Welcome back for the 2020-2021 school year. Once again, we will continue our theme “Academics, Arts, and Athletics …. Educating the Whole Child.” Our leadership team believes that this theme best describes those values that this school board and our community desire in educating our youth, with a primary focus on a high quality, comprehensive educational program that is rich in visual and performing arts and athletic opportunities.
This school year will be like no other. I can tell you that this past summer was like no other for every Superintendent across the Commonwealth. It has been challenging, but our job as educators has never been more important. While we had to reinvent our instructional practices and our operational procedures, the return to in-person learning presents enormous challenges necessitating a new and major focus upon health and safety practices designed to reduce community transmission of the coronavirus. Our health and safety plan design provides a flexible framework to address challenges that may develop throughout the school year. To that end, we are offering families the opportunity to receive fully online instruction or attend two days per week for in-person learning, while learning remotely the other three days of the week.
When faced with a challenge, one’s attitude toward embracing that challenge is extremely important. I believe we’ve been given an opportunity to reinvent our pedagogy to meet student needs remotely and in-person. While we are certainly focused on academics, we are committed to relationship building and feel that the development of teacher-student relationships are critical to youth development as are peer to peer relationships. To help assist our amazingly talented staff, the Technology and Curriculum and Instruction Departments partnered to train teachers on the best tools that are designed to accomplish meaningful synchronous (live) remote learning opportunities that help our teachers truly connect with their students. Our staff also learned some best practices in providing experiences for students to connect with each other to foster meaningful relationships and friendships. As our staff navigates this new world that comprises a mix of online and in-person instruction replete with face coverings and social distancing, all of us will be rethinking how we teach, how students learn, how curricula and classrooms are designed and what professional development we need to be successful. Through it all, we will continue to tap into our creativity with the common goal of enhancing teaching and learning. Parkland educators have tremendous skills, and when provided the necessary resources and professional development, I have no doubt that our staff will exceed expectations.
Collectively, our community has never been more important. We are shaping the future as our students learn and grow. I challenge everyone in our community to continue to build connections, mentor, be a positive influence, model kindness and foster respectful discussions, sometimes fraught with discourse, but that is productive and promotes an equitable and inclusive environment for every person, both young and old, in our neighborhoods.
As a District, we have been working on plans to take stronger action to counter systemic racism, hearing from many of our recent alumni and current students asking us directly, “Why didn’t I learn this in school?” in reference to our nation’s history. It is our obligation as educators to continuously reflect and improve. Our administrative team has already started to evaluate and make necessary changes to the curricula that we utilize so it is a more complete portrayal of historic events and figures, providing our students of color a voice and listening to their concerns. We look forward to inviting community members help us along this journey this year.
Since schools are a microcosm of society, undoubtedly, we may experience a student or adult that contracts COVID, or we may be forced to close our doors again and be ready for a total remote learning environment. Our ability to be nimble and adapt to a changing environment will be critical and therefore we must plan for this eventuality daily. No pre-existing playbook is available for managing this specific pandemic. We need to continue to work collaboratively and in partnership with our healthcare providers, health officials and our educational partners to continue to shape the best game plan for Parkland students and staff.
In closing, I would like to express my thanks to our School Board. Leadership at the board level is critical to the success of our district. We are fortunate in Parkland that our board keeps the focus on our students and staff, ensuring a safe and secure learning environment so students and staff may excel.
Richard T. Sniscak, Superintendent of Schools