Updating online learning, graduation & the budget

Updating online learning, graduation & the budget
Posted on 05/09/2020
Good evening! Hope this finds you well and that your family is healthy and staying safe!

As we are about to begin our ninth week of staying at home, I would like to catch you up on what is going on in Quakertown schools. The most important thing is that despite our buildings being closed, high-quality teaching and learning is still taking place for a vast majority of our students! Our approach has been to crawl, walk, run! Thanks to the Quakertown Community Education Foundation and other funding sources, we purchased and delivered hotspots to more than 30 families to ensure connectivity for all of our students. We are providing breakfast and lunch to more than 200 students per day, and with a 1:1 Chromebook access for our students K through 12, we are providing technology repair services for 20 to 40 students per day.

I am most grateful for your sharing of good news stories, experiences, and concerns that your child(ren) are having in our pandemic-driven instructional environment. Your perspective is important to both the School Board and me for leadership and decision making. The accolades for our teachers are many! With today’s Zoom and Google Hangout technology, I have been able to reach out to personally share your feedback. Just as important, I have been able to listen to and participate in high-quality conversations amongst our professional staff about how to get better teaching content and improving instructional practice in the virtual world. Every “hangout” is incredibly inspiring.

The only concerns I have received in the past two months are about our optional attendance and no grading policy during the Fourth Quarter. I would like to address those concerns. Quakertown closed out its grading for the year at the end of the Third Quarter. Prior to closing out Third Quarter and year-end grades in early April, teachers were allowed to accept student work to only improve grades. I can not imagine rendering a lower grade once we entered into our current stressful conditions. High school students who were at risk of failing a course or courses were offered to start summer school online. This has helped numerous seniors to be able to “walk” at graduation with their classmates.

Moving online requires fairness for both teachers and students. Teaching and learning virtually is NOT what we do as standard practice, nor do we want to. It changes the whole environment and fundamental relationship within the instructional core - between student, teacher and the content. The district leadership team believed that teachers and students needed to have the time to ‘crawl’ and ‘walk’ in the first few months of the synchronous and asynchronous world of online learning. Transcending these new expectations and instructional environments are complicated and complex conditions at both ends of this new paradigm - single-parent homes, multiple children in one household needing to be online at one time, not to mention the stresses of job loss and health concerns to many in our community.

Complicating the dynamic of attendance and grading are federal laws and regulations that require school districts and schools to provide Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE). Besides the moral obligation to provide quality education to ALL students, failure to provide FAPE places the school district at legal risk, which could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and compensatory education. The Cares Act afforded the US Secretary Betsy DeVos to waive FAPE during the pandemic, but she chose not to do so. If we open this fall in a virtual environment, we will be ready to ‘run’ with attendance and grading. Our model of teaching and learning, attendance and grading will be the best in public education!

Earlier this week, Quakertown Community High School Principal Matt Van’t Hoenderdaal shared with his students, staff and faculty, and parents how we will be celebrating graduation for the Class of 2020. There will be three different parts to graduation activities to make it special. First, the HS Administrative team will be delivering graduation caps and gowns by fire truck, along with yard signs that will “Paint the Town Blue.” Second, later this month, QCHS TV Productions will begin staging and filming the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony - one graduate at a time. It will be a lengthy filming process that will include ALL component parts of a graduation ceremony, including student, class sponsor, principal and School Board president speeches. The graduation ceremony will be streamed via social media on June 16th. Also on June 16th, through Downtown Quakertown will be a parade of cars with our Class of 2020 graduates. The QCHS Class of 2020 will have an incredible story to share for generations to come!

This Thursday, May 14th, the Board of School Directors will be conducting its meeting via Zoom. At the meeting, the Board will be receiving a presentation from the construction manager of the Neidig Elementary renovation project, which is mostly on schedule to be completed by early fall. It will also vote to charge the Administration to form a Community Committee for Elementary School Redistricting. The Community Committee will begin its work in August, and report to the School Board by December. Additional Board considerations include the district assuming the entire food service debt accrued by students, and for a new technology agreement that will replace 100% of our teachers’ laptops and new Chromebooks for our incoming sixth grade students.

The Board will also be taking its first vote on the Proposed Final Budget for 2020-21. It continues to be the Board’s intent to have a no tax increase budget next year. The Board expressed its interest in its first-ever no tax increase budget in January. That was affirmed after learning more than 4,000 Quakertown residents have filed for unemployment compensation. The COVID-19 pandemic has doubled our revenue shortfall, from $3 million to $6 million. Fortunately, the district’s business model in recent years has placed QCSD in a healthy position. We will be able to withstand the impact of the pandemic on district revenue without furloughs and program curtailments. However, I did enact a hiring freeze until we have a clearer picture on when we will re-enter school buildings.

Many of you are wondering what we will be doing in the fall. Two weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education talked about the possibility of some districts returning to school online. With Bucks County having one of the highest rates of COVID-19, we are praying for a return to regular school, but planning for several options. We will be surveying for your opinion before this year out. Two things you can count on! Whatever decision we make, safety will be at the forefront of our thinking. And, if we are back into online learning, our instructional model will be the best, and it will require attendance and teachers will be rendering grades.

Thank you for reading! As always, please share your thoughts and experiences with us so that we know what's on your mind.

Bill Harner
Superintendent
Email: wharner@qcsd.org
Twitter: @billharner
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