While schools are physically ready, pushing back the start date to Sept. 8 has provided educators and administrators much needed time to address the 101 essential details that come with opening schools during an active pandemic, Superintendent Glen Brodziak told the St. Paul Education Regional Division Board last Wednesday.
“Those extra three days are to really ... because there are so many nuances and so many changes that we have to take care of ... so we can hit the ground running and hit it right for both our at home and our students that come to school,” he said.
Board chair Heather Starosielski said a poll of the division’s administrators at a meeting last Monday to see where they felt the school calendar needed to be adjusted, saw overwhelming support to pushing back the start date until after the long weekend. Staff were back in school last Thursday, and the general feeling was more time was needed to adequately prepare before students also returned.
"There was pretty much 100 per cent agreement that it would assist and help with the staff returning this week and setting those timetables,” she said. “Physically, yes, we are ready but we just felt more time would be a value to getting everybody into the building and getting accustomed to the space and also to ensure timetables were set for not just in school but remote learners as well.”
Administrators and teachers at each school in the region are tackling a lengthy must do checklist that covers everything from where to post the self-screening questionnaires and other essential information to who will guide students on and off the busses, bus seating plans, boot rooms, washrooms, change rooms, lockers, desks, student parking, shared technology, microwaves of lunch, recesses – when and how - and so on. This list is staggering in length but one Brodziak is confident school staff will work their way through.
“There is a boat-load of stuff that needs to be accomplished, but we will be able to do it.”
No one could have foreseen the pandemic and how things would look on the education front, but given the cards they’ve been dealt, Brodziak stressed it’s important everyone know the division is guided by science as it finds the way through it.
"We don’t know the answers with this pandemic, things are changing daily and we’re updating our scenario one on a very regular basis. Never a year ago would we have ever believed we could be in this position. We’ve made it very clear that we will follow the experts - we will follow AHS, we will follow WHO, we will follow Canadian Health and, of course, we will follow Dr. Hinshaw,” he said.
“We are going to get through this and we want to welcome our children back. I believe in our staff. Our staff have been working tremendously hard; our administrators have been working tremendously hard, and we are going to be ok. We’re are still going to get through the curriculum, and I am confident that will happen.”
Brodziak said his goal is that “we lead with compassion and sensitivity” and recognize the need to be flexible as situations will arise that will require them to be so.
With an estimated 15 per cent of the division's roughly 3800 students likely choosing at home learning, at least to begin the school year, Brodziak said there is also that to be considered. Whichever way a family chooses to go, whether to send their children to school or to keep them at home, the division will respect the choice.
“We need to be very fluid in this situation and take care of families instantly because that’s what I would expect as a parent.”
If they haven’t already been informed by their individual schools, Brodziak said parents can expect to hear shortly about specific site return policies. With the division’s foundation resting on the provincial government plan, individual schools are now working on their own plans. Some schools are staggering student return over a couple of days starting next Tuesday, while others may take a different approach. Parents who have specific questions about their own schools should contact the school directly as admin staff are on hand to provide information.
In wrapping up his re-entry report to the board, Brodziak quoted a phrase from a trusted colleague in the profession: “When the adults are ok, our kids will be ok - We are leaders on that front and I believe our staff will step up to that.”