School's out but we're working on plans for fall

School's out but we're working on plans for fall
Posted on 06/14/2020

Good afternoon!  With only the Graduation Car Parade on Tuesday evening to go, we are almost to Summer 2020!  Thank you for your support, feedback, thoughts, even the criticism that you shared over the past few months. I personally learn from everything that you share and incorporate it into my thinking and as a consideration to planning. With the increased volume of emails since the pandemic began, well over 300 a day, I may not have personally responded to you, but I have shared your thoughts with the Quakertown leadership team, and attempted to answer the essence of your questions in my blogs.

The latter part of the school year will definitely go into the history books. While it created a huge sense of loss for many, especially for the Class of 2020 - senior year sports season, prom, and a graduation ceremony with thousands of cheering family and friends in attendance - it also created resilience and strengthened family ties. I know our teachers and administrators were never more committed and worked even harder for their students, with each other, and for the Quakertown community.

There are so many lessons to learn from the experience, as there were many silver linings that we took advantage of.  With faculty and staff especially, we significantly enhanced our talent and capabilities using technology and software platforms that advance student achievement.  The professional development faculty and staff participated in was comprehensive, with priceless results that will benefit students for many years to come. It also created a wonderful sense of community and family within our district team. 

Many parents, even some teachers, were frustrated with the underlying premise of our Continuity of Education Plan model - not requiring participation/attendance nor awarding grades, only rendering feedback. While other districts led off with an accountability model different than ours that required these things, they ultimately fell back on and ended up with exactly what we decided to do early on. In reflection of the past three months, we saw growth in the ownership of student work and personalized learning by our students, with greater parent participation.  We also had the opportunity to watch our teachers and administrators be innovative and tenacious by motivating and inspiring students to actively participate in their studies. 

Now on to 2020-21.  Four weeks ago, we established a task force that was challenged to create our plan for safely reopening schools in the fall. Last Thursday night at the School Board meeting (at the 50:17-minute mark), we shared a presentation on Academic Year ‘20-’21 Initial Planning to Reopen Schools. The task force includes four work groups - Safety in Live Environment, Virtual Instruction, Equity, and Meeting Social-Emotional Needs & Building Community.  Our reopening schools model is being built by over 90 parents, teachers, principals, and district office directors, with the two assistant superintendents as co-leaders of the task force work groups. Informing the task force with their work is the PA Department of Education Guidance, the Bucks County Health Director’s GuidanceParent and Professional & Support Staff survey results and comments, and School Board guidance.  There were 122 pages of parent comments.  We read and reflected on them all.

With the overwhelming intent of the Board expecting us to have schools ready to open in the fall, the Draft Conceptual Model lays out our approach that supports their intent.  Student, faculty and staff safety is at the forefront of our planning.  The model includes:

  • Live instruction will be provided for as many students as possible,

  • How/whether live instruction is staggered and scheduled will depend on how many students select live or virtual instruction,

  • Priority for live instruction will be for classes/groups that are most difficult to deliver instruction and services virtually,

  • Students at all grade levels will have the option/choice to participate virtually instead of live,

  • The model will be fluid to accommodate students needs,

  • The school day may be shorter to limit screen time and allow teacher planning and execution of simultaneous live/virtual environments. 

The fluidity and flexibility that are expected of our planning and execution of this model are only matched by the custodial nature of schooling and your expectations.  We completely understand that parents need and want to get back to work, while at the same time we are still in the midst of a pandemic that has taken the lives of local family and friends.  Moving forward is both complex and complicated.  In the fall, we will be offering a virtual instructional model with attendance and grading for those parents who desire to have their child(ren) receive instruction at home.  Simultaneously, we will be offering live instruction back in our schools.  It will be your choice how to participate.

Next steps include the Task Force Work Groups continuing their work, and developing the Health and Safety Plan required by PDE before we can hold live instruction or any sports activities in any capacity.  We expect to present our recommended Health and Safety Plan, as well as the corollary Health and Safety Plan for Athletics, to the Board at the June 25th School Board meeting for approval.  These plans will clearly define the safety protocols that will be in place for 2020-21 so you will be in a position to make a decision about how your child(ren) will receive their instruction next year.  

Subsequently, we will be sending you another survey to request that you specifically identify the mode of instruction that you prefer in the fall for your child(ren).  Included in that survey will be bus transportation options for you to choose from.  Whether QCSD provides bus transportation in the fall for students is still undecided. Transportation is one small example of where it is complicated. For example, the Bucks County Health Director has said we may ride two students to one seat if children wear a protective mask.  Many parents do not want their children to wear a mask.  If we social distance on a bus our ridership could double our transportation costs from $4 million to $8 million or more - something that is not affordable given a $5 million to $6 million deficit next year.  

As always, thank you for reading and participating in the dialogue with us and in social media so we can better understand your expectations and needs.  Your feedback and thoughtful comments in the recent Parent Survey were invaluable to us in planning the draft conceptual framework for 2020-21.

Have a wonderful evening and summer. 

Bill Harner
Superintendent
wharner@qcsd.org
@BillHarner

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