|Friday, May 22, 2020|
|Dear Community,Thank you all for working through these incredibly stressful times with such grace, compassion, and care for each other. Our lives have been profoundly changed and I am inspired by the acts of kindness I have seen throughout our community. Below you will find information about how we will approach the work of reopening our schools, the teams that are being assembled, information about some possible scenarios, and the financial challenges complicating the work.|
Grounded in Science, Safety, Staff Support, and Student Learning (the 4S’s).
We are approaching the possibility of opening our schools next year for online and in-person education with great care and deliberation. The first day of school is set for August 10, 2020, on which we anticipate resuming distance learning with plans to begin in-person services and instruction for some students as soon as it is safe to do so. Our primary concern is the safety of our students and staff. We will be following our local public health guidance about when it is safe to return to school campuses. We are also aware that in-person supports for our students are vitally important to foster relationships and address students’ unique learning needs. Our decisions about how to begin our blended instruction model will be guided by four factors:
Science: In this rapidly changing landscape, science will be our guide. We will look to the most up-to-date information and use it as our foundation.Safety: The safety of our students, staff, and community is our next guide. We will not go back until we have been able establish the conditions in which we are and feel safe.Staff Support: Increased support for our staff to learn new approaches to supporting themselves and students through these challenges will be critical. Student Learning: The first three guides will set the conditions for student learning. We will need to be nimble and creative in holding our students in the center of our actions.
Using these four guides, our plans must be responsive to new information and evolving public health guidance from the city, county, and state. Next year will not be straightforward. We will move forward, change direction, and step back to the drawing board. We will adapt and we will persist.Fig. Three projections of possible coronavirus waves. (“COVID-19: The CIDRAP Viewpoint,” University of Minnesota, See page 6)To meet this challenge, we are forming a COVID-19 Action Team to coordinate seven working groups with leaders from across the organization, along with input from students, families and community partners . Especially in these rapidly changing times, we cannot afford to work in silos. We will need to move with precision and speed.
The COVID-19 Action Team will be led by Preston Thomas and Sailaja Suresh. They both have extensive school site experience and they recently helped lead our successful food distribution program and will be able to draw from that experience.
Preston is our Chief Systems and Services Officer (CSSO), responsible for overseeing a number of our operational teams at the central office. He is also an Oakland educator of 24 years, serving as a teacher and principal before moving into the central office to supervise the Measure N program and the High School Network. Sailaja is a Senior Director of Strategic Projects on the CSSO team, and is taking the lead for coordinating our COVID-19 response. She has served OUSD students for 13 years, as a teacher, principal, and Newcomer residency coordinator, before joining the central office team to manage Escape implementation projects and coordinate cross-departmental work.
The seven working groups, along with their guiding questions, are:
Instruction: What does equitable, high-quality instruction look like?Technology: How do we support our staff and students to access the technology they need and bridge the digital divide and prepare for hybrid in-person/distance learning?Operations: How do we ensure that we have clear and safe procedures for staff and students accessing district services?Facilities: How can our facilities work align to public health guidance? Wellness: How do we take care of each other through this crisis, and ensure connection with our highest need students?Finances: How do we accurately budget for the pandemic, this new normal, and future costs?Community: How are we coordinating our decision-making with the community?
These working groups will have site and central leaders who will look at models from around the world, apply them to Oakland, and collect community and staff input. Together, we will propose our approach for next year by early July.Image: Communities all over the world are tackling the challenge of reopening schoolsIn the coming days, we will be publicizing a number of opportunities for the community to share their perspective with the working groups. One of the first opportunities is to take our family survey and share your experiences with distance learning over the past two months. If you have suggestions or resources you can also email us at [email protected].
What might school look like this fall?
As I mentioned above, we know that things will be different next year. We need to be flexible, get feedback, and pivot. Our ability to do so is essential. There are a few things, however, that are likely scenarios:Blended Instructional Model: It is likely we will have some kind of blended model with both in-person and distance learning next year. For in-person instruction, we will have safety precautions and social distancing to keep students and staff safe. It could be rotating days or weeks, or splitting the school into morning and afternoon schedules.Different approaches by age: It is likely that elementary and secondary will be different, as the learning needs, and the family care-taking needs differ at these levels. We may focus our in-person instruction on elementary school students and distance learning for secondary students. We also have to be mindful of the economic realities that many of our students face (for example, an increasing number of our high school students are working to help support themselves and their families.) We need to ramp up our career pathways and work with community partners to prevent this from driving students to drop out.Supporting Wellness: It is likely that we will have to focus significant efforts to help our students and staff feel connected and safe given the difficulties we are all facing. This may look like the curriculum being altered to allow more space for this care.Intermittent Closures: It is likely that we will have intermittent periods of being entirely closed for in-person instruction, in response to public health guidance from the city, county, or state.There is room for innovation.
We have the opportunity to challenge baseline assumptions about school and how to organize our time and effort. I want our students, staff and community to lean into this moment. If we spend all of our efforts trying to replicate a brick and mortar experience over the internet, then we will have lost an opportunity to advance how we think about education. I have already seen examples of our educators working with passion and creativity to produce some amazing approaches. We need to keep moving in that spirit.
AND each option has different costs attached
The economy is struggling and because of that, we are also facing the possibility of substantial reductions for next year’s budget. While our state can take more actions in support of education, our main hope rests in the federal government taking action through a stimulus package. This is not hypothetical or abstract. If the federal government does not take action, our community will suffer and our students, staff, and families will feel it directly.
Given the instability of the economy, we might have to make mid-year budget adjustments. We are taking actions now to protect ourselves against mid-year cuts to the extent possible (e.g., limiting spending, monitoring cash, building a reserve), but it may not be avoidable. This further underscores the importance of continuing our fiscal vitality work.
A sincere thank you, once again, for all that you are doing and all that you are holding on behalf of our city and our students. I look forward to seeing the passion and creativity of our community rising to meet the challenges and opportunities before us.
Please take a moment to share your thoughts on this message.In Unity, Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell
What do you think?