Principal’s Letter

I am usually in cooler, rainier Ireland at this time and the weather up until now seemed to be in sympathy with me.  I understand that this is the coolest summer since 2002!  The weather is ever-changing and so is the pandemic.  As I stated in my last message (7/2/20) the hard-working Re-Opening Task Force is planning for two scenarios in the fall.  Comprised of faculty and staff from every department and parents in health care, the Re-Opening Task Force has been working tirelessly to think and rethink live instruction in Covid-19 times.  Live instruction models are based on results from the survey to which you responded in June and the health and safety of our community.  Knowing that there is a staggering amount of information, we are taking guidance from the CDC, Washington State Department of Health, and the Archdiocese.

What do the two plans look like?  In the simplest terms,  Plan A is for all students to be in school for in-person instruction; Plan B means that schools are closed to in-person instruction, and we engage an updated Distance Learning Plan.  We will implement whichever plan is required by Washington State Department of Health and the Office for Catholic Schools.  As you read today’s Principal’s Letter, I ask you to bear in mind these plans are subject to change, and we are working with the information we have available today to guide our decision making.

Keeping in mind our mission of accessibility and a fundamental shift toward a new school reality, Plan A calls for all students (preK-8) to be physically distanced in the school buildings for in-person instruction Monday-Friday.  To accommodate physical distancing, classes will be utilizing every available space on campus.  Each grade level will be divided into three cohorts of 15-18 students.  Teachers will determine the make-up of the cohorts as they do with homerooms each year.  We will do our best to assure appropriate placement, and we ask that you abide by the school handbook, which states:  We ask that parents not request specific teachers for their children.  We endeavor to have classes that are well balanced with the diversity and uniqueness that each child brings to the class.

With smaller, grade-level cohorts and by minimizing crossover among children and adults within the school, we aim to mitigate the potential spread of contagion.  This differs from the traditional homeroom system you may be familiar with from previous years.  Grade level teachers, the Student Support Team and assistants have been assigned to cohorts and will work as a team at each grade level, rotating through each of the three cohorts in a given day.  This means that no formal academic support from reading and math specialists is planned at this time.  All of our classroom teachers are well-versed in providing instruction to diverse learners and accommodations for those with plans will be provided by the cohort leaders.  All students will continue to have an opportunity for small group instruction that suits their needs.  The current plan continues to allow for primary grades to have limited access to classroom aides.

The students will not change classrooms and will not mingle with other cohorts throughout the day.  Socially distanced recess groupings will be staggered by grade level and cohorts throughout the day.  To make this work, we will need a team of regular, consistent volunteers on the playground.

Our physical campus will take on a much different look as classrooms for cohorts will be staged in the portables, gym, cafeteria, and mezzanine.  Hot lunch will need to be delivered to the classrooms.  PE classes will be outside.  Make sure you put sunscreen on the children in September and send them with suitable rain gear when the weather changes!

As shared in my last communication, all students, teachers and staff will wear masks and all will be screened before entering the buildings each day.  Health screening will require some time, so we will stagger arrivals.  Arrival times for students in grades preK-5 will begin at 8:10am. There will be multiple arrival times, alphabetically organized, and health screening stations located outside throughout the campus.  Dismissal will also be staggered and alphabetically organized.

In order to stagger, process and screen 500+ students each day, middle school arrival will begin at 9:00am. Research informs us that middle school students need more sleep, and this pandemic is awarding us the opportunity to pilot some scheduling options we have considered for years.  Besides a later start for middle school, the student schedule will include a community period built around social-emotional well-being, study skills, and religion. Core academic classes in each cohort will meet daily.  Specialist classes, that is music, art, Spanish and PE, will be offered online through Microsoft Teams, outside of in-person school.  This year, these classes will be considered electives, and students may choose a different elective each trimester.

As stated earlier, the Student Support Team members will now be cohort teachers and will not be available to take the early morning science study skills and math classes.  Due to very low demand, XDC will not be offering After School Study Hall for middle school students this year.  More information to come as details are finalized in the coming weeks for our middle school students.

There is a strong possibility that we will have to return to a full Distance Learning Plan. Plan B will be operational if we are required to close the school and implement the Distance Learning Plan.  We will build on what we learned in the spring.  Teachers will continue with Google Classroom and Teams and add more small group live instruction and video as indicated by parent survey results.

We understand that there may be some families who choose not to send their children to school out of an abundance of concern over the level of community spread in the Puget Sound Region. Teachers will utilize Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams to post lessons and assessments so that parents who choose to keep their children home will have access to the curriculum. Efforts will be made to include these children in community activities via video or another internet service but on a limited basis, due to the complexities of combining live and remote teaching.

I am very grateful to the Re-Opening Task Force. The team has been meeting frequently since school ended and in between meetings, researching, measuring, and working on schedules for both plans. Please join me in thanking them for their time and commitment to the challenge of crafting these plans. It has been noted in discussions that it is entirely possible we will need to switch back and forth between plans as the situation rapidly changes throughout the academic year.

The STEM team also worked hard last week!  They attended their STEM Trustee Fellowship classes not at Notre Dame this year but online.  The team laid out plans for growing STEM integration at St. John over the next three years, with the acknowledgment that much of the work discussed during the week was for a post-pandemic situation.  We will all pray for that!

For our incoming Kindergarten families, our Kindergarten teachers will host a drive-by meet and greet on Thursday, August 6, 2020, at 10am.  Swing by to say hello to your teachers.  Details to follow.

I will plan to send out another update at the end of July. Stay safe and please wear your mask!

God bless,
Bernadette O’Leary