#14: Responding To A Crisis: What To Expect As Schools Open This Fall — A Q&A With Kate Mehok, Founder & CEO of Crescent City Schools

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Kate Mehok, Founder and CEO of Crescent City Schools

This is the 14th in a series of interviews and Q&As conducted by the Cowen Institute with New Orleans educators to highlight how schools and programs are managing with the current COVID-19 outbreak.

In this edited Q&A, we continue our updates on how schools in New Orleans are responding to the COVID crisis. This is an interview with Kate Mehok of the School Leaders Forum and Crescent City Schools, a Charter Management Organization that operates three schools in the city.

Can you explain your role at Crescent City Schools, as well as your work with other CMO and school leaders?

I am the co-founder and CEO of Crescent City Schools. We serve 2500 students across three PreK-8th grade charter schools. I am also the president of the School Leaders Forum.

We wanted to focus this Q&A on the re-opening of schools this fall. So firstly, will all schools be required to reopen in the fall?

All OPSB authorized schools are following the NOLA-PS roadmap for reopening. Right now, all OPSB authorized schools are starting virtually through Labor Day. Health officials, the Mayor, and the Superintendent will assess the data on August 28th and decide if schools or subsets of schools will be in person after Labor Day.

If schools reopen with in-person learning, will students be required to return to school or will they be given alternative learning options?

All students will be able to choose a virtual option even if schools reopen in person after Labor Day.

If schools will not be required to open, in your discussions with other school leaders, as well as with your own schools, are most schools planning to reopen?

All OPSB authorized schools are following the roadmap and will work together with the Health Department, the Mayor, and our Superintendent to make a decision about in person instruction after Labor Day.

If schools opt to remain closed or not reopen with in-person instruction, what options do they have for serving their students?

No schools are closed right now. All schools are providing virtual instruction to all students. If schools are able to return to students to campus after Labor Day, parents will be able to choose in-person instruction or virtual. If we are not able to return to on-campus instruction, then we will continue to provide virtual only.

What precautions are you and other school leaders taking and planning to take to ensure the health of students, families, teachers, and other school staff?

We at Crescent City Schools (CCS) care deeply about the health and safety of students, families, and all staff. We put many precautions in place to ensure our campuses are safe for all staff, families, and students. We do daily temperature checks for any person who enters the building. We will continue that when children return as well. We have given 12 K95 masks and a face shield to each of our staff and provided them with safety training on how to properly put on and take off their masks, as well as how to store them. When we return to in person instruction, we will have masks available to all students who need them as well as disposable masks for visitors to campus. We have given all our staff person hand sanitizer for themselves and their classrooms as well as installed hand sanitizing stations throughout the building. We are adhering to all CDC guidelines regarding frequency of cleaning and will continue to do so when students return. We currently follow all CDC, BESE, and NOLA-PS guidelines for gatherings with staff and will follow all CDC, BESE and NOLA-PS guidelines around class size and social distancing. For high traffic areas, i.e the main office, we have installed plexiglass to provide further protection. All staff have been trained on all safety procedures and we will provide any additional training needed to ensure we are ready to receive students on a regular basis to campus.

What is the plan for schools to respond if a student or educator contracts COVID?

Following the guidance we have been given by NOLA-PS, we have developed plans and trained all staff on the procedure for what to do if someone contacts COVID that involves isolation, informing various government agencies, testing, and contact tracing.

Will schools be doing testing of students and educators? And if so, how frequently?

NOLA-PS is working together with local, state, and federal agencies to procure regular testing. Look for more updates in the next few weeks.

If schools reopen with in-person instruction, what adjustments to the plan to educate and support students will be made due to COVID?

We school leaders have been working all summer on creating various plans so we’d be ready for all types of learning: virtual, in-person, and a hybrid. We are ready to execute on any plan needed. When we return in-person we want to ensure that we are working to recreate the sense of community we had before we all left in March and so we will make time for activities and experiences that lead to a strong school community. Regardless of how we open we know we need to quickly assess where students are both academically and social/emotionally, so that we can make plans to meet students where we are and support them. I expect we will see even more differentiation regardless of the type of instruction we deliver.

What options are school leaders considering for changes to school scheduling?

Right now we are just starting to implement our virtual instruction. We have created schedules and we plan to follow them for a few weeks. We will then take the feedback from students and families and adjust our schedules as needed. We have schedules in place for when we return to school but we may adjust them depending on the guidance given.

How much remote learning will continue in the fall?

This year we will have a virtual option for families regardless of whether we return in person to school. If we return in Phase 2 then we will not be able to bring all PreK-8th graders to campus every day, so we will implement our hybrid model for our older students, having them do mostly virtual work but cycling into the school to reconnect. If we can get to Phase 3, which would mean 75% bus capacity and looser social distancing restrictions, we may be able to return every student. To reiterate, we have a plan for all the Phases and are ready to implement those plans when given the directive.

What plans are in place to support learning loss from earlier this year?

We plan to assess all students during the first weeks of school which will help us make plans to support learning loss. In addition to providing all students with access to Tier 1 instruction, we will also ensure we differentiate and group students for instruction at their level so we can continue to push all students forward. Virtual instruction provides some unique opportunities for differentiation, as teachers can strategically create break out rooms for students to work together and with the teacher on a variety of skills. I believe we are going to see differentiation increase across our schools.

Will schools be providing any additional mental health supports for students and families?

We understand the challenges our families and students have faced over the last six months. Each of our schools has counselors, social workers, behavior specialists, nurses, and other support staff to work with families. Each student in our school has at least one adult who will contact them daily, so we can stay connected with families. We will explicitly teach social emotional curriculum to all students and will ensure we provide any additional support that families need.

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The mission of the Cowen Institute is to advance public education and youth success in New Orleans and beyond.

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