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'Reimagining Schools' - Superintendent Discusses Re-Opening District Schools

I found a 1919 issue of The Monrovian, Monrovia High School’s yearbook. In it, I found a couple of references. “The first part of the year was broken up by the ‘flu’. In fact, ‘Pep’ had a serious attack of influenza...‘Pep’s’ lungs grew stronger...The postponement of the Cradle Roll dance because of the ‘flu’ dampened ‘Pep’s’ ardor considerably.” Assuming they are referring to the “pep squad,” this was not quite the treasure trove of information I had sought; but I will continue searching.

It is too soon to gauge the impact of the pandemic on education. However, I believe that it will be transformative - especially in bridging the gaps in technology and access to the digital world.

As we close this year, our two main areas of focus are back to school preparations and the budget.  Both of these topics include so many variables over which we have no control, that our preparations will include multiple scenarios. Leading our efforts with the reopening of our schools will be a task force comprised of key district, site, and department personnel.  Their objective is to develop a framework for opening schools based on current assumptions and conditions for the 2020-21 school year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. To do so effectively, they will need to follow the local and national guidance of experts; engage our community partners, as well as professional associations; and establish regular, two-way communication.  The surveys completed in the last week are just the first step in determining our course forward.  

The task force will approach elementary and secondary schools separately, but along parallel paths, to ensure coordination between all our schools and parity for all our students.  Deep planning will need to be done in some broad areas: 

  • Health & Safety
  • Instruction & Campus Life
  • Social Emotional Support Systems 
  • Family & Community Engagement 
  • Operations & Operational Alternatives

No one small group can do this effectively in isolation.  For that reason, we will need to expand the number of individuals willing to work alongside us as we create new instructional models to educate the children of Monrovia.

That first survey did confirm some initial thoughts - no one instructional model will meet the needs of all our students or staff members.  Additionally, despite our rapid response to the dismissal of students on Friday, the 13th of March, we know that there will be learning gaps – especially in the case of our learners most in need of personal support.  While we will be providing an online summer program, and developing enrichment opportunities before school begins, this will not be enough to mitigate the “COVID-19 Slide.”   Currently, we are looking at three different instructional models:  

  1. Face to Face Instruction - The teacher and the student meet physically in a set place for a set time, for either one-on-one learning or in group classroom lessons with social distancing measures in place, as well as health and safety measures.
  2. Distance Learning - Distance learning occurs when the learner and instructor, or source of information, are separated by time and distance and therefore cannot meet in a traditional physical classroom setting.
  3. Hybrid Model of Instruction - Hybrid learning occurs both in the classroom (or other physical space) with social distancing measures in place, as well as health and safety measures, and via distance learning.

In preparing for the opening of schools, we are purchasing personal protective equipment, additional hand washing stations, cleaning supplies, etc.  We are rearranging desks in classrooms to reduce the number of students and identifying the supplies students will need at every grade level and in every subject area to avoid sharing.

Some of these costs may be reimbursed by FEMA and one-time funding by the CARES Act.  A couple of weeks ago, the Governor’s May Revision of the Budget indicated grave cuts would be needed. At a time when we will need more resources and more people to support and supervise our students, we will be provided with far less. Since then, following the leadership of our Board of Education, we have been advocating for both additional funding and additional flexibility with our current funding sources.

Last night, the advocacy done at so many levels, seemed to steer things in a more positive direction. The Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee adopted the budget plan for the 2020-21 State Budget. This version of the budget reversed some of the deep cuts the Governor had proposed. This is promising; however, this is not final, and our efforts must continue.

I am proud of the work we have accomplished together and expect we will continue to make thoughtful, student-centered decisions together for the 2020-21 school year. Reimagining schools will require the use of the same skills we try to teach our students: critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, community, and compassion, to adapt nimbly in a changing world.   I look forward to continuing our partnership as we create history.

We have three days before we close the most unusual school year of my career. Encourage your children to finish strong and stay safe. 

Sincerely,

Dr. Katherine Thorossian 

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