School Views: Prioritizing instruction
As we near the end of our fifth week of the 2021-22 school year, there have been some significant developments to share with the community.
When planning for the school year this past summer, we held two primary assumptions. First, Eagle County School District was looking forward to exceptional staffing levels throughout the organization, which would translate to small class sizes, plentiful academic support and an adequate number of guest teachers to cover when teachers are out.
Second, with high vaccination rates and disease transmission at early-pandemic levels, we expected this year to be relatively normal in terms of COVID-19 management protocols.
As we have moved through the first month of the school year, we have been forced to rethink those assumptions.
Regarding the first point, Eagle County School District, like many employers around the nation, struggles to find workers. This has left many of our departments short-handed with existing staff working overtime, colleagues covering classes for others when needed, and sacrificing planning time during normal school hours.
Our district leaders continue to work with the board of education and the Eagle County Education Association to develop creative solutions to the staffing shortage, and while this isn’t exactly where I’d hoped we’d be mid-September, I’m inspired and reassured at our organization’s commitment to our students. Our team members continue to step up and help whenever and wherever necessary to ensure quality instruction for our students.
We are grateful for our guest teachers, but we have significantly more vacancies than our substitute pool can cover. To best utilize these dedicated staff members and to ensure teachers are available to teach, we are scaling back professional development and training during the school day. In a typical year, we have enough guest teachers to cover classrooms while educators participate in essential professional development, such as that related to licensure, safety, audits or grant requirements. Now, these trainings will be offered after hours or on weekends so we can prioritize personnel resources to in-person instruction.
COVID-19 also continues to shape and shift many of our decisions. Though vaccination rates are high and quarantine orders have been reduced, we continue to see the delta variant of COVID-19 spread throughout Eagle County.
The existing mask mandate and vaccines have proven effective at controlling disease spread in most schools. To promote transparency, we have reposted the district’s COVID-19 dashboard to the school district website, which shows the cases reported to Eagle County Public Health and their impact on each of our schools.
With a goal of even more normalcy than we are fortunate to provide now, we must be realistic. Our focus on equity (including grading systems), multitiered systems of supports and wellness will not disappear. However, with our system stressed to capacity providing normal, daily instruction, we may adjust our long-term goals to find a sustainable pace at which to run this race.
We are prepared to be flexible and adjust to the challenges we face to prioritize safe, in-person learning environments for all students.
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at email@example.com.