Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: COVID-19 vaccinations bring hope

Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: COVID-19 vaccinations bring hope
Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)

The start of any New Year is always a time for hope – and in 2021 we need hope more than ever. 

This week, just nine days into the start of 2021, ACPS staff members were offered the opportunity to register to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. School nurses were already offered the vaccination in the first week of the New Year. 

On Tuesday, I received my vaccination alongside several staff members including teachers who had signed up in the Phase 1b. This is possibly the best news we could receive in 2021 and now helps us build on the daily planning that is taking place every day to help us transition students back into school buildings.

While the vaccination program cannot help but make us feel optimistic about 2021, we are still keeping a close eye on our city’s health metrics and remain in daily contact with the Alexandria Health Department. Cases have been rising in our city and our state. Each Monday, we will reassess the situation according to our reopening decision matrix, which is based on these community health metrics as well as ACPS staffing levels and capacity.

During the winter break, we continued to work and collaborate on preparations to pivot into our hybrid learning approach. Schedules are being finalized and a reopening decision matrix has been created to assist the community with understanding our decision-making process.

In addition to our decision matrix, we will provide families who opted for hybrid learning their child’s hybrid schedule two weeks before their scheduled start date. The hybrid schedule will also include whether a student’s teacher has indicated if they are able to return in person or remain virtual.

At that point, we will also reopen the Family Choice Form in PowerSchool for hybrid families to allow you to adjust your hybrid decision, if needed, based on teacher in-person or virtual status, community health metrics, vaccination timelines or identification of the new strain of the virus in the U.S. 

As you know, it is important that we keep our staff and students together during this transition, which requires us to be innovative and accommodating with both family and staff needs. It is a complicated task. In order for this to work efficiently, it will require flexibility and some understanding that at this time we cannot replicate the educational experience we had before the pandemic.

We will provide the best educational environment feasible for students in our hybrid learning environment and for those in our virtual learning environment. The social, emotional and academic needs of our students remain a top priority for us in ACPS. 

Last week, I proposed a combined funds budget for 2021-22 that aims to help us recover from the learning losses we know our students have experienced, while also retaining quality staff, and reigniting a love of teaching, learning and leadership.

In addition, the modest budget that acknowledges both the economic impact of the pandemic as well as an emphasis on efficiencies also provides for the resources and support necessary to continue the division’s efforts to keep racial equity at the heart of all work. We know that specific groups of students have suffered more from this pandemic than others. Keeping equity at the forefront will therefore be essential to ensure we are continuing to see all our students thrive.

As we embark on our 2021 journey, we must remain collaborative, communicative and keep you informed as we navigate these uncharted waters. Please stay safe, engaged and practice social distancing so we can minimize community spread in Alexandria and see our staff and students back in our schools.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.