Almost everyone’s life has been disrupted in some way since COVID-19 found its way into our lives. Our school district and those we serve are no different.
When our students left on Friday, March 13, I do not think any of us envisioned a future that did not include students in our buildings for the remainder of the year. However, while our buildings have been closed, school has remained open.
In most any school day prior to closure, we could picture what was happening in our buildings at 9 a.m. – students were in their desks, teachers had lessons prepared to share, the busses were getting washed up after delivering students, perhaps we would have been working to host a home track meet, etc.
After Governor Reynold’s announcement on Sunday, March 15th, everything changed.
Our administrative team and directors met on Monday, March 16th, and worked through a series of topics – how do we close the buildings down for two to three weeks, how do we provide for the safety of those who are still at work in our buildings, and how do we support our students during the closure. Then, we turned our attention to the continued support of our students’ learning and success.
After the governor’s extensions of school closure through the end of April and then through the year, we continued to consider how to best support our students and their families. We identified many barriers – student access to technology, stable internet access (or access in general), clarifying what is “reasonable” as far as expectations for students, and many others.
As the time of building closure grew longer, we decided to offer voluntary services for our preschool students through 8th grade and required education for our high school courses. Again, we identified challenges and worked together as a team to overcome them. Our high school teachers identified who would take the lead on specific courses within each department, how we would award credit, and how we would define “attendance.” We knew some students might be doing their studying and learning in the evening or other non-traditional times while balancing work schedules or watching younger siblings. We also needed to determine different methods to assess student learning.
What I have witnessed over the last several weeks is a redesign of education. We have examples of how learning can (and does) happen anywhere and at any time. We have examples of how students are applying their learning in situations far removed from the classroom. We identified the essential outcomes of our courses – and what are the “nice to have’s” if there is time.
I have been impressed with what our staff has done to meet their students’ needs. Particularly, I have been impressed with how they have worked to strengthen their relationships with their students and families. Over and over I have heard examples of how teachers (and other staff) are going out of their way to connect with their students. Teachers have modeled teaching skills so parents could replicate. They have made signs and placed in student yards. They have created scavenger hunts for families, recorded book readings, offered one-on-one Zoom sessions, and sent items through the mail. The list goes on.
Do we have it figured out how to completely redesign schooling? No. We are just starting work on our “Return to Learn” plan that must be submitted to the state by July 1 for the 2020-21 year. As we develop our plan, we will clarify how we can offer school in a traditional manner, how we can offer it on-line for PreK-12 in a required format, and how we might offer it as a hybrid of face-to-face and online learning.
In this publication, we share articles on what our teachers have done to continue students’ learning; how our food service staff have prepared thousands of breakfast and lunch meals; how bus drivers have assisted in delivering those meals; how our custodians and maintenance crews have cleaned the buildings and are preparing them for next year; how our central office staff have worked behind the scenes to keep bills paid, payroll flowing, and many other things we need ready for the 2020-21 school year. In separate articles we are highlighting four of our retirees and our seniors who are missing out on the traditional celebrations we associate with the end of the school year. You will also have the opportunity to learn more about Kyle Koeppen who will begin his tenure as superintendent for the 2020-21 year.
The 2020-21 school year will bring many changes. Personally, it will be the first time since 1969 that I won’t participate in a first day of school as a student, teacher or administrator. During my career in education, I witnessed many changes. Undoubtedly, the changes this spring have been the most dramatic.
It is difficult for me to capture all that Vinton-Shellsburg and the entire school-community has meant to me over the last 11 years. When I interviewed 12 years ago, the board president, Todd Wiley, asked me if I would be willing to commit three to five years to the district. My answer was that if V-S wanted me for that long, I was willing to make the same commitment. My how time has flown!
It has truly been my pleasure to serve our school-community and especially the students and staff who are our greatest strength. I have worked with about 16 board members and eight administrators; they have all kept our students’ best interest in mind even when going through challenging situations.
With the utmost respect for our school district,
Mary Jo Hainstock,