First Day of School Op-Ed

Posted by Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat on 8/23/2020 8:00:00 AM

The annual rite of the first day of school always brings me great excitement and hope.

 

As educators, we view the start of school as the first step in a remarkable year-long journey. We meet our new Peoria Public Schools students, sense their current promise and potential and then picture how much they will grow in the coming year.

 

Admittedly, the start of this 2020-2021 school year looks and feels a little different than usual. In the past five months, we have experienced the twin pandemics – the novel coronavirus and the continuing pandemic of racism. Our reckoning with both of these pandemics has upended our norms and routines and altered our sense of normal. At Peoria Public Schools, we will begin the school year with Distance Learning for the majority of our students after initially planning to implement a hybrid model.

 

But I remain steadfast in having great hope at the start of this 2020-2021 school year. I’ll tell you why.

 

When the Shelter in Place order was issued by Governor Pritzker, we had to tackle a substantial question mark around how we would continue to provide the consistent nutritious meals our families rely upon in sending their children to school five days a week.

 

Through the collaboration of our staff, volunteers, Regional Office of Education and the Salvation Army, we stepped up to fill that absence by setting up meal sites at our schools and serving every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. As of this last week, Peoria Public Schools has served more than half-a-million meals since March 17th – an astounding figure that brings us great pride as it relates to feeding the children in the City of Peoria.

 

I also have hope after witnessing the monumental effort that was undertaken by Peoria Public Schools staff since May to prepare for this upcoming year. Our Return to School committee put us in a great position with the hybrid model adopted in June, and we spent July filling in the details in exacting fashion for that model to succeed.

 

We also kicked off the school years of our two balanced calendar schools – Knoxville Center for Student Success and Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center – in mid-July. The first month for both schools has been highly successful, with Knoxville adeptly executing an all-distance learning model while our Pre-K students receive in-person instruction.

 

Even though our original plan of a hybrid in-person instruction model for the rest of our schools shifted to all Distance Learning due to rising cases in our area, the Peoria Public Schools staff has not missed a beat and exhibited exceptional leadership, fortitude and resiliency in preparing for a different model of instruction in a short period of time.

 

There is not a perfect solution for education during the time of COVID-19, but what I have observed is Peoria Public Schools administrators, principals, teachers and other staff putting every available effort into providing a quality educational experience for our Peoria Public Schools students. We owe that much to our families.

 

On Monday, our students will log-in to their devices (either a district-issued laptop or a personal device) and begin the school day with a live teacher the entire time, 7:30 a.m. for some and 8:30 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. for others. Through our MS Teams learning platform, the students will be able to customize their background, see and interact with their classmates and receive daily instruction. Families also have a choice to select a virtual platform option. Over 1600 students are on this path.  This provides flexibility to families with pre-recorded lessons, activities, a later start and also support from a teacher.  We also have an intricate mapping system in place for students who are not participating in Distance Learning – for whatever reason – and will have a number of follow-up resources and supports to assist those students.

 

The strength, perseverance, positive mindset, patience and flexibility of our Peoria Public Schools community have inspired me so much these past five months. We will emerge from COVID-19 stronger than ever and with a different perspective on what public educational systems are capable of.

 

On August 24th, I will continue my annual first day tradition of visiting all 27 school buildings in Peoria Public Schools. It will look a little different than previous years, but I have more hope than ever at the start of this school year.

 

 

Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat

Superintendent

Peoria Public Schools