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Whitaker Updates JPS Board On Reopening

Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent.

Calling the endeavor a “huge lift in a short period of time,” Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, updated board of education members on the district’s plan to reopen schools in September during a meeting Tuesday night via teleconference.

In his report to the board, Whitaker praised the work of a committee of approximately 50 people who worked to decipher 145 pages of state guidelines into the plan the district released to the public on Friday.

“I was able to put together a fantastic committee, it was over 50 people and represented teachers, administrators, food service, custodial, maintenance, paraprofessionals, district office folks, health folks, our coordinators — every group we could in the school,” he said, noting that parents were not involved in that phase due to the complexities of the language in the guidelines, released in mid-July by the New York State Education Department.

“It was a lot of acronyms and a lot of confusing state-related education-ese that was in those guidance documents,” Whitaker said. ” We needed to do two things: parse through all those things and make a determination what in fact needed to be done in order to meet those requirements and then understanding what needed to be done to make a determination about a model that we could go with.”

The committee narrowed its focus and efforts on organizing a plan for a hybrid model — a combination of in-person and distance learning. A distance learning-only model was required by the state as a backup should schools be forced to close down in-person instruction during the school year.

“The vision for this was to have clarity among stakeholders, that people would understand what the plan is, and that we provide support and get support to and from our stakeholder groups and that we reach consensus on a decision,” Whitaker said.

Families are now encouraged to voice their feedback to the committee via a survey that is available on the district’s webpage — jpsny.org/reopeningsurvey — through Friday, Aug. 7. Whitaker said the district has already received over 1,800 responses.

“We’ve gotten a large number of responses which is fantastic,” he said. “We really appreciate the feedback and that’s what we’re looking for. We’ll combine those two things — the results of the survey and the plan that we already have in place and the specifics of the building to create, in every building, what is this going to look like when we hit the ground running in September.”

The committee, he noted, went over and above to provide the plan.

“It’s 50-plus people who committed their time and energy and the kinds of assignments they were given as part of this committee are not the kinds of things you can complete into an hour on a Saturday afternoon,” he said. “They were thinking it in the evenings; they were thinking of it over the weekends; they were getting together on their own time; they donated their time and the work that they did in an incredibly short period of time was just impressive and I can’t thank them enough.”

He added, “This sort of project, normally just this planning phase alone, would be at least three months. The whole process would probably be six months to a year and this was accomplished in two weeks and coming up on two-and-a-half weeks now.”

In his remarks, Whitaker also congratulated the staff and administrators at C.V. Bush Elementary School for being named a “Recognition School” by the state board of regents and department of education.

Prior to moving into executive session, Paul Abbott, board president, also discussed the board’s next scheduled meeting on August 18 which is scheduled to take place at the administration building for the first time since moving to teleconference in March.

“Of course those people that feel they are at risk or have risk factors, I would encourage them to make other arrangements,” he said. “There still will be attendance through Zoom which has always been permissible as long as we can see the person. I’ll defer to what Dr. Whitaker has to say as far as members of the public coming into that meeting and where exactly we’re going to have it.”

He added, “The most important thing we need to consider is that that meeting is held in a building that houses students. Even though school won’t be open yet, we want to get into good habits and good practices now. I’m sure Dr. Whitaker and I will be taking over the next couple of weeks how best to tackle that. It will depend on the parameters the state gives us in regard to public meeting laws while weighing that against public safety.”

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