- Back in School
- Messages from the Superintendent
"Please help your community get schools open by practicing the “Three W’s” urged by healthcare experts: Wear masks in public, Wash your hands, and Watch your distance by practicing social distancing. With a collective community effort, we can overcome the challenges we face with COVID-19 and get our students back in school where they belong."
-Dr. Deena Bishop
Messages from the Superintendent
Mar. 1: Message from the Superintendent
March 1, 2021
Dear ASD Families,
With six weeks of in-school instruction under our belts for our youngest students, I see a renewed energy and excitement among students and educators. I have visited many elementary schools and witnessed the continued innovation and hard work of our school staff, as they navigate in-person learning combined with extensive COVID-19 safety protocols. I must also acknowledge the intangible contributions of parents, who have contributed immeasurably to this unconventional journey to educate our community’s children. I can say without a doubt that together, we are rocking it!
Across the District, we are excited for the return of our middle and high school students on March 15. Our secondary schools and staff have been busy planning for this transition for several months, with the goal of providing our students a robust and rewarding experience for the fourth quarter. This final phase of getting ALL of our students back into schools has been a long time coming and has involved many steps along the way. While I have mentioned some of these accomplishments in past updates, they are summarized here. They are a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff, as well as the entire community.
- ASD staff have implemented rigorous safety and mitigation protocols within our schools and athletic programs that have kept our active COVID-19 case rate to below one percent among our nearly 48,000 students and employees.
- The District’s COVID-19 case tracking system monitors hundreds of symptomatic students and staff and close contacts each day, informing our class closure and notification decisions. School status and active case information are updated daily.
- The District instituted new travel guidance for students and employees after state-wide travel guidance expired recently. Our new guidance allows students and staff to return to school or work immediately once they can show a negative COVID-19 test taken no earlier than 72 hours prior to arrival in Alaska. The complete guidance and FAQs guidance can be found at www.asdk12.org/travelguidance.
- Since in-person instruction began in January, more than 99 percent of our 800+ elementary classrooms have remained open on any given day.
- ASD is one of the largest COVID-19 vaccination sites in Alaska, having administered nearly 16,000 doses to eligible citizens since January 6.
- By the end of March, we estimate we will have vaccinated well over 75 percent of our teachers, administrators, and support staff.
- Since November, we have partnered with the Municipality to host nearly 50 one-day pop-up testing sites on ASD school grounds.
- We have further bolstered our in-school testing capabilities to include Rapid ID testing capabilities for students and staff at more than 20 locations.
We know we can do this, and with elementary students back in classrooms, we’ve learned that with proper mitigation procedures and teamwork, we can conduct in-person learning and continue sports programs without increasing the community spread of COVID-19.
Finally, I want to draw your attention to the recently released Alaska Department of Education & Early Development (DEED) Report Cards to the Public for each school district and school in Alaska for school year 2019-20. To view a report card, go to https://education.alaska.gov/compass/report-card. These report cards to the public contain data and information about academics, school environment, teacher quality, and more. They are just one more way for families to stay engaged with their school.
Enjoy a well-deserved spring break, whatever your plans are. I am excited for what the fourth quarter brings for all of our students.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
Feb. 12: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
This week marked another significant step in phasing our students back into classrooms after nearly a year of online learning. On Monday, elementary schools across the District welcomed grades 3-6 back face-to-face, bringing excitement to students, school staff, and parents.
I’ve been impressed by how everyone has embraced the new safety protocols. While we have had to transition some classrooms to online learning due to positive COVID tests or close contacts, our mitigation measures are working as intended. The amount of cooperation among families, schools, and the District has been fantastic and reflects everyone’s commitment to in-person education. To view the operating status of your school, please see our online dashboard which is updated daily.
The District continues providing the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible community members. With the State’s announcement yesterday that all education staff are now eligible, we will continue our vaccine clinic with an eye on quickly and efficiently providing shots to our employees who choose to get one.
Traditionally, schools open their doors in February for in-person tours to highlight their programs for community members who are new to the District and those wanting to explore different programs for their students. Because of school mitigation measures, Visit Our Schools events will take place virtually between February 22 and March 5. Principals continue to do a great job with community outreach and are looking at alternate ways to engage families who want to learn more about their programs. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to contact the respective principal at any time.
We continue to plan for middle and high schools to be back for in-person learning the week after spring break. March 15 will be an orientation day for first-year students new to their school. Depending on the school, this includes grades 6 or 7 for middle school and grade 9 for high school. The other secondary students will begin on March 16.
On Wednesdays, secondary face-to-face students will continue to learn at home online. This arrangement provides additional support to students who need it and for any students in quarantine who need to catch up. Lastly, this plan allows for a hybrid option for families who are not ready to return to face-to-face learning. This schedule provides the flexibility to meet the multiple needs of all our students. More information on the fourth-quarter schedule will be forthcoming from Secondary Education.
We recognize that a number of staff and students intend to travel out of state during the break, and it remains to be seen where the State and Municipality will be in mid-March with regards to COVID-related quarantines or isolations. In that context, it is possible that in-school education could be impacted due to inadequate staffing immediately following spring break. Should we experience unplanned closure days due to inadequate staffing, we will communicate closely with you. I want to be up front with our staff and parents about the possibility of additional Zoom learning days or changes to the school calendar.
Finally, I want to share some good news regarding the budget for next school year. The combination of state and local funding supplemented by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds mean that ASD will not have to make any significant staffing reductions next year, allowing us to concentrate on fully reopening all of our schools next fall. The preliminary budget will allow ASD to focus on School Board goals and continue the mission of educating all of our students for success in life.
Looking toward the long weekend, I hope families can get outside and enjoy their favorite winter activities before spring begins to bloom. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend!
Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.
Feb. 1: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
After the second week of in-person learning for our youngest students, I continue to be impressed by the commitment of our school staff, the enthusiasm of our students, and the overwhelming support from families. Everyone involved with in-person classes has quickly adapted to their school’s safety protocols and mitigation efforts, paving the way for grades 3-6 to return. While a handful of schools welcomed grades 3-6 back this morning, the majority of these students will return February 8.
For families of students returning to school buildings, I invite you to familiarize yourselves with your school’s mitigation plan on our website. Additionally, on our Back-in-School page, you will find a host of other resources to assist with this transition.
With the recent announcement of Anchorage’s Emergency Order 18, we are excited that our basketball and cheer teams may begin competitions as of today, February 1. We appreciate Acting Mayor Quinn-Davidson and her staff for prioritizing student athletics and activities and for recognizing their importance to a well-rounded student experience. This is one more gradual step toward bringing our middle and high school students back into schools.
With so much emphasis recently on our youngest learners, I want to acknowledge our high school seniors and the unique sacrifices they’ve made during the pandemic. Seniors have forfeited many of their senior-year rites of passage, such as prom, in-person activities, athletic competitions, and the opportunity to be present with friends. I know how much our seniors value these experiences, and I truly empathize with how they must feel.
In line with trying to do our best for them, I want to officially announce that the District is actively planning for in-person, outdoor graduation ceremonies this year for our seniors. Our goal is for them to experience a traditional ceremony. While the specific locations and details are still being determined, graduation dates are scheduled and preparations have begun. We are excited to give our seniors the kind of in-person celebrations they have earned.
It’s an exciting time at our schools across the District. I want to acknowledge the work done internally in our schools, classrooms, and at the District level, as well as the work our families did at home to prepare their students for this transition. Thank you.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
Jan. 15: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
The coming holiday weekend celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his monumental work for all people, especially children. His work is as important now as it has ever been, as the fight for equality continues across our nation. The recent insurrection against our Capitol underscores the relevance and timelessness of his message. In an ongoing effort to carry on Dr. King’s inspiration, the ASD Board, administration, and schools have set goals to provide equity in our system so that all children can achieve success.
We are days away from our first wave of students returning to buildings after 10 months of distance learning, and we are READY! Mitigation plans are in place. PPE is in stock. District and school staff have met, organized, worked out the details on how plans will work in real life, and successful mitigation strategies have been running in our ongoing small group tutoring programs. Now more than ever, we are excited for January 19 to arrive.
I cannot say thank you enough to our dedicated staff who have poured their time and energy into distance learning and our community-wide COVID-19 efforts. I call on our community to do its part for a safe return to school. When heading out the door next week for the morning commute, please note that your drive time will take longer, buses will be out on the roads, and our youngest learners will be waiting at their bus stops and walking to school in the dark. If you’re sending your child to a school building, don’t forget the reflective backpacks, high visibility coats and snow suits, and even flashlights if you live in an area with few street lamps. Getting our kids safely to school is going to take an entire community effort as always. Yesterday, we sent our ASD Connect newsletter with lots of details and tips to prepare for a successful return to in-person learning. I encourage families to check it out in their email, as they prepare for Tuesday.
As part of our efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, the District has significantly increased its testing resources and capabilities. The Anchorage Health Department is encouraging frequent, asymptomatic testing across the community, as it serves as another line of defense in preventing virus spread. With increased testing capacity, the wait lines and test result turn-around times have been quick! Currently we have a host of schools offering free testing to any ASD employee or student on a walk-up basis. Additionally, we’ve partnered with the Municipality of Anchorage to offer free pop-up sites at our schools for the entire community. Please visit our website for full details on locations and times.
The District has also been busy with a robust community vaccination effort targeting health care workers and community members over 65. Many of those receiving the vaccine have been ASD teachers and staff. Even more have been grandparents of our ASD students. We plan to continue our efforts to provide free vaccinations according to the state’s vaccine eligibility plan with the goal of getting our teachers, principals, administrators, and support staff vaccinated just as soon possible.
The excitement is real across the District to get our first large-scale group of students back into classrooms. I ask for your attention to the new safety protocols and especially your patience. I know there will be a few bumps, but I’m confident that our teachers, principals, and staff will make our return to in-person learning as smooth and rewarding as possible. I look forward to seeing our first phase of students back in schools next week!
Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.
Jan. 7: A Message from the Superintendent on Yesterday's Violent Protest at U.S. Capitol
Dear ASD families and community,
The Anchorage School District joins with public school districts across the country in condemning the actions of the protesters who stormed and desecrated the U.S. Capitol yesterday. This was not only an attack on the Capitol building, but on democracy itself.
I truly believe that public education is an essential pillar of our republic. It is incumbent on public school educators everywhere teach our children to respect our leaders, our institutions, and the various processes that make our government function. This is a responsibility I and the educators across ASD hold dearly.
While we are all saddened, if not angered with yesterday’s events, I want to encourage the entire ASD community – educators, administrators, and staff – to embrace the educational opportunity these events afford. Our students have sacrificed so much over the past year, and now they must reconcile and wrestle with yesterday’s attack on the Capitol, an event that will no doubt be interpreted in different ways across our community.
As one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the country, we know our students will comprehend yesterday’s events in different ways depending on their own backgrounds, ethnicity, socio-economic situation, etc. As educators, we have a responsibility to guide our students, to help them come to their own understanding of these events and what they mean for our country.
Following yesterday’s tragic events, ASD welcomes our educational responsibility, and we will continue our work toward a brighter future on behalf of students and our country.
Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.
Jan. 5: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
Happy New Year! I hope you were able to rest, reflect, and spend meaningful time with immediate family and friends in your bubble over Winter Break.
I am optimistic for what 2021 has in store. After nearly 10 months of distance learning, I am excited to welcome students and staff back to in-person learning this month. I have seen the tremendous efforts and determination from our students, staff, and families who have continued education through distance learning. We have grown and learned so much, and evidence has shown with proper mitigation plans, schools can safely open. It is time to bring students back to school, where we know they learn and thrive. The District plans to move forward with its Back-in-School plan. Pre-K–2, K–6 self-contained special needs programs, and the Whaley School can expect to return on Jan. 19. Teachers and principals will be reaching out with more school-specific information throughout the next two weeks.
Grades 3–6 will continue with current Zoom and online classes; however, the District’s goal is to bring them back as soon as possible after our first tier of students. Select middle and high school students who need extra support will also begin in-person, small-group classes for 5.5 hours each day on Jan. 19. All middle and high school students will return to in-person learning at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
It may be hard to remember what “school in school” was like. That’s okay! We will transition to a new routine together. We are paving the way for a new approach to learning in-person. The District is prepared with Individual School Safety and Mitigation Plans that are in line with CDC guidelines and customized by school principals and staff to ensure the mitigation works for each unique schools’ building and culture.
Your family is likely dusting off your “get out the door” morning routines in preparation for back in school. In addition to your typical early morning judgement calls (Who gets the bathroom first? Are matching socks worth the time investment?), here are some resources from the District to help you understand how your routine may be affected by COVID-19 mitigation strategies, and how you can prepare.
• 2020-2021 Return to School Operational Guidelines - This document reviews expectations around face coverings, meal and water breaks, classroom changes, PE, recess, school busses, extracurriculars, and more.
• Keep ASD Symptom Free At Home Health Screening for Parents and Guardians-This document lists a series of questions you should ask at home before sending students to school. Also see Airplane Arms: Navigating Back to School: Getting Tested and Returning to School.
• The ASD Back-in-School flyer highlights the details you need to know about your return to school, school hours each day, bus transportation and other key points.
• Student Nutrition - Meals for students attending eligible National School Lunch Program schools are currently available at no charge. Please visit the Student Nutrition website for services offered and more information.
• 742-HELP is a useful resource for families seeking information on everything from technology questions to mental wellness services.
As we begin the New Year, we also look forward to the vaccine being made available to our staff members. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has outlined COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation details that includes the education sector as frontline essential workers who will begin receiving the vaccine in Phase 1b, Tier 2.
Finally, I would like to thank our community for doing their part to Put Education First. The number of positive cases is gradually declining in our city and state, and the vaccine is slowly, yet surely being administered. After a year of working together to accomplish the unthinkable, I am excited for the year ahead.
Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.
Dec. 15: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
Once again, we find ourselves closing another year and winding down another semester of school. No one could have predicted just how different this last semester would be. School this fall has been a tremendous endeavor for parents and students. While it has been far from ideal, I am impressed by the level of resiliency and dedication I’ve seen by students and families.
Looking to the next calendar year, ASD will begin the semester with a laser focus on getting students back into classrooms. My commitment to beginning a phased-in approach to restarting in-person learning has not waivered. The ASD leadership and I look forward to beginning the process soon after we return from the holiday break.
An outline of the plan can be viewed on our website, but here are the main points families need to know:
- On January 19, Pre-K–2, K–6 self-contained special needs programs, and the Whaley School will begin in-person school for 5.5 hours each day.
- Grades 3-6 will continue with their current distance learning schedule.
- ASD’s goal is to bring grades 3-6 back as soon as possible after Pre-K–2. The District will monitor COVID-19 transmission, mitigation strategies, and staffing levels to determine when they can safely return.
Middle and High School
- Beginning January 19, selected students in need of extra support will begin in-person, small-group classes for 5.5 hours each day.
- All other students will continue with online and Zoom classes through the third quarter.
- Parents and students will be notified before the holiday break of details about their individual class schedules.
- On March 15, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, middle and high school students will return to in-person school.
- Beginning at the fourth quarter allows schools to effectively build schedules to coincide with criteria for earning credit toward graduation.
As I have mentioned previously, this plan prioritizes our youngest students who struggle the most with online learning. However, this plan also provides in-person, small-group classes to middle and high school students who most need support. The plan allows the District and community to build confidence in the mitigation protocols and provides time to make adjustments during the phase-in. For those families who choose, ASD Virtual will remain an option for all grade levels.
Again, this is just an overview of our phased-in return to school plan. Parents and students can expect to hear from their school with details about their specific programs, either before the holiday break or after the new year. I encourage families to reach out to their schools if they have any questions.
I would like to close by wishing everyone a joyous holiday season. I hope that even during the pandemic, families embrace their holiday traditions in meaningful ways, although they may be different than ever before. Please take time over the break to recharge and reflect on what matters most in your lives. I am extremely optimistic for what 2021 will bring – for our students and families as well as our entire community. Happy Holidays!
Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.
Dec. 4: Message from the Superintendent
Greetings, ASD Families and Community Members,As 2020 comes to a close, I would like to reflect on the challenges we’ve faced as a community, and the trails we have blazed as we found new and innovative ways to re-envision education as we know it.As we end this chapter and look to the hope 2021 brings, I celebrate the tremendous partnering efforts of the ASD with Anchorage families. We all have worked harder than ever to pursue education for all students. Your determination gives me hope that together we can face any challenges that arise.I also commend the ingenuity and determination of our principals and teachers, who have proposed and developed from scratch small face-to-face support groups for students most in need of in-person instruction. The idea began with six small groups in September, and as principals and teachers at other schools witnessed the success of the instruction and the mitigation plans, the concept has grown. There are presently 52 different small group programs in place at elementary school sites. Small group support sessions are also taking place at Goldenview and Mirror Lake middle schools and Chugiak and South high schools.These small groups have built confidence in the success of our mitigation plans. A recent AEA survey showed teachers from the current programs responded with a higher level of confidence in the return to school. This demonstrates that when students and staff experience the mitigation plans in action, they feel comfortable with in-person education.I shared in this week’s Board meeting a draft Back in School Plan that returns students at all grade levels back into buildings in stages. The plan brings back our Pre-K – grade 2 students first, as well as small groups of students most in need of academic support, along with self-contained special education students. Grades 3-6 and middle and high school students will follow gradually as the District develops confidence in safety protocols while continuing to monitor the community COVID situation.We hope to finalize the Back-in-School plan and announce a start date before the December winter break.Reducing the spread of COVID-19 continues to take the cooperation of our entire community to bring conditions to a point where we can safely bring all students back to classrooms where they thrive. As we near the end of the second quarter and the year 2020, I call on our community to put education first.I know 2020 has brought uncertainty to our everyday lives. With the hope of a vaccine in sight, a plan to bring students back to buildings, and the cooperation of our community, I see light ahead. I wish you a peaceful holiday season and winter break. I look to 2021 with joy and hope…in school buildings!Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.Superintendent
Nov. 25: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
Given the continued community spread of COVID-19, the strain on hospital staffing, and challenges with predictably staffing our buildings, ASD will continue online instruction through December 17.
The District continues its planning for a gradual, phased-in approach to starting in-person learning, as our sights are set on getting kids back into school buildings just as soon as community conditions allow. I will continue the twice-monthly updates to keep you informed of the planning progress.
We will, however, continue with our small-group, in-school tutoring sessions that have seen great success this semester. Schools across the District have significantly expanded these offerings, and after the Thanksgiving break, more than 50 elementary and secondary schools will either begin or continue in-person programs to provide additional support for small groups of students who need it most. I encourage families to reach out to their teacher or principal to learn what offerings may be available at their school.
As we continue with what has been a very unpredictable school year, it is my wish that families can celebrate Thanksgiving in a meaningful way according to their own traditions. In the upcoming days, I encourage you to reflect on what matters most for you and your family. Gatherings will likely be smaller this year, but I hope the experiences will be no less enjoyable.
I want to close by sharing some insightful, if not timely, words from Oprah Winfrey, who I have always admired for her lifelong commitment to improving people’s lives. Her words seem especially relevant this Thanksgiving -- “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Although we cannot be together in our schools right now, as your superintendent, I am thankful for ASD’s students, families, and educators.
Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
Nov. 13: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families and Staff,
My decision earlier this week to postpone the start of in-person school for students in Pre-K – Grade 2, self-contained special education classrooms, and the Whaley School was difficult but necessary given the conditions across our community.
Our educators have done tremendous work this semester partnering with students and families as we launched our online model of instruction. Through their efforts, learning is happening. However, it is not equitable for all students. Despite all the good things taking place, learning is more meaningful, and achievement is greater in a face-to-face learning environment. It is with this in mind that I remain committed to getting all of our students back into school buildings just as soon as possible.
And I am not alone. Governor Dunleavy told superintendents across the State yesterday that in calling for greater measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, his intent was to ensure schools and businesses can open and remain open. His message was clear – educating our children should be a priority for all of us.
Many health professionals agree, with the widespread transmission, schools may be some of the safest places in the community for our staff and students. When mitigation plans are followed, schools are not the super spreaders we once believed. It is apparent that within our community, the conflicting opinions and dialogue about schools returning children to classrooms have reached nearly every dining room table in our city’s homes (which consequently are serving as classroom desks too).
The questions I face every day are similar to these conflicting positions as we consider the health threats of going back to face-to-face learning versus the educational, mental, and emotional consequences for kids and the economic impact of being out of classrooms on families. From my educational vantage point, our children are carrying too much of the pandemic burden by not being given the opportunity of in-person school.
A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), shares there have been few outbreaks reported in schools since early 2020, and in those few outbreaks, it was more likely that the virus was introduced by adult personnel. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 90 percent of affected children have been household contacts of previously affected adults. The Washington Post reported yesterday that casual, in-home gatherings are most likely the culprit in driving the current COVID-19 spike. Hence, new guidance from the CDC as well as a request the Anchorage mayor have encouraged us to keep our holiday celebrations small, with limited guests in our immediate “bubbles.”
In the meantime, ASD will continue planning for a phased-in approach to getting all students back into school buildings. The small-group programs we currently offer in our schools are being expanded. Also, our middle and high schools are offering in-person tutoring for English language learners, students with individual education plans, and students struggling with on-line learning. Please reach out to your school to learn more about what programs they offer for small-group, in-person learning.
With all the attention focused on our youngest learners in recent weeks, I want to acknowledge that this break from in-person learning has also been extremely difficult on our middle and high school students. The entire community should be proud of the independence, patience, and resilience our secondary students have shown this fall considering the experiences they’ve lost during the pandemic.
Again, our teachers are doing a phenomenal job given the current challenges of teaching remotely, and some families may choose to remain in a virtual setting. However, as a whole, face-to-face learning is essential to a quality education and getting students back into schools will require the entire community to make education a priority. Although we cannot yet put a firm date on the calendar, the School Board will continue to deliberate Monday when to allow students back to school. I am optimistic that with the community’s help, we will resume in-person learning.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
Nov. 8: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD families and community,
Based on the increasing community spread of the virus and the rising demand placed on the Anchorage medical community, I am announcing this evening that the Anchorage School District will not resume in-person learning for Pre-K through grade 2, self-contained special education classrooms, or Whaley School on November 16.
The conditions across Anchorage are currently threatening to push the community’s medical capacity beyond its limits, as reflected on our COVID-19 decision monitoring. Additionally, the increasing number of close contacts has the potential to significantly reduce ASD’s ability to staff schools with predictability. Delaying in-person learning has been a heartbreaking decision, as we all have become aware that the best way to ensure we educate all children for success in life includes in-person learning.
ASD remains steadfast on getting its students back into schools and will continue its plans to do so when conditions allow. More details about the status of in-person learning for all levels of students and information about additional support services will be shared on November 15. Families in need of services are encouraged to call the District’s help line, 907-742-HELP. Help line staff are available to refer those in need to resources for food insecurities, technical assistance, and mental health resources.
In the meantime, please wear masks in public, practice good hygiene, and follow the Municipal and State health mandates. If everyone does their part in reducing the spread of the virus, the community will be on its way to getting students and staff back into the classroom where they love to be.
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
Anchorage School District
Nov. 1: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
The Anchorage School District is moving forward with its plan to bring students in Pre-K - Grade 2, the Whaley School, and elementary self-contained special education programs back into school buildings on November 16 for those families ready to get back to face-to-face education.
I want to be clear that parents have a choice in whether they send their student(s) back to in-person school. To that point, teams are working to expand learning opportunities as we seek to support the needs of all our students and families. While many parents have expressed a strong desire to get their kids back into school buildings, there are other parents who have shared they are not yet comfortable with that option.
· For parents who are not likely to have their children return, we recommend enrolling in the ASD Virtual program as the preferred option. The ASD Virtual option will now include the addition of daily Zoom lessons in English language arts (ELA) and math by the virtual teacher for K-5. This is an effort to better support student learning in a distance environment.
· For families who are enrolled in ASD in School, want to stay with their classroom teacher, and desire a “wait-and-see” approach to in-person school, a team of teachers and principals is finalizing a solution for video-based reading and math lessons to be posted in Canvas. While these video-based lessons may not be recorded by the classroom teacher, they will be available to students who are absent for a short period. More information will be forthcoming.
We understand the risks, and though we cannot eliminate them, we have gone to great lengths to plan for mitigation. Elementary principals, teachers, and support staff have worked tirelessly the last several weeks to build individualized school safety plans and procedures. These plans outline mask wearing, physical distancing, hygiene protocols, and cleaning and disinfecting, as well as guidance on school pick up/drop off, recess, and COVID case response and notification. Our teachers and staff will train on these school-specific plans during the Districtwide in-service day, November 3. Each school’s health and safety plan will be posted here by November 4.
I acknowledge the range of opinions around this decision and the valid concerns surrounding the rise in cases in our community. However, I am convinced by growing evidence in our own District and across the country that students’ learning outcomes and other important social emotional needs are better served when they are physically in schools. During my weekly meetings with other leaders across the country, trends shared by superintendents indicate that other large districts are also opting to bring young students back in recognition of the many challenges they face with online learning. Daycare programs, preschools, and tutoring programs are presently operating in ASD schools and across the municipality, demonstrating that with mitigation measures in place, childcare and education services can safely serve children and our community.
Our school opening plan takes a slow, measured approach informed by best practices from other Alaska school districts as well as large districts around the nation. Please know that ASD’s plan is in line with Municipal mandates, which call for mask wearing, physical distancing, limited indoor gatherings, and 50 percent capacity in buildings such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and theaters. During the first part of the back to school plan, we estimate fewer than 25 percent of our total student population will occupy our 59 elementary schools. Fewer than 50 percent of students enrolled in each elementary school will be physically present during this first phase. This will allow principals and staff greater flexibility in implementing social distancing and other safety procedures.
As superintendent, I continue to be impressed by the level of detail, innovation, and professionalism our entire staff has put forth into preparing schools for this gradual, phased-in approach to bringing students back into classrooms. Our employees’ dedication to providing the best possible education for our students continues to be unmatched. This is especially true for our principals, teachers, and other school staff in elementary schools who are preparing for a return right now.
I know there will be a learning curve for staff, students, and our families, but one thing I have witnessed in the last eight months is that the entire ASD community is adaptable and resilient. I am confident that after a few days these in-school mitigation protocols will become second nature as they have in our programs currently operating in schools.
Moving forward, I seek your assistance with our ongoing planning. To get the most accurate count of how many students will return to schools, elementary principals and staff recently sent a survey to Pre-K – Grade 2 families. The survey will provide valuable information to school administrators as they adjust staff resources and refine distancing and mitigation measures. If you are a Pre-K – Grade 2 family and haven’t taken the survey, I encourage you to do so. Please contact your school if you need the link to the online survey or other assistance.
To prepare for a return to school, I ask that families practice wearing their masks for long periods, even while at home. Perhaps make it a game of which family member can wear their mask the longest without touching their face. If you are unable to provide masks for your child(ren), please let your principal know so that we may provide assistance if needed.
In closing, the decision to return to school serves our students who are in their formative years, where learning is critical. These students are unable to direct their own learning, at home, on a computer screen. An added benefit is that class sizes at these grade levels are already the smallest, which will assist our efforts to maintain social distancing. The ASD plan remains in accordance with our municipality’s emergency health mandates and other educational support services to children, both private and public. I am confident in, thankful for, and always impressed by ASD employees, for they have demonstrated a strong desire to support the District’s children through this entire pandemic.
It is time we, as a community, prioritize the return to school, just as we have already supported reopening efforts in other sectors of our community. Education is paramount to our collective health and well-being, and it is the foundation for continuing to build a robust economy in the Municipality of Anchorage.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
Oct.15: Message from the Superintendent
October 15, 2020
Dear ASD Families,
As we continue into month seven of this global pandemic it is becoming abundantly clear that not having our students in schools is taking a toll — a toll on our students’ learning outcomes, a toll on their mental and emotional well-being, and a toll on our entire community. We’ve reached a tipping point in weighing the various criteria and considerations for holding in-person school. Recently, it has become clear that the long-term benefits of conducting face-to-face instruction are pushing against the understood risks of COVID-19 for our students.
On Nov. 16, we will begin in-person school for all Pre-K through Grade 2 students as well as self-contained special education students in Pre-K through Grade 6. Our return to in-person school will be five days a week, five-and-a-half hours per day, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Additionally, the Whaley School will open for all students on Nov. 16 from 8:10 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. These students are best served by face-to-face, fundamental skill instruction and are most adaptable to the necessary health and safety protocols.
ASD students, particularly our youngest elementary and self-contained special education students, are missing out on essential foundational skills. While our teachers, administrators, and support staff have put tremendous amounts of time and energy into innovative online learning methods, our current approach cannot provide the results our students deserve.
This is not to take away from the unprecedented efforts and successes we have experienced. Our teachers and staff are working harder and longer hours than ever before. Parents have rearranged their families’ lives to accommodate at-home learning. Yet, it is clear we are not meeting the needs of all our students. Declining achievement on learning data, the doubling of failing grades, reports of self-harm, and other social and emotional challenges underscore the struggles our teachers, students, and parents are having this school year.
After much dialogue with State and Municipal medical experts, direct feedback from school administrators and teachers, data on student learning outcomes, and most certainly input from parents and students, it is time to get kids back into schools in a gradual, controlled, and safe manner. Even though we are currently in the highest risk category for community transmission, in-person school is the right thing to do for our students and for our community given our knowledge of the virus and the mitigation protocols to keep our students and staff healthy while in school.
We continue to work closely with principals to finalize the plans at each school, and those will be shared in the coming weeks. The ASD website will also be updated with the latest District-wide information. As we adjust to being back in school, we will make the determination on when to bring the remainder of our elementary students back, followed by middle and high school. I have full confidence in our school leadership and educators to implement plans and procedures to get our students back in school safely.
In the coming weeks, we will share detailed information, school by school, on a variety of subjects, in a variety of ways (i.e. video, written documents, website, social media, etc.) related to getting our students and staff back into our buildings. That information will include, but is not limited to:
- Health and Safety Mitigation to include mask and PPE guidance
- Cleaning & Sanitization
- Student Nutrition
- COVID Incident Reporting
- Human Resource info for staff
- Information Technology
We are also planning to expand our small-group, in-school programs across the District over the next two weeks. We have had great success through our volunteer, reading-tutor program at six neighborhood schools, community-sponsored learning PODs in our schools, and other tutoring programs for targeted groups. Feedback from our educators and families surrounding these face-to-face learning opportunities has been overwhelmingly positive. These programs have also served to validate our health and safety protocols.
The District knows and respects that ASD families will have to make decisions about returning their students to the classroom. Our goal is to provide the most complete information to allow families to make informed decisions, whether they choose to return, opt for ASD Virtual, or choose another at-home option. Clearly, this is a very challenging time for everyone. Thank you for your patience and continued commitment to educating all students for success in life.
Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.
Oct 1: Message from the Superintendent
Oct. 1, 2020
Dear ASD Families,
Today I announce ASD’s difficult decision to delay the start of in-person school for elementary students and our self-contained K-12 classrooms, scheduled for October 19, 2020. For the last four weeks, ASD has been closely monitoring the community spread of the virus as we planned for the reentry protocols and training for an in-school start. I remain confident that our educators, given the knowledge and tools needed to operate, can effectively teach in their classrooms, even with the presence of COVID-19 in our community. However, Anchorage has recently reached an all-time high of cases and community spread, causing the need to postpone the in-school option for now.
I have not and will never take this type of decision lightly. The service that public education provides in our community is paramount, not only for our young people’s futures, but for the health and prosperity of our city and state for decades to come. The World Health Organization in its report on September 14, 2020 shared that “school closures have clear negative impacts on child health, education, and development” as well as other community factors.
Please know we will continue to closely monitor multiple community risk indicators and consult closely with State and Municipal leaders and health officials in deciding when it is safe to bring students back into schools. I will personally share another determination and announcement on October 15, 2020, and will continue to do so the first and fifteenth of each month to keep you informed.
Smaller programs currently operating in our school buildings will continue, such as the reading tutor program and other innovative supports for our students. Additionally, I look to expand and offer more part-time, school-based programs to meet various student needs. Schools will share these opportunities as they become available.
Please know our primary goal remains to return students to in-person learning in our schools. It is readily apparent that online school options, although valuable, cannot equal the quality education, specialized services, and equity of access our students need and deserve. Not having students in school buildings creates a significant disruption among students and families at all levels, particularly in our young children and special needs populations. The disparity we see in our learning outcomes is growing, and the concern for our students’ mental health continues to increase. Our community suffers when public schools are not open to students to provide the greatest public service our country offers, a free and public education.
Additionally, I want to share with you that earlier today, ASD announced the closure of our high school volleyball program for 14 days due to an increasing number of individual cases resulting in multiple team quarantines. While mitigation procedures have been successful thus far in limiting secondary exposure in our gyms and fields, ASD believes this action was necessary to prevent further spread of COVID-19 within the bubble of the volleyball program as well as the greater community.
In summary, while we do not have a set date for bringing students back into buildings at this time, ASD staff will continue to actively plan for school reentry and will be prepared when community conditions allow. Please help your community get schools open by practicing the “Three W’s” urged by healthcare experts: Wear masks in public, Wash your hands, and Watch your distance by practicing social distancing. With a collective community effort, we can overcome the challenges we face with COVID-19 and get our students back in school where they belong.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
Sept 16: Message from ASD
As we are experiencing a decrease in a case counts across Anchorage since the spike of COVID-19 in July, ASD has begun its planning for the next phase of schooling if a transition to school becomes possible. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) support the return of students to in-school education if the health and mitigation conditions permit. We know our community is experiencing the pandemic differently; therefore, we are taking this time early on to address your needs and questions.
ASD has learned and will continue to learn a great deal about COVID-19. We are confident that while we cannot eliminate the virus, we can effectively mitigate its spread using the most up-to-date information and best practices from the medical and science experts from around the world. ASD commits to meeting daily to assess the safety concerns and present conditions in our schools and community.
The District’s plan is in concert with guidelines set forth by the CDC, AAP, the State of Alaska, the Municipality of Anchorage and others. Additionally, District leadership has consulted both local and state health officials and has incorporated their input into its planning. Please look to our website for the detailed information on the guidance resources.
While the rolling average case count has been and remains a key piece of information in determining whether school should be held in person or online, the CDC and AAP suggest it should not be the only factor in determining reopening of school buildings. Rather, this data point is a start for a holistic decision-making process which must consider a host of other factors that assist in understanding the nature of the community spread. Additionally, it helps to provide a more accurate threat assessment for our students and staff. These factors include, but are not limited to:
- The specific nature of the community virus transmission
- The District’s ability to mitigate virus spread through robust safety protocols
- The District’s sanitization procedures
- The District’s response plan when someone gets sick
ASD’s plan considers other risks for which the American Academy of Pediatrics has evidenced in regard to students’ wellbeing when school is not open for face-to-face classes:
- The impact on social-emotional needs
- The impact on behavioral and mental health
- The absence or reduction of critical services (e.g. school lunch programs, special education services, after-school programs, mental health services)
Of note, ASD has revised its plan of utilizing a 50 percent, hybrid model in lieu of new Harvard research which suggests that hybrid models may actually increase the viral spread. Further analysis by the District also suggested that the hybrid model would be overly complicated for families, would create higher workloads for staff, and would present significant challenges for busing. As a result, the District’s revised plan includes one medium-risk plan in which students attend school five days a week for 5.5 hours each day. We are in the process of balancing our class sizes to keep the class counts as low as possible.
Re-Entry Plan Overview
The District will phase students back into school buildings gradually starting with elementary and high-needs students. Here is the basic framework of the plan:
Voluntary Reading Tutoring:
- Will begin September 28 for Grades 1 & 2 students who opt in at selected schools based on equity of access and need
- In-person classes will resume on October 19 for Pre-K – Grade 6
- All students will attend school five days a week for 5.5 hours each day (no alphabet-based cohorts)
- The school day will begin at 9:30 a.m. for comprehensive elementary schools
Self-Contained Special Education Programs:
- Programs will resume in school buildings on October 19 for Pre-K – Grade 12
- In-person classes will resume for first-year middle school students on November 12-13. (Grade 6 or 7 depending on the school)
- November 12-13 will provide valuable transition time for first-year students
- In-person classes resume for all other middle school students on November 16
- Special and Alternative schools with middle / high school students will resume
- November 16
- All students will attend school five days a week for 5.5 hours each day
- The school day will begin at 8:45 a.m. for comprehensive middle schools
* The four-week gap between Elementary and Middle School re-entry allows time to adjust to elementary school logistics and safety protocols, and will only occur if safety practices and viral conditions permit.
- In-person classes will resume January 4, 2021
- Coincides with the start of the second semester
- High school will continue with the quarter model
- All students will attend school five days a week for 5.5 hours each day
- The school day will begin at 8 a.m. for comprehensive high schools
Special, Alternative, and Charter Schools:
Since charter and special/alternative schools often have a combination of elementary and secondary grade levels, specific re-entry dates may differ. A detailed list of schools and their re-entry dates will be forthcoming.
More Information to Follow
It is important to reiterate that this is an overview of the plan and that this plan not only impacts students and families, but teachers and administrators at each of our schools. The District understands there will be many questions about safely bringing students and educators back into buildings.
The District currently has working groups of administrators, teachers, and other staff members working through multiple topics including class size, staffing, substitute teachers, training on safety protocols and PPE requirements, COVID response procedures, busing, and food services. Training sessions will be provided prior to our return to address to our staff and parent needs.
New information will be forthcoming from the District and through school channels. The ASD website will be updated frequently with information pertaining to the school re-entry plan.
Thank you for your continued commitment to the education of EVERY ASD student.
~Anchorage School District
Sept 14: Message from the Superintendent
Sept. 14, 2020
Dear ASD Families and Staff,
As I welcome you back to what has already proven to be a school year like none other, I would like to wish Quyana to the ASD Community. Quyana, a Yup’ik expression, translates in English as an expression of gratitude.
Quyana to our teachers and staff. I am inspired by your creativity as you implement social emotional learning via
Zoom. Quyana to our families who have rearranged schedules, coordinated technology, and created a space for your students to achieve their education goals while our school buildings are closed. Quyana to our community partners for providing technology and other services to help students succeed. Read on in this issue for stories of ASD teachers, staff, and community members who are rising to the challenge to bring education to life through eLearning platforms.
As we round out week four of learning in a High-Risk model, I’d like to remind you that regardless of where students learn, we will drive forward to make our mission possible—to educate all students for success in life.
Please know my goal is to get students back in school buildings as quickly and safely as possible. Case numbers continue to trend down in the Anchorage area, and new considerations from the CDC suggest schools take into account additional factors including the ability to mitigate spread and also the impact on student’s social- emotional, behavior, and mental health. Additionally, new research from the British Medical Journal (shared by Dr. Anne Zink) shows mitigation factors we have in place, including mandatory face mask protocols, work to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Last week ASD allowed full high school sports practices to begin. This smaller, voluntary, and more controlled group has demonstrated that with detailed safety mitigation plans, student groups can safely begin returning to in-person educational environments. Begining September 28, we will launch a volunteer pilot reading tutor program in select schools for students based on greatest need, to build confidence and competency. We will follow proper mitigation plans while the tutoring groups meet.
My goal is to have elementary and all self-contained special education students back in school by the second quarter. The District will continue to watch the Anchorage case count, and factor in new information from recent studies and health professional recommendations. We plan to make an announcement on the way forward September 15.
My top priority is the safety and well-being of our students and staff. Together, we have what it takes to ensure our students enjoy great learning experiences regardless of today’s challenges.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D. Superintendent
July 31: Message from the Superintendent
Hi ASD Families,
In light of the “Four Week Reset” issued by the Municipality of Anchorage today, I’d like to make a call to our community to commit to adhere to the order. Our schools do not operate in a silo. The Risk Level Decision Matrix is directly based on the number of cases in our community. The decision matrix looks at the 14 day rolling average for the Anchorage Municipality. As of today that number is 54. The 7 day rolling average as of today is 73. The 7 day rolling average is a good indicator of the direction we are heading in regards to moving in and out of risk levels, and that number continues to skyrocket. To switch from High Risk to a lower risk level, the 14 day rolling average needs be at 29 cases or lower, and the District will evaluate every two weeks. If the case numbers stay close to the decision making points, the District would not waver between models. As numbers continue to climb, it is becoming more clear ASD could remain in High Risk for some time, very likely for the entire first quarter.
I ask you to please do your part to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Please wear a mask, wash hands, and practice good hygiene. We are all in this together. The sooner we mitigate the spread, the sooner our kids will be back in school.
Thank you, and have a safe weekend.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
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