The impact of COVID-19 on USD 106

BAZINE & RANSOM- Education across the globe was shaken up in a big way with the spread of COVID-19. When stay at home orders and restrictions on group sizes were put into place, paired with general concerns about the spread of the virus, it became quickly apparent that the end of the school year would look different than most.

On March 17th, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced that school buildings were to remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. This would in turn have a huge effect on students, teachers, families, administrators, communities, and school operations in general. USD 106 was on spring break when the announcement hit. Thus, when students left for spring break, they were never able to return and close up their school year in proper fashion.

Instead, along with other school districts across the state, the school made a quick transition to distance learning through a combination of technology-based resources as well as hard copy packet work.

Superintendent Jeff Jones faced some unique challenges as an administrator and leader of the district. “The biggest challenge I faced as an administrator was leading this initiative for our district through a constantly changing environment. We worked very hard on our initial plan and by the time it was done we had made drastic changes to it several times. I found that difficult to manage with all the shifting expectations,” commented Jones. Jones faced disappointment grappling with the new “norm” for the end of the school year. “I especially felt for our seniors, and for everyone, just knowing we were not going to be able to have the normal events that celebrate the K-12 educational experience for them as we finished up the year,” he stated.

There were many spring events affected, from track and golf season to school clubs and organizations, and even large events such as the school play. prom, and even graduation. However, one thing became very apparent throughout the process, and that was the dedication of the staff of USD 106.

Jones learned a lot about his staff during this time. “I learned that we have an eclectic and resilient group that cares to provide what is best for every student at Western Plains. If you peeked in at the different ways teachers were going about leading their classrooms, there were significantly varied approaches and they all had their strengths for meeting the needs of different students and families. They simply went about the process in very unique ways which I appreciate.”

Obviously COVID affected the spring, but Jones does have some concerns about future effects that have not yet been felt. “COVID-19 had a drastic impact on this spring. I worry that it will have a lasting effect over even the next couple of years. I hope we will start the fall in a very traditional way. We will obviously have to take precautions. I wonder what school activities look like over the next year. I hope that we don’t have to close down due to a possible second wave which I see as very likely next winter. I am also greatly concerned of the economic impact for our region and school fiscal position. Our school district has experienced unprecedented growth over the last three years. However, I am concerned that the slow down of the economy will force some families to relocate especially due to extremely low oil prices which would impact our enrollment. Also, the loss of tax revenue to the state is going to have to impact our school district’s budget over the next couple of years. So, many of impacts of COVID-19 have not truly been directly felt yet but we have to make plans for those impacts.”

Overall, Jones did find some silver linings to the turmoil that took place. “I found that I really appreciated the simple time with my family more. Their schedules were reduced with not having school activities and maybe extra homework that gave my family the flexibility to enjoy each other’s company a little more, whether that was playing in the backyard or playing a board game or taking a walk with my sons. I hope everyone was able to take the opportunity do more family time and enjoy one another and develop greater bonds within those immediate family units as that is actually a lot more important than school or work ever is, and probably most of us are guilty about not making that the true priority all the time.”

One thing is for certain: the faculty and students rolled with the punches and made it through the distance learning process, and can now look to brighter and better days ahead. “I am really looking forward to seeing everyone this fall. I don’t seem to run into a lot of students over the summer and it is sometimes shocking to see how much individuals have grown and changed over the summer. So I am especially looking forward to having our students back into our building and seeing that growth and share their stories of this most unusual spring.”

USD 106 sincerely wishes all of our patrons a happy, safe, relaxing summer. We hope that life in the fall fits everyone’s definition of “normal” a little more closely.