Dear NAEA Members,
I hope you have had an opportunity over the summer to connect with family and friends and get some much-needed time to relax and rejuvenate. I want to thank you for putting your trust in me to lead the NAEA during these challenging times. I am contacting you to update you on the work that the Association has been doing to prepare for our return to work.
Prior to assuming my role as NAEA President, I worked with the previous president, Rights Chair, and our NEA Alaska UniServ Director to assist the District with developing a return to work communication. You should have received this communication. It outlines the processes required in order to return to Kotzebue and your work site. If you have not, please let me know as soon as possible. Additionally, throughout the summer, I have been working with a team of teachers and administrators from across the District to develop our SMART Start Plan.
According to AK DEED's 2020 Smart Start guidance, schools develop parameters for learning at three different environmental risk levels.
At every risk level, schools are to establish a plan that takes into consideration:
Under each area, there are common elements determined by education stakeholders that districts need to address in their plans. With all this put into the context of classroom teaching and learning, our community's risk level will determine how and where we are conducting school.
Since early May, NWABSD leadership has been conducting meetings with community stakeholders, site principals, and teacher focus groups to develop a reopening plan centered around student learning and maintaining safety as it's number one priority. For Districts to be eligible to submit a reopening plan to the State for consideration, district leaders were first required to attend the Smart Start planning webinar series and actively participate in collaborative conversations with experts and other State leaders. Alaska School Leadership Institute 2020 also focused their discussions around the critical question, "How should we plan for opening school next fall — and where do students begin?" (ASDN, 2020). I was invited to participate in initial conversations with NWABSD Directors, Principals, and ASLI participants. During this conversation, participants explored Critical Uncertainties by identifying and exploring the most critical and uncertain "realities" and formulated strategies; groups were able to develop strategies for dealing with plausible yet unpredictable futures.
These preliminary conversations NWABSD leadership, site administrators, and ASLI teachers helped inform NWABSD leadership with the best approach to reopening plans and frames further developed conversations. NWABSD leaders then led teacher feedback in the first week of July. The NWABSD Teacher Feedback Team consisted of one teacher from each site and two teachers for larger sites like OTZ and WLK. Our first meeting consisted of meeting with Terri Walker and discussing travel protocols, exploring staggered schedules and social distancing in schools, and categorizing successful scenarios under the three conditions for learning.
In our last session, we explored a couple of instructional models as structures put in place to ensure continuity of learning regardless of our school status. We also worked in breakout groups to discuss what grading, classroom preparation, block scheduling, and blended learning would need to be successful. From there, NWABSD leadership took the Teacher’s Feedback Team’s responses into consideration for further development. The final phases that remain are communicating with parents and presenting the Smart Start Draft to the NWABSD School Board for approval to begin finalizing the plan and getting to work on implementation.
I will say that NWABSD Leadership has remained open to our feedback and continues to express a desire to collaborate. Many Directors have reached out for feedback and input. Our primary “ask” is that students and teachers remain at the center of conversations, and teachers are active in those discussions, and they are honoring that.
Both Superintendent Walker and Assistant Superintendent Kowalski have acknowledged that we will be “failing forward” and making “incremental steps forward” together as we work through this plan and establish a learning environment conducive to student success.
If you're asking yourself, "What can I do to help?"
We have tried to make the process of returning to schools and villages efficient, yet thorough. As you can see, this is an evolutionary process with many moving pieces, stakeholders to gain feedback from, and areas for consideration. At this time, there are a lot of unknown factors that are in play. As we learn more, the plans I’ve discussed may have to be modified to meet new state or local requirements and mandates. I am asking for your patience and flexibility as we work through this together. We will not and cannot please everyone or be prepared for every situation. I will continue to update you as things change or are modified. Please contact me if you have questions, concerns, or would like more information.
I look forward to seeing all of you in the new school year in whatever capacity, virtual or in person. We are stronger together, and we will get through this if we work together and support each other.
Thank you for all you do!
Northwest Arctic Education Association