Spring into action: Silver Falls district snaps into gear to address needs

April 2020 Posted in Community, School

By Brenna Wiegand

Help often comes from unexpected places, and there is plenty of evidence that this pandemic has brought the community together in novel ways.

Last week, Silver Falls School District Superintendent Paul Peterson was part of a virtual meeting with several other community leaders.

“I told the story of how we wanted to collect the students’ supplies from their desks and send them home but that we didn’t have enough bags,” Peterson said. “Within an hour after the meeting Mayor Kyle Palmer calls me back and says, ‘Roth’s has bags; how many do you need?’ By the end of the day I had 1,000 bags.”

Meanwhile, the district’s tech department is assisting entities including the fire district and the city leaders in conducting the “virtual meetings” that have become a necessity for countless groups.

“Everybody on the team has done that,” Peterson said. “All the administrators plus a whole bunch of other employees worked all the way through spring break. And when I say they worked I don’t mean they just worked a little bit. Many of them worked full-on 10 and 12-hour days. I’ve had to tell a couple people to take an afternoon off and get some rest.”

Now the teachers are back and engaging with the kids well, but it took a lot of effort up front and is an ongoing process.

“It’s not as simple as flipping a switch and suddenly we have remote classrooms,” Peterson said. “It’s more of an increasing the time teachers and kids will spend together for instruction – and doing it remotely.”

Teaching and Learning Director Jennifer Hannan led the development of instructional materials, creating and leading a process the district called “closure teams,” in which teachers in departments or grade-level teams collaborated virtually to develop supplemental learning activities and materials. Peterson facilitated the middle school language arts group.

“It was so awesome working with them; they’re rock stars,” Peterson said. “They agreed upon the activities for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. That’s how all the learning materials on our website came together; teachers working together and agreeing on what they can do both online and offline.

“We have to do things like make directions on how to do assignments, available in English and Spanish, and make sure it’s as equitable as we can possibly make it so that all kids have the chance to continue their learning, whether they’re online or offline.”

At the same time the district is aware of the impact this new routine can have on the family.

“When people choose to homeschool or to enroll their children in an online school, they do so after a lot of thought, planning and preparation,” Peterson said.

“We’ve pivoted so quickly in the last few weeks that many families don’t have the opportunity to really plan and adjust.

“When I think about parents right now, the first thing I think about is the massive number of people who are losing their jobs and the stress it is creating for parents and families,” Peterson said. “That is why we have such a strong emphasis on the health and well-being of all of our kids.

“We need to connect with kids because we are a source of stability for so many,” Peterson said. “Perhaps the most important thing we need to do is to continue to be that source of stability.”

Since school let out, free grab ’n’ go sack breakfast/lunches for any child, 1 to 18, have been available for pick-up at district schools. April 8 the district transitioned to a meal delivery program where buses drop off the food at kids’ regular bus stops. That day, half a dozen buses loaded up with more than 700 meals to be scattered across the district.

Learning materials for those without online capability will be integrated into these deliveries.

“It’s going to take a few days to work out the logistics, but like a lot of things, a big part of it is just getting started,” he said. “Start, figure out what the issues are, fix them quickly and communicate, and that’s what we’re doing.

“Assistant Superintendent Dan Busch has done an exceptional job of involving staff and communicating with everyone on the food service team who have moved mountains to make this happen for kids.”

Although all Oregon school districts engaged in long-distance learning as of April 13, their starting points vary dramatically, from districts with robust, ongoing programs to rural areas without Wi-Fi or cellular coverage.

Oregon Department of Education recently handed down “Graduation Pathways 2020,” guidance that “maintains Oregon’s rigorous credit requirements while providing a clear path to graduation for seniors who were on track to graduate prior to the statewide school closure.”

“Nothing will ever replace the face-to-face personal interaction between teachers and kids,” Peterson said. “The best education we can give is kids working with caring teachers who are experts in their craft, and these things we’re learning will strengthen that.

“Though it took a pandemic, public education is really innovating through this,” he said. “We will come out of this stronger and with some new tricks and new ways of interacting professionally between ourselves and with our kids.

“I’m predicting that in the future snow days will look much different.”

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