Task force aims to provide students with Strong Start to school year

While the 2019-20 school year came to a sudden and unexpected halt, the St. Charles Parish public school district is making plans to ensure students and teachers enter 2020-21 with momentum.

The district has put together a task force comprised of more than 75 participants, to create a blueprint and contingencies for school protocols in the upcoming school year. The task force is taking cues from the state Department of Education and Governor John Bel Edwards’ own task force, the latter entities collaborating to provide guidance for Louisiana school systems in preparation for next year. That collaboration is called Strong Start 2020, thus the St. Charles district formed its own Strong Start 2020 task force to focus on its reopening.

The task force is comprised of several subcommittees, focusing on areas including health and safety,  curriculum and instruction, school operations, transportation, nutrition, human resources, technology, public information and student support (emotional and social wellness).

Strong Start task force members during a Zoom meeting.

As concrete plans cannot be finalized just yet due to several variables – what phase the state will be in for its recovery, what regulations will be in place and how much of if COVID-19 is present at the time of reopening – each committee is planning for four different return scenarios in order to best ensure the education of the district’s students can move forward.

Adaptability, says Superintendent Dr. Ken Oertling, is key.

“We’re working through different return scenarios. We have to have a plan for whatever the situation calls for,” Oertling said. “We’re looking at things like what alternating days would look like for students, what reducing class sizes by 50 percent might look like, the cost of transportation and human resources, what type of schedules we’re looking at.

“It’s a monumental task, and the only way to conquer it is through having a multitude of different avenues that we’re prepared to take.”

Oertling stressed that priority number one is ensuring the safety of the returning students to a healthy space to learn. Beyond that, there’s an element of making up for lost time, as students have lost more than two months of time in the classroom – and a need to prepare for the possibility of more time away from the classroom, were another COVID-related interruption to take place.

“We must recognize where achievement gaps have occurred based on the loss of teaching and learning toward the end of the school year,” Oertling said. “We have to have high quality curriculum and resources for students (on site), but we also have to be able to provide online learning platforms and maintain curriculums that are flexible in nature that we can flip if we expect to be gone for certain periods of time. It’s possible based on social distancing parameters, we might have to start the school year from that standpoint.”

Task force members include Oertling and the school district’s executive staff members, teachers, principals, central office staff and curriculum facilitators. Oertling said other stakeholders and district students will also be called upon to provide different viewpoints, “to help us consider different things we may not be considering already in preparation.”

“The core of what we do doesn’t change,” Oertling said of educating students. “The change comes in the method of delivering that instruction. We’ve had the same educational institution and basic operating plans for over 200 years, and here we are changing operations within a three or four month period.

“It’s a monumental challenge. But I feel like the leadership we have here in our school system, the support of the board, our employees and our community … we have the right people in place to provide guidance and help us be successful.”


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