Learning Forward Updates

  • Feb. 7, 2021

    Dear MISD families and community, 

    This coming Monday, Feb. 8, is another milestone day in our “Learning Forward” timeline. The District will welcome the return of its 2nd and 3rd grade students to buildings for in-person learning in a hybrid model. Our teachers have been preparing their classrooms and participating in professional development related to serving students in-person while streaming to students at home. Though these educators  will join those working with our kindergarten and first grade students who continue to attend in-person five mornings a week, they are our District’s pioneers in this model. We could not be more thankful to them for paving the path forward for our District. With that, we ask our community for grace and support as our staff and students grow and learn yet another way of teaching and learning.

    2nd-3rd Hybrid Schedule

    The elementary schools have been working hard preparing for hybrid learning by assigning students in groups based on a previously completed survey. We are using four primary cohort groups:

    A – Attends In-Person Tuesdays and Thursdays, alternating Mondays

    B – Attends In-Person Wednesdays and Fridays, alternating Mondays

    C – Streaming/Remote Learning Full Time

    D – Attends In-Person Monday through Friday each week (only assigned to specific students based on identified needs for services).

    4th-5th; 6th-8th; and 9th-12th

    The District has reached an agreement with its labor partner, the Mercer Island Education Association (MIEA), which represents both certificated and classified employees. Together, the District and MIEA have finalized a timeline that cautiously and safely expands hybrid learning to all grade levels.

    Under the agreed upon timeline, students will return to buildings for hybrid learning on the dates below: 

    • 4th and 5th: returning March 1 
    • 6th: returning March 15
    • 9th and 12th: returning March 22
    • 7th and 8th: returning March 29
    • 10th and 11th: returning April 15

    This timeline is in keeping with the Washington State Department of Health Decision Tree/Toolkit guidelines for returning to in-person learning. Separating each grade band’s return by two weeks will give the opportunity to continue to measure the success of limiting transmission of the virus within schools. We have had no COVID-19 cases traced to or transmitted within our schools since last September. We will only move forward with each phase of our reopening timeline after consulting with Public Health, reviewing data, implementing our mitigation protocols, and meeting the metrics as detailed by the state toolkit.

    Families and students, especially in grades 10 and 11, will certainly wonder why these students are not starting until April. The change from a late-March to mid-April date was not easy, but here are some considerations we made when making this decision:

    • We had an interest in expanding  grade bands at school sites carefully with a  two weeks spacing in order to bring students back in a way that will hopefully lead to an uninterrupted schedule for the remaining of the year;
    • We felt that the incoming 9th graders would benefit from the leadership from our 12th graders and our 12th graders would have a couple of extra weeks in-person for their senior year;
    • April 15th is the start of the fourth quarter, so this is a natural point of transition following spring break; and 
    • With spring break falling in early April, the delay will only amount to the loss of three in-person days.

    The District will continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic metrics in the toolkit. As of Friday, cases have dropped to 188 per 100,000 King County residents over the last 14 days, below the metrics in the toolkit for bringing in high school students into the buildings. This is the lowest case rate numbers countywide in the past three months.

    Staff Vaccinations

    The District is actively exploring local vaccine clinic partnerships for its employees. The state has announced a partnership between the state and health care provider/insurer Kaiser Permanente to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to all K-12 school employees when vaccine supplies become available. The state plan is designed to be ready when school personnel become eligible under Washington state’s phased vaccination timeline.

    When 50 percent of eligible Washingtonians in Phase 1B Tier 1 have been vaccinated or our state moves to 1B Tier 2, all K-12 school employees who are eligible under Tiers 2-4 will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Under current state guidance, school employees who meet the eligibility criteria in Phase 1B Tier 1 can currently receive vaccinations.  

    Help Keep Us On Track

    As we approach the mid-winter break (February 15-19), a time when many families typically travel, the District asks our families and staff to please adhere to the advisories issued by state and federal leaders. We believe that schools play a critical role in our community and the MIEA and District are working diligently to return our students to the buildings for in-person learning in a way that is safe for both staff and students. 

    Though we have a settled timeline for return, that will be delayed by increases in COVID-19 activity level or transmissions in the schools. The reopening process for our schools depends upon everyone doing their part to improve the health and safety in our community.

    Sincerely,
    Donna Colosky, Superintendent

    Jan. 15, 2021

    Dear Mercer Island families and community, 

    Mercer Island schools will be closed on Monday, Jan. 18 in observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Diversity, equity and inclusion are at the very heart of our work as a District. We believe in our core value of creating equitable and inclusive learning settings and our fundamental goal to foster and embrace diversity, inclusiveness, and equity with a focus on respect and acceptance of every student. 

    In the MIHS assembly Thursday honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King, organized by the leadership class, students were asked the questions for discussion, “what does the term racial justice mean to you, and what is our responsibility in the fight for racial justice?” As we begin our three-day weekend, I would ask our Island community to reflect on the same questions.

    In-Person Learning Update

    The School Board on Thursday evening affirmed the District’s plans and intended timeline for in-person learning, including hybrid learning for grades 2-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

    View the presentation slides from the Jan 14 School Board meeting

    This Tuesday, Jan. 19 we will welcome our first graders back to in-person learning. They will join their kindergarten peers and other students already back in person who have shown us the way. Hybrid learning for grades 2-3 will follow on Feb. 8, grades 4-5 on Feb. 22, grade 6 the week of March 8, grades 7-9 the week of March 15 and grades 10-12 the week of March 22. See the graphic below this message for the complete timeline. Please also note that the transmission rates as well as the COVID-19 numbers as determined by the Decision Tree/Tool Kit will continue to be monitored throughout the in-person phasing process. 

    The District published a COVID-19 Dashboard to provide transparency to the community about the impact of the disease on our schools. The dashboard will be updated each Thursday with the most current metrics. Please note there have been no COVID-19 cases traced or transmitted inside our schools. It is critical as students are returning for in-person learning that the health attestation is reported accurately by all those attending. As we prepare to bring more students back to buildings, download the free Skyward mobile app (Link to iPhone App | Link to Android Appthat makes these attestations easy.

    Families of students in grades 2-5 were asked to complete a survey which closed today (Friday) to make an important decision about whether they would like for their child(ren) to return to in-person learning or learn remotely for the remainder of the year. More than 80 percent of respondents have chosen the hybrid learning model.  If you have children at IMS or MIHS, you will receive a similar survey today. Please complete it as soon as possible.

    Windstorm closure and make-up day

    Thank you for your patience and support this week as we dealt with the windstorm that left much of the Island without power, including all of our school buildings. In keeping with our 2020-21 student calendar, Monday, June 21 will be the make-up day for the closure on Jan. 13. 

    With Wednesday's closure due to power outages and the potential for more weather delays or closures during the winter months, this is a reminder to sign up for FlashAlert notifications of weather-related closures or late starts and to make sure that you have opted-in for text notifications in Skyward Family Access.

    Stay healthy,
    Donna Colosky, Superintendent

    Jan. 8, 2021

    Dear MISD Families and Community, 

    Happy New Year! This week was a special one for our District as we welcomed our kindergarten students back as planned on Wednesday, the first public school district in King County to do so. It was just wonderful to see all those young faces in their classrooms and playing at recess. They did a great job in their first three days back in school. A huge thank you to our elementary teachers, administrators, paraeducators, nurses, food service and transportation for making this transition safe and smooth for our students and families.

    The success of in-person kindergarten classes this week gives us added confidence to remain on schedule to bring first graders back on Tuesday, January 19.  As MISD demonstrates the ability to limit transmission for the first graders brought back to in-person learning, we will continue with our Learning Forward plan and bring in the next grade bands of learners.

    COVID-19 Dashboard
    Please see our new COVID-10 Dashboard on our website. Please note there have been no COVID-19 cases traced to inside our schools. It is critical as students are returning for in-person learning that the health attestation is reported accurately by all those attending. As we prepare to bring more students back to buildings, download the free Skyward mobile app that makes these attestations easy.

    Next steps in bringing back more students 
    With the state now in the “moderate” level according to the revised Washington State Department of Health Decision Tree, now renamed Toolkit to Prepare for In-Person Learning, we can plan for phase-in of in-person instruction for the remaining elementary grades 2-5, middle and high school. We will have more details and a timeline of those planned hybrid learning models soon. Please watch for a survey next week of grades 2-5, middle and high school regarding your family's decision to return your student(s) to in-person hybrid learning.

    Each of the previously published COVID-19 mitigation and intervention strategies remain in place, including the expectation that students and staff adhere to the six-foot physical distancing requirement as much as possible. Students are expected to wear masks at all times and schools will provide masks if a child doesn’t bring one from home.

    Small groups of our highest need students, including those furthest from educational justice, continue to be served in-person at all levels. Our athletic small groups will continue and we have added small groups for extracurricular activities such as band, orchestra and radio. 

    Additional funding for mental health counselors
    On Monday, the Mercer Island City Council voted to accept a grant that will allow the City’s Youth and Family Services Department (YFS) to restore seven school-based mental health counselors to full-time for the entire 2021-2022 biennium. We are grateful to the city for obtaining these funds to allow the counselors to serve our families, especially in light of the current challenges being seen across our nation.

    Vaccinations
    The state Department of Health released revisions to its COVID-19 vaccination tiers, and it is anticipated that school staff over 50 years old may be vaccinated in February. Our school nurses and therapists are now eligible for the vaccine.

    Thank you for your heartfelt support this week on our District Facebook and Instagram accounts. Please continue to wear masks and limit social gatherings outside of your own household. This was a great start with kindergarten this week, but it is ultimately our own actions that will help continue to reduce the rate of transmission as we bring students back in school buildings. 

    Stay healthy,
    Donna Colosky, Superintendent

    Dec. 18, 2020

    Dear MISD Families, Staff and Community, 

    We are headed into winter break with tremendous momentum and optimism about the second half of the 2020-21 school year. With our continued preparation, no COVID-19 cases yet traced back to any of our schools, and updated guidance from the state, the District’s planning will be set into motion in January.

    The MISD staff and elementary schools are ready to bring our kindergarten students back on January 6 as planned. The Early Childhood program successfully and fully reopened at Northwood after Thanksgiving, which makes us confident kindergarten will be a success, allowing us to remain on schedule and bring first graders back on January 19. The kindergarten and first grade re-entry will drive decisions about the timing of bringing back the remaining elementary grade levels. 

    Each of the previously published COVID-19 mitigation and intervention strategies remain in place, including the expectation that students and staff adhere to the six-foot physical distancing requirement as much as possible. Due to classroom size (square feet) and student enrollment (number of students in each class) constraints, second through 12th grade students will be phased into a hybrid learning model in February and March.

    Students will attend school part of the week in-person with about half of their classmates and participate remotely via Zoom for the other half. The hybrid model will begin with second and third graders and evolve as outlined in the revised guidance from Washington State Department of Health (DOH). Please watch for a survey in January to families in grade bands of 2-5, 6-8 and 9-12 regarding your family's decision to return to in-person hybrid learning.  

    On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced updates to the school reopening Decision Tree, now renamed Toolkit to Prepare for In-Person Learning. The Governor shared new data and research showing schools are reopening safely when the mitigation strategies outlined in the Toolkit are implemented. The District has demonstrated its ability to act in accordance with the health and safety expectations this fall and will continue its efforts until all six schools reopen in one form or another. 

    The state significantly revised the COVID-19 incidence rates for districts to consider when making decisions about who to prioritize in-person learning for and further clarified that districts should consider test positivity and trends in cases and hospitalizations to inform decisions around in person learning. DOH suggests three categories for re-introducing in-person learning.

    The updated guidance recommends that districts phase in-person learning for younger learners and those with the highest needs, which is exactly what we are doing now. Once MISD demonstrates the ability to limit transmission for the first grades brought back to in-person learning, we will accelerate forward and bring in the next grade band of learners. 

    Small groups of our highest need students, including those furthest from educational justice, will continue to be served in-person at all levels. Our athletic small groups will continue and we will be adding small groups for extracurricular activities such as band, orchestra and radio.

    Seeing the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being administered this week has given all of us hope that this pandemic will be ultimately controlled. But please, as you enjoy winter break, continue to wear masks and limit social gatherings outside of your own household. We must all do our part to follow the Governor’s Safe Start Plan. If you must travel, please follow all of the recommended mitigation strategies. Getting and keeping our students into school for in-person learning takes all of us. It is critical as students are returning for in-person learning that the health attestation is reported accurately by all those attending. It is ultimately our own actions that will help reduce the rate of transmission as well as get and keep students back in school buildings. 

    Have a safe and healthy Winter Break, 
    Donna Colosky, Superintendent
     

    Nov. 20, 2020

    Dear Mercer Island Families and Community, 

    We hear your voices, we see your passion, and we feel your frustration. We want nothing more than for our students to be in our school buildings and once again benefit from the entire school experience. I use our District’s values to guide my decisions on what is most appropriate for our students and staff in the short and long term. Nine months of isolation for our children is not what anyone expected and we know the importance of enabling in-person learning for students’ social-emotional health.

    The rapid decline in community health and safety and anticipated increase in COVID-19 spread over the Thanksgiving break has led me to decide that we will not begin in-person kindergarten on the target date of December 2.

    Since early October, the trends that led to previous delays of our kindergarten plans continue to head in the wrong direction. Governor Inslee announced a four-week statewide set of restrictions effective this past Monday, November 16, to help with our state’s battle against COVID-19. Though these restrictions were not directed at public schools, we also heard today that our local health system is under strain. Many districts in parts of the country that had been open in some form are now going back to remote learning. 

    The decision to delay the return of kindergarten again is a complex one that is not easily made. Our community is divided about whether this group of students should return to in-person learning at this time. An important factor to consider was that many families requested the delay. I know some will applaud this decision while others will condemn it. Today, I am led to delay the return to in-person learning for our kindergarten learners to January. 

    Anticipated In-person Learning Through January: 

    Elementary:  

    Kindergarten In-Person Return Timeline

    • Monday, January 4: Asynchronous Learning Day

    • Tuesday, January 5: Asynchronous Learning Day

    • Wednesday, January 6: First day of in-person learning

    First Grade In-Person Return Timeline

    • Thursday, January 14: Asynchronous Learning Day 

    • Friday, January 15: Asynchronous Learning Day

    • Tuesday, January 19: First day of in-person learning

    Second - Fifth Grade

    Secondary:

    The below in-person activities currently in place will continue: 

    • Highest need students being served through special education services;

    • Individuals and cohorts of highest need students at all levels throughout the District; 

    • IMS and MIHS Athletic cohorts in structured workouts outdoors.

    Looking Ahead: Learning Model

    All of the Learning Forward Teams are actively seeking and considering information from districts in other states so as to revise and solidify plans to return more students to in-person learning either in small groups, through extracurriculars, or via a broader hybrid learning model. The teams are revisiting the plans at each level with an eye on balancing our families’ interests that students are engaged in teacher directed learning five days a week with the desire for students to have in-person experiences. 

    We will be ready with robust in-person learning plans for our secondary students when state and county health guidance permits.  

    When students are in-person learning, the District and MIEA want to ensure they can still access their education when they must stay home due to illness. The parties just reached an agreement whereby such students will be able to still access class from home via live streaming. The District will be able to implement this important and beneficial addition to the District’s in-person learning model by January.  

    Looking Ahead: Health & Safety Impact on Opening

    The Washington state Department of Health Decision Tree has been an essential guide in our planning. The metric receiving the most attention is the “number of cases in the county per 100,000 residents.” While important, we must also monitor other factors such as the impact on hospitals/health care systems, percent of positive tests over 14 days, and whether the outbreak is shrinking or expanding. 

    I learned yesterday that the Department of Health Decision Tree is under review and likely to be updated soon. It is my understanding that the changes will not drastically alter the health and safety requirements to bring students into schools. We have developed and submitted our COVID-19 Reopening Plan to Public Health and received their endorsement. I continue to collaborate with Public Health, our School Board, the PTA, each of the six schools, and educational leaders near and far to make the best decisions for our students, staff, and community. 

    Finally, with case counts on the rise, the Governor’s new guidance is advising all of us that it is safer to celebrate Thanksgiving with just your immediate household this year. Making that decision is hard, but during COVID-19, saying “no” to some events can be an act of caring, especially if our loved ones are at high risk of getting very sick

    Anything we can do as individuals to help reduce the rate of transmission will help us get students back in school buildings. 

    Have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving Break,

    Donna Colosky, Superintendent