Learning through Omicron
The first week back to school after winter break was anything but normal. With staffing levels already strained, the increase in COVID cases, quarantines, and seasonal colds and flus have me and everyone on high alert. While I’m not on the front lines alongside you, I am doing what is within my power to lessen the load while honoring the urgency from our state and federal leaders to keep our schools open.
As we head into the next week and beyond, please know that we are monitoring our staffing levels, positive cases and quarantine numbers on a daily and often hourly basis. Despite bus driver, substitute and other staff shortages, we have not had to close any of our schools or pivot to distance learning. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that the majority of our students do best when they are in school. Our community depends on us to open our doors so we can do what we do best: teach, support and nurture our students in an environment where they feel cared for with adults they trust.
I don’t want to downplay our current reality: Our case count is higher than it’s been in any other month, less than a week into January. Our staffing levels have been under 50% on multiple days. The majority of our licensed district staff were called in to sub last week and will continue to be deployed, and we have encouraged other staff to get their sub licenses and help out. Average student attendance last week was over 75%, and we will continue to do whatever we can to support you so that we can continue to serve them.
I also want to acknowledge that a string of substitutes, canceled bus routes, students in quarantine, and staff who are healthy but beyond exhausted do not add up to an ideal learning experience. None of this is ideal, and none of this is normal. But going remote for 5 or 10 days isn’t a silver bullet, either, and creates many other issues and disruptions. Schools are a safe haven, a second home for so many of our students, and it is our collective duty to uphold our promise to them.
I feel strongly that as a district, we have done as much as we possibly can to continue learning safely through this pandemic. Our mask requirement, staff vaccination/testing policy, tests for staff and students, vaccine clinics and other COVID-19 measures have all made a difference. I want to thank our health staff and everyone who has done their part in these ongoing efforts. Following the latest CDC guidance, any changes to our current protocols will be communicated as soon as decisions are made.
The past two years of being in crisis mode have taken a toll on all of us, and you continue to impress and inspire me with your commitment to our students, community and each other. I am hopeful that our public health experts are right and this wave will be short-lived. Thank you for continuing to follow the guidelines and supporting your students and families through this time. YOU are what makes SPPS such an amazing community.
Joe Gothard, Superintendent