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Weekly Briefing - June 12

This week is all about OPPOSING FORCES... Though it's only been a week since my last email, I can honestly say my feelings about what the future will hold have probably changed seven times in that week.

  • Opposing Forces #1: Perceptions of Safety - Some reports suggest that people are increasingly comfortable taking 'reasonable risks' so we can get back to normalcy. Hearing this, informal conversations about what something that looked mostly like 'regular school' became more common. A recent report in The Times revealed that 40% of parents still have reservations about sending their kids back to school in the fall, though. The same report showed that 20% of teachers also have reservations about returning. It's not inconceivable to imagine that the inability to reconcile opposing forces about returning to 'regular school' create an almost worst case scenario... one where 'regular school' resumes but with staggering student absence. Would that outcome of attempting to open school with widespread absence be the worst of both worlds: doing a full regular teaching load, then being expected to prepare modified content for all the students who won't come to school? An inquiry into all the pitfalls presented by models for next year needs to identify and prepare for as many of these potential side effects as possible.
  • Opposing Forces #2: Regional Models vs. Local Control - A week ago, sentiment was that the 'model' for reopening would have to be regionally defined. Since then, I've heard increasing discussion of decisions needing to be 'locally made.' Both approaches make sense. And both are fraught with problems. Read on...
  • Opposing Forces #3: Existing Disparities in Resources  - If decisions are to be made within a region, they'd likely have to be based on what the district with the least resources can accomplish. If the average class size in HHH is, for example, in the low 20s, and after removing all unnecessary furniture, etc. from a classroom we can comfortably fit 20 students in a room 6 feet apart from one another, it may be ideal to do that 5 days a week and call it 'school.' But if there are districts in the same county or region with an average class size of 30 or higher (which there are), they wouldn't be able to accomplish that. So... is the 'fair' answer to use a regional 'hybrid' model because not all districts can achieve an onsite one? Or does it make more sense for districts that can return to a near-normal program to do so because it's better for kids? If the latter, what kind of equity issues result from 'wealthier' districts with lower class sizes reopening schools while 'poorer' districts can not?
  • Opposing Forces #4: No One Really Likes any Model - Distance learning clearly stinks for too many reasons to name. Educators, parents and students cringe at the idea of continuing it in the fall. But however many cringe at the thought of distance learning, there are many (see #1 above) who have serious concerns about physical reopening. It would make sense to believe that the best model for September - the one that would be universally embraced - is 'regular school' without the dangers of an easily transmitted virus. Most think it unlikely that will be an option.
  • Opposing Forces #5: We Need a Plan Now, but Have No Idea What September Will Look Like - The worst part of all this is this feeling of wanting answers, or at least needing to know which questions will be the ones we have to tackle. Right now we're essentially being told to "plan for three different scenarios." ---- Seriously? School districts are not small accounting offices with 3 employees. To suggest that we could just plan for an onsite model with social distancing, a hybrid model, and a distance learning model and just press the right button in September is lunacy. Sadly, it's kind of what we're expected to do.

Anyway, I'm trying to keep this email shorter. Here's two last 'quick' bullets...

  • It's still a work in progress, but we've assembled an area on our website to host and organize our work on the Coronavirus, emergency closures, distance learning and reopening. There's hundreds of pages of research we've been reading. There's also an archive of related emails we've been sending to you for the last few months. Finally, there's some 'planning documents' we've been using to cultivate and organize our thoughts as we 'get started without getting started.' We share them with you to keep you engaged and informed in the process, and with the understanding that absolutely none of it is complete, perfect or polished for presentation. We're going to work through this together, including identifying all the 'ugly ideas' along the way. Check out hhhta.com/coronavirus to see what we've pulled together.
  • We're working on developing a survey (or multiple) we can share with you to continue to gather your insights so they become part of the process. As soon as it's ready, we'll send it your way, with one understanding... a survey is a tool to help get a sense of your' feelings on issues that affect your practice. Some responses are really helpful and others end up useless (like when you see a 50-50 split on an issue you know will polarize members... trust me, it stinks when that happens, and it happens all the time! Makes you wish you didn't ask!). It's also important to understand that a survey is not a tool for telling the District how things will be done. It can be used as persuasive evidence supporting our position for doing something. If the decision implemented in the district differs from what's supported by survey responses, that doesn't mean the survey didn't matter or that no one listens. A lot will go into each of the decisions that have to be made in the coming months.