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GVUSD preparing for secondary schools to open

Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the schools to open and to get students in front of teachers. This led to many school districts scrambling and cheering to be able to open up the classrooms after more than a year closed.

However, in Golden Valley Unified School District, Newsom’s announcement didn’t really mean anything. In fact, the district was still waiting for guidance to open Liberty High School and Ranchos Middle School. The district was able to open their secondary schools this week.

“The governor’s order to return to classroom, at least of what this stage of order is, is kindergarten through first grade, it means very little to nothing to us in the sense we have been there as long as we possibly could,” said GVUSD Board President Andrew Wheeler. “We’re not open enough, though. What the governor is stating and what the rules are coming down, don’t impact us much of anything. We’ve already been there for six months. It’s nothing new. It’s a frustration because we want to know what is the next stages of what we can do. How do increase the number of students in the classroom?”

Wheeler and GVUSD kept holding out hope that they would be able to open the classrooms at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, and were ready to until Newsom ordered the classrooms to remain closed.

“When we started this year, the strong directions from the board was we were entering school as usual from the beginning of the year,” Wheeler said. “That was where every ounce of planning was going to until the day the governor swore he wasn’t going to do and that was take away local control. Once he stepped in and said you don’t have a choice and you’re going to do it this way, it removed us. We had to make such an adjustment of our plan that we had to delay the start of school to make a re-adjustment to how were going to start the school year. It wasn’t our plan. Our plan was kids in seat dealing with masks and other types of sanitation. We were going to deal with more changes of where COVID was, but that was the intention.”

In the meantime, GVUSD filled out a waiver and went through the process. They were quickly granted a waiver and students were in the classrooms as early as October.

“We grabbed a hold of the waiver and, I believe, we were the first ones to file in Madera County,” Wheeler said. “I was rather shocked as to how fast we got our waiver through. We worked a lot of stuff with the public health. We got our approval from the state within 24 hours, which shocked the living daylights out of us. It was in September or October.”

The GVUSD board’s biggest intention is to get the students in the classroom in front of teachers. Wheeler feels that it’s extremely important for the students in the middle and high school level.

“Education at all levels is extremely important,” he said. “A junior and senior in high school doesn’t have a lot of time to make up the pieces that were lost. The reality of things is as much as the teachers have done a phenomenal job, it’s been a brand new practice to adjust to this distant learning. It’s even more of a failed practice of the students adjusting to distance learning. It takes a special type of individual to be successful at that. There are some that are successful at it and are doing great. At all grade levels, you will see predominately A and B students getting C’s and D’s. You’re seeing students that have improved their grade, but it’s been way more of a decline than anything else. We talk about teaching to every student and finding out their strength. For tho self-driven students, they have been able to succeed. That’s not, by and large, most people. The toughest part about distance learning is you can set expectations, but how do you hold somebody to them when you don’t actually see them or have a direct interaction with them. It’s not the same.”

In as quick as a week, Ranchos Middle School and Liberty High School had their students on campus.

“The minute it was announced, we had plans in place,” he said. “We may not have 100 percent on campus at one shot. We will be staging students within two days of the announcement. As it currently stands, we have, as of January, some clarification our cohorts. There is the capability to have half of the students on campus. We will quickly be able to transition from those types of positions, once we are freed and open to be able to do so, we’ll start making the transition. I anticipate we will be a full capacity in a week’s period.”

The most important thing to the GVUSD board is getting the students in the classroom.

“It was critical to get these kids on campus in front of teachers,” he said. “We’re seeing the science, not only in the grades, but in the emotions and interactions of the students. We’re hearing it from the parents. For as much as the education is important, the social interactions, even if it’s just sitting in a classroom, that interaction is critical. That is the nature of who we are as humans. At the younger student level, they have less ability to control some of those things. It’s critical to get them in front of teachers. When we returned the elementary school, even in the limited number of hours per day, the grades increased within a week’s period of time. Parents started reporting an increased number of their kids smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves. We started to see the teachers who have adapted have seen the pure responsiveness of the students. It’s a complete buy-in by the board that it’s absolutely critical to have students in front of teachers. You can’t replace the interaction each teacher can give to the students.”

In addition, he feels that the teachers need to be in front of the students for the same reason and the district has some programs in place to help the teachers, including having a day care available.

“We tried to make it as important as possible to support our teacher,” Wheeler said. “Without our teachers, our students don’t have any success. We retained our before and after school program aides. We did that to ensure that our teachers had some sort of day care program so they can be free to spend the time and effort with their students. With their option, they could bring their children with them. There were aides that helped the children through their own distance learning classes.

“We thought it was important to encourage the teachers to be on campus. Even though we were still pushing the concept of social distancing, it allowed the administrators to work with them through the process. I don’t care how senior of a teacher you are, you became a brand new teacher last year. You understood how to teach the content, but you didn’t understand the delivery. Nobody had that expertise, including our younger teachers and have adapted to technology better than the older teachers, still didn’t understand how to drive this type of teaching.”

Now that athletics is in full swing and students are slowly returning to campus either because of study hall or to practice a sport, schools are starting to look somewhat normal.

“The first board meeting when we saw the kids at practice, it starts to make the school start to look like a school,” he said. “It’s still disappointing that we’re having a shorter season, but at least they get a season. We send our kids to school for education, but kids don’t necessarily attend for the education. Most students don’t remember the lessons they’ve learned. What do students remember? It’s the events, the sports, the dances, it’s the social interaction, the rallies and the social atmosphere which makes high school, and to some extent middle school, what it is for these students. Getting them back on campus is good for their education, but it’s for their emotions and physical nature of things. You need the sports, the competitions, the academic decathlons, the extra curricular pieces that, for the students, define what their four years of high school are.”


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