Welcome back to school! I hope everyone had a peaceful and enjoyable summer break. While students enjoyed the warm weather, the school department never missed a beat. As the weather cools, and students return to our schools, the district continues to improve its academic program, capacity, and facilities. I am writing to share some of our work in advance of the school year.
In support of our academic program, an elementary science program that had been piloted recently will now be adopted district-wide. Mystery Science, a program focused on celebrating curiosity and hands-on experiences, will now be utilized in all of our elementary schools.
Further enhancing our science programming, this summer, teachers from each of our elementary schools and the Richardson Middle School participated in training to support the expansion of the highly successful and nationally recognized science and engineering program at Dracut High School, Project Lead the Way (PLTW). Beginning this year, those teachers will begin to expose students and fellow teachers to various modules that will be incorporated into the curriculum.
A major focus of attention this summer has been the social and emotional needs of our students. After two years of self-assessment and investigation, teams of educators from every school traveled to Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence this summer to participate in multi-day training sessions in the RULER Program. RULER, an acronym that represents five core skills related to emotional intelligence: recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating emotions, will be the core of our social and emotional learning focus from preschool through high school.
On the technology front, the large infrastructure projects that consumed much of the past two years (fiberoptics, wireless, and voice over internet communications systems) are now complete. We have systematically shifted our focus to enhancing and expanding the instructional technology tools available in our classrooms. Teachers have exceeded expectations in their adoption and use of instructional technology in the classroom. In support of those efforts, when school opens in September, 2,400 Chromebook devices will be available for use in our classrooms across the district.
We are also in the final phases of the installation of approximately 275 interactive smartboard devices across the district. We began with the installation of these vital tools during the renovation of Dracut High School, and within a few months, every classroom in the district will have an interactive board available for use.
Our focus on maintaining our school buildings remains a priority of the district. This summer the first phase of work related to the replacement of the roofs at the Brookside and Englesby Elementary Schools was completed. The town’s collaboration with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will deepen over the next few months as an architect and project manager will be assigned to advance these important projects.
Visitors to the school complex this summer may have seen activity around the stadium and track facilities. Preliminary work related to the renovation of both facilities including the installation of synthetic playing surfaces has recently been completed. The next phase of the project will begin shortly and we are still on track (no pun intended) to see construction begin shortly after Thanksgiving. To date, nothing has changed our target of an August 2020 completion date.
Most importantly, a tremendous amount of work related to the safety and health of our students and employees occurred this summer. The large security upgrades of our schools are wrapping up. All of our schools have modern video monitoring, entry control, and other technology solutions in place to further enhance the safety in and around our schools.
With all of this work on the security infrastructure, we have not lost track of our commitment to strengthening the focus on individuals and their importance in safety preparation and planning in the schools. We continue to expand our work with the Sandy Hook Promise organization to ensure that we practice a varied and dynamic approach to supporting an ever-safer environment.
In support of the health and well being of our students, and in response to the troubling and insidious use of vaping devices by adolescents, vape detection devices are being installed in the Richardson Middle School and Dracut High School. These devices actively monitor the air and can detect the presence of tiny amounts of the various chemicals produced by vaping, and immediately alert administrators so that they may take action. This addition to our existing health and safety monitoring systems enhances our ability to keep our students healthy and safe. In the coming weeks, Ms. McGuinness and Mr. Manley will be communicating with students and families to educate and inform them about this issue.
Our unrelenting focus on continuous improvement in all areas exists simply to ensure that Dracut’s children are provided with an ever-improving educational experience, and are best positioned for future success once they walk across “the” ship and receive their high school diploma.
I look forward to the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm our students bring to our hallways and classrooms and wish everyone well. Welcome to the 2019-2020 school year… #MIDDIEPRIDE