Berman discusses going remote, leaving Andover

Courtesy photo. Superintendent Sheldon Berman received the 2020 Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social Emotional Learning. The award is presented annually to celebrate lifetime achievement in the field of social-emotional learning, innovation and strong leadership. Berman is leaving the Andover Public Schools at the end of the year.

Superintendent Sheldon Berman is having a Zoom Thanksgiving with family and he asks that others consider the same.

"I hope people pay close attention to travel restrictions, restrictions about gathering, and that we have many more Zoom Thanksgivings," said Berman, whose family members live in various places around the country.

"We are still very vulnerable to the virus," he added. 

Berman's wife, son and dog moved to Oregon in October, where his wife took a job offer. He is joining them at the end of the year when he retires from Andover Public Schools. The School Committee is in the process of hiring an interim superintendent to take over in January.

Berman came out of retirement five and a half years ago to take the interim superintendent position for Andover Public Schools. He accepted the permanent position after his initial one-year contract expired.

He said he is proud of the work he's done improving reading scores across the district, improving the curriculum and making the budget process more transparent, he said.

"To make those changes in five years and additionally to address the pandemic in five years is quite a feat," he said.

As he prepares to leave Andover, Berman just received a lifetime achievement award for his work in social emotional learning. In October he won the 2020 Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social Emotional Learning.

"I'm very honored because this is something that has been a theme through my career as a superintendent and even before," said Berman, who has plans to become an education consultant.

He stressed that he hasn't achieved all of these accomplishments alone and thanked teachers, administrators, other staff and residents who helped build up the schools. 

"Andover is a wonderful community to live in and have your child educated in," he said. "It shows in organizations like ACE (Andover Coalition for Education), Andona and Rotary. These organizations have so much interest in education and fostering community."

The still-to-be-named interim superintendent will have the same supports as he or she continues to oversee the hybrid and remote education model, negotiates contracts with eight bargaining units and finalizes the 2022 budget, Berman said. Much of the work has been done and the person who is hired for the six-month term will have "a fairly smooth ride for the rest of the year," he said.

Currently, Andover High School is remote through Nov. 30. However, as the weather gets colder and people still continue to gather, Berman said the status of in-person or remote school could possibly change.

"The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has discouraged people preemptively and proactively going remote," he said. "As we get closer to Thanksgiving we will be making a decision (on transitioning to remote) and keeping an eye on the pandemic. The week after Thanksgiving is going to be our most vulnerable." 

When the district first made the decision to send high school students home, three people there had COVID-19 on Friday, Nov. 6. According to the district's website, nine people at the high school have tested positive as of Monday afternoon.

"The decision (to go remote) was multifaceted," he said. "It wasn't about transmission in the school, but it was about the number of close contacts. We had a significant number of faculty out."

The district couldn't staff the school appropriately, forcing it to go remote, he said. 

People who have tested positive for the virus have caught it outside of the school setting, Berman said. Then close contacts from school — people within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes — are identified and contacted by the school nurses who ask them to quarantine at home. 

"We've been very fortunate" about the number of cases, Berman said. "And that's in part from the cooperation of students and families."

He added, "The whole district has rallied. Teachers this year and last year are doing an amazing job learning the technology and reaching out to students."

However, during these last few months Berman has had trouble with the Andover Teacher's Association. Most recently the district and the association came to an impasse for developing a memorandum of understanding for teachers as they are asked to do various different tasks.

"I do hope that we can resolve the differences with the association," he said. "The schools are safe. In essence, there's much we agree on."

Now the interim superintendent will be part of the negotiations for the teachers' newest contract.

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