- Anchorage School District
- From the desk of the Superintendent
Messages from the 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.