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Administrator’s Corner: Lessons learned during COVID-19 pandemic will help later in life

Administrator’s Corner by Mike Funk

Mike Funk

 

Much has been said about the 2019-20 school year being historic because of the pandemic. It truly was.

As superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools, I can proudly state that as a district, we more than met the challenge to educate our 3,500 students in this stressful time. Our teachers were innovative and well-versed in meeting student needs in a new format. Our parents became critical partners in student learning. Our support staff cared for the children of essential workers and served over 91,000 free meals to students. Because of the support of our community, we were one of a few districts in southern Minnesota that had the technology for all of our students to learn in a distance learning format. Together we improved our students’ lives.

So, I am often asked the question: What does the future hold for education in Albert Lea? Here are my thoughts on the near-term, and longterm for the 2020-21 school year.

The Minnesota Department of Education has now authorized hybrid learning for summer school. We have decided to run K-8 summer school programming June 15 to July 9 for students in need of extra assistance. We will be capped at nine students per teacher in person to keep with the state mandate of group sizes no larger than 10. A teacher will work with a group of nine students in the morning in-person, and then with another group of nine students in the afternoon online. The two groups will rotate being in-person every other day.

We hope to have 100% of our student body together when the 2020-21 school opens up. However, if the Minnesota Department of Health maintains tight social distancing rules, we will likely move to a hybrid model on a district-wide basis for at least the start of next school year. In this model, our planning assumption is that students will be in school only part of the week, with distance learning filling in the gaps for the rest of the week. We may also have families who choose not to send students to school because of the pandemic, and need to be prepared to offer a pure distance learning option to those students. We hope to have better visibility on what the start of the school year will look like by the end of June.

Thankfully we have an agile group of administrators and teachers in our district who have the skills to adjust their plans to educate our students regardless of what comes our way.

We have become better educators as a result of these challenges, and our students have learned some new skills that will serve them well later in life. We have also had the belief validated that it takes a community to raise a child. Thank you to all the residents of Albert Lea Area Schools for supporting our school system.

Mike Funk is the superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools.