We officially made it through one-fourth of the 2020-21 school year. Kalispell Schools opted for an all-in model, and I am grateful students have been in school for a full academic quarter. As a high school principal, safety and well-being of students are high priorities for me. So is learning.
At Flathead High School, we have adjusted to a “new normal.” This includes navigating through a myriad of school COVID cases. As the largest public school in Flathead County, it makes sense that we have the highest share of school COVID cases. Based on current numbers, our next largest schools, Glacier High School and Kalispell Middle School are at the top of the list as well. It is important to note, however, that we are not seeing spread occurring at school. When I do contact tracing for each of our COVID cases, a number of students go into quarantine as a precaution. Those quarantined students are not subsequently getting sick with COVID. When I look at desks in a classroom, a positive COVID student’s desk is not a place of COVID spread to any other student who sits in that same desk later in the day.
Our safety precautions are working. No one likes wearing a mask all day, and mask wearing has unfortunately become highly politicized. The bottom line, however, is that masks are effective in schools. The added layer of desk cleaning between classes and daily disinfection by our custodial staff are new routines that add to the cleanliness of our school. An emphasis on hand washing and sanitizing is also key.
Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I’ve thought a lot about student learning. I’ve always stated that our best instruction comes from teachers in classrooms full of students. In-person teaching and learning allows for real time feedback for teachers, who adjust their questioning, pace, and content based on the needs of the kids in front of them. The human connection is also important to learning, and we learned last spring how incredibly difficult it is to make connections with students via remote learning. Student mental health is positively impacted when we provide a safe and supportive environment for them via face-to-face learning.
I continue to hear about communities large and small where schools shut down due to a couple of COVID cases. The disruption for families and the entire community is considerable. I am grateful that the Kalispell Public Schools board of trustees supports in person learning, five days a week. We can manage student and staff COVID cases and quarantines as they arise. An added blessing for us is that we have all become more flexible and gracious during these challenging times. Students and adults adapt to changes because of COVID, and we move forward, week by week, through the 2020-21 school year.
Michele Paine is principal at Flathead High School.
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