• Reopen With Love

    Fall 2020 Virtual Reopening Plan

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RPS Direct Update - December 3, 2020

  • Dear #RPSStrong Family,

    This evening, I’d like to preview the recommendation I’ll be making to the School Board on Monday regarding the second semester. Before doing so, I want to express my profound gratitude to the nearly 10,000 families and staff who responded to our surveys, as well as the hundreds of people who reached out to me personally to share their thoughts. I also want to thank our educators and support staff, our families, and most of all, our students, for showing each other so much grace over the past several months. Though our fall has been far from perfect, I do believe we managed to #ReopenWithLove and we should all be immensely proud of that.

    At Monday’s School Board meeting, I will recommend that we remain fully virtual for the second semester. I plan to do so for three reasons.

    First, given rapidly rising infection rates, I continue to be very concerned about the health and safety of our students, staff, and families. Just yesterday, the United States experienced the highest number of COVID deaths and hospitalizations ever. Here in Virginia, we also hit a new high for hospitalizations. And, as reported earlier today in the RTD, Richmond just reached an all-time peak for COVID infections. It should come as no surprise, then, that we're in the highest risk category for one of the three “core indicators” that K-12 schools are to consider when deciding about in-person instruction (see below).
     
    In addition, though the latest research tells us that the risk of within-school transmission is quite low, it isn’t zero. And were infections to occur in our schools, severe consequences are much more likely, given our family and staff demographics. As a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article noted, “Black residents in Richmond are being hospitalized with COVID-19 at more than five times the rate of white residents.” We have already seen dozens of infections among our students and staff – including one fatality – while fully virtual. I don’t want us to do anything that would cause those numbers to increase, even slightly.

    Finally, while the recent news about vaccines is very encouraging, it's not likely that the general public will have access to them until late spring or early summer. Thus, at this time, I don't see vaccination as a pathway to opening up before the end of the school year. 
    Second, a clear majority of our teachers and families have indicated a desire to remain virtual. As of today, 80% of staff and 63% of families selected that option. Of note, the family number goes up to 67% for families of color, and 70% for Black/African-American families. Though certainly not unanimous, the predominant sentiment of the RPS community is clear: remain fully virtual.

    Staff Responses

     
    Family Responses in English

     
    Family Responses in Spanish

     
    Third, opening up would have a number of unintended consequences that would exacerbate existing inequities. For example, we would not be able to provide transportation, as we use our entire bus fleet every morning to deliver meals. As a result, only families who have cars or other means of transportation would be able to access in-person instruction. Furthermore, we would need to change many class rosters, as there wouldn’t be a perfect match between the teachers who would be willing to return and the families who would want to do so. As a result, a significant number of students would end up with new teachers (and a significant number of teachers would end up with new students). Breaking the student-teacher bond would be harmful to all students, but it would be particularly so for those facing additional challenges given their life circumstances. I firmly believe that the best thing we can offer our students, families, and staff right now is stability.

    Though I will be recommending that we remain virtual for the reasons outlined above, I acknowledge the very real downsides to continuing with remote instruction. First, while this approach is working well for many students, it is not for others. The long-term academic and social-emotional impacts for these young people are likely to be significant. Second, home is unfortunately not always the safest place for some students. An additional virtual semester will only exacerbate this reality. And third, staying remote means that many working families will continue to struggle with balancing their jobs and childcare.

    Please know that we’re leveraging every resource we have to help mitigate these challenges. For example, we’ve recently launched a one-to-one tutoring program to provide additional academic support. We've also expanded our partnerships with organizations like Communities in Schools (CIS), Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA), Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN), and Child Savers to provide additional wraparound supports for our most vulnerable students. In addition, we've worked with the City, the YMCA, Peter Paul Development Center, and RBHA to open five facilitated learning centers to ease the childcare burden that many families face. (Note that we still have open spaces at some of these centers; please click on the link above if you'd like to register.)

    But we know even more support will be needed over the coming months. And that’s going to take additional resources. Fortunately, I’m cautiously optimistic that a new federal stimulus package is on the horizon. We’re already strategizing how best to use these funds so that we can hit the ground running as soon as they become available.

    We’re also beginning to plan right now for next school year, exploring how we might do things differently to help students make up for the negative impacts of virtual instruction. For example, we’re looking into whether a year-round calendar might be financially possible and whether that’s something our teachers and families would be interested in pursuing. Note that we won’t make any decisions on this until late winter or early spring, as we of course want to gather a great deal of feedback.

    I’d like to close with a word to our seniors. In short, I want to apologize for turning your final year with us upside down. I recognize many of you have been dreaming about 12th grade – and all the in-person experiences that come with it – for quite some time. Please know that I’m making this recommendation because we love you and want to keep you safe and healthy so that you can live your dreams for decades to come.

    With great appreciation,

    Jason
     
     
    Shout-outs! – Please keep sending them to me at jkamras@rvaschools.net. Thank you! 

    • My shout-outs go to Phil Leid (ITRT) and Rebecca Miley at RTC. Just a dynamic duo! I'll never be able to thank them enough for all their help in our transition to virtual technology.
    • Shout-out for Michelle Hudacsko. I would like to say thank you so very much for making sure that I received my Chromebook. You are a very gracious person and I appreciate your compassion. While giving out shouts, I would also like to recognize a special teacher whom I work with named Debbie Miller. Mrs. Miller was nice enough to take her time and go pick up the Chromebook for me.
    • I would like to take a moment and commend Ms. Jones and Mrs. Ray for their dedication and commitment to making sure we are safe and our concerns are being addressed. They have been extremely understanding, sensitive to the needs of all staff, and very informative as to how they wanted things to operate in the building...They are attentive, patient, and informative. If we ask, they find an answer...I want so say I am very proud and honored to be under their tenure and it makes me proud to call them my administrators. In these uncertain times, I felt it very necessary to show appreciation and express that they always have our best interest at heart. I am extremely grateful for them.
    • Just wanted to give a shout-out to the River City Middle School English Department and the Department Chair, Lailah Rajab-Bland. You guys are awesome!!!!!!
    • I'm writing to give a huge shout out to Ms. Wilson for the phenomenal job she does instructing and guiding not just my daughter but also all her other students. My daughter is non-vocal but gets so excited and happy when she is logging on at 1:00 pm daily for science class. Ms. Wilson is extremely passionate, energetic, and invested in ensuring that her class is following along and actively engaged in daily instruction! I enjoy when I'm off from work or working from home when I, too, can learn and explore scientific experiments or the cool virtual field trips she puts together. It is such a great honor to have my daughter in Ms. Wilson's class and I want to ensure she is recognized for her dedication and hard work. Ms. Wilson has made virtual learning fun and engaging, especially during these days we are in. I truly appreciate all that she does!
    • I would like to send a shout out to Mrs. Valenza at Oakgrove-Belmeade ES. We appreciate her postcards and text messages to my grandson, who was a former student at the school.
    • FCES is the best! We had two virtual award assemblies at Fairfield Court Elementary with our very own School Board Member, Cheryl Burke, who gave greetings. The Climate & Culture Team had the vision for these events. We had over 250 students, staff, and parents attend both assemblies! I am so proud of the accomplishments of the FCES staff working hard to "Reach and Teach" each and every student on our Journey to Greatness! #MissionPossible
    • Jasmine Terry, social worker at Linwood Holton, is a phenomenal individual! She is dedicated to supporting our families & making sure that student needs are met! She is consistently offering  resources & helping families during this difficult time. We appreciate her hard work and it’s a pleasure having her at Holton on our team!
    • I am a teacher of children with intensive needs at Amelia Street School. Just recently I had to have my laptop serviced so I took it to Fairfield Middle School, which was the closest school to where I live in Sandston, VA. I just want to say how appreciative I am to the young man who serviced my laptop. He was helping the teachers on Tuesday, December 1, while two other technicians assisted the students. It was around 2:45 p.m. He fixed the problem – which was no sound and no microphone detected for my Google Classroom – in record time. I was also impressed at how he was able to help my other colleagues at the same time that he was working with me. If you know what this young man's name is, please extend my heartfelt thank you and acknowledge him in your next round of shout outs. [If someone knows who this is, please email me!]
    • Thank you to Ms. Williams (History) and Ms. Hayward-Jones (SPACE) at Henderson Middle School for keeping our son engaged and laughing! We are so thankful!
    • To Bernadette Jenkins-Booker, Warren Mangrum, and all of the mechanics at the Chamberlayne Avenue Transportation Shop for getting the Lit Limo ready to go back on the street and taking care of our it with such magnificent timing! The students and librarians greatly appreciate all of your effort.
    • I would like to give a loud shout-out to Ms. Brandi Johnson from the 1st grade team at G.H. Reid Elementary. She serves as a model teacher and always remains focused on student growth and achievement! She is a beautiful person both inside and out, and truly dedicated to our Reid Ravens!
    • A huge shout out to Mrs. Susan Roberson, Director of Nutrition Services at RPS. Mrs. Roberson is going above and beyond to ensure that a family at G.H. Reid receives food support over the Xmas break. Mrs. Roberson is prompt, thorough, understanding, and compassionate. I gained all of this from a simple 5-minute phone conversation. Thank you, Mrs. Roberson, for all that you do!!!!
    • Please give a powerful shout-out to the best administrative office associate at MLK Middle School, Ms. Chanel (CoCo) Shaw. She is very friendly, has a wealth of knowledge, and is professional. Ms. Shaw is a strong, dependable leader. We love you!!!
    • The front office team at MLK Middle School is the best. Priscilla Anderson, Pamela Hunter, and Timothy Carter handle all the day-to-day situations that arise. The team is dependable and professional. We love our MLK Titan Office Team.
    • I'd like to thank the Benefits and Compensation Department for the yummy virtual cooking demonstration yesterday, I can't wait to try out the recipes AND clean out my pantry!!!
    • A giant shout out to Ashley Bland and Stacy Green, the Dynamic Duo, for their session on using Canva yesterday! I came out with so many new ideas to try, and some new tricks in the toolbox!
    • Thank you so much to Jonathan Kenneth for all of the good Jamboard information! I'm especially excited about the templates that he shared!
    • I would like to shout out the first grade team at Cardinal Elementary: Ms. Brida, Ms. Elliott, Ms. Rockey, Ms. Flanagan, Ms. McDevitt, Ms. Morgan-Harris, Ms. Miller, and Ms. Mallard. They are a group of dedicated, talented teachers and I am so appreciative to have them on my team. They are always thinking of ways to make the curriculum more approachable and engaging for our students. I wouldn't be able to survive virtual teaching without them!
    • I would like to shout-out two excellent math teachers: Myonka Boyd and Destini Braxton at Boushall Middle School. They teach with love every day. They make sure that all of their students understand the content being taught before moving on. My grandson is very blessed to be in their class. You two math teachers rock!
     
     
    RPS Civic Voices Town Hall Recap – If you missed the Town Hall last night about RVA Men Teach – our new initiative to retain, develop, and recruit male teachers of color – I strongly encourage you to check it out. This powerful discussion was led by Rodney Robinson, RPS Senior Advisor and 2019 National Teacher of the Year, and Corey Stuckey, a senior at George Wythe High School. Joining them were the following education all-stars. We can't thank them enough for sharing their expertise, insights, and life experiences.

    • Mr. Atif Qarni, Virginia Secretary of Education
    • Dr. Andrew Daire, Dean, VCU School of Education
    • Dr. Walter Willis, Dean, Virginia State University
    • Dr. Maurice Carter, Director, Longwood University
    • Dr. Javaid Siddiqi, President and CEO, Hunt Institute
    • Mr. Lamont Trotter, Principal, Richmond Alternative School
    • Dr. Travis Wilkins, Teacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School
    • Mr. Lyons Sanchezconcha, Teacher, Huguenot High School

    We're also grateful to the members of the Listening Gallery, who had the opportunity to listen to the discussion and then reflect at the end on some key takeaways for their work. 

    • Dr. James Lane, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction
    • Ms. Sandra Lee, RPS Chief Talent Officer
    • Mr. Harry Hughes, RPS Chief Schools Officer
     
     
    Family Academy / NextUp Partnership – As part of our Family Academy, we're proud to partner with NextUp RVA to offer free, virtual enrichment programs to our families! The courses cover a variety of topics, from technology to the arts to financial literacy. Please visit this page for additional information, and this one to register.
     
     
    Facilitated Learning Centers – As a reminder, there are still seats available at the "facilitated learning centers" serving RPS students. See below for details.

    • Peter Paul Development Center is running a facilitated learning center at MLK MS for 2nd-8th grade RPS students. The full-day option goes from 9 am until 6 pm, and is completely free for low-income families. To learn more, click here.
    • The YMCA is is running facilitated learning centers at Miles Jones ES, Holton ES, and Huguenot HS for K-8th grade RPS students. The full-day option goes from 7:30 am until 6 pm, and is completely free for low-income families. To learn more, click here.
    • There are also many other facilitated learning centers not housed in RPS schools across the city. To learn more, click here.
     
     
    RPS Love Store – Show your RPS Love and help us raise money for RPS families in need and local racial justice non-profits by ordering something today from the RPS Love Store
     
     
     
    Support – Please reach out if you need help.

     
    Important Links – I'll note in orange when there have been additions/updates so you you won't miss anything.

    #ReopenWithLove Links
    Local, State, and National Public Health Links
    Local, State, and National Public Education Links
     

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