Washougal, WA — Washougal School District (WSD) last week welcomed their first 200 students into the classroom at all grade levels and the experience is helping administrators and educators shape their next phases of a detailed reopening plan.
“Just like everybody else we are moving to the first reopening category even though we’re in a high infection rate countywide,” said Dr. Mary Templeton, Superintendent of Washougal School District. “We are bringing back small groups of students totaling 200 who are coming to our campuses for in-person learning.”
The district is only serving special needs students in the classroom during this phase, who are dispersed through all Washougal schools. This is week two, and Templeton said WSD will likely roll in the second wave of students in mid-October — which includes students who are homeless or disadvantaged.
“We know which groups of students are not achieving at the rate we want them to,” said Templeton. “We want to level the playing field for them. Right now, all high school, middle school, elementary school students with special needs are in the classroom. We’ve identified them and that’s the breakout. We are busing, which is nice, it’s an indicator that we’re progressing. We had to temporarily lay off many employees, but we did keep a small group of transportation staff for this first phase.”
WSD has 40 staff members onsite operating in the classroom or working directly with children.
“I’ve been on campus several times and everybody is excited to be with the kids, and they tell me it’s going well,” said Templeton. “These are the comments I heard when I was out and about. I walked in and spoke with office staff who say it’s so great. I loved hearing the sound of children laughing and talking. The cafeteria had children laughing.”
Classrooms mostly consist of groups of five. There is no requirement for what small group means, but WSD is averaging five per class. Students and staff are following all the COVID-19 guidelines. Most tudents are not there for the entire day. They are having lunch and then busing them home.
Some students, however, are there five days a week, and some are attending hybrid and it’s based on student need.
“It’s one step in the right direction and it’s what is being recommended,” said Templeton. “We are fast-forwarding in our minds what will be the need, what do need to have ready to go in the next step, which we hope to be a hybrid elementary situation. Just like everybody we have community members and parents who would like us to go faster, and some would like us to go slower. We are taking a measured approach. We don’t want to move too quickly. We are trying to be respectful of everyone’s desire and to make sure we are prepared.”
Here are some of the things WSD is doing to get ready for the hybrid in-class phase:
- Hygiene stations throughout the schools
- Distance protocols
- Staff training
- Recommended PPE
- Isolation rules and protocols
- Quarantine process
- Health screening at entrances
- Signage and markers
- Increased sanitation receptacles
Templeton said they are working with the health department on a regular basis.
“Everybody needs to mask up and social distance, which will make our schools open faster,” said Templeton. “The last thing is that we need to maintain our focus on our remote learning. We can’t lose our remote learning momentum. It’s going well, but it does have problems. We are working through those. We must maintain our focus on keeping the learning going and keeping those relationships strong.”
For the next wave, WSD will possible add another 200 students that would most benefit from onsite instruction.
“We are taking a thoughtful and measured approach,” Templeton said. “I don’t have teachers telling me they don’t want to be in the classroom, but several have asked us to have a choice of being in the classroom or to teach strictly remotely. Some are choosing to be onsite and some are choosing to be at home.”
There is a process for a staff member who requires an accommodation, and WSD is able to offer that to them. These accommodations may be for them to have a completely virtual classroom, based on parent and student requests.
There might be teachers who may need to take a leave of absence.
“I think teachers miss students and they want to be in the classroom, and we’re making sure it’s a safe opening,” Templeton said. “What are things we need to shore up? We’ve been having this conversation for several months. Each building has a designated COVID safety coordinator.”
Templeton is in her third year as WSD Superintendent, entering the job at the height of the 2018 teacher’s strike. And, now these past six months she’s dealing with the pandemic.
“It’s all hands on deck, we have a good time,” she said. “We have accomplished much. We have successfully marketed the district with Washougal Rising. There’s a high self-esteem. We are now a destination district. It’s an indicator things are working. We’ve had three state recognized schools. Equity is very important to us. We have many students of color participating in accelerated programs. It’s unprecedented excellence. We are aggressively optimistic. If you can’t maintain your optimism it’s hard to move forward. We are all impacted by what is happening. We must have grace and patience with each other. I live here and those are the things we must maintain.”