First week impressions, preparing for stage 2, and updates on budget and meal boxes

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students, families and community members,

I hope your first week of remote teaching and learning has been full of strong connections – both Wi-Fi and human connection, and these days you often need one to have the other!

Here are some great first day photos that were shared on social media at #firstdaybps.

instagram collage

I want to acknowledge that many of us have friends and family members in other parts of the state who were trying to start school this week, but fire, smoke and power outages disrupted their efforts. This puts our week into perspective; please keep them in your thoughts.

We started strong because of the efforts of our staff, families and students. Our staff have done so much behind the scenes work to prepare and learn the tools necessary for us to increase engagement and expectations. I want to especially thank our families and others who helped our children connect online and be successful this week. We had parents and guardians, siblings, grandparents, neighbors and child care providers all working together to ensure every student was ready. And don’t forget, if you are finding that you are lacking tools that would make teaching or learning easier, let us know. We can help with a variety of items, including music stands, furniture, headphones and technology.

A note about Wednesdays: by now you know that our live online learning opportunities are happening on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of each week, with a short live online meeting time every Wednesday morning. The rest of the day serves as time for families and students to connect with teachers during office hours and for teacher planning and collaboration. Teachers are providing instruction for “offline” learning for students to complete on their own time.

Preparing for stage 2

We are continuing to work closely with staff, health department representatives and our labor groups as we plan for stage 2 and beyond so that we can safely come back together. Here is a key document from the Department of Health that we are referring to as we gear up and prepare to slowly reopen. We are working to identify priority students for whom online learning is just not effective. This may include students who receive special education services, are experiencing homelessness and/or are teen parents. We want to be cautious and health-conscious, and we are balancing going slow with the understanding that there are many other groups of students and classes that would benefit from an in-person option, including kindergarten, first grade, physical education and athletics.

Budget update

As expected, locally and globally, budgets are being impacted by the pandemic. One example is that the state has announced that it will discontinue funding for transportation since districts across the state are not transporting students to school. Another example is that most of our district revenue is based on student enrollment, and as families make other choices for their children for 2020-21, funding from the state will decrease. We are seeing school districts lay-off and furlough staff, and we are doing all we can to prevent this as much as possible through attrition and not filling open positions. We hope the state and federal government will help support schools, but it’s likely we have challenges ahead.

Free meal boxes for all

We are continuing to offer free meal boxes to families because the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended its free meals program into the 2020-21 school year. This means all children ages 0 to 18, plus our students who attend Community Transitions, will continue to receive free meal boxes. Yesterday was our first distribution day, and we ran out of boxes. We are connecting with families and increasing our production to help meet the need, and we see this as a good sign (even though it stings to turn folks away) because we want this service to be available for ALL kids. See our food services webpage for times and locations.

Some quick facts about meal boxes:

  • We want to provide healthy food for all kids, regardless of eligibility for free and reduced price meals. Healthy food is for everyone!
  • Every meal box we give away is accounted for through the USDA, so we will be preparing more boxes in the weeks to come, and we encourage families to pick them up for their kids.
  • These boxes now include scratch-made meals from our Central Kitchen, which includes some favorites from our Good Food Project school lunch menu. Yesterday we served a vegetarian chili and a chickpea curry masala.
  • Some families have said they’d like to pay for meal boxes, which is not necessary at this time. However, for those who can, please considering donating to our Bellingham Public Schools Foundation, which supports numerous programs across our district. Giving is not required but certainly appreciated.

Again, thanks to all for working so hard to ensure the greatest and most joyful first week of school ever.. during a world pandemic. 😊

Greg Baker