Rich in tradition and focused on the future, the Fort Thomas Independent School District provides engaging and challenging learning experiences which foster creativity, curiosity and innovation, while inspiring all students to pursue lifelong learning and become productive members of the global community.
Board of Education Meeting September 2, 2020
Discussion of return to in-person learning by September 17, 2020.
A Message from Dr. Karen Cheser, Superintendent of Schools
July 24, 2020
Dear FTIS Families,
We know this school year will be unique and that this is a very stressful time for you, especially as COVID-19 conditions and guidance change. We want to do everything we can to assure you of our commitment to the safety of our students and staff. We are in constant contact with our local and state health officials and will continue to act in sync with their recommendations. While our current plan is to provide five days a week of in-person instruction in our school buildings, we are also aware that we may have to move to NTI temporarily throughout the year as this guidance changes. Today all of our schools will have approved fall re-entry plans with regard to schedules, staff assignments, and remote learning curriculum and we are able to share these plans here.
This has been a monumental effort on the part of our administrators, teachers, staff, and our Board of Education as well as with strong partners such as the FTEF (Fort Thomas Education Foundation), parents and students on our Task Force.
Why are we reopening?
As we all would agree, in person learning with our trusted teaching staff is the ideal approach for educating all of our students. However, in the middle of a world-wide health crisis, we have to reassess and ensure we are not only providing the highest-level educational opportunities but also keeping the health and safety of our students and staff as our primary objective.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky issued guidelines to open schools which were created by medical, health, and safety experts. (These guidelines can be found here) The expectations are written speciﬁcally to provide a safe environment for students, while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. While these plans are being modified and updated daily, we have to start planning now to ensure we are able to start school, with students, on August 26th. Today we are releasing those specific school plans.
For many school districts, the diﬃculty of meeting the guidelines will make it nearly impossible to reopen for in-person instruction with all or part of the student body. Limitations in facilities, faculty, and funds will create obstacles diﬃcult to overcome. You likely have heard about many local and regional school districts that have chosen to return to school either on an A/B schedule or to start the year with NTI. These districts were forced to make these decisions due to constraints of space/classroom size as well as limitations in staffing, technology, and budget.
Our schools have always been rich in tradition and focused on the future. While we never know what the future holds, we are constantly pushing ourselves to ensure we’re providing the best for our students. This framework has positioned us in an enviable situation during this pandemic. We do not have the same constraints that are forcing others to begin the year with an A/B schedule or with NTI.
The chart to the left explains the reasons why faculty and staff preferred instruction five days a week over an A/B rotation model, where ½ of students attend each day, but teachers teach all five days a week. This was a model we explored, but we did not have to resort to this, since we were able to meet the safety requirements through creative scheduling, new uses of space, and innovative programming in order to keep student cohorts small and 6-foot distanced.
Why can Fort Thomas Independent Schools open for all students 5 days a week?
Our facilities are top notch. YOUR commitment to our buildings over the years, through support of our PTOs and the FTEF, has ensured that we have suﬃcient space for students and teachers to meet the distancing requirements. Recent renovations to Moyer and HHS in addition to new space we will add in the Johnson Valley will allow us to provide in person instruction for every student who chooses while meeting the stringent guidelines. Some examples of what our schools may have that others don’t include wide hallways, additional spaces for activities (like onsite gymnasiums), spacious classrooms, and multi-purpose areas.
Our faculty are the best of the best. Every School-Based Decision-Making Council diligently reviews teacher candidates to ensure that your students are being taught by the finest, most experienced teachers. We also invest in our teachers through annual training, paying for advanced coursework and a focus on continuous improvement to ensure they have the tools and abilities to not only teach their content area but also offer social and emotional support to your students while in our buildings.
Our district operates with 47 additional teachers and 27 additional teacher assistants over the state funded minimum. In the past this has allowed for additional course-oﬀerings and advantageous teacher to student ratios. Today, this has a whole new beneﬁt during the pandemic. With an adjustment in our bell schedule (at HMS and HHS) and the addition of a core/encore schedule or cohort rotations (at the elementary schools) our additional teacher allocations will allow us to hold classes with even smaller numbers, keep our programs intact, and even add additional opportunities for students. Classes that had 24-28 students will now have 14-16 allowing teachers the opportunity to provide more individualized instruction to ensure content mastery.
There are several components to the funding of our schools, especially during COVID-19 risk management, that will allow us to help ensure students and staff are safe when they return to school.
· Taxes: Many are aware that our taxes are more than some of our neighboring communities. The school district receives additional funds through our tax bills (known as the ‘double nickel’) to provide the state-of-the-art education we have come to expect.
· District Budget: Our Board of Education has been very focused on strong financial oversight to ensure we maintain a healthy contingency fund. This fund may be used for additional staff and materials we will need to ensure we can provide a safe school experience during COVID-19.
· Other Funding: During this pandemic, there is federal and state funding relief provided to districts (for which we have already begun applying). These include CARES Act funds and FEMA support. We anticipate that a considerable portion of the money we spend on COVID-19 precautions will be covered by these relief programs.
Together, all of this gives us the ability to purchase supplies and add additional staﬀ for cleaning, serving, and monitoring in our schools. It is going to allow us to reopen and meet the guidelines.
What is the virtual learning option? What will it mean for my family?
Each SBDM Council has selected which online platform will be used for virtual learning this year, with consistency across HMS and HHS and for all three elementary schools. Information with specific details about the virtual learning programs are posted at this link on the district re-opening website so you can make an informed and educated decision.
If your family chooses virtual learning for your students, that decision will remain in place for the semester. This will provide consistency and stability to your student’s learning and also allow our teachers and administrators to provide consistent instruction to those students who are in class. After reviewing your school’s plans for in-person and virtual/remote learning, please complete this form if you are choosing remote learning for your child(ren).
Again, this decision will be final through the first semester of school and must be made by Friday, July 31. Please contact us – or your child’s school – for more information.
The chart to the left provides a general overview of the differences between in-person instruction and remote learning, as well as NTI. Please review your specific school’s plan for details.
What about NTI?
NTI (Non-Traditional Instruction) is meant to be a short-term alternative when in person instruction is not possible. All student activities in school buildings or facilities, including athletics and extracurriculars, would be suspended. The decision to move to NTI is made by our School Board who takes into consideration guidance from many sources including state and local health officials. Governor Beshear may inform us that we need to close at some point if it is deemed unsafe to go to schools even if we can follow all of the guidelines. It is not our goal to begin school through NTI. We realize, however, that we may have to move to NTI during the school year. If this happens, all students who are currently receiving in person instruction will move to NTI (virtual learning students will remain on their current path and not move to NTI).
Our experience with NTI this spring allowed us to continue instruction for all of our students for completion of the year. Given that we had 48 hours to plan, we are proud of what we accomplished but realize that there are many things we can improve upon. Teachers and school leaders are working on this over the summer, using the feedback you provided, and will utilize the Teacher Planning Days on the new calendar to continue to refine.
To the left is a graphic which shows the relationships between in-person learning following the requirements and NTI. Even if we have to move to NTI temporarily, we will return to school buildings following the specific “Healthy at School” social distancing and masking requirements.
Regardless of a pandemic or not, there is no online learning platform that is a substitute for the superior in-person learning from our teachers. In the same light, there is no substitute for the safety of home isolation from any virus. Taking into consideration these plans, along with many other guidelines, opinions and research available, each of us has the opportunity to decide what gives us the most comfort in returning to instruction. We are creating the protocols and practices to minimize the spread of any illness during in-person learning; and we are providing a learning platform that will minimize the learning gap. Both come with their own risks, pros and cons. The choice between the two is each family’s personal decision.
Throughout this process we have considered the physical, mental, academic, and social well-being of students, regardless of which option you choose. There are many elements and details that will evolve as we approach the start of school, receive guidance on athletics, and as this pandemic continues to unfold. This year will be diﬀerent from any other and we ask for flexibility and understanding as our staff works to teach your children.
More About the Plan and Website
Our school and district leaders have collaborated with teachers, staff, parents, and SBDM Councils to develop reopening plans that follow the guidance outlined in the safety expectations set forth by the Kentucky Department of Education and the Department of Public Health. As of today, each of our SBDM Councils have approved their plans for our district's re-entry approach of in-person instruction and remote learning. The Fort Thomas Independent Schools has developed a Healthy at School website to provide our stakeholders with a comprehensive array of information regarding our plans for re-entry to school (either in-person or virtual) on August 26th. You may access this site here.
The FTIS Healthy at School website includes our Vision and Guiding Principles, Safety Precautions, Learning Plans, Health and Wellbeing Considerations, and Frequently Asked Questions. Please notice that each webpage on this site has a school, or district, point-of-contact for further clarification. Each of our schools' site-specific reopening plans are detailed on their school webpages. To access your school's reopening plans, please navigate to the Learning tab, and then select the school of your preference.
Additionally, our district's Remote Learning Plan is outlined when following the same method: select the Learning tab and then choose "Remote Learning". On this webpage, our families may review a comprehensive overview of the remote learning alternative available for students. There are specifics related to grades K-5 and also grades 6-12.
Direct links for each school are below:
As a reminder, our Fall 2020 District Reopening webpage, available here, includes a link to our Question and Answer Document. This is an in-depth, multi-page resource of continually updated responses to the wide range of questions submitted during this process of constructing a plan for reopening schools this fall.
Thank you for your support, your great questions and ideas, and your participation in our planning for the new school year. We only want the best for our students and staff and are doing everything we can to both keep everyone safe and provide an important, engaging educational experience.
District Calendar Amended Monday, August 10, 2020