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Relationships & Marie Kondo

September 7, 2020

The last ten days have me thinking about some basic needs for September. September means the start of a new school year. This September is different. I am not talking about safety protocols or return to school roadmaps or anything specific to the COVID-19 global pandemic. In general, I am referring to the philosophical foundations of how we think about the school year’s start. This school year begins with constraints that no one wants.

Relationships are the foundation of any school. The trust that evolves between teachers and students inspires learners to do their work; it enables teachers to give critical feedback and energizes educators to find ways to unlock student potential. Unless students feel safe and supported, meaning each child has established a relationship with an educator, academic progress slows. Too often, and unfortunately, those relationships take a back seat as prioritizing academic gains takes precedence. This year, perhaps more than any other, building strong connections with students must be at the forefront of all we do. Encouraged by the “Meet and Greet” activities at the elementary schools this week, it is evident that our teachers also realize the importance of establishing critical relationships both safely and early. This year’s challenge is that much of the early relationship-building begins through distance learning.

Since March 13, when the schools closed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, students (and staff!) have missed school-based social, emotional, and academic opportunities. The research is definitive that, “When kids spend their daytime hours in safe, supportive schools where adults work every day to build strong relationships with every student, they are simply better, more engaged learners.” (Gonser, Edutopia 2020) With little effort, one can glean numerous resources suggesting activities that teachers can employ remotely. A quick look at Twitter and Instagram feeds shows teachers experimenting and implementing relationship-building using technology. When in-person instruction ceases, then technology and some old-school methods will help educators foster relationships and connect with each child in a meaningful way.

This list, from Edutopia, is good, but certainly not exhaustive. Something as simple as sending a postcard through the US Postal Service is as meaningful as that first in-person Meet and Greet. What child doesn’t feel honored when receiving mail addressed personally to that child? We learned many things during the Spring about remote learning. How we take that knowledge and further adapt it to focus on forging relationships is a work in progress. “We’re in the middle of a grand experiment here,” said Mike Magee, the CEO of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit whose members lead education systems serving 14,000 schools. “We’re going to find out a lot about the degree to which relationships can be built online between teachers and students.” (Rauf, Education Week 2020) I am confident that the educators in Saline will prioritize this aspect of the virtual classroom and find ways to make every child feel welcome, acknowledged, and supported.

Next, it’s important to acknowledge that we are experiencing events that will shape and define us. We are conscious of the pandemic’s hardships on students, staff, families, and businesses. To that end, the degree to which we “Marie Kondo” the start of the school year will ultimately determine our success. Marie Kondo rose to fame in the US in 2019, touting organizational methods and techniques to minimize clutter and actualize the human experience. She advocates removing from one’s life things that do not spark joy. This mantra simplifies the education system, yet the premise is germane. In approaching the 2020-2021 school year, staff and community members must share priorities essential to student well-being (first) and student achievement. In so doing, the human connection becomes paramount. 

Gonser, Sarah. “7 Ways to Maintain Relationships During Your School Closure.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, March 25. 2020, www.edutopia.org/article/7-ways-maintain-relationships-during-your-school-closure

Rauf, David Saleh. “Nurturing Teacher-Student Connections in a Virtual World.” Education Week, July 30, 2020, www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/07/23/nurturing-remote-learning-relationships.html

SAS Community Update | August 28, 2020

August 28, 2020

Friday, August 28, 2020

Saline Area Schools Community, 

We are quickly approaching the starting line of the 2020-2021 school year, which will be unlike any we have experienced before. Our staff continues to dedicate time to meet each child’s academic, social and emotional needs both in and out of the classroom. Our Board of Education, Foundation for Saline Area Schools and district leadership are committed to providing students with the necessary tools to ensure success. We are all busy navigating uncharted waters to prepare our buildings and resources for an unusual return. I want to take this opportunity to update you on a few important items: 

Survey + Connected Learning Plan 

Thank you to all SAS families who participated in the Opening of Schools Feedback Survey that was collected in early August.Your submissions, feedback, suggestions and most importantly patience and flexibility were key contributors to building the Connected Learning Plan

Welcome Week 

The first day of the school year for SAS students has been moved to Tuesday, September 8, 2020. Therefore, next week (August 31 – September 3, 2020) will be treated as “Welcome Week” for SAS families. You will receive daily communication from your building leaders with information relative to staff introductions, building tours, food service, technology, student schedules, and various tips and tricks to help navigate learning this year. 

Learning Models 

As of today, our Learning Model Timeline is still accurate. Reminder, for the first three weeks all students will participate in 100% distance learning. Once we open the hybrid window (if local conditions allow), our staff will remain committed to providing a robust learning environment for both distance and in-person learners. 

Health + Safety 

On Monday, I had the honor of hosting Dr. Varsha Moudgal (Infectious Disease Specialist, IHA Health) in a Facebook Live Q&A session. Dr. Moudgal presented valuable information specific to our community and commended our staff for the details outlined in the Connected Learning Plan and our strategic timeline for reentry. To view her presentation and watch the session, click HERE under “Presentations.” 

Equity for all Students

The COVID-19 Pandemic has visibly displayed some serious inequities across our country. This is a stern reminder that Saline Area Schools needs to continue to invest significant time, energy and commitment to creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for ALL  our students. We have been working hard in this area over the summer which has culminated in an outstanding day of professional development on August 27th that involved equity training for 450 SAS staff members.

Student Class Placements at the Elementary Level

As many of you are getting class placements at the elementary level this week, there are a few important considerations that we want to share with all of you. First, we worked very hard to try and meet the needs of the students (families) in our district. That meant combining some students from all three of the lower elementary schools (Harvest, Pleasant Ridge and Woodland Meadows) who requested a virtual class placement for the first trimester to make a full class of students with a virtual only teacher.. In addition, in order to meet the safety needs of the eventual hybrid in-person classes and to keep our class sizes lower for in-person instruction, we have some virtual classes that are higher in class size than the in-person classes. Again, we are trying our best to create the best possible learning environment that meets the safety and educational needs of all our students and families. This has meant making adjustments with our instructional model in the midst of this COVID-19 Pandemic.

The strong sense of community that radiates in Saline will continue to carry us through the complications of the pandemic. As we all make the final preparations for the coming school year, let’s offer each other support and understanding on behalf of our remarkable students and their voyage through the coming months. 

In partnership, 

Scot A. Graden

Superintendent

Joint Statement from Saline Area Schools & Ann Arbor Public Schools

August 28, 2020

Global Pandemic, Not a Global Panic

August 13, 2020

We are in mid-August and preparing to return to school. We are also in the midst of a global pandemic, making this return to school unlike any we’ve experienced. There are so many questions, and for most of those questions, the answers change daily. 

  • What is safe? 
  • Are masks necessary? 
  • How often should we insist upon hand-washing and cleaning of classrooms? 
  • How will I know if it is safe to send my child to school? 
  • What should I do if my child is symptomatic? 
  • Why doesn’t the school take my child’s temperature each day?

From March 13, the date schools shuttered for the remainder of the school year, the catchphrase, “We are in this together,” promotes reassurance and trust. As we prepare to re-open the school buildings, that catchphrase has become even more critical. Navigating this new landscape of teaching and learning calls upon  ALL of us at home, at school, and in the community to adapt quickly to new safety protocols and new learning spaces. Following the guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Washtenaw County Health Department, and the Michigan School Code, we can be reasonably assured that the school buildings are ready and staff is prepared to welcome students into the schools. That guidance, however, is limiting. 

Schools cannot randomly or arbitrarily give physical examinations to students. The Michigan School Code, section 380.1504, asserts that schools may not conduct compulsory physical examinations; this includes mandatory temperature checks. The school will continue assessing students that are ill, including taking the child’s temperature.

Families, we need your help. Families must assess each student’s well-being each morning before the child comes to school. Governor Whitmer’s Michigan Safe Schools Roadmap, released on June 30, 2020, recommends that families check each child’s temperature daily at home before school. (p.24)  The presence of a fever higher than 100.4o Fahrenheit or the child is symptomatic (cough, shortness of breath) should prompt the family to keep the child at home and follow up with the family physician.

The recommendations from the CDC echo those found in the Governor’s Roadmap. 

  • CDC does not currently recommend that schools conduct universal symptom screenings (screening all students grades K-12)
  • Parents or caregivers are strongly encouraged to monitor their children for signs of infectious illness every day.
  • Students who are sick should not attend school in-person.

Working together with families, a safe return to school is possible.  Community members also help control the spread of the novel virus COVID-19 by wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, and closely monitoring personal health. We are in this together, and together, we will safely return our children and staff members to school.

SAS Reopening Survey Results

August 12, 2020

We recently (August 6-9) surveyed our families and staff related to the learning format they preferred for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

Click here to see the results & the presentation made to the Saline Board of Education on August 11th.

The presentation and all other COVID related school opening information can be found on the Saline Area Schools Return to Learn page.

Return to Learn Information

August 6, 2020

As of this morning, the survey has been sent to parents and teachers related to their desire for learning (or teaching) models to start the 20/21 school year.

Click here for the “Return to Learn” page on our district website that has more information and the presentation about the plans. This page will be updated frequently as we add new information based on community feedback.

Community Update – August 3rd

August 4, 2020

(This email was sent to Saline Area Schools families and staff on August 3rd. Building leaders will be hosting “Zoom” meetings on August 6th & 7th for staff and families.)

August 3rd, 2020

Saline Area Schools Community, 

As many of you know, we have been working to determine the most effective approach to providing safe, high quality instruction for the coming school year and this is no small task. I am thankful for the efforts of the faculty and staff, community members, public health agencies, and educational leaders from around the country involved in helping us plan.

The SAS Connected Learning Plan that is being finalized outlines and describes the various instructional models in response to the 6 phases of the MI Safe Start Plan, including an all-virtual option and a gradual in-person option. Within this document, the following areas will be outlined for your reference: student learning pathways, communication structure, safety and hygiene, social and emotional wellness, special populations, transportation, food service, technology, childcare and other considerations. The SAS Connected Learning Plan will be published to the community shortly after approval at the upcoming Board of Education meeting.

The details of the proposed timeline for opening school this fall are as follows:

Notes: 

*Please know that the option you select will represent a commitment for the first trimester of school. We will allow for parents to revisit the current situation regarding COVID-19 at the end of the first trimester. 

*All hybrid and in person instruction is contingent on local health conditions and still being in Phase 4 (or higher) of the Governor’s Road Map.

Based on the information provided above, we are going to ask families to take a Connected Learning Plan survey that will ask you your instructional model preferences, technology and transportation needs. The timing for the development, distribution and communication of the plan is extremely condensed and evolves frequently. This week’s timeline, for your reference: 

  • Monday, August 3rd: SAS administration held all-staff virtual meetings to discuss the Connected Learning Plan to receive feedback and answer questions. 
  • Wednesday, August 5th: The Board of Education will hold a Special Meeting at 6:00 p.m. via Zoom. There will be a presentation of the Connected Learning Plan and this meeting is open to the public. Meeting information is linked here under “District News.” 
  • Thursday, August 6th: The Connected Learning Plan survey will be sent via email to all SAS families. 
  • Thursday, August 6th & Friday, August 7th: Community Webinars hosted by individual schools – please look for an email from your building administrator(s). 
  • Sunday, August 9th: The Connected Learning Plan survey closes. 
  • Tuesday, August 11th: SAS Board of Education conducts final vote on the Connected Learning Plan.  

We understand that you have many questions. The Let’s Talk platform is available to communicate quickly with our team. Please continue to look for more information throughout this week and thank you for your continued patience and support. 

Sincerely, 
 

Scot A. Graden

Superintendent

Decision Making that Makes Sense

July 22, 2020

During this time of extreme disruption in everyday life, no person, family, business, or institution has escaped some impact. The COVID-19 global pandemic has both short and long-term ramifications. With these disruptions and the ever-changing progression of the disease, effective decision making has been a challenge, to put it mildly.  

Almost daily, parents and community members offer feedback about the school’s “delay” in making a final decision regarding the start of the 2020-2021 school year. That feedback is understandable and expected; families need time to plan. I get that. The anxiety and stress of the uncertainties we are facing are causing legitimate concerns for families. Noting that, making a premature decision sets up the likely scenario of getting it wrong. Saline Schools strives for excellence in all that we do. During this time of a global pandemic, we must make informed decisions in the best interest of the students and staff. Some of the largest and most prominent school districts in the country are back-tracking on earlier plans to reopen. As anticipated, parents in these districts are frustrated with the flip-flop just weeks before the scheduled school start date.

Saline Area Schools’ leadership team is reviewing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Michigan Department of Education, the Washtenaw County Health Department, and the county school Superintendents. Saline’s building-level administrators and teacher leaders have met throughout the summer to develop instructional plans that are viable and safe for students and staff. Custodial staff undergoes training to ensure that the buildings are clean, sanitized, and ready to welcome students if and when that happens. Transportation and support staff are redesigning busing and classroom spaces to ensure the safety and welfare of all children. This work is on-going and flexible as the guidance changes.

An announcement regarding the plan for safely educating Saline’s most precious assets is forthcoming. We appreciate your patience as we develop strategies that are adequate, safe, and sustainable. Many Saline Area Schools’ staff members are working diligently to be as prepared as possible for a myriad of scenarios that might occur. 

Community Message – July 12th

July 12, 2020

This message was originally sent to Saline Area Schools families on July 7th.

Saline Area Schools Families,

Last week, Governor Whitmer issued the “MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020- 21 Return to School Roadmap.” The Roadmap provides required and strongly recommended safety protocols to keep school communities safe based on the status of the coronavirus. Since June 5th, a Distance Learning Committee composed of administration, staff and teachers have been working diligently on the framework for what student learning may look like in the fall of 2020 for Saline students. With over 2,600 responses to our Distance Learning Survey, our team has a strong collection of feedback from our families to reference and provide a productive and safe learning environment. 

Our timeline is as follows: 

  • Monday, July 13th, 2020: Facebook Live with Superintendent Graden, 4:00 p.m. – tune in to ask questions and receive additional information about our plans. 
  • Monday, July 13th, 2020: Updated FAQs posted to the SAS COVID-19 Resource Page
  • Monday, July 27th, 2020: Draft of learner framework completed by SAS staff. 
  • Week of August 14th, 2020: The final version of the Saline Area Schools framework, formulated to result in fully-funded state aid, will be communicated to families. 

For more information, please continue to check our website

Thank you, 

Scot A. Graden

Superintendent 

We See You, We Hear You, You Are Valued

June 2, 2020

Public education designed for real access and opportunities, and free of institutionalized barriers, is a fundamental building block of a brighter future for all.  It is necessary to remove and combat ignorant and often deadly ideologies like the racism that have led to this current boiling point in our society.  

My role needs not to be that of a gatekeeper.  I should not be involved with determining who has opportunities to be heard, to feel valued, and to contribute to a positive future.  More voices, and in particular, those voices that have not been a part of the conversation must be heard.

I would like to make it clear that Saline Area Schools is here to offer support to any student struggling during these turbulent times. School and life can be chaotic and stressful enough without COVID and the tragedy of violence against innocent people. Students are inundated with such immense stresses – be that academically or socially – and we are always here to help students learn how to cope, manage and find ways to focus on working to improve their communities during these stressful times. 

We are a community that does not support violence, discrimination, racism, or prejudicial treatment. As a nation, we must demand equality for all races. As one Saline community, we must support each other during this time of turbulence and unrest, especially our Black community members. For our families of color, we see you, hear you, stand by you, and value you. We must defend and support each and every member of our community.

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