Dear Families,

As we head into the Holiday Break, I wanted to thank you for the tremendous support you've shown your students, and our staff, during the challenges of distance learning. This has been an incredibly strenuous year for all. Our staff has worked hard to provide the best quality experience possible during distance learning, but we do not believe distance learning is ideal and we look forward to getting students back in school as soon as possible. I continue to advocate for our hybrid model of instruction and hope to implement it soon. 

 I update the metric document each week, and while we are not yet able to open our doors for students, I do expect we will be able to offer Limited in Person Instruction (LIPI) early in 2021 with the Hybrid model soon after. The Oregon Legislature will hopefully take action soon to allow liability protection for schools, which will support our re-entry plans. Those who have registered for LIPI will be provided with a week's notice of our expected opening. Until then, please monitor the metric document to help you track Umatilla County's cases, and progress toward reducing cases.

As you may recall, Blue Chalk Media spent considerable time in our schools in 2016 and 2017. The film they created, "Big Dreams in Umatilla," will air on Oregon Public Broadcasting in January. It will be available on OPB's primary service Monday, January 11th, at 9 pm and Wednesday, January 13th, at 8 pm on OPB Plus. The film features the high school robotics team, Umatilla students, the community, and my family. I was recently able to watch the film and was struck by how much our community and school have changed in the past few years, and also by the core components that have remained the same.

 When the documentary was filmed, we were using robotics as a tool to expose students to STEM skills and companies because opportunities for such didn't readily exist in Umatilla. Now, we have multiple internship opportunities for our high school students through AWS and other local businesses, and we have partnerships with businesses and colleges throughout the region to help students access training while in high school and beyond. Then, we were teaching students STEM skills to prepare them to leave Umatilla to apply them. Today, we teach students STEM skills knowing they can apply them here at home, or beyond our community, with success. It's incredible to see the growth in this area and I'm incredibly thankful for the many who have worked with us to make our motto, "Building Bridges to Successful Futures," more of a reality each day. The community has experienced incredible growth in housing, businesses and opportunities. It is exciting to see the vacant buildings shown in the film now full of new businesses and being supported, even through the stresses of COVID, by this amazing community.  

The one constant throughout the film and today is the incredible support from our community. Our families work hard to support their children. Our community gives generously to support our students. When filming was occurring, it was common for outsiders to openly share negative perceptions with me about our community and schools. Now, it is far more common for people to speak to me positively of the growth, graduation, college-going success and STEM programming available in Umatilla. These changes are possible because our community has always been there for its students. When I first arrived in 2000 as a teacher, I found people willing to help with classroom needs, tech club trips and everything in between. Help comes in the form of kindness, donations, volunteering, and idea sharing, but Umatilla is always full of people willing to show their love of our youth. Over twenty-years later, Umatilla is still a community who cheers for its children and expects them to succeed. It is this shared care that helps us all get through the good years, and 2020 too. 

While my husband and I were featured in the film with the students, I want to be clear that I firmly believe all our educators (and other coaches on team 4125) are worthy of such recognition. We are shown working late hours and donating time for students, but what isn't shown is that there are countless others in our District doing the same. Whether it is coaching a team, leading a club, staying for the After-School program or spending extra hours planning and preparing lessons, our Umatilla educators are dedicated. I appreciate our team and am honored to be a part of the Umatilla School District.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful students with all of us. I cannot wait until I get to see their faces in classrooms again, and will continue to advocate for a prompt and safe return to school. In our hybrid model, we will offer on-site instruction for all while still supporting online instruction for parents who believe it best meets their children's needs. Implementing our hybrid plan as soon as allowable is my goal, and our staff is ready for the transition just as I know our students will welcome the change.

Happy holidays,

Heidi Sipe, EdS