The First Graduate of TIS

The first graduate of the Tashkent International School

The 2019-2020 school year is our 25th anniversary and we’ve been hearing from many former teachers and students. I was curious at the start of this school year to find out where the first graduate of the school. Sarvar Bobojanov is living now. Sarvar was a scholarship student in the first years of the school. He was the lone graduate in the Class of 1998 because the other 4 classmates in his grade, left the school in grade 10 and 11. He was the only one left at TIS in the 1997-1998 school year. As the first graduate, he garnered one entire page for himself in the yearbook (see photo above). Sarvar is pictured in the courtyard of the second campus of TIS. We rented some classrooms with a local school at 23 Chekov Street from 1995 – 1998.

It was delightful to find Sarvar through a quick internet search. He is living here in Tashkent and is a successful director of a juice and dairy product business. I invited him to come by and visit our school. He was last on our campus when he spoke to the graduating class of 2005.

My Latest Reading and; Thinking about the Pandemic

I was disheartened listening to the New York Times Science & Health Reporter Donald G. McNeil on The Daily morning podcast. He is pessimistic and concerned about the progress of our fight against the coronavirus. In the USA, there are 20,000 cases per day and 1,000 deaths per day with the number of cases rising in 21 states. He pointed out the latest science on the virus shows indoor (no wind) transmission through tiny droplets in our breath is a big factor in the spread. This is not only through coughing and sneezing, but also talking loudly, laughing and singing. The CDC estimates 1/3 of transmission is via asymptomatic people. Both of those facts are a challenge for school. McNeil is particularly worried about the next big wave of Covid-19 cases. In the 1918 Spanish Influenza and other influenza epidemics, a more lethal and bigger wave of infection took place. 1/3 of all deaths from the 1918 pandemic took place between September and December. The only good news was the rapid development of a vaccine, with 150 candidates in testing. Governments are already supporting companies to build factories to produce huge amounts of doses once a safe and effective vaccine is found.

New Findings on Asymptomatic Spread

The findings, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest that asymptomatic infections may account for as much as 45% of all Covid-19 cases, playing a significant role in the early and ongoing spread of Covid-19.

Science Daily (through AAIE Covid-19 Briefing #17
Courtesy of World Health Organization Uzbekistan

As you can see from the chart above, the number of daily cases in Uzbekistan has increased in June and has reached the highest numbers we’ve seen since mid-April. I speculate that the loosening of restrictions and the end of Ramadan celebrations are the causes of increased infections. Uzbekistan has reached over 5,000 cases, with around 1,000 active cases and 19 deaths. There are a small number of cases outside of quarantine centers here in Tashkent, 10 were confirmed on June 14.

AAIE “The legal Perspective on Standard of care”

AAIE invited two attorneys who specialize in education from the McLane/Middleton Law firm in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. David Wolowitz has much experience with international schools and talked about risk management with Covid-19. Susan Schorr has a background in child welfare and protection and works with schools now as a lawyer.

The main themes of their talk were as follows:

  • Accountability – schools need to have a standard of care that meets the baseline legal requirements of the country; good international schools will strive to go beyond the baseline
  • Transparency – schools need to educate the community about the risks of the pandemic and explain their risk mitigation; it is an interactive process, so getting feedback is good.
  • Equity – fairness, protect the health of faculty, students and parents

The “informed consent” approach was discussed at length. This is difficult because it is basically trying to reduce anxiety about coming back to campus while telling people about the risks. It is important to be transparent and let people know what you know, what you don’t know and point them to the resources you are using. There were mixed opinions about the value of requiring employees and parents to sign a waiver. Releases or waivers tend to scare people and they are not airtight, but if you meet the baseline requirements of reopening schools, you are protected.

We discussed privacy issues and protocols if a case of Covid-19 is confirmed in your community. One school gave the grade level and section and sought the approval for the announcement with the family. Some families stopped informing because they did not want the community exposure. The lawyer’s advice was to understand privacy and employment law in the country where the school is located.

Another topic was to get parents to cooperate with school policies and to obey regulations of the country at home. They suggested a code of conduct that parents sign to pledge their cooperation and/or agreement.

My Latest Thinking on the Pandemic

I have been trying to learn as much as possible about Covid-19 and how to control its spread. This post is some of my latest thinking about this new disease. As more information and data is coming in, the medical community is learning more about this coronavirus. I am trying to make the best decision for our community regarding reopening campus for the 2020-2021 school year. I think we all see the need to try to come back to school, but I want to do so protecting the health of the community. I do not want to have an outbreak in our community.

Dr. Clayton Dalton an emergency resident at a couple of hospitals in Boston wrote an opinion piece in Scientific American yesterday, “So How Deadly Is Covid-19?” I was asking that same question a couple of weeks ago in a blog post. He reminds us that because most cases are asymptomatic, they are greatly underreported in the statistics, according to Food & Drug Administration Chief Scott Gottlieb by 10-20 times. The disease also had a big range of mortality rates, depending on where and when the outbreak took place. One worrying factor for school leaders is that this coronavirus appears to be much more contagious than normal strains of influenza.(CDC Study). On a positive note, the less exposure one has to the virus, the less severe are the symptoms.

But from my perspective as an emergency physician, precisely how deadly the virus is doesn’t matter right now, because the virus is deadly enough. I’ve stood on the front lines of the pandemic, and I know that this virus is no house cat. Every day for weeks, my colleagues and I have faced wave after wave of COVID patients in their 30s, 50s or 80s, many of them extraordinarily ill. Some of these people have died. Its virulence is astonishing, at least among hospitalized patients. Experienced physicians know that this is nothing like the flu.

Dr. Clayton Dalton, Scientific American, June 5, 2020

A colleague shared a BBC article, “Coronavirus: How Scared Should We Be?” This has been in my mind as we plan for reopening. If you have the mindset that every single person you meet may be emitting coronaviruses and every surface you touch is potentially full of coronaviruses, it will be impossible to live a normal life until a vaccine is available. In a UK study that the author Nick Triggle cites, in England, about 1 in 400 people at any one time carry the virus. The chances of having contact with someone is slim. However, schools are a high-dense environment and on our campus for example, there are 500 students and 150 employees. We are planning to break up the school into three isolated areas (Early Childhood / Elementary / Secondary School) which will limit the number of people exposed to each other.

I wonder what the number of people with coronavirus at any one time in Tashkent? According to the statistics from the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization office in Tashkent, there are currently 878 active cases in Uzbekistan. There seems to be a steady number of cases daily, around 50 per day. Most of the cases are in quarantine and few from the general population. However, there is always the question of the accuracy of the data and the number of people tested (approximately 370,000 as reported on Wikipedia).

Wikipedia – accessed June 6, 2020

Triggle refers to the University College London’s tool to calculate your risk of dying of Covid-19. I put in my characteristics, male, age 51-55, no underlying conditions and mitigating my risk through always wearing a mask, mostly keeping physically distant from others, washing my hands often and avoiding crowds. In England there are 1.3 million men like me and about 4,900 of us would be expected to die in normal conditions. Covid-19 pandemic could cause an additional 244 deaths.

For example, an average person aged 40 has around a one-in-1,000 risk of not making it to their next birthday and an almost identical risk of not surviving a coronavirus infection. That means your risk of dying is effectively doubled from what it was if you are infected.And that is the average risk – for most individuals the risk is actually lower than that as most of the risk is held by those who are in poor health in each age group.So coronavirus is, in effect, taking any frailties and amplifying them. It is like packing an extra year’s worth of risk into a short period of time.If your risk of dying was very low in the first place, it still remains very low.As for children, the risk of dying from other things – cancer and accidents are the biggest cause of fatalities – is greater than their chance of dying if they are infected with coronavirus.During the pandemic so far three under 15s have died. That compares to around 50 killed in road accidents every year.”

So basically he is saying one’s chances of dying of Covid-19 are very slim. We live with the risk of death everyday, but it is not in our conscious. The pandemic has brought it to the forefront of many people’s minds and that causes uneasiness. My current thinking is to ease back into my normal life but in a cautious manner, continuing the measures I took during quarantine. We also need to do this as a school, ensuring that no one with symptoms can come onto campus and that we quickly identify and isolate any cases and then contact trace to reduce spread.

An AAIE global Panel Discussion: High Performing Boards & School Heads in Time of Crisis

The latest AAIE (Association for the Advancement of International Education) offered a panel of board chairs and school directors talking about their experience of this pandemic. Schools included The Graded School of Sao Paolo, Vietnne International School of Laos, ICS Addis Abba of Ethiopia and the American School of Paris.

What changes in board policy or protocols that you wish you had?

  • We had to increase communication to parents and used video. The board also needed to meet more often and used Whats App to communicate internally.
  • The board needed to frame the discussion that the director wanted to take. Sometimes a sounding board, sometimes the board needs to make a decision. The board served as an advisory body, and the lines between operation were not “blurred” because the discussion was framed as such.
  • It was very useful to keep the school’s mission and it helped frame decision making. The board needed to form a task force, a small, focused group on the situation. The board also needed to move to Zoom meetings. One school decided to keep the leaving board members to support the head of school and use their input until the crisis can be managed by the incoming, new board members.
  • Weekly Zoom meetings helped because parents could give feedback and it helped where the school needed to be extremely clear in their communication.
  • The school risk management policies were not pulled together.

What was the most difficult challenge?

  • The speed of decision-making with limited data.
  • The line was blurred between operations and governance. This is necessary in a crisis and the frequent communication helped. Many schools used Whats app conversations.
  • Families that stayed in-country were upset that the school did not come back to campus.
  • The school in Laos had to deal with Covid-19 cases increasing in neighboring countries and caused a lot of emotional drama because people were doubting information from the government. (sounds familiar)
  • A school in Brazil had to deal with competitor schools dropping tuition 30% and another school closed sooner than them. “Never be in a hurry to make a bad decision” – Do not be reactive and make decisions that will really hurt the school in the future. Being the first mover is not always the best move.

What lessons have you learned? what would you have done differently? What is your next move?

  • The shift to online learning comes easier if the learning targets match with online pedagogy, assessment and support for students. This crisis shows schools that they need to get their act together and tighten up the educational practices.
  • The board needs to look ahead while the head of school and senior leadership team is dealing with daily and weekly challenges.
  • Schools that had online teaching and learning as part of their regular operations, were better prepared for the switch to 100% online learning.
  • Allowing room for conversations during a board meeting with the idea that the board and head of school are in a trusting relationship and together in moving through the pandemic.

Other things I learned…

  • The Graded School has over 500 students signed up for their summer program. (course catalog)
  • The international school is incredibly valuable to the international community in the city.
  • The moderator introduced the Stockdale Paradox. The idea is to confront the worst case scenario of any crisis head on.
  • In the chat, leaders discussed the McKinsey nine-box matrix.

Common Solutions for Reopening Schools

I listened to Jennifer Gonzalez on her Cult of Pedagogy podcast and looked at her website. Lots of good stuff on it. I am trying to learn as much as I can about the reopening of schools. Below is a list of solutions schools are using to get back at least some of their students and teachers.

  1. Alternating Days or Half Days – This lowers density in the classrooms to aid physical distancing.
  2. Cohorts – Keeping groups of students and teachers isolated from other groups in school. The idea being in case of a case of Covid-19, only that cohort would need to quarantine, not the entire school.
  3. Selective Return of Grade Levels or Groups – The idea here is to allow for the students needing the most on-campus instruction to receive it. This may include grade 12 (seniors) who need to graduate, early childhood and younger elementary students that cannot access the curriculum online, and groups with special needs, for example English Language Learners. Faculty members over a certain age might also be reassigned to teach online instead of on campus because they are vulnerable to the disease. A younger substitute should
  4. One Course at a Time – Students stay in the same course for a few weeks with one teacher. Instead of switching classes every hour, this would reduce mixing students daily.
  5. One-Room School House – This could work in elementary school with a homeroom teacher handling all of the teaching. Teachers may need to switch to a Project-based Learning and interact with specialists and other teachers, remotely. Some schools are making “mini-lessons” videos that students can voluntarily. The model would be a group of teachers assigned to a large group of students. Teachers would be assigned a part of the group, but all teachers contributing according to their strengths. Students would be working on long-term projects. I think this would work well with grade 10 Personal Projects or Grade 5 exhibition.
  6. Individual Learning Plan – The idea is to design 5 basic plans, ranging from staying-at-home 100% , coming to school occasionally, daily instruction, etc. Students could be batched according to their needs.
  7. Keep Distance Learning – 100% Virtual Learning is working and this might be a good way to start the school year.

Some other ideas to consider include the following:

  • Get input from all stakeholders
  • Looping – Teachers stay with their same year level group in the new school year.
  • Substitutes for older teachers over age 55.
  • Prepare for a full year of online teaching or at least a significant part of it. Provide PD for improving designing online teaching. It will still be there, so regardless, you can use the school time for connecting with students.
  • Provide childcare for faculty members with children.

TIE Map of School Reopening

The International Educator (TIE) published a world map of school reopenings. International schools, including the Tashkent International School are closely studying how it is working. I am especially interested in countries similar to Uzbekistan, although as you can see on the map, most of all of Central Asia remains in an online teaching mode. I consider Vietnam and China closest to Uzbekistan regarding infrastructure like health care, government control and culture than Western Europe, Australia and Scandinavia.

CEESA Collaborative Zoom Sessions

Central & Eastern European Schools Association Executive Director Kathy Stetson has organized weekly Zoom sessions for directors of member schools. These have been invaluable and have helped me grow as an education leader. This week a panel of directors started the conversation with some provocative ideas and the second part was a dialogue and Q & A. Most of the discussion dealt with the challenges of re-opening our campuses next fall.Below are some of my takeaways:

  • I like this idea of smaller groups of students being led by a mentor. Some governments are dictating to schools that are reopening to keep small groups of students (usually 10 or less) isolated from others in the school to assist with contact tracing and reducing the spread of the virus. Looking at it in another way, it kind of brings in the elementary school model of a homeroom teacher providing a loving, caring environment for students. This model should be moved up to secondary schools.
  • We are all struggling with balancing parents expectations and the need to provide childcare for families and keeping our students and faculty/staff healthy. What will parents accepts? We need to keep their viewpoint in our decision-making and dialogue with parents often.
  • The idea of autonomy/agency should be promoted during this crisis. Encouraging individual and groups of teachers and students to find solutions to keep teaching and learning while staying healthy.
  • Pay attention to the student voice. Kathleen Naglee from IS Helsinki informed us the seeing the joy from the students to be back on campus and with each other despite the limitations of physical distancing, should give us hope that we will get through this.
  • Peter Welch from AIS Bucharest reminded us to consider the values of 1) healthy school 2) innovation 3) sustain community
  • CEESA is calling together a group to look at what early childhood education will look like next autumn. This is an especially challenging group because it is impossible to physically distance young children.
  • One strategy is to focus on barriers around the school. The science of contact tracing says that regardless of mask or distancing, all people in an enclosed space for extended periods of time are proximate contacts. Wearing a mask has minimum benefits.
  • We will need to teach staff to protect themselves regarding handshaking (big in Uzbekistan), hugs, etc.
  • Finally, the idea of “informed consent” will be important. Schools need to be clear and comprehensive to what school will look like so parents, teachers and students know what they are getting into.

I would like to thank the CEESA executive board for leading the session and for all the collaborative Zoom sessions this spring!

John Hopkins University Covid-19 contact tracing certification course

I recently completed an online Covid-19 Contact Tracing course through John Hopkins University. John Hopkins has been a world leader in epidemiology during this crisis with its comprehensive website. Dr. Emily Gurley from the Bloomberg School of Health at JHU is teaching the course and it is available for free on Coursera.org. The class is designed to be completed in about 6 hours and leads to certification as a Contact Tracer. I took the course to help guide me in re-opening the school in 2020-2021.

Unit 1 “Basics of Covid-19” SARS-Cov-2 is the third coronavirus to emerge since 2002, with SARS (2002, China) and MERS (2012, Middle East) being the antecedents. Medical and public health experts are still learning about the disease and its spread. It has a wide variety of signs (can be physically measured (temperature, breathing rate) and symptoms (not measured, but how a case feels) that include the usual influenza symptoms. One specific symptom for Covid-19 is a loss of taste and smell.

Unit 2 “The Basics of Contact Tracing” Covid-19 has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days with 50% of symptomatic cases showing signs of the disease after 5 days. People are most infectious on day 1 of the onset of the illness and it lessens over time. They are also infectious two days prior to a positive test for infection. We should assume between 10-14 days someone is infectious. There is a small window of opportunity for contacts to be notified and start quarantine before they can infect someone else. It is usually around 3 days. It is still not clear if asymptomatic people are infectious. There are three types of exposure contacts:

  • physical – actual touch
  • close – within 6 feet/1.8 meters (distance virus can travel in air) for more than 15 minutes
  • proximate – same room more than 6 feet away, but with the infected person for an extended period of time

Isolation of a sick person usually takes place at home, hotel or hospital. The duration is from 2 days before the onset of their illness and at least 10 days from the onset, with all symptoms improving and no fever for three days. Contacts should be quarantined (movement restricted) for at least 14 days since the last contact with an infected person. To repeat, isolation is for a case (infected person) and quarantine is for contacts, healthy people that have been exposed to an infected person. In the final portion of unit 2, they identified “high-risk” situations, one category is dense contact environment which includes schools, mass transit (school bus), concerts (theatre/music), and sporting events, all of these occur at schools.

Unit 3: “Steps to Investigate Cases and Trace Their Contacts” Straightforward procedures from calling the infected person (case) to then following up the contacts. The important points are to determine the infectious period and identify contacts. They went through many role plays of calling a case and contact.

Unit 4: “Ethics of Contact Tracing and Technological Tools” Because Covid-19 has a RO (R-naught) of infecting 2-3 people, even stopping one infection has large effects down the line of transmission. Covid-19 has a similar rate to influenza, but a disease such as measles, has an RO of 15. My big takeaway from this unit was that the “public good” should trump individual rights. As a school leader, this comes up with requiring vaccinations to enter school. It is something that I will pay more attention to going forward.

Unit 5 “Skills for Effective Communication” This unit was a solid review of building rapport, types of questions and a good reminder of active listening. This would be a beneficial unit for young people.

I am happy to have taken the time to complete the course. The course provides a solid understanding of one of the most common tools that public health officials use to combat a pandemic, contact tracing. My critique of the course would be to add more outside resources, like photos, videos, articles from outside resources. Dr. Gurley’s slides were informative but a bit dry. The role play was excellent however, and a reminder that it is such a strong teaching technique. It also was 100% online teaching and learning, exactly what billions of K-12 students are going through right now. I felt like a student again waiting for the results of the final exam, a multiple-choice test of 40 questions. I recommend school leaders to take the course.

AAIE Webinar: John Littleford

The Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) is sponsoring some very helpful webinars every week. Last night I attended a Q&A led by well-known international and independent school consultant, John Littleford. He is a “rapid-fire”, straight-talking experienced consultant that has clear opinions and is always thought-provoking. Below are some bits of advice I took away from the session. I would like to thank AAIE and Littleford & Associates for providing the webinar.

Parents want definitive leadership from the school and act with confidence, surety, seriousness and humor. Act with “upbeat confidence” despite the large amount of unknown things.

He thinks a Reduction-In-Force (RIF) is always a good thing to have but if you do not have a clear indication that you have to use it, do not mention it because it will cause panic.

The transition for a new head of school is usually 1 to 3 years and this stage is growing.

Taking away all of the “fun stuff”, athletics, theatre, UN Day, etc. The sense of belonging and community is what brings value to our parents.

This may be a time to reexamine the “fragmented” schedule of 45-minute blocks. One idea would be a 2-week or 5-week schedule to take one class and then move on to the next one.

He suggests calculating an hourly rate for your school, the # of hours students are on campus divided into the tuition fee. You would find it is quite reasonable.

Brand loyalty is low in schools with a high transience rate, like our community. They care more about the ability of students to be able to transition to their next school or value the IB. Most parents are passive consumers of your product, not ambassadors promoting your school. Parents want to be heard and needed.

Parents in quarantine are becoming co-teachers with us. He suggests recruiting them to help promote the school’s program. Brand loyalty is listening and selling to them. You need to know their names and ask them to help.

The right amount of communication depends on the community. During this time it is important to hear from parents, some directors are asking the teachers to call parents a couple of times per week.

John is not an advocate of tuition reduction, he suggests going with upping your financial aid.

He advises to hold firm with faculty not able to come back to work due to health reasons, viewing it like a disability.

One school had an 87% of their expenses go to faculty salary and benefits. 85% is the norm for private, independent schools. Littleford is big on salary system and believes that it determines much of what kind of faculty a school can attract and keep. This is something that we need to look at in the future.