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Dear Members of the NOLA-PS Community,

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

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