The job of school principal during Covid is exhausting. There is the work of educating students in distance learning, trying to maintain the social-emotional health of students and staff, coordinate safety procedures for cleaning and distancing, plan and implement professional development for teaching now and when things get back to normal, and discern how to open school all while meeting district, state, and federal policies. Our job has grown during the crisis. Despite the greater workload, the worst part is there are no students on campus. We all start our careers as teachers and enjoy working with our students.
Teachers have been amazing through this crisis. They have worked tirelessly to educate kids. I can’t imagine teaching pre-K or Kindergarten virtually (4 and 5-year-olds sitting and learning on a screen) or teaching first graders to read on a computer, teaching instrumental music remotely, conducting Science labs, or Autoshop. They are doing such a fantastic job. All teachers are going above and beyond any contract or hourly pay. They have shown they are committed to our students, families, and community.
Our teachers are incredible, but we all know something is missing. There is a big part of education that goes beyond the classroom. A school has a culture, and it is an essential part of an educational experience. A school’s culture goes beyond a group of buildings and playgrounds, and it is vital to an educational experience. It is tough to create a school culture with distance learning. We are missing the students --the heart and soul of our schools. No amount of work can virtually produce the culture of a school.
There are some positive changes at schools that have come from the pandemic. Teachers have become very good at teaching remotely using new technology, Apps, and programs. Some of the distance learning is highly engaging and really helps students learn. Schools have made more contacts and home visits with students and families. At Pomolita, we have made over 200 home visits thus far this year. That’s a tremendous amount more than ever before. We have a re-engagement committee, made up of administration, counselors, teachers, and campus security, who discusses struggling students, trying to get a complete picture of each struggling student, and creating a plan to make that student successful. We are getting so proficient at remote learning that, in the future, students who cannot be at school when they are sick, for example, will be able to be in class virtually and not miss a day. There are some positives, but we yearn for the student voices to be heard on campus. We want the fun of school. We want our culture back. A virtual classroom will never take the place of a real classroom.
Although we have some positive changes, and teachers are doing a great job, we still want kids back at school. We know that students need to be at school for many reasons, including learning and social-emotional positive development. We need students at school and in front of teachers to learn and experience the fellowship and school community and give our buildings back their heart and soul. We need Ukiah High football and Friday night lights. We need the Chessel gymnasium filled with families watching Eagle Peak vs. Pomolita in a volleyball match. We need kids competing in MESA competitions and Science Olympiad competitions. We need Choir and Band performances, especially during the holidays! We need musicals and plays and school dances. We need art shows, and we need Auto and Welding. We need rallies and spirit days. We need a Homecoming parade going through the streets of Ukiah lined with families and community members. These are things that students experience at school and are a vital part of a student’s education. These are things a student can only experience with schools open in-person. This is our culture. Distance learning and virtual classes are a great stopgap during the pandemic, but we want schools open.
I am proud of our teachers and support staff and what they have accomplished in these difficult times. I am proud to work with terrific administration in Ukiah Unified led by Supt. Kubin. We are working tirelessly to develop an outstanding educational experience for our students. But no matter what we do, no matter how hard we work, we won’t be able to replicate the heart and soul without schools open. Be safe, do your part to help students, wear a mask, and socially distance so we can open schools.