March of 2020 began a time of angst and uncertainty that drove how we responded to many aspects of our lives that have been turned upside down. Loved ones were lost, families kept apart, and students, families, teachers, staff, and leadership were asked to adapt to a new way of life, teaching and learning due to a global pandemic.
Everyone is impacted by a crisis differently. While everyone is in the same storm, our boats are a little different.
Part of the challenge was how these differences translated what was happening and what data set and/or source should guide us in making objective decisions. This became a national debate and unfortunately politicized, and as we looked to open the 2020-2021 academic year, local school districts were given little guidance/objectivity to make informed decisions on learning modalities that prioritized the health and wellness of all stakeholders.
Fortunately, at the beginning of the 2020-2021 fall semester, federal, county and state health officials and resident experts developed benchmarks that guided districts’ teaching and learning environments based on the severity of three main measures: percent positivity, cases per 100k and COVID like illness. While the benchmarks were put in place to provide some level of objective decision making during a very fluid and uncertain health crisis, they became a topic that divided our community.
During this time, I did receive some colorful emails where some went overboard and turned personal. As the president of the PUSD governing board, it is important to me to be very informed and promote safe and encouraging spaces where all stakeholder voices are heard, their opinions are valued, and their input is respected.
I spend countless hours meeting with district associates, attending parent meetings, data mining, reading industry research, and visiting school sites meeting with teachers, staff, leadership and students. It is this very effort and intentionality that will continue to influence how I make objective, global and informed decisions. It is this very mindset that influenced my decision to support the district’s decision to maintain a virtual learning environment at the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year, support the district in phasing in a face-to face option with full integration by the end of September, and support entering the 2020-2021 winter semester with options tied to the district’s learning modalities.
Our board meetings continue to be met with contention. As a result, and what I believe may be an unintended consequence, the voices of or our primary target audience, our students, are not being represented. We typically have a student liaison, who sits on cabinet row at our board meetings, however they have elected to stop attending due to being uncomfortable. This is concerning and something that we have to work on together to ensure that our board meetings can truly be a place where everyone, including our youth, feel welcomed, valued and heard.
PUSD is a public school system whose just cause is to ensure that “Every student. Every day. Is prepared to shape tomorrow.” It is full of big, compassionate, and intentional hearts and its impact goes beyond its walls.
I will continue to step into another’s shoes, listen to understand and ask myself; What do I know how to do? Where is the need? And how I can help?
Editor’s note: David Sandoval is the president of the Peoria Unified School District governing board.