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As a recently retired school principal, these thoughts came to mind while listening to people opine on how our schools should operate with the current pandemic that is affecting many nations right now.
We do fire and tornado drills, not because we expect fires and tornados to strike our school. We want children to be prepared, and have a sense of safety, essential for learning. We do intruder drills, not because we expect intruders, but we want students to know what to do…just in case.
As a principal, I sometimes walked the school halls trying to mentally rehearse my actions if there were an intruder…just in case. After hours, I regularly tested my phone’s PA all-call function while monitoring our campus cameras…just in case. I sometimes walked the campus to rehearse our evacuation routes and be sure there were no obstacles…just in case. All staff, including bus drivers, custodians, maintenance, and cafeteria workers, completed emergency training…just in case. In cooperation with the Alma Police Department, our district made a huge investment to have a school resource officer on every campus…just in case.
Coronavirus requires these same levels of preparation and I’m pleased to say my school of the last nineteen years has made great efforts to prepare. Sadly, the very act of preparing is seen by some through a political lens. Our schools are preparing based on the best info they can get. Schools prepare with no helpful input from Betsy DeVos (National Sec. of Education) since she doesn’t know schools. Schools lack the necessary quick turn-around testing, and some don’t have disinfecting equipment. Fortunately, our schools have disinfecting equipment. I’m sure they’ll acquire faster testing when it becomes available.
Coronavirus doesn’t seem like a “just in case” problem. It’s a “probably and when” problem,” but true to tradition in America, political leaders and self-proclaimed “experts” stand at a distance to make decisions for our schools. Educators are strong and committed. What they need are lots of resources (money, supplies, tools, personnel) and real health experts’ advice.
We’re hearing a lot about the importance of schools from politicians and the media lately. Evidently, schools have an impact on the economics of a community, state, and country. Who’d a thought it!
I’m proud of the district I worked in and its focus on student safety. The district spent some big bucks on sanitizing equipment and involved our staff in making schools as safe as possible when the Corona Virus became an issue. Every school in Arkansas should have this type of equipment, and the supplies needed to combat viruses and bacteria now and in the future. Our schools need national and state coordinated testing with quick results to ensure students and staff are safe, with adjustments happening quickly when needed.
All students should have access to the internet and devices to access live face-to-face learning remotely when needed. I’m talking about hotspots in our most remote areas and high-speed signals that allow clear communication. In March, when we didn’t return from spring break, teachers did their best with the available technology for distance learning. They were amazing and parents were supportive, but every district in the state should have state-of-the-art distance learning technology fully funded so that we’re ready for any interruption in education, whether related to pandemics, weather, or student health.
Schools need a small army of social workers to visit homes quickly when students become disengaged or at-risk. Social workers could help set up positive learning environments for students and deliver food or resources where needed when students are unable to attend school.
I don’t have the space here to discuss the professional development and training teachers are trying to squeeze in this summer due to the current pandemic. Much more training than usual is necessary to prepare for new ways of instruction for an unknown future. Additional training means added expenses for districts and a sacrifice of time for teachers.
Right now, I personally know teachers who are sewing or hiring someone to sew masks so their students will have fashionable masks and no one will be uncomfortable with an ugly mask. As a principal, I witnessed teachers spending their own money for the extras they wanted for their students. Before 2018, teachers could deduct these teaching expenses, but they’re now limited to $250 which is a joke. Most spend much more.
As a country, we’ve scraped by on the cheap for years in the area of public education. If airlines, banks, auto plants, or other essential businesses need funds to stay open, we spend lavishly. I use the word “lavishly” because it’s so alien to our thinking about education. It’s now time to spend lavishly and without apologies on public schools. Schools impact on our economy and quality of life. As an added benefit, investing in schools will give us healthier citizens with good judgment and hopeful futures. These are the types of people I want in my community.