A message from the
Massachusetts Department of
Elementary and Secondary Education

September 2020

September 2020 Contents: 

  1. Racial Consciousness Institutes 
  2. Elementary Principal PD and Networking
  3. Family Portal
  4. Safe and Supportive Schools Competitive Grant
  5. Strengthening Social and Emotional Skills during COVID-19
  6. Grant Opportunity - Integrating Social and Emotional Learning into Academic Learning
  7. Youth Mental Health First Aid Training Opportunities
  8. For Your Information
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) is continuing to develop and share this newsletter during the COVID-19 pandemic and beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. As schools, districts, teachers, students, and families begin the school year, we hope that these resources are helpful and welcome any feedback. 

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please email the Office of Student and Family Support at
Topic 2 Heading Heart logo  Racial Consciousness Institutes  
The Department is excited to announce its partnership with The Equity Imperative for virtual professional development opportunities throughout the 2020-2021 school year!

Join us in a learning series to support the use of tools and continuation of your racial equity journey. This series will be offered through five learning pathways (topic areas). Each learning pathway will have three sessions aligned with Equity Imperative’s  theory of action to Illuminate, Indicate and Navigate. 

The first learning pathway will be offered in October:
Pathway #1: Anti-Racism Terms and Perspectives. This three session virtual professional development offering will support participants in better understanding the history of schools and the history of anti-racism, learning common terms and perspectives. The dates for this pathway are: October 1, 8, and 15. All sessions are from 8AM to 10AM.
Registration and more information can be accessed via this online registration form. If you have any questions, please contact the Office of Student and Family Support at  
Topic 2 Heading Heart logo  Elementary Principal PD and Networking
The Department's Early Learning Team and the Massachusetts School Administrators' Association (MSAA) will be hosting a series of networking and professional development opportunities for elementary principals (Preschool-3rd grade) during the 2020-2021 school year. The theme for this year’s series will be Creating a Caring Community: Caring for Ourselves and Our Staff Using a Trauma-Informed Lens. The 2020-21 series will be virtual and will commence with a statewide kick-off event in October. The statewide kick-off event will be followed by a webinar, regional networking sessions in December, February and May, two book discussion groups (January and March) and a statewide convening in April.  
More information and registration will be emailed once confirmed to principals and announced in a future Commissioner's Update. Please contact a member of the Early Learning team ( with any questions.
Topic 3 Heading Heart logo  Family Portal
The Department has launched a new Family Portal. This page includes information for families related to the following, and will be updated over time:
  • Learning and Testing
  • Special Education
  • Laws and Guidance
  • Adult Education
  • College and Career 
  • Early Learning
  • English Learners
  • Charter & Virtual Schools/Education Collaboratives
  • Health and Safety
A Back to School page and an FAQ are also available for families regarding returning to school. 
Questions from families related to COVID-19 and schools can be emailed to Other questions related to family engagement or the Department (DESE) can be directed to the Office of Student and Family Support via  or 781-338-3010. Families can also contact the Problem Resolution System (PRS) Office with questions and concerns about schools meeting legal requirements via  or 781-338-3700.
Topic 3 Heading Heart logo  Safe and Supportive Schools Competitive Grant
The fiscal year 2020-2021 (FY20) Safe and Supportive Schools Competitive Grant Program (Fund Code 335), funded through state line item 7061-9612, is now accepting proposals. The grant’s primary goals are to support districts’ efforts to create safe and supportive school environments and to coordinate student support initiatives informed by districts’ use of the Safe and Supportive Schools Framework and Self-Reflection Tool.
There are two grant options: action planning (for schools to self-reflect and create action plans), and implementation and mentorship/support (for schools implementing action plans and mentoring others to do so, too).
Applications are due Thursday, October 15. The Department has upcoming information and Q&A sessions on October 7 and October 9, to share information and address questions about this grant and its application process. Register online for the optional sessions.
Topic 3 Heading Heart logo  Strengthening Social and Emotional Skills during COVID-19

Webinar - Addressing Problems of Practice
Wednesday, October 22, 2020 - 2:00PM-3:30PM

Educators across the Commonwealth are putting in place a range of programs and practices to promote students’ social and emotional skills to help alleviate stress, anxiety, and isolation in the COVID-19 context. This interactive workshop is designed to support these efforts by helping educators improve and address challenges related to SEL practices. Participants will select and explore specific problems of practice through brief expert presentations, facilitated peer-learning discussions, and hands-on explorations of key resources.

Save the date and help us identify the problems of practice most relevant to you by filling out this survey by October 1st. A registration link will be posted later this month (including to the Department’s SEL page news items) and will be sent out to all who fill out the survey.

Topic 3 Heading Heart logo  Grant Opportunity - Integrating Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into Academic Learning

The Department anticipates soon posting to the Grants Funding Opportunities page a new funding opportunity to support schools and districts to build upon efforts to implement and sustain safe and supportive learning environments by:

  • Engaging in explicit teaching and learning of social and emotional (SE) skills/competencies that are integrated and applied throughout all subject areas using service-learning (SL); and/or
  • Measuring students’ SE skills and competencies and effectively use data to identify areas of need and support students to develop specific skills/competencies within a tiered system of support.

Applications are due Tuesday, November 10, 2020.  Please register online for one of the scheduled grant information sessions (October 20th 12-1:30pm or October 21st 9:30-11am) to learn more about this opportunity.  All who register will also be notified when the RFP is posted.

Topic 3 Heading Heart logo  Youth Mental Health First Aid Training Opportunities

The Department is pleased to offer  Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training sessions this year.

The YMHFA training helps teachers and other school staff to recognize, support, and refer to professional mental health services, if needed, students who may be experiencing mental health or substance use challenges and/or may be in crisis. This training is particularly important to offer at this time as we are all navigating the challenges related to COVID-19 and heightened national discourse related to our country’s long history of institutional racism. Regardless of the model in which students are engaged in school this year (fully in person, hybrid, or fully remote), it is likely that teachers and other school staff will see increased numbers of students who report and demonstrate changes in mood as well as more intense feelings of anxiety and stress. Though school mental health professionals may find this training to be helpful, the intended audience is individuals without mental health training. It is designed to help any adults in your school community who work or interact with young people.

Session dates/times will be posted to the online registration page.  You can sign up on the form to be alerted to dates once confirmed. 

Topic 3 Heading Heart logo  For Your Information
National Farm to School Network:
You're invited! FarmtoSchool is hosting a virtual conversation about shifting power & racial justice in the farm to school movement and wider food system. Join to learn, share & take action in your community. Oct. 14, 1-3pm ET. Register online.

Boston College Continuing Education:
The Boston College Center for Optimized Student Support is offering four continuing education courses for teachers, school counselors, adjustment counselors, and others aimed at supporting students as they return to school this fall, with an emphasis on the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on their well-being. The courses are free of charge and offer Massachusetts-based participants up to 5 Professional Development Points. These courses will run September 28 - October 17, with registration closing on September 25th. More information and registration details can be found here.
Copyright © 2020 Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, All rights reserved.

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