To build the #StrongestYearYet, schools need information, flexibility, and funding.

by Mary Shaffner, Executive Director, DC International School

At DC International (DCI), we want to prepare every student to live a culturally competent life, committed to proactively creating a socially just and sustainable world. To live that mission, our school, like every public school in DC, must make next year our strongest one yet. That’s why I’m a supporter of the Strongest Year Yet coalition and was proud to sign my name onto the coalition.

In planning for next year, my school needs three key supports from the city: information, flexibility, and funding. With that, I know my committed team of teachers and my families can come together to make next year count for our middle and high school students.

Information

The container ship might no longer be stuck in the Suez Canal, but schools are a bit like ships and we need timely information to avoid a crash. If we want schools to be able to open fully to serve all students next school year — or even earlier— schools need health guidance and extra support nowr. We’re not the Lime scooters zipping around town, we’re big ships that always must be moving forward and need time to pivot. Without early guidance, we risk too many schools being unable to adjust programming and supports quickly enough.

The city has made some strong strides in supporting schools in these unprecedented times, such as allowing students to move from class to classl, which is critical for middle and high school students who take a wide variety of classes. We welcomed our priority populations to the school, safely, last October. The latest guidance from the CDC that recommends students be separated by three feet (instead of six feet) will mean more students can be in school safely. At DCI, our school can fit about 75 percent of our students in the school building with three feet requirements and we’ve already made the facilities upgrades we need to return safely. All of these are positive steps in the right direction, but we need next year’s guidance today.

With DC Health still recommending six feet, the CDC three feet, and states doing everything in between, it is hard to navigate all the information. We need clarity on what is a “should consider”” and what is a “must do.” If 6th to 12th graders are somehow vaccinated by the fall, we could welcome ALL students back to school, without socially distanced desks. But all these changes take planning, and we need the city’s information, guidance and requirements — now — in order to do so.”

Flexibility

Given that everyone has had an unprecedented year, we need continued flexibility to provide our students with the support they need. That starts with flexibility to serve students both in-person and virtually, maintaining the high rigor we need in our classes. We also must address the trauma that our staff, families, and students have all experienced during this pandemic.

At DCI, we’ve used flexibility to date by using Fridays for extra support and student interventions.Thankfully, our analysis does not show significant learning loss during COVID, but we use that time to provide English learners and students with disabilities with specific supports and will be continuing with that model in the fall.

Flexibility will need to look different at different schools, from the when, who, and how, but the city can create the conditions that allow any school to create the specific plans that address the specific students in their buildings.

Funding

Next year, we want to offer in-person instruction each day to all students. We may also need to provide a virtual learning option, more academic supports for students, and resources to address trauma and social emotional needs. All of these require more funding.

The Strongest Year Yet campaign is asking for at least a 4 percent increase in the UPSFF, as well as bringing both the at-risk and English Language Learner weights to adequate levels. As a school leader serving 1,500 DC students, that is absolutely needed. But it’s the floor, not the ceiling.

Our students need more support than ever before. So do our families. So do our educators. DCI can be the multilingual IB program we want it to be. Other public schools can also live out their missions. But we need the support from the city to do so.

Right now, that support is in information, flexibility, and funding.

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