Weekly Update from the Office of the Superintendent
Volume 1, Issue 36 (March 26, 2021)
Virtual & Hybrid Learning

On Wednesday, the District Reopening Task Force met again to review the findings of our school stakeholder teams. These school teams have been meeting daily to examine our ability to bring more students back at individual grade levels. Teams identified opportunities and challenges under the current 6-feet social distancing requirement, as well as a potential transition to 3-feet. Currently, we are anxiously awaiting new guidance from New York State based on the recently released CDC recommendations. As we are still awaiting this new guidance, the earliest a change to our instructional model would be made Monday, April 19. However, we must realize this date may be pushed to an even later date depending on when NYS guidance is released and how it compares to the recently released CDC guidance. We are hard at work planning based on the CDC guidance since this is the only thing that we have at this time.

The updated CDC guidance includes various social distancing thresholds based on community spread. According to the document, at lower levels of community spread, the recommendation is 3 feet. At higher levels of community spread, the recommendation is 6 feet for secondary schools that are not cohorted, like our middle and high schools. In its new guidance, the CDC offers two different indicators of community transmission, one based on the positivity rate (which would put Erie County in the lower categories of spread) and one based on the total number of new cases per 100,000 residents (which would put Erie County in the higher categories of spread). For this reason, if state guidance aligned with the CDC recommendations, our secondary schools would have to remain at 6 feet of social distancing. I have asked our middle/high schools to focus on this possibility and to develop options that would increase in-person instruction. At any point, we will be ready for the state to release its updated guidance and requirements. The Ken-Ton community can expect an update no later than Thursday, April 1.

At the elementary school level, we are looking to increase instruction to 4-5 days per week. One of the biggest challenges relates to transportation. Increasing in-person attendance would increase the number of students on buses, possibly resulting in more than one child per seat in some circumstances. We may be able to minimize this by grouping siblings together. We will continue to spread students as far apart as possible and require everyone to wear masks at all times on the bus. However, we need your help. If our families can assist us by transporting their child(ren), this will help alleviate this challenge. I know we've asked for this before and we're not certain that this will still be a challenge after the state guidance is released, but we are planning based on the CDC guidance which recommends one child per seat whenever possible. We are asking any elementary family currently utilizing Ken-Ton transportation that has the ability to transport their child(ren) to and from school to consider making this commitment. Once again, this commitment will need to be for the morning AND afternoon, for each day of the week. To that end, we are asking all elementary school families to complete a short survey (one per child) by the end of the day Monday, March 29 to indicate whether you will be able to transport their children for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. Please complete one form per child. You can find this survey here and on our District homepage at www.ktufsd.org.

Another major challenge involves breakfast. Under the new CDC recommendations, elementary students will be able to transition to 3 feet of social distancing in the classroom, but they would have to maintain 6 feet of social distancing during music, physical education, and breakfast/lunch. As you can imagine, the 3-foot change is exciting, but having to maintain 6 feet during meals will pose a challenge for all of our elementary schools. Teams are working hard to plan under the CDC recommendations as we await the state guidance. Our elementary school students will need to continue eating lunch in their classrooms, and additional areas will need to be identified. We are hopeful that most elementary schools will be able to once again utilize their cafeterias for meals since those spaces will no longer be needed as additional instructional space. Breakfast poses a different challenge. Unlike lunch, schools do not have multiple periods for breakfast, so all students eat breakfast at the same time. For this reason, solving our breakfast challenge will require more out-of-the-box thinking than lunchtime. One such option that we are considering is providing students with the following day’s breakfast to take home and eat before leaving for school the following morning.

Another potential challenge is that the contact tracing and quarantine requirements will continue to be based on 6 feet according to the CDC recommendations. This would increase the number of students who will be ordered to quarantine in the event of a positive case since students will be closer than 6 feet in the classrooms.

Even though the CDC recommendations indicate that increasing secondary in-person instruction will be much more challenging than elementary, it is important to note that our current secondary instructional model is the envy of many other school districts. We are among a small number of districts in the area that have designed a model that provides middle/high school students with four days of synchronous instruction each week. We recognize there is no substitute for in-person learning. However, our current four-day synchronous model of direct student/teacher contact time, along with opportunities for small-group instruction on Wednesdays, is currently the best possible scenario in the event that our secondary students have to remain at six feet. Through investments in technology, teacher training, innovative teaching practices, and curriculum/instructional support, our secondary schools have been able to offer all students (those in person and those at home) the ability to participate in the same high-quality live classroom instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
This week, I wish to highlight the work of our classroom teachers who have done an outstanding job engaging students at home and in the classroom simultaneously. This is no easy task, and it is being done in middle/high school classrooms throughout the District. This is one of the reasons why our secondary instructional model has been so successful.

I had the opportunity to observe this in Robin Hall’s class at Hoover Middle School on Tuesday. Mrs. Hall and her colleague, Katie Anzalone, teach the 41 fifth-graders who make up Hoover Middle School’s fifth-grade Team 6. It was extremely impressive to see Mrs. Hall engage both groups of students at the same time, bringing them all together using Google Meet. Each student, including those in the classroom, has a laptop in front of them so they can see and interact with all of their classmates. She uses the Breakout Room feature to bring smaller groups together. She rotates through these groups to observe their work just as she would if they were grouped together in her classroom. Students are able to request help with the click of a button, which pushes a notification to Mrs. Hall. Although much of the work they do is paper-and-pencil, Mrs. Hall has students use the Whiteboard feature in Google Meet to demonstrate their understanding, while she is able to share her screen and use a document camera. It was extremely impressive to see how quickly and seamlessly she moves back and forth using all of these different tools.

Managing this interactive digital environment, with 20-25 students, takes an enormous amount of work and attention on the teacher’s part. Mrs. Hall has to move very quickly and methodically to ensure smooth operation every step of the way. She has to troubleshoot any issue she or her students encounter, such as a program crashing, problems with the sound/video feed, or audio feedback. This in itself would be a challenging task for a single teacher, but what makes it even more challenging is that she has to manage all these tasks while educating her students, engaging them, moving through the lesson, and assessing their understanding of the content.

Mrs. Hall is a perfect example of a teacher who has risen to the challenge of educating students at home and in person simultaneously. You can observe the effectiveness of these strategies in her students’ work, progress, and level of engagement. Most impressive of all is that our teachers worked out these solutions in the eye of adversity during a pandemic. Through collaboration, perseverance, and trial and error, they have figured out ways to provide students with an authentic classroom experience. To Mrs. Hall, and to all of our teachers who are engaged in this work, thank you for all you are doing and maintaining a "do whatever it takes" mentality.
Today we celebrate Carrie Chapman Catt, who helped earn women the right to vote.

Ms. Catt was born in 1859 and grew up in Iowa. She initially dreamed of becoming a doctor and worked a variety of jobs to help pay her way through college. Attending the present-day Iowa State University, Ms. Catt joined a student literary club where female members were only allowed to deliver formal, prepared remarks. She fought for and won the right to freely debate and discuss, which only the male members of the club had been allowed to do. She also started an all-girls debate club and joined Pi Beta Phi, the first national women's organization based on men's Greek-letter fraternities. Ms. Catt was the only female member of her graduating class.

The national women’s suffrage movement was growing at the time. Ms. Catt worked as a law clerk, then a teacher, and became the first female Superintendent of Schools in Mason City, Iowa. She authored several books and became intimately involved in the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which was led by Susan B. Anthony. They worked closely together for several years. Ms. Catt was Ms. Anthony's hand-picked successor in 1900, and her election was nearly unanimous. Although Ms. Catt had to temporarily step down from the presidency for a time to care for her ailing husband, she led the organization through the critical years leading up to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which finally gave women the right to vote.

Ms. Catt would then go on to found the League of Women Voters, which continues to this day, and she campaigned for women's suffrage all across the globe. Her advocacy was not limited to the cause of women during the 1920s and 1930s. For example, during Hitler's rise to power, Ms. Catt advocated for the easing of immigration laws to protect Jewish refugees, and she became the first woman to receive the American Hebrew Medal. The last event Ms. Catt organized was the 1940 Women's Centennial Congress, which celebrated 100 years of female progress.
Schools recently sent home meal applications that families would normally complete to qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast/lunch. Even though breakfast/lunch is currently free for all students, it is very important that families complete and return this meal application, since the state and federal governments use these forms to identify the number of families who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. This not only determines how much funding our school district receives, but it also benefits families in a more direct way. For example, earlier this school year, families that were eligible for free/reduced-price meals were able to receive up to $420 per child in nutritional benefits through the P-EBT Program. Also, eligible families may be able to pay reduced fees associated with college applications and SAT, ACT and AP testing. If you haven’t done so already, please complete your Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application and return it to your child’s school, or send it to the Food Service Department, 1500 Colvin Blvd., Buffalo, NY 14223.
Thank you for reviewing this information. As always, we remain Ken-Ton Proud, Ken-Ton Strong, and Ken-Ton Moving Forward!

For previous editions of the Ken-Ton Weekly Connection, visit www.ktufsd.org/connection