Lake Superintendents reflect on lessons learned in 2020, share optimism for 2021
It’s easy to imagine that superintendents across the country took a deep sigh of relief as 2020 came to an end. In a year that saw the introduction of remote learning and the challenge of keeping students and staff safe from a pandemic, school district leaders faced what may have been the biggest challenge of their professional careers. While optimism is high in many states about the pandemic slowing down with vaccines being made public, the question still remains as to what schools will look like in 2021.
At Camdenton R-III, Superintendent Tim Hadfield saw the biggest success and challenge of 2020 to be having students learning in-seat. He says it was difficult at times to make the hard decision of whether or not remote learning was the way to go. However, he says the district was proud of the effort put forth by staff to keep students in seats and safe.
School of the Osage Superintendent Laura Nelson echoed this thought. She says their biggest success was that opening schools as planned in August and keeping all parts of all campuses fully opened all semester. She feels that the district was able to make gains in remediating learning losses caused by school closure in the spring. The biggest challenge was accomplishing the aforementioned.
“This would not have been possible without the vision and leadership of our BOE, the diligent and tireless efforts of our staff, and the tremendous patience and support from district families and community organizations,” Nelson said. The biggest challenge was accomplishing the aforementioned.
In Eldon, Superintendent Matt Davis says the district believed students needed to be back in school learning and their staff did everything possible to make that happen.
“As we look back over the past year I am happy with the things we had put in place ahead of time to help us be prepared for a time like this. Our district has been focusing on the mental health of our students for the past few years and this year that proved to be especially important,” Davis said. “...The biggest challenge has been educating students that are home because they are sick or quarantined. Keeping the right balance of accountability and empathy is something that we are working through.”
Still, with a positive outlook seen by many lake school leaders, the road ahead is uncertain for many.
Hadfield says that, currently, there’s no roadmap in place for how public vaccinations will impact learning. He says the district will monitor the deployment of the vaccines and adjust when needed.
Nelson says School of the Osage will also continue to monitor this situation and await guidance pertaining to this vaccine and the manner in which it will (or perhaps will not) be incorporated into existing state guidelines for student vaccinations within public schools.
She noted that Pfizer's vaccine has been authorized for ages 16 and up, while Moderna's vaccine is currently authorized for ages 18 and up. Both companies have begun clinical trials for younger kids
Davis says Eldon will follow the guidance of the Miller County Health Department, stating that they had been great to work with during the first semester.
In Macks Creek, Superintendent Josh Phillips says Macks Creek R-V School District is excited to welcome students back to campus from Christmas break. During the first semester of this school year, he says they fine-tuned the COVID-19 EOP and anticipate they will operate the school in the same manner during the second semester.
To date, Macks Creek’s COVID-19 infection rate has been low, with 11 students and 6 staff members testing positive during the entire first semester of school.
While operating school during a pandemic has been our biggest challenge this school year, we count the fact we were able to safely keep students in-seat without the need to close as a success. We greatly appreciate the families of our school district who work hard to stay safe and support the measures we have in place,” Phillips said.
Looking ahead, all Superintendents spoken to anticipate the remainder of the current 2020-21 school to remain similar to the first half. As for when, or rather if, schools will return to normal, that is also in the air and uncertain.
Hadfield is confident that normal school life will continue eventually. He says he believes that the challenges of the pandemic have changed schooling, but have also found that education can continue with learning outside of the walls of a school building.
Nelson is also confident in the return of normality but is also aware that there may be a new definition of normal.
“I feel like the phrase “new normal” has been over-used. But there is a certain element of truth to the fact that we’ve gotten used to being able to do things like have our groceries delivered, accelerate meeting time commitments via Zoom, and deliver distance learning options to students and their families,” Nelson said. How we balance new expectations with a longing for a full return to life pre-COVID19 will be an opportunity for growth.”
Phillips also shared a note of optimism for the future, stating that many safety procedures will stay in place as long as they need to in order to better traverse the road forward towards a way out of this pandemic.
It seems that for now, schooling is still in the same strange place it has been since March 2020. However, with ever-vigilant staff working to keep students safe, a better future is looking brighter than ever.