Thursday, October 15, 2020

More Information About COVID 19

There has been much written about COVID 19 that I hesitate to add further to what may feel like an excessive volume of information.  However, when the community spread positivity rate has escalated as rapidly as it has, I think it is important to communicate more about it.

The District has publicly reported a total of six positive COVID 19 cases since the start of the school year. Many individuals have been sent home due to signs of illness, were asked to isolate or quarantine due to direct exposure, or were referred for testing. However, we use the Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines to decide who is sent home and the length of time required to stay home before returning to school.  As a District, we believe adhering to this guidance helps reduce the spread of COVID 19 in our schools and is in the best interest of all involved.


I recognize some families have been frustrated with being asked to isolate themselves or quarantine. I agree with you; it isn’t convenient or comfortable to do so. We have worked closely with Page County Public Health throughout this process. We are required to report students and staff who are COVID 19 positive or who have been directly exposed to them and follow the quarantine guidelines and procedures established by the Iowa Department of Public Health. At times like this, we need to remember that all involved are working together to create a safe and healthy school environment and reduce the spread of COVID 19. 


I also know that it can be stressful to wait for test results to come back. Once a person is tested, they are to remain isolated until the results are known.  Students are not allowed to attend school while they wait for their test results. Some have had to wait several days for test results, which can make waiting even harder.  Shenandoah Medical Center has responded to this concern positively and now has options that allow for a more rapid response. I appreciate their responsive leadership to meet a community need.  Test Iowa in Clarinda is another option to consider.


It is not always possible to maintain social distance in a school environment. In a school setting, correctly wearing a face-covering may make a difference in whether or not your child is sent home from school and required to quarantine. I would encourage you to talk with your child about the importance of wearing face coverings that fully cover their mouth and nose, maintaining social distance, and other preventative measures. Doing these things increases the likelihood that we can stay in school and continue to have school activities.  


The following documents will help answer some of the questions you may have about how decisions are made related to quarantine and keeping schools open.







Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Overcomers

A student stopped me at the Homecoming community pep rally this week to ask me if I remembered a funny story about a football game last year. We both had a good laugh and smiled as I suggested that I might retell the story in a graduation speech. It was the kind of moment that reminded me why Homecoming is important. It keeps us centered on what is most important in our lives, which is building strong relationships and developing a sense of community. It is a special time of the year that brings us fond memories of the past, rekindles old friendships, and anchors us in our rich traditions.  Our pride swells up a bit on weeks like this when we recall and retell old stories that are slightly embellished but are oh so fun to tell. 


In the years to come, I wonder about the stories that might be retold during Homecoming about the year 2020. It is quite likely there will be stories about not liking the day's circumstances and recalling the challenges of living through the pandemic, the derecho, and polarizing politics. However, my greatest hope for us is that we find the strength to tell the story of 2020 from a different perspective.  


Over the last few months, I have tried to learn from these turbulent times to find what is good, trustworthy, and right about the time. I enjoy reading the author John Gordon because he motivates me to think this way. He tweeted something several days back that spoke and resonated with me about positivity.  He tweeted, “Positive thinking doesn’t mean you ignore the reality of the situation. It means you have the optimism, belief, and faith to overcome the situation.”   


So when the day comes that I am asked to retell the story of 2020, I want to tell the overcomers' story. The overcomers, the good people who came together to help serve meals to our community's children for several months without complaint. The overcomers, the health care workers, and other essential workers who were willing to continue working in public despite the risks. The overcomers, those who rallied together to reopen school when the odds were against us. The overcomers, teachers who stepped forward to learn new technologies to continue teaching and allow children to learn. The overcomers, the parents to managed work and also help their children learn from home. The list goes on.


I am confident more challenges will surface, 2020 is not quite over.  But this I know, there will be good people who rise above the situation and overcome.  We are all in this together.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Start

Today marked the start of the beginning of the school year for our staff. It is a year full of anticipated adventure, excitement, and new challenges. Our team has spent a significant amount of time preparing for this day, and it felt so good to see people back in our schools. I am really proud of the work the staff has done to learn new technology and think through new ways of working.

At the same time, I am not na├»ve and will acknowledge being concerned, knowing there will be challenges ahead related to COVID 19. There may be some difficult times and hard decisions to make.  However, I reminded our staff that it is important for us to keep our focus on having a positive mindset, working together, and believing the best about our students and coworkers. It will take some #horsepower, but we have the right people on our team to move forward. We are indeed in this together as a staff, a student body, and community.  

Things will be different when students arrive. We are asking all staff, students, and people who come on campus to please wear a face-covering. You will see signage up at every building to remind people to wear a face covering, practice social distancing, and "do the five."  We are also asking people to stay home if they are sick or have a fever over 100.4. It is new, it is different, and it is necessary to keep us safe, healthy, and prevent spreading COVID 19.

Our classrooms will look different. Lindsay Shaffer has her classroom set up to accommodate social distancing in a rather model format, as you can see here. The desks are well spread out, and there are containers for students to keep their individual supplies. This will help reduce the number of items students need to share and keep them well organized.  The second picture is of the one a high school classroom set up similarly.


I spent several hours out in the schools today visiting with teachers in their classrooms. I was quite encouraged by what I heard and saw.  I loved seeing how the staff is reaching out to support each other.   I saw a few notes like this in different classrooms. It reminded me of just how great our team is and how much they care for each other and our students.

Being at the High School as staff toured the building was truly a great moment. There is still work to be done, but the progress that has been made is fantastic. I am looking forward to being able to host an open house later this fall to show the great work that has been done.

                           
  


I am looking forward to having all of our students back next week. Some will be attending school on campus, and others will be participating in remote learning.  It will be a new way of approaching teaching and learning for all staff and students alike, but we are a strong learning community. I fully anticipate that we will rise up to meet the challenge of working differently.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Learning and Growing Together as System

Professional Learning is a highly valued aspect of our work as educators.  We build time into our work schedules and school calendar for this purpose because we know that we will be better teachers and leaders when we take time to reflect and consider how we can improve.   

Planning for professional learning is a process of defining an area of growth that the system is committed to improving and channeling time and funds to ensure staff is trained, resources are provided, and a clear plan for implementation is in place.  

Two more significant areas of focus for the District will be working on the next two years will include using blended learning as a model of instruction to support the implementation of the Return to Learn Plan and developing a stronger school culture, climate, and equitable learning environment. These goals are in full alignment with the TAP instructional framework and the Iowa Teaching Standards.



Implementing these goals requires a substantial amount of time to learn from research, doing the work, and collaborating with peers.  This summer, our teachers are participating in a summer institute on using blended learning as a model of instruction to support the District's Return to Learn Plan.  The staff is learning the technology, working through the curriculum, and developing the online platform.  This is important work as we are moving from a "voluntary continuous learning" to "requiring continuous learning".  Students will be engaging in learning that will occur at school and also online learning.  This is a large undertaking for our staff. They are doing the work and looking forward to seeing the impact on student learning.  

  

The District has been listening, learning, and growing as a district in how we respond and interact in a diverse learning community. This is causing us to review the District's policies, procedures, practices, programs to consider how we can improve, remove barriers for our students, and be more equitable. The implementation process is much the same. It also takes time, training, dedicated resources, and collaboration to enact.  However, doing this work will help us to be better leaders, teachers, and learners.  

It is all about learning and growing together as a system to provide the best possible learning experiences for our students.





Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Meaningful Moments

The school year ended rather abruptly and did not allow for some of the traditional celebrations to occur in a manner that we would have liked.  There were too many disruptions to begin to list. I will most certainly overlook one if I were to start writing a list.  However, there is one tradition that is meaningful to the staff that we had to rethink and consider how we might change things up a bit.  I have mentioned before each year, we take time at the end of the year to acknowledge staff who are retiring.  At the same time, we also recognize staff for their years of service.  

We couldn't hold our gathering, but our leadership team took a different approach by making surprise deliveries to those being recognized. We could not reach everyone, but we did find some at home at just the right time!









Those recognized for their years of service this year include:

Retiring: Jon Skillern, Terry Fichter, Sonia Willers, Jackie Adcock
20 Years: Kim Leininger, Trisha Johnson, Mary Peterson, Kristian Vance, 
15 Years: Brian Daoust, Todd McGinnis, Brett Roberts, Cory Feller
10 Years: Kenneth Thrasher
5 Years:  Brain Blank, Craig Leigan, Kerri Nelson, Angela Hunter, Carissa Millikan, Sherri Ruzek, Lisa Holmes

It was a wonderful way to spend time.  There were some meaningful moments to treasure.














Thursday, June 18, 2020

Uncomfortable Conversations

The last several weeks have been a horrifically turbulent time in our nation. The effects and stress can even be felt here in Shenandoah, Iowa. It is difficult and perhaps uncomfortable to have conversations about racial tension and discrimination. It can be unsettling when you cannot find the right words to communicate your thoughts, beliefs, and convictions in a manner that will be easily understood and accepted. It is also challenging to avoid being defensive and just listen in an attempt to understand different perspectives.

As a school system, we have policies and procedures in place that help guide and direct our conversation and work in these areas.  I have shared them in this blog before. Still, I believe it is essential to point to them again as a reminder and clarification that harassment, bullying, and discriminatory acts are unacceptable in our school learning community. This does not mean that these types of actions have not occurred in our district. It means that we take measures to prevent and action to address situations when they do happens.  Have we failed at times? I would be honest enough to say we likely have. I am regretful that it is true.  I also am willing to commit to you that we are taking steps to improve as a system.

In recent weeks, I have had individual conversations with some staff and led discussions with our leadership team about affirming our commitment to anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination policies. We have reflected and will continue to reflect and take action to improve our practice as we consider disciplinary practices, curriculum and instructional resources, and professional development for our staff. I have also connected with the Green Hills Areas Education Association about the need for more training and support for schools.

Related District policies and procedures can be found here. This is important work as it is the policy and procedures we follow when complaints are made. It is published on our website, handbooks, and has been provided in other formats.  It has been and will continue to be clarified that this is an expectation of our work and learning environment that these policies are upheld.

Uncomfortable to discuss? Perhaps, but it is necessary and right to acknowledge, admit, and commit to doing better.  











Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Roller Coaster Rides

It has been quite the roller coaster ride of a school year, and it has ended like none other. However, I am very proud of our staff and students who have held on tight and have found ways to continue to engage in the learning process through the end of the ride.  They are pretty amazing and resilient people to work through this current time.

I have been thinking a lot about some of our staff who have served the district long term. I am feeling somewhat deflated by the lack of opportunity to celebrate with them as we end the school year.  Like many events, we have had to postpone our end of the year celebration to another time.  I found this video of our staff encouraging and uplifting.  I wanted to share it with you today, so you can join me in acknowledging the longevity of our staff.  


I think it is also appropriate that we also take a moment to commend the staff who are retiring on a job well done and acknowledge the commitment they have made to the system.  These are special people that we all care about and will miss.  


   
     
                                     Jackie Adcock, Bus Driver      Terry Fichter, Language Arts Teacher

                     Jon Skillern, Math Teacher    Sonia Willers, Special Education Associate



More Information About COVID 19

There has been much written about COVID 19 that I hesitate to add further to what may feel like an excessive volume of information.  However...