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WATCH: CCS Holds 2020-2021 Convocation

On August 24, CCS held its Convocation ahead of the 20-21 school year. Watch the full event above, read Dr. Talisa Dixon's full remarks below, or click for highlights of the event:

Welcome Message from Chief Engagement Officer Alesia Gillison Pledge of Allegiance from CAEC 4th Grader John Peck and 2nd Grader Autumn Peck

Message from Board of Education President Jennifer Adair

Parent Message from Amanda McClafferty

Student Messages from Molly McClafferty (Ecole Kenwood 4th grader) and Bianca Moore (Eastmoor Academy Senior)

Superintendent Message from Dr. Talisa Dixon

Labor Unions and Associations Leadership Messages

Message from NBC4 Anchor and Linden-McKinley Alum Kerry Charles

Keynote Speaker Dr. Donyall Dickey

"Rise Up" Performed by CCS Staff Members 

Read Dr. Talisa Dixon's full remarks

Good Morning Columbus City Schools Community, and welcome back!

I hope you are as excited as I am to start the 2020-2021 school year.  Yes, even in this year unlike any other, I am using the word ‘excited.”  That’s because I’m optimistic about the year ahead.  That in large part is because of all of you who have dedicated your professional careers to improving the lives of children. 

Some days, I know, it can be difficult to be excited.  Not only as educators and school staff, but as parents and grandparents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, we are facing the impact of a global pandemic.

I’ve heard from so many of you who’ve graciously shared with me your personal experiences and family stories of how you’ve felt the impact of the pandemic directly or indirectly. It has meant a lot that you took the time to reach out to me.

Coping with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 has brought out the best in all of you. When your life, both professionally and personally became more difficult, you became stronger and more resilient. 

For all of us as members of the CCS Community, it started on March 12, when Governor DeWine announced that all school buildings would be closed, effective March 17, for a period of “several weeks.”

Then, on March 30, Governor DeWine extended the school building closure order to May 1.  And then, well, we all know the rest of the story. 

But here’s the point:  As proud members of the CCS community, you showed the character and grit to be able to adjust and rise to the occasion.

How all of us responded and pivoted since the spring is one more reason why I am excited and full of hope for the new school year.

Even though the world may appear scary, ugly, and at times without hope, now is the time for CCS to rise to the occasion and lead with love, compassion, and education.

Now more than ever is the time for a commitment to working together as one community to be part of the solution for a better tomorrow for every member of the CCS community.

And I know because of all of you, that can happen.

So this morning, I’m asking each and every member of the CCS community to join me to RISE UP like never before to tackle an educational challenge we’ve never seen before.

There is too much at stake to move forward in any other way.

Over the past months of intensive, almost round-the-clock planning and preparation, I have asked everyone --  administrators, teachers, families, union partners, community, faith and business allies -- to rise up to the challenge of serving our students and families with a focus on strengthening academic performance when school begins in the fall. 

They have answered the call. That’s why we stand ready to meet the challenges of operating Ohio’s largest school district during the ongoing pandemic.

Collectively, we must be determined not to let the pandemic crisis hold any of us down -- most importantly our students.

On Tuesday, September 8, Columbus City Schools will begin the 2020-2021 school year fully remote. We will operate in a completely virtual learning environment for grades Pre-K through 12 for at least the first quarter of the school year.  

But for certain,  this is not the same as the online classes that began in crisis mode this past spring.   

Following this morning’s Convocation,  all of you will roll up your sleeves to participate in the CCS Summer Institute -- two weeks of intensive, online professional development with a focus on our new curriculum, technology integration, diversity, and social emotional learning.   

As you know, we delayed the start of the school year by two weeks in order to provide these learning opportunities for all staff to better support our students as we start the year in a completely virtual environment.

The virtual learning sessions will focus on four pillars: 

  • Curriculum and Instruction;
  • Technology Integration;
  • Equity and Social Emotional Learning; and
  • Workplace Shifts, Health, and Safety 

Over the next two weeks, there will be sessions for all employees, based on your roles such as bus drivers, food service workers, secretaries, central office staff, administrators and teachers.

As an organization that is focused on teaching and learning, we will be modeling life-long learning by building the capacity of our staff members to better serve our students and their families. 

This may be a new way to start the year, but our expectations have not changed. We expect excellence, plain and simple. Our students deserve nothing less than our best. 

We will launch our virtual learning platform, ready to succeed in a significant way, supported by all the educational tools and resources that our students and staff need. 

That includes better technological capabilities. Thanks to a $7 million investment from Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and City Council, we will provide every student with a Chromebook, along with a hot spot if a family needs help with internet access.  The same resources will be provided for all teachers who need them.                                                              

The District will continue to engage with families and staff and seek feedback throughout the first quarter of the year to make any necessary adjustments to improve remote teaching and learning. 

While we are starting the year with all virtual classes, we cannot wait to welcome students and staff back into our school buildings whenever public health conditions allow it.

Our Operations team has been busy preparing our buildings and buses so we are ready when that day comes. These preparations include setting up socially-distanced classrooms, installing protective barriers, placing signage and directions, and securing PPE for each facility, not to mention our daily cleaning and sanitizing.

The data on COVID-19 infections within our district boundaries and zip codes continues to show that our CCS families are more impacted by this virus when compared to our suburban neighbors, and that’s reflected in different decisions and policies for our school year.  We are grateful for the expertise of Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts and her team.  We will continue to rely on their steady guidance to evaluate and inform our decisions on how and when to safely return to in-person learning.

We have a mission to educate and nurture our community’s children. We need everyone to bring as much energy and enthusiasm as possible to make this a great start to the year! And, we need all 9,000-plus employees to be healthy, safe, and engaged in their work regardless of where they are.

I want to remind all of you to do your part to lower the spread of COVID-19 -- wash your hands, keep your distance, and above all else wear a mask! Everyone in our community must take these precautions if we want to overcome this virus and regain our sense of normalcy. 

We have the opportunity to embrace the “new normal” in Columbus City Schools, readying ourselves for a world in which virtual learning, virtual working and virtual living will become part of our guiding principles. While families, students, teachers and the community long for the opportunity to learn together in the classroom, we will rise together to meet this moment in time. It requires our best people with the best resources developing innovative solutions. 

There are still many challenges on the horizon. Some we know about. Some have yet to reveal themselves. 

However,  I know that our entire CCS community will rise up as one strong force to provide for the educational needs of all our students. That is why my optimism has no limits.

Finally, as I’ve given great thought to our work, I’d like to share with you how I’ve tried to think about my personal commitment in terms of how to rise up to achieve change for our students.  I’ve been thinking of my commitment to be in step with the life-long commitment to change by American hero and civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis. As you know, Mr. Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders who challenged segregation in the Deep South.

John Lewis fought for equality and change his entire life. Even in his last message just days before he died this summer, he implored all of us to continue the fight for a nation at peace with itself.

He wrote “The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges we face today.”

In his eulogy for Congressman John Lewis, former President Barack Obama called the civil rights icon “an American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.” 

President Obama said that he owed a great debt to John Lewis and asked all to join him to carry on his legacy. 

Our faith as professionals – each and every one of us who impacts the lives of students every day – is being tested.  Many of us in our personal lives are being tested as a result of the pandemic.

Because of all of you, in the unbreakable perseverance you have shown this year, I have hope that we can rise up, together, to indeed achieve John Lewis’ dream of building a beloved community, a society of peace, equality and love. 

Thank you.