Seattle Public Schools is “all in” as we plan for the return of our students to school buildings and classrooms on Sept. 1. As I lead the school reopening efforts for nearly 53,000 students, I am committed to coming back stronger, more student-focused and ready to provide the learning conditions our students need to thrive.

In 60 days, we will initiate the 2021-2022 school year — 180 days of Excellence — with full-time, in-person learning at Seattle Public Schools. As we reopen our schools, we have a once in a generation opportunity to reimagine how public education can best serve its community. We have opportunities to reset expectations, build in new accountabilities and innovate beyond imagination.

Seattle Excellence, our district’s strategic plan, remains our north star. All our students deserve a future of excellence. We will remove system barriers to learning for students of color furthest from educational justice, innovate in response to student voice, identify what’s working and scale opportunities for everyone.

We will make the systemic changes at the interpersonal, institutional and structural levels in order to do all that it takes to give our students opportunities to develop their skills, enhance their abilities and grow their knowledge so that they may become what they aspire to be in college, career and life. We must assure that all students are welcomed and embraced in learning environments free from discrimination.

Throughout this pandemic, we have learned a lot about ourselves, our students and the strength of our community. Our students and their families have demonstrated amazing resiliency in the face of many challenges. Dedicated staff have reinvented what it means to provide an education multiple times over — learning new tools, developing new practices and instructional models, and engaging in deeper partnership with families than ever before. Our community partners leaned in and created new systems of support including food delivery, technology assistance, child care and basic need services. All of this has happened amidst a national racial reckoning revealing just how deeply racism and anti-Blackness is embedded in our society and institutions — including public education.

Despite the difficulties and pain of this last year, I am full of optimism. Close to 60% of our students were learning in-person this spring. Each SPS building and every classroom and office was prepared  for the return of students and staff, and it was all done in alignment with rigorous standards established by public health. From protective equipment to improved air-quality systems to social distancing, we made sure the physical return was safe and ready. Staff and students are now receiving vaccinations in large numbers. And we have demonstrated that we can keep our students, staff and community healthy while returning to what we do best — in-person learning and teaching.

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In the upcoming 2021-22 school year, we will be focused on supporting growth along each student’s individual learning path, and it will be done in collaboration with parents and caregivers. SPS will invest in enhanced academic services, community partnerships and extended learning opportunities to support these efforts.

But to thrive, students will need more than academics. From student surveys and other data, we know that student mental health and wellness have suffered and that the full impacts of the pandemic are not yet known. SPS will be investing in additional mental-health expertise, trauma-informed practices, and work with families and staff to create a culture of care as we return full-time to school buildings. In addition to this focus on our students’ well-being, I am also committed to providing robust wellness supports for staff. It is important that our entire SPS community is healthy — mentally, emotionally and physically.

As we return, we will build on the robust instructional innovations created by our staff. Skills and practices developed during remote learning will be leveraged to increase opportunities for students. Some students found success in our virtual classrooms; in response SPS will continue to provide a remote learning option. Other students found temporary relief from racism, bullying and harassment while learning at home. I am committed to making sure our in-person classrooms are safe and affirming for all students.

Most important, the needs and perspectives of our students will drive our fall return and guide the priorities of next school year. On Sept. 1 when we welcome students back, they will enter classrooms that reflect the very best of what we have to offer — a public education that empowers students to realize their dreams and build the future they deserve.