From the Superintendent:

Update from the Super's Office:



August 1, 2020
Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,

I just had lunch with United Teachers of Monroe (UTM) President Holly Hummel-Gorman today. She and I go back many years and have forged a great relationship dealing with many different aspects of our educational lives. Most recently we have worked together on the EPIC committee which addresses our Teacher Evaluation System. The best thing about Holly and me is we respect each other totally and value each other’s opinion highly. I know where her heart is and likewise she understands and knows mine. We talked of how difficult our current situation is, but we know with our strong partnership we can do what’s best for our students, teachers and staff as we move through these times. One of the best things about moving into the Superintendency now is I have forged bonds with so many people in our system over the years and look forward to forming new ones in the future. As Oprah says, one thing I know for sure is that we all need each other during this time and working together is going to be critical. Relationships built over the years with trust and respect at the core really matter at all times, but especially now!

During our Facebook Live session on Thursday it was great to see how many people took the time to join us to ask questions and to interact with the panel. I think we are going to continue to offer these opportunities to the community, which includes all of our families as well as teachers and staff. I plan to meet with the teachers in each grade level throughout the district during our pre planning days. I hope we can discuss any concerns they may have and set some goals for the school year. I think being forced to communicate on a virtual platform has changed the way we think about getting together for conversations and meetings. With the long distances we have to travel in the Keys, it is certainly nice to be able to meet with the folks in Key Largo via Microsoft teams rather than drive 106 miles. I am sure I would much rather see people in person but Covid-19 has certainly taught us there are other viable options to accomplish meetings which work especially in our geographic area.

I saw an article in the New York Times about a school in Indiana which started with live instruction only to have to close its doors immediately because of virus cases. Although our decision was difficult to make, I think providing consistent virtual instruction is better than the disruption caused by starting and stopping which is what our health department feared would happen. Picture all the tears and sadness kids would feel being told they can’t be with their teachers and friends once again. But we need to keep in the forefront of our minds and always in our hearts that we want to get back to our classrooms in our schools as soon as it is safe to do so.

With all that said, thank you all for everything you do. We have the greatest teachers and staff in the state and I am thankful every day for all of them as well as for all our great parents and students!

Yours in education,

Terri Axford
July 29, 2020

Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,

I am writing this after the announcement that we are going to Virtual Instruction for the first four weeks of school. I am heartbroken that we cannot return to face to face instruction at this time. I am reading comments from parents on Facebook and my heart goes out to them. This is so unfair. Parents, need to work, kids need to go back to school and not being able to do that sends a cataclysm of uncertainty through our entire society. It’s like a giant tsunami overwhelming us and forcing us to once again regroup and try to move forward in uncertain times.

I am very much attuned to what parents are saying and I can only imagine the heartbreak that students are experiencing of once again being deprived of their friends and teachers face to face. There’s one promise that I can make and I know teachers are behind me 100%. We will do better with virtual instruction over the next four weeks. Teachers are going to have more synchronous classes with students interacting in real time with students. Students are going to be required to show that they are in attendance several times throughout the day. Grades are going to be calculated as in a normal school year and everything that students do is going to matter. We are going to give parents the support that they need to be an advocate for good learning practices in their homes. They are not going to need to be the teacher now. Teachers are going to be interacting virtually with students much more. Because of this, students should be more engaged and learn more.

The only way that we can beat this virus is to tamp down its spread. We are really committed people in the Keys. We’ve survived hurricanes and financial crises. We can do this. We need to keep our families safe by following all the rules made clear by the CDC and our local health department: avoid crowded areas, avoid close contact, and avoid small spaces with little ventilation. We need to hand wash frequently and not touch our faces, and wear our masks. These practices kept the spread in Monroe County low through the spring. Let’s change the trajectory by being even more cautious moving forward, not less so. Everyone is tired of all these precautions but they work. Let’s keep in mind what we know we can do to control our lives and practice these good habits moving forward with greater zeal.

Yours in education,

Terri Axford

July 25, 2020

Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,

I have been hosting kids in my granddaughter’s pod here at my house. A pod is what I’ve learned you call a group of kids whose families are following the same rules on social distancing etc as you are. She lives in North Carolina and has been with me for a month. Her family lives in the country about ten miles out of town; both of her parents work crazy hours so it’s hard to coordinate play dates for her. She has been visiting me for years and has developed a friend base with the children of several families that I am friends with here. Four girls have been spending their time together this summer. Isabella’s Mom is coming to get her this week. Isabella’s not going back to school on schedule; they’re going virtual instead. Her Mom hasn’t told her yet, but Hillsborough County Schools announced this week that they are not going back to face to face instruction for at least four weeks. Her mother didn’t want to break the news to her yet and I feel so worried and upset for her. Kids need each other not only for socialization but for support and I am sad to send her back to North Carolina where she will be isolated again.

This is so difficult on so many fronts. But while she’s been here, we have had fun. Today, my friend Rita came over and chatted with Ciera and Isabella, two of the friends in that foursome. We were talking about cheerleading and discussing going through the stages of gaining cheerleading prowess. What a great activity for kids! It’s so healthy; promotes not only physical health but also teamwork, and is generally character building. My friend was a cheerleader in college and as soon as the discussion moved in that direction, she got up and showed the girls some cheerleading moves. I thought, “oh my goodness, look at her go!” I was amazed. The real lesson in this story is that these athletic experiences formed in adolescence and early adulthood last all of our lives and we need to support and encourage our students to get these opportunities through sports. We are all anxious to get back to our athletic programs and principals and athletic directors are working on these plans now.

We are also working with teachers this week and next week to put in place CDC guidelines which appear in the MCSD Guidebook to Safely Reopening Schools in reference to returning to school. We are asking our principals to let us know where there are issues that can’t be resolved. It’s a long and tedious process which involves organizing classrooms for social distancing, planning movement in hallways, parent drop offs and pick-up and all the logistical things that are involved in getting to and from school.

Our principals have begun setting up meetings of various types for parents, teachers and staff. These meetings are for the purpose of discussing concerns about returning to school. I think once everyone hears in detail what safety practices are being put in place, a safe return to school will not seem as impossible as it does to some people right now. No matter what happens, we will have to return to a face-to-face environment at some point.

We are in the process of making a final decision about what our return to school will look like in August. I know many of you are waiting for this decision before making important decisions of your own. Just know this has not been an easy process and has taken a lot of consultation and hard work. Please be patient just a little while longer.

Yours in education,

Terri Axford

July 21, 2020

Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,
I have a friend who dredges for gold. It is a hopeful act. Picture looking at all the rocks and sludge that move through the dredge to find those wonderful little golden particles that suggest a bigger supply awaits. The excitement, the thrill must be palpable. I am sure there is lots of science and technique involved, but it is hopeful nevertheless. Face-to-face schooling is a hopeful act as well. And we have been deprived of it since last spring.

Students miss their friends, teachers miss their classes, and parents miss the organization school brings to family life. We all miss the hopefulness that comes from learning new things and understanding new possibilities, and what those possibilities may represent in the future.

Learning is our goal and our ambition. Teachers are yearning to do what they do best. We all want that. We must celebrate our hopefulness and protect it as we move toward another academic year. As Emily Dickinson wrote in her poem, Hope is a Thing with Feathers, “Hope perches in the soul and sings a tune without the words and never stops at all.” We need to keep hope alive at this time and listen to its tune. Hope that a cure for the virus will come soon enough, hope that our friends and loved ones are kept safe and hope that our schoolrooms will open as soon as it is possible to do so safely.

My granddaughter and I were having a Scrabble game last night and “hope” came up on the Scrabble Board which made me think of all the above. She did not win the game. I was rooting for her the whole time, but the letters just did not come her way. I hope she wins tonight. Scrabble is so interesting that an hour or two goes by very quickly. So many things that we focus on in school make their way to the Scrabble Board; mathematics, strategy, of course word knowledge, but I think the thing that is also there is - hope that you will get the right letter, hope that you can make the word with the highest points, hope that you can feel success.

So as we move to the future, let’s not ever forget how much we have learned to value our teachers and classrooms during this period of waiting to get back. We take for granted what is always there, what seems unequivocally our right, but this pandemic has taught us that our expectations can be circumvented and our lives completely upset. Still we have to protect our hope that this will be over and hopeful acts in the classroom will, once again, continue to flourish as will our students.

Yours in Education,
Terri Axford


July 17, 2020

Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,
I had the pleasure of being on a Facebook Live show with Louie C. Rock in Key West last Tuesday evening.  The program centered on a Safe Return to School in August and many parents and teachers participated by texting questions and thoughts about our current situation.  As everyone knows, we are in the same boat as cities and towns throughout the country in working with the Health Department to analyze the status of the virus spread to make a decision about reopening.  It was an hour long show and I wore a mask.  At least I tried to wear it and keep it where it was supposed to be.  Talking while wearing a mask is a challenge as many of you already know, but talking for an hour is positively demanding.  At one point, one of the people watching texted, “Cover your nose.”  I was trying but the mask kept moving around uncontrollably with the vibration of my jaw.  It seemed to have a life of its own.    Anyway, all I could think about was teachers delivering instruction in the mask.  I learned something for sure:  not every mask is right for every person and you really have to work at getting the right one.  The next day, if they watched the show, I guess people felt sorry for me, because everyone brought me a mask.  Thank you to all my friends who brought me a mask and I will try to do better next time.

We met with Principals this morning to discuss the site teams who are working on implementing all the guidelines in the MCSD Safely Reopening Schools Guidebook to get buildings ready for the return of students.  The teams are arranging furniture and figuring out how to utilize all spaces to keep social distancing and other safety requirements in place.  I want to thank them so much for their hard work

The Back to School Task Force met again this week and they were updated on the FAQ’s, General Procedures and Specific Classroom Procedures developed by Erin Williams and a team of teachers.  Harry Russell worked with his team to create Return to Play Guideline for Athletics, Beryl Morgan prepared procedures for Daycare, Dr. Herrin added to the section on Academics to reflect the DOE’s Executive Order regarding return to school, and Kristen Condella updated the Distance Learning section with further details on the delivery of virtual instruction and the importance of keeping a digital presence in every classroom along with face to face instruction.    Now, we are updating the plan with the input from the community and staff members who contributed suggestions on the website.

And so things keep rolling along.  I am hopeful because we have such amazing teachers working on school teams to make things as safe as possible in each building in our district despite all the ambiguity and uncertainty that we face ahead.  

Here’s the link to the Face Book Live show in case you want to see my prowess with a mask. LOL.

Yours in Education,
Terri Axford


July 13, 2020

Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,

In a period of uncertainty, everyone wants some aspect of certainty to prevail in their lives. One aspect of certainty for me is the excellence of the teaching staff in Monroe County.  Our teachers are constantly looking for new ways to engage students in their learning and to do that, they know how important it is to deal with the whole child.  Not just their minds are important, but students’ emotions and feelings as well.  We know that our kids have been suffering in their time way from school.  Their ability to relate to all of this has been really challenged.  My son was telling me about a co-worker of his who died of Covid-19 at 41.  We were lamenting together and then I realized that my 12-year-old granddaughter was privy to that whole conversation.  How terrible for a youngster to have to embrace on a daily basis the awful truth about this illness.  Our poor children need us so much at times like these and that is why I hope that we will be able to return to face to face instruction in sometime soon.
That remains to be seen based on the spread of the virus and I wish I could predict or know what that is going to be.  But I don’t know.  I do have two certainties to cling to as stated above:  The excellence of our staff and knowing that kids need us.
If I had a magic wand, I would definitely wave it with all my might to reduce the uncertainties that we face, but unfortunately I don’t.  In the meantime, we have teams of teachers and Principals working through the next three weeks to look at every classroom in our buildings to apply all the social distancing and hygiene rules to make our buildings safe for teachers and kids.  The safety of both of those groups is the most important thing to us going forward.  Hats off to those teams.  I know that we all will appreciate their work.
We were supposed to start our Boost Program this week which would have been a great opportunity not only to see our little ones (students in gradesK-3 were invited to attend on an individual basis) but to implement the best practices for safety in our schools.  Plans changed based on Health Department recommendation.  It’s good to know that they are going to make decisions based on safety and not on a political agenda.  That makes me feel very supported and safe.  I hope you can feel that way too.  However, we will go back to school at some time hopefully in the near future and our job is to work together to figure out how to make our buildings as safe as possible in preparation for that.  Instead of throwing rocks at people who are trying to figure out safe practices, let’s all join in and help with the process.
Yours in education,
Terri Axford


July 12, 2020

Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,

As I write this on Sunday morning, July 12, we have cancelled our in-person Boost Program that was supposed to open tomorrow.  We will continue virtually, if we have parents who are interested, but I am hearing already that for many that’s not an option they wish to take.  Beyond that however, I would like to thank all the teachers throughout the Keys who participated in our training last Friday.   We spent the entire morning on Friday talking about how to ensure safety for kids and staff during the program.  Sarah Adams put together an excellent slide show that specified best practices for safety in a Covid-19 world and then school teams discussed each area before coming back to the whole group to discuss their thoughts and concerns.  Sarah did a masterful job of coordinating training in a virtual world, a place we have all become almost too familiar with.  I think we were headed in a great direction in being prepared to work with our youngest students as the focal point.  It would have been really fun to see the kids again and to hear their voices filled with excitement and enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, the rise in cases in Monroe County, particularly in those under the age of twenty, created enough concern for Health Department officials that we were unable to begin in-person instruction.
Our Work on the Back to School Task Force and in the school buildings with teams creating social distancing scenarios, traffic patterns, other safety measures and practices continues.  Beyond a doubt, we need to continue to try to be ready for in person instruction.  I know that you are feeling the same frustration that I am with the uncertainty about what is right in this situation, but together, we will succeed.  And if in-person instruction is not possible, I think that we can deliver great professional development that inspires us to make the online world, more engaging, more accessible for all and an inspiring experience for our learners until we can see them again.  
We do not know what August holds for us yet, but we will continue to make the best decisions for our students and teachers and our partners in the Health Department, who know and understand what we are dealing with in this pandemic, are critical to our success moving forward.
Yours in Education
Terri Axford

July 9th, 2020
Dear School District Staff, Students, Families and Friends,
We are certainly living in turbulent times that require all of our patience and fortitude to deal with. From the social isolation that we feel because of social distancing and staying at home, to the mask requirements that cause us to hide our smiles from one another, we are being called upon to find happiness and some kind of normalcy in a new era. I am a very optimistic person so I have had to hold close that optimism for a while now. I hope that you too have a reserve of optimism or some aspect of resiliency that you can rely on in these times as well.
I have had the great good fortune of working throughout this summer with an amazing Back to School Task Force. They have embraced the work and have never faltered in their support of students and staff. The main focus of our work has been on student and staff safety and we are still gathering input and working on plans to make our return to school as safe as possible.
One thing that we know for sure is that our County Health Department is very professional, highly competent and responsive to our needs. Their role in deciding whether a return to school will be possible based on the spread of the virus is essential to us. They have the absolute final word on whether a return is feasible or not. Unfortunately, the real force that controls everything right now is Covid-19. All we can do is make plans that thwart the virus and reduce the risk as much as possible. We are absolutely committed to doing that.
I will be posting on this blog with regularity so please check it out. Thanks.
I hope that everyone’s summer is holding some bright spots and that you can keep a happy, positive outlook as much as possible. If we all try to do hat, things can only get better.
Yours in education,
Terri Axford

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