I vividly remember as a child the Warner Brothers cartoon, “Of Fox and Hounds,” “Which way did he go, George?” Today, it may be fair to say, “Which way do I go, George?” with the same ending, “Thanks a lot, George, thanks a lot!”
You will get various answers if you ask anyone in education today, “Which way do we go?” Schools across the country will be employing different strategies throughout the 2020-21 school year. I want to explain why the Columbia School District is striving “to go” back to school as normally and healthy as possible.
The Columbia School District last saw a campus full of students on March 13. Currently, that seems as if it was six months ago, not three. When we dismissed for Spring Break on Friday, March 13, our administration operated with genuinely mixed feelings. We were still ecstatic from the school board meeting the night before, where Central Office administration presented the results of our summative practice test, indicating pronounced gains on almost every level. We were so excited that the hard work of the teachers and students earned them the desired results. On the other hand, we were preparing for what was the start of a pandemic that has changed the landscape as we know it. Since then, it is difficult to describe all that has taken place.
Fast forward to Aug. 4, the projected start of school for CSD. Students will have been out of school for approximately five months. This summer, CSD administration has examined the learning loss exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As you can imagine, the findings were significant. Some of our key findings were:
1. Learning loss is significant for students scoring at or below grade level (loss is not evenly distributed).
2. Learning loss is exacerbated by both prior learning gaps and external risk factors.
3. Learning loss is inconsistent among content and skills.
4. Policies to prevent learning loss should focus on four key areas: knowledge gap procedures, varied instructional practices, formative assessment measures and reteach/ remediate/enrich strategies.
This year’s prolonged school closure will impact everyone in one way or another. However, never before have we experienced anything with more severe consequences to the education of our students across Mississippi and the United States.
Given the dramatic impact the closure has had on learning gaps, we believe the best course of action is to return students to our campuses this fall, while also taking every precaution to make sure we do it safely.
Let me remind you that Columbia School District will face not only the academic issues but also the social and emotional problems associated with COVID-19. We stand ready to address all of these challenges and create the best possible learning environment for our students.
Jason Harris, PhD, is the superintendent of the Columbia School District. He also serves as a member of Mississippi’s Committee to Restart Schools. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.