Superintendent’s Corner column: Holiday wishes to keep our kids in school

Rob Stein
Superintendent's Corner

The other day, I got an email from Zach, a student from Glenwood Springs, who provided the best holiday cheer:

I wanted to personally give you my thanks for your work in getting our school back to in-person learning. I have been able to concentrate better in the classroom and my energy has increased. I feel happier, less stressed, and more prepared for the next day. I appreciate the steps taken in making sure everyone is safe, and I want you to know that I hope we can continue in-person learning during the second semester. Thank you and happy holidays.

This has been an enormously challenging fall for all teachers and school employees, but as Zach’s comments attest, their efforts have paid off. However, their efforts aren’t sustainable.

We are making adjustments next semester to help make the workload more manageable for teachers and staff, but the biggest challenge to remaining in person is the number of staff members who must quarantine when Covid cases present in our schools. This puts an increased burden on those who remain in person, and threatens our ability to maintain programs or even provide supervision. While we await a vaccine, the whole community will need to do its part to reduce the spread of the disease.

Even though we aren’t seeing internal transmission in our schools, as Covid rises in the community, every case causes great disruption. Teachers must cover extra duties for colleagues who are out and provide lessons for students in quarantine. Administrators spend countless hours tracing contacts, quarantining students and staff and, in some cases, temporarily closing schools and programs to in-person learning.

Just last week, three high schools transitioned to distance learning for the remainder of the semester because of diminished staff capacity which, of course, was caused by quarantines. Despite these disruptions, we remain committed to offering in-person learning while we can, and plan to resume in-person learning after winter break.

As we appear to be entering the most difficult stages of the pandemic this winter, there is some hope in sight. The first doses of the vaccine arrived at local hospitals last week. Teachers and other essential workers will not receive vaccinations until the second phase later this winter or spring, and there are still many unanswered questions about prioritization, distribution and timeline.

Current plans from the state appear to call for workers in congregate housing, including ski industry workers, to be vaccinated ahead of essential workers such as teachers. If we want to keep our students in school, it would be worth prioritizing teachers as early as possible in the second phase.

Our entire community will have to show a commitment to getting everybody vaccinated when their time comes. Before any vaccine reaches your arm, it will have been rigorously tested by scientists and doctors, undergone massive clinical trials, and been tested on a diverse swath of volunteers.

We must all pay attention to scientific evidence from reputable sources, participate in, and support the largest public vaccination effort in U.S. history if we really want our kids in school.

The families, businesses, and leaders in our community have been emphatic about wanting schools to remain in-person. A report just released last week from the governor and the state departments of health and education also makes the case for what they call “the in-person imperative.” Keeping kids in school is better for their academic learning, social and emotional development, and for them to access vital nonacademic services such as meals and healthcare. Employers and workers keep reminding us that it is imperative for our economy to have kids in school so their parents can work.

All leaders and members of the Roaring Fork community can help keep our kids in school after the holidays by advocating for, modeling and abiding by the scientifically proven protective measures, such as mask wearing, distancing, avoiding social gatherings, and frequent hand washing that have proven to be effective in our schools and elsewhere.

And, make it your new year’s resolution that, when your turn comes, you will get vaccinated to prevent yourself and others from getting sick. Those would be the best holiday presents for Zach and all the students in the Roaring Fork Schools.

Rob Stein is Superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

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