November 21, 2023 Dear Shrewsbury Families, As we head into the Thanksgiving vacation, please accept my best wishes for an enjoyable break. I know that for many of you, this will be cherished time with loved ones, while for others it may be difficult due to your personal circumstances. Whatever your situation might be, I sincerely hope that over the next several days you are able to rest and spend time on things that bring you peace of mind. In this season of gratitude, I want to thank you for your continued support of your children's education. I am gratified to see the many successes of our students that are possible thanks to their efforts, the hard work of our educators and support staff, and what you do to ensure a strong partnership between home and school. While we have much to celebrate, at the same time the dynamics affecting public education in our nation, state, and our own district continue to present a variety of significant challenges. At last week’s School Committee meeting, I suggested that in public education we are experiencing what is known as a “VUCA” environment: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. You can watch my presentation here , and view the presentation slide deck here . Experts say the way to navigate through a VUCA environment is to ensure that your organization has a strong vision and clear priorities, while demonstrating understanding of people's needs and responding with agility to new circumstances. Our school district is working hard to do these things. Last week, the School Committee approved our district’s strategic goals and action steps for this school year. I am pleased that our supportive School Committee has endorsed the priorities that you, our students, and our staff told us were the things that were most important when we went through the strategic planning process last year, with concrete actions that advance the well-being of all, educational excellence, and optimization of our resources. These goals and action steps also document our district's response to unanticipated challenges, such as the influx of newcomer students from other countries, including those housed at the emergency shelter that opened within our community. Our strategic plan and goals are important to focus and document the excellent work happening in our schools — and I think we are focused on the right things. However, the most important reasons why I believe our schools will successfully meet these challenges are the terrific people who make up our school communities – our students, our staff, and you, our families. I am proud and grateful that we have such a strong support system for our students here in Shrewsbury, in which you play a crucial role as parents and caregivers. Thank you for all that you do to partner with our schools. Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating, and safe travels to those journeying out of town. Respectfully, Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools
Dear Shrewsbury Families, Colleagues, & Community Members, I hope you are enjoying today's day off from school in observance of Veterans Day. I had the pleasure to attend Oak Middle School's Veterans Day assembly on Wednesday morning, and I was both impressed and grateful to listen to Oak students interview three veterans about their experiences in the armed forces. The insights that the veterans shared provided a window into what it is like to serve in the U.S. military, and I think gave our 950 students in the audience a greater appreciation for what our veterans do for our country. Additionally, the Oak Middle School Band sounded terrific playing the National Anthem and a military march, and we were fortunate to have the Air Force Junior ROTC Color Guard from South High School present the colors. To read more specifics about the veterans who participated and see photos and video, click HERE to view the Oak weekly newsletter. To all of our veterans in the Shrewsbury community, thank you for your service to our nation. It is also important to note that many members of our community will be celebrating Diwali on Sunday. On behalf of the school district, I wish all of our families and colleagues who will be celebrating this festival of lights a peaceful and joyous Diwali holiday! It has been a busy fall in our schools, and it has been gratifying to see students thriving in so many ways. Congratulations to all of our student performers who participated in successful fall concerts; our student artists who have creative work displayed at our Town Hall and in an exhibition at the Shrewsbury Federal Credit Union; our speech and debate competitors who continue to earn accolades at competitions; our high school thespians who put on an outstanding performance of Murder on the Orient Express for the SHS Fall Play; and our student athletes who competed with strong efforts throughout the fall seasons at Oak and SHS -- with many teams achieving strong records and several SHS teams earning berths in the state playoffs, and with our SHS Unified Basketball team playing with the spirit that earned our district Unified Champion status from the Massachusetts Special Olympics. We are fortunate that our students have so many opportunities to participate in these important co-curricular activities. Of course, learning in the classroom is central to our mission, and in my visits to schools I continue to be impressed with what our students are achieving academically, thanks to the skill and dedication that our outstanding educators and support staff bring to their work. The work of teaching and providing educational services to our students has undoubtedly become more complex since the pandemic, and I am grateful when I see the positive impact our SPS staff members make every day to advance our commitments to educational excellence and to the well-being of all. In addition to the excellent work done each day, here are some students and staff who were recently recognized with awards: Congratulations to the following four members of the SHS Class of 2024 who were recognized for academic excellence and leadership : Krish Gupta and Marla Zacks who each received a Superintendent's Award for Academic Excellence, and Tyler Fontanez and Yana Teixeira, who each received the National School Development Council's Leadership in Learning Award. Click HERE to watch these outstanding young people accept these honors. Three SPS faculty members have been recognized in recent months by outside organizations for their outstanding contributions to the education profession. Congratulations to Emily Bredberg, SHS Media Specialist, for receiving the 2023 Virtual Influencer Award from the Massachusetts School Library Association, given to " school librarians who demonstrate exemplary use of digital tools for teaching, learning, communicating, advocacy, and outreach;" bravo to Michael Lapomardo, SHS Choirs Teacher, for being named as one of 25 semifinalists in the nation for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award; and last, but not least, kudos to Sarah Monica, preschool teacher for our Little Colonials program at SHS, who was recognized as one of only 10 semi-finalists for 2023 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. We are so fortunate to have extraordinary educators like these teaching our students! Finally, a week ago I had the honor of being at the grand opening of Maple & Main , the retail business in the center of town that is part of our Reaching Independence through Supported Employment (RISE) Program for post-high school students age 18-22. The students did a marvelous job with the ceremony and tours of the facility, and we are thrilled that Maple & Main is now open for business. Check out their website HERE , and I hope you stop by to experience the excellent customer service our RISE students provide and browse some terrific Shrewsbury-themed merchandise. (Please note they are closed today in observance of Veterans Day). Click HERE to read an article about the grand opening. Thank you for your continued support of our community's young people in our public schools! Respectfully, Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools
October 12, 2023 Dear Shrewsbury Families & Colleagues, While we are very fortunate to live and work in a safe and stable community, all too often in recent times we receive the news of tragedies that occur around the world, including natural disasters and war. As an increasingly diverse community with families from all over the globe, some of our neighbors and colleagues have personal connections to terrible events that happen far away. Like me, I’m sure you have been horrified by the terrorist attacks against Israel and deeply concerned about the emerging war in Gaza. There are members of our school communities with ties to the region who have relatives or friends who are affected by the violence, and I ask families to let your school know if your child is being impacted so that we can provide support. You can always access school counselors and psychologists on our school’s website by clicking on “mental health and wellness resources,” or call the school and you will be directed to someone who can help. While younger students may not be aware of these events, some likely are, and most if not all older students will be getting information through various sources, including social media. Our educators and counselors are skillful at helping students process concerns they may have about tragic events in the news. There are many resources online that can help families and educators support children and young people on this topic, including this one from the National Association of School Psychologists . Violence and war related to national, religious, and cultural identities provoke strong emotions. Our responsibility is to ensure that our schools are environments where all of our students are supported and feel that they belong, and where, at an age-appropriate level, they process current events and learn about difficult and controversial topics in an atmosphere free from bias and prejudice, as our longstanding policy makes clear. I am confident that you, our staff and families, will model and promote our community’s core value of respect and provide any necessary guidance and support our students require in light of the evolving situation in Israel and Gaza. Respectfully, Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools
PUBLIC SALE OF USED SCHOOL FURNITURE, MISCELLANEOUS EQUIPMENT, BOOKS, & A LOT MORE Friday, October 13th • 10am - 2pm Saturday, October 14th • 9am - 3pm 220 Barber Ave Worcester, MA 01606 We will offer for public sale many surplus furniture and equipment items that are now obsolete for our operations, but may be something you need or want. Bargain prices! Cash only sales, all prices as marked, no price negotiating. Rain or shine. All items must be removed at time of purchase. Items for sale:
Elementary-sized student chairs, desks, and tables
Teacher desks, tables, and shelves
Early reader books
September 27, 2023 Dear Shrewsbury Families, Colleagues, & Community Members, Reminder: The School Committee meets tonight, Wednesday evening, September 27, at 7pm. The Committee will meet in person at the Richard D. Carney Municipal Office Building (i.e., Town Hall), and the meeting will be broadcast live on SELCO Channels 29 & 329 and streamed live on the Shrewsbury Media Connection website . The agenda will include: • An update on homeless student education • A report on school transportation services • A report on personnel hiring for this school year • A discussion of whether the superintendent's dress code will be relaxed* For those who aren't able to watch a School Committee meeting live, the meeting video will be archived in the School Committee section of our website here , and meeting documents will be posted here . All of the School Committee meeting dates, agendas, and minutes can be found here . Respectfully, Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools *The U.S. Senate has , and this outfit is receiving a lot of attention, so I'm wondering if the way I've been dressing for meetings will really never go out of style...
September 15, 2023 Dear Shrewsbury Families, Colleagues, & Community Members, It is nice to have had more seasonable weather these past two days, and I'm glad Hurricane Lee is staying well to the east of us! We have had a very successful start to our school year, and I am especially proud of the way our educators, support staff, and leaders have worked hard to create a welcoming environment that conveys a sense of belonging to all of our students in our school communities. Please read on for a few informational items: on 1) transportation; 2) our recent School Committee meeting and our homeless/migrant students; 3) a notice about the "One Chip Challenge"; and 4) a reminder about our updated homework policy and this being our first "No Homework Weekend" of the school year. 1) Transportation: Thank you to families for your help in ensuring that students are getting to and from school safely. The vast majority of our bus routes have been running on schedule, and like every year we are working out the kinks on a few routes running later than planned (particularly in the afternoons). Given the significant change in school schedules this year, I am grateful to our SPS Transportation Team, especially Assistant Finance & Operations Manager April Yu and our partner AA Transportation, for their hard work. Thank you also to families who are driving students to and from school for using the designated drop off and pick up processes in order to maintain student safety. Finally, please be reminded that late bus service at the high school and middle schools begins on Monday, September 18 so that more students can access after school academic help and activities -- click HERE for the schedule and to register your child. 2) The School Committee met last week for its first meeting of the year. As always, you can watch video of the meetings HERE and view all documents and slide presentations from the meeting HERE . Some items from the September 6 meeting: the Committee accepted a generous donation of $5,500 from Lexus of Northborough to help fund start-up costs for our Oak Middle School Girls and Boys Soccer teams; heard a report on various projects we are grateful that the Public Buildings Division completed over the summer in our schools; and heard an update on the enrollment of homeless/migrant students from the shelter within our community (as of today there are 52 spread across grades K-12 attending Beal, Floral Street, Sherwood, Oak, and SHS). I am very proud of the efforts our staff have made since May to support our newest students' needs, and the way our community as a whole has responded to this difficult situation. I will provide another update at the next School Committee meeting on September 27. 3) Notice to families re: the "One Chip Challenge": You have likely seen the very sad news that a 14-year-old student in our neighboring community of Worcester recently died, and while the cause is yet to be determined there is concern that it could be related to his having become severely ill after eating an extremely hot chip as part of the so-called "One Chip Challenge." This past week, some middle school students in Holliston became very ill from doing the same. Parents and caregivers may want to click HERE to review the information on poison.org about the "One Chip Challenge" and advise your children to avoid them (and not bring them to school). While these chips have been removed from store sale, they may be available via mail order. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of the deceased student and the Worcester Public Schools community. 4) Updated homework policy and "No Homework Weekend" : Please be reminded that this year there is an updated homework policy in effect, and that this weekend is our first "No Homework Weekend," which applies to all students in all grades. No homework will be due and no assessments requiring studying over the weekend will be given on Monday, September 18. Please click HERE for a list of the no homework dates for this school year and HERE for a calendar view (both are Google Docs that can be translated). There are 15 school days out of our 180 school days when no homework will be due (8%); this approach helps us meet the policy's statement that "It is a shared responsibility between home and school to ensure that students have balance in their lives while pursuing educational excellence." Many of the "no homework" dates correspond with major religious holidays where many students would be exempt from homework, and this includes the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah this weekend and Yom Kippur next weekend. On behalf of our school district, shanah tovah to all who are celebrating the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah starting at sunset this evening. Thank you for your continued support of our schools as we strive to provide our students with an education characterized by academic excellence and the well-being of all. Respectfully, Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools
September 5, 2023 Dear Shrewsbury Families & Colleagues, Today was uncomfortably hot and humid in our non-air conditioned spaces, and I appreciate the way that staff and students persevered through the day, especially on upper floors. I have reviewed the weather forecast, and I have determined that all of our schools will be open on their regular schedules tomorrow, Wednesday, September 6 . We will continue to take steps to mitigate the heat, as I outlined in my message yesterday (see below). There remains a possibility that I will place the schools on an early release schedule on Thursday and/or Friday, so families should make plans for childcare as necessary. I will communicate the day before if I decide on an early release for the following day. Respectfully, Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools Reminder: Everyone is encouraged to dress comfortably for the weather and bring water bottles to stay hydrated. We take a variety of steps to mitigate the heat in our buildings that are not climate controlled , such as venting buildings and drawing in cool air early in the morning, limiting physical activity when appropriate, and monitoring classroom temperatures and moving classes to cooler spaces in the building where feasible.
Dear Shrewsbury Families & Colleagues, I hope that you have had a terrific Labor Day Weekend! While this is the unofficial end of the summer season, we will be having hot and humid summer weather this coming week. Unfortunately, this means that conditions in our schools with classrooms that are not climate controlled (SHS, Oak, Coolidge, and Floral Street) can become very uncomfortable from midday on, especially on upper floors. Everyone is encouraged to dress comfortably for the weather and bring water bottles to stay hydrated. We take a variety of steps to mitigate the heat in our buildings that are not climate controlled , such as venting buildings and drawing in cool air early in the morning, limiting physical activity when appropriate, and monitoring classroom temperatures and moving classes to cooler spaces in the building where feasible. Please note that if I determine that heat conditions become too extreme, there is a possibility that I might c all an early release day the evening before, so please consider what your childcare options might be if the school day is shortened. Please note that due to logistics regarding transportation, siblings at different levels, etc., early release decisions apply to climate controlled schools as well – details will be provided the evening prior if that decision is made. Hopefully this will not be necessary, but please be advised that this might occur sometime in the coming week, depending on the levels of heat and humidity. Respectfully, Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools
Dear Parents & Caregivers of Students in Grades PreK-4, Sandra Fryc, the Chair of the Shrewsbury School Committee, is seeking to appoint one parent or caregiver representative each from Parker Road, Beal, Coolidge, Floral Street, Paton, and Spring Street Schools to serve on the district’s Grades PreK-4 Capital Planning Study Committee. This study committee will review last year’s report on the current state of PreK-4 school buildings, future enrollment projections, and possible options for future projects in order to make a recommendation to the School Committee regarding a pathway forward for potential future investment in PreK-4 school buildings. For more specific information about the study committee, dates it will meet, and to apply online by Friday, September 8, please click HERE . Thank you for your consideration. Joe Sawyer Superintendent of Schools