Our theme for this year is, “In it together: Act with justice, love with mercy, walk humbly with God.” Mrs. Tsagalakis and Miss Jones are already working on a new theme song. We will miss the traditional airing of the song, but we will still hear it loud and clear as we gather virtually. We are in this together, and together we will make this year a great one, filled with love, justice, and humility. It has been said many times this year: These are challenging times. It is difficult wrestling with the reality of not being in control. It is difficult existing in place of not knowing the answers. We must continue to put our faith in God, work together, and do the best that we can for our students and your children.
As stated in last week’s Principal’s Letter, we too were disappointed when we heard the news that we had to open with remote learning. We understand remote learning is not ideal, especially for our younger students, but St. John faculty and staff are committed to providing academic excellence in any circumstance. However, the decision to open in-person is not ours. The Office for Catholic Schools, guided by local health departments, is adhering to the recommendations of the Governor. I know many of you have strong feelings about children being back in school and have contacted administration, written letters to the Archdiocese, and asked for clarification on why there is not more flexibility for our Catholic Schools to open.
I want to reiterate: The Re-Opening Task Force (Bernadette O’Leary, Paul Kelley, Sven Tice, Lisa Longton, Kerri McCarthy, Telia Oines, Megan Costa, Josh Stutzman, Paula Pessner, RN, Lila O’Mahony, MD, and Kristine Kelley) did not make the decision to start the school year remotely. A large portion of our summer work was directed towards re-opening our campus while also preparing to deliver remote learning to those families who selected that option. Their work will continue to support this scenario. When, and if, we are safely allowed to return to campus we will share this re-opening plan with you.
Many of you are probably curious about when/how will we know we can return to in-person instruction? Decisions are based on the data for each county. King County is in the high-risk category as of today. A snapshot of the state’s framework stipulates:
- High risk – all students K-8 digital learning
- Moderate risk – K-5 back on campus, 6-8 digital/remote
- Low risk – all students back
In the high-risk category, there is a provision to bring small groups/cohorts onto campus if a student qualifies as high needs, disabilities/at-risk/homeless – students totaling 5 in a group with one teacher. The task force is considering how this provision will serve our students. There are no in-person sports or extra-curricular activities during the high-risk phase. As we assess the data for a return it is important to note that in order to move from one risk level to the next, levels must remain below the benchmark for a 14-day sustained period. We hope that time will be soon. The school and Archdiocese will monitor and continue to keep you informed about a possible re-opening. Please do your part. Wear a mask!
I know you have many questions about the start to this unique school year. I appreciate your patience as our task force and teachers pivot, again, to directing all energies to a remote start for the fall. It will take us some time to get you all the specifics. This is what we know today:
Some of our traditional orientation activities and events will have to be re-imagined in light of COVID-19. September 1-4 will be an orientation week for all parents and students, both new and returning. Our first official gathering for all students and families will be a virtual Mass on Tuesday, September 1. Time TBA.
To foster a sense of class community in these extra-ordinary times, beginning the afternoon of 9/1 and stretching through Friday, 9/4, teachers, PreK-8, will be hosting one-on-one, physically distanced, meet-and-greets with individual students and their families. It is important we provide an opportunity for students and teachers to meet in-person to start the year, set expectations, and get to know one another. Tents will be set up outside on school grounds for teachers to meet with students/families, distribute supplies and computer devices if needed, and introduce parents to digital learning platforms. We will be sending out a formal sign-up for these onboarding appointments for your family. Masks on, please! Be on the watch for more information.
What about School Supply Shopping and Delivery? Do take advantage of the August sales to secure your child’s essential school supplies, keeping in mind they will be working from the “home office.” Please do not bring shared classroom supplies (paper towels, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, etc.) to student-teacher orientation meetings the week of 9/1-9/4. We will ask for these supplies later when, and if, we return to in-person instruction.
September 8 will mark our first official day of remote learning. Many of you have inquired about what remote learning will look like and how will it have changed from the spring. Our mission continues to be geared toward providing a Catholic and rigorous academic education while also supporting the mental health, social-emotional, and physical needs of our students.
With the spring Distance Learning Plan as our framework, the newly branded Remote Learning Plan (RLP) for 2020-2021 will include enhancements based on the results from the June and August surveys. Across all grade levels, families asked for:
- More live engagement from teachers, whether it is through Zoom class meetings or small group meetings, with the understanding that there is an optimal amount of “screen instruction,” wherein too much may cause disengagement
- Relevant and deliberate grade-level work
- Consistent schedules
- Unified platforms
- Assisting parents working from home while guiding their children through remote learning, especially with younger students
The 2020-21 RLP, based on guidance from the Office for Catholic Schools, calls for schools to provide students with regular access to the teachers for synchronous learning. Our faculty and staff are working to incorporate the results from the surveys and deliver an engaging academic experience for our students that involves both live instruction and recorded lessons.
We are working to complete an articulated document that will map out daily schedules for your student, and we will share them with you next week. In the meantime know teachers in all grade levels will seek to engage students for sustained periods of time between 8:30am-12pm and again in the afternoon from 1pm-2:30pm. The daily middle school schedule will start at 9am, allowing for small group instruction to occur prior, and the students will cycle through their schedule, meeting with core teachers in some capacity daily. There will be times built into the remote school day for breaks, recess, and lunch. The educational portion of the synchronous classes will align with OSPI’s curricular recommendations for learning and will take into account the limits of sustained attention on screens of our young learners.
Attendance by students in the RLP is required. Attendance will be taken as a part of the first morning meeting, and teachers will report to the school office. Attendance must be reported daily to maintain accurate records and institutional integrity. Protocols for reporting illness, appointments, and unexcused absences remain the same. Parents will still be required to communicate illness and appointments that interrupt the student’s day. Please continue to call the school office or email attendance and your child’s homeroom teacher. We ask that you continue to avoid scheduling appointments during the school day if at all possible.
Homeroom placements will be available to view via the PowerSchool Parent Portal the week of August 24. We will start the school year with our traditional homeroom model—two classes per grade level. Should we return to the buildings the homerooms may need to be split to create smaller cohorts, based on physically distancing guidelines and the plan prepared by our re-opening task force. While I realize you may have a class placement request, based on organic creation of home “learning pods,” we cannot accommodate these requests. Teachers, grades K-5, will be working in tandem to ensure classroom content, messaging, and student experiences largely mirror one another in each homeroom. In fact, you may see homeroom teachers, along with learning assistants, team-teaching content across a grade level.
St. John is a Fair Share school and part of this philosophy is providing accessible Catholic education to families who might be struggling. The school has fielded requests to adjust tuition payments based on the loss of a job, due to the pandemic, or a change in family circumstance. This is all part of Fair Share. What we cannot offer under Fair Share, or through any other mechanism, is a reduction or refund for tuition based on the directive or elective to stay in remote learning. The bulk of our annual operating budget is devoted to paying salaries. Teachers and administrative staff are working extra hours to offer the best education possible to your children in the current circumstances. We are going to continue to pay those expenses regardless of the learning environment — fully digital, cohorts, or traditional. A fully remote experience is definitely not the preferred student experience. However, most of our costs remain the same, or in some cases have exceeded projections. We have invested time and resources into preparing for a return to campus and to teaching remotely. There are personnel, technology, and operation costs caused by the pandemic. There is no plan to offer tuition rebates. I want to thank those families who have reached out to administration personally to offer up assistance as we prepare for the new school year. We are “in it together.” This is Fair Share.
We learned just yesterday we will be able to open Preschool for in-person instruction. Preschool falls under a different licensing umbrella, and we will be allowed to open using the guidelines set forth by the Department of Early Learning. The school also learned this week Mrs. Charlotte White, a long-time St. John preschool teacher and director, is retiring. While we didn’t get to give her a proper send-off, I know you will join me in expressing our thanks for her many years of service to St. John School. She was a loving and guiding presence for our youngest students. Her steady demeanor provided a warm and welcoming learning environment for our preschool students and their families. We wish you the best, Mrs. White. The school is actively interviewing candidates to fill the preschool positions. More information to come.
In order to facilitate this opening, Extended Daycare (XDC) will only be available to our early learners (PreK) until further notice. We acknowledge this may be an inconvenience for families who are looking for daycare options apart from their child’s remote school day. We are working on whether or not we can possibly offer XDC care during the school day to a limited number of students.
Chef Michael and his team are working up menu offerings for lunches to-go beginning sometime in September. We will start with two days a week and provide for curb-side pick-up. New this year—order for the whole quarantined family. Look for more details to come.
On behalf of the administrative team, the teachers, and the Re-Opening Task Force, I want to again thank you for your patience as we navigate these pandemic waters. I know it is not easy when we don’t have answers to your questions, or the right answers to some of your requests. We will increase the frequency of our messaging in the weeks to come and be sharing more specific information about re-opening, student daily schedules, and remote resources. The first of a series of virtual Town Hall discussions, sponsored by our Parent Association, will be offered next Thursday, 8/20, at 5pm. I encourage you to register, pre-submit a question for our chat, and attend.