Over the last week, the Reporter reached out to principals around the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) to see how the reopening of schools has been.

They were asked what went well and better than expected, what didn’t go so well or might be at the top of their priority list to address, and if they have heard any negative feedback or concerns from parents.

Below is what a few of them had to say.

Tamara Parks: Essex High School

Things that went well

  • Students wearing masks and observing social distance guidelines
  • Adjusted curriculums to fit the hybrid model
  • Smooth arrival and entrance into the building
  • Advisory Team making advisories more robust and now inclusive of socioemotional learning, college and career exploration, and providing additional time for academies to meet in person

"We had a lot of input from parents, teachers, and students over the summer that helped us to reopen the school in the most supportive way possible. The EWSD came together and planned out safety, instruction, and communication, and that was also very helpful… Even though the pandemic threw us a lot of challenges, it has been amazing to see the Essex High School community adapt so quickly and continue enriching programs such as these during a global pandemic."

Things to improve upon or are at the top of the priority list to address

  • Students struggling with obstacles to their learning and the challenges of providing them Academic Support Time, either in person or through videoconferencing
  • Continue getting better at having the advisory program help with students’ emotional health and safety
  • All students and teachers adapting to the hybrid style of learning

“It will take some time for everyone to adjust to the hybrid model of instruction which involves half of the students learning outside of the school for half of the week. We will continue providing support for teachers in adapting to the hybrid model as the year progresses.”

Feedback and concerns from parents

  • Many students and families miss being in school full time, with their friends, and without masks
  • Concerns regarding timelines for AP classes
  • Students being assigned to cohorts that didn’t work for them or their families, especially those with elementary-aged siblings

"In order to do this, we needed to coordinate across the district with other schools in cohort assignments, and then make the classes as even as possible."

Ashley Gray: Essex Elementary School

Things that are going well

  • Everyone working together to create a welcoming and engaging learning environment
  • Staff going above and beyond to meet student needs

“The start to our school year has been positive and exciting. The best part of starting our school year has been welcoming students back into the building… In general, our hallways and classrooms have a positive buzz, and we know there are smiles behind those masks!”

Things to improve upon or are at the top of the priority list to address

  • Working together to bring all students back five days a week safely

“All things considered, everything is going well.”

Feedback and concerns from parents

  • Questions about the procedures and specifics of operations
  • Clarifying questions about remote learning

“By and large, our families have been extremely supportive… As we start the third week of school, most of these questions have been answered, and we continue to be grateful to our families for their understanding and flexibility within this ever-evolving situation.”

Wendy Cobb: Founders Memorial School

Things that are going well

  • Students loosening up and routines of learning and relationship building settling in
  • Kids keeping their masks on and teachers using outdoor classrooms, in part for extra mask breaks
  • Staff teaching and modeling for kids all of the rules and expectations around staying safe and healthy: washing their hands, staying apart, taking their masks off only when they can outside
  • Arrival and drop-off procedure
  • Staff and families being helpful in making it work so smoothly

“The passion, dedication, time, and the effort that all staff have put into bringing our kids back safely, and in a positive way, has just been outstanding. And families have been amazing too… so a big ‘thank-you’ to families. It’s definitely going to take all of us being on the same page, and them talking to their kids, if we're going to be successful.”

Things to improve upon or are at the top of the priority list to address

  • Preparing for kids being back in the building five days a week

"I think what's been nice about having half our kids here for the first couple weeks of school is that we've been able to practice all those procedures that we have in place with a smaller population. So once we do have all of our kids back with us, our procedures are going to be pretty solid."

Feedback and concerns from parents

  • Requests for changing cohorts or changing from one of the three styles (fully in person, hybrid, or fully remote) to another

“There's a couple folks who have wanted to make a change from the hybrid model to the remote model in the last week or so, and that’s a challenge for us just because those numbers are a little higher. But I wouldn't call it a complaint… So, overall, it's been a really, really good start, especially given the circumstances and the complexity of everything that we're all facing right now.”


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