Host Joel Gagne discusses fully opening schools during a pandemic with Dr. Matthew Montgomery, Superintendent of Revere Local Schools

Revere Local Schools are fully open, unlike their counterpart whom we heard from last week on our podcast featuring Olmsted Falls City Schools, which is fully remote. Joel and Dr. Montgomery, Superintendent of Revere Local Schools, discuss the pressure on superintendents and school administrators while making decisions about opening schools during a pandemic.

Joel starts by explaining that he wanted to see the flip side to going fully remote since Revere Local Schools are fully open and he recently chatted with a Superintendent with a fully remote school.

Dr. Montgomery starts by giving a bit of background about Revere Local Schools. The northeast Ohio district is small with about 2,800 students.

“Over the last five years, we’ve really been focusing on curriculum and instruction,” Dr. Montgomery says. “We’ve also been working with future-ready schools and Apple to really focus on tech integration, which has proved most beneficial since March in trying to transition very quickly from brick and mortar to remote during the springtime.”

He continues to explain that they’re wrapping up a giant 4-year $86 million construction project that touched every facet of their district in a good ways.

“We spent a lot of time on space and that complements instruction quite well and it opens up opportunities for innovation,” Dr. Montgomery says.

He says that now they’re partnering with Battelle for Kids to create a Portrait of a Graduate, which they’re affectionately calling a Vision of a Minuteman. The next step in the Portrait of a Graduate process will be to work on strategic planning to reflect on the last five years and how much has changed in that time and how to move forward effectively.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate time in modern history to pause and reflect and hopefully reimagine what we want for school moving forward,” Dr. Montgomery says.

Joel commends the Revere Local Schools’ building project and how it’s a great time in history to have extra space, which is in very high demand right now. He asks how the community and staff have adjusted to fully opening schools during a pandemic.

Dr. Montgomery says that while they haven’t returned to “normal,” the community has responded overwhelmingly positively to the schools being fully open.

“Eight-seven percent of our families have decided to put their students in brick and mortar,” Dr. Montgomery says. “Thirteen percent selected the remote option.”

He says that they’ve been surveying parents regularly, and the most recent survey showed that an overwhelming majority of parents said that their children felt safe having schools being fully open.

“We have been leaning on community feedback to develop these plans because ultimately it is their schools,” Dr. Montgomery says. “We’ve created a plan that meets the needs of our community while still maintaining safety.”

As for the staff, he says that there have been more concerns regarding returning in person, and some staff members would much rather be in hybrid or remote learning. He explains that a lot of school administrators are facing a 50/50 split on how people want to open school, and it’s tough to make those decisions.

“Moving forward, there’s a lot of pressure out there on school administrators to have this all buttoned up and ready to go, and you know that this is a public enemy,” Joel says. “A lot of school districts did the best that they could, but you just can’t easily pivot quickly.”

Joel asks Dr. Montgomery what he believes that school districts need in order to be successful during the era of COVID-19.

“Expectations need to be realistic as possible,” Dr. Montgomery says. “We are not out of the pandemic yet. Our theme is adapt and adjust. We need to be able to pivot and be nimble.”

They both agree that schools are resistant to change, so it’s been amazing and impressive that school districts have been able to adapt so well during the pandemic.

Dr. Montgomery says that right now is the perfect time to pause, reflect and work hard to figure out what schools need to do to operate at a high level of excellence now and going forward. He’s hopeful that when this is in over, in whatever way this period of the pandemic ends, he hopes that school administrators can come out of this era having learned a lot of lessons on how to lead even better.

“I don’t know what November is going to look like. I don’t know what happens when flu season is here,” Dr. Montgomery says. “It could be possible that we need to address needs in a new way.”

He also says it’s important to recognize that students who transition from learning remotely to learning in person will need to be more or less backfilled with information to address the holes in education that happen during remote learning regardless of how well it’s executed.

Joel asks if the flu season does in fact pick up along with more COVID cases, will Revere Local Schools be ready to go fully remote again?

“We’re much better prepared to be remote now than in the spring,” Dr. Montgomery says. “We did a good job in March under the circumstances, but we have learned that we can do a much better job, and we’ve had the time to work on what we should improve.”

He says they’re lucky to be a district that’s 1:1 with technology, and fortunately most families in the district have good internet connections. He says for them a big concern is that students are doing emotionally and socially well when they aren’t able to learn in person.

Dr. Montgomery explains that a big push for him going fully in-person related to the risks involved with students being remote, such as increased risks of abuse and suicide. He’s hopeful that they have good safety nets for students in place this time around in case they do go fully remote again.

Joel closes out the podcast by asking Dr. Montgomery what he wants others to know about what school administrators are going through amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the first thing is that I want people to know that our administration is doing the very best to keep students safe while providing them that opportunity to be in school, which is where we know they thrive,” Dr. Montgomery says. “Although we couldn’t please everybody, I think we made the right decisions for the kids we educate.”

He says that this has been a time of unprecedented levels of high stress for superintendents and school administrators.

“If we can all remember that in this polarized world, a little kindness goes a long way,” Dr. Montgomery says. “The way in which someone approaches the presentation of the problem can drastically change the experience for that individual and for the person trying to problem solve.”

He says the vitriol that’s being spread throughout the country is in no way helpful. He says he often needs to remind himself that individuals aren’t mad at him, they’re mad at the situation.

“So many people are coming at school educators at level 10,” Joel says. “I do think some of this is social media fueled, some has to do with the pressures that we’re all feeling because of this, some of this has to do with where we are at the state of our nation and our politics.”

Joel says bringing it from a 10 down to a 5 to allow a reasonable conversation goes a long way. He says a little bit of kindness goes a long way, especially during this period of time.

Joel wraps up by explaining that school administrators have been under a tremendous amount of pressure since March with very little leadership from either the gubernatorial or the national level. He emphasizes once again how kindness is key during this high-pressure, high-stress era of COVID-19.

If you have questions about your communications plan or questions about opening school during a pandemic, reach out to the AHC team.

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