A monthly recap from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Evans
I. Our Schools
One Year On
A year ago around this time (March 13, 2020), I had a discussion with my former boss on my pursuit of this position, and the ongoing updates we were receiving regarding COVID-19. We made some tentative plans for what we hoped would be a short term school closure, with the belief that once the spread of COVID-19 was mitigated—late March or April 2020, at the latest—we could resume school as we had known it.
I didn’t think that an impromptu 30-minute chat that day would serve as a high-level overview of the next year of my professional career. Nor do I believe, now, that any educator in New York could have forecasted what we’ve all experienced since March 2020.
While we reflect in amazement about the struggles and challenges presented in this pandemic, I hope we reserve some of that amazement for the adjustments so many students, parents, and educators have made to persevere and continue meaningful learning opportunities.
- Our food service and transportation staff have developed food-delivery systems that result in approximately 500 students receiving free breakfast and lunch at home, three times per week.
- Our school staff have implemented daily mitigation and screening strategies that have prevented widespread transmissions of COVID-19 in our schools. Of the scores of cases found in our schools this year, approximately four of these cases had a school-related contact who was also COVID-19 positive.
- Our schools and educators have established and enhanced remote learning platforms to continue student learning. Our facilities and buses do not have the space required to bring all students back to school, in-person, five days per week. Over half of our students attend remote instruction five days per week: 56% of our students are in cohort D.
Our school community continues to adapt to this “new normal” as the pandemic lingers on. Our staff is creating ways to improve both the in-person and remote learning experiences. In the next several weeks, each school will be carefully expanding these learning opportunities through additional “office hours” or intervention supports for at-risk students, and evening classes for students unable to attend remotely during the day. Please contact your school, directly, for more information on these opportunities.
While we are all tired of the COVID-19 pandemic, the seven-day positivity rate (4.4%) and cases per 100,000 residents (188) as of March 9, 2021, remain high enough to keep Sullivan County classified as a red, or high-transmission zone according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Operational Strategy for K–12 Schools. The CDC recommends the following mitigation measures for schools in red or high-transmission zones:
- Elementary schools in hybrid learning mode or reduced attendance.
- Physical distancing of six (6) feet or more is required.
- Middle and high schools in virtual only instruction unless they can strictly implement all mitigation strategies, and have few cases. Schools that are already open for in-person instruction can remain open, but only if they strictly implement mitigation strategies and have few cases.
- Sports and extracurricular activities are virtual only.
Except for sports, these recommendations are consistent with what is required by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and New York State Education Department (NYSED). Our schools and facilities abide by these and other mitigation measures (e.g., daily cleaning and screening). We will continue to do so unless the NYSDOH and NYSED amend their requirements for schools to reopen.
II. Capital Project
Despite the pandemic, our architect, construction manager, and contractors continue their work on our Classroom 2020 capital project. Community members can see these improvements first-hand as they drive by our high school on Route 42 or Breakey Avenue.
The frames for the new transportation center have been erected, and we are expecting the walls to be installed later this month. As was reported at our March 4 Board of Education meeting, our architects had to re-design some of the work done on the exterior walls of the 100/200 wing of the high school (the walls facing Breakey Avenue) due to some questionable construction techniques in the original structure.
While all are working hard to keep this part of the project on its original timeline, this re-design has interrupted the construction schedule. We’ve been warned that this interruption might move the completion date for the high school renovations into October 2021. We’ll continue to work with our architect, construction manager, and contractors to express the need to have as much of the renovated area open for students and staff by September.
If social distancing requirements remain in effect in September, we will need as much space as possible, so long as the area is safe for occupation.
III. Budget Development
Our Board of Education and administration are finalizing our proposed budget for 2021–22.
The New York State legislature and governor must agree upon a state budget by April 1. Once they have done so, we will know how much we are to receive in state aid and the Board will be able to adopt a budget for next year. Our annual budget vote will be on May 18, 2021.
Please visit our budget website for informational videos, presentations, a budget development calendar, and other materials regarding next year’s budget.
IV. Our People
Throughout this pandemic, our educators have worked tirelessly to maximize the number of students that we can accommodate for in-person learning, while meeting all of the social distancing guidelines established by NYSDOH and NYSED.
From removing all unnecessary items, to creative restructuring of desks, to using mobile specials carts instead of dedicated classrooms to clever visual spacing reminders; our staff has worked diligently to meet the (seemingly conflicting) goals of in maximizing the student capacity of our buildings, while simultaneously ensuring that students have ample space between them.
As we continue to await a return to normalcy, we’re so grateful for the ingenuity of our professionals in keeping our students engaged, present when possible, and learning.