State of the School 5/29/20 Distance Learning Update

May 28, 2020 | Thomas Postema

Note: below is the transcript of Mr. Postema’s address on May 29, 2020. It comes at the end of the 11th week of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greetings friends.

In a recent State of the School address, I talked about how planning for the start of school in  the fall is like building three airplanes. One airplane is a fully in person school experience. Another is a full distance learning experience. The third is a hybrid: part in-person, part distance learning. We know that we have to be ready to change airplanes at any moment.

The top priority in any plan must be the health and safety of our students and staff. And so we’re learning from other countries, school leaders, the CDC, and state and local leaders as we build our “airplanes.”

As you can imagine, there are a lot of complexities that come with planning the best educational experience for your children under these conditions. We’re using all of the creativity, flexibility, and pedagogical skills of our extremely capable staff.

For several years, we’ve had a multi-grade approach to learning in grades two through eight. It’s served the children well and there are many good pedagogical and social reasons for this approach. However, this model works best when teachers and students are physically in the same classrooms.

Because of the current pandemic, we cannot know exactly what school will look like in the fall. To better serve your children in this environment, we’ve decided to redesign the multi-grade model as it stands today. This means that in the fall grades two through eight will function as stand alone classes that will work closely with one or two teachers. They will still learn with specialists for art, music, Spanish, and PE.

There are many good reasons for this change. 

  • We believe this will help students feel a strong sense of belonging and being known, especially if some level of distance learning persists.
  • It will enable teachers to continue to bring academic depth to the learning.
  • It will allow teachers to divide the class into smaller groups if we need to limit the number of students in a classroom. And make it easier for some students to learn at school and some students to learn at home if this becomes necessary.
  • It will limit the number of interactions that students have with other students and teachers. This means less exposure to contagions.
  • It will give us the ability to pivot more seamlessly back to distance learning should stay at home orders be reinstated.
  • It will make for an easier transition for rising second grade students and rising fourth grade students. For rising fourth grade students, it will make for a smoother entry into middle school.

We imagine that this news might be especially hard for students who looked forward to looping with the same teacher next year and becoming the older students in the multi-grade setting. We will intentionally design ways for students to get to know their teachers and feel at home in this new model.

As usual, you will find out during the summer who your child’s homeroom teacher will be for next year.

We hold out hope that as we find our new normal there may be classes or times for multi-grade groupings to happen informally. We especially hope that there may be times when the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students can work in academic teams. At some point, it may make sense to implement other multi-grade opportunities. We’ll just have to see how the year unfolds.

We look forward to the day when it’s safe and appropriate to more fully implement multi-grade groupings again. We value the academic learning and collaboration that our multi-grade practice facilitates.

For now, we believe that single grade groupings are the best option for educating the whole child. For knowing and caring together. Inspiring minds. Cultivating hearts. And removing barriers. We’re committed to providing the best education for your child. One of the benefits of being an independent school is that we can be nimble and responsive to the needs of the students in the current environment.

I’m grateful to you, parents, for your feedback.  You’ve helped us shape the current distance learning program and consider options for the fall. I’m grateful to our teachers and program directors who have put countless hours into teaching and planning. I can’t say it enough: these are the finest educators that I’ve worked with in my 40+ years in education.

I know that this may be a lot to think about. We’ve created a FAQ to answer some of your questions. You can find it on our website in the COVID-19/Distance Learning section. You’re always welcome to speak with me or one of our program directors if you have more questions or concerns. We’re here for you.

On a different note, as the school year draws to a close, we’ve scheduled times when you can come in and return any school materials and pick up your child’s belongings from school. We’re following social distancing rules, so you need to sign up for a time on the sign up sheet that you received from your child’s teacher earlier in the week. You will receive more detailed information in our Monday morning email, This Week @ Mustard Seed. We also continue to make plans for end-of-year celebrations. We’ll send you more information about that soon.

I want to leave you with something that’s bringing me a great deal of joy. As you know, seventh graders Caroline, Josh, and Roma have been leading a service project to provide meals to guests of the Hoboken Shelter. You’ve given over $6,500, including a $3000 matching gift from an anonymous donor. That’s over 650 individually packaged meals! I’m stunned and overwhelmed by your show of love. Mikie Squared, a restaurant owned by MSS parents Mike Fasciano and Cindy Samaris, will provide the meals.

Thank you for being changemakers, people who make a difference in our community. I’m so proud of our school community for coming together in this way.

Stay strong, Mustard Seed. That’s all for this week!

Thomas Postema

Head of School

Mr. Postema was the Head of School from Fall 2011 to Spring 2021, when he retired.

An educator for over 35 years, Mr. Postema taught math and was a school administrator at international schools in Japan and South Korea, as well as schools in the USA (New Jersey and Alaska). He taught at Mustard Seed from 1989-1991 when Mr. Cuervo and Mr. Johnson were MSS students!

As Head of School, Mr. Postema successfully led the school through the NJAIS accreditation process and the Together for Tomorrow endowment campaign, which raised over $3M to benefit MSS students. Mr. Postema loves to tell the Mustard Seed story and continues to be passionate about the mission even in his retirement.

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