PUSD Update on 20-21 School Year

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 - Posted in All District News District Communications Latest Announcements

PUSD Educators and Families,

I’m writing to provide you all with updates related to our planning for a return to teaching and learning in the 20-21 school year.  During the July 13th Board of Education Meeting, the PUSD Board of Education directed me to bring forward a plan to begin the school year in a 100% Distance Learning Model.  I agree with this directive and appreciate the Board’s flexibility and willingness to recognize how COVID-19 is affecting the start of school for countless districts across Piedmont, Alameda County, the bay area, and the state.  I also agree with the Board of Education that we must continue to develop plans to bring students and staff back to our campuses, as we had previously discussed, as soon as it is possible and within acceptable parameters of safety.

The safety of our students and staff continue to be our top priority.  Over the past several days, we have witnessed the infection rate spike across Alameda County, the bay area, and the state.  We simply do not live in a bubble and must consider how the virus is impacting not just Piedmont, but our surrounding communities as well.  In order to bring students and staff back onto our campuses, we were hoping to witness a decrease in the infection rate and hospitalizations.  We were also hoping to see an increase in the access and availability of testing.  Neither of these important criteria are materializing.  In fact, we are witnessing these trend lines headed in the opposite direction.

We are not alone in this thinking.  Many school districts, within and outside of Alameda County, are making the decision to move to a 100% Distance Learning Model to start the school year for similar reasons.  If we hope to transition to an on-site blended learning model, it is imperative to ensure that our students and staff remain safe during a period of increased transmission.

The Board of Education will consider a proposal to begin the 20-21 school year in a 100% Distance Learning model at the July 16th Special Board of Education Meeting (5:00pm).  All stakeholders are welcome to provide public input prior to Board action.

If approved, administration, educators, and staff will direct our efforts entirely on developing a Distance Learning model that is focused, targeted, and productive for all of our students.  While the spring saw us shift into a crisis mode of distance learning, the fall will be met with much more structure that addresses the six following themes:

  1. An emphasis on a set and consistent daily bell schedule and number of synchronous (live) minutes for direct teaching and learning.

  2. Social/Emotional learning and support systems

  3. Consistent and required benchmark assessments and grading

  4. Structured professional development, training, and collaboration for all of our educators and staff throughout the school year.

  5. Uniform learning platforms and instructional technology

  6. Daily attendance tracking

This summer is challenging as we continue planning with our educators in an environment that constantly shifts.  We have spent a tremendous amount of human capital on the development and implementation of multiple plans based on multiple scenarios.  We have adjusted the 20-21 instructional calendar.  We have negotiated topics including instructional minutes, bell schedules, student cohorting practices, master scheduling, on-campus safety requirements, and employee leave of absence rights.  We have also planned for and reacted to drastic changes to our budget.  In short, all of these challenges have diluted our effectiveness and efficiency.

With a Board decision, the next five weeks, leading up to the start of school, will focus solely on the development and delivery of a Distance Learning Model to ensure a focused, targeted, and productive environment for all.  I recognize that any form of Distance Learning cannot adequately compare to in-person instruction, but I’m looking ahead, doing what is necessary to keep students and staff safe in the immediate, and hoping that under the right environment, we can return to in-person instruction with a full complement of learners and educators.  I fear that a rush to an immediate environment of in-person learning will only lead to an increased infection rate among our students and staff and return us right away to distance learning.

The Board will need to consider the appropriate parameters and benchmarks needed to return to in-person teaching and learning.  We are partnering with the Alameda County Office of Education, Alameda County Public Health Department, and surrounding districts to develop some semblance of uniformity around these benchmarks.  My goal is to provide the Board, our educators, and the community with recommended safety benchmarks prior to August 17th.

I deeply recognize how challenging these decisions are for our educators, staff, families, and students.  There is no single popular decision.  The Board of Education and I are making informed decisions based on the current landscape and what we feel is best for the safety and health of our students and staff.  As we have said since March, COVID-19 is largely in control and will require our planning to be unprecedented in its flexibility.  With that said, there is still so much we can all do to expedite an in-person learning environment:

  1. Masks are a must in all environments outside of the home.

  2. Social Distancing is real and desperately needed.

  3. Establish limited family cohorts and bubble groups.

  4. Delay any unnecessary travel.

  5. Wash your hands/use hand sanitizer fastidiously.

Please be on the look-out for active communications from school sites in the next week or two with updated instructions and developments.  Thank you for doing your part to keep our entire Piedmont community healthy.

Randall Booker

Superintendent

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