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Messages from the Superintendent
October 15: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
Congratulations to our students on completion of the first quarter! I want to share my gratitude to families and teachers for their unwavering dedication to helping our students achieve their best during these challenging times. It’s easy to forget that it's been two years since a traditional school start, and getting back into the groove of full time in-person learning was an adjustment. THANK YOU!
I also want to continue the drumbeat of recognition and gratitude that our school nurses deserve. Their tireless efforts, long hours, sacrifice, and dedication to students and families are extraordinary. At the same time, our testing capabilities as a District continue to expand.
The expansion of COVID-19 testing into all Title I schools with local partner Beechtree Molecular Lab will be complete by the end of next week, with a District-wide testing site goal of November 11. These expanded capabilities will allow nurses to provide test results before the next school day. Please know we have no plans to utilize the COVID-19 antigen take-home tests offered from the State of Alaska as we are at full capacity with our current testing plan.
While I think our school nurses are rock stars, a little help is always welcomed. Nine State of Alaska contracted healthcare workers were placed in our secondary schools to assist with testing, health screenings, office visits, documentation, and COVID education. We are excited for their help, as it will both alleviate the stresses on our nursing staff and improve the COVID-19 response by continuing mitigation efforts.
Finally, let’s remember what this is all about – our students. I am beyond proud of them. They are dealing with stresses and challenges too. By minimizing disruptions to their learning and keeping them in the classroom, we are setting them up for success. We all play a part in keeping ASD Symptom Free. Let’s continue to work together so our students can grow and learn.
Have a great weekend!
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
October 1: Message from the Superintendent
Preface for Today’s Message to Families:
Thank you for continuing to follow my COVID-19 communications. In additional to these twice-monthly updates, I’ve started a new video series, called “Seconds with the Superintendent” where I share my thoughts on current issues and events in our District, in about 60 seconds or less.
Dear ASD Families,
As we begin to wrap up the first quarter of the school year, our COVID mitigation protocols have proven to be effective. We continue to tailor our plans based on the latest data to keep healthy students and staff present in the learning environment while minimizing the spread of COVID. Please watch for upcoming flu vaccination clinics to promote wellness in your family.
While the success of keeping schools open is celebrated, I am writing to call on your support to partner in bolstering our students’ growth and development behaviorally, emotionally, and of course, academically. As a backdrop, ASD has been recognized for its Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) standards for more than 10 years. We have been a front runner in expecting and teaching these constructs. If you are not familiar with the colloquial meaning of SEL, these standards focus on employability skills, or what I like to call the “me” skills and “we” skills. They are self-efficacy skills to become masters of our actions! These skills also allow us to work collectively to solve problems. Whichever term resonates with you, social/emotional or employability, it is essential our children learn both soft and hard skills in our homes and schools.
Discussions with teachers and principals highlight that educators are elated to be back in schools. The at-home programs of the last 18 months have a taken a toll on our students, families, and staff. More specifically, this year’s start has been tougher than any other, not only due to COVID mitigation, but in learning together again in our classrooms, courts, and fields. After Zoom classrooms, drive-through graduations, and cancelled activities, we must relearn the importance of coexisting in our schools which host some of the most diverse student populations in the nation.
We see struggles manifesting in elementary schools with student outbursts, including tears and tantrums. In our middle and high schools, students are acting out at times with harsh language and disrespect to adults and each other. Staff also report more physical altercations among students. Please remind your students that violence in our schools will not be tolerated. You may see the tension and stress in your children at home as well. We can work together on this to grow our youth, as they are our hope and future.
A particular behavior I want to describe includes recent instances of discrimination and racist language. This pandemic has in many ways brought division to our nation, state, and municipality. ASD is a microcosm of our community; if prejudice and discrimination exist in our community, it most likely will rear its ugly head in our schools.
The School Board voted 7-0 to pass its new anti-racism policy which allows us to examine situations and acknowledge that racism has no place in our schools. As a result, our staff will engage in anti-discrimination and anti-racism training this semester. In addition, we are working on programs and processes that build relational capacity with students to address successful behaviors for learning and life.
The structures and routines of school are being relearned to support our students’ acquisition of soft and hard skills. Please take the time at home to share your expectations for your student’s behavior while at school and talk to him/her to see what supports our schools can offer to have each day of learning be successful. Working together, we can make a difference in the lives of our young people.
Additionally, the pandemic has placed more stress on our staff than any other time during my career. Some areas of our workforce, including our substitute pool, are operating with minimal staff this year. Our teachers and principals are stretched very thin as they serve students while often covering the duties of unfilled positions. There is fatigue at all levels. Please know that we are pursuing many avenues to recruit and hire for open positions to lessen the strain.
Again, the Anchorage School District affirms the right of all students and staff to pursue their education and work with dignity and respect, in a safe environment.
Thanks again for the encouragement and empowerment of success you give your kids every day.
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
September 13/15: Message from the Superintendent
- Hmong version
- Korean version
- Korean version 9/15
- Spanish version 9/13
- Spanish version 9/15
- Samoan version
- Tagalog version
Dear ASD Families,
I hope your family is feeling well after a month of full time in-person learning. New routines paired with the added stressors this pandemic brings can quickly compound to stress. Let’s remember it’s been two years since a traditional school start. Please grant yourself and others around you grace and make time to enjoy the beauty of fall before the onset of winter (sorry to use the “w” word so soon).
The return of in-person learning while navigating through a pandemic requires a lot of resources, energy, and commitment. The Anchorage School District remains committed to providing students high quality in-person learning, in environments that are safe and healthy.
Simply said, we want healthy students in schools learning. It is so important for their development. Vaccinations and universal masking continue to be the best tools to keep students healthy and in school, and staff at work. To that point, effective today, the District has revised protocols which previously required asymptomatic (not exhibiting symptoms) close contacts to quarantine.
We have now changed our protocols in response to the needs of our community. Individuals deemed close contacts of confirmed positive individuals in ASD, and who remain asymptomatic, will not be required to quarantine. This change in protocol is based on our internal data that demonstrate:
- Very few positive cases relate to close contacts
- Length of time that it takes to receive test results in the municipality has increased from 24 hours to 72-96 hours
- Inequities with families in smaller homes having to quarantine for 20 days or longer
- Burden on parents having to stay home from work with their children in quarantine
- Quarantining from school hasn't kept children from participating together in other non-ASD activities
This change in protocol is necessary to ensure a level of service that enables our staff and students to remain in school if asymptomatic. To this end, the new COVID protocols will:
- Not automatically require the quarantine of asymptomatic close contacts. Staff and parents of close contacts will be given options if they want to stay in school (see a. below)
- Continue to isolate confirmed COVID positives
- Require symptomatic students/staff to remain home until they receive a negative test result, obtain a doctor note, or complete a 10-day isolation
Based on these new COVID protocols, notification to families will continue as follows:
- Parents/guardians of students in the class/cohort/team with a positive COVID case will receive a letter notifying them of the case and giving options to remain in class, quarantine, or test. Parents can choose a combination of these options.
- Parents of entire school bodies will receive a letter if there is a significant scenario in the school
Symptomatic students and staff will continue to be tracked. We are not giving up on COVID, simply overlaying educational practices and health practices in an incredibly difficult time.
One message remains throughout this pandemic: Keep ASD Symptom Free. The best way to keep our schools open and safe is to stay home even with mild symptoms. This, along with the use of layered prevention strategies like vaccination, masking, ventilation, physical distancing, and testing, has held true.
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
Dear ASD Families and Staff,
I hope this September 15 finds you well. Since Monday’s update about the revised COVID protocols, I have received questions about when it’s appropriate to attend school and/or go to work. This feedback is specifically around the term “asymptomatic.” Please know that anyone who tests positive for COVID, whether they are experiencing symptoms or not, must isolate from school and work. The quick guide below provides additional information:
- Anyone that is COVID positive must isolate for 10 days, whether or not they have symptoms. Be safe and keep others safe by staying home. We will welcome you back when you’re healthy again.
- Anyone that is not COVID positive and is not sick (asymptomatic) may go to school and work.
Simply, if someone is sick, they should stay home and rest! If healthy, please know that school is the place to be!
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
September 1: Message from the Superintendent
September 1, 2021
Dear ASD Families & Staff,
With three full weeks of in-person, full school days under our belts, let’s take a moment to celebrate this mini victory in our educational journey. Thank you, parents, staff, and students! To quote Stephen Covey, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” At ASD, our “main thing” is providing high quality in-person instruction to our students while continuing to offer choice and flexible programming.
Under our 2021-2022 Return to School Operation Guidelines, only four classrooms have transitioned to at-home learning to date across the District. This is great news! Yet, while the District remains focused on its mission, the Delta variant brings new waves of uncertainty that we must address.
I commit to keep families informed when COVID may be present in your student’s learning environment. One key tactic to keeping students and staff in buildings is the CDC recommendation that allows properly masked students and vaccinated staff to continue with in-person learning when deemed a close contact. I’ve recently heard from families who want a better understanding of the COVID climate in their schools. Please know ASD will continue to notify parents/guardians if their student is determined to be a close contact, even if that means they do NOT need to quarantine. School communities are also notified if there is a significant COVID-related event in their school, such as a classroom closure.
Additionally, our COVID-19 dashboard is updated in real time – tracking the number of active cases across the District, activities affected by a quarantine, and a list of each school site, noting any classrooms that may have transitioned to online learning. Beginning September 3, the dashboard will also include the number of active cases per school site, allowing families to monitor conditions within their school communities.
If you haven’t yet, please make a home health screening part of your daily routine with your younger students, and talk with your older students about the importance of staying home even if symptoms are mild. Making the decision to stay home and get tested will keep your child’s closest circle of classmates, peers, and teachers safe. Let’s all continue to do our part to keep ASD Symptom Free.
ASD will continue to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to eligible staff and students (with parent consent) through pop-up vaccine clinics across the District. Stay tuned for details on flu shot clinics we plan to host starting in October.
Another uncertainty that COVID brings to our operations is the ability to staff. The District announced last week the decision to temporarily suspend some bus routes due to a driver shortage. The announcement came at the end of the day on a Friday, with the first cohort of routes beginning suspension the following Monday. As a parent, I understand the frustration that comes with unexpected changes to routines. The District began the year with a driver shortage, and consequently, double routed some buses at single schools. However, with multiple drivers testing positive for COVID Thursday evening, the difficulty of filling routes grew quickly.
ASD is the largest transportation service in the state of Alaska, transporting more than 20,000 students twice daily. Coming to a solution in a short time frame required all hands on deck, with the intent to disseminate accurate information to families quickly. We know staffing will be an ongoing challenge for many essential school services, and as situations change, we will continue to alert the community as soon as possible when rapidly changing conditions arise. Please continue to check your school websites, read school newsletters, and reach out to your teacher, principal, or school nurse as your family navigates questions, concerns, and unique situations you may face this school year.
As the Labor Day weekend quickly approaches, please enjoy the late summer weather and make time to celebrate the victories your family has accomplished already this school year. I know our school staffs deserve huge victory celebrations for a great start!
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
August 14: Message from the SuperintendentDear ASD Families,It's a new school year in the Anchorage School District and our doors are fully open for in-person learning! Between August 17 and 24, we’ll have more than 48,000 students and staff back in our buildings serving Pre-K through 12th grade. We’re excited to provide all the routine school experiences that our students have missed – seeing friends, dialoguing while learning face-to-face, playing music, opening lockers, participating in sports and clubs, and more!Just like our families, ASD will nevertheless continue to deal with the pandemic and its implications. The challenges of COVID-19 still require strategic planning. In response to the high delta variant transmission in our community, the 2021-2022 Return to School Operation Guidelines will allow a safe start to school, minimize classroom/school closures, and protect staff and student health.In regard to these guidelines, I am reaching out directly. We've all been through a great deal together. Schools not starting until the spring and having to shut down classrooms due to close contact exposures were the low points of my career, and I recently shared publicly that it was a true battle for me. Many of you may have felt this way as well. This year’s fall protocols are designed to keep our school doors open, our teachers teaching, and our students learning. Closing classrooms due to contact exposures was detrimental to the success of our community’s economy and health. Together we can help prevent last minute shutdowns that affect families and businesses.The topic of wearing a mask is the most polarizing aspect of ASD’s fall COVID-19 response plans and has become a political target. Schools are a microcosm of the community. Hence, if the virus is in our community, it is in our schools. If mask wearing is an issue in our community, so is it in our schools. To be pointed, there are many people internal to our organization who like the fall mask wearing plan and those who do not. No matter our personal views, we are choosing to enter our schools every day to serve children in a safe manner. I have decided on a plan for ASD that supports the preponderance of scientific evidence during this time of COVID-19, a new virus in our history.As your superintendent, I have an ask for you as students, families, employees, and community members in doing your best to support a great start to this school year. Please allow our public schools to be a true respite from the political theatre for which we adults are participating. Allow our teachers and students to focus on what matters most, improving student outcomes. The fall mitigation provides for appropriate mask breaks as well as flexibility when our viral load lessens in the community. We owe it to our kids and employees of ASD to have a strong start to their 2021-2022 school year.As promised, twice-monthly mitigation guidance from me will be published to keep you informed. Together we are helping our doctors in hospitals, protecting our youth as much as we can from the viral spread, and, most significantly, keeping our doors open for students to learn face-to-face.In response to the greater community, ASD was able to confirm that on Monday evening at 7 p.m., we will join Dr. Anne Zink and her team from the State Division of Public Health on a Facebook Live event. This will be a time for families to learn more about the mitigation plans and where our community presently stands with COVID. Details can be found at asdk12.org.Please enjoy your final days before school starts next week. The School Board’s mission of Educating All Students for Success in Life awaits. Our students cannot find success in school without our parents, employees, and the greater community. Let’s work together to keep our doors open so our children can grow and learn.Cheers,Deena Bishop, Ed.D.Superintendent
July 31: Message from the Superintendent
Dear Students, Families, Employees, and Community Members,
The countdown is on for the start of the 2021-2022 school year! Over the coming days, principals, teachers, and staff will begin the exciting migration back to buildings, where we are planning a strong start for our students to the new school year. You can anticipate a twice-monthly letter as you had last year, sharing the latest learning updates. These updates will arrive in your inbox on or near the first and fifteenth of each month.
With just weeks to go until the first bell, I have received questions from many parents and community members about the upcoming school year, as the COVID risk levels in our community shift. We have learned much about COVID while on this rollercoaster ride of a pandemic; when we know better, we do better. What we know about in-person learning is that with proper mitigation, schools have not been a vector of spread. The District successfully ran its largest summer learning program in years, with more than 9,000 students participating in some form of in-person learning between June and August. During our summer school programs, we had less than 10 confirmed COVID cases and no known spread.
With the confidence we have built in mitigating COVID, we approach the new school year with optimism, while being cognizant of the new Delta variant that is rapidly spreading across the globe and has reached our community. Our goal is to make ASD buildings the safest buildings in Anchorage for our students to flourish and learn in a full-length school day. With this goal and the consideration of community feedback, public health recommendations, and the current community risk level, I would like to share with you the 2021-2022 Return to School Operational Guidelines, Start Strong.
Our mitigation plan this year focuses on how to continue accelerated learning in person, while allowing for full participation in activities, clubs, and social learning opportunities. We know school activities are important to student development. The updated mitigation plan focuses primarily on:
1. Universal masking will be required for all individuals while inside any ASD school or building. Some exceptions will apply. Masking while outside is optional.
2. Keep ASD Symptom Free. We must all do our part to minimize viral spread. Please stay home and get tested if you are experiencing ANY symptoms.
3. Cleaning and Disinfecting. Regular cleaning of classrooms, buses, and offices will continue. Hand sanitizer will be readily available and frequent handwashing will be encouraged. Enhancements and upgrades have been made to building HVAC systems to allow for optimal ventilation and air exchange.
4. Keeping students and staff in the learning environment. The District will continue to make COVID-19 vaccine clinics available to eligible students (with parental consent), staff, and community members through a contracted provider. Additionally, following new guidance from the CDC, asymptomatic, properly masked students and fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to quarantine if deemed a close contact.
These past few weeks I have gathered information, heard from parents and staff, and spoken with experts. The science tells us the new variant is highly contagious, is circulating around the globe, and is at a high rate in our community. Given the rapid rise of COVID cases in Anchorage and the new public health recommendations provided last week by the CDC, I will recommend this mitigation plan to the Anchorage School Board. The Board will review and discuss it during its August 3 meeting.
As we look ahead, I would like to thank you for your patience and perseverance. I foresee a strong school start with a spectrum of opportunities for our students. I am confident with proper mitigation and a laser focus on learning we will have an excellent school year. Please know ASD continues to offer options for your family in school, at home, or a combination of both. To find the latest and greatest on flexible solutions within ASD, please visit the District website.
Dr. Deena Bishop
May 26: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
The purpose for this communication is to provide masking guidance for ASD’s summer learning programs hosted in June. Please know that we look forward to continuing education this summer for our students in a safe manner that is responsive to local conditions.
Several factors influence this guidance. First, the District acknowledges the Mayor’s recent action to lift restrictions in place under emergency ordinances, and that case rates in the Municipality have declined significantly with the successful introduction of several vaccines and the ongoing campaign to vaccinate community members ages 12 and older.
It is also significant that the summer school environment is markedly different in that student populations are generally smaller, allowing students to spread out, and that warmer temperatures enable teachers to increase outdoor instruction and activities.
With these factors in mind, the following masking guidance applies to programs beginning in June. District Administration will review and potentially adjust this guidance for programs hosted in July if warranted.
1. Mask wearing for all students is optional (informed by parental preference).
2. Mask wearing for staff is optional; the District strongly advises non-vaccinated staff to wear masks (self-determined).
3. Mask wearing for vaccinated parents, volunteers, and visitors is optional; non-vaccinated individuals are strongly advised to wear masks.
4. Up to 3’ distancing will be encouraged while inside school buildings.
The District is dedicated to its mission to educate students for success in life. As we continue to work through this pandemic together, our commitment to staff and families is to transition education back to normalcy in a manner that fosters student growth and development, is responsive to constantly changing conditions, and remains responsible to the well-being of our students and staff.
As we look toward the Memorial Day weekend, I also want to thank and give honor to our military personnel and families and the ultimate sacrifice many have given to our country. I am forever grateful for your service.
Thank you, as always, for your consideration and continued support.
Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.
May 15: Message from the Superintendent
As the school year winds down, we are in the season of end-of-year ceremonies and traditions designed to celebrate student accomplishments and send them on to the next phase of their education, whether that is first grade, middle school, college, or career. These celebrations, which have largely been in person this year, are a very fitting and deserving end to a challenging year. Seeing our students receive end-of-year awards and diplomas with parents and family members in attendance is a powerful reminder that achieving ASD’s core mission is a lengthy journey that requires the commitment of the entire community. This year, that commitment has been more important than ever.
In light of evolving CDC guidance about the extremely low COVID transmission rates during outdoor activities, ASD has rescinded the requirement for volunteers to be fully vaccinated to participate in outdoor events. Parent volunteers are a valuable and essential resource for a cohesive school community, and this adjustment will allow for wider participation in important year-end school events without sacrificing safety. The District is thankful for continued community support and sincerely appreciates public input as we work together to get back to regular routines.
ASD is already looking to next fall with the hopes that school activity will more closely resemble what things were like before the pandemic, while keeping the good things we learned about our capacity to be nimble. We are aiming for a full school day, five days a week! Specials such as P.E. and music will be reincorporated, and lunch may be resumed in larger spaces. We anticipate continuing some mitigation measures, as safety of students and staff will remain a District priority. To that point, we will continue to monitor CDC guidelines and requirements of our city as we plan. We have learned a lot this year about how to mitigate the spread of COVID in our schools and I am confident that we can open our schools, programs, and activities more fully in the fall.
To assist with our planning for the next year, the District distributed a short survey today to get your feedback on a couple of items. If you have not yet received or completed it, please take two minutes of your time to provide your input. The survey can be found here.
As you may already be aware, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was recently approved for emergency use on children ages 12 and older. ASD is in coordination with a third-party healthcare provider which plans to host clinics at ASD sites throughout the summer. Families who choose to pursue the vaccine for their students can schedule their vaccine appointments through the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Please know that vaccination remains a choice in ASD.
With one short week left in the school year, summer is squarely in everyone’s sights. Since the beginning of this year, I have promised our families and employees direct communication to ease the uncertainty that the pandemic caused in our lives, especially in relation to our schools and learning. Please know that additional information about the great things our school communities can expect next school year will be communicated throughout the summer via our regular communication methods of newsletters, alerts, social media, and the website. This will be my last general, direct-to-your-inbox update this school year. In closing, please take every opportunity to get outside and take advantage of all that our beautiful and diverse state has to offer. And, congratulate your students of all ages on their accomplishments this year. Have a wonderful Alaskan summer!