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A Message from Our Superintendent

A Message from Our Superintendent
Posted on 06/25/2020
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Dear School Community,

Happy summer! I’m hoping that you are finding some rest and relaxation despite the fears and uncertainties that continue as a result of COVID-19. This summer will be perhaps the busiest of our administrative team’s careers as we plan for next year while sorting through the volumes of recommendations and guidance that we are receiving from health and educational agencies and experts. Nevertheless, we are moving forward to provide our school community an educational environment that is safe and conducive to the high level of learning that our families expect.

For today’s message, I wanted to focus on four key areas: (1) Reopening School for the 2020-21 Academic Year; (2) GVSD Examples of Distancing, Screening, Hygiene, and Masking; (3) Preliminary Information on Instructional Delivery Options for the 2020-21 Academic Year; and (4) Survey Feedback.

I’m hoping that this message will give you an emerging picture of what school will look like for the 2020-21 Academic Year. I appreciate that parents will have specific questions and/or concerns, but please understand that everything is still preliminary, and plans will continue to change and evolve as more information is available to us. I will continue to communicate with you throughout the summer.

Opening Schools for the 2020-21 Academic Year

We are moving forward with plans to open schools in the fall. By balancing safety with pragmatism, we plan to provide the greatest protection possible for students and staff. Since it appears that COVID-19 will stay with us for a long time, we have to weigh the inherent risks of the virus with the negative impacts on our students’ mental, emotional, and behavioral health when they are not in school. With the collective support of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Chester and Bucks County Departments of Health, the CDC, the World Health Organization, and our service provider Environmental Consultants Inc., we are working quickly to finalize a framework that will keep everyone safe when school doors reopen on September 1st.

Based on the recommendations of the experts, we have concentrated our efforts on four main components for reopening: distancing, screening, hygiene, and masking. Although the protocols and procedures will make interactions between students and teachers look and feel different, we are resolute that our students need to be in school for their educational, emotional, and social health.

As I’ve communicated previously, there are committees of administrators, teachers, and parents developing detailed plans in these four key areas for just about every function within our schools. We will communicate specific details in the days and weeks ahead with the goal of presenting a health and safety plan to the School Board by July 28th. Once that plan is approved, parents will have a clear “picture” of what school will look like as we reopen.

Please understand that everything in the COVID-19 era is constantly evolving. Planning could change based on a resurgence of the virus just as things could change based on developments with testing and treatment. We, consequently, appreciate your patience and flexibility as we progress through the summer.

GVSD Examples of Distancing, Screening, Hygiene, and Masking

Distancing–Although six foot distancing is optimal, we will be able to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 3 foot distancing in every classroom in the district. Also, through the use of masks by drivers and passengers, our Health Departments have approved allowing two students in a seat on the bus. Distancing procedures and logistics are also being developed for students as they eat lunch, change classes, locker, etc.

Screening–For schools to stay open, those students and employees who do not feel well have to stay home. Consequently, the linchpin of our plan will be the partnership between employees and parents in screening themselves and their children prior to coming to school. We will communicate several times throughout the summer with symptomatic “look fors” and other guidance to assist our school community. Although some community members will desire temperature checks to take place at school, our student populations range from 500 to 1600 students per building, which makes the logistics too complex. Additionally, research is showing that temperatures are affected by several factors that can lead to many false positives and variabilities.

Hygiene–We are developing procedures as well as purchasing signage and equipment to enhance the hygiene practices within our schools. We will embed time within the day for faculty, staff, and students to wash hands, for the custodial staff to clean and disinfect high touch points, and for our operations team to utilize newly purchased hydrostatic foggers to clean buildings and grounds each night after school. We are also purchasing extra hand sanitizing stations, bottle fill stations to replace water fountains, plexiglass dividers, and other equipment to assist in maintaining hygienic environments. Finally, we will ask that as part of students’ school supplies they bring hand sanitizer, bottled water, and PPE for personal use. Schools will provide supplies but it’s a good idea for students to have an individual supply.

Masking–The masking requirements for students will vary. Based on the guidelines, all students and drivers will wear masks while on the bus. Once in school, masks will be required for our older students more so than our elementary students. However, every student will be required to wear a mask at certain points during every school day. As for employees, masks and/or face shields will be a requirement depending on the nature of the lesson and its location. Again, we are working with the experts to put more specific procedures in place. I realize that masking has become a source of debate, but in Garnet Valley we will follow the advice of our doctors, scientists, and health experts.

Preliminary Information on Instructional Delivery Options for the 2020-21 Academic Year

In keeping with our mission to personalize learning for all students, the district will offer families a choice in how their children return to school in the fall. Each course format is designed and will be taught by Garnet Valley teachers, using the same curriculum as in our traditional brick and mortar schools. The options will be: (1) face-to-face/blended; (2) fully online synchronous; and (3) our asynchronous eSchool@GarnetValley.

In the face to face/blended learning format, students will be able to access their education by attending school for face-to-face instruction. However, if a student gets sick or needs to stay home because of a compromised family member, we can also provide a blended learning delivery option whereby students can stay home while still accessing their education. In this scenario students would receive their assignments on Schoology and virtually attend class meetings in real time through interactive web conferencing tools.

For those families that want or need a fully online experience, they will have two options to meet their child’s educational needs–a fully online synchronous learning experience with live instruction and our asynchronous eSchool@GarnetValley program which provides students with more flexibility and more ownership of their learning. The district defines synchronous learning as learning that takes place at the same time as the teacher is delivering instruction. Asynchronous learning occurs anytime and is dictated by established teacher timelines and student preferences. Typically, in this format instruction is recorded through video, audio, or presentation software.

We will provide a more detailed overview of our instructional options for next year in the days and weeks ahead. I, however, want to thank our school community for their critical feedback because it has truly improved our programming.

Survey Feedback

Approximately 1,400 parents took the Parent Survey–Preparing for the 2020-21 Academic Year. The responses gave us important feedback and data in the area of instruction, technology, and parents preferences for next school year.

Below are some areas of interest:.

Parents Comfort with Sending Their Children to School in 2020-21

Clearly, we need to know if parents are comfortable sending their children to school next year. We, therefore, asked the following question: we understand that many students or family members have health concerns or compromised immune systems. Assuming there is no vaccine available in the fall but buildings reopen following state safety protocols, will your child(ren) attend school in the building? 77.9% of parents said that they were comfortable; 4.8% said that they were not; and 17.3% are undecided.

Parents Comfort with Utilizing our Transportation Services Next Year

Also important for our planning purposes is understanding parents’ perspectives on utilizing our transportation. 41.3% of our parents chose the option to ride the bus to/from school; 22.5% will drive their children to/from school daily; 11.1% plan to drop off their children in the morning and have them ride the bus home in the afternoon; and 24% are still unsure.

Instructional Preferences for the 2020-21 Academic Year

We asked our parents what type of learning they would prefer for their children assuming that there is no vaccine available in the fall but schools reopen following state safety protocols. This information will be used to help us plan for next year’s student loads for the various learning options that we will have available. Their responses were as follows: 50.4% prefer face-to-face; 40.2% prefer a hybrid program in which students attend school with health dept protocols a few days a week and remote learning the rest of the week; and 9.4% prefer remote learning programs, which would be evolved versions of this Spring's format.

Parents’ Perception of Instruction During the Closure

We continue to provide professional learning to our teachers based on parent, student, and teacher feedback on instructional strategies. As a result, we wanted to get a sense of our “report card” regarding the instruction we provided during the closure. 13.1% thought the instruction was excellent; 36.7% thought it was good; 34.6% average; 14.1% poor; and 1.3% were unsure.

Teacher Interaction in Virtual Learning

We asked our parents to rate the amount of interaction their children had with teachers. This was one of the key areas in which we received a great deal of critical feedback, and thus an area of ongoing improvement for this school year and next. 15% of our parents believed that the interaction was excellent; 20% felt it was above average; 35% average; 22% below average; and 7% poor.

Overall Quality and Effectiveness of Technology and Technology Support

The district invests a great deal of money in technology, and we wanted to make sure that it worked! When we asked parents about their technology issues regarding virtual learning 61.3% said they had no technology issues; 28.5% said that they had issues that are now fixed; and 4.9% said that technology is still an issue.

Again, we are moving forward with opening school next year and will continue to keep you informed throughout the summer. As always, thank you for your support and cooperation. Enjoy the summer!!


Sincerely,

Dr. Marc Bertrando, Superintendent
Garnet Valley School District

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