Editor’s note: This commentary from Superintendent Slade McSheehy was submitted and scheduled for these pages well in advance of the events of the last week, and reflects the optimism of the resilient staff and students in the Vashon Island School District.
In addition to the increased inches of rainfall that keep our island forests green, the beginning of a new year typically provides a sense of renewed focus and energy.
With 104 days left in the school year, now is the moment to maximize our student’s opportunity and academic achievement gains over the last half of the school year. With 2020 now in the rearview mirror, 2021 provides a glimmer of promise that has not been evident in quite some time.
While there remains a good number of problems and challenges, there is cause for optimism as the return of students to in-person learning is now visible on the horizon.
Schools are beacons of hope, especially during times of crisis and chaos. For the past ten months, our school community has been charged to provide a sense of hope amidst what are likely the most challenging circumstances of our lifetimes — a time during which the “end” of this crisis was not clear in regard to the “what,” “how” or “when.” The certainty of a vaccine finally provides us a concrete sense of hope that this crisis will end.
In 2021, we will remain intentional in hitting our targets, supporting the development of academic skills and social-emotional learning. We understand how social and emotional well-being optimizes brain development for academic success, especially considering the current COVID-19 conditions and limited social interactions. Our students will continue to have many opportunities to grow and learn in a caring and inspiring environment.
Through the instructional and academic leadership of our principals, teachers, and support staff, we will ensure that every student continues to thrive. That’s what I love about the people I work with and the students and families I work for — their commitment, resilience, optimism, and their ability to turn adversity into opportunity. That’s been our modus operandi all school year and it will continue into 2021.
I am asked regularly to report out regarding the quality of the learning experience our students have had during the first half of this school year. Honestly, this is not easy to capture or to report. If we base the report on previously identified learning targets and earlier school years, then we will most likely report mixed and uneven results and perhaps stagnant growth. However, if we report on the new learning our students have had during this time, we will report many successes. I hear the term “learning loss” quite often when discussing these past nine months.
I would like to highlight some of the “learning gained.” Our students have been asked to do things differently and this difference has created new learning pathways that have perhaps better prepared our students for a brighter future. It is my belief that the academic acquisition gaps that may have occurred during this time will be recovered quite quickly. Young people are resilient. With a robust learning plan and support, they will overcome this challenge.
This school year has been like nothing we have ever experienced nor could have anticipated. And yet, we’re making it work. We have figured out how to spread good cheer without spreading the virus.
I, along with the Board of Education and school district staff, remain committed and passionate about meeting the needs of all our students and families by providing opportunities that will prepare everyone for their journey ahead. This is important for our kids and our island community. Together, we are the Vashon family. I look forward to sharing our successes and achievements with our community as we step into the year 2021, the “Year of the Comeback!”
Slade McSheehy is the superintendent of the Vashon Island School District.