October 5, 2020
Dear SPUSD Students, Parents, Faculty, and Staff,
I am writing on behalf of the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education to thank each and every one of you for partnering with us during these unprecedented times. Since January, our world has been turned upside down with a global pandemic, an economy in disarray, police brutality, civil unrest, wildfires, an earthquake, and political chaos and conflict. Any one of these experiences would be unsettling and traumatic, but to experience each one at the same time? Unthinkable. Through it all, I have been humbled and so very grateful for the exceptional and compassionate work of our administrators, teachers, and staff.
Since the start of the pandemic, our District has sought the feedback of stakeholders using a range of different strategies, including but not limited to: numerous surveys; large and small group meetings with students, parents, teachers, and support staff; and written communication. We also meet regularly with our neighboring districts at the Board and administrative levels. We are intimately familiar with their instructional models and frequently meet to learn about one everyone’s experiences.
Within the next week, the District will again be distributing a survey to parents, students, and teachers to gather additional information about your distance learning experiences. It is very important that you participate in this survey—your voice matters!
Recently, we have heard from many students, parents, and teachers. Some have provided public comments during a Board meeting, while others have reached out directly to Board members and administrative staff. This feedback varied depending on whether it pertained to the experiences of elementary, middle, or high school students. This feedback also has been as diverse as our student body. Some students and families reported experiencing technology-related challenges at the start of the school year while others did not. Some parents have shared that their children are thriving with the current instructional model and schedule, while others are concerned about the amount of screen time. Some high school students and teachers are advocating for a “Wellness Wednesday,” or a day without synchronized instruction (live interaction), while other parents have shared that they are concerned that their child will not remain engaged during a weekly asynchronized (self-study) day.
We have also been hearing considerable concern about the mental health and the social/emotional well-being of our students, especially among our high schoolers. Some students have described feeling extreme levels of fear and anxiety, exhaustion, and a sense of loss of control over their lives.
As parents and professionals committed to education, we understand and deeply connect with your concerns. We remain committed to identifying strategies to support our students and strongly believe that there is more than one way to address the challenges of this pandemic. The following are some examples of the options being considered:
- Late start days every other week, similar to traditional practices, which may include time for student wellness activities and provide additional teacher preparation and collaboration time;
- Providing departments at the secondary level increased time for collaboration, professional development, and teacher preparation.
- A middle school all-period day on Mondays, similar to the regular school year schedule, to help alleviate challenges some students and teachers are experiencing with the rolling block schedule;
- A review of the existing homework policy and practices within a distance learning environment;
- A review of essential standards to modify instructional pacing and workload as needed and when relevant to the course work;
- A return to training and conditioning for student athletes within prescribed safety guidelines to support student wellness;
- A review of the length of lunch and passing periods.
It’s important to note that the current secondary schedule was designed to allow for teacher autonomy and flexibility by allowing for a minimum of 50% of the period to be allocated to synchronous learning. Teachers may use their professional expertise to determine how best to use the remainder of the class period for synchronous or asynchronous learning including time away from the screen or Zoom, support for struggling students, and offering additional time for students to complete assignments. Teachers are given the opportunity and flexibility to design the class periods with student well-being in mind, and we must support the teachers’ professional judgement on how to best utilize the class periods. Also, the current high school schedule allows for the school day to end by 1:10 p.m. (or 2 p.m. for students with a seventh period) giving students more time each afternoon to complete their work and engage in wellness activities. We strongly encourage our students to take some time in the afternoons or evenings to step away from the screens, go outside, engage in physical activity, and spend time with family.
Please consider that our community is made up of families with high expectations for students and with strong feelings about education. We are challenged to meet the needs of college-bound students who take multiple AP courses and participate in numerous clubs and extracurricular activities, while also meeting the needs of students who choose alternate paths after high school. We are committed to identifying strategies that meet the needs of and support all of our students.
In summary, 2020 has placed many obstacles in our paths, but we are fortunate to have caring people working and volunteering for our District. We are part of a community of supportive parents, outstanding educators, and the most amazing students. Let’s continue to stay connected and work together.
Best wishes to all,
Michele D. Kipke, Ph.D.
South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education