A Message for Education Leaders

Jeanice Kerr Swift

A Message from the Superintendent: Ann Arbor Public Schools

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, how many times have we heard “When will this end?” and “When can we go back to school?” Undoubtedly, superintendents, principals, teachers and parents are being asked these questions by scores of curious young minds. 

“Many things have changed about our schools and our day-to-day work,” said Jeanice Kerr Swift, superintendent of Michigan’s Ann Arbor Public Schools. “Our critical mission, however, remains the same—every child, every day.”

Long before the outbreak, Swift made this point during the fall meeting of the AASA Early Learning Cohort, co-hosted by Ann Arbor Schools and nearby Dundee Community Schools. (See video and photo highlights from the meeting.)

“In times of crisis, we do not abandon our core values; we double down on them,” said Swift. “When chaos surrounds us, we cling to our critical mission.”

AAPS has distributed more than 175,000 meals to needy students during the past six weeks in a demonstration of support to the community.

“Our buildings are closed, but school is still in session,” said Swift. “It’s vitally important that our children feel supported and feel connected to their teachers. (The pandemic) has caused everyone to focus on what matters most—connections with the community.

An important part of the Ann Arbor community, like any other school district, is the group of students that comprise the nation’s seniors. Their actions haven’t gone unnoticed.

“I’ve been extraordinarily impressed with the resilience of students, in particular the class of 2020,” said Swift. “They’ve been so impressive. They can easily make the case about how much they will lose at the end of the school year regarding graduation, but I hear so many examples about how humanity is so much more important than momentary loss.”

As an example, Swift points to Julie Heng, an Ann Arbor senior and editor of her high school newspaper, who authored an op-ed “During Coronavirus Pandemic, the Class of 2020 Matures,” published recently in the Detroit Free Press.

“The thing that impresses me is that I’m seeing scores of students reaching out to serve others,” said Swift. “The voices of young people give us hope. Particularly at a time when they could choose to be self-centered, they are instead looking to serve others. They’re reaching out and supporting each other. We have students creating personal protection equipment in their homes—face shields to donate to local hospitals. We have one group of middle school boys who are creating a website to educate younger students about COVID-19. The list goes on.”

According to the leader of the Ann Arbor School District, it’s all about rhythm.

“Whatever the reality,” she says, “I am always looking to find a rhythm in consistency. I am worried about the toll it’s taking, but we all need to remember — it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Regarding when conditions caused by the outbreak will end, “it’s clear to us that we just don’t know,” said Swift. “The hardest answer in the world is that we don’t exactly know what the future holds. We do know that we will use science and facts as our guide. We will work through this process. We will communicate regularly, consistently, transparently and honestly. I know that doesn’t make the worries go away, but our commitment to our children is not going away.”

Watch the video: AAPS COVID-19 Update April 15: What’s Been Accomplished So Far

Find more COVID-19 resources here and join the conversation via social media by accessing #AASAHereToHelp.

Candace Singh

A Message from the Superintendent: Fallbrook Union Elementary School District

The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District is located in northern San Diego County and recognized as the first “National Lighthouse School District” in the U.S. Every FUESD school has been named a “Leader in Me Lighthouse School,” serving as a model for developing student leadership.

The leader of the K-8 school district is Candace Singh, an educator in San Diego for more than 30 years. Singh is well-known and respected for her work as a turnaround principal and superintendent who has created schools and working environments that inspire greatness in students and adults.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, her message, “We’re Here for You,” stems from knowing the critical role schools play in the community.

“Our kids see school as the most positive part of their day,” said Singh, a finalist for the 2020 AASA Women in School Leadership Award. “Not having the opportunity to come to school and connect with teachers and peers has been difficult for my students. We want to continue sending those messages to our students that ‘we are here for you.’”

To exemplify this commitment, the district created a dedicated tech line to assist parents who need help utilizing the online learning tools on behalf of their students who are learning at home due to the outbreak.

“Our parents didn’t sign up to be their kids’ teachers,” said Singh. “We have worked very hard to strike a balance between creating the academic learning experience for children. We care about the emotional well-being of a child—the same way we care about their academic progress.”

Following the outset of the outbreak, FUESD faculty members were making weekly personal phone calls to every child and their parents. These check-ins from teacher to family “laid the foundation for each child,” said Singh. “The culture of our school district has been one in which we know every child and care deeply about them.”

These days, faculty and staff are serving 1,500 lunches per day. Meanwhile, they’re transporting work packets to children who have no transportation or no internet connection.

Singh is pleased that nearly 95 percent of the district’s students have online connectivity. To help escalate this effort, buses equipped with Wi-Fi and have been parked in various parts of the community, particularly low-income areas, so students living in these zones have broadband access.

“We are going to be relentless until we can bring the internet to every child,” said Singh. “One of the biggest concerns is the lack of equity. We will not rest until every child has access to their education through the internet.”

“I see this crisis as an opportunity to make visible our values and beliefs,” she added. “Crisis is an important time in a leader’s life. We want to be making sound decisions, decisions that are well-thought-through, that are well-communicated and convey our deeply held values and beliefs. These are the same values we had in place long before we went down this distance-learning road. We have the opportunity to create conditions for people to be successful.”

Singh is currently a member of AASA’s Executive Committee, a position she had held since July 2017. She also serves as a lead superintendent in AASA’s Aspiring Superintendents Academy for Female Leaders.

Find more COVID-19 resources here and join the conversation via social media by accessing #AASAHereToHelp.

A Message from Diamond Assets, an AASA School Solutions Partner

Charles Duarte

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and Diamond Assets LLC are working together to provide superintendents and other school administrators with educational programs and technology solutions to help districts achieve sustainable ed tech funding to support greater academic outcomes.

As school systems are grappling with the enormous task of reopening their buildings as effectively and safely as possible, few would argue that the work to achieve digital equity for every community in the U.S. has never been more important.

“The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opening experience for school districts, and one of the biggest concerns is responding to the necessity of distance learning options,” said Charles Duarte, director of procurement in the western region of the U.S. for Diamond Assets.

Duarte has spent his career advocating for the transformative role technology can play in dynamic learning environments.

“My job with chief technology officers, superintendents and other district leaders is to help them understand the actual cost over a period of time so they’re able to make qualified decisions. Now that we’re working in a COVID-19 environment, this is not the time to work in ways we always have. Progressive districts will begin to look at different ways to fund things and create options for what they value.”

With school district leaders trying to navigate the unprecedented conditions as a result of the crisis, they know that increased connectivity is a major priority.

“When you give devices to students, you’re opening up the world to them,” said Duarte.

Costs are always a factor when building a school district’s technological infrastructure. Duarte recommends districts consider offsetting expenses by trading in older devices so they can fully focus on the quality of the devices they’re providing.

According to Duarte, the typical lifespan of a school iPad is about three years. He suggests capitalizing on used hardware by selling old devices and using those funds to offset costs of new hardware to maintain a sustainable cycle year after year.

Duarte says holding on to devices for a long period of time will translate into diminishing their value.

“You then run the risk of not being able to load certain apps or security protocols,” said Duarte. “This means your tech teams will receive an increasing number of calls and e-mails asking them to respond to maintenance issues.”

Conversely, he recommends, “freeing up your tech teams to focus on projects for the future would be a better value.”

For more information about Diamond Assets, visit the AASA website, or contact Tara Gao.

A Message from Standard For Success, an AASA School Solutions Partner

Todd Whitlock

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and Standard For Success are working together to help school district leaders align their organizational structures to sustain high-quality early learning program implementation.

“I was a business teacher in rural Indiana; I taught economics and accounting. I married an elementary school teacher and she’d talk about the passion of early learning and the commitment to reach our earliest learners.”

Those are the words of Todd Whitlock, co-founder and CEO of Standard For Success, a company based outside of Indianapolis that works to bring the evaluation process to scale by enhancing collaboration between principals and teachers with an additional focus on boosting early learning environments in schools and communities.

A challenging task, during these unprecedented times when an increasing number of teachers are feeling reluctant to return to in-person classes.

“Blended learning is probably the best option out there,” said Whitlock. “It allows for the changing of the delivery method as well as the assessment method. People are scared about putting early learners in a blended learning environment, thinking it’s more of an adult program. But young children don’t ask why, they just do it. They’re not worried about breaking anything.”

Whitlock emphasizes that parent involvement is critically important. “It comes back to communication,” he said. “Teachers need to have a plan if they’re going to see their students two days a week. They need to have a plan if they’re going to face a distance-learning model.”

Whitlock says any plan must cover the following:

  • How are we going to keep kids safe?
  • How are we going to cover the material?
  • How are we going to keep parents engaged?

“I encourage teachers to communicate with families, so they fully understand exactly what the plan is. Teachers need to provide examples of what they’re trying to accomplish.”

Last month, AASA and SFS released the Early Learning Program Assessment Tool (ELPAT©), a learning initiative comprised of standards that cover four distinct age groups from birth through third grade.

“We want to create a system that can transform the entire process of feedback,” said Whitlock. “If we bolster the growth of educators, we can increase student success. We’re geared around helping to provide a culture to create better teachers, better students and a better world."

For more information about Standard for Success, visit the AASA website, or contact Tara Gao.