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What an extraordinary and unprecedented time we have entered. Director of Operations and Human Resources, Cathy Murphy, has joined me for three sessions a week with Cumberland County Superintendent Association group for 1-hour zoom sessions to make unified decisions around the suspension of face-to-face instruction.

April 2, 2020
Executive Director’s Report
Owen J. Logue

What an extraordinary and unprecedented time we have entered. Recently, Mike Pulsifer made the comment to me that the COVID-19 would consume my work for quite some time. Indeed he was correct. Cathy Murphy has joined me for three sessions a week with Cumberland County Superintendent Association group for 1-hour zoom sessions to make unified decisions around the suspension of face-to-face instruction. Initially, we made a decision on March 15, 2020 to delay opening schools for 2-weeks, until March 30, 2020. On March 15, 2020 it was agreed to extend the delay until April 27, 2020.

It has been quite extraordinary to see the response of our Leadership Team in making major decisions for the benefit of all staff members including hourly staff. These sound decisions have made for a smooth transition for our entire statewide staff to ensure that all our student's educational and supplemental needs are met each day. We all miss our students and colleagues during this challenging time.

On March 16th, we received confirmation that we received our full funding request of $499,200 for the next two years to support out Brewer K-8 regional program. We are most fortunate as many of this year's supplemental requests were denied. This is indicative of the broad support amongst our Commissioner and legislatures.

We also received news from Senator King's office that MECDHH/GBSD's HRSA grant proposal for $235,000 for next four years has been renewed. We believe we are the only school for the Deaf selected for this competitive grant. Congratulations to Karen Hopkins and the staff who assisted her in the rewrite of this arduous grant process.

At the next board meeting, I will be seeking approval for a new housing concept based on the host family model versus the leasing of a residential facility such as Spurwink and the Morrison Center that we have utilized in the past. We have assurances from the Attorney General's office that this concept is within the language as written in Chapter 304.

We have recently offered the position of ECFS coordinator to Cassidy Marshall from South Carolina who will be joining us this coming fall.

We are excited to unveil our first annual report, since my arrival, to be released at the May board.

The upcoming board meeting will represent the first time that we have hosted an entirely virtual board meeting which is only permissible at this time due to a temporary decree from Governor Mills.

Mainstream and Deaf Education Programs
Rebecca Falbo, Director

Portland K-12 Program

I am so proud to say that our teachers and educational technicians have rolled up their sleeves and prepared students for building closures long before school buildings were closed.

  • K-5 teachers prepared packets and are reaching their students via Google Classroom and Google Hangout. They are also work with the K-5 regular education teachers to support academics.
  • 6-12 teachers are doing on-line learning.  Teachers have sent out a schedule to each student.  Some of the class sessions are 1:1 but most are with a group.
  • Speech pathologists and Occupational Therapists are also working with their students.
  • There is so much creativity!  I have to remind my staff to practice self-care.
  • Our school social worker for MECDHH/GBSD Portland K-12 program sent home information with elementary school families in the first week that school closed with a very visual social story from the website the "Autism Educator" with a story about staying home when school is closed because of the virus and also with a long list of free and fun activities to do at home.
  • School social worker Shana Kelley-Cohen emailed all staff to make sure they were aware that she will continue to be a resource for staff if they have a concern for any student accessing MECDHH state-wide.
  • Last Friday, Shana emailed all families K-12 with information about online ASL classes and KLM groups offered by PSO program, food resources offered by local sending districts, and video about Covid-19 and spreading infection created by preschool.
  • Shana has also reached out individually to families and our older students directly by phone or text message to check on them and to see how they are doing and provide support if they need resources or additional social/emotional support or parent strategies for managing challenging behaviors during this time.
  • Shana and MSW intern from Gallaudet University Denisse Barria continue to work to provide direct individual services to student if it is identified on their IEPs and if the student or family feels that they need more support through this difficult time. Denisse has also participated in several KLM groups this week, connecting with students around the state to provide additional social and emotional support.
  • We are connected with all but two of our students because of internet access, so I have been texting free resources that they can use on their cell phones.
  • One parent is refusing specially designed instruction and says that the regular education teacher’s expectations are enough for the child to deal with.  We are trying to be mindful of parents and the pressure this has put on them.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy keeping in touch with my staff, running IEP meetings (virtually), and participating in other virtual meetings with our State education leaders. Keeping up with changes in policy and practice is a regular exercise.

Statewide Education and Family Services
Karen Hopkins, Director

Our world as we know it has changed, both personally and professionally. The spirit of togetherness and collaboration has never been stronger in our Statewide Education and Family Services Team.  The energy and passion around supporting families and children has been fueling through the state.  I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished in such a short time and proud of this team that has been working so hard!

We do have some other news to share! The National Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Meeting took place in the beginning of March before the travel suspensions took place due to COVID-19. The conference was well represented by our staff, other professionals and families from Maine. Karen Hopkins, Katie Duncan, and Donna Casavant represented MECDHH/GBSD. MECDHH/GBSD presented 9 presentations and one poster presentation. Each presentation offered information on one aspect of our programming in Maine related to our HRSA Grant work or the work of our early childhood programs. Sessions were full with people following Maine’s work. It is amazing to see the positive energy around our programming and services to children and families.

We are excited to announce we recently received notification of award of the Federal HRSA grant again!  We received a total of $940,000-$235,000 each year for the next four years. This grant supports family engagement, professional development, parent to parent support, Deaf and hard of hearing infusion into programming, and support to Maine’s newborn hearing screening process. We are thrilled to be able to continue the work we have been doing!

Early Childhood and Family Services

  • Donna Casavant has officially transitioned fully to her role as the coordinator just in time to accompany Karen and Katie to the EHDI conference in Kansas City, MO. It was a great conference with wonderful plenary and breakout sessions, including several presented by Katie and Karen.
  • Donna, Katie, and Karen returned to Maine just in time for our full day SES meeting on Friday, March 13.  We were supposed to meet on island as a department and then to enjoy a school wide presentation on self-care, but COVID19 arrived just in time to change those plans.  Instead we met in Falmouth and Brewer, and began our initial practice with social distancing.  As a group, we discussed the request for service process and enjoyed a short presentation by Kim Matthews and Shannon Locke on how they do their SDI. Donna (I) also prepared a similar presentation on consultation for children ages 3-21 but we had so many things to share that we ran out of time. Amy Spencer presented the latest draft of the communication and language webs that will be used in early visits with families. This resource is in the final stages of drafting.
  • Our SES meeting ended just in time for MECDHH/GBSD to close temporarily in an attempt to “flatten the curve” for the COVID 19 virus spread. We prepared our offices for a deep cleaning and closure,  we shifted to work at home.
  • ECFS consultants shift to home work just in time to develop a new set of skills in online support.
  • We developed and continue to fill a resource folder on Google Drive for providers and families with information from professional development, to working online, to communicating with children, to developing ASL skills, just to name a few.
  • Our consultants started reaching out to families immediately and are already conducting services from home using Zoom, Google, FaceTime, YouTube, and any number of other available resources.
  • Our ASL group is developing videos to share with families.
  • Consultants have been continuing with Early Intervention meetings, IFSP meetings, and IEP meetings, all using Zoom.
  • Kevin and Donna have been working on formalizing the transition plans for our four and five year olds heading off to Kindergarten in the fall.
  • Consultants have been working with our database, Infinite Campus to update caseload information to provide an accurate count of the students we serve.

Public School Outreach

The PSO Consultants have contacted the parents, case managers, school districts and any essential personnel that provide services for the PSO students. We have received a lot positive feedback as to how MECDHH and PSO are well prepared to provide supports in this unusual circumstance.

The PSO Department is continuing to serve students in several ways. During the past two weeks the team has been committed to:

  • Consulting to school districts on how to provide access for Deaf/Hard of Hearing students via virtual learning platforms.
  • Consulting to students/parents on how to increase learning opportunities/access at home
  • Providing Specially Designed Instruction via video platforms
  • Providing Speech Language tele-therapy
  • Providing ASL classes via video platforms
  • Providing Parent Counseling and Training for ASL  via video platforms
  • Providing resources and educational materials available in ASL, Cued Speech and Spoken Language via social medias, e-mails and our website
  • Our Educational Audiologist has been on call to support Hearing Assistive Technologies/Virtual Learning access with school districts, students, families and consultants.
  • Our Kids Like Me program has gone VIRTUAL- elementary, middle and high schools sessions were provided!
  • Attending IEP/504 meetings via virtual platform
  • Providing 1:1 SAT/ACT Tutoring

The PSO team has been working together via Google Drive to develop resources that are available to support each other in this time of transition—this file has been shared among many other non-MECDHH Teacher of the Deaf in the state and around the USA. The other day, a non-MECDHH/GBSD Teacher of the Deaf commented that she couldn’t believe how professionally and quickly our staff work.

This is also the season of Pre-school to Kindergarten transition—ECFS, Mackworth Preschool and PSO have been collaborating closely and Kindergarten transition meetings will still be happening virtually!

Mackworth Island Preschool

Preschool has moved to virtual sessions with children in light of the school closure.  The teachers and therapists have really come up with some creative ways to stay connected and engaged with children and families.  They are doing a Music unit this week and have used Flip Grid to pose questions to the children in video format both in spoken language and ASL, the children can then respond to the question with their own video answer!  Very cool!

We are holding morning meeting sessions in each “classroom” as well as 1:1 sessions with classroom teachers, therapists, and eventually some special sessions with our Ed Techs! The teachers are also recording storybook readings in both languages and we are sending that home to families each week, too.  Some families have chosen to not participate virtually, so for them we are developing some packets of activities and resources to send home to them.

Our enrollment is now at 28, with 20 Deaf and Hard of Hearing friends and 8 hearing peers. We miss seeing them on island every day, but are really impressed with how quickly they have taken to the online format of instruction.

We are busy getting ready for all the Kindergarten transition meetings that are starting up as early as April 10 and very grateful for google drive and zoom!

Operations and Human Resources
Cathy Murphy, Director

Business and Human Resources

The mansion staff, which includes Suzy, Owen, myself and three accounting staff will be staggering our days in the mansion beginning Monday March 30th. In the meantime, our offices are very spread out so we have been able to practice social distancing. We have acquired hardware and software which will enable all of our staff to work from home. Although the Governor has decreed that all non-essential personnel work from home, accounting staff and administrative staff are considered essential personnel and can report to the island.

Facilities

Our maintenance staff will also begin staggering their days on the island beginning March 30th. While I would consider maintenance essential personnel, there is not a need to have all four staff on the island in order to maintain safety and school readiness. We will have either two or three maintenance crew on the island per day and we are providing relevant professional development for them while working from home.

All Teachers and Ed Techs have been working from home since schools closed two weeks ago which gives our cleaning contractor an opportunity to do some deep cleaning. They are scrubbing all surfaces and touchpoints in offices and then disinfecting. Our pre-school staff did an excellent job cleaning out the classrooms on the last days they were able to come on to the premises. The classrooms will undergo the same cleaning as offices but we will also remove furniture and wash carpets while we have the opportunity.  Then they will move on to hallways.  Bathrooms have already been deep cleaned.

The mansion project to fix the water damage I reported on last month is progressing. Blowers were in the mansion for well over a week drying floors, walls, and ceilings. Asbestos tile and sheetrock on the second floor was then removed by an abatement company.  We will soon begin the re-construction phase.

The Island Trail has picked up in popularity since school has been out and families are looking for something to do with their children.   While some of the warmer days have created a traffic hazard at the gate and gatehouse, for the most part everyone has been well behaved. As I write this I have learned that the Governor has closed Mackworth Island State Park to the public.

Technology

It may be an understatement to say that Rich Foisy our technology guru has been the “Most Wanted” person at MECDHH/GBSD these last few weeks. Rich has been tirelessly supporting our staff while we navigate our way through the distance learning process. From enabling Virtual Private Networks to showing people how to use hotspots, to getting devices for our students, to issuing and loading up laptops with appropriate software, to answering thousands and thousands of questions. We owe him a debt of gratitude (or maybe just some quiet time off).