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SSD schools will open this year with distance learning through at least Nov. 6

COURTESY PHOTO: GRANT WATTS FACEBOOK PAGE - Staff at Grant Watts Elementary School in Scappoose work on preparing the school playground for the hoped-for return to in-person learning for students later this year.It's not what Scappoose School District teachers want and it's certainly not what SSD students want, but together, they're determined to make distance learning a success in 2020-21.

The transition from the traditional classroom setting to distance learning last spring was a challenge for everyone involved — students, teachers, parents, caregivers, administrators and support staff.

But with three months of distance learning experience in hand and almost three months of lead time to prep for the return to distance learning this fall, teachers in the Scappoose School District say they'll be ready for the 2020-21 school year.

"It is rough, but at the same time, it is going amazingly well," said Keely Nudo, a kindergarten teacher at Grant Watts Elementary who's now in her 29th year in education. "Having an extra week for the additional training has proven to be such a blessing because it has allowed us time to find the hiccups and problem-solve … (and) fix the glitches."

The return to distance learning came in response to two executive orders from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. In late June, Brown issued Executive Order 20-29, which provided that on-site instruction may take place in public and private K-12 schools only if they meet guidance issued by the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education.

Then, Executive Order 20-30 directed that public and private schools may only reopen for on-site instruction after: 5% or less of COVID-19 tests are positive statewide for three consecutive weeks; 5% or less of COVID-19 tests are positive in the school's county for three consecutive weeks; and there are 10 or fewer new cases per 100,000 population. For K-3 instruction to resume in-person, the school's county must have positive COVID-19 tests of 5% or less and fewer than 30 new cases per 100,000 population for three consecutive weeks and no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among school staff or students in the prior 14 days.

According to a "Welcome Back to School" letter from Superintendent Tim Porter, local schools will continue with distance learning through at least the end of the first quarter on Nov. 6. The letter reads, in part:

"As a reminder, the first day of classes will be September 8, 2020. Typically, this would be the start of staff, parents, and students preparing to return to the brick and mortar school building; however, this year is anything but normal. At this time, our students will be in comprehensive distance learning through the end of the quarter, which is on November 6."

COURTESY PHOTO: KEELY NUDO - Grant Watts Elementary School kindergarten teacher Keely Nudo shows off the set-up for her socially distanced  classroom.

In the meantime, Scappoose's teachers will try to build on what they learned last spring and what they gained over the summer.

According to Nudo, the three key elements for the 2020-21 school year are simplicity, flexibility and communication.

"Coming up with platforms so we can offer families a 'one-stop shopping' … login experience is crucial in helping them manage their child's learning, particularly if they have more than one kiddo in our district," she said. "When we are in our classrooms, we don't teach every child the same way. We can't assume that would work in a virtual world so we need to be flexible in how families need to interact with our instruction and support them the best way we can. And most importantly, communication is key to keeping families engaged, feeling supported and knowing that we are their partners in this journey. They don't have to do this alone and they need to know that we are here for them, now more than ever."

SSD teachers were scheduled to introduce themselves to students and their parents/guardians this week, go over beginning of the year classroom expectations, course outlines, how to access new district learning management systems and how to access curricula online. Each principal will also be sending out information specific to their buildings.

Porter's letter also said that SSD staff will continue to closely monitor guidance given by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and local and state health officials to see when staff and students can safely return to buildings.

Porter's letter finishes this way: "Even though SSD students completed last year online, what they experience this fall will be vastly different. There will be increased daily learning time, a focus on teacher-facilitated learning, daily real-time check-in opportunities between staff and students, daily attendance, and increased family engagement and communication. We know the Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) model is not the same as in-person instruction; however, it is the best system allowable to provide our students with a safe and healthy learning environment for all. We want to acknowledge that we will not be perfect in this endeavor but we will continually strive to give your student the best education possible in this environment. Together we ARE going the distance, and we WILL make this a great year for our students!"

For her part, Nudo is anxious to get started and determined to make the year successful for her students.

"I am ready … and I am excited. Nothing makes my teacher heart happier than being with kids," Nudo said. "I have never worked so hard or been so passionate about wanting to make a difference in the lives of my students and their families."

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