By Kyle Reynolds
To say the past few months have been interesting would be a dramatic understatement. I’ll never forget the meeting with Superintendent Hofmeister about a week before Spring Break when she said to the thirty or so superintendents on the Zoom call, “You all need to start thinking about what it will look like if we don’t have school for the rest of the year.” Things got real in a hurry!
Our staff and community reacted quickly and professionally, latching on to the mantra “relationships over rigor” to ensure we would do everything possible to take care of our students’ most basic needs first.
We have a system called SchoolStatus that helps us in a number of ways; one of the functions of that system is to help our teachers communicate with parents. During the pandemic our teachers used the system to send 29,044 texts, 1,079 emails, and 685 phone calls.
Our Child Nutrition and transportation workers served 62,128 meals through June 5th, and we will continue the feeding program through the summer with the assistance of many community volunteers, primarily those serving on behalf of the many churches in our community.
I went through my calendar last weekend and counted up the 148 Zoom meetings I participated in since March 12th.
CCOSA conference, Bill Daggett, innovate or hunker down?
Last week our administrator organization, CCOSA, held the annual two day summer conference virtually. I actually enjoyed it and found many breakout sessions and general sessions to be enjoyable and informative. Our keynote, Dr. Bill Daggett made some interesting observations. “Is it time to hunker down and protect the factory model of public education, or can we take this opportunity to transform it?” I love this quote and believe it is, indeed, our opportunity to transform and modernize education.
Dr. Daggett also brought up the fact that we have two gaps to close as we return to school this fall. Of course the academic gap is concerning. Normally we worry about the “summer slide” which references students who regress academically over the summer. Due to the pandemic, we are now faced with a much longer learning gap. Even more concerning: our students’ mental health. All schools will be need to deal with our students’ social-emotional needs; WPS is fortunate to have the added resources from the Project AWARE mental health grant to help us on this front.
As we continue to prepare to welcome our students and staff back to school in August, we are planning for a number of scenarios. We will Plan and Prepare because we cannot Predict. Dr. Wendelboe, the state epidemiologist, told us recently to expect intermittent COVID-19 spikes in communities for some time, and a dramatic rise in infections as we get to the colder months of winter.
WPS, like most every other school, is developing three general plans:
A: School as usual with sanitizing and social distancing protocols in place.
B: A hybrid model of in-person and distance learning in order to limit the numbers of students in the buildings at one time.
C: Intermittent closures of school sites based on outbreaks of COVID-19 cases
As we continue to develop these plans, we rely heavily on guidance from federal and state health officials as well as the State Department of Education and our professional organizations. We will do our very best to communicate with our parents and patrons as we move forward.
I’ve heard a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in our community lately regarding the roles and responsibilities of our elected Board of Education members. Over the past six years I’ve been superintendent, I’ve had a lot to learn about how a board is supposed to function “by the book,” versus how we can best work in our community.
First and foremost, the board is the legislative and judicial branch of the school. They implement policy and resolve disputes when they arise; they are the lawmakers and the judges. The Board of Education also hires and fires exactly one person: me, the Superintendent.
My job as superintendent is “Chief Executive and Academic Officer” of the district. So I am to oversee the daily operations of the district. Obviously with almost 3,000 students and 400 employees, I can’t do that alone, so I hire others to carry out some of those duties on my behalf (e.g., principals and directors).
Principals interview and hire teachers and support staff. The Transportation Director hires bus drivers. The Athletic Director hires coaches. They all bring those recommendations to me, which I review and pass along to the Board of Education as a matter of oversight.
The board never votes to hire or fire coaches. Normally, once a year, the board approves the Athletic Extra Duty Stipend list, which lists the amount of money the district pays each coach for their respective sport. Coaching assignments are the purview of the superintendent, or his designee, at the end of the day.
As I have stated many times, our overarching philosophy is to do what is best for our kids, our school, and our community . . . in that order. My administrative team (principals, directors, etc…) all know and believe in this philosophy, so when we make decisions that range from staffing, to curriculum, to every other facet of our organization, we have to have that framework firmly embedded. I am confident that every one of our school leaders practices that philosophy.
As I have also said many times, I have a dream job I never dreamt I would have. I wake up every day with one of my favorite songs in my mind: “Good to be Alive” by Jason Gray. “Hold on. Is this really the life I’m living? ‘Cause I don’t feel like I deserve it.” Yeah, some days are harder than others. Some days I’m chasing answers to questions I would never have thought of. Some days I feel lonely and unappreciated.
But the bottom line is this: I feel blessed and fortunate that the Good Lord has led me down a path to be where I am today for reasons that I may never know. It’s an honor to do what I do, and I am humbled to be in those moments where I am handing a young person a diploma, or I see an elementary student in a brand new classroom, or I get to watch a student receive an honor or award and an awards banquet. Sometimes I get one little glimpse of success that validates the work our staff has put in over the long term. That’s all I need, and that’s all any of us need to know we can press on and do the work that benefits our kids - our school - our community.
Kyle Reynolds is the Superintendent of Woodward Public Schools.