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Superintendent's Message: August 17, 2020

Dear JP Schools Family,
Since we announced last Monday that we would be delaying schools until August 26, we’ve been working diligently to make this time count. Thank you for your patience as we work through reopening our schools safely while providing the best possible learning environment. Based on the new start date, we also have an updated academic calendar. With over 11,000 respondents, 60% voted for the calendar that includes a fall break and a longer school year. 
We’ve heard varying perspectives from our teachers and parents over how we reopen schools. We’ve taken all of this information in, assessed the status of our reopening plans, and put our JP Schools Family at the heart of our decision-making. I understand the delay caused an inconvenience for some families who were planning to send their children to school in-person last week. To those families, thank you for your patience and flexibility. 
Our decisions have not been hurried, but based on guidance and information from federal, state, and local authorities. When we receive new information, we must adapt and act quickly. Consequently, our plans may change.
We all share the common goal of providing the best possible education for our children given the circumstances. In the spirit of this shared interest, we want to be open about where things stand and the challenges that lie ahead. When teachers returned to their classrooms on August 6, we made rounds and met with our educators to hear their concerns. We picked up on themes, and we realized we needed to reassess some of our protocols. In full transparency, this is the current status on several items that we are working through.
  • Devices: Our goal is to have a device for every K-12 student, but that will not happen in time for the first day of school on August 26. This spring, we purchased over 32,000 Chromebooks to supplement devices currently in our inventory. School districts around the country did the exact same thing, and we have been at the mercy of an overwhelmed supply chain. To date, we have received 2,800 of these 32,000 devices. We surveyed our families to identify who has their own personal devices, who has already received a device, and who needs a device. For the time being, we are prioritizing distribution of computers to virtual learners and hybrid students with the greatest need. Some schools have distributed devices, and other schools will share specific information on the distribution process.
  • Connectivity: We have been working closely with Cox Communications to ensure all students have access to the internet, including an expansion to their Connect2Compete discounted internet package for low to moderate income families. We are working with all our families to assess internet connectivity and have a plan to close the connection gap. 
  • Supplies: We have supplies, including cloth masks, liquid soap, paper towels, sanitizer and more, to ensure that every child receives instruction in a safe environment. On Monday, August 10, we delivered more than 3,544 gallons of hand sanitizer and 6,463 face shields to schools. Every classroom teacher is receiving an initial gallon of hand sanitizer, a washable face covering and a face shield, as well as disinfectant, gloves and paper towels on a recurring basis. Additionally, every bus driver will receive hand sanitizer and protective goggles, as well as disinfectant, gloves and paper towels on a recurring basis. 
  • Additional Safety Measures: The primary concern we heard from teachers regards their safety, and we have responded with additional layers to protect their health including face shields and COVID-19 Rapid Testing for symptomatic employees. We are also working on an agreement to have a Certified Nursing Assistant in every school to help monitor the isolation area in the event a student shows COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Professional Development: We’ve said time and again that school looks different this year. Some students will learn in a virtual classroom, some students will follow a hybrid model, and some students will follow a traditional model with in-person learning. Starting August 20, we’re providing a variety of teacher professional development sessions. These sessions will cover our different instructional approaches as well as how technology can enhance instruction by embedding content, pedagogy and virtual tools. 
  • Virtual Jefferson: We wanted to give our families a choice about the best instructional model for their child. Due to the large number of families who opted for Virtual Jefferson, we had to make some adjustments to our original plan in order to ensure that our students all have the opportunity to connect with a teacher and receive high-quality content every day. This will include virtual students learning using synchronous, live learning to allow them to follow a normal school schedule as closely as possible. Like an in-person school day, there will be self-paced opportunities and work time to give students a break from the screen. It is important to note that students will still be expected to follow a school schedule and be engaged throughout the day. 
  • Potential Closures: The reality is that we have to be prepared for any level of closure at a moment’s notice. We are prepared and have plans in place for the eventuality that there is a positive COVID-19 case in our schools. One case does not necessarily warrant a school closure. With the guidance of health officials, we will determine when classes, grade levels or entire schools need to be sent home to learn in a 100% virtual setting. This can be disruptive for families, but we must do everything we can to protect the health of our students, teachers and employees.
Unfortunately, there is no script for how we deal with this pandemic. Since the beginning, I have told our team that as long as we keep our students at the center of every decision, we will continue to move forward in the right direction. We are committed to lead with love as we work collaboratively to ensure improved outcomes for our students.
It’s easy to get weighed down by this pandemic, especially in an era of the 24/7 news cycle. Our children are watching and absorbing how we react to this new context. This pandemic is a defining moment in all of our lives, and especially for our young ones still in their formative years. If we model good behavior, positivity will radiate. This is an opportunity to teach our students how to handle difficult times, how to cope and to support each other. It’s critical that we maintain a positive disposition, not just for our own mental health, but for everyone around us.
Thank you for bearing with us as we navigate this new context. With your support and understanding, together we can deliver the best education for our students. Eventually, after this pandemic is over, we will all come out stronger as a result of our work. 
Dr. James Gray