Beginning a new program and opening a new building would be a challenge for any school administration team, but doing so during a pandemic has provided many additional obstacles and unique situations. For this school year, I was extremely blessed to be assigned to our new freshman academy that we are beginning at Harrisburg High School. To host this new program, we built a new addition to our current high school. We added 18 new standard classrooms, four new special education rooms, a new media library, a new lunchroom, and two large common learning areas between the four “houses” assigned to our 415 incoming freshmen. It is a beautiful learning facility, and I am fortunate to be the lead administrator for this program.
Like any new building project, there were delays in construction. For the first two weeks of the year, I had to get used to conducting school with contractors who were finishing up loose ends. I also had to deal with most of my furniture arriving late—in fact, we are still waiting on some of it. The day before our open house, my staff and I were scrambling, placing temporary desks and lunch tables from the district warehouse into classrooms so we could conduct school until the new furniture arrived.
Added to the mix of this organized chaos are the challenges of COVID-19 and the stress that is looming over our teachers, parents, and students. Like many other districts around the country, our district gave students and their families the choice between distance learning and face-to-face instruction. Of my 415 freshmen, I have 35 students who Zoom into all of their classes and receive direct instruction from each of their content teachers. I am also dealing with quarantined students who have tested positive or been in close contact with someone who has. Like our full-time distance learning students, our quarantined students Zoom into their classes and receive direct instruction from their content teachers. Day to day, my teachers are responsible for their students in their classrooms and the multiple students Zooming into their classes. And when you pile on the requirements of keeping students properly spaced and making sure everyone is wearing a mask, you get a very difficult learning environment in which to teach and learn.
A few weeks into the school year, I can proudly say we are not only surviving, but we are holding strong. Our positive cases have been very minimal, and our teachers and students remain healthy and in good spirits. I recognize we have a long school year ahead of us and the cold and flu season could push us to our limits, but the beginning of the school year has gone exceptionally well considering the challenges that were placed in front of us. This entire experience has reinforced my belief that our public education system is resilient and truly the backbone of our country.
I hope and pray that after this pandemic is over and our lives begin to return a new normal, public support for education will be increased and our elected officials at the state and federal levels will move public education back up the top of their priority list where it belongs. National Principals Month is the perfect time to further this effort and fight for both the principalship and education at large. I invite you to join me in taking action this month so we get the COVID-19 relief federal funding we need now—as well as the support we need for the future.
Brad Seamer is the assistant principal of Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, SD. His opinions are his own.