Leaning Forward – Remaining Shen Strong, Message from Dr. L. Oliver Robinson 4/27/20…

Written by on April 27, 2020

Leaning Forward – Remaining Shen Strong
Message from Dr. L. Oliver Robinson, Superintendent of Schools

I don’t have to tell anyone reading this how unprecedented these times are. The outbreak of COVID-19 has been stressful for all. Fear and uncertainty about sick family members, becoming ill, food insecurities, loss of employment, and other factors associated with this pandemic can be overwhelming. Children are experiencing emotional wellness concerns and for many, it is in addition to the other existing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

In these crucible times, where our lives are being transformed daily, the fundamental values and beliefs that actions must always be focused on the best interest of our students drive the provision of education. There is no playbook to help contend with the challenges being encountered. I wanted to personally express my profound gratitude for your patience, perseverance and spirit of compassion for each other and the students we serve.

As an educational institution, we were compelled to go from onsite learning and teaching experiences to total remote eLearning. With that came:

  • Huge learning curves
  • Huge deployment of technology to students and staff
  • Huge development of online content and shifts in delivery strategies

The pivoting of education in the era of COVID-19 has been both tactical and strategic…keenly analyzing and addressing the fallout of the crisis, while yet steadfastly focused on positioning the school system for continued prosperity.

Academics

Continuity of learning remains the North Star, the true north, the fixed point in a seemingly spinning world. I am beyond pleased and proud how students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents have remained oriented to the fundamental value and belief of preserving equity in opportunities and outcomes for all students. With the vast differences in student needs illuminated from special education to acceleration, from English as a New Language (ENL) to mental health and wellness, our commitment to provide both mandatory and non-mandated support and services, such as adherence with special education modifications and accommodations, as much as practicable, is unwavering.

The prioritized learning standards allow for a slowing down of the proverbial game and going deeper with content exposure and proficiency, scaffolding skill building to prevent learning gaps or regression. Congruently, the move to prioritized learning standards triggered the move to a more holistic model for grading: Evidence of Learning and Not Yet Learned, both focused on dictating an ongoing growth process and not a terminal outcome. Constructs such as Evidence of Learning and Not Yet Learned are equity concepts. Those terms signify the ongoing, complex nature of learning and the critical need for differentiated approaches to capture and engage students. Learning needs are at the apex and epicenter of all decisions and actions in order to ensure equity in opportunities and outcomes.

Operations and Essential Services

There continues to be a steadfast focus on ensuring that organizational functions are seamless and that we are prepared for reopening whenever that becomes feasible. From Operations to Food Service, to Finance and Facilities, to Transportation and Districtwide Administration, the efforts have been remarkable. Buildings are being deep cleaned and disinfected. Maintenance work orders are being completed and construction continues to enhance capacity. Buses are being maintained and inspected to be available upon call, with several buses now serving as delivery sites for breakfast and lunches three days per week throughout the Shen community. To date, food service has prepared and served more than 8,500 meals to students at three different locations in the community. The Bountiful Backpack program has made more than 1,300 deliveries.

Finance, Human Resources, and other district-level operations continue with most staffers working remotely. Interviews are being done remotely. Bills are paid and checks are cut. Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings are being done remotely and Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) are being processed. Athletic schedules are being revamped and remote athletic training being provided. New student enrollments are ongoing and new families are oriented remotely to the Shen community.

Overall

The harsh fiscal realities resulting from this pandemic are going to be a formidable challenge. A strategic fiscal contingency plan is being developed to contend/mitigate the fiscal hardship that awaits from both a reduction in state aid and the economic downturn that will have an impact on taxpayers. The state estimates a drop in revenues of $10 billion to $15 billion as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

But, we know education is essential and is indeed one of society’s greatest investments. Schools, now more than ever, serve as sanctuaries, the proving grounds for maximizing human capital, intentionally and assertively supporting the growth and development of all students to be contributing citizens. To that end, we are taking a multipronged approach to the challenge:

  • Maintaining balance between program preservation – assessing for the point of diminishing marginal returns (point where program existence yields minimal output or impact) Juxtaposed Against avoidance of structural financial deficit (major fiscal hole to fill without the prospect of future added revenues)
  • Multi-year scenario analysis – next two years (2020-2021 and 2021-2022) focused on strategic monitoring and trimming of expenditures to ensure operation within a reasonable cost footprint and measured infusion of funds from Unappropriated Fund Balance. The following years 3-5 years (2022-2023, 2023-2024, and 2024-2025) shall be focused on budget rightsizing to meet emerging needs and stabilization of reserve funds.

A keen focus is on organizational resiliency…finding the flow, the zone of seamless performance and productivity. Doing so necessitates leadership fortitude from all of us, which plays out in three dimensions:

  • Contending with systemic change – processes and practices revamped, or even trashed and replaced
  • Mindset shifts – not succumbing to being prisoners of past assumptions
  • Personnel retooling and recalibration – online and remote best practices becoming the common practice

I am confident that contingency and scenario planning efforts, coupled with the professionalism displayed by countless employees and the solid support of the Shen Community, will lend to successful, seamless organizational pivoting in a fluid and uncertain environment without losing momentum.

Preserving equity in opportunities and outcomes, parity in performance and high quality learning experiences for all students is our mission and the objective of our efforts.

Thanks for your support. Thanks for your commitment of conviction. Thanks for working hard at home to help meet the needs of your children, our students. Your efforts make a difference!

Committed to Excellence,

Dr. L. Oliver Robinson

Superintendent of Schools​