Message from Superintendent Nease 07/16/20

Good evening HUUSD students, parents, staff, administration, board, and larger community-

I hope this message finds you all healthy and well, enjoying our beautiful Vermont summer as much as possible. Tonight, I am writing to share where we are in our district planning for school next year. There are so very many questions, all of which cannot be answered yet, but we are making progress everyday. Yesterday we received some guidance from the state that allows me to put a process and timeline in place to move forward. There is no doubt that COVID has created enormous challenges for our schools and families. It has been difficult to communicate widely until now because we had so much learning to do and few decisions were made. We are about 6 weeks away from the anticipated date for reopening our schools, so you can expect regular updates until we get to the finish line!

Here is what your admin team has been up to this summer and what you can expect from now until school begins.

After our last graduation ceremony June 20th at HUHS, we began our work planning for next year. On June 17th, we received our first guidance document from the Agency of Education (AOE). This document, " A Strong Healthy Start" focused on safety and health guidance for reopening our schools in fall 2020.  From  June 22nd through July 6th we studied the document and began facilities work - we focused on ordering masks, shields, disinfectants, hand sanitizing stations, thermometers, improving HVAC systems, playgrounds, fields and outdoor areas, etc - all the required elements, measured and fitted the buildings, purchased desks, set up/built isolation rooms, installed plexiglass barriers, and fulfilled many other requirements from the guidance to prepare our facilities. This work remains ongoing.

From July 7th through July 16th, we studied the remote learning survey data from March and May, distributed a parent survey and then a staff survey with questions developed based on what we heard from parents, did a lot of brainstorming about possibilities, discussed busing models, established teams and structures to carry out the work, all while we waited for more guidance documents from the AOE on what we could and couldn't do. More of that guidance came yesterday with still more to come. 

Since June 22nd, our admin team meets multiple times each week. Our principals attend statewide meetings with other principals through VPA. I attend Winooski Valley regional superintendents meetings weekly, meet with the Secretary of Education and all superintendents every Thursday, board leadership weekly, and C.O admin meet with their statewide teams. Our HUUSD nurses have met all summer.

Here is some what is on the horizon until school starts, with more details to be provided daily and weekly as we move forward:

HUUSD will have 4 working teams, one for each area of responsibility outlined by the state; Safe & Healthy Environments, Leadership and Policy, Social Emotional Health, and Continuity of Learning. Membership of each team includes 3-5 admin and 3-5 staff.  In addition, each building will have its own team of staff led by the principal. HUEA (Harwood Unified Educational Association) and HUUSD admin have a union advisory team with four admin and six staff. HUUSD Nurses remaining working in an ongoing team. All teams are expected to meet the last week in July and then regularly until school starts.

I am creating all Staff Zoom Meetings with me on Thursdays July 23rd, July 30th, and August 6th from 2:30-4:30 to share and answer questions. Principals and C.O admin will be present as their schedules allow. These meetings are available to staff and strictly voluntary. Stay tuned for an invitation and more specifics.

I am creating all Zoom Community Forums along with Caitlin Hollister, Board Chair and Torrey Smith, Vice Chair on July 27th, August 3, 10, and 17 from 6:30-8:30 (possibly shorter after our first meeting). Caitlin and Torrey will facilitate and I will be happy to answer as many questions as possible, let you know those that we do not have any answers for, and share our/my best thinking with our parents and greater community.  Stay tuned for an invitation and more specifics.

Our full HUUSD Admin Team will meet Monday and Tuesday next week to confirm the HUUSD Return to Learn Model, which we will finalize based on all the survey data to date and our best thinking about how we should reopen our campuses.

I will attend a 2 day VSBA/VSA webinar next week to learn further what innovative ideas and strategies are and will continue to be essential as schools re-open and school leaders transform culture, learning, health, and safety. Important topics will include the educational and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and racism and equity in society.

I will publish a report with document links and specifics about our HUUSD Return to Learn Model, AOE COVID documents, and other important information by Friday, July 24th.  The week of July 27th we hope to send out parent and staff surveys about the model to gather feedback, so that we can make revisions, if needed. Our goal is to have a final model in place by Monday, August 4th.

Today, Caitlin, Torrey and I were interviewed by our local media, the VR and Waterbury Roundabout. Look for those publications. The session was recorded and it is my understanding that Lisa Loomis, VR, will try and make the recording widely available.  

In closing, we are making progress on our Return to Learn Model every day. The medical information and AOE guidance changes weekly and sometimes daily. The work is daunting, often feeling like every problem solved creates a new problem. We are reinventing and developing something that feels completely new because all the policies, procedures, and other tools and structures used to typically run our schools no longer are applicable. You will be hearing about many different models throughout the state. This is because the AOE does not believe that a Pre K-12 template makes sense due to the number of differences in size, resources, and community needs in each district. 

Our admin team still has many unanswered questions and concerns. Whatever plan we implement must seriously focus on not only the physical health and safety of students AND staff, but equally so on the emotional, social, and mental health well being of all. My two greatest concerns are:

1) How will students and staff adapt, succeed, and sustain the model physically, socially and emotionally? The guidance to date is based on health and medical expertise and the need to reopen schools for child care, economic reasons, social interaction and of course learning. However, the guidance does not address child development best practices, student and staff mental health, and HOW to do this. Students will not be coming back to "their school". They will be coming into a new world no matter how hard we try to provide everything that is best for them. I think we must consider and be honest about the impact of temperature checks, wearing masks all day, sitting in the same desk, eating at that desk, washing hands 10 times daily, not touching friends or adults, not sharing books and learning materials, (each student must have supplies in individual containers) no cafeteria or gymnasium, staying with the same students in a "pod" all day, and so much more. Our students are not robots or soldiers. They are social interactive beings. We will do whatever we can to be outside as much as possible, but weather is unpredictable and will only make outside learning feasible for so long. Finally, we need to measure the impact against loss of learning and social isolation in a totally remote setting. 

2) My second concern is how we will maintain adequate staffing so that we can consistently sustain the model. We do not have guidance yet on how to manage quarantine. Buildings cannot have parents or volunteers enter, so how will we manage substitutes and find adequate availability?

Here is a preview of some data in my upcoming report.

According to the parent survey with 1672 responding, 43.6 % prefer in person 5 days - less than 50%; 9.1% total remote, 29.3% Hybrid (remote with a few days each week in person), and 18% need to know more to decide.

According to the staff survey (preliminary results because it is open until noon this Monday- with 173 responses)  18.5% prefer in person 5 days, 42.20 Hybrid, 18.5 totally remote, and 20.8 need to know more.

Well, I need to close for tonight. I hope you find this update helpful. All feedback is welcome and you can email me at [email protected]. I may not be able to get back to everyone but I will read, consider and share the feedback. Please have patience. I know how hard this is and how unsettling uncertainty can be. The only way out is through, one day at a time. We are moving carefully, thoughtfully, strategically knowing revisions will be needed every step of the way. We need you all as partners to succeed. The only way we can succeed is if students, staff, administration, board members, parents and our community work collaboratively to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for all. It now not only takes a village to raise a child, but to stay physically, socially and emotionally healthy during a pandemic.

With warm regards,

Brigid Nease



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