October 8, 2021 - Fall Update


AAPS lead, care, inspire graphicFall Superintendent Update Message
Friday, October 8, 2021

Hello Ann Arbor Public Schools Community, 

This has been a wonderful time to welcome our students and staff, families and community back to our Ann Arbor Public Schools. We are so grateful for our students and teachers, support staff and leaders, parents, families and community, for all your extraordinary work to successfully reopen our schools. 

As we wrap up these first few weeks of school, I want to reach out to everyone in our AAPS family to share an important update and connect on where we are and our next steps this fall.

Current Challenges and Reality

While late spring and early summer seemed as if we would move beyond this COVID challenge, and the hope was to return to some level of ‘normal’ with this school opening, significant challenges continue. 

Whether we recognize it or not, we are engaged in collective, community experience through this COVID time. As our school teams are keenly aware, this is a dramatically different fall school opening. 

Current challenges continue during this fall of 2021; there is power in acknowledging that truth today. 

Our reality includes continuing COVID health and safety concerns for all students and staff, including the majority of students, those under 12 years old, who are as yet unable to receive COVID vaccination and thus remain at greater risk. There also exist brutal realities of staffing and labor shortages rooted in a significant exit of staff members across all job positions, currently occurring across Michigan and the country. 

Despite our best efforts, some operational processes are not operating at the high-performance level we expect, plan and work for in the AAPS. I apologize for this situation, and we will continue to implement corrections. 

Thank you for the extra efforts you are making in offering support during this challenging time. Whether as parents you are walking or driving groups of students from your neighborhood to school, or as teachers, leaders and school team members covering an extra duty - or many extra duties - each school day, every step contributes to our overall efforts to sustain and strengthen this school opening, and we are so grateful. 

What We Are Doing

Significant labor shortages, despite competitive wages, weigh on our robust efforts to fully staff our schools. Our team continues to work long hours each day, and we have revised and updated action plans in critical areas of staffing and operations based on what we have learned during the early weeks of this year. 

I promise that we will continue diligent work every day to correct these operational and staffing issues. For this current time, however, it is necessary in some areas to reset our expectations as we recognize that resolutions will not be immediate in some situations. We will be in communication to clarify the next steps and what we can reasonably anticipate with transportation, food and nutrition and other operational areas of the AAPS. 

Bright spots on this fall horizon include a highly successful recruitment effort, including a Fall AAPS Job Fair; we will seize this COVID labor shortage situation as an opportunity to welcome new talent to our high-performing AAPS team.  Our students and school teams are consistently following the COVID mitigation steps. Though we see some COVID cases in our schools, our nurse and school teams manage case identification and contact tracing efforts thoroughly and consistently each day in collaboration with the Washtenaw County Health Department. 

The recent positive news is encouraging regarding vaccination availability for children aged 5-11 years, potentially available later this fall, as well as the reassuring news that teachers and members of our AAPS team will qualify for critical booster vaccinations in the occupational category. These developments will contribute to sustaining our schools as safe and healthy places for our students and staff each day throughout this school year. 

Shared Value of Care and Connection

We are deeply committed to our shared value of care and connection. Despite the challenges, as one principal recently shared, “the one thing we will always have control of is our care and love for our children,” and we understand the profound importance of care. In addition to our abiding care for our children, we hold and extend our intention for care for self, and through our network - care for ourselves, care for each other and for this place we share together. 

Teachers, Support Staff, and Leaders

I want to extend a special message to our teachers, support staff, school and district leaders. We see you and know how hard you are working in tough circumstances to serve our students. I know the extraordinary challenges now weigh heavy on you, and it is critical that you balance your own health, children and families at home. Your deep commitment is inspiring, and yet I understand in our current reality, you cannot get to all you want to accomplish. I am fiercely proud of you and your dedication to our students, and yet it is critical to find ways to take a deep breath and to give yourself some space just now. 

Parents and caregivers, I know you are also stressed in so many ways by the numerous challenges of this fall.  We will continue to work together to do everything we possibly can to support our students and our families through this time. Our abiding commitment is that your children will be nurtured in a rich, whole-child educational environment of care in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Our students will learn and grow and thrive under the masterful guidance of our AAPS teachers and team. This commitment to care, joy, learning and growth will continue.  

Working Together with Care

While keeping our students at the heart of our partnership and work together, we also understand that when we engage with a student, parent or family member, when we interact with a teacher, bus driver, food worker or school leader, we are likely communicating with others in our community who are also experiencing stress, many at high levels, due to this continuing COVID reality. 

I was inspired to recently hear the AAPS PTO Council 2021-2022 theme, ‘Welcoming all with respect, compassion, and integrity.’ I appreciate the reminder from these impressive AAPS parent leaders; respect, compassion and integrity will support our students and strengthen our schools, encourage productive relationships and sustain our AAPS community beyond these current COVID challenges.  

We will continue to refine and improve our work together to support our students, adapting as needed throughout this pandemic. We will remain in ongoing communication as we proceed step-by-step through this fall back-to-school time. Truly, we are stronger when we work together.

We look ahead to emerging on the other side of this COVID pandemic with relationships and partnerships - across our students, school teams, parents and communities - strengthened through the challenges of this time. 

Our schools are open, and this is progress. In a COVID era, our students, teachers and staff learning and growing together in schools represent a tremendous step forward. In the actions we each take every day, we demonstrate our care and commitment to our children, to each other, to our Ann Arbor community and to our shared future. 

Thank you for your support of our students and staff, the Ann Arbor Public Schools and this wonderful Ann Arbor community. 

Sincerely, 

Swift signature

Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools 
Ann Arbor Public Schools