EVSC superintendent on his early memories of the pandemic, and how they dealt with the challenges of getting students back in the classroom.
Transcript of interview with Dr. David Smith:
What do you remember of those very early days the information that was coming in and decisions that you were contemplating maybe and hadn't even made yet?
00:00:08 Dr. Smith: I remember that time vividly things were changing not on a daily basis, but in some instances on an hourly basis, I vividly recall the Reitz basketball team was going to compete in the regional level of the basketball tournament. And basically we had to have them get off the bus. It was that's how things were changing. On a constant basis from everyday moving forward. I think the gravity of the situation became more and more apparent and then when we were thinking about what we needed to do, you know from the second day on we discussed our partnership with WNIN. We were so blessed that we were able to actually produce educational content for students to take advantage of over the summer months, but we started talking about that day two we started talking about how we going to feed our students. Originally, we thought we might be out for two weeks and then In that two-week period of time the governor came on and basically called school for the rest of the academic year. You know we continued to plan and we started planning actually for a reopening. So we have phenomenal people in EVSC started doing a great deal of research. We were looking really to the countries in Europe because they had experienced this phenomenon first. So we looked at how they navigated this within their educational institutions and we learned a great deal from them. This Summer was a busy summer, but actually, even before we were out of school if you will for the last academic year, we literally took tape measures to measure the distance that we had within our classrooms. We have 5 million square feet under roof, and we knew that one of the mitigation strategies if we were going to reopen was that social distancing so we had to keep students away at least six feet. We knew that thorough and frequent hand-washing were critically important. So, you know, we had all the soap dispensers that we ordered. Also got the water bottle filling stations ordered 200 of those and had them installed in our facilities so that we would make as certain as possible that we would be able to maintain social distancing basically adhere to all those social distancing and all those mitigation strategies, but going back to measuring how many desks can we get in this classroom? And how can we accomplish all of this work? I think you might recall Steve that we actually moved Harwood High School students out of the Harwood facility into our facility at AIS Diamond Avenue campus so that we could accomplish social distancing and two of our largest elementary schools being Hebron and Highland. So we move the fourth and fifth grade into what we now call the Harwood Annex. That's how serious we were about deploying mitigation strategies, and we went to that extent because we know how important it is for our families to get back to work. The guiding mantra, if you will, we had three main points, we want to make certain that academic puursuits for our students would continue we wanted to make certain that our students and our parents had every option that they felt was necessary to continue to educate their child. And we also wanted to make certain that we provided a safe environment for our students and staff.
00:03:14 Burger: What was it like for you? What was going through your mind? What did you feel when you realize that the weight of your professional role was going to intersect so closely with something like a pandemic?
00:03:30 Dr. Smith: You know, Yeah. I think the gravity of the situation because I've always taken the responsibility to educate kids as a high responsibility and blessing but when you then couple that with with the health and well-being of an entire community, and the last thing I would ever want to do would be to put people at risk or in jeopardy or to jeopardize our health, but I also know that through our research that students not being in in-person instruction many times. was just as devastating if not more so. So I had supreme confidence in our staff. This isn't about me. This is about the team that we are blessed to have and I hope the Evansville community understands how blessed they are to have a public school system that can turn pivot on a dime and provide 800 thousand meals to the Evansville community and part of that requirement was that we fed anybody and everybody that was under 18, they Didn't have to be even from Vanderburgh County didn't even have to be an EVSC student. But 800,000 meals turning on a dime. We became a logistics company not just an educational entity. So all of our administrators work throughout the summer redesigning what school would look like re-envisioning what school would look like. I do remember a lot of sleepless nights, but I also remember that, you know, we're making decisions that are in the best interest of our students. Making decisions that are in the best interest of our families and the best interests of our staff and we're so blessed to have a collaborative community in Evansville that I had the expertise of the healthcare professionals in Evansville. I had the opportunity to interact with the mayor who's a phenomenal leader in our community and just being able to do that provides a great deal of comfort knowing that we were doing the very best that we possibly can in an era where there is no playbook for a pandemic. And I am so proud of our staff and equally as proud of our students because there were a lot of naysayers out there that said you'll never get students to wear masks. We've not had an issue with that and Incredibly proud of our families and lastly of our entire Evansville community. They have been the success that has really allowed EVSC to lead the way not only in this community, but I would suggest throughout our state and throughout our nation. It's interesting now that once again the talk is resurfaced. Well, how do we open schools? How do we reopen? Schools for the first time in a year for many many school districts across our nation and many people are said just look at EVSC. They've been successfully open for in-person instruction for eight months. They can show you how it's done.
00:06:18 Burger: Are there any positive changes that you think will stick in the EVSC?
00:06:24 Dr. Smith: What's interesting is referrals to the officer are down 60% down 60 percent from the same period of time last year to this year. So obviously that I think is due to a variety of factors. We're actually doing a great deal of analysis now to drill down to see what the root causes of that positive change, you know, we have been much more attentive to educating the whole child their social emotional where welfare we want to make certain that they're calm alert and ready to learn. So what kind of structures and systems have to be in place so we can ensure that our students come to us calm alert and ready to learn and if they don't come to us that way what can we do to make certain that they achieve that status just quickly as possible and I think we've learned so much about how students enter our building where they are in the morning how they're fed the opportunity for them to still interact in a social setting but still be safe with parameters and guard- guidelines if you will in place, so we've learned a lot about that and we've I think it has once again hearkened us back to what we've said now for at least half a dozen years there has to be a paradigm shift in how we educate kids and uh, Understanding more fully how the brain develops and how the wiring of the brain if you will so that we can be much more attentive to the education of the entire child.