VIP Continues Because of You - 8/13/21

In most years, the opening week of school is one of the very best weeks of the year. It’s a time when students come back with new school clothes, parents are excited for their children, especially the ones who are starting school for the very first time. You see bright-eyed children, smiles, everyone is happy. It’s just one of the better times. No special holiday, just the beginning of school.

And that’s what I have seen as I have been visiting schools these first two weeks. But, it also has been an emotional roller coaster for me. I know, you’re saying it’s been an emotional roller coaster for you as well. We have seen lessons learned from last year, and we’re implementing all the ones we can. We’ve made the decision that students and staff will wear masks that will continue to keep our buildings, our facilities, our students safe. We have some who agree with that decision, we have some who don’t. We have some who believe it was difficult for parents not to be able to walk their children to their Pre-K class this first year. We have some who think we’ve done a good job, some who think we haven’t. At the end of the day, all we can do is our very best and trust and lean in on each other, which is what this message to you is about, and I’ll tell you why.

This has been the most difficult year for me in the 24 years I have been in public education. In the last few weeks, we have experienced the deaths of three students, two high school and one elementary. One is too many, two is heartbreaking, three makes you question. As I thought about these, I was very happy that they were not at the same school. Happy that, as far as I know, they were not from the same family, but disappointed that it is our professional team that has to deal with this. I’ve said it before, you never know what people bring to school, what they have in their backpacks or the other baggage that they have.

As you read this, I want you to look and think about the person who works with you every day, and those that you see. I just ask that you enjoy that relationship whether it’s with a co-worker or a student, or even a family member, and just recognize that nothing is promised. But we have been blessed to have one of the best jobs and best opportunities that anyone can have. To help me feel better, I visited some elementary schools and saw Pre-K kids that were happy to get ice cream, happy that they could get online to move from one place to another. I saw teachers who were happy that when fire drills happened, they could get all the students out and back in the appropriate amount of time. Life’s simple pleasures are the best!

And I know you’re thinking, what about COVID? Isn’t he going to talk about COVID? I’m asking you to trust us. Parents put trust in us when they send their children to school, employees put trust in us when they choose to put on their VIP pin and come to work each day, and students put trust in us that we are doing the right thing when it comes to their safety and well-being. I’ve received some calls and messages that demonstrate the challenges we face with trust. Know that we are not perfect, but we are following the science and the data, and that our processes around COVID will continue to evolve as we learn more about what works best for our students and staff. An example: Some of our schools began the year with all of their students eating lunch in the cafeteria last week. As some schools began seeing cases, they began working to modify their processes and identifying different meal locations for different classes or putting up desk shields on the tables in the cafeteria. Another example: With data in hand, we’ll start posting COVID cases by school on our website each Friday, beginning this week.

We’re also working through our notification process. Last year, we spent a great deal of time contact tracing. What I mean is, if a student or staff member was positive for COVID, we went to extraordinary means to determine who was a "close contact." We maintained seating charts, for example, so we knew who sat near the student. This year, that is different. New guidance from the DPH allows us to notify a classroom if a student is positive and ask the parents of the students in the classroom to monitor their child for COVID symptoms. So, no seating charts are required. Some say, this is an indication we don't care anymore. Not true. It is an indication of using what we know to keep healthy students in class and not at home. 

Another change from last year is how we determine when to go virtual because COVID numbers are high. Last year, we used the community spread number only. And when the number was too high, the entire district went virtual. This year, we are monitoring each school, grade level, and classroom. If a high number of COVID cases occur in a school, we look deeper. I know this is causing some concern as well, but my belief is this is another way we have learned from last year. That said, we are still in this together. There is a surge going on now that I believe will last for a few more weeks. How we respond as a community will determine how we come out of this.

I’m also asking that you understand that safety is important to me; it’s personal. My granddaughter started elementary school in person this school year and I want to know that she is safe when she goes to school each day. As an educator, I know how important it is for her to be in school in person. Technology is great and having those resources for virtual learning is even better, but it can’t make up for what students gain from in-person learning. So, for as long as it’s safe, we will do our best to keep schools open for in-person learning. If spread increases, we’ll make modifications. Until then, know that we have implemented numerous safety measures to keep kids safe each day, including:

  • Students and staff are required to wear masks throughout the day;
  • Encouraging vaccinations among those eligible;
  • Checking temperatures daily;
  • Frequent hand washing breaks;
  • District-installed ionization systems that purify the air and kill germs;
  • Water fountains are touchless;
  • Visitors allowed in buildings have been limited; and
  • Any approved volunteers must have proof of vaccination.

So, let’s lean in on one another, support one another, and make this year better. And when people tell us that they think they have issues with what we’re doing, listen with an open mind. Then, just recognize that we, and you, will do the very best we can to get to a solution that we can live with and will make for the best good of everyone.

My heart goes out to the families that are grieving, to their friends that have lost loved ones and compatriots. I think this continues to be another opportunity for us to recognize that every day is an opportunity for us to help students grow and learn and be ready to deal with this world that we have. Strength of character is important. And while a lot of people want to measure us by academic performance only, I tell you that the relationships you build with students and their parents means everything.

VIP continues because of you,

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