COVID-19 Update for March 14: Reflections, next steps

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear families, students, staff and community,

It’s Saturday afternoon and for the first time in quite a few days, I have a moment to pause and reflect. I expect this email to be a bit lengthy, so forgive me for that. For those of you who would like to get a sense of what I’m thinking and next steps, grab a cup of coffee and find a comfortable place to sit.

Gratitude and thoughts

On behalf of our school board and staff, for those of you greatly impacted by this virus medically, already or in the coming weeks, our thoughts, support and love go to you and your families. To our first responders and medical providers, we thank you for your commitment and service to our community.

I also want to recognize and thank our district staff. Last week was a challenging week, particularly yesterday as the news unfolded during the day regarding the closing of school.  From our bus drivers, cafeteria staff, teachers, paras, administrative assistants, custodians, principals…all those who interacted with our students: you were amazing. There were lots of laughs, tears and expressions of love as our nearly 12,000 students walked out the door for an unexpected break. To our staff behind-the-scenes, whether at the Central Kitchen, Buildings and Grounds or District Office, you all worked tirelessly to support our schools and the rapidly changing environment.

With regards to our district leadership at the highest level, I’d like our community to know a few things. First, our school board is second to none. They provide great oversight to our district, and they give me and our staff the support we need to do the work. We couldn’t ask for a better board. Second, our Executive Team of about 10 includes some of the best educational leaders in the country. I don’t write about them often, but I do want our community to know that it’s not just me leading the district. These professionals bring over 200 years of experience and the highest levels of education, including four doctorates from Harvard and Stanford. I say this not to brag but to give our community an indication and appreciation to the talent we have in our district.

Goals and Resources

I’d like to next share some thoughts about the coming days, but I’ll acknowledge there are many unknowns. In the last few days, we were making decisions hour-by-hour. We will now be thinking about day-by-day, then soon week-by-week. I ask that all staff, students and families continue to give grace and understanding; please know that as soon as we have plans and answers, we will communicate with all of you. We will need to live in ambiguity and take each day and challenge as it comes. I know this can be frustrating, but it’s our reality. This is also an opportunity to be innovative.

Our primary goals as of today are:

  • Protect life, promote safety and minimize the spread of the virus.
  • Provide food to the young people in our community.
  • Work with community partners in supporting childcare options for our first responders, medical employees and families in greatest need.
  • Develop innovative ways to support ongoing student learning.

Resources and Information

  1. Our children will be watching how we handle these challenges. I’m confident that our staff, families and community will demonstrate great leadership and courage. Talking with our children is also important and here is a link to some suggestions on how to do that.
  2. The chart below was sent to me somewhat in jest, but shows what a day might look like for our kids over the coming weeks.  It’s worth at least a chuckle and may provide guidance to families on how to organize days at home:

3. If you haven’t heard: all state testing is canceled for this year. No applause necessary. : ) While state testing provides us with some meaningful information, we also know it takes up a lot of school time; this will lessen the impact of the coming loss days of instruction.

4. Reminders and actions effective today:

  • Schools are closed, but the district is still in operation.
  • All district athletic and activity events are suspended until further notice.
  • Remote meeting tools, such as Zoom, will be used to minimize in-person meetings.
  • All non-essential travel on behalf of the district is suspended.
  • All district employees are encouraged to work remotely where work and responsibilities and duties allow. More guidance will be forthcoming.
  • We will implement extra measures to clean and disinfect surfaces and provide additional hand sanitizer dispensers.
  • We will increase prevention education efforts.
  • All essential meetings will be held with maximum social distancing.
  • Our FAQ is continually updated to serve as a resource.
  • The CDC and Whatcom County Health Department websites provide a lot of information about COVID-19, including symptoms, testing and hygiene.

The Bellingham Promise

Much of our guidance and inspiration lie within The Bellingham Promise, including some areas we maybe don’t talk about as much.

Our vision: We, as a community, make a collective commitment to Bellingham’s children.

From our core beliefs: We believe compassion and service build community; together we achieve more than alone.

From our outcomes: We develop students and graduates who are: skilled users of technology and information; confident individuals who continuously challenge themselves; respectful and compassionate humans; critical thinkers and problem-solvers; innovators and creators; and well-rounded community members engaged with the broader world.

From our key strategies: We will accomplish this by focusing on:

  • Great Teaching with Strong Support: “…effective leadership, ongoing staff learning…”
  • Innovation and Flexibility: “We support the diverse needs and learning styles of our students by being innovative and flexible. We embrace change and creative thinking and know that this requires a high level of trust and engagement with our community.”

Innovation and Flexibility is where I believe most of our focus must be now. While we won’t diminish our focus on our most recent key strategy of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, we will lift up Innovation and Flexibility to help inspire us as we figure out our next steps.

Over the coming days and weeks, I will continue to share updates on how we are achieving our goals with The Promise as our guide. Our goals are lofty, challenging and have never been done before, but I am confident that our community and district can and will stand up strong against what is potentially one of the greatest threats of our lifetime. We will get through this together! That is the only certainty I know.

Please take care,

Greg Baker