Statements by PUSD superintendent, Board of Education president at Feb. 8 school board meeting

PUSD Superintendent Randy Booker:

I am feeling a tremendous amount of hope tonight. We are on the verge of returning more students to our campuses as COVID rates are on the decline. I am grateful for our partnerships with our teachers, staff, and administrators. And I am grateful for all of the support from our families. And I am especially grateful for the perseverance of our students.

While I’m hopeful, it’s clear that the pandemic has taken a toll on our community in many ways, including diminishing the strong sense of mutual trust and respect between parents, teachers and school leaders that has been a hallmark of our community. I’ve had many painful conversations, especially during the last few weeks. Along with the Board, I am trying to listen carefully to the perspective of each and every person who reaches out or shares at a board meeting.

Parents are frustrated that we were not able to open more grades last fall, and that most students are still learning from home. Teachers are fearful about their own health and putting loved ones at risk as vaccinations remain difficult to obtain and new, more virulent strains of Covid-19 are reported. Some members of the community think we have not done everything we can to get students back in school. Teachers have gone above and beyond to deliver high-quality distance learning and yet feel beaten up by accusations that it is their fault we have not returned to in-person learning. Parents and teachers have both told me that they do not feel heard, and we are not communicating adequately or transparently.

We hear you!

I want to assure you that we — the board and our leadership team — do hear you, and we are doing our best to meet everyone’s needs in an exceedingly difficult and unprecedented situation. We have not handled every situation perfectly, and if we could go back in time, we might handle some things differently. That being said, I hope you do not doubt that every decision was made with the goal of providing the best education possible for our students, while keeping our entire community safe and healthy by following the guidance and protocols issued by the Alameda County Public Health Department.

Safety is our top priority

Safety has been our top priority from the very beginning of the pandemic. Keeping students, teachers, staff and families healthy requires careful, complex planning that involved many hours of considering various scenarios. We are sorry that our communication has not been as frequent or as clear as it could be in communicating the process by which we are making decisions, and the rationale for decisions made. We are taking active steps to improve the frequency, transparency and clarity of our communication moving forward, including bringing on additional short-term staff to help me draft regular updates so that I can focus on the planning and transition as we bring students and teachers and staff back to campuses safely.

Special board meeting on Monday

As superintendent, it is my job to hear critical, even angry, feedback, and I am prepared for that. Given the high emotion, however, I want to ask everyone to be mindful, empathetic and considerate of the impact of your words on others attending the meeting. If you are a parent, please try to put yourself in the shoes of a teacher who may have a loved one at high risk for serious complications from Covid, or who is scrambling to make arrangements for the education of their own children as they return to the classroom. If you are a teacher who does not have children at home, please try to imagine the strain of supervising several children engaged in distance learning, while juggling the demands of a high-stress job, or the fear that their children are suffering emotionally or academically from the extended isolation.  

How we got here

We know how frustrating the last 10 months have been, especially as guidance from the County and State has changed in the past just when we thought we were ready to re-open, including just last week when the guidance on vaccinating teachers changed unexpectedly. There have been so many twists and turns over the last 10 months that it is easy, even for me, to forget everything that has happened, the decisions that were made and why actions were taken.

Thank you to my hard-working leadership team

We are proud to be one of the first public school districts in Alameda County poised to re-open, and I am grateful to my hard-working team for the detailed and complex planning behind the scenes. 

I want to thank all of you for your patience during this difficult time of waiting and planning.  We all look forward to welcoming additional students onto our campuses and I’m hopeful that tonight’s presentation and recommendations move us closer to that goal.

Message from PUSD Board of Trustee President Cory Smegal

Next month on March 13th, it will be a year since we made the tough decision to close schools due to the COVID pandemic. Since then, all of us – teachers, staff, administrators, board members and families – have struggled to keep up with the evolving threat of the virus while finding a way to provide the best education for our children and teens. The results have moved us in the direction of improvement, though not always at as fast a pace as many would like. Still, all of us persevere. 

Please remember, we are in a pandemic that has taken over 475,000 lives in the U.S. In Alameda County, though our numbers have been improving, we continue to be in the purple tier with an adjusted case rate of 23.1 per 100,000 of population.  

Please consider what you can do to support each other. What actions can you take to make a positive difference: 

Maybe you want to:

  • Advocate for greater state funding of education.
  • Advocate to Alameda County Department of Public Health to prioritize educators for vaccines.
  • Work with secondary student and parent leaders to help our students find fun, safe ways to meet up.
  • Form partnerships between parents and teachers for greater understanding and collaboration, and mutual support. 

We are so fortunate to live in a place where our schools are the heart and soul of our city, and where families believe deeply in the importance of education.

As we start our meeting tonight and begin a return to school for our youngest learners tomorrow, please keep in mind in order to do what’s best for our children, we need to work together as a team. We need to listen for understanding and support each other in these efforts.  

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