Back to school rhythm – SHS’ principal discusses challenges, effort in opening weeks of semester

October 2021 Posted in Community, School, Your Health

By Brenna Wiegand

Only two weeks of school had elapsed when Our Town touched base with Silverton High School Principal Sione Thompson, in his first year with the Silver Falls School District.

“It’s been quite a trial by fire but what makes it all worthwhile is that these are just terrific people,” he said. “They are kind and compassionate with the family values of caring about kids’ well-being and seeing they get a high level of education.”

At present, district enrollment is down 9.5% from June 2020 which equates to 369 students. Among others, these may include families not wanting their kids exposed to larger numbers of people; the mask-wearing issue or, after the past year or so of at-home learning, have decided to stick with home schooling, but in another form.

In keeping with mandates, the district has curtailed its online, direct instruction in transitioning to in-person learning. In the process, school teams are meeting weekly to produce ways to assess where kids are academically as well as emotionally.

Care Teams provide a comprehensive approach to managing challenging situations in the school setting and provide staff with the leadership, resources, and support to reach a positive outcome that provides a win-win environment for students and staff.

“Our counselors have been doing an excellent job meeting in their Care Teams,” Thompson said. “They look at what the needs are of our entire school population. They will drill down individually to talk about the issues and how as a school we are going to meet those needs.

“As far as how the past year has affected kids, nothing would be off the table,” Thompson said. “I could speak as a parent myself that they may feel depressed or isolated; that they haven’t had face-to-face connections in a while so they’re more reserved than they would be.

“It’s kind of a temperature check,” he said. “We’re working to answer all of the concerns that we’re getting from parents; kids that are coming in and sharing some of their concerns and we continually speak right to that process so we can see what kind of resources we can provide.

“There are a lot of people with strong convictions one way or the other but at the end of the day the high level of respect between parents and the district and the high levels of commitment from the teachers to make sure that we have our doors open and provide the best in-person learning as we can for the students in our facilities. There’s a lot going on.”

This includes a real shortage of teachers and substitute teachers.

A number of educators have chosen to go another way professionally, whether because of the constant threat of being quarantined under certain circumstances or because they are opposed to the mandate that all educators must show proof of vaccination before they can teach.

Those trying to get in as subs face weeks of delay due to the backlog at Teacher Standards and Practices Commission. 

“It’s our job to recognize some of the signs are so we can properly diagnose what’s happening and then ask the experts – the counselors, the doctors, the psychiatrists – how we can best serve them,” Thompson said. “I think education across the board is moving into a new realm of understanding what needs are because there is real trauma, and we just want to reach out and help.”

The district’s nurses have been a mainstay in the “help” department, establishing and conducting involved protocols spanning communications and notifications, screening and isolation measures, environmental management and preventative measures.

“Our school nurse Geralyn Sheets is basically the first response,” Thompson said. “When we move into potential contact tracing or notifications of positive cases and quarantines, we will go to Leslie Kuhn or Suellen Nida, who take care of those things to make sure we are complying and are communicating everything we need to.

“They are a very huge resource and support for us, and we are very lucky to have them,” Thompson said. “They are just working around the clock with the entire district and being extremely responsive and very, very on point.

“While I can’t speak for the district, for the high school I just want to give a shout-out to the parents who have been extremely patient in the opening of school and our teachers who have worked diligently to ensure that we’re providing high quality education in a safe environment,” he said. “They all deserve a lot of credit.”

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