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  • Letter to the Community

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel, PhD on 11/13/2020

    Dear SUSD Community,

    As cases of COVID continue to rise in our community, county, state, and nation, many people have expressed questions and concerns related to why Scottsdale Unified School District has not made the decision to return to online learning at this time. As noted in prior communications, we are monitoring a number of factors with respect to when it is advisable to take this action, recognizing that any decision to return to remote learning is accompanied by other issues and challenges as well.

    This week the case counts for our 15 zip codes exceeded 100/100,000 for the 2nd consecutive week, putting that benchmark back in the red category. The positivity rate for our zip codes is at 5.86 (weighted average), which remains in the yellow category. These are the two primary benchmarks reflecting community spread. However, we are also reviewing data in each of our buildings, including the number of positive COVID cases in students and staff, and whether there is evidence of in-school transmission. Our current data still reflects relatively low numbers of positive cases in each building. In fact, for the period ending 11/12, we had 9 buildings with 0 active cases reported (Anasazi, Copper Ridge, Desert Canyon Elementary, Hohokam-Yavapai, Hopi, Ingleside, Kiva, Pima, and Pueblo). Another 11 buildings only reported 1 new active case this week (Cheyenne, Cocopah, Coronado, Desert Canyon Middle School, Desert Mountain High School, Laguna, Mohave, Mountainside, Navajo, Sequoya, and Tonalea). At the high school level, Chaparral, which experienced a high number of cases a month ago, reported only 5 new cases this week, which is evidence that behavioral changes can result in reduced transmission. The highest number of active cases in any building was 5. In total, we have 39 positive cases representing .21% of the total number of students and staff on our campuses. Additionally, the fact that we are not seeing significant transmission of COVID within buildings signals our mitigation strategies at school are working. According to the health department, schools returning to virtual learning without other community-wide prevention measures are unlikely to prevent community spread. Given the importance of education and the relative effectiveness of our current mitigation strategies within our schools, we are taking a measured approach to managing our response in consultation with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

    However, I am concerned about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the increased exposure resulting from travel and large gatherings. While holiday traditions are important, the increased risk has been noted by public health officials. CDC has provided guidance with respect to mitigation strategies for Thanksgiving. An article published in the Washington Post this summer illustrates how widespread and impactful COVID transmission can be following interstate travel. In order to support our commitment to keeping our schools open as long as we can do so safely, Scottsdale Unified School District is requesting that families who choose to travel for Thanksgiving or host large gatherings (ten or more non-family members) to voluntarily quarantine for fourteen days after returning home, in order to ensure the incubation period has passed before returning to in-person learning. We recognize this is an unusual request, but the alternative course of action would be to implement a two-week shift to virtual learning for all buildings in order to reduce the potential risk associated with holiday travel.

    These are trying times for our students, families, and staff. This past week, we learned encouraging news about increasingly effective therapeutics and a possible vaccine. While there is still much we do not know, it is clear that we can only slow the spread of the virus by taking action collectively as a community. Wearing masks, frequent handwashing, maintaining physical distance, and staying home when sick, are all important to reducing the transmission of COVID. I know many families have already made difficult choices and sacrifices, and I am hopeful we will all pull together for the next month as we wrap up the first semester of what has been an extraordinarily challenging school year. Thank you for your partnership and consideration of this request.

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

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  • Superintendent's Message

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 11/1/2020

    The beginning of the 2020-21 school year began with our students learning from home, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For the most part, they adjusted well, in no small part because of amazing support they received at home from their parents, but also because of our teachers, who once again embraced the challenges of distance learning with creativity, enthusiasm, skill and grace.

    Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Arizona in March, it has been our goal to bring students back to their school campuses as soon as public health officials advised that it was safe to do so. In close coordination with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health and its Disease Prevention Medical Director, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, we began phasing in student populations, slowly and carefully, on Sept. 14. When we returned from fall break on Oct. 12, all SUSD students whose families wished them to learn in person were in classrooms. For those families who chose to keep their students at home, we continue to offer instruction, either directly from their school or from Scottsdale Online, our long-established distance-learning program.

    To prepare for students’ return, the District developed and implemented an extensive mitigation plan. In addition to having a registered nurse on each SUSD campus, we added 500 new hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations, upgraded air filtration systems, limited public access to schools, re-arranged classroom seating, provided staff with personal protective equipment and classrooms with cleaning supplies, and require everyone to wear a mask while they’re on District property, including buses. High touchpoints are cleaned throughout the school day and each campus is cleaned thoroughly each night.

    Even so, COVID-19 continues to circulate in our community, and several of our high school sports teams and their close contacts, family members and coaches have had to quarantine, as have pockets of elementary and middle school students.

    Our business is to provide the exceptional educational learning opportunities for which Scottsdale Unified is known, but to be able to continue to do that requires the support of our entire community. We want to keep our schools open, and we are planning for five-day, full-day K-12 schedules to resume in January, with continued online options for those who need it. We cannot do this alone.

    Please help us - and protect yourself at the same time – by following these widely accepted public health recommendations: wear a mask when you are out and about, distance yourself physically as much as possible from others, wash your hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick.

    We are also looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year and will open our District for online open enrollment applications beginning Nov. 2. Open enrollment is the method resident families use to change schools within the District and non-District families use to attend SUSD. Learn more at www.susd.org/enroll.

    Lastly, for those of you who will have kindergarteners next school year, we encourage you to consult our website, www.susd.org, for ‘Five Hive’ events the week of Nov. 9 – 13 at our 19 kindergarten-grade schools.

    Learn more about Scottsdale Unified School District and its award-winning academic, arts and athletic programs at www.susd.org.

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  • COVID-19 Update Letter

    Posted by Scott A. Menzel, Ph.D. on 10/27/2020

    Dear SUSD Families,

    I am writing to provide an important update as we continue to work with public health officials to address the increasing number of COVID cases in our region. On Friday we shared information indicating that three of our Scottsdale Unified School District zip codes had crossed the 100/100,000 cases benchmark for the first time since we returned to in-person instruction. In that message we noted language from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health guidance to “begin planning a transition…to Virtual with onsite support the first week that the data changes.”

    Subsequent to sharing that guidance, we learned that the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) updated their recommendations for schools (slide 6 in the linked document contains the specific language). Significantly, the recommendation to return to virtual learning is predicated on all three benchmarks reaching red status whereas previously it was only one indicator becoming red for two consecutive weeks.

    After learning about this change, I was able to talk with officials at Maricopa County Department of Public Health regarding implications for our schools. I specifically asked whether the recommendation to close schools was automatic after one or more benchmark indicators were red for two consecutive weeks. While MCDPH officials are still processing the revised guidance from ADHS, they indicated that the decision to close schools is not automatic. They recognize the importance of being able to provide in-person instruction and that local context matters. While the level of community spread is an important indicator, it is not the only variable considered before recommending a return to virtual instruction with onsite support. The other factors include the number of cases in the school, evidence of transmission within the school, availability of the teaching workforce, and compliance with public health recommended mitigation strategies. The decision to close is not taken lightly or made quickly, but will be done considering all of these factors on a school by school basis.

    I specifically asked about elementary schools and was told they would not be recommending closing any of them at this time. While things can change, I thought it was important to provide this update to all of our staff and families since there have been so many emails and Let’s Talk dialogues following the Friday communication.

    We want nothing more than to be able to keep our schools open. I am grateful for the efforts of so many in our community to follow the public health guidance regarding wearing masks when in public, maintaining physical distance, washing hands, and remaining home when sick. We cannot let down our guard at this critical juncture. Together we can navigate these challenges in order to meet the needs of our students.

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

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  • Letter from the Superintendent to Parents

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 10/19/2020

     

    Dear SUSD Families,

    I am writing to share information with respect to the Scottsdale Unified School District COVID response efforts and current challenges and concerns.  As of last Thursday, we had 25 known, lab-confirmed, active cases of COVID in students and staff throughout the District, representing about 0.11% of our total - up from 9 cases in the prior week.  Fourteen of those were at Chaparral High School.  Many people have asked questions about what the District is doing in response.  Others have suggested the number of students with COVID at Chaparral is much higher than what has been reported.  I think it is important for our entire community to have a better understanding of the process the District uses to investigate reported cases and the action that is taken once cases are confirmed.

    While our students and staff are doing their part while at school, activity outside of school appears to be the reason for the increase in cases noted this past week.  Many people traveled for fall break and groups of students who traveled together have become ill.  Others participated in larger gatherings with friends (unmasked and not physically distanced), which also appears to have been an environment where the virus was passed to others.  Regardless of whether you think the response protocol to COVID is an overreaction, our ability to keep our schools open is dependent on how the entire community chooses to act and not just what happens at school.  COVID cases in Arizona dropped by 75% after the mask mandate went into effect.  We know that wearing masks, combined with physical distancing where possible, and frequent hand-washing are critical elements to reducing the spread.  The other critical element is staying home if you are not feeling well and/or are exhibiting COVID-like symptoms.  It is this last point that is causing me some of the greatest concern.  It has been reported that students are coming to school sick, either with COVID-like symptoms or, possibly, even with a known COVID positive test that hasn’t been reported to the health department.  If students and families send sick children to school, our ability to remain open is in serious jeopardy.

    We are living in a time in which friends and neighbors are now at odds over this pandemic and many other challenges our society is facing.  The polarization is real, and there are some in our community who are using it as a wedge to divide us even further.  Dismissal of the threat of COVID is as much of a problem as paralyzing fear that can lead to inaction and full shutdown.  The false choices of pretending that COVID is not a threat and, therefore, living as though it is no more of a challenge than the flu, or closing everything down until we have a vaccine, undermine the thoughtful and balanced approach that is necessary for our community to weather this storm and come through on the other side stronger as a result.

    I want our children to be in school.  I want our teachers and staff to be safe, knowing that our parents are partnering with us to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID by following the mitigation strategies every day, keeping sick children home and notifying us when they are aware their child has COVID or a family member has COVID.  I hope you find the information regarding our process and approach helpful.

    SUSD COVID Response Process

    • Initially a parent, student or MCDPH notifies the school of a COVID case.  
    • Information is processed through the school nurse of each building and contact is made with Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) to confirm it has a record of the lab-confirmed positive case, as well.  In some cases, the county has contacted us about a case, in others, we report it to them and they initiate a process to determine whether it is a confirmed case. 
    • Whether or not a person has a lab-confirmed case, if they are sick and exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-like illness, they are asked to stay home.  
    • When the county confirms a positive case, they send a letter to the nurse with communication protocols and recommendations to proceed with identifying anyone who was in close contact with the positive case.  Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet or less of a positive case for 10 minutes or more (the minutes do not have to be consecutive).  This is one of the reasons we have emphasized having seating charts and carefully tracking attendance each day, so we are able to quickly identify students and staff who meet the definition of close contacts.  
    • Individuals who are determined to have been a close contact are required to quarantine for 14 days, pursuant to guidance from MCDPH, and to monitor for COVID-like symptoms.  Many parents have asked whether their child can return to school and school activities before the 14 days have elapsed if they have tested and it comes back as negative.  The MCDPH indicates that the only exception to the 14-day quarantine from the last date of exposure is if a student has had a lab-confirmed PCR or antigen test within the last three months, in which case those individuals do not need to quarantine.  The reason for not accepting a negative test as evidence a student can return is the 2-14 day incubation period of the virus, meaning a person could have a negative test early in the incubation period and still be carrying and shedding the virus.  
    • Decisions with respect to closing a school (e.g. Chaparral) are made in partnership with MCDPH.  The health department is not recommending closure at this time, but we are carefully monitoring the data and remain in close contact with public health officials.

    Communication Protocol

    • When a case is confirmed by MCDPH, a general notice letter is sent to families indicating a positive case of COVID has been identified and that there is a potential exposure to COVID in the school. Sometimes the general communication letter only goes out to a classroom or a grade level, and in other cases it is sent to the entire building.  This determination is based on the facts related to potential exposure.  
    • For those who have been identified as being in close contact, a separate letter is sent to notify the family of the additional risk and the requirement to quarantine for 14-days from the date of last exposure. When possible, individual phone calls are made to the families of close contacts, as well.  
    • MCDPH may determine a school “outbreak” of COVID-19. This is defined as two (2) or more students or staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period who could have had some close contact, such as in a classroom or on a school sports team, do not live in the same household and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during the MCDPH case investigation (e.g. friends who play together in each other’s homes).  In this case, the district will send an outbreak letter to the entire community.   
    • The letters that are sent out include COVID information that MCDPH recommends we share with families. While many parents may be aware of the information provided in the letter with respect to COVID, others may not have had as much experience or understanding of the virus, and so we include that information in each of the letters.

    On October 12, we had students on all of our campuses for the first time since March 6, 2020 (the Friday before spring break last school year).  As our community, state and nation continue to navigate this global pandemic, we have been working to ensure our children are able to receive the education they need and deserve, while also taking measures to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff. 

    I continue to receive emails and ‘Let’s Talk’ dialogues from highly credentialed individuals in our community, arguing that we have not made the correct decisions with respect to our return to learn plan (with some suggesting we should open up more quickly and others indicating we should be remaining virtual).  What I can tell you is that our team has carefully considered the data, advice from public health

    officials, and lessons learned from other communities that opened before us to ensure our plan would allow us to remain open once students returned.  Unfortunately, that potential is now at risk as a result of decisions that are being made by some in our community, and I think it is important to raise this concern with you and ask for your assistance.

    Since students started returning to our campuses on September 14, I have had the opportunity to visit various buildings and classrooms to see how things are going.  I have been impressed with the substantial compliance with our mask-wearing requirement by students at all levels.  This was a significant concern for many before we started, but our staff and students have shown an ability to respect the requirement as a condition of being able to have school in-person.  I have also seen just how important it is that our students are able to be back on campus.  There is no question in my mind that in-person teaching and learning is better for the majority of our students.  I also recognize that there are some students who are able to thrive in an online environment and others who have to remain online as a result of health considerations.  My recommendation to the Governing Board related to next steps is driven by the needs of all 22,000 of our students, along with our nearly 3,000 staff members.  In order to keep our schools open for in-person learning, we have to remain in the moderate (or yellow) category for spread of the virus.  If the community spread indicators return to red for two consecutive weeks, the recommendation from public health officials is to return to virtual education for all students, because a red metric indicates substantial community spread. 

    These have not been easy times for any of us.  Balancing the health and safety challenges while providing high-quality educational opportunities has always been our goal.  We are committed to doing what it takes to keep our schools open, but we cannot do it alone.  While I miss seeing smiling faces and would rather have people see my facial expressions, I choose to wear a mask.  This is not because I am afraid of COVID (although I do have family members with compromised immune systems and I am concerned if they were to become ill), but because I do not want to be a person who could unknowingly and unintentionally pass the virus on to someone else.  It is a sign of care and concern for my neighbor and my community.  I respectfully ask you, our parents and partners, to assist us in being able to keep our schools open.  Together we can do this.  Our students, your children, are depending on us.

     

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

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  • September Showcase Magazine

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 9/1/2020

    Dear SUSD Families,

    Scottsdale Unified School District is committed to the education of your children with rigorous, relevant and engaging instruction. The current school year has started like no other in history. Eighty-five percent of our families chose the option for Enhanced Distance Learning (EDL)/full return; the other 15% chose Scottsdale Online through the first semester. Navigating school during a pandemic is challenging, and each family has had to wrestle with the best options in a less than optimal situation.

    Throughout all of the planning for the 2020 – 2021 school year, our top priority has been, and continues to be, the safety, health and well-being of our students, teachers, staff and school communities. SUSD’s “Return to Learn” plan, approved by our Governing Board and available in full at www.susd.org/Reopen, reflected our best thinking at the time, and serves as an important starting place for meeting the educational needs of our students as we begin the school year. However, the landscape is ever-changing and it is important for the district to remain nimble and flexible in response to changing conditions. The Arizona Department of Health Services has provided a set of recommendations to guide districts in determining when it is safe to return to in-person instruction. SUSD is working closely with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health to ensure that as we take steps to welcome students back on our campuses that we are doing so in a way that mitigates risk and supports a healthy and safe learning environment.

    Our dedicated educational professionals continue to work diligently to find meaningful ways to engage our students, build relationships and find academic success. The partnership with our families is critical and has never been more important. These are trying times, but I am convinced that by working together, we can and will find a way forward that ensures our Scottsdale students receive the education they need and deserve.

    Respectfully,

    Scott A. Menzel, Ph.D.

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

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  • Superintendent's Message

    Posted by Scott A. Menzel, Ph.D. on 8/1/2020

    Greetings, CITYSunTimes Readers,

    As Scottsdale Unified School District’s new superintendent, I am pleased to make your acquaintance through this publication! Although my contract officially began on July 1, I have been involved in the work of the district since my hiring by the SUSD Governing Board in March. My thanks and appreciation go to former superintendent Dr. John Kriekard for his work during this transition period.

    My vision for the future of SUSD is one that will propel the district toward the academic excellence and exceptional student achievement that define a world-class school district. Our expectations should be nothing less. I look forward to collaborating with the Governing Board and district staff to launch new initiatives that draw from my experience in community engagement; diversity, equity and inclusion; strategic planning, and fiscal management. To read more about my background, go to susd.org/superintendent.

    A supportive community and engaged parents are essential ingredients in any successful education system and make a huge difference to a superintendent. The fact that SUSD can lay claim to both already has and will continue to result in exciting, new opportunities for our students, and we can do even more in our work together.

    In order to strengthen two-way communication and ensure we are hearing from diverse perspectives within the district, it is my intention to expand the platforms through which the district seeks stakeholder input. To understand what the community’s hopes and aspirations are for SUSD, new tools will permit deeper dialogues to take place and enable priorities with the widest community support to become clear. This clarity of vision, backed by research-based plans and accountability for implementation, will lead to SUSD’s long-term success.

    I eagerly anticipate getting to know you better and have appreciated my engagements to-date with such esteemed organizations as the Scottsdale Education Association, the Scottsdale Parent Council, the Student Advisory Board and the Scottsdale Charros. Likewise, seeking the insight of our outstanding school and department administrators, our caring cadre of teachers with their rich classroom connectedness to students and all of the district’s dedicated employees will be key in helping blaze our trail forward. All contribute to the success of SUSD’s 23,000 students, now and in the future.

    Planning for the 2020-2021 school year has been our focus this summer. Anticipating, weeks and months ahead of time, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our state and district at the time we re-open has been challenging. With the safety of students and staff as our number one priority, we have considered multiple options, including a return to in-person schooling with enhanced cleaning and safety protocols, hybrid options with a combination of in-person and online instruction, and 100% online education for those who need it. The choices offered provide the flexibility to accommodate each SUSD family’s unique needs; however, if at any time we see an increase in the spread of coronavirus through our community or we do not feel that safety standards are being maintained, we are prepared to modify our plans and take appropriate action. You can review the plans at susd.org/COVID19.

    As we become better acquainted, it is my hope that you will find me to be a transparent and collaborative leader. I have high expectations of myself and of those who work with me in service to children and families. I look forward to the challenge of leading SUSD and believe that together, we can accomplish amazing things for students.

    To learn more about Scottsdale Unified School District, visit www.susd.org.

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  • Return to Learn Plan

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 7/23/2020

    Dear SUSD Families,

    Scottsdale Unified School District is committed to the education of your children with rigorous, relevant and engaging instruction. We look forward to welcoming your students on Monday, August 10, when all students will begin learning from home through either our Enhanced Distance Learning program or through Scottsdale Online. On Sept. 8 (or other future date when it is safe to reopen schools), students will either transition for the remainder of the first semester to school campuses or continue their education with Scottsdale Online, based on the planning model you selected as the best fit for your student and family.

    Throughout all of the planning for the  2020-2021 school year, our top priority has been, and continues to be, the safety, health and well-being of our students, teachers, staff and school communities. SUSD’s “Return to Learn” plan, endorsed by our Governing Board and presented here, is the culmination of the best thinking, experience, and creativity contributed over many weeks by devoted teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, school psychologists, principals, administrative staff, parents, and students. These committed groups worked diligently through the broad range of academic, social-emotional, and logistical and operational challenges the likes of which public school districts have never encountered all at the same time.

    Decisions resulting from this collaborative process were reached with the understanding that the constantly changing public health scenario may require them to pivot at almost any point. We appreciate the extreme patience you have shown as we have developed what we believe are the two most flexible and high-quality learning models to accommodate your students and families’ needs.

    We will build school schedules and staff each option based on your commitments. Students for whom no selection is made will be placed in the model that returns them to school campuses when they open.

    Should you have questions about how either of these models will work for your student, please contact your school principal. And to share your thoughts with the District anytime, please use our new ‘Let’s Talk’ app. These are trying times, but I am convinced that by working together, we can and will find a way forward that ensures our Scottsdale students receive the education they need and deserve.

    Respectfully,

    Scott A. Menzel, Ph.D.

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

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