August 2, 2020

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A Message from the Superintendent

Dear Students, Staff, and Families,

With the first day of distance learning, August 10, just eight days away, principals and their teams are hard at work finalizing their master schedules and classroom assignments. Normally, teacher and student assignments are tentatively set before schools close for the summer. Teachers are able to plan knowing what their assignments are for the following school year. This year, however, is not normal, and consequently assignments are being modified to accommodate the need or desire of students and staff to remain in a distance learning environment for their personal or family's wellbeing. Families were asked to let their principals know by July 20 if they prefer a virtual (full distance) program for at least the first semester. Principals and their teams called every family to confirm their choice and ensure they are clear on the implications of their decision. About 4,600 chose virtual (full distance), with about half the students in TK-5 and the other half in 6-12. Students who did not choose a virtual (full distance) program default to the hybrid program, and will attend school in-person, twice-a-week, whenever schools finally reopen for the physical return of students to campuses. Until that times comes, however, all students will learn remotely.

The question I've been asked most frequently this week is why do we have parallel programs, since all students will begin the school year distance learning. The answer is to prevent a disruption when the time comes that school campuses reopen for the physical return of students. I recognize that future knowledge will exceed and replace present understanding. But at this point in time, we cannot, with any reasonable certainty, predict what the near or distant future holds relative to when school may reopen for the physical return of students. We have to be prepared to seamlessly transition when that time comes with the least amount of disruption possible.

At the point in time when we are off the State's "Watch List" and eligible to reopen based on local public health conditions, students in the hybrid program will begin attending school with their Cohort Group (based on a student's last name) two-days a week, with the same teacher(s) as when they started on August 10, uninterrupted. Students who have chosen virtual (full distance) will not attend school in-person when we reopen our campuses, but they too will continue uninterrupted in the their distance learning program with the same teacher(s) as when they started on August 10.

There are many students and staff who are unable to attend school in-person, even with safety measures in place, either because of an underlying health condition of their own or of family members, or simply to protect themselves and their families while the threat of COVID-19 poses a significant risk. There are no easy answers. No simple solutions. But building as much stability as possible into an incredibly unstable situation is the primary reason we have chosen to determine the two parallel paths at this point in time, instead of later in the school year. Conditions may change dramatically at any time, as they did last March when schools abruptly closed.

Among the other most frequently asked questions I received this past week is how can families support home learning. Below are details of this week's virtual workshop on August 5 from 4 pm to 5 pm in a Zoom webinar format. It's an interactive webinar and students and their parents are encouraged to attend together. Questions relevant to the topics covered can be asked in the chat box during the presentation. For more details, our Family Engagement Coordinator Alejandro Cisneros may be reached via email here or by calling 951-396-0126. On September 2, the topic is Building Resiliency Within Yourself and Your Child. Details on the parent workshop series can be found on the Family Engagement Office web site.

Families have also asked when and how their students will receive books and other learning materials. Schools are communicating their distribution plans this week. Some schools have already announced their plans. Our schools communicate using a variety of different platforms. Please visit your school's web site or contact your principal to learn how to stay informed. Find a list of school phone numbers and web sites here. Many elementary school principals and teachers use the free mobile app and laptop app Class DOJO to keep students and their families current with what's happening in the classroom and to announce events in the school and community. If your school uses ClassDOJO, download the Class DOJO App here. Also, please listen carefully to phone messages sent through our Blackboard Parent Notification System. Many principals use the voicemail system to communicate important messages. Please check your Aeries Parent Portal to ensure your phone number, email address, and other contact information is correct. Also, please download the AUSD mobile app to receive all notifications from the district and from schools.

Parents are also asking how to minimize screen time. We designed our daily distance learning schedules with age-appropriate screen time in mind. For our youngest of learners, on Monday through Thursday, whole group instruction on the computer (synchronous learning) is chunked into two 30-minute blocks and one 60-minute block between 9 am and 12:30 pm, with an office hour from 12:30 to 1:30 for teachers to personalize instruction and support students and their parents. The remainder of the school day and on Fridays, students do "homework" by completing their projects and assignments. The role independent practice, personalized instruction, and parent and family engagement play increases in the new normal of distance learning during this public health emergency. For older students, the amount of synchronous instructional time increases proportionally. Find details about the daily schedule for each school level at our FAQ here.

Other parents have asked what they should do if their child may not be able to always be available during the on-line hours due to childcare or other reasons and will need to work more independently, with parent and teacher support. In those cases, we are asking families to discuss their unique situation with their principal to determine the most effective course of action. It will be specific to each student's needs.

The last question I've frequently received is about laptop computers and technology support. Principals sent all of their families a Technology Needs Assessment survey on July 13. If you did not receive it or submit it yet, please do so as soon as possible if your student or students need a laptop or connectivity support. For more details on Technology Support, please visit the FAQ and choose Just Technology, or call the Help Desk: (951) 509-5180 or email Chromebook Support.

Find answers to all of your questions organized by topic by visiting our FAQ regularly. Below are instructions on how to access the questions and answers in your language of choice.

In closing, please remember that although principals and essential workforce staff will be present on school campuses, schools will remain closed to the public, except by appointment, as well as for a scheduled drive-through event to pick up textbooks, laptops, and other learning materials. Face covering is required. The District office protocol is the same: by appointment only. Please call or e-mail your school site or District staff with any questions. If an on-site visit is required, it will be scheduled as an appointment to ensure safe social distancing. Face covering is required under all circumstances. Temperatures will be taken. Persons with a temperature above 100.4 will be asked to reschedule their appointment.

Speaking on behalf of the Board of Education and our entire team of educators and support staff, please know that we are following best practices for these unprecedented and difficult times. Like every school district, we are expected to strictly adhere to the State's reopening plan guidelines and prepare for the physical return of students to school campuses as soon as Riverside County is off the State's "Watch List" and the local conditions in each of our school communities is deemed safe enough to reopen by our local public health official.

As I emphasized in my message last week, the uncertainty revolving around returning students to school campuses has many families and employees scrambling and struggling to make arrangements, not to mention navigating mostly remote learning environments and communication systems, for the first time for some people. The challenges that lie ahead this school year add more stress to an already stressful situation. But this is an emergency, and it's important to recognize that there is no choice that we or any district has made and will make regarding our reopening plans that will satisfy every student's, parent's, or staff member's unique needs. I have heard from many families who are unhappy that the Governor has effectively closed schools again. They believe schools should be reopened now, even with a minimum of safety measures in place. Others, including the 4,600 students who have chosen virtual (full distance) for at least the first semester, feel differently. Confounding this issue is the contentious debate on what constitutes what is factual and what is not related to the coronavirus. We have chosen to stick closely to evidence-based practices that reflect widely shared consensus among experts.

Many of our employees face the same challenges that many of our students and their families face. Many of our employees are also parents of children in Alvord or in surrounding districts. Some of them also may be unable to work in-person when the time comes that schools ease back into in-person instruction. Accommodating all of the unique needs of our students and the entire Alvord school community to the greatest degree possible anchors the decisions the Board of Education have made relative to our reopening plan. We appreciate your support and your recognition of this challenge as we begin the 2020-21 school year with distance learning, while we continue to monitor local health conditions and prepare for next steps when Riverside County is no longer on the "Watch List."

In partnership.


Allan Mucerino

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