School Board Meeting Statement - March 31, 2020

  • MARCH 31, 2020 (delivered at March 31, 2020, School Board Meeting by Dr. Michele Balliet)

    Please let me start my remarks by saying how much we truly miss all of our students and we look forward to a time where we can see them again, in person. We feel the same way about our faculty and staff; school board members; and our countless daily volunteers and school visitors. None of us have experienced a pandemic of this magnitude and severity ever before. As I sit here tonight in this virtual meeting I can confidently say that our E-town family of students; parents; educators; county and community leaders; and all of our stakeholders are rising to the occasion to address our community’s varied and numerous needs. We especially extend our utmost gratitude to all of those individuals who are on the front lines of this pandemic. We sincerely thank you for your efforts!
    As a district, we certainly understand that this unprecedented health crisis is far greater than school closings. Many of our students, families faculty and staff rightfully are experiencing anxiety and stress over the closing of schools. However, I want to assure our community of the amazing work we’re navigating as a school district. I could not be more proud of our team of administrators, teachers, and support personnel for their rapid response to this pandemic. I’m sure you would agree that while this is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history, our focus as a district has been squarely on doing everything we can possibly do to lessen the negative impacts school closings could potentially have on our students and families. The following examples have been accomplished through intentional work and various partnerships and collaborations:

    • Keeping our kids, faculty, and staff safe through strict adherence to state and federal laws and guidance.
    • Communicating with our stakeholders in as timely, transparent, and comprehensive of a manner as possible.
    • Partnering with the local food bank and churches for food assistance to families experiencing food insecurity.
    • Planning long-term for extended school closings.
    • Surveying our families on their accessibility to technology and meeting the needs of those without.
    • Developing remote enrichment and review learning opportunities.
    • Vetting a plethora of online resources to determine the compatibility with our instructional program, the benefit to our students’ learning, and long-term viability.
    • Ensuring, to the best of our ability, an assurance of FAPE for ALL students.
    • Returning student medicines and equipment back to families.
    • Providing work permits to age-eligible students so they can help those businesses who remain open during this time
    • Exploring all calendar considerations.
    • Maintaining the operations of the $60+ million organization.
    • Keeping our schools secure and safe during the extended closing.
    • Working with our staff, including our hourly and part-time employees to ensure their well-being among other things.
    • Donating some of our goggles to local health care providers so they can continue their work safely.

    The next few weeks (and possibly even months) will not be easy. There will be challenges, frustrations, anxieties, and unknowns along the way. However, I can clearly say, based on the level of support, forged partnerships, and unwavering commitment to our students and staff, there is no doubt we will all adjust to our new normal FOR NOW and ultimately realize hope, purpose, and togetherness! We’ve got this Etown!

    I’d like to recognize our administrative team, our educators and members of our support staff for putting in place a system for continuity of learning K-12 in less than two weeks. This was not an easy task by any means! Working in partnership with our education association leadership, it was very obvious early on that we were all prepared to fulfill our commitment to educating our community’s youth regardless of the circumstances and obstacles, supporting our school district’s families and their needs. While we were transitioning to one to one in our district, no one anticipated that we would be going fully online and completely remote this year!
    As you know, earlier this week President Trump extended the social distancing guidelines for the nation through April 30 followed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf “indefinitely” extending the school closing and county stay-at-home orders. As such, we are moving as quickly as we can and as slow as we must with the launching of our continuity of education program.
    Yesterday, all seven of our schools launched their Enrichment and Review Hubs. This phase of our continuity of education is intended to support our families by providing meaningful online review and enrichment activities to all our students. Our goal is that our Enrichment and Review remote learning opportunities bring a small sense of normalcy to our students by connecting remotely with their teachers; engaging them in learning; and providing some educational structure to their day. We will be posting our longer-term plan on our website and details will be forthcoming.
    As it relates to our calendar, we have had many questions about whether or not we need to make up the days missed due to the state-ordered school closing. While in general terms the answer is no, the fine print makes it clear that there is a state expectation for school districts to make a good faith effort to use as many makeup days and online learning options as possible.  As such, with the remote online learning opportunities underway, we WILL make use of Thursday, April 9 as a day of online instruction for our students. In addition, given that we are under county-wide, stay-at-home order we will also be designating Monday, April 13 as a second day of online instruction for our students. Utilizing these two days will enable us to provide continuity of learning and not add even more days to the end of the calendar. Friday, April 10 will remain as a holiday. Direct communication will be provided to our families on this change.
    We are fully aware there are still many unanswered questions like What happens if our schools do not open up again this year? What about graduation? Will there be a prom? What will next year look like for my child? and so on. Please know we are working on the answers to some of these questions as quickly as we can. We ask for your continued patience. At this time, key events like prom and graduation HAVE NOT BEEN canceled. We continue to explore options and opportunities and weigh all aspects of these potential decisions. I promise we will relay the answers as soon as we are able.

    Now, I would like to specifically address our students. There are no words to describe the anguish we feel for each and every one of you. Whether you are a kindergartener in your first year of formal schooling; a sixth-grader in your final year of elementary school; an anxious new student awaiting your first day school in our district because you just moved here; an athlete or performer currently missing out on your season or show; a student at our career and tech center in the middle of learning a viable trade; a senior in your final months in our district; and all of our students in-between, it is unimaginable the range of emotions you must be feeling. We will not pretend that this disruption is not robbing you of memories, experiences, performances, and competitions. We agree that this is unfair. As a school district, this is not what we envisioned for you either! All we can say is how immensely proud of you we are for your amazing resilience and willingness to persevere!  We encourage you to stay healthy and take care of yourself. We also encourage you to stay connected with us and one another, practicing all social distancing guidelines. Third, we look forward to providing you an education, even if it is just remotely for the time being. Let’s work together and make the very best of this unfortunate situation.  We may not be together in our buildings and are now connecting in cyberspace, however, we care about what is happening to each and every one of you. Specifically to our seniors... I promise...when it comes to those events that have been postponed and those that are scheduled for the end of the school year such as prom, senior awards, and graduation, we will continue to explore all options and opportunities.  We may need to get very creative, however, we are not giving up hope. We know we will weather this unprecedented storm.  Let's not forget we are all part of the E-town family and we are here to support you!
    So, in conclusion, THANK YOU EASD community! We know that there is still work and learning to do. We are ALL truly in this together. Stay safe. Keep healthy.