Superintendent's Message

Superintendent’s Message December 2021

It seems unbelievable that we are in the fourth month of our first fully in-person school year since March 13, 2020. In discussing this with a colleague, it is sobering that for our seniors, their last full, in person, “normal” year of school was their 9th grade year. Considering that, I am hopeful that we are on the road to better experiences for all of our students. We are proud of our students and staff and thankful for all of their work. Our students and our staff have overcome a great deal during these past many months, and I think I can speak for so many when I say that we are most grateful this year especially, for all that we have in our lives.

Autumn brings about many things. The weather begins to change, the leaves begin to fall, pumpkins are carved, and RICAS scores are released statewide. This is always a much-anticipated event, but no more so than this school year, as we knew that our students, our families, and schools nationwide, statewide, and right here in Cranston, have endured a great deal during this pandemic. Additionally, we knew going into RICAS testing last school year, we would not only see the impact of student trauma on our student test scores, but we would see the impact of chronic absenteeism, and of full remote learning for so many of our students. Overall participation rates for state testing was low, with the usual 95 percent participation requirement waived for last year. All of these things matter, and all of these things impact test scores. 

In the words of our state’s education commissioner, Angelica Infante-Green, “We knew this was coming.”

However, because we knew that our scores would be low, we have been preparing our response, thanks to our LEAP task force statewide and our task force here in the Cranston Public Schools. If you remember from my last Superintendent’s Message at the start of the school year, LEAP was a response developed at the state level and disseminated to RI school districts last spring. The acronym stands for Learning, Equity, and Accelerated Pathways, and was created by the state as the blueprint to help districts make decisions as to how to spend federal funds (ESSER funds) which have been allocated to schools to support our students over the next few years. 

Although we are just a few months into this new school year, we have already done so much with this funding in order to address the gaps that have arisen since 2020, and also to help us address those that existed prior to the pandemic. I thought that I would use this message to share some of the work that we have been doing. 

Beginning this summer, we implemented enrichment programs for our students in transition grades (kindergarten, sixth, and ninth grades). These programs were geared towards math and literacy with an opportunity for exciting summer activities as well. We also offered programming for our career and technical students who had missed hours of required time for their certifications. We set up partnerships with community organizations such as the STEM After School program, and provided financial support in the form of scholarships, so that more students could attend.  We worked hard to re-engage our students and their families at the start of the school year, with schools using this extra funding to host a wide variety of back-to-school events and activities which rose above our previous summer events. 

We know that student success is tied to having a guaranteed, high quality, viable curriculum for all students in our schools. We have been focused on improving our math and ELA curricula, adhering to RIDE deadlines for all of our curricula to be rated “green” on their scale of high quality curriculum materials. These accelerated learning curricula include My On Digital Library for grades K-8, StudySync English Language Arts for grades 6-12, REveal Math for grades 6-12, and the updated version of Wonders for grades K-5. By using these high-quality curricula, we know that all students, across demographic and level of academic need, are accessing the same academics as their peers in different schools and classes in the district. 

In addressing student mental health, we have implemented a universal social-emotional screening tool for grades K-12 called Satchel-Pulse and allows students to “take their pulse” and rate their social-emotional state on a regular basis and for educators and support personnel to be able to intervene with the necessary support. We have also implemented the Inspiring Minds-Resilient Kids SEL curriculum at the elementary level and we are using PBIS rewards in grades 6-12 to further engage our secondary students. 

We are utilizing some of our ESSER II money to help support these efforts by way of hiring additional staff members, including community engagement coordinators and specialists. We are also continuing to plan for additional extended day, after school and vacation week programming opportunities for students, and we are continuing to engage our community partners in this work.

That’s a summary of what we are doing. But, you may be wondering, what can you as parents, as community partners do to help us? Test scores are impacted by all of the things I have talked about above: mental health, physical health and social-emotional health. Attendance matters greatly. Every day that students miss direct instruction impacts test scores not only this year, but in subsequent years as the missed instruction piles up and layers. Chronic absenteeism as early as kindergarten impacts third grade reading and math scores. Chronic absenteeism in middle and high school impacts a student’s need to take remedial college classes. We need our families to be on board with sending their children to school every day when they are well, because the consequences to their education and their future last far beyond this school year. We also understand that we have had to quarantine students, which causes them absences. It is not something we want to do, and we realize this is a response to a public health crisis. It is our hope that we will get through this period of having to quarantine students as more students are now eligible for vaccines.

We also need our families to stay connected to their child/children’s teachers, to reach out when there is an issue that is impacting their child’s social-emotional health or their ability to get to school every day. Families need to be aware that teachers and support staff can not provide the necessary help, resources and support to their students and their students’ families if they don’t know what the problems are, and they can’t teach children who aren’t in school. During this time of COVID-19, when children are being quarantined if they are unvaccinated close contacts, it is important that we work together to protect each other and vaccinate anyone who is eligible, in order to minimize disruption for everyone’s children in school. Vaccinating for the flu is equally important as it keeps students healthy and in class. 

We need additional support from our community partners and our families. If you own a business and can support our PBIS programs with rewards in the form of gift cards or in-person rewards for students who reach attendance goals for example, reach out to a middle or high school near you. If you can provide financial support in the form of scholarships to after school programs such as the one I mentioned above, reach out to Kevin Murtough in our business office at 270-8174 for more information.

RICAS scores are just one piece of the puzzle in a student’s education, but they do matter, and they are certainly an indicator of the work that we all need to do. Our students, our educators, our families, our support staff, and our community partners all need to work together to support our students and their learning. Our students can’t learn if they aren’t in school, they can’t absorb what they’re being taught if they are struggling with something that’s happening outside of school, and they can’t do well if their basic needs aren’t met. Let’s continue to take this LEAP together and all work together to support our students here in Cranston.

Thank you,

Jeannine Nota-Masse