July 17, 2020 Weekly Newsletter

Letter From the Principal

Dear Parents,

Thank you so much for joining us at our Summer Town Hall. It was wonderful to see so many faces and especially to see your children. I appreciate your trust, your feedback, and your patience.

I want to first thank the members of our Planning Committee – Andy Weinstein, Laura Adams, Jacqueline Shannon, Hudson Roditi, George Schneiderman, Brad Roberts, Deanne Orcher, Joe Beauvais, Sara Lichtman, Liz McNulty, Erica Williams, Anne Pejovich, and Peter Armstrong for their commitment to this process and to exploring options and seeking solutions.

I want to recap some of the major points of my presentation so that those who were unable to attend will know where we are.

First and foremost, every decision we make will be guided by our unwavering commitment to protect the safety of every member of our community. Our goal is to develop a plan for blended learning that maximizes live instruction, allows us to live up to our mission and to adhere to our educational philosophy, and supports the unique needs of every student.

With a supportive parent body, a committed faculty, and 830 reasons to seek the best possible model for schooling, we have much to be grateful for. Yet, we also know that the Booker T. we all want to return to, will look very different.

Unfortunately, we still do not have the answers to some very important questions. Without these answers it is difficult to make programmatic decisions. These include:

  • Under what circumstances will exemptions to the city’s program models be granted?
  • How soon can we know if an exemption will be granted?
  • Will there be flexibility in the length of the school day?
  • How will IEP mandates, including ICT and 1:1 paraprofessionals be met?
  • How many families will choose 100% remote?
  • Who will teach the students who choose this option? Will the teachers at their home school teach them or will they be grouped with students from other schools?
  • Which teachers will be granted accommodations to work 100% remotely? How will this be handled?
  • How many families need more in-person opportunities because of personal circumstances?

There are other unknowns as well which are important in our general planning. These include:

  • Will there be busing for special needs students?
  • Will there be enough PPE for every school?
  • Will there be temperature checks? For teachers? For students? Who will do them? Will there be COVID testing?
  • What happens if there is a positive case in the school?
  • Will budget appeals be granted?
  • Will the DOE provide every school with additional personnel from the central offices and from the ATR substitute pool?
  • What will happen when students and families are not compliant with the school's protocols?
  • How will the cleaning of the building be done?
  • What will grades look like?
Despite all of these questions, we have been working continuously since the end of June to plan for the fall. Even in a “regular” year, it takes the summer to shape the year and at several weeks to create the schedule. We cannot and will not wait until the middle or end of August to start. Thus, we will simultaneously work on creating three schedules – one for “Option 3,” which is an approved DOE model, one for our desired option “Option 54” should we be granted an exception, and one for total remote learning should we be forced to change direction.

We can only safely accommodate ten people in our regular size classrooms. Unfortunately, because we need to prioritize safety measures, students will not travel from class to class. Instead, they will remain with the same nine students, in the same room for the entire time they are in the building. This is not even close to ideal, but it is much safer than having them move through our narrow hallways from room to room. While we know that students want a voice in who is in their group, we might not be able to accommodate requests. There are too many other factors in play.

Regardless of the model we use, when students are not in the building, they will be receiving live instruction via Zoom from the same teachers they have when they are in the building. The students and teachers will remain a unit. When a homeroom, for example 701 is in school, they will be broken into 4 smaller classes, but when they are at home, they will be taught as one class. We will not have different groups for in-person and remote instruction. We will also continue to use Google Classroom and Jupiter.

In planning, we will prioritize the scheduling of humanities, math, and science for all grades. While it seems that we can only offer all four languages to seventh and eighth graders, we will try to plan for some language instruction for sixth graders even if it was only remote. We will have to eliminate some of the electives, because these same teachers teach core subjects and will no longer have enough time to teach electives too. We will continue to offer music and art to seventh and eighth graders, and will work on finding opportunities to teach both to sixth graders even if only remotely. Sixth graders will benefit from instruction in technology, health, and physical education.

Every school has been asked to choose between one of the three program options created by the DOE. The only one that even comes close to meeting our needs is “Option 3.” In option 3, only a third of the students are in school at a time, and only two days out of a SIX day week. It would look like this:

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Week 1 Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C Cohort A Cohort B
Week 2 Cohort C Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C Cohort A
Week 3 Cohort B Cohort C Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C
Week 4 Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C Cohort A Cohort B



Because we can only safely accommodate 10 people in a regular size classroom, every homeroom will have to be divided into four smaller groups. This will mean that instead of a humanities teacher teaching two sections, they will now teach 8. Thus, we need many more teachers, which we don’t have and cannot afford. Moreover, in this plan, the days when students are in the building will not be consistent. This will make it difficult for parents and faculty members to plan.

Here is the math:

  • We have 25 full size homerooms + 5 small homerooms = 30 homerooms
  • When we divide the number of total students by the group size 9, it means that we will have about 106 homeroom sub-sections.
  • On any given day, 1/3 (35 groups) would be in school and 71 at home.
  • We have 50 classroom teachers. They cannot teach both the 35 groups in the school and all the students at home.

The math doesn’t work.

What comes closer, is the following model, (Option 54) but this would require being granted an exception:

  Mon Tues Wed Thurs FRI   Flexible
Week 1 Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C Cohort D Cohort A
OR Maybe….
Services (for students with IEPs) or Assessments as needed
Week 2 Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C Cohort D Cohort B
Week 3 Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C Cohort D Cohort C
Week 4 Cohort A Cohort B Cohort C Cohort D Cohort D

In this model the students are divided into four cohorts. Each cohort comes to school once a week, on a consistent day. Depending on staffing, we could then use the fifth day of the week, to have students come in for services specified in their IEP, enrichment, remediation, or assessment. The details of the 5th day of the week still need work.

Parents have been asked to complete the remote learning survey by August 7th, if they wish to have their children be 100% remote. This is a tough decision because it is unlikely that you will have a complete idea of what things will look like by then, nor do we know if these students will be taught by Booker T. teachers or if they will be grouped together with students from another school and taught by a cadre of citywide teachers  If you do know that you are not sending your children in to the building no matter what, complete the survey sooner than later. That will help us.

We are fortunate to have had a relatively successful “remote spring” on which to build. We have piloted remote instruction, learned a lot, and have clear next steps. Over and over, teachers expressed their desire for smaller remote classes. Parents and students wanted consistent protocols for assigning and collecting work and a reassessment of the work load. We are working on all of these.

I know that there are still so many unknowns. I wish I had more answers, but will continue to keep you informed when they come. Know that we will work hard to plan the most robust experience that we can.

I continue to feel privileged to lead this special community. 

Elana Elster

Note: this letter can also be viewed as a separate PDF

Summer Engagement Series 

Welcome, sixth grade families – we’re so happy you’re here! As discussed in last night’s Town Hall, the PTA has put together some socially distanced ways to welcome you to our community. We’re so excited to offer:

  • Family Zoom Meet & Greets with Sixth Grade Teachers
  • Student Activity Sessions Online
  • Buddy Families (see below)
  • Walking Crews (open to all grades)

We’re finalizing our lineup and will send out RSVPs for events soon! Please reach out to with any questions or ideas. Stay tuned for more information to come soon!

Get (or Be!) a Buddy Family 

Get (or Be!) a Buddy Family

Incoming G6 families are encouraged to sign up for a Buddy Family! Families will connect via phone or Zoom this summer to help answer parent & student questions, as well as serve as a knowledgeable resource throughout the year. Request a Buddy Family here:

If you’re a G7 or G8 family and would like to help the newest members of the MS54 community acclimate, sign up to be a Buddy Family here:


Request a DOE Remote Learning Device

The DOE is lending internet-enabled iPads to support remote learning for students. If your family has been sharing devices, or has unstable internet, a DOE iPad could be a big help. Here’s the link to request a device: 

DOE Family and Student Information Sessions 

On July 16, DOE hosted their first Family and Student Information Session. Over 25,000 people logged on to watch the event. DOE received thousands of questions from parents and community members registering for the event, and will be using them to create an FAQ. Registration for all upcoming sessions (dates below) is open here

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 
Wednesday, August 12, 2020 
Thursday, August 27, 2020 

Citywide Council on English Language Learners Virtual Calendar and Business Meeting
Monthly Virtual Calendar and Business Meeting
Monday, August 10, 2020 at 6:15 pm
Login information will follow.

Help Our Hungry Neighbors - Order Pantry Items for Remote Delivery to MS54!

MS54's Mega Food Drive makes it easy for you to donate just when people will be hungrier than ever with the end of $600/week of pandemic un-employment assistance on July 31. We'd love for all Booker T. families to participate, it's simple!  Here's how:

You order online, have it sent to Booker T., and a Booker T. volunteer team does the bagging and distribution! 
Send your delivery to:
MS54 Booker T. Washington JHS Main Entrance on West 108 Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.

Order your delivery for the following dates/time ranges ONLY:
Monday, July 27: 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM EST
Tuesday, July 28: 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM EST
Wednesday, July 29: 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM EST
Thursday, July 30: 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM EST
Friday, July 31: 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM EST
Monday, August 3: 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM EST


Some places you can order from:
West Side Market
Fresh Direct
AmazonSmile [with Booker T. as your school recipient!]

Suggested non-perishable pantry items:
dry pasta
beans (dry and canned)
tomato sauce 
peanut butter
canned tuna
breakfast cereal
basically anything in boxes, cans and jars that families often need for meals

The need is great, and we know our community has a big heart. Any questions? Please contact Anne McIntosh Pejovich at 347-563-5156 and  Thank you in advance for your participation!

2020 Census
As we grapple with COVID-19, completing the 2020 Census is even more important now than ever. The number of New Yorkers who are counted will determine how much funding we receive for our schools and public services over the next 10 years. City schools receive more than $781 million every year in Title I funding, based on census data. In addition, the census helps determine funding for early learn centers, in-school and afterschool youth programs, childcare programs, and other services that support our school communities.

You can play an active role in ensuring an accurate count by urging staff and families to complete the census online at, or by calling 844-330-2020, and completing the brief survey, which is open until October 31.

Summer Classes and Camps

Virtual summer classes from Varsity Tutors: Check out free, online summer classes for students in kindergarten through college in subjects including art, computer science, languages and more. Find out more » 

Virtual summer camp from Camp Kinda: Students in kindergarten through 8th grade can enjoy free weekly activities from Camp Kinda until Sept. 1. Activities can be done on your family’s schedule and won’t keep kids glued to a screen. Learn more and enroll » 

STEM and literacy-building projects from Camp Wonderopolis: Kids of all ages and their parents can enroll in Camp Wonderopolis for free, online summer-learning activities that explore music, literature, STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and more. Check it out » 

Outdoor activities in New York City parks for children ages 5 to 13: The Fresh Air Summer Spaces program offers two-hour drop-in sessions at neighborhood-based locations with supervised outdoor activities such as arts and crafts, games and dance parties. Learn more and register »

Amazon Reminder

If you are placing orders with Amazon, please remember to always use this link: or click on the Amazon logo on our website and begin your shopping. 

At no extra cost to you, MS54 gets money for every dollar you spend as long as you use our link.
Booker T Facebook Communication Forum

Join MS54's Facebook group - a closed group of the parents, teachers, and staff where information is shared and issues of interest to the community are discussed.  Once a member of our group, anyone can post and share articles and messages with our school community.  

You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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