February 12, 2021

Posted by Audrey Sofianos on 2/12/2021 11:00:00 AM

Many people have reached out to me empathizing with what a monumental task it is to safely reopen the school building right now and asking what they can do to help.   I want to cover some of that here in today's blog. We do need your help. You are all a vital part of our success during this time.

The biggest thing you can do is to help reduce community spread in our area. Make sure your family is following CDC guidelines and best practices in your personal lives.  Consequences of actions taken outside of school by any of us, impacts all of us. A decision to gather indoors, travel, or forego a mask no longer just increases risk for a single family. Please keep this in mind when making choices about the things your family will engage in and what precautions you will take in your daily lives. We want to keep our building open so our children have continuity and parents are not scrambling to cover a last minute shift to virtual learning due to exposure at school. We want to keep our teachers, staff and students safe. We need your help to do these things. We can control the protocols we follow in school. The #1 way you can help is to take the pandemic seriously outside of school. 

For example, if you are traveling this holiday weekend, consider keeping your child home on Tuesday, and accruing that absent day.  As a principal - would I have ever dreamed of asking a student to stay home voluntarily?  I have been fighting for kids to have 95% plus attendance my entire career, but times are different.  If you have traveled and had a wider than normal exposure to others this weekend, staying home Tuesday, plus the asynchronous day on Wednesday will give families time to monitor for symptoms.  If anyone in the family is showing symptoms, please get COVID testing to be sure.  Another way you can help is to never send a child to school if that child or any household member has a pending COVID test.  Please wait for those negative test results before sending your child to school.  I cannot require these things, but it is something for each family to consider for the well-being of all.  As we make choices outside of school, those choices could impact what happens with students and staff inside of Morningside.  

For this quarter, it is helpful to understand the complexity of the planning for reopening, and to know that the choices we ultimately made kept teachers and students as the priority. Morningside had a very unique situation with our return numbers, both for teachers approved for telework and for students returning F2F.   We have the highest number of both in our Grady cluster.  In any model, there are tradeoffs.  This model was created with each teaching team, and we did the best we could with the resources we had to create a plan with the most benefit to all. We are proud of where we ended up and feel it is working well. It may look different than some other schools, because we all had different puzzle pieces to work with.  Here are some of the ideas we explored in our planning process: 

  • Simultaneous teaching:  This was limited this quarter, due to the number of teachers on telework.  This would not have been a solution in many of our grades. We still need in-person staff in classrooms, with the social distancing requirements.  We have used every teacher available to us, maximizing both the virtual and in-person program.  
  • Collapsing classes and moving teachers:  We explored closing smaller classrooms across the building and moving teachers.  For example, a teacher who taught K in first semester could have been moved to 3rd grade or a teacher remaining on telework could have been moved from 1st to 4th.  We felt this was too disruptive to our teachers and students.  Our teachers don't want to lose the connection to their kids!  The delivery teacher model offers some level of continuity to our students and our ability to pivot quickly during these uncertain pandemic times when change is the norm.  We tried to avoid massive shifts to a new teacher and whole new set of classmates.  We know some students changed, but we tried to minimize this as much as possible.
  • Using the gym or cafe as a classroom:  You may have seen pictures of these spaces as classrooms in articles from across the country.  We could have put a teacher in charge of a larger group of in-person students in these spaces.  We decided these spaces are not the best for full-time in-person learning due to lighting, sound and we want the flexibility to use these spaces as needed for specials or lunch going forward.
  • Hybrid:   We have the highest rate of student return, right around 60%.  Four of six grade levels are over 60%, with 3rd grade at 66% return.  We looked at full hybrid and even partial hybrid - where one grade comes every day, but another grade follows a 2 day per week model.  We built a very complex model so that all students could return fully.  It took an immense amount of work, but we did the best we could for this quarter to avoid the hybrid. 

With all of this planning, the virtual program was at the forefront.  As we created these plans, it was a wholistic process for our teams - looking at how we serve BOTH groups in the best way possible.  Though our virtual class sizes are larger than we would like in 3 of the grades, they are all under our threshold of 30, with assistance of a virtual para given where needed.  Our highest class sizes virtually right now are in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.  2nd grade average is 29, with a half-time virtual para assisting, 3rd grade average is 26 with a half-time virtual para assisting and 4th grade is at 27.   Please keep in mind that some of these class sizes have been in place all year, or have only increased by a few students.  We continue to monitor both our virtual and in-person program and with 19 days left in the 3rd quarter, we will still add supports where needed.

Later today, I believe you will receive information from Superintendent Herring on your final Intent to Return Declaration for the last quarter.  We will once again look at our student return numbers, our teacher return rate, as well as all teaching staff we have available to us virtually and in-person.   I remain hopeful that we can continue a full four day student in-person model, while keeping our mitigation strategies, including social distancing.  We will be looking at all of the above again - with teachers at the planning table for each grade and area, so that we can maximize our expertise to create the 4th quarter model while minimizing disruption for students and teachers.

I also received information on COVID-19 surveillance testing for our in-person students and staff at Morningside!  You will get information about that in a separate communication later today.  It is hot off the press and just arrived in my email!  We have had 12 days of in-person learning and only 1 positive case reported, which you received a communication about on Tuesday, Feb. 9th.  My next blog will be a joint effort - from  school nurse and principal - and it will cover more information and the steps on what happens when there is a positive case at MES.  I also will be reading the new schools CDC guidance this weekend, scheduled to come out at 2pm today.

Lastly, we can all help during this time by showing support for one another. This past year has been tough on us all. As a community, let’s assume we’re all working with best intentions and lift each other up, even if we don’t always agree. We are stronger and better together.   Every parent has made the right choice for their student(s) and family.  Let's show kindness to one another in our words and actions.   Reach out and do something special for a neighbor in need.  Plan a special surprise for a virtual or in-person staff member - such as taking the time to write a card, send in or mail a student created art piece, or delivering a lunch to school or home.  These little acts of kindness have huge impact - for the recipient as well as the students seeing community and giving in action.  They have seen so much division - let's work together and show our kids how we are united as Morningside.