March 7, 2021 Edition

Message from the Superintendent

In our second full week back in our pre-k-12 hybrid learning mode, our schools experienced it uninterrupted by the wintry weather conditions we have been navigating for the past month.

We are finally experiencing now and looking forward to more sunshine in the forecast this week! After a long winter, spring is almost here.

Symbolically, we are also sensing and planning for the transition from a long winter (COVID-19 pandemic) to a spring awakening with new hope and opportunity. This week’s IMPACT is separate from the school newsletters so that we can highlight two of these potential opportunities: expansion of in-person learning in the future and our 2021 Summer Institute.

Considerations for Expanding In-Person Learning During the Final Quarter

As we come up to the one year mark of the COVID-19 crisis, some aspects of navigating these unprecedented challenges remain constant. However, there is now greater hope that we can plan for steady improvement in the conditions we continue to mitigate. In developing our Return to Learn Hybrid Addendum plan, we hoped that from this execution point, we could adjust upward or downward relative to safe and effective in-person learning based on the fluid nature of the crisis.

At the beginning of this second semester, we needed to revert to predominately distance learning due to the community surge and direct impact of the virus on our staff/human resource capacity. Now, as a result of significant progress in the vaccination process of staff and community, new changes in health guidance, and positive trends in school and community health data, we believe our focus must be on considerations for expanding opportunities for in-person learning to better support our students and families.

At the March 8th school board meeting, as we have every month for the past year, we will provide to the school board and community the latest updates on our Return to Learn plan as well as planning considerations for the future. While there is no pending vote or action item scheduled, we are engaging the board with the expectation of questions, feedback, and guidance regarding the considerations and recommendations being shared. The considerations that will be highlighted and presented include the following:

  • Expanding in-person learning opportunities for students currently accessing hybrid in-person from 2 to 4 days during the final quarter of this school year;

  • Supporting our students and families who continue to learn remotely through the remainder of the school year;

  • Striving to meet current social distancing guidance to the “greatest extent possible”, but developing additional or alternative mitigation strategies in school or transportation situations where meeting that guideline is not possible due to available space;

  • Sustaining and reinforcing the other key mitigation strategies (masks, handwashing, contact tracing, cleaning protocols, etc.) that have enabled us to successfully implement pre-k-12 hybrid in-person learning since October 12th, and 4 days each week for our prioritized learners (low incidence SPED, EL, etc.) since the end of August;

  • Continuing to work with local, regional, and state health officials regarding the process of increasing in-person learning including seeking input on decision-making should guidance again change or community health data and/or school cases increase or remain at a high level; and

  • Adjusting our Return to Learn plan accordingly and updating/adding to the FAQ’s.

Needing more time to plan for additional mitigation measures and work through numerous logistical challenges, I will be recommending that the target date for this potential expansion from 2 to 4 days start on April 12th. These additional mitigation safety supports include the completion of bipolar ionization systems in all facilities, increased use of outdoor and flexible spaces as the weather becomes warmer, and added plexiglass barriers in classrooms.

In advance of these discussions, we realize that many new questions and concerns will emerge. We will work to address those in the updated FAQs as well as working with our school principals to help address individual student, staff, and family needs. Following the board meeting, we will share any decisions or further planning considerations as we move forward.

2021 Summer Institute

  • We are excited to announce the 2021 summer school opportunities for our students and families. This year’s experiences include skill remediation in literacy and numeracy, credit recovery, infused social and emotional support, enrichment opportunities, special education services, and ESOL services for Level I and II students. Please see our SCPS Summer Institute program for more information.

  • The focus of this expanded summer learning program will be further highlighted on Monday, March 8th at the school board meeting.

The School Board meeting can be viewed online at Meetings are live-streamed. Recordings of each meeting may be accessed at the same link. Additionally, meetings may be viewed on cable channels: Comcast Channel 17, Cox Channel 18, and Verizon Channel 36.

Moving Forward

When we began this remarkable and uncertain journey as a school division, I sought to anchor our approach with certain overarching goals and aspirational outcomes in alignment with our strategic plan. These goals and outcomes have helped to provide a true north compass in navigating the extreme complexity of this crisis:

  • Staying focused on the safety, learning, and overall well-being of ALL students and staff;

  • Keeping our schools and community “together” and striving to be even closer, more tightly connected, and more collaborative through and beyond the crisis; and

  • Finding and uncovering new, innovative, and relevant ways to become better as a service organization to, in some ways, positively transform how we meet our students needs in the future.

In terms of our success in reaching these goals, they remain a focus moving forward but I do believe that given the persistent and unique challenges we have faced, we are positioned well as we prepare to move to the next phase of this crisis.

As with every process step or decision during this past year, I realize that the most recent considerations for increasing in-person learning may present additional challenges for some. I remain so thankful for the many in our community who have shared thoughtful and constructive feedback all throughout this period of time. Please know that at this time, the “why” of moving forward with these considerations is about the sense of urgency we have as educators in helping our students and families. Listening, caring for, and responding to the many voices experiencing difficulty will always be of the highest priority for those of us called to lead during this time.

Have a safe and productive week!

Dr. S. Scott Baker