Dr. Jeff Snell, Superintendent of Camas School District, recently answered several questions about that state of the district as it navigates this COVID-19 pandemic.
How has this transition from in-school to at-home learning been going?
Overall, I think we’re happy about the transition. We just had a two-day window to convert. We are learning a lot. Each teacher has learned a lot. It’s a work in progress.
Some things are working well, some are not.
You have to try and take risks to get to success. I’m glad that families and students are taking risks. The class meetings have been successful, and it’s good to see each other’s faces. The ability to record lessons and drive home key concepts is what we’re excited about. We are working toward personalizing things for students.
For example, if a teacher is doing a math lesson and there’s a key concept about finding the Y intercept of the line that teacher can make mini-videos about how to do that. Students will then be able to go back and learn. During the school year, it’s hard to find the time to do that. This has created a pause to help make different building blocks to help them learn. They are thinking differently.
I think every teacher is working harder than they’ve ever been. You take a job you’ve done for 20 years and everything is flipped upside down.
What’s the status of Food Services? Are we meeting the need?
We have a couple of separate programs going on. One is our food services program through our schools. They are serving breakfast and lunch to students through pick up locations. The number of students we’re serving has grown each week as we find new families. We have about 10 bus routes that deliver meals and our food service staff prepares those meals. We have been averaging over 5500 meals a week and will top the 50,000 meal mark on Monday.
We also have a food bank type of program going on at the Jack, Will, and Rob center. Our community has stepped up and been so generous with their donations. Our current inventory is good, and the needs continue to grow. We’ve receive money donations and have about 10-12 volunteer shoppers that go out and purchase items to keep the inventory up to date.
What’s happening with graduation?
We are delivering a virtual graduation for June 12-13 for both high schools. We’ve been making a lot of other plans with students and parents, and we are trying to be creative by meeting those needs. Phase two gives us a little more flexibility. Depending on whatever phase we’re in we’re hoping to be able to scale up the activities. Many have shared how important it is to them to walk across a stage and receive their diploma so we’re looking at a date in early August to hopefully be able to do that. We are also targeting Homecoming in the Fall to start some new traditions like a grad walk before a football game. We are trying to have multiple dates and opportunities so we can try to meet the needs of graduates and their families.
How has the pandemic affected the Camas School District budget?
We engage with our local elected officials and we’re on weekly webinars with the state superintendent, and from what they’re saying the budget deficit continues to grow. I think the next three to four years could be very difficult. Public education is more than half of the state budget. We’re at the mercy of enrollment and the state budget. There could be a special session this year, and there will likely be an impact in the coming school years so it’s important for us to be thoughtful about our spending now and how we save for the future too.
I think everyone is a little worried about what the future holds. We try to do the best we can given the budgets we’ve been given. We want to maintain the staffing levels going into next year, because of the need of students. It is likely that we will need to help catch students up a bit, and we’ll need each of our staff to do that, so our plan for next year’s budget is to really maintain our staffing levels. The 2021 legislative session will be the first year of the biennium with new budgets that most likely will be impacted by the pandemic, so we could definitely have to address reductions at the state level in planning for the 2021-22 school year.
What will Camas schools look like this Fall?
The state has set up a task force to address that and what they’ve been looking at is a range of seven models. They look at all spectrums from where we are now, and what it might look like in late August. They have told us in June we will get some guidelines from them, so we’re looking at these issues with leadership and staff. We will be having a Town Hall on June 4 to share some of our planning work and listen to ideas and concerns from the community. We want to be thoughtful about planning for the future, recognizing how significant the events this spring have been for everyone.
What about mental health and supporting parents with at-home learning?
This is a really important focus for us. We started off communicating with families a lot about the logistical what and now we’re shifting to tips for conversations with students and more the how. We’re learning a lot about what’s working and what’s not and we want to share that information.
Regarding students in crisis: We ask teachers to reach out to each student and monitor how they’re doing. If we don’t hear from them we’ve been trying do the phone call or even go and knock on doors to make sure everything is OK. Everything is amplified in the home. It’s hard right now as parents are trying to figure out work, the future and help their students. We are trying to pay attention to that. I feel like right now it’s pretty similar to what we were experiencing before. If it was on the radar before, it’s on the radar now. When you physically see students in the classroom you had a sense of the situation, but not virtually we don’t have that so we have to really pay attention to students who may be in need.
We have a great staff; they’re working really hard. It’s been very challenging for everyone. We have the opportunity to re-invent. You see some kids flourishing in these challenging times. We will come through this as a better school district.
Snell is going on his fourth year as Superintendent of Camas Schools. To learn more what is happening in Camas schools, visit www.camas.wednet.edu