The Vashon Island School District will open under a remote learning model this fall, along with a majority of other school districts in our region. The rate of COVID infection in our state is now higher than it was last March when Gov. Jay Inslee issued his stay home order and early efforts to flatten the curve have eroded. Given the increase in rates and direction from both Public Health – Seattle & King County and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, schools must prioritize the safety of kids and staff and start September with remote learning.
You almost could hear the collective groan from parents and staff as these announcements were rolled out last week. While we heard more concern from our youngest student’s families, students and families from our secondary schools were also saddened. Nearly every family is undecided, stressed and anxious about how to meet income, career, and education needs. Every teacher and staff member mourns the loss of interpersonal interaction with a classroom full of students. The members of the Vashon School Board and VISD administrators, as parents and professionals, feel these same pressures and are tasked to navigate them effectively on behalf of our community. There are no easy decisions and there isn’t a decision that fully meets the broad range of needs in our community.
Because of the rapidly changing circumstances and unprecedented situation, there’s honestly just a lot we don’t know yet. There’s also, ironically, a lot we did “know” that immediately changed. Several times this has happened during the last four months and the only constant has been change. Families need details in order to make plans, but concrete details are in short supply in July. Here’s what I can tell you: We have an incredible team of seasoned VISD staff who have demonstrated their abilities at making “lemonade” from COVID’s “lemons.” Remember graduation?
When school starts under the Remote Learning 2.0 format, it will proceed very differently from the emergency measures in place for the last four months of the 2019-20 school year. There will be structured schedules and more real-time virtual instruction. The end of last year was about “doing no harm” academically and helping seniors complete their programs and graduate. The new school year will focus on building stronger relationships, advancing instruction, acquiring skills, and delivering standardized learning as required.
Our VISD School Reopening Team has been at work for several months already on the details of how to achieve these goals. Planning will continue in August as staff return from their summer break. Families should be encouraged to know that just because the VISD plan calls for “online” school, that does NOT preclude the inclusion of outdoor education within the limits currently allowed by public health officials. In fact, there is a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of how VISD can tailor the delivery of instruction to meet student needs even in a remote schooling model. The VISD School Reopening Team, in collaboration with building leadership teams, is currently working on how to maximize our outdoor learning spaces and increase time together outside with our community partners. Our families can expect more communication in the next few weeks. We are excited about building upon what already makes our schools and island one-of-a-kind.
The school board has every confidence in our superintendent, principals, teachers, paraeducators and building staff to develop a learning model that is both safe and uniquely Vashon. Dr. McSheehy has spent July meeting with various community partners to discuss collaboration on behalf of students in terms of outdoor venues, outdoor instructional models, art instruction, social-emotional support services, child care and more.
As a parent of two VISD students, and chairperson of the school board during this pandemic storm, I’m feeling certain of one thing — that the details, when ultimately presented, will be worth the wait. Our district is tightly connected to its students and families and our students and families are tightly connected to the district. When faced with a challenge, VISD has always demonstrated great resiliency and the 2020-21 school year will be no exception. School will be different, but our schools will be united, creative and determined to succeed remotely until we can all be together in the buildings again. We continue to be thankful for the community’s ongoing support and look forward to designing our “next chapter.”
Rheagan Sparks is a member of the Vashon Island School District Board.