An Extraordinary Time

APS Learning 2020-21
Posted on 10/20/2020
David JamesIt has been a while since I have connected with you. Our team here at Akron Public Schools (APS) has been extremely busy with the most critical planning and decision making of the last several months. Our challenge is how to continue to provide the best education possible for 20,000 students while maintaining the well-being and safety of each of them and our entire staff to the best of our abilities.

The first two months of the school year, as you know, have had all students working with teachers remotely. While this may not be the ideal learning environment for everyone, it is the safest. The ebb and flow of the COVID-19 virus has been very much a moving target, as we follow guidelines from public health officials here in Summit County.

The rather unique situation in which we find ourselves is due -- in large part -- to the size of the Akron City School District. We have nearly 50 school buildings and more than 20,000 students. Our concern extends also to their families, our staff of more than 3,000 employees and their families, too.

Our friends and colleagues in smaller, neighboring districts have, in many cases, brought students back to the classroom. The public health dynamics of COVID-19 necessarily make the consequences and possibilities of spreading the virus greater, as the number of sites and persons increases. There are other risk factors, as well, that hit urban school districts in greater numbers than suburban districts. Factors such as poverty and a population’s cultural diversity have proven to bring the number of cases up in nearly every instance across our country.

What we know for certain about this extraordinary year of 2020 is that, regardless of our decisions, about half of our families will not be happy. The only other time we experience this particular dynamic is when I have to call a snow day, or a so-called calamity day. But this “calamity day” has lasted most of this year. The stress on our families is palpable, and we are well aware of that.

So, can we maintain a safe environment while educating children? Our best chances for that are with completely remote learning. But, the practical realities of today’s learning environment dictate we continue to challenge ourselves to configure a way that brings students back into school buildings for face-to-face learning while maintaining as safe an environment as possible. We are aware that if and when this happens, public health officials could find themselves in a position that forces us to return to all-remote learning depending upon the spread of the virus in our community. So, we need to provide a plan that is also flexible to toggle back and forth if necessary.

If all of this sounds crazy … even impossible … you have some sense of what we face each day as educators in a larger, public school district. And if you really want to see complex situations, you should speak with APS Business Affairs Executive Director Debra Foulk. Debra has the job of ensuring we follow federal and local health/safety guidelines and protocols in our buildings, buses, nutritional operations and more.

I am grateful to the staff and teachers at Akron Public Schools for staying energized, creative and undaunted during these past eight months that have been most challenging. Allow me to also thank the many community partners and contributors we enjoy having working with us and with our students. They have weathered this with us and continue to provide programs and support to enrich APS students. We will next be communicating with you upon our board’s decision on what the learning model will look like for the next couple of months at APS.

Best wishes,
Image of David James Signature
David W. James, Ed.D.
Akron Public Schools
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