Message from Chad Leith: February 2, 2021

Dear Morse School parents and caregivers,

As I write this message, we are beginning the cleanup of a snowstorm that has shifted our entire school to fully-remote learning. Please remember that tomorrow, Wednesday February 3rd, there will be no school, so that teachers and teams can plan for 2nd semester changes, including the expansion of in-person learning.

February Materials Pick-up
This month’s Materials Pick-Up for our remote learners will take place from February 8th-12th (next week). Please plan to come by the Morse School building between 7:30am-3:00pm to pick up your child’s learning materials and library books for the remaining weeks of February. Please remember that these materials are provided so that your child can participate actively in the learning experiences that our teachers have designed. It is therefore very important that you stop by next week to pick them up. Additionally, 1st semester report cards will be distributed to families during the February pick-up week (report cards for in-person learners will be sent home in your child’s backpack). If you are unable to stop by during the hours noted above, please reach out to our Family Liaison Denise Sullivan.

4th & 5th Grade Models & Staffing Configurations
I am pleased to share that we have set our instructional model for grades 4 & 5. Our model will allow us to bring in all students who meet the district’s eligibility criteria, while also maintaining a robust, departmentalized model for our remote learners. As illustrated in this overview, we will offer a three-classroom model at each grade level, with two remote classrooms and one in-person classroom (at this time, we can only accommodate two additional classrooms due to space constraints and safe distancing requirements). At both grade levels, in-person students will continue to receive some instruction through their devices, including science and social studies from their remote teachers.

  • In 5th grade, Peggy Jeram and Elsa Roderick will continue teaching remotely, with Stephanie Jarvis stepping in to serve as our in-person teacher. Ms. Jarvis earned her B.A. in Elementary Education from Emmanuel College and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Reading from Lesley University. She holds an elementary teaching license and has been a member of the Morse School community since 2017.
  • In 4th grade Mary DeWitte will shift to become our in-person teacher. Ms. Headley and I are currently working to hire a qualified remote math and science educator to join Dan Offley in teaching our remote learners.

Process for Assigning Spring 2021 In-Person Seats
Despite our strong desire to make in-person learning available to all Morse School students, safety considerations and space limitations continue to make this impossible. I know that this has been really disappointing for children who are eager to return to school. However, we have worked to fill our seats in the fairest and most equitable way possible. Our process has been guided by district eligibility criteria, which have included prioritizing in-person seats for our youngest learners, as well as for older students with IEPs or 504 plans, English language learners, students whose families are eligible for free/reduced lunch, and students who have been flagged by teachers for signs of social or emotional distress. Please click here to see an overview of the process we followed addressed each category of district eligibility criteria.

The Morse School proudly serves a very diverse student population, not only in terms of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, but also their learning styles and family circumstances. Among Cambridge elementary schools, we serve the 2nd highest percentage of students with disabilities, the 3rd highest population of English learners, and the 4th highest percentage of students identified as economically disadvantaged. This has had an impact on who we have been able to welcome back to in-person schooling. Effectively providing our most vulnerable learners with the supports they need - while also adhering to strict COVID health and safety protocols - has also meant reconfiguring learning spaces in our building. This has had an impact on the number of classroom spaces available for teaching and learning in our building.

Given that the district's criteria utilizes confidential information that we are required by law (FERPA) to protect, we cannot publicly share why any particular student was found eligible to transition to in person learning. We also hope that you respect our students' and families' rights to this privacy by not questioning why a student was found eligible. The criteria are not visible to the eye and our students and caregivers don't deserve the added stress of divulging private information to others during this already difficult time.

Please know that if additional in-person seats become available, we will fill them through a district-administered lottery system and inform families of any change. You may also request a priority seat through the CPS COVID-19 Hardship Appeal process.

Continuing to Support All Learners
While we are unable to bring all students back at this time, we are committed to doing our best to provide all learners with a positive and affirming learning experience. This means continuing to work together to strengthen both in-person and remote learning. We are also eager to identify opportunities to bring our community together. Once restrictions on outdoor gatherings are lifted, for instance, we hope to plan outdoor events that will allow remote and in-person learners to see and interact with one another. We will also continue to evaluate our models as the public health situation evolves. If we are able to bring additional students in for in-person learning, we will. In the meantime, if you believe that your child would benefit from additional support, please see our resource page on maintaining your child’s social, emotional, and behavioral health, which includes information about how to connect with the members of our Student Support Team. Morse School educators care very deeply about our children’s academic, social, and emotional well-being; whether your child is learning remotely or in-person, we will continue to do our best to make the most of this very challenging school year.

Principal Chad Leith

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