SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Central New York’s largest school district welcomed thousands of students back to the classroom on Wednesday.
For the first time in more than a year, students in kindergarten through 10th grade across nearly 30 Syracuse City School District schools sat down for in-person instruction. The district’s goal is to keep students in-person five days a week this year.
Juniors and seniors will have their first day of school on Thursday, but all high schoolers will be together for classes starting Friday.
Wednesday morning, students at the newly renovated Clary Middle School started their first day with a welcome visit from Superintendent Jaime Alicea, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Board of Education Vice President Tamica Barnett.
Even though many things look and feel different, most students and school staff are happy to kick off this school year in-person.
I expect that there are going to be some challenges along the way, but our priority is to keep our kids and the staff safe and healthy. I’m excited. I’m a former teacher, former principal, former building administrator and as the superintendent of the district, my job is to do everything that I can to support all of the students and staff in the district. School buildings without students are only buildings.Jaime Alicea, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
Although Syracuse school students are back in the classroom, there are inevitable concerns over COVID-19 and how the district plans to keep everyone safe. Alicea said the biggest concern is the rise in cases across Onondaga County.
“The numbers are going up but we’re working with parents and we’re ensuring them that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that the kids and staff are safe in our building,” Alicea explained.
Like most schools across Central New York, the district is following the CDC, New York State Health Department, and Onondaga county’s back-to-school-guidance and requirements such as mandatory indoor masking, social distancing and testing.
As of Wednesday, September 8, Alicea says 88% of the district’s teaching staff is fully vaccinated and about 300 more staff members are in the midst of completing their vaccination series.
At the request of Onondaga County, randomized pool COVID-19 testing will be conducted every week across all Syracuse city schools.
Alicea said testing for both students and staff will be done on Wednesdays and on Mondays for staff who are not vaccinated, but the push to vaccinate is still a priority for Alicea and the district.
“We will continue to encourage our staff to get the vaccine,” Alicea said. “My encouragement is for kids vaccinated, if they are 12 and older, to get the vaccine. Go to a pharmacy, go to the county health department. They are offering vaccines.”
Alicea said the district will monitor COVID-19 closely in all of the school buildings and there is a plan in place if cases arise.
We are getting numbers every day. If there are any cases that are school district related, we’re getting that information from the county health department. If there is a time when we have to move to remote instruction, we will do that but right now, we are excited about the kids coming back in person. We’re excited about taking precautions for all the students and staff, and we’re ready to have our kids in-person in the district this year.Jaime Alicea, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
In addition to COVID safety measures, the district implemented more resources for students and their families. Alicea said there are more staff members to help students with reading and math at the elementary, middle and high school levels this school year.
Another priority is supporting students with various social and emotional needs. Every school building also has a designated Family Engagement Department, where a staff member can communicate with parents on a regular basis.
The resources are there and what is important for the parents and the families is to work with us and if they see the kids are still falling behind to give us a call. Let us know what are the needs their kids have. We’re doing an assessment of all the kids, and we will be providing the academic and social and emotional support that the kids are going to need this year.Jaime Alicea, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
For more information on the district’s 2021-2022 school safety guide, click here.