“Don’t look back, you aren’t going that direction,” a nice quip, but it is not beneficial. Moving forward without considering the past means losing the lessons.
People are anxious to leave COVID behind; unfortunately, we are not fully past this chapter. While we have many reasons for optimism, COVID is still active. It may seem soon for a “lessons learned” conversation, but we can examine observations to this point and use them to inform governance decisions moving forward.
Public schools have seen the largest decline in enrollment since the turn of the century. Can we recover? Can we connect with families and rebound? Only through incorporating the lessons learned. Three areas for attention stand out in a reflective analysis of the pandemic response: communication, inequities, and innovation.
Step 1 — Communication
Communication is the key to engagement--it must be honest, timely and dynamic. Consistent communication is key to maintaining public trust and instilling confidence and calm. When there is frequent change and disruption, it is important to have a centralized messaging and communication center that is adequately publicized. Social media and targeted tools like a message service are helpful to get quick notifications out, while a static web location that parents trust to hold the latest information can alleviate confusion.
Step 2 — Bridge the Inequity Gaps
Data points to the fact that COVID exacerbated existing inequities. From a financial standpoint, already struggling families were pushed further into hardship. Necessary resources, materials and supplies were sometimes scarce. When the hardware was available, connectivity -or the lack of it- created issues. Even students with in-home wi-fi were not always equipped to handle multiple people working at home. Students of color were also disproportionately impacted by excessive absenteeism. Moving forward, equity must be a centerpiece of system-level plans for each district. Support systems featuring proactive outreach will have to be developed. Targeted support for families and multilingual communication avenues are essential. Collaborative efforts to understand the most pressing needs of students and families should be a core of recovery plans.
Step 3 — Increase Technology Usage
Remote learning was probably the biggest challenge schools faced in the pandemic. Curriculum components, assessment strategies and instructional delivery all had to change. Technology literacy is a must for 21st century graduates and the pandemic led to students becoming stronger in their use of technological tools. Many students also reported becoming stronger in working independently. Families that previously were not able to come to meetings or engage with the schools were able to connect virtually.
What Does This Mean for a School Board?
Data is the key to recovery. Knowing connectivity rates for students, meals served, plan status and communication efficacy are all important—what worked and what didn’t. A technologically equipped board can easily compare current data with historical numbers. Transparency for the community will build trust while a single source of truth alleviates confusion. While the list above is not exhaustive in terms of pandemic impacts, it is a starting point for conversations and plans to strategically deploy ESSER dollars. Engagement with the community is a requirement for developing spending plans for this additional money. A robust board portal is the key to tracking goals, sharing confidential board information while remaining accessible in the community.