Dear St. Joseph Public Schools Families,
I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well as we get ready for what I know will be another unprecedented, blockbuster school year! I am beyond grateful for the flexibility and grace you offered us during the many challenges of last spring, and I humbly ask that you maintain that incredible support as we encounter new sets of challenges this fall.
This last Tuesday, I met with all of our teachers for Opening Day. A day of planning, preparation and training for all staff members. I can tell you that they are all very excited to start the year and to see your kids. Yesterday I went from building to building meeting with custodians, office personnel, para-pros, and others that are important in keeping our schools running smoothly. Again, our Bear Staff were happy to be back and ready to go on September 8, 2020!
Our virtual students will start classes on September 8th as well. We had well over 700 students sign up for St. Joseph Virtual School or SJVS. We wanted to offer a choice to our families that could not return or were not comfortable face to face. Early figures showed about 20% would choose this option. In the end we have about 23% signed up for the virtual classroom. Our Virtual Bears are as much a part of SJPS as our Classroom Bears with many of the same opportunities for specific classes, sports and clubs, depending on what is available due to COVID-19. Some of the Virtual Bears completed their orientation last night.
With all of this going on, there are a lot of new and different programs happening around the schools. Please be patient as we continue to refine our plans and processes. Starting school this year with small steps will be critically important to being successful. The gift of time allows us to connect to each student personally, adjust our plans as we add more students, continue our vetting of Remote Learning and reduce anxiety. Please review the measured start for the first two weeks of school this year.
I want to reassure you that we have and will continue to base our instructional decisions on the latest science and data from our state and county public health officials. We monitor the situation daily and regularly consult with both state and county health officials for guidance. Moreover, we will continue to work in partnership with the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) to identify, investigate and trace possible COVID-19 cases throughout the school year. Families will receive a form email when a case is present. Confidentiality will be preserved.
It is very important to keep your student home if they are sick or have any COVID-19 symptoms. Complete a Student Screening each morning! This document can be printed and put on the refrigerator for constant reminders and for building new habits. Try it out each day over the next couple of weeks, rewarding the family when the check has been completed each day. Make it yours, make it fun! See the Berrien County COVID in Schools Handout for Families and Schools for general information.
Berrien County Data Update-Berrien County has Very Low Positivity
As stated in my recent communications, we are closely monitoring BCHD’s dashboard on the various metrics related to the monitoring watchlist – click here for the Michigan data. The two key data sets for Berrien County have been the Case Rates (less than 100 per 100,000 people) and Testing Positivity Percentages (less than 5%). Berrien County has now experienced several consecutive weeks of reduced positivity; in fact, 3.1% over the month of August. Currently, our weekly average has dropped to 3.01%, the lowest in quite some time. Our Case Rate is also considered low at 11.0 positive cases per 100,000 over the past two weeks. Berrien County is at a good point to return to learn right now. This is a great time for us to get back to school and do what we do best. Please help us reduce the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to follow state mandates and guidelines.
We are looking forward to welcoming you and your children back to school on Tuesday, September 8th. While this will not be an easy endeavor for any of us, I am confident we will retain the gift of your flexibility and grace in making this extraordinary school year extraordinarily safe and successful for all.
Thomas S. Bruce, Ed.D.