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Message from our Superintendent

George Stewart

Dear ASFM Community,

Can you believe it?! We just completed our first week of school!  We collected 2,656 saliva samples (the grad school at Columbia Univ. never taught me that this would be part of a Superintendent’s job!), guided 1,115 cars to multiple testing stations, and started school for our elementary and middle school eagles. Last night on my way out of school I watched our older eagles play soccer--things looked remarkably normal. As I walked the halls of our classrooms listening to the happy chatter of students within, I was reminded that we are fighting for in-person learning for all the right reasons. Whether it is the engaged conversations in class or the excited fist bumps for a well-struck shot on goal, the sentiment that we have achieved something not only educationally impactful, but historic is omnipresent. Well done, ASFM--Let’s keep going.

Naturally as we try something totally new we are learning as we go. There is no perfect playbook telling us how to run PCR testing for a school of our size in Mexico. We learn together and we rise together. We are committed to learning and continuous improvement and to making evidenced based decisions.Thank you for giving feedback, having patience and, most of all, for inspiring us with your love of ASFM. We’re in it to win it for you and your children.

Among my most important realizations is that on our best day, we are only doing a good job at preventing, rather than eliminating the threat of COVID. I struggled at first to understand the difference  between Preventative and Diagnostic Testing.  We are committed to Preventative Testing, and that is why we’ve selected a PCR, pool testing strategy. As you  remember, a few weeks ago we used an antigen test in order to diagnose COVID cases in our community the day before starting school. An antigen test is a very blunt instrument when compared to a PCR test. A PCR is much more exacting in that it ascertains whether there are traces of COVID RNA in a person's system. A PCR test reveals whether or not you are contagious BEFORE you actually show symptoms. Our biggest threat to in-person learning are asymptomatic COVID cases.  An antigen test tells us that you are already contagious. We want to know in advance so we can prevent the spread of the virus, and we can have greater confidence that we’ve screened out COVID.  

Screening for COVID is fundamentally an imperfect science, and this is what gives us such a high level of anxiety. Dealing with COVID is like fishing, but fortunately our fishing net has small holes, however, the ocean is still big. We’re catching the COVID fish, and this gives us confidence to keep fishing, but there are always a few that get away. For the COVID cases that escape our net we have our other mitigation strategies: face masks, social distancing, temperature checks, gell, reduced room capacity, etc. The painful truth is that we will always have traces of COVID on our campus. To add more perspective on this, when the NBA created a “bubble,” they used a PCR test too, but they tested everyday. The assumption is that the COVID contagion is growing; on Monday the RNA trace is so low it does not register, but one or two days later, it does begin to register. By Monday the traces on COVID are contagious enough to be caught in our net. Catching a fish comes down to having the right equipment and being persistent. We have both the right tool and the determination.

On Monday we will begin the process again. We’ve made a number of changes to expedite traffic flow as well as made improvements to our pool testing strategy. We are on your side and we look forward to a great second week of on-campus learning.

Onward, George