July 30, 2021
My hope and prayer is that you and your families are healthy and well. We are in such a turbulent time for so many reasons. I wish for blessings for each of you, and I hope that the recognition of your blessings is something that brightens your day.
We are quickly approaching another school year. While many of us hoped for a normal back-to-school season, it is quite clear that will not be the case. During this turbulent time, I have discovered my true north: safely getting our kids back to school. I am focused on making that happen. Our administrative team and teachers have been working tirelessly to ensure our students have a wonderful, enriching 2021-2022 school year. We received new guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Health) regarding the rules we will be asked to play by for the upcoming school year. Click here to view that document.
We learned so much from last year about what worked and what did not work. With this learning, we have done just as you would expect us to do: planned to continue doing what worked and modified what didn't work. Our COVID-19 protocols worked last year; we were one of a few districts in the state and across the country that was able to host in person learning ALL YEAR LONG.
Since we find ourselves starting a new school year with the highest spread to-date within the community, why would we even consider doing less than we did last year? With that said, we plan to implement the same protocols that were in place last year in our school buildings when we start school in August. The one exception to this is the masking mandate. Act 1002 prohibits schools' ability to implement a universal masking mandate, but the Governor has asked the legislature to convene to allow local school districts the opportunity to make the best decisions for their students.
Until we know more about what the legislature decides, here is my plan: I'm going to strongly recommend the usage of masks for all students and staff at least through the end of September. Not at all times but indoors, especially when distancing is a challenge and space is limited. If we do this, I believe it will allow us to be in school, have activities and athletics, minimize the spread, minimize those who have to be quarantined, and get us through this peak spread. It will also allow us to safely determine how this variant travels within the school setting.
As far as educational programs go, we do have a K-12 virtual academy. The enrollment for this program was open this past spring. We recognize our circumstances are not the same as they were in the spring, so we will be flexible with enrollment and take each new request on a case-by-case basis.
Virtual learning is an example of a lesson learned from last year that we should modify moving forward. Last year we were very fluid with students coming from BVA to seated and vice versa. Our data and experience show that this is not best for students or teachers. If you choose for your child to go BVA, we will ask for you to commit to 9 weeks for students in grades K-7 and a semester for students in grades 8-12. For learning to occur, we know students and teachers need stability.
After this letter, I’m sure you will have more questions, so we have developed a Google Form for you to submit FAQs, and we will answer them ASAP. We will also be hosting a Facebook Live event Thursday, August 5 from 6-7 p.m. Additionally, I will be on KTLO’s Local Matters at 11 a.m. tomorrow to answer questions and talk about back-to-school plans.
So much of this pandemic has been polarizing both locally and nationally. Aside from the terrible health effects, it has severed relationships and so much more. My plea to you is that we all row this boat in the same direction. This community is such a special place, because when it is on the line, we step up, and we all row in the same direction. I want to share an excerpt from ‘Row Your Boat” by John Gordon and PJ Fleck:
Row your boat is a never-give-up mantra and an approach to life and work that anyone can adopt and implement. It's a standard that says your life will not be defined by circumstances or events. When adversity hits, you will not allow a situation or a person to discourage you or affect your way of life. Rather, with enthusiasm, inspiration, and optimism you will create your way of life … Regardless of what happens, you have already decided that you are going to keep moving forward in a positive way.
You will not agree with every decision I have to make to navigate this situation, but please know every decision I make will be in the best interest of our children, MHPS employees, and our community.