Schools reopen after 18 months of coronavirus, presenting questions for a new superintendent
The first day of Cambridge Public Schools found interim superintendent Victoria Greer greeting students and staff at the Haggerty School, in Strawberry Hill south of Fresh Pond. The following Q&A with Greer covers how the district is welcoming back students after 18 months of building and class closings, remote classes and limited summer services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What are the major challenges you see for students and educators as the school year begins?
One of our biggest challenges right now is getting a good understanding of where students are after so much time lost in school, and how to address those learning challenges as a result of not being in school. I know a lot of people are concerned with Covid. We are taking a layered approach to our safety measures. We are mandating masking for everyone, and we’re mandating vaccinations for all adults and employees. And our nursing staff are very conscientious about safety and testing.
What programs and initiatives has your administration launched that you feel will have the most impact this fall?
We are implementing a districtwide social-emotional screener for all students. That is going to give us a good understanding of where students are and the areas of social and emotional learning: Are they depressed? Are they feeling left out, or having any type of challenges in that area? We did a training for the last two weeks with administrators and teachers on our screeners, and also how to effectively implement strategies and skills for students to teach them how to develop coping skills.
We are also are implementing math and literacy screeners this year; the iReady screener will also help us determine any learning loss.
For students in sixth grade through 12th grade, we will continue to do a comprehensive team health survey. It’s a health survey that it addresses many different topics, including substance abuse, depression, anxiety as well as other challenges.
When will weekly safety testing – formerly called surveillance testing – start in schools and the percentage of families consenting to having their kids participate be made public?
Testing will start next week. Data will probably be available about a week from now. We have a roundtable with the School Committee on Tuesday, but our regular School Committee meeting is on Sept. 21. So our goal is to have some of that information ready to share on Sept. 21.
How many educators who have completed the vaccination survey of the 1,700 total? What is the percentage that are fully vaccinated?
Around 1,300 to 1,400 had completed the survey by Wednesday, and 97 percent of them are fully vaccinated.
What percentage of non-union staff are fully vaccinated?
That number has not been disaggregated yet.
Is there enrollment data for individual schools?
We have not reviewed that data. We’ll start doing that early next week. We usually allow for the first day of school to calm and then we watch attendance and enrollment for the first 10 to 15 days. That’ll give us a more solid number to see if we’ve had a true decline, or if it’s just people lagging behind enrolling.