The 2021 edition of the MVWSD Board of Trustees will inherit a pandemic that's either declining, steady-state, or exploding. That's going to be determined by what our community does in the next few months. If we follow health orders, wear masks, and work hard to avoid indoor gatherings, we've got a good shot at improving the situation. If we try to bend the rules, I don't like our chances. We'll see what happens... It's really not up to our school community - it's up to everyone.
One thing I am certain about: this pandemic will have a long-term impact on our kids, and the longer it goes on the deeper that impact will be. It will disproportionately impact Latinx families - looking at the data, it already is. We should all have an interest in shortening the duration, whether we've got kids in the schools or not, because like it or not, we're all going to be paying for the recovery in one way or another. Actions that will prolong the pandemic in our area - including premature reopening of schools - must be avoided. I look at proposals to reopen for specific ages with a great deal of skepticism - the science here is extremely limited, and if we want to get into a discussion of ACE2 receptor density vs age + ability to follow instructions vs age, and argue about R-factors, I'd suggest we bring in some health experts to have that discussion for us.
We need to be super-careful about thinking that if we can just get everyone back in the classroom and make them submit to the voice of teaching authority, the world will just march in lock-step towards a glorious post-COVID future. What we can and should be doing is focusing on any actions we can take today to drive down transmission, so that we can get to where we can contact-trace all infections - that's what will give us enough control over this small strand of RNA to where we can start to have some confidence in reopening schools. We should be insisting that our state and national leadership keep their feet on the accelerators for development of vaccines and therapies. And we should make sure we're able to survive the current state.
In the short term, there are a few things we can do to get through this:
Make sure that parents of younger students and special needs students are getting the help they need. Everyone is going to learn a lot as school reopens, but we already know that it's incredibly difficult for working parents to do double-duty and help their kids through the day. Companies need to be looking at ways to give employees added flexibility, and teachers need to be able to also meet families halfway. The district should keep looking for ways to help teachers who have their own young or special needs kids, in a way that doesn't jeopardize their hard-won career benefits. If you're the parent of an older child who does well in the online system, I hope you can appreciate how much of a blessing that is & if you can, try to help other families (and teachers) out, whether it's a gift of time, expertise, or money - or simply a gift of compassion.
Routinely publish metrics for online access & drive to 100%. Access really isn't a new thing. We crossed the chasm a long time ago with technology, and are now working on that long tail of the adoption curve. That takes focus. Every week: what % of enrolled students have their own Chromebook, what % of students have Internet access in an appropriate study location (which might not necessarily be home), and what % of students actually logged in. Solve the problem one student at a time. If those numbers aren't going up every week, there should be a very clear discussion as to why, and actions taken to address that. I'm not here to prescribe what those are - that's up to the district staff and their partners in city infrastructure & telecommunications - but school boards can certainly make sure there's a focus on results.
Communicate. We're all learning together, and need to keep sharing what's working, what's not working, and what's expected. We've come a long way from when MVWSD had no mobile-friendly web site and no Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) sheets posted online. Dr. Rudolph had 900 families call into one of his many Zoom sessions over the summer. The reopening framework sessions have received quite a bit of praise as well. But we're still learning how to do better, both with the technology and the substance of what we communicate. One thing that's helped our family, even before COVID started, was to make sure we had a connection with our kids' teachers and principals, and to provide feedback on both what was working and what needed to be better (we also got feedback in return, which helped us grow ourselves!). Our middle schools challenge our kids to solve problems by working directly with their teachers - I wonder if we might ask some of our 4th and 5th graders to rise to that challenge as well during these times. Communicating problems and solving them at the classroom and school level is way more scalable than e-mailing the school board for help, though the Board will always be there as a final step in the escalation of issues. We just need to do it.
The long-term picture is something that I hope everyone thinks about before the election. The real challenge for the next Board is going to be the path forward after we've got a vaccine and schools have fully reopened. I'm hopeful that we'll see a vaccine in early 2021, and much of my thinking about COVID and schools rests on that assumption - If I'm wrong, we'll be revising a lot more than just school policies. I've outlined a few things as part of my goals page on this site: understanding the enrollment picture, closing the new achievement gaps that will emerge from COVID, and more.
As someone who championed the current school sizing models as part of Measure G, I'm very concerned that a COVID-induced flight to private schools and homeschooling might take us below critical mass at some of our elementary schools. With all due respect to families who find that other approaches work well for them, I am super passionate about winning more people over to public schools and making sure we have the critical mass that's needed for vibrant neighborhood schools, outstanding school choice programs, and amazing middle schools. That means making sure we've got the bar for MVWSD set in a pace where the District wins that all-important enrollment decision more often than not. It means finding ways to gradually bring families back - including taking a fresh look at MVWSD's approach to homeschooling. And it means doing the very best we can at distance & blended learning right now.
Academically, I believe we're going to need to get creative (post-COVID) to help accelerate learning and get kids back on the traditional K-12 track - and if we can't, we're going to need to talk about gap years or even additional grade levels. There's a whole strategic discussion to be had about the stack-up of deferred college start dates and how that flows back to K-12 academic planning. We're going to need a Board that can work together very collaboratively with District leadership and the community, and one that can think very strategically about the paths forward. There will be difficult financial decisions to be had, including whether or not post-COVID-catch-up investments are something the District has to absorb itself. We'll have new achievement gaps to address, and I think we're going to find that they'll form along both traditional lines, and along some new lines that might surprise people. As someone who really enjoys strategy, organizational development, and resource planning, I think this sounds incredibly fun and exciting. Not everyone feels that way, I know. I wish we didn't have these problems either. But what a great set of problems to try and solve!
Right now we need to be doing the best we can to keep the long-term burden down - we can't just assume there's going to be a solid economy to help fund whatever we need later. That means attention to detail on math tracks, academic cohorts, and quality of instruction. It means investing more to help communities that are seeing more of the impact of COVID. Communicate and keep learning... we will get through this! Then we can all start working on the long road to recovery - I hope to be part of that as one of your future MVWSD Trustees, and appreciate your consideration.