Welcome Back!! As we look forward to the opening of our virtual schools next Wednesday, August 12, we do so with a sense of excitement and wonder. With the onslaught of COVID-19 and the closing of our schools on March 16, we were faced with many powerful questions that challenged our assumptions and traditional practices. As our staff found their footing, we recognized that thinking differently about teaching and learning was a necessity for survival. With a confidence of purpose, our teachers, counselors, principals and staff took on the enormous task of reimagining our schools, instructional programs and support systems overnight. Identifying and overcoming the hurdles and barriers across the district and state that impeded our innovation became our focus through the Summer. SMUSD's staff never stopped working, never stopped collaborating, never stopped caring about your children... OUR children.
I want to pause to say "thank you" for your patience, support and feedback during this very difficult time. The 70+ members of the School Reopening Task Force (SRTF) includes many community members and parents who gave of their time and expertise to help us pivot our teaching and learning, health & safety practices, social & emotional support foci, engagement with the community, and operational support to ensure a safe reopening of our campuses at some point in the future. I also want you to know that we recognize the significant impact that our decisions potentially have on the education of your children as well as your family systems, schedules and routines.
As you know, Governor Newsom has ordered all schools within impacted counties (like L.A. County) to open in a distance learning model only. Even in this morning's briefing with Dr. Ferrer of LADPH, she emphasized that our County is still significantly impacted by new cases of COVID-19 and that our average number of cases per 100,000 is well over limits set for reopening or even for an elementary school waiver. The process to open schools under a distance learning model has been unlike anything I or my colleagues have experienced in our careers. I cannot tell you how proud I am of our teachers, counselors, principals, administration, support staff, and Board of Education for the level of commitment and effort they have demonstrated to get us to this point in time -- ready to open our Virtual Academy on Wednesday, August 12.
The following are just a few of the key points I want to emphasize as we prepare to start the 2020-21 school year:
In alignment with Governor Newsom's orders, all students will begin the 2020-21 school year in 100% distance learning;
In alignment with new legislative requirements, and to ensure that our district qualifies for all state and federal funding;
Teachers will engage-in live interaction with all students every day -- in every content area (elementary) and in every period (secondary);
Attendance will be taken every day and in every period;
Our school schedules will provide the recommended and required weekly instructional minutes for all levels (state requirements are 180 minutes for TK-K; 230 minutes for grades 1-3; and 240 minutes for grades 4-12);
Teachers and instructional staff will provide support systems for students with exceptional needs;
All students will receive feedback and grades from teachers;
Technology needs will be met for students who need this support (Chromebooks and Hotspots);
As we open virtually, our School Reopening Task Force (SRTF) and COVID-19 Compliance Team will continue their work to prepare us for a physical reopening at some time in the future. The SRTF includes SMUSD staff, parents, community members, City of San Marino staff, and health professionals. The Compliance Team is populated by District Personnel charged with the technical aspects of opening in a compliant, confidential and safe manner.
While under the current closure orders, I want to encourage you to regularly engage with your student's teacher, counselor, principal or other support personnel. I want you to seek out ways of connecting with each other as well. I know that our principals are working with PTA and with each other to regularly communicate and listen to our parents and community. One of the beautiful things about San Marino is our commitment to being together. Herman Melville wrote: "We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men." With our physical fibers blocked by an unseen force, we must engage in work-arounds through virtual 'fibers' to make sure that we are knowing and understanding each other, supporting one another during these trying times, and continuing to invest in the lives of our kids.
No one can succeed alone anymore. A pre-COVID quote that I have used a few times is: "Change is inevitable, adaptation and survival are optional." I would like to update this to read "Change is here, survival is dependent on adaptation." We are in unprecedented times of rapid change and the only way to remain competitive for the students we have today is to create a culture that embraces agility, flexibility, collaboration and innovation. I am proud of our continued work in building a smart, healthy and innovative organization capable of meeting the needs of our students, families and community.
Please know that we will continue to provide the most up-to-date information as it becomes available. When Los Angeles County school districts are given the clearance to open their doors to students, SMUSD will move forward with care and diligence to ensure that we open in a safe and organized manner. Our focus will remain on the District mission: The SMUSD provides safe supportive environments and innovative opportunities for student learning, promotes individual student excellence, invites collaboration and discovery, and challenges students to take responsibility as members of a diverse, global community.
Dr. Jeff Wilson, Superintendent