As you may know, we have been writing stories each month about good things happening in school districts that are members of the Southern Idaho Conference, typically after the Superintendent’s monthly meeting in that district.
Well, the meeting won’t happen in person this month, so we decided to conduct phone interviews with folks in Middleton. We interviewed the Superintendent, a high school teacher, an elementary principal, and an involved parent. We wanted to know about the Middleton District’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We came away impressed with the timely creation and implementation of a solid plan, and the community’s support for its public schools.
Superintendent Dr. Sherawn Reberry
Dr. Reberry is in her first year as Middleton Superintendent. She taught elementary school students in Twin Falls and Kimberly, and then became a Technology Integration Specialist at Idaho State University. Sherawn was an Elementary Principal in Caldwell for several years, and was also Elementary Education and Federal Programs Director in that district. Prior to taking the Middleton position, she was Director for Education Programs at Idaho Digital Learning Academy. Good preparation for our current situation with online learning!
Nevertheless, since Dr. Reberry started in Middleton “on the same day the teachers showed up”, it’s been a steep learning curve. Imagine, then, when the pandemic began, and Middleton Schools closed their doors on March 16. The district needed to “turn on a dime” and provide a new method of instruction for its students.
Though there are still some families needing devices and connectivity, the vast majority of district families have been able to access technology resources, or, alternatively, hard copy packets. The District’s Instructional Specialists also have provided trainings for teachers on how to set up online instruction for students, and staff continue to reach out to students daily.
Dr. Reberry has been working to coordinate activities across the district, including provision of food for Middleton students. She indicates that she’s been gratified at the support from the Middleton community. Sherawn said she’s received messages of appreciation from parents and students in the community.
Middleton Heights Elementary School Principal Nichole Kristensen
Nichole is also in her first year as principal at Heights Elementary School. She has been a resource and extended resource teacher in the West Ada and Boise Districts. She has also served as an Instructional Coordinator at Boise State.
Principal Kristensen spoke with us about how District elementary principals worked together to provide timely, coordinated deployment of technology and resources. All students in grades 3-5 were issued devices from the school, and students in grades k-2 were issued Chromebooks as needed. Hotspots were created in all 3 elementary school parking lots. Paper packets were also sent to k-5 students in the District.
Each morning, Mrs. Kristensen posts announcements in the Google Classroom platform for parents and students, and on the day we spoke she was preparing for a virtual staff meeting. She also regularly visits virtual classroom lessons. She noted that staff members were doing virtual “shout outs” to students and families and that, recently, students and parents were doing their own positive, supportive “shout outs” to teachers.
Nichole credits the District and community for coming together and providing for students. She also credited District Technology and Curriculum Directors with coordination of online resources, and was pleased with the overall direction provided by the District in the crisis.
Middleton High School Math/Computer Science Teacher Robin Tomasi
Robin Tomasi has taught for three years in Middleton, though she has lived in the community for six. This is her second career, as she worked in the business world before teaching in Middleton. She teaches 9th grade integrated math at the high school, following the 8th graders she taught last year at Middleton Middle School.
Robin has tried to deemphasize grades during the stay at home period, instead focusing on making sure students understand foundational concepts and skills that will help them be prepared for next year. She regularly reaches out to her students to find out if they are doing okay.
Mrs. Tomasi emphasized that teachers have been working collaboratively to ensure they cover the same standards, and prepare students for future math classes. She has also developed a “math unplugged” series of lessons, which students can do at home with their families. Week One of this program was making and flying paper airplanes.
Robin agreed that the Middleton community has been very supportive, and she thinks the new Superintendent “is doing a great job and has a vision for where we need to go as a District.”
Maureen Seidel – Parent of 4 Children, 16 (sophomore at MHS), 14 (8th grader), 11 (5th grade) and 19 months.
Maureen is a career educator currently working as an Instructional Coach with Northwest Nazarene University. Her background is in Elementary Education, and she is happy with the approach that Middleton has taken in the move to online instruction.
She believes that Middleton teachers have set high, but reasonable expectations for students in the online environment. Maureen said that she enjoys having more family time in this new environment – eating more meals together, for example, but that her kids are ready to get back with their classmates and teachers.
As for the community, Maureen noted that “Middleton is stepping up its game” during the crisis. She supports the leadership of the new Superintendent and her commitment to transparency.
Middleton Steps Up
In the fast-growing community of Middleton, administrators, teachers, parents, and the community have demonstrated the importance of stepping up and working together in a crisis. “This hasn’t been easy for any of us,” said teacher Robin Tomasi. And it won’t be easy going forward. But with an attitude of collaboration, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.
Finally, here’s a quote from the District website that we thought captured the positive approach to solving problems in Middleton.
“We understand this move to remote/distance learning is not easy, and each one of us is learning to practice patience with grace.”