Looking ahead at the mid-point of 2020-21

A head-and-shoulders photo of Superintendent Adams

We have officially reached the midway point of the 2020-21 school year with the start of the third marking period this week. We are grateful to all of our students, families, faculty and staff for persevering through these trying times. 

This mid-year update is intended to provide information about where we are as a school district at this time. We are providing updates on instructional programming, planning for the 2021-22 school year, tracking the impact of COVID-19 and sharing the fiscal unknowns. 

During this school year, we have continued to challenge ourselves to implement the best educational program possible while maintaining our commitment to the delivery of quality instruction, health and safety, while living within our financial means. 

This will continue to be our approach. 

We are pleased as we begin the second half of the school year to have recently received the final shipment of the 5,200 Chromebooks that we ordered in July. We are now distributing those devices through each school so that we can achieve a 1:1 computing model district-wide. 

This has been a very welcome development as we plan for the weeks and months to come. 

Instructional program for third marking period
Our plan, at this time, is to continue through the third marking period in our current instructional model of in-person instruction for all students in prekindergarten through grade 6, as well as for our self-contained special education students in grades 7-12. All of our general education students in grades 7-12 will remain in distance learning. 

At the elementary level, we will maintain our cohorts of in-person students because of limitations related to COVID-19 around building space and classroom capacity, as well as staffing for instruction and supervision. Should families have questions, please contact the building administrator. 

At the secondary level, we will look to expand Phase 2 of our instructional model, which we initiated in the fall. This phase of our COVID-19 reopening is adding opportunities for in-person learning in grades 7-12 based on academic and social-emotional needs within our career and technical education programs, STEM (including science labs), music, art and tiered academic support for students integrated in our instructional model.

Faculty and staff have been reaching out to identified students in grades 7-12 to schedule time to work in one of our middle or high school computer labs should they need a quiet, supportive location to complete coursework. Please be reminded that COVID-19 protocols and social distancing must be followed.

Instructional program for the fourth marking period
The fourth marking period will mark Phase 3 of our phased-in instructional model. This will bring about innovative scheduling to facilitate content-area cohorts of students attending school in a modified hybrid model of instruction. 

A modified hybrid instructional model may consist of small groups of students being scheduled on campus for targeted support and instruction based on their needs, with a continued emphasis on COVID-19 health and safety precautions and protocols. More information will be provided in the upcoming weeks.

Planning for 2021-22
In planning for next school year, we face many unknowns. However, in order to do this work we will be forming elementary, middle and high school committees to develop an academic plan that continues to expand our in-person instructional delivery models while also offering a robust distance learning program for 2021-22. The committees will begin with district personnel and then gather input from families at the school level.

Regardless of the model of instruction, there are several limitations we have to consider as we look forward. 

The most pressing limitation is that of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing guidelines. This requirement alone presents building space and capacity limitations that will pose a variety of scheduling challenges that may continue well into the 2021-22 school year.

In addition to scheduling challenges, we also must take into consideration the building-based reasonable accommodations impacting our faculty and staff due to the worldwide pandemic.

Fiscal unknowns
We are encouraged by recent statements from the New York State Division of Budget that the state will provide aid in full to school districts for the current school year. There are still many questions about the amount and timing of federal aid, and how that could impact the state budget and school budgets.

We remain optimistic that our leaders at the state and federal levels will work together to provide equitable funding to support the diverse needs of all school districts. Governor Cuomo and other state leaders have been clear that the economic impact of COVID-19 will likely last several years. 

With that in mind, we will take a multi-year approach to strategically rebuild our instructional framework, which includes the academic, social and emotional support needed to address the well-being of our students. 

We encourage our families to remain informed and follow the district’s fiscal situation via the Community Budget Committee meetings and Board of Education meetings. These meetings are livestreamed and recorded.

We also continue to encourage families to engage in district advocacy at the state and federal level, and consider writing to our own state and federal government officials using model language we have developed.

COVID-19 tracking
As with Albany County and the Capital Region, our school district has seen a steady rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the school year. 

In October and November, our daily average of new positive cases was below one. Following Thanksgiving, the daily average increased to 2.9 for December, and, following the holiday break, to 4.4 for January.

While we see hopeful signs in the decreasing positivity rates in Albany County over the second half of January and early February, and the presence of vaccines, we also are mindful that the disease remains prevalent throughout society, that new, more contagious strains are circulating and that the process of immunizing 70% or more of the population will take time. 

We urge everyone to continue to follow all COVID-19 precautions at school and work, and in our daily activities. This includes wearing a mask, social distancing of 6 feet or more and frequent handwashing. 

Please also continue to complete the daily health screener each morning before your student heads to school. This is required for all in-person students, and we strongly encourage it for our distance learners to help with our contact tracing partnership with the Albany County Health Department.

All in for Albany!
As educators, this will continue to be an opportunity to develop innovative approaches to instruction and student support that benefit from the new gateways that technology has opened for us. These new gateways will give us greater flexibility in delivering a quality instructional program that fosters equitable opportunities and offers more options for our students in preparation for their future. 

We will continue to provide families with information needed to support our students and their education. Please also continue to be in touch regularly with our teachers, building administrators and district leaders to maintain open lines of communication.

Yours in education,

Kaweeda G. Adams