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School at Home: Looking Ahead to the Future

Laura Lee
Updated: May 21, 2020 10:46 PM
Created: May 21, 2020 07:47 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Education leaders say if there is one positive from this whole crisis, it's that we're all in this together.

As the school year is winding down this is typically the time of the year where schools celebrate with picnics, field trips and graduations. But the coronavirus changed everything. 
    
In the final part of our "School at Home" series, we spoke with district leaders about what the future looks like and what families should prepare for heading into the fall.

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A student speaking to their teacher through a computer is what learning has become.

"Back when technology first came into the forefront, everyone thought tech was going to replace educators, I think one thing we've learned here, it can't," said Superintendent David Krenz with Austin Public Schools.

If there is one thing everyone can agree on, it's the fact that distance learning can't replace the teacher - student relationship.

"It's about what happens between that teacher in that classroom with that individual student," said Krenz, "that is the critical component to learning."

After 43 years in education, Austin Superintendent David Krenz says he's learned a few things about distance learning and about himself during this pandemic. 

"I think what has made me, as an individual and a person so proud of, is how our community, our teachers and our leadership has stepped up to make sure that not just the job is getting done, but the fact that everyone is being supported," said Krenz.

40 minutes away on Interstate 90, is one of the state's largest school districts.

"It's like people say, building that plane while you're up in the air and that's basically what we did" said Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Michael Munoz.

Like any pilot, the burden to take care of everyone on board, is a heavy one.  "As a leader of this district, I know there is a lot of people counting on me, so I have to do my job," said Munoz holding back tears. 
 
Demonstrating that even a superintendent is feeling the effects of this pandemic.  "This is something that I think none of us in any of our careers would think would happen."

At the helm of their school districts, these leaders make very important decisions and the moment they transitioned to distance learning, they turned to community partners for help.

Help with things like access to the internet.   Rochester Public Schools checked out more than 8,000 tablets to families.  In Albert Lea, more than 3,200 devices were given to every student and in Austin with just over 5,300 students, every student also received a device. Austin Public Schools says they will allow their students to hold on to the devices through summer since many places for activities will remain closed.  

"We partnered with the city and the city library to write a grant at the Hormel Foundation to provide hot spots for families that do not have internet connection," said Krenz listing off additional support the district asked for.

Communities also stepped up in a big way providing free meals for families. Local restaurants as well as all of the school districts offering drive through lunches for kids.  In Rochester, the district taking it a step further providing dinners too.

"We just have amazing people in our district that really came together and rolled up their sleeves and said what can we do to not only address the academic needs of our students, but all the other needs," Munoz said.

But one very important aspect of education is the social emotional side that leaders say will last well into the next school year.

"We've all experienced some loss," said Munoz.  "Not just in the classrooms, but staying at home and something we normally would be used to doing, we've lost that."

As our communities continue to grieve, administrators are already planning ahead making sure mental health resources are in place when students and staff return to school.

"I think that we're finding now from this event, that there is this huge social emotional side of it," said Krenz, "I've always said that education isn't about teachers teaching the kids, it's about a community working to make sure that we're successful with our most precious resource, our children."

While this isn't the perfect way to close out the school year, educators say they will continue to do the best they can.

"As people, we always want to do the right thing, the right thing by our kids, the right thing by their family, the right thing by their community" said Krenz.

"As we move from one transition to another, we usually have to say good bye to where we were."

Closing this challenging chapter in all of our lives.

District leaders say one of the most important things they want to say, is thank you.  Thank you to the families for their patience, thank you to the teachers and staff for all of the hard work and thank you to the community for stepping up and helping. 
 


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