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April 1, 2020 Parent Updates

 

Dr. Todd Freeman, Superintendent

Hello Vestavia Hills City Schools family! We want to take a few minutes and give you an overview of our plan for school beginning April 6. Information in this video includes important details on how we will deliver instruction and operational logistics. 

Never before have we had the opportunity to depend more on each other as a family does. An important part of our success working together is to maintain an effective means of communication. When you visit our system website beginning April 6, you will land on a page with the most up-to-date information on our plans for school. Our goal is to streamline the most pertinent information for you to easily access. 

The most important part of communication, however, will be with your children’s teachers. Students will begin hearing from them as early as Thursday, April 2 and in to next week. 

Regarding the next two months, I want to mention a few key points. We will continue to follow our current school calendar in which the last student day will be Thursday, May 21. However, no school-related activities, gatherings, or athletic events can take place through June 5 by order of Governor Ivey and State Superintendent Dr. Mackey. There will be no in-person instruction provided by our staff to any student in Vestavia Hills City Schools. The State Department of Education has waived all standardized assessments, and student attendance will not be counted for the remainder of the school year. 

Class of 2020, I know the disappointment you and your families are feeling. Your final two months as a Rebel at VHHS should be a memorable time with your friends celebrating accomplishments, reflecting on the past and anticipating the future. Now, without warning, it feels like a sudden and jarring stop to what you have been working toward since kindergarten. I appreciate hearing from many of you about the desire to hold graduation and other celebratory events. Please know that this is a priority to us and we are considering ways to best celebrate you after June 5. We will be sharing more about that in the coming weeks. 

Now, please take a few minutes to hear about our academic and operational plans from Dr. Aimee Rainey and Dr. Patrick Martin.

 

Dr. Aimee Rainey, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning

I’m Aimee Rainey, the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. These past few weeks have confirmed by belief that we have the best teachers and administrators in Alabama! We are certainly blessed in Vestavia Hills! Our teachers have enthusiastically and magically, transformed our instructional delivery from a traditional classroom model to a virtual model. They have rallied demonstrating their talent, passion and creativity to offer your children an exceptional virtual experience when we can’t be together, during this time of heartbreak, fear, disappointment and loss.

I not only speak to you today as the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, but also as a parent of a student in Vestavia Hills City Schools. Our children are grieving their school routines, classmates, teammates, administrators and teachers. As our nation, state and community deal with this crisis, our administrators and teachers have stepped up as never before; with courage, confidence, creativity and compassion. 

Your school leaders are amazing! They have tirelessly worked with our central office administrative team, teachers and staff to create a plan of instruction for the 4th nine weeks. They have been leading in a virtual world, through email, videos, and Google Hangout to gather information, and resources to help make this transition possible. They are true models of exemplary leaders.

As Dr. Freeman said, the state department has waived all assessment requirements including the handwriting and civics exam. They have also waived all attendance requirements for the remainder of the year. 

Dr. Mackey encouraged districts to look at the critical standards for each grade level. We were reminded that the majority of these standards have already been covered. We were soon approaching the state assessment window and all standards must be taught before state testing. After state testing teachers are reviewing and teaching standards to prepare students for the next year. Also, when we take into consideration that much of the spring semester is spent on review along with many activities such as field trips, award ceremonies, and end of the year programs, we are really only focusing on about 2-3 weeks of new instruction for the rest of our academic calendar year.

Teachers will be working with administrators to determine critical standards and create instructional plans for student learning until May 21st. 

We will begin virtual instruction on Monday, April 6th. We will be implementing a triage model of learning. During the first week teachers will deliver the instructional plans created prior to spring break. We will be working to create instructional videos and streamlining the communication process for easy access with students and parents. This will include an onboarding process for parents, as you will now be our co-teachers! Welcome to the classroom! 

This week we will be submitting our Local Academic Continuity Plan to ALSDE for approval. They have identified parameters for local school systems to consider when completing this plan. The focus is on preparing our students for next year by providing them access to instruction and an opportunity for continued learning.

I will be sharing information with you today based on this Academic Continuity Plan and the Alabama State Department Manual for School Closures which provides thorough details for expectations which are aligned with each of the required plan components.

For seniors in the Class of 2020, Dr. Mackey has declared that Seniors who are on track to graduate and in good standing as of the third nine weeks reporting period will be considered “as meeting the graduation requirements” for the state of Alabama.

District administrators and high school staff are prioritizing meeting the specific graduation requirement needs as part of this emergency school closure. We will also be working to provide these seniors help with college applications, essays and transitional activities. Although they have met the graduation requirements and will not be required by the state to take additional coursework, we will continue to offer instruction to these seniors, making sure they are ready and prepared for success in college next Fall. Offering opportunities to continue their learning will be our goal.

For students in Kindergarteners through seniors, not on-track to graduate, the following options will be submitted for approval to the ALSDE.

  • Our instructional delivery will include Distance/Virtual/e-Learning/Remote Methods (in-person instruction for any reason is strictly prohibited)
  • We will be focusing on K-8 Critical Standards and a limited scope of delivery for 9th-12th graders working toward earning high school credit.
  • Assignments will be used to measure student progress towards mastery of these standards.
  • Content and activities will align to the Alabama standards demonstrating accuracy  and appropriateness for each grade-level.

We have deeply considered each grading option to select one that provides our students, staff, families and community with the very best solution in this time of crisis. One that aligns with our strategic plan.

After much consideration, our team determined that we will choose a combination of the State options. The third nine-week grades will be the final grades for the year and 4th nine-week grades will provide an opportunity for students to improve their 3rd nine-week grade. There will be an additional section added to the 3rd nine weeks report card which denotes COVID eLearning for 4th-12th grade students to include those Seniors who are not on track to graduate. Students who receive standards-based report cards will not receive another report card. They will receive teacher feedback to parents, who are now our co-teachers on assignments during the 4th nine weeks. Our focus will be on learning and much grace will be given to our students and families.

Under the circumstances, we will be teaching and learning in a triage model. However, we have an amazing opportunity to emphasis and maximize our second strategic goal which is to embrace our leadership role in developing common understandings and shared community support for confronting the problems and challenges that impact the system, youth, and families.

With this prolonged school closure, we have decided to approve a videoconferencing tool for use with students. We have approved Google Hangouts because it provides an additional layer of protection for our students. By using teacher and student Gmail addresses, all conferencing is protected by our network. We will have a video for parents on how to use Google Hangouts, and other virtual learning tools posted on our website.

We will be using both a synchronous and asynchronous learning approach with our students. Asynchronous methods allow students to learn anywhere at anytime. This would be like Google Classroom or iReady assignments. Synchronous is the type of learning that takes places at the same time. An example of this method is Google Hangout. Providing synchronous activities will allow us to connect with our students and allow them to connect with one another. Counselors, art, music, PE teachers and coaches will be able to connect and share with their students using Google Hangout. Schools will be providing a weekly schedule of Hangout dates and times on their website, so you will know when your child can engage in a virtual classroom with their teacher and classmates.

We will be providing an onboarding process for parents, which includes tutorial videos on the virtual learning platforms will be using, such as SeeSaw, iReady and Google Classroom. We have asked our teachers to use these tools for simplicity, clarity and easy access for you, our co-teacher,  as you work with your students from home. They will also be providing optional resources and lessons if you would like additional opportunities for your children to engage in learning. There are many ways that you can connect with us. Thank you for being our partner and co-teacher.

We are here for you! Enjoy this time learning with your children and let’s make history!

 

Dr. Patrick Martin, Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Services

My name is Patrick Martin and I serve as the Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Services here in Vestavia Hills.  I have just a few items to cover with you today. Before I do, I want to take a quick moment and thank our Operations men and women for the tremendous job that they have done over these last few weeks to support the needs of our students and staff.  Our CNP Department, directed by Amanda Carlson, has been busy providing delicious meals at both Cahaba Heights and West Elementary and our Transportation Department, under the leadership of Mike Varner, scrubbed and disinfected each of our system buses and vehicles the week before Spring Break.  Custodial Teams spent March 19th and 20th doing a deep clean of each facility and disinfecting each surface with our hospital-grade Neutral Germicidal Cleaner. We pick back up with cleaning and disinfecting this Thursday and Friday, April 2nd and 3rd at each of our school sites. 

We are fortunate in Vestavia Hills to have a great partnership with our Police Department. As you are aware, each Vestavia Hills school has a local School Resource Officer on site and these officers, under the supervision of Captain Johnny Evans, continue to patrol and offer surveillance of each school 24-hours a day 7-days a week.  

On Monday, April 6th, instructional staff members at each of the schools will gather their belongings to support student learning by way of our new Virtual Learning Platform.  April 6th will also be a day where students who need to pick up medication may do so at each of their school sites between the hours of 9:00 - 11:00 a.m. This will be a curbside pickup and students and parents are encouraged to get in touch with their school nurse this week to schedule a time during this pickup window.  You can schedule a time by calling your individual schools.

Per the State Superintendent’s directive, no students will be granted access to school sites through June 5th. We know that there may be personal items and other effects that students would like to gather, and we will work with the appropriate authorities to get these items to students as soon as possible and/or get students access to schools when the time is appropriate.  We appreciate your patience while we continue to adhere to state leadership’s guidance.

I mentioned our Child Nutrition Program earlier and Vestavia Hills will continue to offer a meal program each week for students and parents that choose to take part through the end of school.  Meals can be picked up at both Cahaba Heights Elementary School and West Elementary School between the hours of 11:00 and noon. These meals can be picked up on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. On Monday, students will be provided a breakfast and lunch for Monday, but also an additional breakfast and lunch for Tuesday.  On Wednesday students will be provided with three breakfast and lunch meals provided for Wednesday and Thursday, but also Friday morning. We will serve meals to students 18 and under and we ask that students being provided with meals be present in the vehicle during pickup.

One of our Core Values in Vestavia Hills is the belief in the garnering of Unparalleled Community Support.  We have been very fortunate to partner with Leadership Vestavia Hills and their support of our students and local businesses has been tremendous.  Leadership Vestavia Hills will provide lunches on Friday and do so in a manner that supports local restaurants. If you know of, or become aware of this fine team of community and civic leaders, please be sure to thank them for their support of the Vestavia Hills school community.

We have received a few questions regarding lunch accounts and Paypams.  The system is working through a process to get parents Breakfast and Lunch account refunds and credits.  For additional questions please contact our CNP Director Amanda Carlson at carlsonas@vestavia.k12.al.us

The same can be said for our Extended Day Care Program.  Questions regarding Refunds and Credits for families utilizing Extended Day Care can be emailed to Director Tom Callahan at callahantj@vestavia.k12.al.us.  Mr. Callahan and his team continue to ready for a possible Summer Program, but we will take guidance from state leadership in terms of its parameters and possibility.  We will continue to communicate around this program for students and I encourage you to reach out to Mr. Callahan as we continue to move throughout the spring semester.

Capital projects related to our new Pizitz Campus off of Columbiana Road and the new Freshman Campus are ongoing and we will spend this remaining time of the current school year readying for 2020-2021.  We had planned to train and move staff during the months of May and June, but our new Virtual Learning Platform may allow us to have more flexibility and accelerate our moves to these campuses. I will be working with Drs. Pennington and Burgess in the coming weeks and communicate with staff as soon as possible how this move configuration will transpire leading into summer.  I have personally spent the last two years readying these campuses for student attendance and I have to say I am very excited for the families of Vestavia Hills to experience these new spaces. They are going to be a wonderful expansion to the school system and I think that students and staff alike are truly going to benefit for years to come.

Finally, as Dr. Freeman mentioned earlier, this new Virtual Learning Platform will allow our students to explore and get creative as they continue to Learn Without Limits in new and innovative ways.  One way that we would like to continue to support this is in providing Chromebooks to students who may have need. Chromebook pickup will be this Thursday and Friday, April 2nd and 3rd between the hours of 8:00 and 11:00 a.m.  On Thursday, April 2nd students can pick up Chromebooks at Vestavia Hills High School, Pizitz Middle School, Liberty Park Middle School and Liberty Park Elementary School. On Friday, April 3rd, students can pick up Chromebooks at Cahaba Heights Elementary School, Dolly Ridge Elementary School, Vestavia Hills Elementary East and Vestavia Hills Elementary West.  I would like to thank Technology Director Keith Price and his team for their coordination of this deployment and the system has already provided nearly 200 devices to students over the past two weeks. For questions related to device need, such as the Chromebook deployment, please direct them to Mr. Price at pricekm@vestavia.k12.al.us.  

Note: Prior to picking up a Chromebook, parents must fill out an online form authorizing the check-out of the Chromebook and providing consent to the terms of the acceptable use procedures. Click here to access the form.

Please never hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions or other items that relate to the area of Operations.  You can email me directly at martinp@vestavia.k12.al.us.  I look forward to seeing all of our students soon and please stay healthy and safe.

 

Dr. Todd Freeman - video conclusion

I believe that this is a defining moment in time that we can seize and make it our finest hour. The challenges we face create opportunities for growth. The isolation we feel can cause us to draw strength from within ourselves and our family in deeper ways than ever before. The uncertainty of new ways of teaching and learning will ignite creative energies that lie within each of us. Together we will provide our students the opportunity to learn without limits. Together, we will guide our students in preparing for the next school year. Friends, we won’t be perfect and we will make mistakes, but we will conquer this challenge together and be a better community of learners because of it. 

Please let me know of questions you have and ideas to enhance our plan for the next two months. I wish you all the very best and look forward to sharing with you again soon.