Superintendents discuss strategies for returning to school in the fall

One Idaho school superintendent is preparing to return to normal classes this fall and doesn’t want to plan for any contingencies.

Others hope for a smooth return to school, but admit that anything is possible as the world navigates the coronavirus pandemic.

The different approaches to the future were on display during a Wednesday afternoon webinar hosted by Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.

“District leaders are looking to next fall and how to apply the lessons that were learned in the recent weeks to ensure that they are prepared to help to ensure students continue learning, whatever school may look like next year,” Ybarra said.

Kevin Lancaster, superintendent of the tiny Bliss School District in southcentral Idaho, said his plans are simple.

“We’re going to go back to school, we’re going to run buses and have kids here,” Lancaster said.

“Our plan is we don’t want an alternative plan of connectivity,” he continued.

Lancaster and Bliss are in a different situation than most schools. Bliss just held a graduation ceremony to honor its seven graduates.

“The thing that is so different about us is even if they limit numbers, we are already limited,” Lancaster said. “We have 10 kids in a class.”

While Lancaster said the only connectivity he really cares about is the connectivity between the school, educators and students, other district leaders are placing a priority on securing devices and connectivity for their students.

Here are snapshots of their plans and a potential glimpse into the future.

West Ada, Idaho’s largest school district.

Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells:  “Our greatest desire is that school opens up in the fall, the buses run and things go according to our normal expectations. But we also know we have to be prepared in case that doesn’t happen, and how would we capture that attendance. So one of the things we know right away is our district has to find a way to have 1:1 devices and internet connectivity for all our students.

“We’re looking at shifting public education from a group-based system to an individual or personalized system. I mean, we’ve been talking about it for years. But I think we’re on the brink of something really exciting for public education in Idaho.”

Madison, eastern Idaho.

Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas: “The community in Eastern Idaho is very eager for us to get back to a very traditional type of reentry into school where buses run, the kids go to school, that type of thing. Obviously we will place a great emphasis on sanitizing the schools and providing masks and hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes and all those types of things.

“The overwhelming consensus from parents in my neck of the woods is they don’t want a repeat of what we’ve had since mid-March, which was an online experience. … Our experience with it has been uneven, we’ve had families with no tech, low tech, low bandwidth, one laptop for six kids.”

Lewiston, north central Idaho.

Superintendent Robert Donaldson: “We have put together some plans that are a blended learning model. What happens if we start with a reduced number of students, kind of plans along those lines. What would we do if we have a reduced number of teachers in the schools? (We’re) looking at probably something that is realistically more blended learning where you would have most of your students, hopefully, back in a traditional sense but a plan for those who are going to not come back out of fear or concern and we would  still include them in a remote learning approach.

“I would love to think that we’re going to go back in the fall exactly the way we always have but I think it’s never going to be the same. Hopefully it will be close to the same, but I can’t help but think this marks a place in time that we’re going to have to be super creative as we approach education.”

 

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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