On December 4, 2020, at noon, the Norfolk Public Schools Board of Education called a special board meeting to discuss the school district’s current staffing situation due to the COVID pandemic.
Superintendent, Dr. Jami Jo Thompson, shared with the board that although the number of COVID positive students and staff within Norfolk Public Schools remains low, the school district is finding it difficult to keep schools open due to staff absences and a lack of substitute teachers/staff. In addition to principals and teachers covering classes during their plan periods, certified staff and administrators from Central Office have also been covering classes. She told the school board that if current trends continue, or worsen, these efforts will be extremely difficult to sustain.
Dr. Thompson said, “Stress levels are very high, and COVID cases in our area are expected to continue increasing throughout and immediately following the holiday season. We must recognize the fact that we may eventually end up without the ability to supervise and teach classes unless we make some changes.”
She shared with the board members that prior to the Thanksgiving break, she had sent a survey to the NPS teachers to gather their feedback for the best options to reduce teacher stress/workload and to address the substitute shortage. Over 93% of teachers completed the survey. Dr. Thompson shared some recommendations for the school board’s consideration:
- One recommendation is to add 2 “No Students In School” days to the school calendar in December. (December 7 and December 14). Teacher comments indicate that they are stressed and fatigued from trying to teach their classes in-person and support students who are quarantined, while giving up multiple plan periods in order to cover absent teachers’ classes. The addition of these teacher work days in December would allow them to “catch up on their work”, communicate with students who are quarantined, and prepare lessons for the final weeks of the quarter.
- Dr. Thompson reiterated that the goal is to keep students “in-person” learning as long as possible, but acknowledged that classroom success depends on supervision and teaching. If staffing concerns continue, “in-person” learning may not be possible to continue. Dr. Thompson recommended that the board give her the authority to act swiftly if a move to an alternative learning model is needed for the best outcome for students and staff.
- She discussed briefly the plans for second semester. With so many unknowns regarding the pandemic, Dr. Thompson did not make any recommendations for implementation of a specific learning model to be used in January. Instead, she asked the board to allow the school district until December 30 before making any decisions. At that time she said the district could make a more informed decision based on personnel and recommendations from ELVPHD. If it is decided that a change from “in-person” learning to an alternative learning model is needed for January, she asked for the board to give her the authority to change January 5, 2021 to a “No Students in School” day on the school calendar if that future decision warrants a learning model change. This potential change to the school calendar would enable teachers to prepare prior to students returning from the Winter Break. She said student families would be notified of any changes to the January calendar and learning model on, or before, December 30, 2020.
The school board reviewed these three specific recommendations.
- Change December Calendar--December 7 and 14 to “No School for Students”.
- Grant the Superintendent permission to change the learning model if needed (at any point) due to lack of staff/substitute teachers.
- Grant the Superintendent the flexibility to make January 5th a “No School for Students” day if we need to change our Learning Model in January.
The school board voted to approve all three of these recommendations and asked Dr. Thompson and staff to move forward accordingly.
Dr. Thompson closed her presentation by praising the outstanding staff of Norfolk Public Schools for their dedication and commitment. She said “Our teachers have been incredibly flexible, dedicated, caring, and all-around amazing! But, they are fatigued, stressed, overwhelmed, and even concerned or scared for their own well-being. These steps will go a long way in helping to ease some of those concerns.”
As additional information develops and becomes available it will be shared on the school website.
La Junta de Educación de Norfolk Public Schools se reunió hoy al mediodía para discutir la situación actual del personal de nuestro distrito escolar debido a la pandemia de COVID. Aprobaron el lunes 7 de diciembre y el lunes 14 de diciembre como días de “No hay escuela para estudiantes”. El personal de la escuela utilizará estos dos días para ponerse al día con el trabajo y prepararse para las últimas semanas del segundo trimestre. El personal de la escuela ha estado ocupado sustituyendo a los maestros/personal ausentes y preparando el trabajo para los estudiantes en cuarentena y necesitan este tiempo para trabajar.
La Junta Escolar también discutió la necesidad de tener éxito en la clase y reconoció que las necesidades de personal pueden no ser sostenibles en el futuro si continúan las tendencias actuales. Me otorgaron la autoridad para actuar rápidamente para modificar nuestro modelo de aprendizaje de aprendizaje "en persona" a "híbrido" o "basado en el hogar", si se considera necesario, debido a la falta de personal y sustitutos en el futuro. Nuestro objetivo es mantener a los estudiantes aprendiendo "en persona" en nuestros edificios escolares el mayor tiempo posible. Sin embargo, debemos estar preparados para hacer este cambio a un método de aprendizaje alternativo si no podemos supervisar y enseñar en nuestras clases tradicionales.
La decisión sobre nuestro Modelo de Aprendizaje de Enero se anunciará alrededor del 30 de diciembre. En base a esa decisión, el estado del 5 de enero como día escolar regular o día de “No hay escuela para estudiantes” también se anunciará en ese momento. Por favor continúe mirando su correo electrónico y Infinite Campus para ver los mensajes del distrito escolar durante las vacaciones de invierno.
Quiero reconocer que sé que estos cambios pueden no ser convenientes y agradezco su comprensión y flexibilidad. En este momento, el único cambio que se está haciendo es que no habrá escuela para los estudiantes en los grados PK-12 el lunes 7 de diciembre de 2020 o el lunes 14 de diciembre de 2020.
Dr. Jami Jo Thompson, Norfolk Public Schools