UNION COUNTY — When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, schools went into crisis mode and reacted with closures through the remainder of the school year. A summer full of fluctuating mandates did not seem to help the situation, but looking back many superintendents feel they did what was best at the time.
"When we received the word in March that schools would be closing, I was under the impression that we would be out for a few weeks, and all would be normal again," Imbler Superintendent Angie Lakey-Campbell said.
Imbler School District closed just before spring break but reopened to all grade levels at the start of the school year. Like all Oregon schools, the district was required to complete an operational blueprint in response to the pandemic. The Oregon Department of Education provided an outline of expectations, and it was up to each individual district to meet them. Lakey-Campbell said creating the blueprint over the summer was difficult, but worth completing because it meant students have been able to safely return to school.
"The process of developing the Operational Blueprint was very frustrating because expectations from ODE seemed to be constantly changing," Lakey-Campbell said. "As I reflect, I'm sure they were just as confused by the situation as we were."
Something most superintendents agree on is the pandemic has changed the way teachers teach. North Powder Superintendent Lance Dixon said the pandemic has opened opportunities for engaging students even when they cannot physically be in school.
"We have a long way to go still," Dixon said. "Comprehensive Distance Learning is not an exact science but it is an indication of where we may be heading."
La Grande Superintendent George Mendoza echoed Dixon's thoughts regarding his district's Comprehensive Distance Learning, stating it was an area that initially was not developed but has since seen massive improvements.
"We need to continue to learn best practices in CDL so students and staff can thrive and I ask our admin and staff to seek and share best practices with one another to improve learning, attendance, participation," Mendoza said.
An area of strength many of the superintendents identified was their staff. Mendoza and Elgin Superintendent Dianne Greif said the teachers in their districts have been great throughout this process.
"On our side of the state teachers and staff are willing to dig in and get things done," Greif said. "This time was no exception, we were asked to do something. We made it work. We were asked to change the way we were doing it, we made it work. We were asked to change, multiple times, still made it work."
"We want to serve our community to the best of our ability," Mendoza said. "Our staff show alignment to this belief by their willingness to work on site, teach and support students each day, collaborate to the best of their ability and support one another as well as our students and families in difficult times. Our staff has been heroic and that has been our strength."
Some practices that were developed in response to COVID-19 will remain in place, even after the threat of the pandemic ends.
Dixon said there is a better understanding that when a child is ill with COVID-19 or anything else, it is often best to have them stay home, something the district may have been more relaxed about in the past. He said with a better understanding of how quickly viruses can spread, and how students still can be engaged from home, the district will be better at helping students remain home when they feel sick.
"We will likely still be wearing masks, there may be a potential for continued requirements for physical distance but I would like to see that go away," Mendoza said about La Grande School District going forward. "We will be ready for CDL, technology integrated approaches for teaching and learning, and we will be ready to implement a variety of instructional programs and supports based on the needs of students."