2020 has been incredibly challenging for everyone. In over 20 years as a superintendent, this is the most challenging time that I have experienced. There simply are no easy decisions or good answers. A comment I have been hearing often is that “we are all in the same boat.” While we may all be in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. The pandemic has affected everyone differently in many ways. Some families have been negatively impacted financially, while others have not been. Some families have parents working outside of the home, while others have been able to work from home. There are many families who have a loved one dealing with underlying health conditions, while others do not. We are also not in the same boat in regard to how the virus may affect each of us. Studies show that COVID may affect a kindergarten student differently than a high school student. Along with these differences, we also have varied personal and professional opinions on the overall impact of COVID. The debates over the effectiveness and necessity of masks, the role that physical distancing plays, and the views about the different learning options we are able to provide as a result vary greatly. The topics of health, education, civil liberties, and physical safety elicit strong emotions. There are also varying opinions on how education should move forward during these challenging times. We can all benefit by being respectful of the opinions of others and to look for common ground rather than focus on our differences.
Although there are many unknowns as we enter this school year, there are also many things we do know. We know that this year will not be business as usual. We were able to start the school year face-to-face and have utilized that time to establish relationships with our students. We do know that we will continue to promote a positive culture regardless of the challenges we face, and we know that we will put our students first in the decisions we make and the actions we take. Although schools across the state and nation are going to great lengths to provide options for families to safely return this fall, the spread of the virus will ultimately be the determining factor when making many decisions in how our school year proceeds. The planning process to reopen (and keep open) schools has been ongoing for many months. We have a flexible plan to help us adapt to changes as we continue to learn new information about the virus and how to mitigate its impact on our community. Changes will continue to be made as details become clear. The plan we have developed includes choices and flexibility. There are four levels of intervention (Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red) that are building specific and will be determined by the spread of the virus. While we don’t have all the answers at this time, we do have a plan that is adaptable to these changing conditions. We are taking many precautions to provide on campus learning for our students. 93 percent of our families have chosen this option to start the school year, while 7 percent have opted for distance learning. Those impacted by the virus will adapt to a hybrid model as we make efforts to prevent community spread. We will work hard to provide the best educational opportunity possible for students in every learning model and pathway.
I’ve never been prouder to be an educator as I have during the past six months. While challenging, COVID has revealed what an integral role public education plays in the culture of our communities. While we don’t have all the answers and the year ahead is sure to be challenging, we have an amazing team in Harrisburg that will meet these challenges head on. I believe we are ready and able to rise to the occasion.
Mr. Tim M. Graf, Superintendent
Harrisburg School District