Board of Education Work Session, Superintendent’s Opening Remarks, August 6, 2020
August 6th, 2020
Good afternoon Board members. Since the Board voted to implement a fully virtual instructional model for the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, we have been diligently working to build the plan to be submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education and work through all of the challenges and considerations that accompany the shift to a fully virtual instructional model. Before I turn it over to staff to walk you through the plan, I will provide a bit of context.
First, let me remind you again of what was decided the last time we met.
- The beginning of the school year for students was delayed to now begin on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.
- We will begin the school year in a fully virtual format through the first academic semester, which ends on Thursday, January 28, 2021.
- A modified 4×4 semester schedule for middle and high school will be implemented, where students have four class periods each semester.
- The Board also approved the use of $2.5 million from the General Fund to purchase Chromebooks to support equitable access to online instruction.
Earlier this week, we shared some exciting news with the Board and our community about grant funds that we have received. I am extremely pleased to announce that due in large part to a $6.6 million technology grant from the CARES Act, we will now be able to achieve a 1:1 student to device ratio for students in all grades pre-K through 12. As was shared during the July 16, 2020, Board meeting, this grant allows us to increase the number of computers purchased and reduces the need to use the $2.5 million approved by the Board on July 16, 2020. Instead of $2.5 million, only $490,000 will be needed from the General Fund to purchase the devices necessary to achieve a 1:1 ratio for all grades and retain a one percent reserve of computers for replacement. It will take time to order, receive, prepare and distribute each device, and we will provide additional information to Board and to the community on how students may receive their devices this school year. This provides me and our school system with great relief as we can now be sure that every student is able to receive the technology they need to be successful in this new instructional environment.
Also, since the last meeting, there has been additional information provided and decisions made.
- This week, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, or MPSSAA, postponed the 2020 high school fall and winter competition season for the first academic semester. Additional information will be provided by the MPSSAA in the coming weeks.
- The August 29, 2020, administration of the SAT in HCPSS schools was canceled as additional time is needed to collaborate with the CollegeBoard on health and safety guidance for the expected number of students.
This afternoon, staff are going to provide the highlights of the comprehensive plan to be submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education, or MSDE. The draft plan was provided to the Board on Tuesday August 4, 2020, and was posted to BoardDocs on Wednesday August 5, 2020. Not every piece of the plan will be presented as it is very extensive. However, if there are questions by Board members related to the plan that were not part of the presentation, staff are prepared to have those discussions today.
As we work through today’s meeting, if there are changes to items that have already been decided by the Board, we will need Board consensus.
The State had detailed 13 criteria as part of Stage Two requirements for opening schools that must be included in the plan and I can confidently certify that all of the requirements have been met, other than the first requirement of posting the plan to the website which will occur once the plan is approved by the Board.
Equity continues to be a driver in all of the work and every decision that is being made. In fact, I would like to share a few decisions that have been made and considerations that are being worked on that will advance equitable opportunities for every student we serve.
- As I mentioned a moment ago, I am pleased that we will now be able to secure a Chromebook for every student from pre-K through the twelfth grade. Additionally, we are working with families to provide hot spots or low-cost internet service, working with the Bright Minds Foundation and pursuing grant funding through the CARES Act to expand broadband connectivity.
- In alignment with Phase Two of the Governor’s Roadmap to Recovery plan, we are exploring ways to provide some in-person opportunities for select student groups including some students who attend the Cedar Lane School. Considerations include critical health and safety protocols, transportation, preparing staff, and developing clear and consistent communication to inform parents and stakeholders. We are being extremely deliberate in this process and will provide additional details as we move forward.
- A significant amount of thought and detail have been focused on ensuring that special education services and supports are provided to the greatest extent possible for students across all levels and schools. Each student’s Individualized Education Program, or IEP team, and Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP, team, which includes the parent, will be participating in meaningful discussions to implement the student’s current plan and not on the previous Individualized Continuity of Learning, or ICOL, plans. Parents should expect their child’s case manager to contact them at the start of the school year to collaborate on how best to provide services for their child in a virtual environment.
- We are developing clear understandings for students, instructional staff and families so everybody understands exactly what is expected during the fall semester and are prepared for success. I will communicate that to the Board and the community very soon.
This leads me to a topic that we have not talked as much about publicly as we prepare the fall instructional model and that is the success of our instructional staff. Many of our educators are working parents who must now balance the requirements of delivering robust instruction to students while also caring for and tending to their own children. This is an unfortunate chain reaction that this pandemic has created. In so many ways, schools are the driving forces in our communities. Whether recognized officially or not, educators and administrators are essential employees. I fully acknowledge that this will not be an easy semester and there will be challenges and unexpected turns along the way. Fortunately, we have an extremely talented team of staff at every school and office who will be ready to receive our students and support their colleagues – rain or shine, virtual or in person.
Members of the Board, as a result of the work that has been done in development of this plan, I can confidently make the following statements:
- We are continuing to lead with equity in every decision that is made.
- We are ensuring a safe and healthy learning environment for all students and staff.
- We are implementing a robust virtual instructional environment that meets state standards and provides necessary supports.
- We are providing the professional training, support and tools necessary so our instructional staff are prepared for a successful school year.
- We are providing comprehensive, clear and concise communication to our stakeholders through multiple channels as information is available.
- We are prioritizing solutions to assist our students who are most at risk in a virtual environment.
- We are continuing to provide the essential services that many students receive from the school system, including but not limited to meals, special education services, and mental health support.
Tonight, I am asking the Board to approve the plan that fulfills the 13 criteria set forth by MSDE. However, I remind the Board that tonight’s decision to approve the framework does not signify that we are fully prepared to begin the fall semester. It simply fulfills the requirements of the State. There is still significant work and decisions that must be accomplished and the comprehensive framework that you approve tonight will continue to be a living document. Efforts around limited in-person supports, opportunities for students who are absent, staffing adjustments, school orientations and back to school nights, athletics, device distribution, and dozens of other items will continue. As decisions are made, they will be provided on the HCPSS website and amplified through our multiple channels of communication. As we discuss various topics this afternoon, staff will work on making sure that all considerations are represented in our planning and implementation efforts – even if they don’t necessarily need to be included in the framework being provided to MSDE.
I appreciate the partnerships with our employee representative groups, county and state leaders, and of course, members of the Board of Education. This is certainly a complicated puzzle to piece together and it takes many people with diverse perspectives to cultivate solutions that work for all students.
At this time, I would like to turn it over to Scott Ruehl, the HCPSS director of Leadership Development, who will lead the Board through the highlights of the plan.