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School closure far from extended break

The stair stepped closure of Iowa schools; for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, has created a challenging, complex and stressful series of decisions for Iowa’s educational community. This will continue throughout this summer as school districts’ grapple with summer school programming that will be provided while simultaneously trying to scenario plan for how the re-opening of schools may need to be in August. One thing is for certain, the changes that have been thrust on schools during this “crisis schooling” phase this Spring aren’t temporary, from them will come major structural changes that will be here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Whereas some well-intentioned citizens have initiated conversation with me asking how the “extended break,” has been, I reflect on the fact that never in my 35-year educational career have I nor my colleagues worked harder, longer and more passionately on behalf of students, staff, parents or the community than what has occurred the past two months.

Our food service, transportation and nursing essential workforce have been working diligently to ensure that all of our students and families who rely on our daily school meals receive them. Our technology department has worked tirelessly to ensure all students have a device to take home. They continue to assess how many families the district will need to help to provide access for reliable internet service this summer in order to have equitable access to high quality summer learning; as well as, any required remote learning that may be necessary next school year.

Our administrators, teacher-leaders and teachers have worked tirelessly to provide high quality teaching and learning materials (digital and hard copy) for voluntary educational learning opportunities for all of our students during this “crisis schooling phase” this spring. They are planning for virtual summer school programming this summer and will continue to plan for the unknown teaching and learning modality we’ll be engaged in with students next fall. It could be virtual remote learning; a modified face-to-face learning or a blended combination of the two. The district will need to continue to plan for all three possibilities and the only thing that’s certain is it will most certainly be a departure from the past. All of this is happening while employees are working from home, caretaking and/or educating their own children or helping to provide for and protect their own high risk family members.

The district’s Special Services Team including administrators, secretaries, counselors, nurses, student resource specialists and educators are working diligently to connect and engage with students and families to make sure they have access to the resources they need and to help connect them with community partners and providers.

Our custodial and building and grounds department have ramped up their efforts to more deeply clean and sanitize our school facilities and that certainly won’t change for the foreseeable future. The human resource department continues to work hard making sure current staff are provided relevant, meaningful and engaging professional development during closure while also filling vacated positions and providing employees with updated information relative to their employment benefits and applicable special provisions of the federally legislated CARES Act. Our finance department is working hard tracking regular district expenditures and additional COVID-19 related expenditures while attempting to forecast an uncertain financial future relative to the impacts the related economic downturn will have on the budget. Our school board continues to meet and provides us with the trust, flexibility, guidance and support to help us navigate these uncharted waters of planning and preparing for an uncertain future.

If we’re not in the physical act of working, our minds are filled with care, compassion, worry and concern for our students’ academic, psychological, physical and social-emotional well-being during this time of extended closure. Of particular concern are those students’ and their families who are challenged economically, with language acquisition and/or special learning and behavioral deficits or are charged with caretaking for their siblings while their parents or guardians work. I lose sleep at night worrying about our students and their families whose top priority is survival; not learning. That being said, I am comforted to know that I live, learn, work and play in a community that embraces the philosophy of “it takes a village to raise a child” and will do everything within its power to pull out of this pandemic stronger than ever; Marshalltown Strong!

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Dr. Theron Schutte is the Superintendent

of the Marshalltown Community School District

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