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Message from the Superintendent
Posted 10/13/20

Update on Reopening

The two weeks since our last board meeting have been busy as we assess our community’s readiness to move to Phase Two of our Reopening Plan and safely return elementary school students and staff to our school campuses for hybrid learning sometime after the trimester end date of November 6. As a reminder, the Board of Trustees will approve a safety plan before approving the district to move to Phase Two. Read on below for more information.

Santa Clara County is in the red tier of California’s Blueprint for Reopening and, during the week of September 20, the county announced that schools could begin to reopen following Santa Clara County Public Health Department protocols for schools. The county could move into the orange tier as soon as next Tuesday, October 13. 

As we continue to plan for and assess our ability and the community’s readiness to move to Phase Two of our Reopening Plan, the safety of our students, educators, staff, and their families is our highest priority. Parents place their trust in us to protect their children while they are in our care, as do our employees. 

In comparison to other businesses in the county, schools as organizations have a higher threshold of concern when deciding to "reopen" and bring people back in person. The decision on when to move to Phase Two is complex:

  1. We must balance staffing situations and student schedules.
  2. Successful negotiations with our labor unions are critical to managing this transition.
  3. We also have to deliver instruction based on the mandates given to us by California Education Code. By law, public schools must "offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible" (Education Code 43504). 
  4. Moreover, we recognize and must address feelings of anxiety and uncertainty our entire community is experiencing regarding the pandemic.

Through our labor management partnership, district leaders, who include our union presidents, are cautiously evaluating every aspect of this decision and are moving forward in the best interest of student learning and student and staff safety.

Last week, I held my first Round Table for certificated staff. These monthly focus groups serve as a listening tool for me to understand what is working really well, and what challenges are keeping our staff up at night so that we can work together to tackle these issues. Notes are taken during the meetings which are then reviewed and discussed with Cabinet Plus, which includes our union presidents. In last week’s session:

  • I heard that staff really like the cross-site collaboration meetings and that they get to know other teachers and learn from what is happening at the various sites and classes across the district. To quote one of our colleagues, “I have the opportunity to really know people at other sites and it is really a unified district. It has been very helpful during COVID-19. The support and the opportunities that have been arranged have been helpful.”
  • I also heard that stress is high for many teachers and support staff who are overwhelmed by how to fit in planning and collaboration time with the multiple meetings that are also on their calendars each week. 

We hear and want to be responsive to our educators who are realizing constraints on important time for their lesson planning. The number of mandated meetings and increased communications with parents and students may be contributing to these concerns.

As a leadership team, we're sensitive to these concerns. We acknowledge the stress that teachers are facing when considering the high-pressure environment distance learning is placing on them and their students. We're committed to evaluating and mitigating these issues to lessen the impact on our teachers. This week, Cabinet Plus discussed the feedback we are hearing and we are reconvening next Tuesday to continue the conversation on how we can address reducing these stressors for teachers.

Last night, while I attended a PTA meeting, members of our leadership team met with a focus group of 11 parent leaders in various roles representing the District English Learner Advisory Committee, Parent Teacher Association, School Site Councils, Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, and the African Ancestry Parent Group. This was one of the many collaborative meetings we are having with parents, teachers, administrators, and classified staff regarding distance learning and Phase 2 of our Reopening Plan. The parents provided many valuable insights regarding what is working and what is challenging about distance learning, as well as key considerations to take into account as we plan how to return students to campus for hybrid learning. We deeply appreciate their thought partnership and support for our hard-working teachers.

Safety Plan

At the October 8 board meeting, the Board of Trustees heard a presentation from the Reopening Safety Committee on the district’s safety plan. The presentation was the second of the three-part process that the board uses before final consideration is made on important topics.

The board is next scheduled to meet on October 22 when additional information will be shared regarding the hybrid learning model updates and a suggested phased-in approach to returning elementary students to school campuses.

Resources:

The SCUSD COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan is our district’s implementation plan of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department guidelines for returning students to school campuses for in-person instruction. The team has been working on reopening planning since March 2020. The work really accelerated in summer when we received the initial reopening guidelines from Santa Clara County, which were recently amended. The county guidelines are linked in the plan document and are also available on our website.

The safety plan includes protocols designed to take quick, decisive action when there is a potential or confirmed COVID case within the school ecosystem. We are showing our commitment to transparency by developing and implementing a new monitoring dashboard on our website. The dashboard will show families and staff the number of reported and quarantined cases in our district. This webpage will also include:

  • frequently asked questions
  • notification process flowcharts
  • template notification communication messages
  • links to county resources

The safety plan was created and refined with the input and efforts of a 20-person staff task force over three meetings in September and with feedback from: 

  • 9/28 — General Administrator Meeting of over 100 managers who were tasked with working with site leadership teams to update their site-specific plans
  • UTSC Executive Board
  • 10/2 — Teacher focus group
  • 10/6 — a 57-person Superintendent’s Advisory Committee composed of 3 students, 10 parents, 10 teachers from PreK to high school and special ed to general ed to career technical ed, 10 members of Cabinet Plus including our labor leaders, 9 classified staff from paraeducators to office staff to operations to health workers, 13 administrators from principals to educational and student services to operations, and 2 community members.
  • We reviewed health and safety-related comments from district surveys, input forms, and town halls conducted from April to July
  • And, we have an open elementary school staff and family survey going on right now

It is vital that all parents, families, and staff read the safety plan and adhere to the guidelines outlined in it. The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee reflected on which communication strategies and tactics will be most effective to support this goal so that we can prepare our community when the board approves a transition to Phase Two. 

For schools to remain safely open, it is critical that all families and staff adhere to our health protocols. Contact tracing and testing must be completed on time, as do communications and notices.

Survey on Reopening

As part of our preparation for returning to in-person teaching and learning, we launched a survey to gauge elementary school family and staff comfort levels to have elementary students return to our campuses for hybrid learning based on our health and safety plan. This 3-minute survey closes next Tuesday night on October 13. Information from this will help us as we continue planning and move into labor negotiations.

 

Hispanic STEAM Program Update

Our Hispanic Steam Program has launched its fall programming lead by Alicia Vasquez with 20 students participating in a variety of STEAM/STEM-related extended learning activities. Up next they will begin the NASA series of STEAM hands-on activities.  

African Ancestry Parent Program

The African Ancestry Parent Program in SCUSD was launched this fall with quarterly meetings continuing throughout the year. I want to thank Amelset Yohannes for serving as our liaison to the Santa Clara County Association of Black Educators. At their first Zoom meeting held on September 23, they had over 30 attendees! The goal is to collaboratively and positively impact educational outcomes for African Ancestry students, ensuring they graduate as “...resilient, future-ready, life-long learners...prepared to thrive in a global society.” The next meeting is scheduled for October 28, where they will review general indicators of student achievement and then break-out into topic-specific groups for collaborative discussions about educational realities. The meeting will conclude by reaffirming our commitment to engage the formidable challenges and disparities that historically have impacted educational excellence and access for African Ancestry students. For more information, contact ayohannes@scusd.net

Family Resource Center

This month, our Family Resource Center will be testing out adding Mayne Elementary School as a northside food distribution center in addition to our FRC homebase location on the Educational Options campus. The date and time are being finalized before being communicated out to our families. We are so fortunate to be able to offer and expand this kind of support for our students and their families.

Partnerships

At each board meeting, in the consent agenda, we include a report regarding the donations to district programs. I want to point out and thank this month’s donors, Pictavo for a $2,460 donation to Hughes Elementary for enrichment, field trips, and school climate activities. The SCHS athletic boosters also donated over $11,000 for the football club. 

The district is fortunate to have our own business partnership coordinator. Steve Neese has been engaged with our business partners and to date, just for COVID-related activities, he has garnered $106,000 in monetary and in-kind donations. I want to announce three new partnerships grants totaling $81,750:

First, 49ers Digital Divide Sponsorship

  • Santa Clara Unified School District has partnered with the 49ers to support underserved students struggling with distance learning due to a lack of internet access.
  • In the hometown of the 49ers, the City of Santa Clara, SCUSD has identified 170 households with 281 underserved students who need high-speed internet access to participate in distance learning fully.  
  • Learning about the need for our students, the 49ers are investing $20,000 to cover the cost for all district-issued hot-spots needed by our students living in Santa Clara for the first trimester of the school year
  • Covering past and future costs for the entirety of the confirmed distance learning timeline will help free up district resources for other students in need in our non-City of Santa Clara residences in Sunnyvale and North San Jose.

Second, Lockheed Martin funding for WiFi on Wheels

  • Lockheed Martin is proud to partner with Santa Clara Schools Foundation and Santa Clara Unified School District as we aim to provide our students and families with the support and connectivity they need to continue learning and engage with their school community. With this donation of $30,000, Lockheed Martin hopes to help address the most pressing needs resulting from the pandemic. 
  • Our ITG Director Joe Ayala and Partnerships Manager Steve Neese are working out the details and we will share those plans at the next board meeting.

We are grateful for partners like the San Francisco 49ers and Lockheed Martin, who so generously work with us to enhance our support of students during distance learning. These donations allow us to continue to move forward in our equity work to ensure that all students have access to essential technology during distance learning.

Finally, Urban Greening Grant from Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority

  • On September 24, The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority Board of Directors awarded Pomeroy Elementary School a garden education grant for $31,750.
  • The Pomeroy Elementary Garden Connections Experience program will incorporate garden and culinary-based curriculum and provide students with experiential learning opportunities over one year. 
  • The program has a distance learning and an in-person learning variation should students return to campus in the next year.
  • The program includes virtual field trips, guest lessons from local farmers, growing food, cooking, environmental science education, and virtual/onsite garden-based learning, and recycling/composting programs.

Recent Meetings

Now that everyone is getting comfortable with Zoom, the community meeting calendars are starting to fill up. Since the last board meeting, I have virtually attended a number of events: 

  • Attended a Santa Clara County Public Health Department and county superintendent cohosted webinar called “Navigating the Reopening of Schools” which is available on their website
  • Attended the SVCTE Joint Governing Board and Executive Council meeting with Trustee Gonzalez
  • Met with the new CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to share our interest for future partnership around workforce development
  • Attended a meeting with representatives from Stanford to hear an update on the STEP program and have plans to meet again to talk about the planning for our new high school
  • Attended a meeting with the Wilcox PTA (along with Principal Gonzalez, Trustees Fairchild, Muirhead, and Ryan) to respond to questions regarding reopening as it pertains to their school
  • Attended the River Oaks Neighborhood Association meeting where Bond Projects staff Larry Adams and Rosiella Defensor and I provided an update on the opening of Huerta Middle School and Agnew Elementary School.