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Riverside News

March 30, 2020

Dear Riverside Families,

We have made it past the two-week mark of remote learning – congratulations to all!  I certainly miss seeing our staff and students every day, and I have heard and read similar remarks from so many of you in our very special school community.

I want to take a moment to reflect on the many successes that we have had – including a huge “thank you” to all of our staff members who have played a role in this daunting transition to remote learning:  teachers, instructional assistants, bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, and our technology coordinator.  Through their efforts – and those of their colleagues across the district – we have been able to offer relevant, engaging, and meaningful instruction to our students, to provide several weeks worth of meals to many students, to respond to a host of phone calls and inquiries, to sanitize our building, to coordinate opportunities for staff and parents to retrieve items from the building, to communicate proactively with parents, and to solve tech issues that have arisen. 

Special thanks as well to you – the parents and guardians of our Riverside students – for your patience, flexibility, understanding, and good humor in the face of this unprecedented challenge.  We know that there have been some significant bumps along the way, but you have shared honest feedback, offered lots of affirmation, and partnered with us in this journey.  Thank you!

We are also grateful to our students.  You all have worked to be diligent and resourceful, to express love and concern for classmates and friends, and to be creative in your approach to this entire situation.

While we celebrate the successes noted above, we have also learned so much – including a realization that while our teachers initially planned for a two-week hiatus, we are now going to be engaged in a much longer-term remote learning enterprise.  A key part of that realization is an understanding of the myriad situations in the homes of our Riverside families as there are tremendous differences that make remote learning work better (or worse) in various ways.  For instance, we have single-parent households, and we have others in which both parents are considered “essential” workers –situations which place incredible demands on the children in that household.  We have other homes with 3, 4, or 5 children – sometimes with only one or two computer devices which must also be shared with parents who are working remotely.  Conversely, many of our teachers and assistants share those same challenges in their own homes as they feel all of that stress and angst as both an educator and as a parent and/or spouse, and they also are working with vastly different knowledge and comfort levels regarding how to use Zoom and other technological platforms effectively.

I guess that my message is that we are certainly all in this together, and I have appreciated your feedback and engaged our staff members in a number of conversations – as a whole staff, in smaller groups, and with individuals – about those dynamics and how we can move forward most effectively.  In the weeks ahead, we are likely to have students encounter some specific learning obstacles that might be easier to overcome with a skilled teacher in the room.  Parents/guardians and our teachers might become impatient with the nexus between the demands of school, their professional responsibilities, and the importance of family time. 

While I cannot offer simple answers, I can share the following insights:

-- I share all of these emotions and challenges in my twin roles as an educator and as a parent.

-- While we want for our students to continue to learn and to grow, we understand that whenever we return to normalcy, one of our first priorities will be to assess our pupils’ learning and to craft a systematic plan to reteach any gaps that we notice.

-- We want for you to feel empowered to prioritize your family time during this period of remarkable anxiety and stress, and we want for you to know that we understand the limits of this current educational reality.  Please reach out to our teachers and support staff members and let them know what kind of guidance and flexibility you and your child might need – and please respect the same for our staff members who are working furiously to balance their work responsibilities with their own families.

I will be in touch more in the week ahead about what to expect when school resumes after spring break, and we will continue to assess technology accessibility and potential language barriers to be sure that we are reaching all of our students.  I can also share that we are seeking guidance from and working with officials at the district and state level regarding special education and related services to make sure that we are providing for IEP needs as best we can, and our district will continue to provide food for children who are on subsidized meal programs.  Finally, I hope that you will all take part in our spirit days and other activities that our staff have planned and will be sharing with you in the days and weeks ahead as maintaining a sense of community is so important – even when it is done virtually.

I wish you all a successful week #3 of remote learning as well as a restful, restorative spring break.


Mark Shelley

March 25, 2020

Dear Riverside Families,

As our superintendent shared with all of you in a recent message, our remote learning initiative has been extended at least until Friday, April 17th – with the significant possibility that it might go longer. 

In light of that decision, our teachers are continuing to refine their plans and approach to meet the needs of our students and families. 

We had a virtual staff meeting on Monday afternoon, and we will have another such gathering on Zoom tomorrow and then a meeting of our School Leadership Team next Tuesday.  One chief purpose of these discussions among Riverside staff members (and with similar conversations at the district level) is to discuss our remote learning pedagogy, our daily expectations, innovative ideas, our approach to differentiation, and a commitment to a good, healthy, and meaningful balance between academic work and family/home realities.  I look forward to sharing with you the results of this collaborative work so that we can make our remote learning approach even more meaningful, engaging, and workable for everyone as we move into April.

I also want to offer a few important notes and reminders:

* First, along with all of the other schools in our district, our building will be open tomorrow Thursday from 8:00 AM until Noon. This will likely be the last time that Riverside will be open for a number of weeks, and the district is opening during these hours in the morning to allow teachers to gather any materials and supplies that they need and to allow us to provide the opportunity for parents to pick-up any books, packets, or other materials that the teachers may have for you.  We will also be distributing a few more Chromebooks to families who have a substantial need so that we can move forward with online instruction for all.  Anyone who needs to pick-up something tomorrow should come to the exterior side door to the cafeteria (where the younger students enter in the mornings), and a staff member will greet you and can retrieve what you need.  We are asking everyone to be highly conscientious of social distancing “best practices” (including maintaining a six-foot distance away from everyone else not in your household).

* The district will continue to provide meals for families who qualify for food subsidies, and we will be in touch in the weeks ahead about the process and time frame for that distribution.

* If your family finds itself in a difficult financial situation during this COVID-19 crisis, please see note that the Princeton Children's Fund is providing potential emergency assistance.

* Many of you wrote checks as donations for our Jump Rope For Heart initiative in February, and those are locked up for safe keeping.  Ms. Unkert will be processing those once we return to school at some point in the months ahead, but for now, we just wanted to share that information so that you will know why your check has not cleared.

Wishing you all a great day.


Mark Shelley



March 13, 2020 

Dear Riverside Families, 

Our staff members have been quite busy over the past few days to prepare for our school closure due to the COVID-19 situation, leading to a "remote learning" approach for the next two weeks.  I want to begin by thanking all of those folks for their hard work, flexibility, collaboration, and ingenuity to make this work -- their professionalism and expertise have shone brightly throughout this week! 

I am going to try to package all of the "essentials" into this email, though I am sure that I will be back in touch with subsequent messages in the days ahead: 

*  First, this school closure affects all afternoon and evening activities as well.  This decision stems from a concern for the health and welfare of our staff, students, and families as well as the need to play our broader community role in the need for social distancing.   

* Second, we certainly acknowledge the limitations that come with a remote learning approach -- particularly the loss of daily, human interaction -- but our teachers and other staff members are working diligently to provide meaningful, engaging learning experiences for all of our children in a way that meets their individual needs as much as possible.  What you will be experiencing will be a blend of state mandates, district-wide decisions and directives, and building-based collaboration. 

* With our shift to remote learning, here are the general nuts and bold that you can expect, though please know that we may certainly need to spend a few days ironing out logistics and tweaking some of our protocols: 

1) For those of you whose children have been absent late this week and who have not brought home the books and materials that they may need for remote learning, please check with your child’s teacher to gain access to that information.  They may be able to send some or all of what is needed electronically, or they may have hard copies of those documents left in a folder for you to pick-up in our main office. 

2) Initially, we are planning for instruction for grades 3-5 to be centered through teacher websites which you can access via PowerSchool Learning.  We have worked diligently to ensure that all families with children in those grades have access to appropriate technology at home, but if your family does not have a computer of your own and you have not received a loaner from the school, please let us know immediately so that we can be sure to provide one.   

3)  Our Pre-K through 2nd grade teachers have been sending home packets of work and activities for their students so online access should not be required for those students at this time.  Should the closing go beyond two weeks, the district will make an attempt to provide appropriate devices (MacBooks, Chromebooks, or iPads) for our younger learners who may not have those at home.  At that point, if we are confident that 100% of kids in a certain grade level have access to appropriate technology, we may begin moving those grade levels to a full or partial online platform model as well. 

4)  The state and district mandate that we do our best to take daily attendance.  For students in grades 3-5, each teacher will have a Google form embedded on his/her website for the student to mark attendance each day when he/she logs in.  For students from Pre-K through 2nd grade, many of our teachers have sent home a log for parents to initial or sign.  In addition, these teachers will be sending a brief "check-in" email each day that will include a request for parents to send a quick email response just to verify that their child is indeed working on their activities and assignments for the day.   For parents who do not respond, these teachers will follow up with a phone call to verify "attendance." 

5)  We have outlined a plan for one or more of our teachers to check in with each child/family multiple times per week through a combination of phone calls and email.  Please know that teachers calling from their private cell phones may use a special code so that the number appears to parents as a "No Caller ID."  We certainly welcome and encourage two-way, interactive communication so that we can work with you to ensure that you and your children understand the learning activities, that you do not have any technology issues or other barriers, and that your children are learning and making progress with content and skills. 

6) Our teachers will be working each weekday, and each of them will communicate more with you about the ways in which he/she will be able to interact with you.  For some of our folks, they may indicate a block of time when they will be available for quick responses to email questions, but other teachers may take a different approach to managing the unknowns of remote learning.  Should you have any questions, please reach out to your child's teacher(s), and they will get back to you within a reasonable time frame. 

7) The general expectation is that kids will be engaged in roughly four hours of learning activities each day – a time frame which includes all major curricular areas (including specials).  

8) Our specials teacher (including Spanish for grades 2-5) have created a link that should be available through your child’s PowerSchool Learning page.  If you have trouble locating that information and/or have questions about what you find there, please reach out to those teachers. 

9) All of our special education teachers have worked with members of our Child Study Team, with Eric Csolak (our Supervisor of Special Education), and with each other to meet the IEP goals and needs of children as best they can.   

10) For those children who receive any type of “related service” (like speech, OT, ESL), those teachers will also be working to provide appropriate learning activities and experiences for your children. 

11)  Our main office will be open each weekday at least from 7:00 am – 1:00 pm unless there is a documented health need that would dictate otherwise, and as the next two weeks unfold, teachers may ask you to drop off student work at school and/or to pick up additional materials.  This would be especially true for our youngest students who are not working with an online model, particularly if our closure continues for an extended period of time.   

12) If we do have an extended closure and move towards online virtual learning for younger students, we will be in touch with those families to arrange to get devices to those kids who might need them – likely through some type of “pick-up” system at the school. 

13) The district is working to use our buses to provide meals for those families who receive free and reduced lunches.  And, if we have families who might be unable to pick-up/drop-off the materials described above, we will try to organize our buses to visit homes of those children as well. 

14) I know that many of you have questions about a range of topics:  make-up parent-teacher conferences, upcoming IEP meetings, standardized testing, report cards, and plans for rescheduling evening activities that have been cancelled.  At this point, we do not have specific information for any of those questions, though I am sure that the answers will unfold in the coming days and weeks, and I will continue to provide timely and detailed updates whenever I have something relevant to share. 

I have stressed to our staff members three key elements that should guide us through this adventure:  flexibility, collaboration, and a commitment to “thinking outside the box.”  I ask you all to join us in that spirit as we seek to partner with you to provide meaningful lessons, activities, and experiences for your children. 

Please be patient as we work through any kinks that arise as we are sure that there will need to be tweaks,, and I hope that you will communicate with us as needed so that we can answer your questions and assist you as best we can. 

Wishing good health and quality time at home for all of you. 

Mark Shelley



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