It has been a quiet few months at Flathead High School. As I worked each day as principal of the valley’s largest public school, I waited for the day when students and staff graced our classrooms and halls. The COVID-19 pandemic upended the public education system on March 15, 2020, when the governor shut down our schools. We scrambled to create a system for remote instruction that took us to the end of the 19-20 school year.
Kalispell Public Schools has been hard at work developing a reopening plan that is workable for families and safe for staff and students. A number of Montana districts are adopting a partial attendance schedule, and that is problematic on a number of levels. I believe our “all in person” or “all remote” model makes good sense and is manageable. Our plan for school operations in the various phases of the COVID pandemic is understandable and guides us through every scenario.
At Flathead High School, our Honor Code articulates behavioral expectations for students. We expect students to “Honor Yourself,” “Honor the Community,” and “Honor the Moment.” For the 20-21 school year, this includes health and safety requirements. We wear face coverings and keep our hands clean to honor ourselves. We contain coughs and sneezes, stick to assigned areas, and stay home when sick to honor the community. We maintain six feet of distance and act with grace and kindness to honor the moment.
When students return to school after a typical summer break, they require re-teaching of procedures and behavioral expectations. We know it will take extra effort this fall, since students have not navigated a school setting in five months. I’ve always believed that one of the important jobs of a public school is to teach kids how to function in society. Students learn academics, of course, but they also learn social norms and etiquette. Schools help them become good citizens and kind people.
I’m proud of our staff and its commitment to teaching. We all work hard to ensure learning regardless of the circumstances. We have amazing teachers in our school. Flathead families have been supportive, and most believe that the best place for students to be is in school. There will be unforeseen challenges ahead; I have no doubt. I am confident in our ability to educate students given our current pandemic circumstances. Welcome, 20-21 school year!
Michele Paine is principal of Flathead High School.