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Letter from the Superintendent
Jeremy Decker
Thursday, October 15, 2020

En Espanol

October 15, 2020

Dear Middle and High School Parents, Guardians, and Students

SUBJECT: Progress report grades are bringing a new look at distance learning

This pandemic has challenged our school system, educators, and students in so many ways. Now, it is challenging us to look differently at academics as they are presented online, and the way student progress and proficiency are attained and measured. 

Teachers are working harder than ever in distance learning to help students continue on a path of reaching grade level and subject area proficiency, but we are all discovering something that no amount of hard work on the part of teachers could prevent. Online progress is not the same as it was when we were in the classroom. Our first grading period is ending and we are receiving information about grades, engagement, and well-being, and we have some serious concerns.

Here is what we know:

  • We have a substantial increase in the number of D and F grades on progress reports when compared with the same progress report grades last year.

  • Because California students were “held harmless” for grades when everyone switched to distance learning in the spring semester, this is our first opportunity to recognize this challenge.

  • Our district is not alone. Middle and high school districts throughout Sonoma County are reporting the same thing.

  • Students and teachers in Sonoma County have been through so many emergencies during the past few years; however, there is no state mandate to hold students harmless this year. In our current educational system, grades do matter.

  • Distance learning is our reality right now. Sonoma County is in the Purple Tier and expected to remain there until middle to late November (Dr. Mase, Sonoma County Department of Public Health). 

There is no time to blame, and only enough time to prepare both a short and long term solution.  The short term solution involves how we handle first semester grades and address the issue of teacher and student well-being. The long term solution is how we address student learning and assessment in distance learning. This work is starting immediately.

This is what parents/guardians should know right now about grades and grading policies:

  • Semester grades are the official grades on a transcript, so there is still time to bring up grades before the end of the semester in December.

  • Lower grades that continue until the end of the semester will impact eligibility for sports and other extracurricular activities, grade-related awards and scholarships, and class rankings.

  • If your students have received 1 or more D and/or F grades, please contact the teacher of the class(es) to find out what happened.

  • Listen to your student describe their distance learning experiences and the reason for their lower grades.

  • Contact your student’s counselor to set up a meeting.

Here is what we are doing:

  • We are committed to rethinking distance learning so that it works for our students and teachers. This will involve working together and, as they say, to stop “forcing a round peg into a square hole.”

  • We have met with school sites to discuss potential changes to schedules, grading practices, and instructional strategies.

  • We have approved all sites to modify the schedule for two days in the coming weeks to fully asynchronous days. This will allow teachers time to review student progress report data, and work within their teams to develop possible modifications to schedules, grading practices, and instructional strategies.

I have said it before and I will say it again, providing instruction via distance learning is not ideal for everyone. We know that most students, families, and teachers would prefer that we were allowed to conduct instruction in person. Unfortunately, Sonoma County continues to reside in the purple tier, and is lagging behind the other counties surrounding us. Therefore, we are not allowed to open for in-person instruction. Instead, we need to focus on how to make distance learning as successful as possible, and not focus on the politics surrounding COVID-19, schools re-opening, wearing masks, etc.

As a school district, we will prioritize learning that is meaningful to students and connects them to their peers, teachers, and community. We will rethink grading and assessments so that they will also have meaning, as markers of progress and not ends unto themselves. 

As families, we ask that you continue to check in with your children about their schoolwork. Do not assume that everything is ok simply because students are online attending their Zoom meetings with their teachers. 

As students, we ask that you commit yourselves to doing the best that you can. If you are struggling to focus, understand concepts, or maintain a positive outlook, reach out to your teacher or counselor...don’t wait until an invitation is extended to you by an adult. Take charge of your learning.

We are not alone as we contemplate these changes. They are happening, by necessity, throughout our county, state and country. Let’s come together as an educational community and support our students and teachers as we take on this global pandemic that is attacking the very fabric of our society. If we don’t all do this together, we will fail...and for the sake of our kids we simply can’t allow that to happen.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Decker

Superintendent