May 6 School Board Meeting Talking Points
Posted on 05/06/2020
Superintendent Walts
  1. Good evening, I would like to start this evening by thanking our teachers and nurses, especially during this teacher and nurse appreciation week, as well as our principals, counselors, bus drivers, food service providers, and custodians. I also want to thank the support staff of technology and communications, finance and payroll, human resources, facilities, student learning, student services, and all other staff members for their daily herculean efforts in helping our students, parents, staff, and community!
  2. I am very proud of the efforts our staff, students, and families are making to stay home, stay safe, and participate in at-home learning.
  3. Two weeks ago, I was joined by nearly 700 students in the first Virtual SPARKing STEAM event, intended to provide hope and introduce students to career opportunities in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. The Introduce a Girl to STEAM event, originally scheduled for April 18 at Benton Middle School, was rescheduled due to the global pandemic.
  4. This event was sponsored by SPARK, the Education Foundation for PWCS, and a special thank you to Gary Simms and Walmart. The event featured guest speakers Patrick “Patcasso” Hunter, a live performance painter, Karlie Kloss, American supermodel and entrepreneur, DJ Steady Rock, and Lena (LEE-na) Gooden (GOOD-in), a student at Osbourn Park High School. The event also provided several prize giveaways for students.
  5. During the event I highlighted a few examples of the amazing community service our students are providing during this time.
  6. I am really proud to see PWCS students and staff members using technology and engineering to solve problems during the pandemic.
  7. Students from Forest Park and Colgan High Schools, and a teacher from Woodbridge High School, are using 3-D printers to create face shields and masks for health care providers and others serving on the front lines.
  8. Students from The Governor’s School, Forest Park High School and Osbourn Park High School are giving away free, refurbished computers through Free and Accessible Technology at www.fati.io. They put their engineering and technology skills to work to help solve a critical problem in their community.
  9. These are only two examples of the many ways students and staff are reaching out to help each other and the community.
  10. I would like to provide an update for the Board and the community on our ongoing efforts during this pandemic to continue to meet our students’ needs including learning, mental health support, and nutrition.
  11. I will also share some of our plans for the months ahead, including this summer and our preparations for the next academic year.
  12. School Nutrition has served over 325,492 meals at 22 school sites since March 16.
  13. I had the opportunity to see this first-hand when I visited Forest Park High School last week. The positivity of the staff and families is amazing. I am so impressed by the can-do spirit of everyone involved.
  14. Also, we have many community partners working to help our families with their weekend food needs, including the CHOW Wagon. The Prince William County Community Foundation, Inc. Chow Wagon serves non-perishable and perishable foods each Friday to help families provide food for the weekend.
  15. The Chow Wagon will be distributing food from 9 to 11 a.m. on the following dates: May 8 at Lake Ridge Middle School; May 15 at Saunders Middle School; May 22 at Potomac View Elementary School; and May 29 at Fitzgerald Elementary School. Everyone is welcome.
  16. Our students and teachers have been working incredibly hard to implement our Virtual School House and our Home Learning Plans as I detailed to you at a previous Board meeting.
  17. The complete plans and details are available on our website.
  18. I also want to note that the Superintendent of Public Instruction approved the request by PWCS for a length of school term waiver, meaning our plans for the remainder of this academic year will move forward.
  19. We know our schools are using multiple methods to connect with students.
  20. I would like to just share the statistics for just one of our tools used by teachers. Microsoft Teams has more than 35,000 active users, 4,552 live meetings have been organized, 10,283 group calls have been conducted and 974,000 chat messages have been sent.
  21. Our schools have been collaborating with our Information Technology (IT) staff to distribute as many devices to our students as possible. Through a telephone survey, and other feedback, we have determined that more than 30,000 students do not have access to a device at home.
  22. If your student is in need of a device for learning at home, but you did not receive the survey, please contact your child’s school.
  23. Our high schools have already provided more than 3,000 devices to students; this week our middle and elementary schools will begin their distributions as well.
  24. We recognize that should remote learning become required this fall, as opposed to optional, that demand may increase, and we will be working to continue to procure and prepare as many devices as possible.
  25. The last day of our third quarter marking period was April 24. Report cards were mailed home for all middle and high school students on May 5 and are available in ParentVUE and StudentVUE.
  26. Elementary parents can view report card grades and attendance in ParentVUE. Schools are communicating specifics regarding the distribution of report cards at each individual school.
  27. While the learning at home is currently optional, it is important to note that teachers will continue to communicate to students through existing communication methods to provide opportunities for students to improve grades.
  28. As a reminder, student grades can only improve from where they were on March 13, 2020.
  29. While no grades will be posted in marking period 4, any optional work students complete after March 13 will be reflected in assignments in marking period 1, 2, or 3.
  30. Ultimately, the final grade may be modified by the teacher to improve the student’s grade, if a student demonstrates additional mastery and improvement through the distance learning opportunities offered through the end of the academic year.
  31. High school counselors are reviewing seniors’ records to determine if they have met graduation requirements. They are contacting students to let them know if they have completed those requirements, or to offer assistance to those who may need additional support to get across that finish line.
  32. I know that there has been a significant interest in providing graduating seniors the opportunity for in-person graduation ceremonies.
  33. Our comprehensive high school principals have recommended in- person graduation ceremony dates of August 4, 5, 6, and 7.
  34. Independence Nontraditional School is tentatively planned for August 3 and PACE West for August 19.
  35. The ceremonies will be held at schools potentially in stadiums, gyms, or auditoriums, with families in attendance. However, tickets may be limited depending on exact social distancing requirements and the size of the venue.
  36. The ceremonies will follow the social distancing requirements in place at that time.
  37. It is very important to note that this plan and these dates may be changed depending on the evolving health situation related to the COVID-19 virus. Should health precautions prohibit an in-person option virtual options will be considered.
  38. The Governor’s School at Innovation Park and Thomas Jefferson High School will follow any dates determined by the jurisdictions responsible, the City of Manassas, and Fairfax County respectively.
  39. The specific details will be determined by our high school principals in the weeks ahead.
  40. High schools are also working with the graduation gown vendors on distribution of materials, with the method of distribution determined by the vendor. Some vendors are mailing, and others are providing pick-up with social distancing in place.
  41. Per our existing regulation, I also want to assure families that no student will be denied the opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony due to outstanding meal debts. Also, this year this will apply as well to any other debts owed by families to a school. We recognize that families will do their best to ensure that such debts are met as soon as they are financially able to do so.
  42. Since the closure, the Department of Student and Professional Learning, which includes the Offices of Student Learning, English Learner (EL) Programs and Services, and Professional Learning, have served and supported 3,171 teachers, leaders, and staff members in 222 virtual instructional support sessions. This includes support for every content area and every level, elementary, middle and high school.
  43. Our special educators and related service providers continue to partner with our parents to provide support to our students with disabilities.
  44. Our team in the Office of Special Education has developed answers to Frequently Asked Questions and a Special Education Resources page that provides parents ideas on how to support their child while learning at home.
  45. Our school teams and central office staff continue to meet special education timelines and create individualized education plans by holding meetings virtually.
  46. Also, we are providing additional supports for our EL families including families with dually identified students. The Office of EL Programs and Services in collaboration with representatives from the Offices of Student Learning and Special Education will be working together to support the full range of needs of our EL families during our Virtual Parent Camp event series. This event series will be offering sessions every Tuesday evening in May from 6 to 7 p.m. These sessions will be offered in English, Spanish, and Urdu to meet the needs of our participants.
  47. Also starting on May 4, 2020, PWCS-TV, the School Division’s local cable channel, began airing “VA TV Classroom.” The Virginia Department of Education helped create this teacher-led classroom instructional programming, which aligns with the state’s academic standards.
  48. PWCS-TV is available on Comcast Channel 18 and Verizon Fios Channel 36. The channel is also streamed live at pwcstv.com. Visit the site and select the “Watch Live” button in the top right-hand corner.
  49. In order to better serve the academic needs of our students during this unprecedented cancellation of the school year, the School Division’s Office of Media Production Services worked with Home Room One (WHRO) Public Media to rebroadcast their “VA TV Classroom” programs on PWCS-TV.
  50. Programs will air Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and will repeat from 2 to 5 p.m. Programs will reinforce learning in reading and writing, algebra, earth science, English, math, and more.
  51. Beyond academic support, we continue to support our student’s mental health needs. 250 students have taken advantage of the virtual emotional support offered by Student Services, since the March closure.
  52. The Student Support Services email remains open for any student in need of assistance. They can email studentsupportservices@pwcs.edu
  53. Our Human Resources, better known as HR, team also continues to virtually meet with and advise employees who have workplace concerns.
  54. Our HR team also continues to recruit, screen, and hire for critical positions including offering practice “Skype” interviews.
  55. 77 certified candidates participated in our virtual job fair held on April 13. Currently, we have 87 candidates with confirmed registrations for our next virtual fair on May 12.
  56. We are also in the planning process and making preparations for digital onboarding and orientation of staff this summer for the 2020-21 School Year.
  57. HR also successfully transitioned, with support from our IT department, the health insurance “Open Enrollment” process from paper to an online process through the Employee Self Service.
  58. HR is also continuing to respond to requests for tuition reimbursement as many employees are taking courses and training during the shutdown.
  59. Beyond serving our students and staff, we also continue to support the needs of the community.
  60. As such, we have been asked to support the elections occurring on June 23, and we will do so, including custodial support.
  61. We also continue to move forward with the 13th High School naming process and Potomac Shores Middle School boundary processes. This includes multiple methods for citizen comment including live comments.
  62. Details and dates for the meetings will be shared in multiple languages and methods to those communities involved in these processes.
  63. I recognize that there are many questions about plans for this fall and summer, as well as when staff and students will be able to get into buildings to collect belongings.
  64. These plans will also be highly dependent on the guidance of the Governor, along with national, state, and local health officials.
  65. We have collaborative teams working to developing plans for the pick- up of personal materials in buildings that can hopefully occur after the June 10 stay-at-home order expires, and potentially on a limited basis before then.
  66. Due to the highly unknown path ahead, we are evolving our summer school plans to online instruction and resources, rather than in-person.
  67. The Virtual Prince William programming will be offered as in previous years, and additionally we will launch Operation Graduation – that will focus on credit recovery and supports for high school students that need that support.
  68. For grades below high school, we will offer methods for students to encourage and support independent learning including literacy and other programs.
  69. For middle school students we will make every effort to create a fail-safe of support for those students needing additional help in core academic areas.
  70. The details for our summer programming are still being finalized and we will communicate more information in the weeks ahead. We may also need to adjust any plans based on any new state guidance.
  71. As we look to the fall, PWCS has multiple staff members serving on the Virginia Department of Education "Return to Schooling CVD19 Recovery Task Force."
  72. This includes Associate Superintendent Denise Huebner, Gina Bellamy, our administrative coordinator for nursing, Andrew Buchheit, principal at T. Clay Wood Elementary School, and Sue Danielson, principal at Rosa Parks.
  73. The state task force charge is to: assess student social emotional needs and design interventions; begin proactive systems recovery planning including health, safety, operations, staffing, and technology; assess instructional needs and develop instructional plans; identify budget needs, priorities, and federal stimulus opportunities; and advance equity and opportunity for students returning to formal instruction.
  74. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has also established an Accreditation Task Force.
  75. The charge of this task force is to make recommendations for any potential adjustments to the 2021-2022 accreditation ratings (based on 2020-21 data).
  76. Membership on this task force includes representatives from each region, plus VDOE staff members and representatives from various associations. PWCS has one member on the task force.
  77. Dr. Tim Healey, principal of Colgan High School, is serving on the task force as the representative from the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP), where he serves as president-elect.
  78. The Accreditation Task Force will make recommendations to VDOE later in May.
  79. The State Superintendent and the U.S. Department of Education have made it clear that they expect required learning to be supported for all students this fall, even in remote settings.
  80. We recognize the many challenges this creates, and we are in the early planning stages to consider how to do this.
  81. One key initiative we are launching is unifying the School Division on the Canvas Learning Management System this fall.
  82. This is a critical tool, especially if we need to do required remote learning next school year, should COVID-19 require more closings.
  83. We have heard from many teachers, students, and families that it can be difficult to keep track of the many assignments and tools offered by our schools. Unifying on Canvas will make it much simpler for students and parents at home to go to a single place for all their learning, as well as for teachers.
  84. The use of a learning management system was approved as part of the School Board FY21 budget.
  85. Canvas is a best-in-class tool utilized by universities nationally and within Virginia, Northern Virginia Community College, and thousands of school divisions.
  86. The Commonwealth of Virginia also utilizes Canvas for Virtual Virginia.
  87. The platform is highly scalable, secure, and reliable, and runs on Amazon Web Services.
  88. This critical tool will integrate with existing platforms including The Hub, Microsoft Teams, and Google Classrooms.
  89. Canvas also offers easy-to-use parent, student and teacher apps available on mobile devices.
  90. Nearly 500 teachers and 10,000 students are already using the tool in PWCS, including 1,700 courses and more than 15,000 assignments.
  91. One recent feedback we received from an elementary teacher who just starting using it: “The kids can complete the interactive activities in PowerPoint AND I am giving feedback from my phone! Where has this been all my life!”
  92. Details regarding deployment and training are underway and we will be working over the summer to better refine our use of the platform.
  93. We have teams beginning to consider our further instructional plans this fall to support all our learners, including Special Education and EL.
  94. I know that there are many questions, and we don’t have all the answers yet.
  95. I want to pledge that we will continue to place health and well-being of our students, teachers, staff, and families in the highest priority as we consider our fall plans.
  96. As I conclude this evening, I want to again thank our entire community for working together for the health of everyone.
  97. I want to thank our health care workers and frontline first responders who continue to provide heroic service.
  98. We all need to remember to do our part to help our health care workers and protect our community; this includes not gathering in groups over 10, including on any of our fields and staying off of playground equipment.
  99. We also encourage our families to ask your children to observe Health Department recommendations when they play with friends at home or in their neighborhood.
  100. It is difficult for us to physically enforce this – so we ask that everyone do their part – and we will get through this together.
  101. Thank you for your continued support.
  102. On behalf of our great School Board and our World-Class Staff, we miss our students and look forward to seeing you.