RICO MUNN: Herculean challenges met with inspiring work by APS staff

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On July 24, the APS Board of Education made the difficult decision to start the upcoming school year remotely. The current pandemic is forcing all of us to make difficult choices and decisions, the choice to forgo some of the usual back-to-school events and rituals was not easy, but it was made in recognition of the need to protect the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. Per the Board’s direction, APS’ staff is now preparing to welcome our students onto a rigorous remote learning platform.

As we prepare to enter the next phase of school-during-a-pandemic, I wanted to take a moment of privilege to publicly acknowledge and thank the incredible APS team for their work over the last few months. While we cannot meet every need, I think it’s important for the community to know how well it has been served by these devoted public servants.

On March 12, we made the decision to extend our spring break. As the spring break stretched into the mandatory quarantine, APS got busy serving the Aurora community. APS’ work included:

• Creating and rolling out an online learning platform to serve over 40,000 students and staff;

• Distributing 18,000 technology devices to students to access the online platform;

• Establishing and staffing a mental health support hotline;

• Enhancing student access to eBooks and tripling their usage;

• Partnering with providers to extend internet access and delivering hotspots to students; and,

• Providing meals to feed students, families and others in the community. Since mid-March, APS has served over 1.5 million meals.

APS has proven again that public schools serve a vital function in our society and that public education can be a nimble and innovative part of our community. We intend to keep serving and innovating in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

As we were engaged in meeting the immediate needs of the community, APS also began planning for our return to school. Our first back-to-school planning meetings happened in early April. On June 2, we surveyed the community about plans and needs for a return to school. On June 9, APS’ administrative team released our first draft of plans for student learning in a remote, hybrid or fully in-person scenario. In those initial plans we addressed everything from serving the needs of special populations to new health and safety protocols.

Over the course of a very short summer, APS’ teams have engaged deeply with national experts, other school districts, the City of Aurora and public health officials to refine our plans and develop contingency plans to make sure our students have rigorous and appropriate learning environments (virtual or in-person). We have also worked to provide safe environments for our staff; creating the state’s first partnership to provide free, regular and rapid return COVID-19 testing for all APS staff.

No plan can account for every contingency we might face this year. We will have challenges and will need to create and implement course corrections. But over the course of the last four months I have seen the tremendous talent and work ethic of APS and I know this amazing team is up to the task of continuing to serve this community at the highest level.

Welcome to the 2020-21 school year!

Rico Munn is superintendent of Aurora Public Schools.