Monday, August 3, 2020

Monroe County Schools to begin the year August 19th

Monroe County School students will return to school - virtually - on August 19th. The start date was negotiated between the School District and United Teachers of Monroe and will give teachers some extra time to prepare for the virtual start of school.

Individual schools will be contacting parents and students via ConnectEd automated messaging system with information and will post more information on their school websites and social media pages. Teachers will also be reaching out to the families of their students. Older students in middle school and high school will be receiving Google Meet invitations for orientations and other pre-school events and return-to-school needs and requirements.

Teachers will be reporting for planning and preparation beginning August 6th. For students who need assistance with technological resources, to update your phone number for ConnectEd calls, or for answers to your individual questions, contact your child’s school directly.

The district is returning to school virtually for the first few weeks. This virtual start was decided upon with advice from the local Health Department due to the virus spread in the community, compounded by the proximity of several other counties surrounding Monroe County with very high virus counts and dangerous community spread. The district will be periodically reevaluating all of these factors, with the first reevaluation period the week of September 7 - 11th.

“Our eventual goal is to return teachers and students to the physical classroom as soon as we can do so safely,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “We are watching other districts who have made the decision to return to in-person learning to see how they do. One district in another state had to close a school the first day due to a significant exposure.”

Axford says she knows the hardship this is all causing for many families. “I truly wish I could wave a magic wand and return us all safely to a normal school year,” she said. “But that is not where we are right now. We hope to be there soon,” she added.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Theresa Axford becomes the new Monroe County Superintendent of Schools

On Saturday, Theresa Axford becomes Monroe County’s new Superintendent of Schools, taking over for Mark Porter who has held the post since 2012. She will make history as the first female Superintendent of Schools for the southernmost county. She takes over during a challenging time as schools nationwide plan for a safe return to education for the country’s school-aged children. 

“I want to thank Mark Porter for establishing a solid foundation of professionalism in our school district,” said Axford. “It is because we have this solid foundation, and a great leadership team, that we are able to move through the necessary changes and challenges that go along with planning for a safe return to school in these tumultuous times.”

Axford recently took the lead when it comes to the Back to School task force, which began its work in June, at the end of the last school year. The task force has had the monumental job of planning for a multitude of possible school scenarios which all depend on something they have no control over - the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the community.

“I am taking over the position of Superintendent of Schools during a tough time, but we moving forward we have great teachers, support employees and, of course, a tremendous group of experienced administrators on my leadership team,” she said. “Our focus remains on the students and families we serve and doing our best job for them under all possible circumstances.”

Mrs. Axford has been with the district for 33 years, most recently, as the Executive Director of Teaching and Learning. Her accomplishments include:
  • Middle School Principal of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
  • Principal of the Year in 2005 And 2009
  • University of Florida “Distinguished Educator” in 2006.
  • Florida Council of Instructional Technology Leaders “Leader in Instructional Technology Innovation” in 2005.
  • Chairperson for the Florida Keys Council of the Arts for seven years from 2012-2019. Under her leadership, the Arts Council increased membership, shored up its investment program and developed a new grant program with a focus on cultural equity.
  • President of the Zonta Club of Key West in 1998 - 1999 and 2008 - 2009.
  • Board Member for the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade Monroe. In her role on this Board, Axford participated on the Finance Committee, which supervises a $215,000,000 budget for the Board.
  • Under her leadership, Monroe County earned an A rating by the Florida Department of Education for the school years 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • She has served as a member of the School District’s bargaining team negotiating with the United Teachers of Monroe for six of the past eight years. In this position, she has participated in negotiations for improvements to teacher contracts and salaries and has worked on the development and amendments to the Teacher Evaluation System.
Other accomplishments:

Axford developed a cutting-edge professional development program called the “VIEW” (Visiting Innovative Educators’ Workplaces). In this program, teachers visit other teachers’ classrooms across the district for insights and new ideas to use in their own classrooms. 

Axford’s tenure of thirteen years as Sugarloaf School Principal and her service as Key West High School Principal help her understand all grade levels and the challenges schools face on a day to day basis.

Axford has recently introduced two school safety programs to the district. These programs have their foundations in the Sandy Hook Foundation, established after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. These programs - called “It Starts with Hello” and “Say Something” are designed to help students reach out to others who may need support, and also help students and staff recognize and report signs someone may be having violent thoughts which may lead to violent actions.

Axford has been directly involved in the district’s professional accreditation process. The district was granted District-wide accreditation by AdvancED, now known as Cognia. Accreditation ensures the district is following a set of guidelines and practices that are established nationally. There are periodic rigorous reevaluations by professional educators from outside the district to ensure the district is complying with those guidelines and practices.

“I am proud to be selected by the School Board to lead the Monroe County Schools,” said Axford. “I have served the students, teachers and families of this district with heartfelt devotion throughout my career and will continue to do so as Superintendent.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

School district to go on-line for first four weeks

Students in the Monroe County School District will be learning in a virtual environment, at least for the first few weeks of the school year. Incoming Superintendent Theresa Axford spoke about this decision to the Monroe County School Board at their meeting today.

“Our concern for the safety of our students and our staff, along with advice from the health department, have led us to this decision,” said Axford. “The community spread of the virus in the South Florida area is definitely concerning. We know this will not be an optimal learning environment, but in our planning process we have introduced considerable improvements over last year’s efforts,” she said.

The start date for school is not yet firm - it will be either the 13th or the 17th. Negotiations with United Teachers of Monroe are currently going forward and this is one of the issues being discussed. There will be a re-evaluation of the virtual teaching plan the week of September 7th. At that time, the district will consult with the health department about the levels of community spread and determine whether a return to the physical classroom can be done safely.

Parents will be informed of all of these details in several ways. The district website (Keysschools.com), their individual school’s website, a ConnectEd call directly to parents or guardians, a press release issued to the media and on the School District’s blog (mymcsd-fl.blogspot.com) and on district social media pages.

The district, along with school districts across the country, has had to map out multiple learning plans because of changing health circumstances involving the Covid-19 virus. Leadership teams have worked hard to prepare school buildings for face-to-face teaching at the same time as they have been designing on-line methods of teaching which will bring quality learning to students in their homes. Other teams have been looking at safe ways to feed students - in school or in the community if they can’t return to school right away. Busing students and cleaning school buildings are also pieces of the puzzle which have to have detailed plans in place. It has been long, hard and complicated work.

“All of our leadership teams have been working so hard, I just want everyone to realize that this is not an easy process,” said Axford. “On top of it all, we have been fielding questions and trying to reassure nervous parents even though we don’t have all the answers they may want to hear.”

What will a school day look like for an elementary schooler?

Younger students in elementary school will be assigned to a particular teacher, as they normally would. They will connect using an on-line learning platform and will see their teacher on a computer screen, along with their fellow classmates. In this environment, they will have the opportunity to get to know their teacher and classmates - an important part of any group learning environment in a classroom or on-line. During the course of a day, they will interact with their teacher and fellow students and will perform various on-line assignments; they will also have the opportunity to interact with classroom aides, called para-professionals, who will help them with various tasks like reading and math; this may be done in smaller groups or one-on-one depending on the task and the student’s needs. They will receive homework assignments they can do on-line, with specific due dates for each assignment. Students with special needs will be assisted specific to those needs as well. If a child needs help in a particular area, teachers will make time to help them.

How about middle and high-schoolers, with multiple teachers and subjects?

Middle and high school aged students will have more flexibility as they move through their various classes. For one thing, they will have a choice: attend a class live, as it is being taught by their teacher or watch a recorded video of the class later in the day. They will have classwork and assigned homework with clear due dates. No matter which type of learning a student chooses - live or recorded classes - he or she will always have live on-line time with each of their teachers. This live time will not just happen while the class is being taught, but will also include meetings with the teacher and smaller groups of students to help with any issues they may have. This will give time for students to ask questions and for teachers to assess how students are doing in a particular subject. Individual students will also be able to make appointments to meet with their teacher one-on-one virtually, during the teacher’s office hours.

“The scheduling for all of this is a monumental task for our teachers and administrators,” said Axford. “We saw, during last spring’s on-line learning process, that we really need for students to see and have time with their teachers and that is what we are trying to do here. When you attend class in a classroom, in person, there is a bonding process between teacher and student, and between the students themselves. We are trying to spark some of this bonding even though we will not all be in the same building, or the same room,” she said.

At the end of the first four weeks, there will be an evaluation of the community spread of the virus and the potential safety of a return to the classroom in person. The ultimate goals being a full return to classes, and the safety of students and district staff. Two things that will not always be simultaneously possible.

“We all need to work together. There is no play book for this. We are all using our knowledge and experience with teaching and learning and trying to design the best on-line environment we can under the circumstances. I know we would all like to get back to some semblance of normal but for now, we are all doing the best we can,” she added.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Schools need to know what parents intend in the coming school year

As the planning process continues for the coming school year, the Monroe County School District needs to know how many students will be returning to a teacher-based school environment and how many parents instead intend to enroll their kids in Monroe Virtual School. This information is crucial for establishing the resources that will be needed and determining where those resources should go. To that end, they are asking parents to fill out a short “Intent to Return” form to help them gather this information.

If parents intend to return their child to class, with instruction by a district teacher, the form of that instruction could vary, depending on the spread of the virus and the recommendations of the health department. The child will be assigned to a teacher and a classroom. The child will attend school - in person or virtually, with that class and that teacher. The decision about how to structure classes will be made by the School District and the Health Department and will be periodically re-evaluated as the year progresses.

Parents who are considering Monroe Virtual School can find out more about it by clicking the “FAQs about Virtual School” on the district’s blog, mcsd-fl.blogspot.com.There is also a link to the information on the district’s website. Parents should understand there is a semester commitment when choosing this option.

“There appears to be some confusion about the Intent form. We have revised the wording on the form to make it more clear. We understand this choice is a difficult one for some parents, but we really need to know,” said incoming Superintendent Theresa Axford. “Will you be sending your child back to school, understanding that may mean in-person, virtual or a mix of both depending on community spread of Covid-19, or will you be enrolling your child in Monroe Virtual School.”

The MCSD Intent to Return form can be found on the district’s website, floridakeysschools.com. There is also a link on their blog, mcsd-fl.blogspot.com. Parents actually have three choices on the form: returning children to class - whatever form that may take; Monroe Virtual School or a choice to put their child in another form of school, such as Florida Virtual School.

“We really need for all parents to fill out this Intent to Return form so we can continue with our planning process,” said Axford. “I know this is all new and confusing and I hope this information will help to clarify it.”

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Please complete "Intent to Return" survey

All parents of students enrolling in or returning to school this fall are being asked to complete a short survey to help the School District in its planning process. The survey should be filled out for each student. It will let the district know, if the district does return to in person instruction, how many students will be in class, as opposed to those planning to attend virtual school.

The feedback will help ensure the Monroe County School District has the tools and support needed to provide a world class educational experience in the proper format for all learners.

Thank you for completing this Intent form to help determine staffing and resource allocation for the fall term. 

A new survey will need to be completed for each child attending MCSD in your household.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Community input being incorporated into Guide to Safely Reopen Schools

After surveying the community in June, the Monroe County School District opened up a further opportunity to give input over the last week on their website, www.keysschools.com. Yesterday was the last day to leave that input. During the past week, 356 comments were received from the community and 146 from school district staff.


“We will now be taking all the additional comments and questions we received and we will be incorporating any new concerns and suggestions into our Guide to Safely Reopening Schools. Using the Guide, we are designing practices and training which will help us put all this planning into place when we return to school, whether that be in-person or virtually,” said incoming Superintendent Theresa Axford.


“Please understand that we, along with all the other school districts in the country, are doing the best we can with a new and very fluid situation. Many people have many questions that we are working to answer. Our goal is to keep students and staff safe. We will be consulting on a frequent basis with health authorities on all the steps we take along the way. And we will consult with them on the ultimate decision of what school will look like for the coming year,” Axford said.


While working on the Guide to Safely Reopening Schools, a task force made up of more than fifty people from the district, the community and various health related organizations examined in great detail how schools would address the Covid-19 crises. They looked at Distance Learning, Whole Child Support, Academics, School Operations and other general considerations. The draft plan, which goes in front of the School Board for review on July 28th, can be viewed on the district website, www.keysschools.com.


“Everyone should keep in mind this plan continues to be a changeable document,” said Axford. “As circumstances and recommendations change, the Guide can also change with an eye toward doing what is best for our staff, our students and our community.”

Saturday, July 11, 2020

School District cancels summer boost program

After consulting with the health department, the Monroe County School District has made the decision to cancel next week’s Boost Program. The summer program, aimed at giving kids in grades kindergarten through second grade a head start on the school year, would pose too much of a health risk given the county’s current levels of the Covid-19 virus.


Instead, the district will be offering a virtual version of the program. Parents whose children were scheduled to attend will be contacted, both to let them know of the cancellation and to let them know about details of the virtual program.


“The health department recommended we cancel the in-person classes we were planning to hold, and we agree with that recommendation. This is an example of the collaboration and flexibility we are all going to have to be ready for as we go forward into the next school year,” said incoming Superintendent Theresa Axford.


The School District is continuing to develop their Guide to Safely Reopening Schools. The Guide addresses how schools will operate based on different levels of community spread of the virus. The Guide, which is available on the school district’s website, has a whole range of possible ways the district plans to educate students in the coming school year. The district plans to continue partnering with the health department as it makes its decisions about whether or not to hold in-person classes in August.


“I’m sure this won’t be the last time we have to make a last minute decision due to health concerns and I know that makes it difficult on parents,” said Axford. “But our main concern has to be the health and welfare of our kids,” she said.