School Views: Ready to get back to school
August has always been one of my favorite times of year. All summer long our students and staff have been getting out and about, going on road trips and camping adventures, and they’re excited to return and share their stories.
Last summer that was difficult to do, but I am so glad that this summer seemed like more people were able to do the things they love. So yet again, I find myself excited for the start of another school year. But, admittedly, we continue to find ourselves faced with a series of challenges, from the unknowns of COVID-19, to transportation and the all-too-familiar housing situation.
It’s hard to ignore the latest news in regard to COVID-19. Around the country, and close to home, we continue to hear about case counts and disease trends increasing. I am beyond grateful to live in a community that sees the value in vaccinations.
Currently in Eagle County, we are over 84% vaccinated for those who are eligible. While getting the shot remains a personal choice, it is clear that our high vaccination participation is the driving force behind us being able to go back to school this year for five days a week of in-person instruction.
We will continue to take the same steps moving forward, working with the Eagle County Department of Public Health and Environment and following the metrics in order to make the most informed decisions based on those numbers. The safety of students and staff remains our top priority, and we are prepared to make difficult decisions in the best interest of everyone.
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Because of the ever-changing nature of the situation, I simply don’t know what will be as far as mask requirements. At the time of this writing, we plan to not require masks in schools, but I must be honest with myself and with you: We are prepared to pivot as necessary based on the data and the guidance we receive.
It is important to note the one exception will be on our school buses, where federal mandates dictate that masks be worn. I am confident that in working together we can continue to learn together and continue our trek back to normal.
Transportation has continued to be a challenge for our district, but we’ve got a great team on board that is working on creative solutions for our bus services. Some of these solutions involve our continued efforts toward staffing.
We’ve increased bus drivers’ rate of pay by 25% and we have hired a few new drivers. We have more positions to fill, but we are fortunate for those that have joined our team, ready for Day 1.
We are consolidating bus stops and adjusting routes to find the most effective work-arounds to get our students to school. Please access your SmartTag account to see route numbers, bus stop locations and times for your student’s pick-up and drop-off.
Service areas have been reduced based on the number of drivers available so as we add drivers we will revisit routes and make updates and additions as we are able. Please feel free to reach out to the transportation department at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Most of you reading this live in the valley and understand the struggles behind housing all too well. Rest assured, we’re right there with you, and the current real estate market conditions only make it more difficult.
However, our staff continues to work to create rental opportunities for those in need and by working with community partners like Habitat for Humanity for those who are interested in home ownership. We have seen great progress with these efforts and are committed to expanding them as this is a long-term problem in need of long-term solutions.
These issues affect our entire community, and it will take all of us to overcome them. Let’s work together, respectfully, to move forward together. Please know that we value open communication and constructive dialogue to address any cause for concern.
The three pillars of education are students, teachers and parents. As a school district, we rely on the collaboration of these pillars to successfully reach our goals. We thank you for your continued support in our efforts and look forward to embracing the 2021-22 school year with you.
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at email@example.com.