Bright school stationery on old wooden table

Every year for the past four decades, I have looked forward to greeting students, staff, and families in schools. Each child excitedly awaiting the anticipation of the year, with new teachers, classrooms, playgrounds and learning. Usually, teachers have been busy setting up their rooms, gathering supplies, meeting their colleagues and creating their lesson plans. Their noble goals of knowing each student, gazing at their faces and welcoming them into a community of learners and part of our school communities is what makes them delight in being a teacher. 

This year will be different for schools in Arizona, including Pendergast District. Our 12 schools will open on Aug. 5 as planned, but they will look different. Exciting, but different. School districts in Arizona are no strangers to distance learning, we were forced to begin this practice in early March as the pandemic hit and Gov. Doug Ducey declared schools would close their buildings. 

We quickly learned to pivot and begin to reach and teach each child in our system. Teachers prepared lessons for online instruction and packets for those without technology and connectivity. They worked long and hard to meet the needs of each student and family amidst many challenges.  In essence, we were building the planes while flying them. We didn’t have a blueprint or manual for how to do this the first time around, only the desire to keep students safe, learning and connected. 

Gov. Ducey has declared that schools will not open at least until Aug. 17 as we see Arizona’s case numbers of COVID-19 skyrocket. However, we see and feel the toll on our families and communities through job losses, illness, uncertainty, stress, isolation and fear of the unknown. We remain steadfast in stressing what is best for all concerned

Our administrative team has worked round the clock to ensure schools would be ready, taking into account the ideas and opinions of staff and families through surveys, comments and conversations. Additionally, task force subcommittees culled over research and analyzed critical information in the areas of: budget/funding/resources and health and safety, communication and business and community partnerships, educational innovation and family support and instructional day logistics and sports/specials/extracurricular activities and teaching and learning and technology and personnel practices and policies. 

We have all carefully studied what other districts are planning and implemented the guidelines set forth by the Arizona Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control, Governor’s Office and Department of Health Services so we will be in full compliance. 

Each family will be contacted to understand and provide for their needs as we implement our comprehensive distance learning until it is safe to return to brick and mortar school. There is no doubt about the challenges that lie ahead. As educators, we embrace challenges and will make decisions in the best interests of our students, staff and families when it comes to their health, safety and of course, teaching and learning.

Sam Cawthorn so aptly describes our attitude as we forge ahead. “Crisis moments create opportunity. Problems and crises ignite our greatest creativity and thought leadership as it forces us to focus on the things outside the norm.” 

Although we will not see our students in person on Aug. 5, our educators will ensure we will ignite the creativity and learning it takes to safeguard an outstanding educational opportunity for all. We look forward to the days ahead with healthier communities as we seek to flatten the pandemic curve and reopen our buildings to the sounds of laughter and learning.