Adapting to closures: School superintendents discuss service strategies

April 2020 Posted in Community, News, School

By Brenna Wiegand

Since Oregon closed its schools in mid-March due to the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus, local superintendents have been on a wild ride, chasing after ways to maintain their responsibility to the students. Buildings may be closed, but teaching and learning needs to continue.

Mount Angel School District Superintendent Troy Stoops says it’s new territory for everybody. Silver Falls School District Superintendent Paul Peterson says they’re having to “reinvent how we go about our business of teaching and learning.

“One of the more challenging things is trying to make decisions and plans under constantly changing guidance,” Peterson said, “but our bottom line is figuring out the best way to provide some meaningful supplemental learning to all of our students.

“That means we’re going to go out on a limb and try some things; our staff are experimenting with new curriculums and personalized ways of interacting with kids,” Peterson said. He added many of the district’s partners in learning have opened their paid websites for free use. These are among the many resources and updates found on the district website.

“It’s been a bit challenging and I think it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better,” Stoops said. “We were planning for our teachers to come back March 30-31 to at least get a plan for how we can reach out to kids and provide some supplemental activities for them, but pretty much everybody was staying hunkered down.

“We’re trying to be as electronic as we can,” Stoops added. “We communicate remotely using Zoom and Google; you can load up over 100 people for some planning and interacting.”

While teachers and administrators were already equipped to work remotely, the roles of classified employees pose more of a challenge within the system.

“The perception will be out there that some are forced to work while others aren’t, but currently the governor says everyone gets paid,” Stoops said.

Currently several classified employees help administer MASD’s robust meal program.

Led by Food Service Director Gayle Schmidt, five days a week anyone ages 0 to 18 can show up between 10:30 a.m. and noon to pick up breakfast and lunch bags. They’ve served as many as 300 meals a day. Mondays they assemble and distribute food boxes to 140 needy families.

While high school students are more equipped to work from home, K-8 students are all over the map. Roughly 85 percent of Mount Angel’s families have Internet, but it’s hard to know how many have devices conducive to online work.

One of the ways SFSD is looking to provide offline – alongside its online learning supports – is by enlisting its bus service provider, Durham School Services, to help devise a system by which buses can pick up and deliver learning materials as well as deliver meals to kids who simply wait at their normal bus stops.

“We really don’t know what we’re planning for,” Stoops said. “We’re not set up to introduce new curriculum or concepts, but teachers are figuring out how they can best provide for kids so they’re able to continue developing skills and participating in helpful activities.

“One of our biggest concerns is around the social and emotional health of our kids,” Stoops said. “Some will struggle… We want to provide resources for them, too.”

The extreme circumstances have brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have brought out the best in people.

“The IT department has been phenomenal,” Peterson said, “and our school nurses rounded up whatever personal protective equipment we could find in our schools to ship to the hospital.

“Our licensed and classified unions have been such great partners,” he added, “and we received a letter of support from the school board.

“Jennifer Hannan, our Director of Teaching and Learning, has been a regional leader and developed a program to provide supplemental learning materials,” Peterson said. “It is truly a model of excellence and other districts
are modeling after it.”

For all of the forward strides, the administrators acknowledge there have been plenty of steps back.

“Every time you try to plan forward in a certain direction, something is sent down that bumps it way down on the priority list,” Stoops said. “I guess the good thing is everybody’s on the same playing field.”

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