For students, teachers and parents alike, these are uncharted waters.
And for the men and women tasked with making the decisions to guide the St. Charles Parish public school system, that’s just as true. There’s no clear map or playbook established to navigate this kind of pandemic, and as such, the challenges facing the school system have taken a completely new form.
For Arthur Aucoin, District 7 representative, the toughest part of taking aim comes in the form of what’s been largely a moving target.
“I think the biggest obstacle is all the uncertainty,” said Arthur Aucoin. “I think it’s important we start school so we can set guidelines for all of our stakeholders. I just hope and pray we can stay safe and provide the safest environment for all of our teachers and students, while providing comfort to our parents that we are all in this together. It is very stressful for everyone involved.”
Alex Suffrin, District 8 representative, noted there is plenty to iron out in terms of challenges. Transportation issues, like having proper capacity for buses while ensuring they’re cleaned and disinfected for students. Dining space capacity could become an issue in terms of child nutrition.
With approximately 2,000 students to lean on e-learning in liu of the classroom for at least the first semester – and others at the high school level as well through the hybrid schedule system – families must have the WiFi access necessary. Aspects of staffing and facility management also represent new variables to address.
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, (but) an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” Suffrin said, quoting Winston Churchill’s famous words. “The collaborative efforts of all involved have been nothing short of incredible … we are optimistic that our core business of teaching and learning will continue and thrive. We also recognize that the situation is very fluid and that adjustments may be required at any given time.”
Suffrin said much weight was put on a reopening survey of parents and district employees to help shape the plan’s direction.
“Everyone is working toward the same goal and gives us a reason for optimism,” Suffrin said.
Superintendent Ken Oertling echoed staffing as something that will require attention throughout the year.
More than 7,000 students will be primarily working on campus and in the classroom, while more than 2,000 will utilize e-learning as their primary option for at least the current semester. The biggest challenge in that regard, Oertling said, comes from the standpoint of staffing, as the e-learning program requires it just as the in-person class work does.
“We’re not alone in that, obviously,” Oertling said. “We’re trying to run two school systems with the same pool of resources. There aren’t as many teachers out there to hire. It’s challenging from that standpoint, but we’ll move forward and address it the best we can.”
He estimated about 80 percent of respondents among families polled noted their preference for their children to be part of on-campus learning. That percentage largely followed what the student breakdown in each category went on to be. Given the circumstances, however, Oertling said it was considered vital to give the option for students to work from home.
“We have to have an understanding where families are at and where students are at in regards to all of this … it was very important to provide an option that I think is critical, in order to ease the minds and burdens so many are faced with, and allow those students to still receive a high quality education.”