Remaining Remote for the 20-21 School Year

Dear Achievement First New York Families–

We are writing today to provide an update on our reopening plans for our schools in New York. Based on recent COVID case counts and frequent NYCDOE facility closures, we will NOT reopen our schools for in-person learning on April 19; instead, our schools in New York will remain 100% remote through the remainder of the 20-21 School Year.

This is an important decision, and not one that we took lightly. All through the pandemic, we have prioritized the safety of our community and meeting the needs of our students and families. This painful decision, like all others, is grounded in these priorities. 

Aligned to our safety priority, we worked this winter with public health experts to establish clear criteria that we would use to make reopening decisions. We said that we will reopen schools for in-person learning if the weighted average positivity rate of COVID-19 in our communities is less than 5%. As of today, April 5, the weighted average for our communities in Brooklyn is 6.84%.  While cases were declining in February, they have now been rising again for several weeks.  Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the devastating impacts this virus has had on our communities  – and, sadly, that disparate impact continues.  While we are deeply heartened by the development of a safe and effective vaccine, the new, more contagious variants pose a new risk. 

Another deciding factor for us was that, even if we did open, we believe many of our schools would experience last-minute, prolonged closures due to current NYCDOE quarantine policies.  While multi-layered safety protocols (mask wearing, social distancing, handwashing, regular testing, and others) can be powerful in stopping the spread of the virus within schools, we have seen from schools that are open that the virus still enters school buildings from the outside when community spread is as high as it is now.  Many of our co-located schools have opened for a handful of days only to announce at the last minute that they need to close for 10 days – with families scrambling the night before to arrange child care and teachers scrambling to change up their lesson plans.  And these closures have taken place without additional AF students in the building, which will almost certainly add to the challenge.  The Mayor announced a couple hours ago that the quarantine/closure rules will change, but we do not know what the new rules will be — and the experience of this year suggests that we would still experience frequent, unplanned closures. Ultimately, we feel that this disruptive, on-again-off-again dynamic is not in the best interest of students and families.  As much as we will miss the in-person contact, remaining remote through the end of this school year will allow us to focus on consistent, high-quality remote instruction this year AND prepare for a strong start to next year. 

While we are disappointed that we will not be able to welcome our scholars back for in-person learning this year, we do want to make a few important points:

  1. We DO plan to resume in-person learning in August for the start of the 21-22 school year.  We expect almost all of our students to opt to return in person – and we will be ready to serve them safely based on everything we have learned this year. (As you know, our schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island have been open for some of this year).  
  2. For the remainder of this year, we will continue to serve our students well with our best-in-class and ever-improving remote learning program.  Now that the uncertainty about the rest of this year is removed, our staff will put all of their effort into continuing to make remote learning and community even stronger, especially for the students who are struggling with learning and connecting remotely.  The days that we originally planned for staff professional development and asynchronous learning next week will be converted back to full remote learning days.
  3. Our schools will also continue to support the technology needs of our scholars.  If you have any technology issues, please make sure you contact your school’s main office at crownheightselementary2@achievementfirst.org
  4. Since we are not returning for in-person instruction this year, our scholars will NOT take the New York State Exams. While we fundamentally believe in the importance of state assessments — including as a way for policymakers and political representatives to draw attention to the impact of under-investing in the education of children from historically underserved communities — we also recognize that this year’s state test results will be compromised by all of the difficult circumstances of this year.  
  5. While scholars in Grades 3-8 will not take the state exam, the College Board has not cancelled AP exams / the SAT test, which impacts our scholars’ college prospects. Given this, our high schools will work directly with students and families to ensure our scholars are set up for success on these exams. High schools will also share further information later in the year re: graduation and other end-of-year events. 

Thank you so much for your continued flexibility and partnership as we navigate this crazy year together. Please reach out with ANY questions! 

With love,
Richard Buery (CEO), Stephanie Keenoy (Superintendent), and Dacia Toll

🌸What’s Happening at AFCHES- April 🌸

Monday 3/29-Friday 4/2: Spring Break (NO SCHOOL)

Monday, 4/5: Virtual Learning Resumes @8:30am

Tuesday, 4/6: AFCHES Family Workshop

Wednesday, 4/7: 3rd Grade Academic Workshop

Thursday, 4/8: Brooklyn Lottery Opens/ Spirit Day: Wear Blue for Autism Awareness

Monday 4/12: Student Experience Surveys (3rd & 4th Grade)

Friday, 4/30: Spirit Day- Dress Like Your Favorite Teacher

Monday, 3/29: Friday 4/2: Spring Break (NO SCHOOL)

UPDATES ON THE 3RD & 4TH GRADE PRACTICE TESTS THIS WEEK

Good Afternoon Families,

We wanted to update you that the ELA practice exam has been moved to Friday March 19th. 3rd and 4th grade scholars must sign on at 8:30AM SHARP, will take attendance, engage in Morning Meeting, take the practice exam, and will sign off once completed. We do not want scholars to rush to finish so that they can sign off. They must take the time they need to successfully complete the practice test. 

On Friday March 26th, we will take the Math practice exam. Similar to the ELA structure, 3rd and 4th grade scholars must sign on at 8:30AM SHARP, will take attendance, engage in Morning Meeting, take the practice exam, and will sign off once completed.

We are making this change because the State Test will only be 1 day for ELA and 1 day for Math. Therefore, we will replicate that model by structuring our practice tests to be the same.  Once we have more information about the state test format, we will update you right away. Decisions around the state test have been changing a ton on the state level so we will ensure that communication is sent to you as soon as we get clear on communication from NYS.

Please make sure scholars have a good night’s rest before each exam, have a quiet work space so that they can do their best work, ensure they are working independently without any help from relatives at home, and are pumped up to do their best! 

Thank you again families for all that you are doing and continue to do to ensure our scholars are set up for success. I have tremendous amounts of gratitude for every one of our families.

With Love,

Dr. Johnson

PREPARING FOR THE 2021 3RD/4TH GRADE STATE TEST

Dear Families,

On 2/23, the Biden Administration announced that state testing would proceed without an option for statewide waivers for ELA, Math, Science, and English Language testing. Given the need to test across regions, Achievement First is gathering the most up to date information to help facilitate decision making and communication. The first tests are scheduled to happen the week of April 19th.

 We have limited information about the testing structure other than that the intention is to have testing in person. In September, the state announced that no testing could happen remotely. NY has not shared guidance on how many students must be tested. It appears the state is trying to dramatically reduce testing this year, and we should know more this week about what they decide. We will communicate with you as soon as we have updated guidance from the state.

What does this mean right now?

Our focus at CHES is to ensure that scholars are confident to take this test. We will use the next few weeks to build scholar familiarity and confidence with test-taking skills. We know that this year has not been ideal for students. It is important that scholars have a positive testing experience without feeling frustrated. Over the next few weeks we will focus on giving as much practice as possible. 

Practice tests will happen this week.

On Thursday March 18th and Friday March 19th will take a practice test. The purpose of this test is to see what scholars know so far. It is really important that they have a quiet place to work during this time. Please make sure that they are sitting at a table, away from any distractions. We want to make sure that scholars can focus during this time.

It is also important that you do not give any support during the practice tests. When scholars take the state test, they will not have any help from their family and we want them to be independent during any assessments.

Finally, please ensure scholars have a good night’s rest the night before and eat breakfast in the morning. It will be really important to make sure they are on time (which is important every day) so that they do not miss any information or directions. 

Family Partnership is super important:

The only way we will see success is with your help with the above listed items and to stay on top of all communication. Please support your child(ren) this week and over the next few weeks to be confident and at ease with testing and practice. Scholars will feed off of our energy over the next few weeks so let’s continue to keep them motivated and focused during this time.

Thank you families for all that you have done and continue to do to ensure your child(ren) are most successful.

With Love, 

Dr. Johnson

AF NY Extended Remote Learning Announcement

Dear AF New York Team & Family,

We are writing today to share an update with you regarding our reopening plans in New York. Last week we shared the public health standard for community spread that we would use to govern our reopening decisions. Since then, unfortunately, reported test positivity rates in Brooklyn neighborhoods where our schools are located continue to rise – and it has become clear that there is little chance that positivity rates will be low enough for us to safely reopen schools. Given this, we have decided that we will NOT resume in-person learning for scholars that need it on March 9 as originally planned.  Given the timing of Spring Break at the end of March, this means that our new target date to resume in-person learning is April 19th.

Two principles have guided all of our reopening decisions this year: 1) safety and 2) meeting the needs of our scholars and families.  This decision, like all other decisions, is grounded in these principles.   As we wrote last week, the public health guidance we are receiving suggests that when community spread is high, the safety of in-person learning is jeopardized. Based on this, we said that we would only resume in-person learning for our scholars if the case positivity rate in our communities is 5% or less (case positivity rate is a public health metric that calculates the percentage of total COVID tests administered which return a positive result). We calculate this by taking the weighted average of the case positivity rates in the ZIP codes where our schools are located so that we accurately represent the positivity rate in the communities our scholars and schools are located in. We have been tracking this data via this spreadsheet. When we communicated these criteria last week, our case positivity rate was 7.21%, already significantly higher than our 5% threshold.  Since then, the case positivity rate has actually increased to over 8%. The fact that the rates remain so high – and are trending upwards – tells us that we are unlikely to reach our 5% threshold in the next 2 weeks. With this in mind, we wanted to communicate this change to our school communities as soon as possible so that our staff and families can begin planning for us to remain remote for longer.

This is deeply disappointing news as we know that a number of families need in-person learning. While we will not be able to resume in-person learning on March 9, we will prepare to resume in-person learning on April 19. This is two weeks after our NY Spring Break so that staff/scholars who travel can quarantine and so that our staff will have enough time for in-person training to implement our safety protocols. Our hope is that by April 19, positivity rates have dropped and that a greater number of our staff members who are comfortable getting the vaccine are able to do so. If we are able to return to in-person learning in April, we still plan to implement the COVID testing program we shared last week.

We know that this letter represents yet another change during a year where so much is changing so often. As always, we are so grateful to you for your partnership and we dearly hope that you and your family remain safe and well!

With love,
Dacia Toll (CEO), Richard Buery (President), and Stephanie Keenoy (Superintendent)