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Messages from the Superintendent

Posted: February 5, 2021

The Learning, Planning Continues

In his weekly message to employees, Supt. Elder writes about reactions and revisions to the reentry plan.

Sage, a fourth-grader at San Antonito STEM Magnet Elementary, created this fitting yearbook cover to capture remote learning.

Sage, a fourth-grader at San Antonito STEM Magnet Elementary, created this fitting yearbook cover to capture remote learning.

Were you among the more than 4,000 people who tuned in for Wednesday's marathon board meeting to discuss the possibility of bringing some students onto campus? If you were, or if you heard about it, you know how worried, perplexed, and divided our community is about possibly adding some in-person instruction to remote learning.

I completely understand.

Ever since the governor announced that schools could open on Feb. 8, we have been inundated with emails, phone calls, and social media posts expressing concern, fear, and frustration. We have heard from teachers and school staff who are sincerely worried about their own safety and health, as well as the health of loved ones who they live with or care for. We have heard from parents who are overwhelmed trying to balance at-home learning with work and family life. We have heard from students who miss their friends, miss their activities, and are tired of being home. We have also heard from students who dread learning in a bubble at school, where they can't get within six feet of their friends or teachers and have to wear masks at all times. And we have heard from students who are worried about how their being in school might impact the health of their elderly loved ones.

We have received dozens of articles, posts, and studies that show that schools are safe havens during the pandemic. We have received just as many that show schools are unsafe for return.

Every person we have heard from has a point, and we appreciate their input. We truly do. We are making hard decisions that impact children, livelihoods, health, safety, lives. Whatever we decide inevitably will please some and disappoint others.

In the end, we want students back in school. I have said that repeatedly ever since we first began grappling with this virus. That's where they belong. That's where they learn best. That's the best place for us to nurture and watch over them.  

But we also need to keep our students, our staff, their families, safe and healthy.

As we struggle with how we might be able to restore some in-person instruction, please don't lose sight of the fact that our students are learning. Our teachers are teaching. Our school staff is supporting our students. Our district staff is supporting our schools. Let me be clear, teaching and learning have continued throughout this process. It never stopped. It may look different, though at this point remote learning has become more of the norm. Students have grown accustomed to synchronous and asynchronous learning (they even know what that means!) Teachers are tapping into their creativity. Routines have been established, attendance is getting better, grades are improving.

By no means is this an ideal situation, but it has its upsides. As I have noted, communication between school and family is better. We have learned more patience. We have become more understanding and compassionate as we all struggle through unforeseen challenges. And we are more focused on the fundamentals.

We will continue to revise the APS reentry plan at the board's direction. We are looking at how to bring back small groups of students for targeted intervention guided by teachers who are ready to return to the classroom. As more teachers get vaccinated and the spread of the virus subsides, we can bring back even more students. Remember, in the hybrid model, we will have at most half of our students on campus at any given time. 

The board also asked that we let the state know that we strongly oppose their decision to tie hybrid learning to competitive sports. APS athletes shouldn't be penalized while we work on our plan.   

As we continue to revise our reentry plan, we appreciate your ideas, suggestions, and support. We all have the same goal: to provide our students the best education. We are all in this together. Together, we will get through this difficult time.