Welcome back to the 2020 – 2021 school year! We have just finished our first week of 100% distance learning for our students and, while nothing is perfect, we can proudly say that we are off to a good start. This is a good time to take stock in our values and beliefs and stay true to our SOCSD Reopening Plan. Our community has had significant involvement in this plan that was designed to bring our students and staff safely back-to-school, in-person, and now it is time to put this plan Into action.
In order for us to continue to be successful at our school reopening, we need to be mindful that the health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority. By keeping each other safe, both physically and emotionally, we will establish the foundation for all future success. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves when we encounter the inevitable glitches that are associated with trying something new. And, make no mistake, this is new for all of us. We will make mistakes, we will have setbacks, we will learn from our mistakes, and we will all be better off for having tried to do things differently. Here are some of the lessons that I have learned this week from our 100% distance learning experience:
- Academic: Our daily classroom routine at SOCSD is built upon the foundation of consistent scheduling for assignments and classroom work. Classroom lessons and resources are “pushed out” digitally and physically from our Office of Curriculum and Instruction to our classroom teachers. Another feature of our learning environment is having live, daily instruction for all students, whether participating in-person or virtually. It is important that students do not spend too much of their day staring at a computer screen and, as such, students’ and teachers’ schedules are synchronized.
- Staffing: The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for all of us to be outside of our homes and for some of our more medically fragile staff, coming to work is not possible. Therefore, as a school district, we have faced some initial challenges concerning staffing. However, we have managed to cover all of our classes with qualified staff and are ready to start in-person, hybrid instruction on September 14. All of our instructional staff have received training and professional development to ensure best practices and consistency in delivering the hybrid model of instruction.
- Communications and Family Engagement: We were able to test our computer and Internet systems this past week and we have a “green light” to move forward with hybrid instruction. Our Internet bandwidth capacity was more than adequate to cover the 100% distance learning and we are confident that this will be the case as we shift to the hybrid in-person model. Many of our families were able to take advantage of the distribution of supplies and computer equipment that took place at each of our four schools.
- Student and Staff Welfare: Our classroom activities will stress the social emotional aspects of student development (beyond the mastery of academic content) in the first few weeks of school. Students must first feel safe and secure before they can be confident with scholarship. As such, we will use a trauma-based approach to instruction with an emphasis on social-emotional learning in the first few weeks of school. It was very encouraging to see such strong student attendance during the initial remote learning phase and we are confident that this trend will continue as we transition to in-person hybrid learning.
- Resource Management: Our Office of Management and Finance has done and excellent job of procuring and deploying personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies for all staff and students. We have established health and safety protocols at each of our school locations. If you have not done so already, please watch our instructional videos that provide information as to how we will conduct our daily operations at each school keeping safety in mind (PPE use, social distancing, personal hygiene, and temperature checks).
The governor of the state of New York has frequently mentioned that our reopening efforts are driven by data. The value in data is that it removes much of the emotional aspects of making decisions that could possibly lead to bad outcomes. However, we also know that our emotions and our instincts play a huge role in how we make sense of our daily lives. Therefore, I am asking each of you to maintain an appropriate balance between understanding the scientific data and the significance of tempering this data with an acknowledgement of our own basic human instincts and emotions (our best decisions are often a function of both).
In the words of heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, “don’t count the days, make the days count.” On Monday, September 14, half of our students will be returning to our campuses for the first time in many months. Let’s focus on making THAT day count as a foundation for all other days that follow. Bearing that in mind, I would like to wish each of you a great school year, but most importantly have a healthy and happy first day back-to-school.