means that children will be on Zoom or a screen for all of that time -- nor even for too many consecutive minutes -- but this schedule will be important in blocking out when certain grades and classes are working on Math or Writing or Spanish or PE or science or anything else.  This is essential in allowing us to provide "specials" for all kids and to protect the time for support services (AIS, ESL, special education, speech, OT, and PT) that many of our students receive.  We will be in touch with more details in the weeks ahead, and the teachers will communicate specifics to you daily and weekly. 

5) ORIENTATIONS:  We will be organizing orientation experiences for our Pre-K and Kindergarten students and parents as well as a separate gathering for all of our new families.  We anticipate that those will all be held during the second week of September -- more details to follow. 

I know that there are likely many other questions percolating in your mind, and we will try to answer those and to provide the necessary information every step of the way.  I am also planning to hold a Riverside parent forum via Zoom one evening in early September to answer additional questions, and once I set a date/time for that, I will let you know. 

I know that you all share a sadness that we will not open in person as that first day of school is simply magical, but I can assure you that our staff will continue to use their expertise and creativity and to demonstrate diligence and an ethic of care in all that they do.  

All the best, 

Mark