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May 15, 2020

To the 2020 NOLA Public Schools Graduating Class,

May is my favorite month; it has always been reserved as a time to celebrate graduates and the next steps they are taking together. Caps, gowns, senior photos, prom, college acceptances, the promise of future job opportunities, and wonderful tributes would be some of those inspiring highlights.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19’s impact on our schools and city as a whole, we cannot celebrate together this year as we would traditionally. As the father of a graduating senior, I know you are undoubtedly feeling sad and are disappointed that you weren’t able to say a goodbye to your Senior Year and celebrate with your friends and families in the way that you had hoped.

As Superintendent of NOLA Public Schools, I understand and share your disappointment and am determined to make sure that all of our graduates get the celebration that they deserve as soon as it is safe to do so.

In spite of our current circumstances, I want to take a moment to tell all of you how proud I am of your accomplishments and to encourage you to keep going. When I think about this graduating class the poem “Invictus,” written by William Ernest Henley, comes to mind. The poem encourages each of us to chart our own destiny, and its title, translated from its Latin origin, means unconquerable or invincible. That is what each and every one of you are: unconquerable and invincible. You embody the essence and spirit of New Orleans, which has faced tragedies time, and time again. We have experienced deep anguish and pain, but we continue to rise above it because we combine hope with resilience and a fierce determination to persevere against all of the challenges thrown our way.

Earlier this week, my daughter reminded me of something important; she said: “Dad, we've faced tough times before and we've gotten through them.” And, of course, she’s right.

For those of you who are graduating this year, the future may seem unclear or even frightening. Remember, that you can conquer the fear of the unknown by reaching out and connecting with your university or job. You can acknowledge the pain of how this year ended and reflect on the many positive memories you have shared with your classmate and teachers. You can accept that at times you do not feel ok and share your feelings so that you will continue to grow, become stronger and know that you are not in this alone.

Remember, you are the class that is unconquerable and invincible! You can do this! We can do this!

And while we cannot be together, we are forever connected. I celebrate with you the many accomplishments that you have made these past thirteen years and I encourage you to remember that we can and will get through this.

Just like this great city in which we live, you are strong, resilient, bold, determined, creative, and invincible.

And as you go on to pursue the next chapter in your life, the class of 2021 will return to school for their senior year, and I know everyone is wondering what exactly that will look like. I wish I had a full answer to provide today.

But what I can tell you is: we are building a plan for reopening schools based upon lessons learned from this spring and essential advice from health experts and we will be prepared for anything that lies ahead.

Our approach to this pandemic has been this: Rapid Response, Assessment, Re-entry Planning, and Implementation. Over the past several weeks we have been in the assessment phase, where we have been working with school leaders to reflect on what has worked well and to assess what is needed to best support teachers and students next school year.

And next week we will begin the reentry planning phase. To ensure we move towards reopening in a coordinated and sound way citywide.

To support that process, I will be leading a reopening task force comprised of practitioners- school leaders, teachers, social workers, and medical experts- and parents and other key leaders, which will focus on how we safely return to school. Together we will produce the road map for our schools to follow to, under various scenarios, in order to ensure all precautions are taken to keep our students, staff and faculty safe.

Additionally, NOLA-PS is in the process of hiring a medical and public health advisor who will oversee reentry planning processes and who will be available to all schools in the district to advise on actions to take and how to keep our campuses safe. 

Finally, when schools do reopen, due to the leadership of our school leaders, they will do so on a unified calendar for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. This is a huge step that will positively impact the lives of many families moving forward whether we are on campus, or not.

While the future is uncertain, we know that together we can do this. Like the class of 2020, we are invincible, and we will return next school year, stronger, more resilient and prepared to take on any challenge that comes our way.

To the class of 2020, I want to congratulate you once again; we are rooting for you – from our homes, offices, and other shelter in place locations, and we are sending a virtual hug of love and vote of confidence because we know that you have everything within you to fulfill your destiny.

In service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
NOLA-PS Superintendent of Schools

External Resources

NOLA Public Schools. Every Child. Every School. Every Day.

2401 Westbend Parkway
New Orleans, Louisiana 70114

Phone: 504-304-3520
Email: Communications@opsb.us

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