OPINION: SOMSD Leadership Needs to Provide the Community with Clarity, Transparency, Data-Driven Decisions

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SOMA Community Alliance for Education read the following remarks during the March 15, 2021 Board of Education meeting:

Good evening, 

One year into this pandemic, we have all hit some form of the pandemic wall, and whatever our personal struggles have been during this time, we as parents, have had those coupled with a nuanced, complicated, very public and divisive conversation around returning to school. Weary, frustrated, and looking for a constructive way out of the discord that has taken over our communities – we founded SOMA Community Alliance for Education last month. 

From our leaders and from our community, we have seen divisive language that is born out of this emotional exhaustion, and frustration.  Our ultimate goal is to work to take down the temperature, by establishing a collaborative community voice that seeks to rally around our schools and not against one another. We were happy to hear from Board President Joshua on this tonight, especially as we recently saw this boil over from social media, into real life. 

Since being established just one month ago, we have received a warm community response. Many folks felt trapped in the middle of a fight between the district and the teachers’ union, one that often feels hard to navigate. Others share they just feel that communication overall is challenging, and lacks clarity. Yet, one thread of alignment we have uncovered, is that no matter where a person is on the continuum of school reopening — nearly everyone seems to recognize the need for a shift in the tone of the conversation. Calmer, and more kid-focused. 

We are asking you tonight, for your support to this end — let’s prioritize a mindful approach to our actions, our words and ensure that every measure prioritizes the best interest of the students. That includes ensuring clarity, transparency, and openness to the greatest extent possible, as the families in our community are looking to you to be able to make sense of what is happening.  

In the spirit of clarity and kid-focus we wanted to share based on our committees some points we believe are important as we forge ahead, together:

Our COVID-19 Response AND Infrastructure teams have been hard at work cultivating relationships, mining for information, and identifying best practices that have supported safe in person instruction. 

We would like clarity on the conditions for return to in person learning and the progress that has been made against those conditions.  We are excited vaccines are available, and capital projects have been approved.  Furthermore, this week, after talking to the district, we felt relieved to understand the great progress that has been made on the HVAC systems and would love to share that information and more out to parents through our communication channels, including our facebook page and weekly newsletter. 

Yet, it is still unclear how likely the district is to hit the April 19th target date because these updates come from different channels and do not clearly tie into the larger question of progress towards in person learning. A suggestion we have would be to create clear, actionable benchmarks along a time line so that the community can understand the process and the likelihood of an April 19th opening. 

We see part of our role as helping to unite and disseminate clear information from the various sources to provide parents with a better sense of progress towards that deadline for hybrid launch.  This includes sharing the great work that is being done by the district, and providing forewarning on any anticipated gaps as plans evolve. 

As we look to next year, we expect the same level of clarity about the possibility of 5 day/week learning in September and what that might look like.  Presently, the only discussions of next year have been surrounding the budget which appears to reflect a normal year and not a post-pandemic normal.  Given the challenges we have faced as a global, national and local community this year, it is reasonable to expect increased transparency, empathy and clear action from the top.  Not only would be helpful, as parents, to understand what to expect – even at the highest level, it also would work to restore trust within our school community.  Finally, and most importantly, we believe that this is imperative for our kids. We need to be able to communicate clearly with them about this, and manage their expectations in both the short and the long term. 

To those ends, we would love any updates on the conditions for a hybrid and 5 day/week return and any action steps the district is taking that have a direct impact on in person learning.

We have approximately an additional $4.3M in COVID relief spending, it has a time limit, and must be used for COVID related expenditures. We would love to propose the following categories on use, and are looking forward to hearing directly from the district about their plans:

  • We support the use of additional filters as identified by Pandemic Response Teams in our schools to assist with air quality, as well as plastic dividers as preventative measures for child to child and adult to child transmission. 
  • Testing. We have previously raised testing to the district, and are still in support of this measure. Districts across the state are using this to support return to school, and next school year this could be helpful as children will remain unvaccinated. 
  • Clear, equitable approach to mental health and SEL for school staff and students .  We are here to advocate for a clearly articulated social-emotional response plan from the district social work dept. that is public knowledge and integrated into daily instruction. This plan must support the social emotional needs of students AND teachers. At its core, this includes helping folks to identify, understand, and manage their emotions and stress levels so that we can rebuild our in-person school communities successfully. 

We commend the efforts tonight to discuss steps moving forward in academic and SEL intervention.  Like Boardmembers Malespina, Winkfield, Wright, Maini and Cuttle, we share significant concerns about what information drives intervention selection.  We believe in data driven decisions and research-based interventions.  It seems that data and interventions are presented separately, which makes for challenges when evaluating appropriateness.  We are asking for our district leaders to treat the community with respect and provide excess transparency during this time where we need to rebuild trust.  Further, we expect to see outcome measurements that are tied to student outcomes and presented in a timely and organized fashion.  We can offer our support as additional subject matter experts.  We would also like to take a moment to applaud our Board Members and feel reassured by their ability to look critically and thoughtfully at this information. We look forward to partnering with you to the greatest extent possible within your roles.  

Our goal is to rally around our schools, and to allow our community to feel united.  We work more effectively together, and when information is shared and feedback is received respectfully.  We believe that we are models for our kids, and we hope that we can rise to the occasion, mend what is broken and support our kids as we continue to navigate what school looks like given our current global challenges. We thank you for the time tonight and look forward to continued progress towards shared objectives and greater understanding.  We will continue to follow up and advocate for our children and our community to ensure we are all moving forward hand in hand.  


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