News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters schools empty until fall

As parents and students lined up in their cars to pick up materials at Sisters Elementary School last Friday, the sadness was palpable. The reality of school being shut and distance learning being put in place really began to sink in following Governor Kate Brown’s announcement on Wednesday, April 8, to close schools for the remainder of the year.

Sisters School District staff worked all throughout last week to make contact with students and families via phone calls and emails in order to begin the transition to distance learning, and once Brown made the announcement Wednesday school staff faced head-on a challenging and emotional reality.

Elementary Principal Joan Warburg acknowledged the emotional aspect of the abrupt change.

“There were many tears and a lot of grieving as our team realized there would be no community again with their classes in the building,” she said. “Education is primarily about relationships, and the loss of those daily connections has been felt by students, parents and staff alike. The parent and student connections this week via phone call and on Friday during materials pick up were wonderfully affirming and helped all of us begin the rebuilding process. We are looking forward to the time when we can all come back together once again.”

High on the list of questions Governor Brown addressed in her announcement was the status of seniors in high school. According to Brown and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), basically, seniors will be given a “Pass” for any classes they were passing at the time of the closure, which will ensure those students get their diplomas. Any students who were not passing will be given the opportunity to complete their courses in order to finish up.

ODE will soon publish further guidelines for grade 9-11 regarding how the question of credits and grades will be handled.

Sisters High School Principal Joe Hosang said, “I am confident about how we will take care of the students, including the seniors. Everyone seems to understand this is a work in progress, so parents and students have been very understanding and gracious.”

Regarding this year’s graduates, Hosang has a team of parents and staff members working on plans to honor the seniors as well as possible given the circumstance.

“Between the Senior Party committee, GRO, and our commencement ceremony committee, as well as others, we are going to do all we can to make things as good as we can for the class of 2020,” he said.

Once Brown’s announcement came, clearing out student belongings got added to the list of tasks needing to be accomplished. The elementary school was able to bag up students’ possessions from the classroom for pickup along with the educational materials Friday, but personal possessions will have to be dealt with in the future for middle and high school students, according to Superintendent Curt Scholl.

He wrote, “Now that we know that we will not be returning to our buildings, we understand that some students have personal property in the schools and we will need to arrange a process for the recovery of those items. This communication will come from your child’s school, but please be patient as we are currently working to re-engage our students.”

Middle school teacher and teacher union president Michelle Hammer acknowledged the challenges ahead for everyone involved. “Preparing for this ‘new normal’ creates a steep learning curve for teachers and they are working extremely hard to meet students’ needs,” she said. “In whatever we do we do not want to add additional stress to families. We do want to provide some semblance of normalcy for our students by helping them get into a routine, while being keenly aware that families are facing multiple challenges themselves.”

Warburg spoke in the same vein, saying, “ I couldn’t be prouder of our staff who have been incredible this week in their hard work to plan and organize materials for our students, connect with families, and learn new skills. They are eager to begin the work this week to rebuild their classroom community in a virtual environment. We appreciate the way Sisters’ parents have been so supportive — we will make mistakes as we practice this new way of teaching and we will model for our students what it means to have a growth mindset, growing our brains as we all learn new skills.”

High school teacher Kristy Rawls, who also assisted with handing out materials, said, “I was very glad that I was able to help and also see the students. It made my heart happy during this really rough time. I am so sad for those big events that seniors and other students are going to miss, but equally sad to lose all those small daily contacts we have with our kids.”

Scholl touched briefly in his letter on what “distance learning” is comprised of.

“This distance learning is not just about online education and may, in fact, include a blend of other modes, such as phone calls, recorded video lessons, Canvas, Google Meet, Zoom and paper packets,” he said.

Scholl asked for continued “patience, kindness, resilience and strength” moving forward into the weeks and months ahead. “We are in uncharted waters, but the school district has the right people to tackle this challenge.”


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