This superintendent says there’s no such thing as a challenge that isn’t also an opportunity, and the pandemic is no different

4 ways our district finds educational opportunities during the pandemic

This superintendent says there’s no such thing as a challenge that isn’t also an opportunity, and the pandemic is no different

The pandemic has created plenty of seemingly insurmountable challenges, but it has also presented amazing opportunities for school districts. Maybe the opportunity is the chance (or the necessity!) to try new tools that may have been too risky or training-intensive in more normal times. Maybe it’s an attitude of goodwill and mutual aid that strengthens relationships among district stakeholders. Maybe it’s a big injection of funding from the CARES Act that will let you make long-needed purchases or investments in your district that previously felt out of reach.

Whatever the case, the post-COVID world is going to be different. The good news is that the world to come, especially in your own school district, has not been determined yet, and we have the opportunity to put our stamp on it before it ever arrives.

Here’s how we’ve been taking advantage of opportunities at Marion County School District to keep students on track as much as possible throughout the pandemic, along with a few ideas about how we’ll do things differently in the post-COVID world.

Encouraging flexibility

I have to give our teachers credit for their incredible resourcefulness. They have tracked down so many tools, trainings, and other resources to make sure they’re doing the best they can for our students in these difficult times. One of my favorite examples is a set of resources they created themselves.

Our Early Learning Center offers a Montessori-based education to our youngest students. Because this method of teaching is somewhat difficult to adapt to a distance learning model, our teachers began putting together “Montessori bags” each week for students to take home and use later in class. If the curriculum called for a cube, for instance, there was one in the bag. Most of the resources were disposable, like beans used as manipulatives for math instruction, so that parents didn’t have to return them to the school.

Putting those manipulatives in the home has been its own opportunity. Many of our parents have never seen manipulatives. Now they’ve had the chance not only to see them, but more importantly to witness in their own living rooms and kitchens, how educators use those manipulatives to help educate their children.

An opportunity to do things differently

When the pandemic first started, there was so much talk about going back to normal. However, I think it’s become clear that we are entering a permanent new normal. Teachers have been forced to become familiar with technology they were able to avoid in the past. More importantly, many teachers have come to see the value those technologies provide.

The CARES Act made a material change in our district that will outlast the pandemic. With the funding we received through CARES, we were able to become a 1:1 district. The state has provided free Wi-Fi for our students this year and, paired with a device in every student’s hands, we’ve been able to completely rethink our educational lessons across all grade levels throughout the district. Teachers posting assignments, meeting in chat rooms, holding virtual office hours, and virtual parent conferences have now become routine and will likely be permanent features in our district.

An opportunity to purchase what you need

When it comes to funding in rural communities, you really have to look and say, “Well, I only have this much in this particular pot. Who or what should I target for this pot of money?” The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund is providing us with a substantial amount of funding. We’re going to be able to do some things that we have not been able to do before. Check out this helpful guide provided by one of our district partners for more information on how to secure ESSER II funds or how others are using them.

At Marion County School District, much of the funding we receive will go towards activities to support learning loss such as hiring personnel to provide intense interventions, as well as to staff summer programs. Our goal is to bring in new graduates and possibly retired teachers to begin working directly with children. Whether it’s in the classroom or a pull-out model, we want more teachers targeting reading skills with the students who need it. They’re not going to be here to make copies, put together bulletin boards, or run errands. From the moment they walk in the doors, we plan to have them working with children individually or in small groups at the appropriate level for those individual students.

Another part of our funds will go to digital curriculum. Right now, for instance, we’re seeing huge success with’s early learning curriculum among our four-year-olds. We plan to expand that to other grade levels, because if it works, why wouldn’t we offer it to as many students as possible?

Strengthening the home-school bond

Most years, we work hard to get parents engaged in their children’s schoolwork. Partnering with organizations like, which assigns every child working with its early literacy and numeracy curriculum a family liaison who helps them understand how to support their children’s learning, has helped us engage with our parents and show them just how important of a role they play in their child’s education. Any chance I get to speak publicly is a chance to thank our teachers and students for all their hard work, but this year, it’s especially important to thank our parents.

Normally when students would come home after school, parents could get by with a few questions like, “Have you done your homework?” Some engagement was good, but not quite enough. Though this pandemic, parents have had to become co-teachers, especially if their children are very young and need help understanding new concepts. They’ve had to take on a whole different role, and that needs to be acknowledged.

I just can’t give enough credit to our parents and the way they’ve taken on more of an instructional role. Recently, I was at our Early Learning Center, and one of the teachers was bragging on a parent. She said she had seen so much growth in one 4-year-old child, noting that she was beginning to read truly fluently, that she asked her mom, “What are you doing at home?”

The mother told her, “Well, when I’m watching you virtually, I’m picking up on your strategies. And so when we get out of class, I’m trying to use those same strategies, like the questioning, the wait time.” Our parents have played an active role in helping us to advance, remediate, and intervene.

One of the ways that our early learning center has found to tighten that idea of improving school-to-home connection is through virtual family game nights. The old proverb about how it takes a village to raise a child is true, and nothing brings the village together like some shared fun.

I think this may be the best thing to come out of this crisis. So often in education, the home-school connection and getting parents engaged has been the missing piece. The pandemic has truly forced that relationship, but in a very positive way. I think our parents now feel empowered to help and support their children through their education, which is a wonderful thing because we can’t do this work alone as educators.

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