Superintendent's Update October 5th

  • Transcript of Superintendent’s Update – Week of October 5, 2020

    Andrew Cluley:

    Welcome to the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Superintendent update for the week of October 5th. We've had a ton of information that we've been sharing out over the last months, and we thought that this would be another good week to answer a bunch of questions that have been coming in frequently. So I'm going to start off right away with um, we understand that at this time, as superintendent, you have recently recommended, and the Board of Education last week confirmed the decision, to remain in a virtual learning status. Can you share why you made this recommendation, Dr Swift?

    Dr. Jeanice Swift:

    Yes, I appreciate the question. We reviewed our metrics in our AAPS COVID dashboard last Wednesday evening in public session with the Board. There are really three concerns that we're holding right now. One is a significant trend upward, in the number of cases in Washtenaw County and particularly that two thirds of those new cases from the precious two weeks are right localized in our Ann Arbor zip codes. Secondly, the number of cases per 100,000 and then, thirdly, the number of cases per million. Both of those metrics place us into a higher level of concern. So at this time, we will remain in a virtual status. We'll continue to monitor this data daily, and report out and update our dashboard weekly.

    Andrew Cluley:

    I know that the Ann Arbor Public Schools and you Dr. Swift, you talk and are... participate in groups of other university towns' school districts from across the country. Can you share what is the current status of other public school systems in similar cities across the mid-west and across the country, because we know university towns have unique circumstances that don't align in other communities?

    Dr. Jeanice Swift:

    Well that's correct, Andrew. We belong to a group of school districts, it's a consortia of school districts who, like us, are situated in university towns across the mid-west and the north east and really across the country. As we review those towns and those school districts at this time they are, like we are, in a virtual education status.

    We do understand the complexities of having the university case data and our community data, yet we also understand how very porous our community is and how many connections we have. And so we'll continue to monitor that distinction between the community data and the university data.

    And yet, at this time, it is the guidance that we're receiving that we do include that data, that is our Washtenaw County data, in our assessment of where we are with our community rate of infection.

    Andrew Cluley:

    As you mentioned, the university and particularly the large number of students on campus do skew some of the numbers. A lot of people in the community are questioning should the university students, particularly those aged 18 to 22 actually be included in the data that Ann Arbor Schools is looking at? Why are we deciding to include those students in the analysis?

    Dr. Jeanice Swift:

    Well, absolutely our top priority remains the health and safety of our students and staff, our parents and families and community. Our association and connections with the University of Michigan and with Eastern Michigan University are numerous. at this time we do watch that Washtenaw County health department data that is publishes for our county and we continue to work closely with our health experts, our public health experts, considering when we could potentially return to in-school learning.

    At this time it is the guidance that all of that data is our community data. For example, we compare ourselves even to Lansing, and their situation is a very similarly situated university town. These public school districts by and large remain in a virtual status. We are continuing to look at our community data and you know we'll continue to monitor this, and if it were to be true that over the coming days and weeks our universities are able to contain that data for students, or for young people aged 18 to 22 and it remains separate from the other age groups that will be wonderful news and we'll include that if we're able to see that occur.

    You know, Andrew, we are hearing from some of our experts the concern that opening of public schools could actually be a concerning bridge between that town and gown data and so this an excellent question that we'll continue to observe and analyze as we move forward.

    I think you noted, Andrew, over the weekend, that the University of Michigan did see one of their triggers occur in their dashboard data. And I have heard from President Schlissel that they will be reviewing the analytics across the university, reviewing their operations and may be making some adjustments. So we'll continue to engage in that conversation as to how it impacts really this unique picture of Ann Arbor Public Schools and our situation in a university community.

    Andrew Cluley:

    This is the Superintendent update for the week of October 5th and we have Dr Swift with us answering many of the frequently asked questions that we've been hearing. Obviously, an issue that is different for each individual family and student is sort of the risk and benefit analysis. Um, and there's particularly for students that have been really struggling with virtual learning, whether that's students with individual educations plans, English language learners, and some other students with some specialized challenges, what is being done as we're looking at, you know, their impact being greater than other students.

    Dr. Jeanice Swift:

    Well we absolutely are continuing to monitor the progress of each and every student in this virtual learning environment. We've recognizes from the outset that virtual learning would pose greater challenges for some students than for others and certainly we're aware of that. So at this time we are working vigorously to provide additional supports and Andrew these students may be students who have an IEP or a 504 specialized learning needs of that nature. They may be students who are English language learners. They may be students who are impacted in a variety of other ways.

    So, we are busy right now as we are every year during the end of September and beginning of October, we're vigorously working to provide additional supports.

    So folks will see us creating small groups of students and those students will be receiving additional supports. Additional supports that may be delivered virtually and also some supports that will be delivered in a face-to-face model. We consider this the critical and essential work, a part of our overall critical work during this pandemic, and we will continue to move forward in these areas.

    I do want to point out also that when we move to our next phase of a hybrid learning model, our students who normally receive their education in very small groups, our students with very high levels of impact, these will be students who will have greater amounts of face-to-face learning time in the buildings. So, it's very possible in a hybrid environment that some of our most impacted students will receive four days, three or four days, of in-school learning as opposed to the two days of in-school learning that most of our students will get in a hybrid model.

    Thirdly I'm wanting to point out that just as we did this past summer, we had 5,000 students engaged in a summer learning program, we had 500 of those students were students with special needs who received recovery services throughout the summer session. That kind of approach will continue over the summer of 2021. We see this work to add supports and to ensure recovery and support services as an ongoing process, so we're vigorously on that now and will continue to be over the coming months.

    We know this is a long game and we're going to continue to work with our students who need the most so that they have supports available to them.

    Andrew Cluley:

    OK, that’s very useful information for some families. One area that will impact all families is the review of the infection data. Uh we released last week the, the dashboard after the board had formally approved. We'd been looking at those metrics of course for months leading up to that. But that was the formal adoption last week. What is the process going to look like going forward? And I think probably most importantly, when can staff and parents anticipate seeing updates on that information?

    Dr. Jeanice Swift:

    We're so pleased to have our AAPS COVID metrics dashboard published. We've been working with metrics as you shared, Andrew, week after week, month after month, since March and yet we've settled on a set of metrics. Just a reminder that no single metric drives the decision, we really are looking at the overall picture of the COVID pandemic and what we're learning as we move along, we will now be updating that dashboard every week.

    So I noticed, Andrew, on our website that you have the two previous weeks there already now and we'll look forward to our next update here in just a couple of days this week. As that dashboard is updated each week, if we see an improvement in our progress to the point that we're approaching those metrics, we would communicate publicly with our AAPS staffing team, with our students and parents, we would do this in a written communications and do this at a public meeting of the Board to say that we're achieving our metrics.

    At that time, we would want to see those metrics hold. The typical guidance is for about 14 days. So, during that time we would set an opening date and as we've discussed a lot, Andrew, that is a staged transition, that beings with our kinder, first and second students. We would welcome those students into a hybrid learning model, which means they would be in school about two days each week and so we would be able to do our social distancing with much smaller classes. And just a reminder that no students will be compelled to return before they are ready, and we know every family is unique, so our families will be able to remain in a virtual status if they feel that's best for them.

    So, we would set our date and begin the staged transition. Lower elementary, upper elementary and then begin to consider secondary.

    Andrew Cluley:

    OK, so we've laid out the roadmap to how we're going to be able to bring kids back into the schools. Is the plan to wait until we know that we're good to make the changes in the physical properties? Or have we already been making some changes inside our schools to get ready to come back once the numbers say that it's OK to do so?

    Dr. Jeanice Swift:

    We've been working vigorously on our properties for months now to ensure that we would be ready for a COVID-informed return to in-school learning. So I'll highlight just about three areas, Andrew, and I know we're all looking forward to a more comprehensive report coming from our facilities directors in October, here in just a couple of weeks.

    We've been working on our water quality. So weekly flushing of the plumbing systems and this helps prevent e. coli and legionellae bacteria which causes Legionnaire's disease. We've been conducting testing at each school for legionellae and e. Coli based on our CDC guidelines. We've worked on those drinking fountains and removed the drinking fountain bubblers so that we really are using an approach with the drinking fountains that is touchless and that is also not having any individual consume water directly from the fountain.

    We're also converting all of our restrooms into a touchless operation. Now, that's an ongoing project that will take a little more than a year but we're already on that project.

    So, first area really is about water safety and we know that is very important.

    Another area we're working in is the social distance preparations for our buildings. So the sneeze guards, those clear barriers, have already been installed in all of our school offices and in other locations where folks need to be in close proximity to each other in communications and yet need that extra barrier of protection. Now, in progress, each of our principals is working with our facilities team. We have the signage, the floor signage, and the signage for our buildings ready, and that will be positioned uniquely in each building, just like it is when you go to buy your groceries, so that folks know, our students and everyone, our staff, everyone in our buildings, know how to properly social distance when they're passing in the hallways.

    We're also designating the maximum occupancy for spaces such as restrooms and elevator, our media centers. There will be some conference rooms that will be closed through the duration of the pandemic. We'll have those kinds of meetings in a virtual status to ensure health and safety.

    So that, in addition to water is our physical work in the buildings to ensure social distancing.

    I also want to touch on the area of indoor air quality. We know this is a very big concern among all of us, that is to ensure that the gathering of individuals indoors is does in the safest and healthiest way possible. So we have been very busy replacing our air filters throughout our buildings. We are maximizing the air filtering systems and increasing the filter density where that is possible in our buildings. We're also, we have designed a new algorithm for the processing of indoor air across our buildings that allows for 40-100% outside air mixed in to that indoor environment and that will be regulated based on the heating demand in colder weather but that idea of increasing outdoor air and improving indoor air ventilation across every building in our system.

    So, Andrew, those are just three highlights and again our facilities team will be sharing more specific details here in just a few days in a presentation.

    I know there's also a presentation that you'll note here today that was shared last week so folks can already access that if they would like to learn more detail about our work to ensure that our buildings are prepared.

    Andrew Cluley:

    Well that's great to hear Dr Swift that we've got a lot going on inside the buildings. We're not just relying on the numbers coming down, although of course that's a very important thing for everyone in the community is to see these numbers getting down. Fewer cases will be better for everyone in the community.

    Thank you very much for answering some of these big questions today Dr Swift.

    Dr. Jeanice Swift:

    Well thank you, Andrew I appreciate the opportunity to visit directly with our students, our parents, our AAPS team and our community. We know each of us has a role and responsibility to play in ensuring we're doing everything in our power to reduce our community infection rate. We know it by heart, but wearing our mask, keeping our distance, practicing that hygiene that we know is so important.

    We understand that we're coming into the beginning of flu season and that it is going to be critically important that we each and every one of us do our part. We absolutely look forward to having our students back in school learning with us in person.

    And we know that we can improve these rates if we will continue to practice these basic COVID habits, health habits, that we know are so important.

    I want to thank all of our students and parents who have taken time to respond to our survey, we put it out on Friday and I understand today, Monday, that we have about 4,500 responses already. So we really appreciate all of you who are taking the time, our continuous improvement process is that we receive feedback and input from our parents and students and staff and community, and we use that feedback to improve our work moving forward.

    We so appreciate the understanding and the hard work and the support of our students, our staff, our parents and our community. We are making progress as a community to navigate this COVID pandemic together and I appreciate each and every one of you and all that you are doing to support our students and our staff and our community as we move forward together.

    Thank you for the opportunity to join you today and we'll be back in touch in a couple of days with some more emerging information from me, and the Ann Arbor Public Schools, thank you.