Aug. 11 Return-to-School Update

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Dear APS Families,

I have several updates this week as we prepare for the new school year, beginning on September 8 in full-time distance learning for all students. We are all looking forward to starting the year and reconnecting with students. I know families are eager to understand how schedules will work day-to-day. School administrators and counselors are working on master schedules and class assignments now, and you should receive more information from your schools in the next two weeks.

In anticipation of sharing schedules, I want to emphasize the importance of the first few weeks of school. This will be an important time of transition as students get acclimated to new routines and expectations in the distance learning environment and meet their teachers and new classmates. This is a big change, and we need to allow them some time to adjust before we dive fully into new content and curriculum. Our initial priority will be building community, addressing students’ social-emotional needs, and making sure they are comfortable, acclimated, and ready to learn. We ask for your support and patience as teachers build this important foundation for learning during the first few weeks.

We are nearing the end of our Summer School Distance Learning Program. Thank you to all who participated. We have received feedback on both ends of the spectrum. Some families have noted excellent teacher and staff support through regular check-ins and open office hours. Others have expressed frustration regarding technical challenges with connectivity issues, which prevented students from completing all their assignments. I apologize to families who did not have a great experience and appreciate your candid feedback. We are using this experience to strengthen instruction in the fall and are working to address the issues prior to the start of school, through training and professional learning which begins on August 24.

Our goal is to ensure every APS student is cared for, engaged, and supported in every way necessary to succeed.

The APS Parent Academy
To assist families with distance learning, we are re-launching the APS Parent Academy, beginning the week of August 24. The Parent Academy will begin with a series of pre-recorded courses, video tutorials and additional resources designed to enhance your understanding of processes related to distance learning, to help you optimize your student’s experience. The videos and resources will provide information from APS educators about distance learning, and address parent concerns and frequent questions, such as:

  • What distance learning is and what it will look like.
  • Tips for supporting your student and setting up a successful learning environment at home via Microsoft Teams.
  • How to access and use Canvas, SeeSaw, and other applications.
  • Global Protect connections and troubleshooting.
  • Career and Technical Education instructional delivery.
  • Delivery of specialized services and supports in synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

Initial videos will be pre-recorded and shared on the Parent Academy page on our website prior to the start of school, and we plan to schedule additional, interactive sessions in other formats as we begin the year and identify specific priority needs.  We will announce the full details next week.

School Supplies and Distance Learning Toolkits
APS is working to provide Distance Learning Toolkits for student in grades K-8 to ensure they have the educational tools to participate in distance learning. Materials will include items such as math manipulatives, art supplies, and science tools. We are also providing a second kit with basic school supplies for students who need them, at cost, and are looking at options for partners to help support this effort. More details will be provided next week as we finalize plans.

Scheduling IEP (Individualized Education Plan) Meetings
Schools are busy reaching out to families to schedule IEP meetings. The purpose of these IEP meetings is to ensure that teams have thoughtfully reviewed together any possible needs students may have accessing distance learning, and to align any services and supports students require in the distance learning model. Not all IEPs will need revisions. Schools will also note and document the services the students were receiving before schools closed in March in the Prior Written Notice (PWN), so services can resume when schools open back up to the normal 5 days/30 instructional hours per week. Additionally, the Office of Special Education (OSE) is working to ensure that, when the decision is made to transition to the hybrid model, students with disabilities will be among the first groups of students to transition to this model.

2020-21 School Year Calendar
We have received questions about changes to the 2020-21 School Year Calendar, given the full distance learning start. We are finalizing the calendar for distribution soon. Below are key points of clarification:

  • Friday, September 4, and Monday, September 7, will be holidays for all APS staff, as planned.
  • Tuesday, September 8, is the first day of school in full-time distance learning for all students, PreK-12.
  • Back-to-School Night for elementary schools will move to September 16. Back-to-School Night for middle school remains on September 17 and high school remains September 23.
  • We are recommending to the School Board the elimination of early release days that fall on Wednesdays (September 30, November 18, December 9, February 10, March 10) to maximize learning time, and will bring that to the School Board for information on August 20.
  • Monday, October 12, Columbus Day, is a student holiday and a professional learning day for staff.

Technology Update
The Department of Information Services is hard at work getting the students’ devices ready for the start of school. This year, APS is expanding the 1:1 program to include all students, grades PreK-12. Students in grades PreK-8 will receive iPads; middle school students will also receive iPad cases with keyboards; and students in grades 9-12 will receive Macbook Airs. When combined with our enrollment growth, APS will be providing devices to almost 10,000 additional students this year, in addition to providing middle school students with keyboard cases. As you might imagine, vendors are having difficulties filling orders quickly. Fortunately, APS placed its orders early:

  • The iPads have all arrived and are currently being set up.
  • We have received some of the MacBook Airs, and expect the rest to ship shortly along with the keyboard cases for 6th-grade students.
  • Keyboard cases for the 7th and 8th-grade students should arrive before the start of the 2nd
  • Depending on when shipments arrive from our vendors, 6th and 9th grade students may need to start the year with their existing devices. The goal is to have all devices ready by the end of August. If your student does not already have a device, you will receive information from your school in the next few weeks about how and where to pick up the device and learning tools for your student.

Clarification on High School Schedules
A School Talk message was sent to high school families yesterday informing them of an update to the high school instructional plan. Given the specific academic needs of high school students and after review of staff and student preferences, principals and directors of counseling decided that high school students will be scheduled to teachers for each of their courses just as they have been in previous years, as we begin the year in full-time distance learning. When transitions begin for some students to in-person instruction, based on their preference, all students will continue with the same teacher regardless of the model they choose.

This means that a student who transitions to in-person instruction may receive live instruction from a teacher who is not physically present in the classroom for certain courses. Those classes will be supervised by another staff member while instruction is provided remotely. This update is only for high school staff and students.

Task Force Update and Upcoming School Board Meetings
The Return-to-School Task Force met on Monday to review transportation plans and gather feedback on school bus service, as we assess opportunities to phase in hybrid in-person instruction for some students. You can view the presentation shared with the Task Force here.

We will hold a School Board Work Session on Return-to-School Planning this Thursday, August 13, focusing on costs related to the school closure, plans for our staff who are unable to perform work via telework, childcare, and meal services. The final regular School Board meeting prior to the start of school will take place on Thursday, August 20.

I hope you view those meetings and share your feedback and questions through the APS Engage online feedback form. Visit the APS website for the latest updates and responses to frequently asked questions.

Take care and stay safe!

Best Regards,

Dr. Francisco Durán
Superintendent