John Lydgate was a monk and a poet who lived from 1370 until 1451 in Suffolk, England; suffice it to say, a long time ago. He was admitted to the Benedictine monastery Burrey St. Edmonds Abbey at age 15. Abraham Lincoln made one of John Lydgate’s quotes famous: “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”
Imagine Lydgate’s quote in this setting of “pleasing:” parents of 10,716 students, 554 teachers, 360 other staff members, nine unions, a significant number of 56,000 community members, and five bosses. Please all of these people all of the time? Never. The job of school administrators, most notably school superintendents, is to make the best decisions possible that will be acceptable for as many as possible.
This weekend, we visited with our friend, the superintendent of the largest school district in Washington state that plans to have in-person classes every day for grades K-5 and in-person split/rotating hybrid schedule for grades 6-12. They will also offer continuous remote learning (K-5) or at home split/rotating hybrid schedule (6-12) or self-paced online learning (6-12).
Coming to this plan after hearing out all of the stakeholders’ opinions and concerns is ultimately the decision of the five-member school board, then executed by the superintendent and his fellow administrators. The task of captaining a school district with all the issues in a “normal” year is not easy. (Just before the pandemic shutdown, this superintendent had to close an elementary school for a day because there was a dead body in the road at the school!) Now add the layer of a pandemic.
In the beginning before some of the requirements, in general, were solidified, I heard parents saying that children were never going to do that. They weren’t going to wear masks. They weren’t going to stay 6 feet apart. Maybe they would wash their hands. Now six months into the pandemic, there appears to be another script being written. Children have become accustomed to masks and social distancing. In school districts with in-person learning, it will be required and enforced.
Speaking with our friend and his wife, I could see the stress and fatigue they both face in this untenable situation. The superintendent has spent hours of research to come to the best possible way to make this work, from rearranging classrooms, engaging more entry doors, utilizing spare spaces, plans in place for positive COVID cases, and, most importantly, purchasing over $1 million in PPE for teachers and staff. A teacher can have a new mask, shield, gloves and gown every day, if they want it. Hopefully, a fully geared-up teacher won’t frighten the younger students, says the superintendent.
Many of us retired folk sigh in relief that we never had to face this situation with our children. Still, there should be a measure of compassion for all parents, children, teachers, school employees and administrators who are trying to make this work.
In our community, school board members and administrators of the Methow Valley School District have struggled with the same dilemma as our friend. After all the considerations, the district will open for in-person instruction on Tuesday (Sept. 8).
Supt. Tom Venable was impressed with a school in Germany that safely reopened for in-person instruction last spring and is now fully open. The director of that school stated: “Their success reflected the willingness of their entire community to socially distance themselves, wear masks, and participate in regular testing … Schools don’t reopen schools. Communities reopen schools.”
Hopefully, all of us in the community — with kids or without — will give a compassionate moment of thanks to all those involved in getting the schools up and running in this most unusual and difficult time.