Letter from Superintendent Brewer

Letter from Superintendent Brewer
Posted on 04/05/2021
Letter from Superintendent Brewer

Dear Port Angeles School District Families,

I want to begin this letter to the community with gratitude, appreciation, and respect to all families for navigating this very difficult year due to the pandemic. I understand the personal and family commitment each of you have demonstrated this year. I am very thankful for the grace, compassion, and patience you have shown our district. Over the last week, I have been asked several times the purpose of the hybrid shift at the elementary level. This letter is intended to share the reasoning behind this decision.

Key principle #1. We must utilize smaller class sizes and increase the frequency of consistent instruction. Over the last year, not surprisingly, we have found that online learning is less effective for the majority of our students. The decision to move to the AM/PM schedule was needed to maximize valuable and consistent in-person time with teachers. We know that the consistency of seeing students five days a week increases learner engagement in school tasks. Additionally, students will benefit from the added in-person time. Teachers and staff will monitor students more closely each day while providing needed supports and enrichment immediately. The added in-person time will also help rekindle the powerful and personal student-teacher relationship that is the key to success in the classroom.

Key principle #2. The long-term impacts of this school year will depend greatly on the steps school systems take now to mitigate and address the learning loss. I have heard many comments stating that we only have nine weeks of school remaining, so why change now? The elementary facts are:

-40% of elementary students have struggled to engage with online learning consistently

-43% of students are below grade-level standard in math

-46% of students are below grade-level standard in reading

Simply put, many of our students cannot wait until next fall. Learning loss is evident, as seen above. We know that by having students here every day, teachers will give more of that one-on-one or small group support in ELA and Math. Teachers will provide timely feedback and make in-the-moment decisions to give more support or more enrichment. Students will be assigned work to take home, so they are ready for the following day. We will no longer have classroom teachers doing asynchronous videos.

Key principle #3. Consistent support services for students daily. The key is consistency. We know that our students have struggled with their social-emotional health. Students will have access to the counselor at each building every day and other supports as needed via our family navigators or school support teams.

Sadly, in 2020, there were 1608 reports in Sequim and Port Angeles to CPS for child abuse and neglect. Of those, 597 were screened for further investigation or support. School connectedness is a protective factor, and we firmly believe that school can help mitigate some of the risk factors that contribute to child abuse and neglect. According to the National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, "three key factors offered by schools that protect young children are 1) caring relationships 2) high expectations and academic standards and 3) opportunities for participation and contribution." Teachers, school counselors, nurses, support staff, and family navigators will have more opportunities to intervene and offer support more quickly and effectively when they see students every day.

In addition to learning loss and social-emotional health, it is essential that the district also focuses on the physical health of our students. For many of our students, the school day is the only time they can expect to receive a balanced breakfast and lunch. Food security plays a big part in a child’s ability to learn, but they need to be at school every day for us to ensure those meals are being received and sent home.

I recognize this new schedule may pose a challenge for some families. Our goal is to problem-solve these issues together so that we can finish the school year strong. Building principals and family navigators are working directly with families in overcoming these challenges. I am encouraged by our childcare provider’s willingness to flex their schedules once again to support this move to more in-person learning.

My intention was never to surprise anyone with this news. The parent survey completed in June of 2020, indicated the second choice would be an AM/PM model. This survey data was taken into consideration when deciding next steps. We respect the process and the time it takes with our collective school groups to reach an agreement that is best for all involved. We released the announcement to families as quickly as possible and I wish we could have given more than two weeks of notice to help families plan.

With COVID rates in a downward trend (compared to earlier this school year) and more people getting vaccinated, PASD is committed to bringing students back full-time in the fall. Please know that full-time school in the fall may not be precisely like full-time school before the pandemic. We will continue operating within the parameters necessary to hold school amid a pandemic as defined by the Department of Health and our local Health officer, Dr. Berry. We can do this together and I look forward to finishing the year strong.

Thank you,
Martin A Brewer
Port Angeles School District Superintendent