October 15, 2021 - Superintendent's Update

 AAPS LogoHello AAPS Students and Parents, Teachers, Staff and Community, 

We have completed six weeks of school this fall, and we are just under six weeks away from wishing our community a good Thanksgiving holiday. Though the daily school experience is different this fall, our students and staff have settled into the daily rhythms of being back in school. 

The recent positive news is encouraging regarding vaccination availability for children aged 5-11 years. The White House informed Governors this week to prepare for the vaccination of children, aged 5-11 years, in November. Other reassuring news is that teachers and members of our AAPS team qualify for critical booster vaccinations in the occupational category. Additional updates have been shared this week regarding boosters. 

These developments will contribute to sustaining our schools as safe and healthy places for our students and staff each day throughout this school year. 

To get a quick glimpse into one of our schools, check out 2 Minutes at Wines, one in our series sharing insights into the tremendous work going on in our schools this fall. 

Summary Highlights of Superintendent Update (2 min read)

For those with limited time, this brief section contains the salient points from the lengthier full-text Superintendent update that follows and can stand alone as the weekly update. 

  • Six AAPS elementary schools and six AAPS middle schools ranked in the top 50 in the state in the U.S. News and World Report inaugural K-8 school rankings.
  • AAPS continues to work to improve school bus operations by increasing pay, hiring additional staff that are in the pipeline to begin driving in the coming weeks, combining routes when necessary and informing families in advance when delays are unavoidable.
  • AAPS is developing a plan to use smaller vans to drive some students to enable drivers to get their CDL to start work more quickly.
  • This week’s COVID-19 Case Dashboard has 85 new cases. The Washtenaw County Health Department is conducting investigations into potential cases of in-school spread at Burns Park, Huron High School and Pittsfield Elementary.
  • The Washtenaw County Health Department is holding a free COVID-19 testing event tomorrow, Saturday, October 16th, at 555 Towner St. in Ypsilanti, in addition to offering vaccines.

Six AAPS Elementary Schools and Six AAPS Middle Schools Named to U.S. News and World Reports Best K-8 Rankings 

Ann Arbor Public Schools is pleased to announce that six AAPS elementary schools and six AAPS middle schools have placed in the top 50 in Michigan in the U.S. News and World Report 2022 Best K-8 Schools rankings for elementary and middle schools. 

 

Update on Progress with Fall Challenges: Transportation

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. 

 

In the AAPS, we transport approximately 3,751 general education students daily and approximately 134 students with specialized needs, traveling about 6,065 miles per day, roughly the equivalent of driving from Ann Arbor, MI to Anchorage, AK and back each day. 

 

Of the 101 routes in the AAPS each day, approximately 80% of the routes are running consistently on schedule. Unfortunately, depending on the day, approximately 15 routes may be impacted on any given day due to a continuing shortage of drivers. 

 

At this time, we have 91 full-time drivers, 13 casual drivers who support as substitute drivers, and 18 drivers in training. Staffing up this team is a process that will take several weeks, so we are taking steps to manage this situation during this time. 

 

Steps We Are Taking

We have aligned hourly compensation and benefits packages for our AAPS Durham drivers to be among the best compensated in the area, and this adjustment is yielding some encouraging results. We have approximately eighteen drivers in training, and these new drivers will significantly improve our situation when they are fully trained and ready to assume full duty. 

 

In the meantime, we are currently working with a combination of strategies to address the lack of bus driver availability to cover all 101 bus routes. These interventions include combining routes to minimize impact to student pick-up and drop-off times. Routes are combined to pick up parts of other routes in order to provide service. These combined routes run approximately 30 minutes late due to the addition of the other bus route (half or whole route) 

 

We are working to provide families with consistent communication in advance of the week that their route will operate in the combined mode in order to either plan for alternative transportation or understand that the bus will be late. We also communicate with the school principals so the school team is aware.  

 

As drivers come online for duty, these routes will come off combinations and return to full on-time status.

 

We are also working on an innovative plan to implement the use of some smaller vehicles for transport, to support perhaps ten percent of transportation service.  These 10- to 12-person AAPS vans would transport smaller numbers of students. This would be more efficient in some situations, and drivers with a Chauffeur's License would qualify to drive these vans. This could occur while individuals continue to work on acquiring the full CDL license, increasing the pool of candidates and shortening the timeline for bringing additional drivers on duty. 

                

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. 

I would ask that when you interact with our transportation team, please remember that these folks are working extra duty just now to take our students to school every day of the school year. Our drivers and managers are showing up to do this hard work to keep our children safe in a most challenging set of circumstances with a short-staffed team this fall. I have been inspired by those parents who have dropped off treats for the drivers - certainly, that isn’t necessary - yet our appreciation of these hardworking individuals and their essential work is due. 

COVID Health and Safety Update

We will continue to hold the health and safety of our students and staff, families and community as our highest priority. 

Our students and school teams are consistently following the COVID mitigation steps. 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. Our team is also conducting responsive testing in various locations across the district. 

COVID-19 Case Update

This week we continue to see high COVID transmission in our Ann Arbor community; we continue to experience an increase in COVID-19 cases across the district. Unfortunately, we have observed evidence of school transmission in some locations. 

We notify school communities of cases as they are confirmed and also update the AAPS COVID Case Dashboard every Friday. 

Over the past week, we have experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases across the district. Our weekly AAPS COVID-19 Case Dashboard, updated today, reports 85 cases involving 17 schools and district locations. The majority of these cases are among students. 

While most district cases are occurring across schools and district locations, unfortunately, in three locations over the previous three weeks - Pittsfield Elementary, Burns Park Elementary and Huron High School - we have experienced a much higher incidence of cases. Investigations into potential school transmission are in progress, conducted by the Washtenaw County Health Department. Our AAPS team remains in close communication with the WCHD about these and all cases in the AAPS. 

Implementing a temporary pause on in-school gathering among a school community is a next-step mitigation measure to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure a healthy and safe return to school. We have worked closely with the Washtenaw County Health Department, step by step, through these situations. 

It is more important than ever for students and staff to remain home when experiencing COVID symptoms. In the cases we are seeing, vaccinated students and adults continue to be far less impacted by illness. It is clear that our high levels of vaccination in the AAPS provide substantial protection. We appreciate all who have been vaccinated, and we continue to strongly urge all who qualify to obtain a vaccination.

We are now 19 months into this pandemic. We understand the concern with our students and COVID; preschool and elementary schools and middle schools/K8 campuses through 6th grade are places where the majority of individuals - our children - remain unvaccinated. 

 

I am reaching out to our parents today; we need your help. We are so close to pediatric vaccines, and yet we are also at the change of season, the coming of colder weather and moving indoors, and our children under 12 years of age are not yet able to receive a vaccination. 

 

We all want to hold onto this strong school opening. We ask that everyone in our community please reconsider upcoming gatherings - if they must occur, perhaps consider moving them outdoors or wearing masks at all times while indoors.  

 

Free COVID-19 Testing Event

The Washtenaw County Health Department is adding rapid antigen testing to its scheduled drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic tomorrow, Saturday, October 16, from 10 AM to 3 PM at 555 Towner St., Ypsilanti. Individuals testing may wait for 10 minutes for results or request a call with results. Testing is available for those two years of age and older. Symptoms are not required for testing. Testing is also planned for the Saturday, October 23 clinic. Please check online for confirmation.

I want to share special gratitude for all on our team - our teachers, staff, leaders and all across our Ann Arbor community. In every direction, we are reaching out, stepping up, giving amazing efforts and making sacrifices, focusing on working together to serve our students well through this challenging time. Truly, we are stronger when we work together. 

In the actions and steps 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 the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

 

Jeanice K. Swift

Superintendent of Schools

Ann Arbor Public Schools