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I wish to welcome everyone back from our winter break, and I hope this finds each of you and your families healthy and safe. 2021 greets us on familiar ground, a place I’m sure we all wish we had in our rearview mirrors. But with the new year comes much hope. I see sunlight on the horizon in the vaccines and more COVID-19 tests that are on the way. There are brighter days ahead, I am sure of it.

Throughout this terrible pandemic, we have worked together and let data drive our decisions along with the wise advice of public health experts and continued to rely on the thoughtful plans within our Roadmap to Reopening. The most recent health data show our current reality all too clearly: Shortly before New Year’s Day, the City began tracking a spike in daily average of new cases – reaching more than 200 a day for the first time since April – and a concerning rise in the positivity rate – hitting approximately 9 percent on Sunday, Jan. 2. We spoke with our health advisers Sunday and Monday and announced the shift to distance learning starting Thursday.

I considered what we have been through as I made the hard decision to send our 45,000 public school students into distance learning. I did it with a somber heart because we all know how vital a classroom, a teacher, and classmates are to every child’s whole development.

The alarming, rising trends in the data continued through the week, giving me cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless, that we made the right choice to do our part to help keep our community safe. That is why it is so important that we, as a community of schools, stay the course.

It is more than reasonable to feel that this shift to distance learning is a step back, a return to the turbulent days of March and all the uncertainty that came with them. But I want us all to reflect on the tremendous work of our teachers, support staff and school leaders to keep children safe and engaged; the sacrifices of our parents and guardians to juggle work and homelife; and the resilience of our students to keep learning this year through it all, and we can clearly see that is not the case.

We were and are prepared for this. NOLA-PS and our dedicated school staff took great strides to ensure distance learning remains as accessible and reliant as possible over last summer and that good work is continuing to pay off now.

Now, for what’s next.

Starting next week, we will begin our first round of vaccinations for school nurses, those critical frontline doers who have been vital to protecting our children and helping us track this terrible virus. We also have plans to expand our available testing options, so that our teachers, school staff and students have vital information about their health. Meanwhile, we will continue to provide meals to our students most at risk of hunger and help our schools accommodate those students in need of special instruction. Quality education must continue, even with so many of us forced so far apart.

And, as we did previously, we will monitor the data and reevaluate the health data trends on Jan. 21. I truly hope we see improvement so that we can begin to make plans to return to students to the classroom.

It takes the whole community to bring schools back. Everyone must do their part to stay healthy and keep each other safe – mask up, stay apart, wash your hands, and get tested – so that our students can be back in school in short order. It’s what is best for our families, our economy, and our City. So let’s look with hope to the future and firmly put last year behind us, because this will be the only time we can truly say that hindsight is 2020.

Happy New Year to you and all those close to you.

Yours in Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Superintendent, NOLA Public Schools

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe, healthy and in good spirits during this holiday season. As we prepare to close the books on a year like no other, I’d like us all to reflect on how the experiences of this year have readied us for a hopeful and sure-to-be momentous 2021.

2020 has been a year of challenges, historic societal change, and a renewed appreciation for the beauty of life. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives in some shape or form. We should take time at the start of this new year to remember and grieve for those we have lost and to express our gratitude to those who fought – and continue to fight – to save others. We are grateful for their dedication.

And we are no less grateful to those in our school community, our teachers, school and district staff, and school leaders, who moved mountains to ensure that our students stayed connected and kept learning through the worst of the pandemic, so many members of our community have stepped up to help those who need it most. And to parents who, through it all, have been working overtime, turning kitchens and living rooms into classrooms, while juggling work, school and childcare.

The perseverance everyone has shown gives me confidence that we can beat this crisis. When we asked the NOLA community to step up to stop the spread of the virus - the people answered - going above and beyond to protect each other and reduce community spread. The actions we all took as a community allowed us to once again open our school doors to students this Fall - a goal that took months of planning and coordination between NOLA-PS, our local leaders, hospitals and public health experts.
While we will continue a mix of in-person and distance learning when school resumes this month, my new year’s resolution is to have every child in our community of schools back in the classroom by the start of the fall semester 2021.

I cannot stress how important the return to in-person learning has been for our students, and how important it will be in the year ahead - particularly for our youngest learners. Schools are so much more than physical spaces where we send our children to learn math, reading, geography or writing. Schools are living, breathing learning environments where our youngest gain skills and valuable lessons that help them succeed in education and in life. For our most vulnerable students, schools are often safe spaces that provide nutrition and access to resources that extend far beyond the education space. Books and lessons might help students learn - but schools are where we develop the whole child.

This pandemic has left indelible change on the way students are taught. By investing in Chromebooks and hotspots for our students, we have narrowed the digital divide in our community and leveraged technology to forge new ways to teach. As Lake Forest Elementary Charter School CEO Mardele Early said when I visited her in October, in some ways we will never go back to the old way of doing things. As we enter 2021, we should embrace that good change where we can for the sake of our students.

While our community and the nation grappled with the pandemic, we also faced a reckoning when it comes to systemic inequity and racism. These are issues that deeply impact our students and staff, and are lived experiences for a community as diverse as ours. NOLA-PS will be doubling down our efforts to move equity and inclusion forward in our school community. While we certainly have taken some great strides in this regard, there is so much work left to be done when it comes to ensuring that our schools and greater community is equitable for all people - no matter who they are or where they are from. I’m looking forward to engaging with members of our school community on these critical issues in the weeks and months ahead.

The past year wasn’t easy, but at the end of the day, we made it through. As we look ahead to the new year, I have more than 45,000 reasons to be hopeful - one for each and every student at our schools.

Together, we can do this.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Superintendent, NOLA Public Schools

NOLA-PS is more than just a school district - it's an ever-evolving and vibrant community of students, teachers, families, schools, principals, staff, school leaders and so many others. Together, we make up a school district like no other; one that is growing and improving every single day and that values the different perspectives of each member of our school community.

Key to our growth and success are the tireless efforts of all members of the Orleans Parish School Board - hardworking, devoted public servants who help keep the district running. Every four years, the people of New Orleans decide what that School Board looks like, always bringing new ideas and lived experiences along the way. To our outgoing School Board members - Vice-President Woody Koppel, Leslie Ellison, Grisela Alejandro Jackson and Sarah Newell Usdin - I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your years of service to our community. Under your leadership and guidance, NOLA-PS has flourished and improved year after year. And to our new faces - Katherine Baudouin, Olin Parker, Jancarlo “J.C.” Wagner-Romero and Carlos Zervigon - you will certainly have some big shoes to fill, but I’m confident that you are all well equipped to fill them. Congratulations, and I look forward to working together to ensure that every New Orleans student is given the tools and support they need to succeed in school and beyond.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to address our community directly on the latest information around the pandemic and how it's affecting our schools. Our number one priority is always the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, teachers and staff, guided by our comprehensive and data-driven Roadmap to Reopening at every step of the pandemic. The science tells us that in-person learning is a critical part of children’s wellbeing, and NOLA-PS will continue to prioritize in-person learning in coordination with our local and state medical experts.

While case numbers are on the rise in New Orleans and across the country, our school community has done an impressive job of keeping the pandemic at arm’s length and for the most part, out of our schools. The latest data show we are tracking 80 active cases among our students and staff, and while these numbers are more than we had a month ago, they are a tiny fraction - .16% - of the more than 50,000 students and educators in our schools. This is a testament to our schools’ steadfast commitment to the guidelines in our Roadmap. While other school districts across the country have gone back to distance learning, we remain open. And I can proudly say that NOLA Public Schools are some of the safest places students and staff can be.

What happens next is up to all of us. I know we’re all looking forward to the holidays, but we can’t afford to let our guards down when it comes to COVID-19. In order to keep our schools open and students in classrooms, we need everyone in our community to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19, and that means doubling down on the simple steps we’ve all been taking this year. That means washing our hands, getting tested frequently, wearing our masks, and social distancing whenever possible.

The small actions we take as individuals and as a community over these next few weeks will mean the difference between keeping our schools open and returning to distance learning. NOLA-PS is committed to keeping classrooms open and I know our entire school community is too.

Together, we can do this.

Yours In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Superintendent, NOLA Public Schools

Thanksgiving is a time for family, reflection, and unity. And while Thanksgiving celebrations may be a little bit smaller or shared over Zoom this year - this core truth remains the same. At dinner tables across New Orleans, families will have a much-needed chance to take a step back, dig into some turkey and dressing and give thanks for all that they are grateful for.

This has been a challenging year for us all. Many of us have lost loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic, felt the devastation of a historic hurricane season, and continued a painful but necessary national reckoning on racial injustice. But just as things seem darkest; just as it feels like things may get the best of us, that’s when New Orleanians stand up, come together, and prove that we can overcome any challenge that comes our way.

Through every challenge we face, we get through it thanks to the millions of hardworking people that make up our diverse and vibrant community. So this Thanksgiving, that’s what I’m most thankful for.

I’m thankful to our teachers, principals and school staff who never waivered, never gave up and worked around the clock to ensure that students would keep learning.

I’m thankful to our students, who continue to amaze me and give me hope every single day. Our future will be brighter thanks to them.

I’m thankful for parents, who turned kitchen counters and bedrooms across New Orleans into classrooms, while working overtime to ensure their children would succeed.

I’m thankful to our first responders, healthcare workers, and military members who continue to risk their lives to keep us all safe in an unprecedented time. We support you, we appreciate you, and we owe you a debt of gratitude.

I’m thankful for my family and for the love, joy and support they provide me day in and day out.

But most of all, I’m thankful for New Orleans. While there are still significant challenges that lay ahead, we can overcome them as a community. We’re New Orleanians. We’re strong. We’re resilient. And together, we can do this.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Superintendent, NOLA Public Schools

This past Saturday marked the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of New Orleans Public Schools - a historic event not just for New Orleanians, but for the entire nation. On Nov. 14, 1960 Ruby Bridges, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne became the first African American students to be integrated into what had previously been all-white public schools in New Orleans.

Together, these brave young women changed history and took an important step on the long road towards equity and racial justice. Last Friday, it was my honor to join students from Akili Academy as they took part in the “Ruby Walk” - following the path 6-year-old Ruby Bridges took to her first day of school in 1960. Together, we walked through the school’s halls, toured Ms. Bridges’ original classroom and ended the walk by the Ruby Bridges statue in the school’s courtyard.

While we walked in honor of the bravery of these four young women, we did so with the recognition that the best way to truly honor their legacies is to build on the foundation that they started 60 years ago. The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and NOLA-PS are continuously striving to ensure equity and racial justice remain a priority and a hallmark of the NOLA school community. That’s why, this past summer, the OPSB passed a resolution to advance a racial equity audit on all policies in the District with the goal of ensuring that inherent or systematic racism does not affect outcomes and experiences for NOLA-PS students and their families. While this is an important step forward, we know there is still so much work that needs to be done for us to best serve our students, staff and community.

The examples we set and lessons we teach our students today will help shape the type of grown adults they become tomorrow. We remain dedicated to following in the footsteps of Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, Gail Etienne, and Ruby Bridges so that future generations understand that equity is a fundamental right.

As we head towards the Thanksgiving Holiday, we should all take time to reflect on the many things we have to be thankful for. For me, I’m thankful for my family, the thousands of incredible students, teachers and families that make up our school community, and the strength of our community in the toughest of times.

At the same time, we must all remember that we are still in the midst of a pandemic - one that requires us to keep our guard up and continue to adhere to safety measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. While our metrics remain strong and schools will remain open at this time, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. We know it's not easy, but for the safety of our school community and all New Orleanians, I urge everyone to please limit your contact with people outside of your immediate family during the holidays. Let’s all mask up, stay socially distanced, and wash our hands. There are 45,000 students depending on it.

Together, we can do this.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Superintendent, NOLA Public Schools

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe, happy and healthy. While this school year has been one like no other, NOLA-PS’ commitment to ensuring that schools serve the needs of our students remains steadfast.

Charter renewal is a critical part of this process, and one of the most important functions of NOLA-PS’ role as an authorizer. The renewal process isn’t new - it’s a transparent process that all schools in our District go through in the last year of their charter contracts. Having a regular touchpoint to evaluate a school’s performance is one way we ensure students are learning and getting the support they need to find success after high school, be it in college or at a good job. When the District reviews an individual school's performance, it determines to what extent schools have met specific standards as described in the Charter School Accountability Framework. This framework focuses primarily on key areas like student learning outcomes and compliance with federal, state and local law and policy.

Above all else, NOLA-PS values a quality education that nurtures the whole child. The renewal process we go through every year helps to make sure schools are meeting those high standards, which our students and school community more than deserve. Because of the unique circumstances impacting this school year, NOLA-PS has worked hard to pass policy changes that allow us to consider additional information for each school that does not meet current renewal standards, through a comprehensive evaluation process. NOLA-PS will present an overview of data and factors impacting this year’s renewal considerations at the Committee of the Whole meeting on Nov. 17 at 1pm. We encourage all interested members of the NOLA-PS school community to join us virtually. More information is available on our website. Following the presentation of this overview, NOLA-PS’ official renewal recommendations will be presented at a special Orleans Parish School Board meeting on December 8th.

I know that things are tough for families across NOLA right now, but I want our entire school community to know that NOLA-PS is here to help. If you have any questions or concerns, be they on charter renewal, COVID-19 testing or anything in between, please reach out to NOLA-PS or your school.

Together, we can do this.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Superintendent, NOLA Public Schools

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