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School Board Chairwoman's View: Students will motivate Duluth district's recovery in 2022

From the column: "Even in the hardships there are great things going on in all of Duluth’s public schools."

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Jeff Koterba/Cagle Cartoons

The recent news of devastating tornadoes and a school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, and the personal pain of losing a family member, makes one realize that recovery is a necessary road in so many areas of life. We on the Duluth School Board want to convey our heartfelt sympathies and support for communities suffering loss on top of the pandemic. Know that we are all traveling this road together.

Throughout the summer, our school district made plans and decisions envisioning a recovery that looked past the COVID-19 pandemic. Recovery meant a return to five days a week of in-person learning, all day and for all grades, this school year. We found ourselves having to pivot again as we started to witness the challenges of another wave of pandemic demands. We realized that staff, students, and families were more affected than what was first understood.

And now, again, in these past few weeks, we hear of the newest omicron variant.

Recovery is hard. We knew it would be demanding, but few realized how demanding. It has been frustrating, exhausting, and frightening. We have severe staff shortages, heightened mental health issues, escalating student behaviors, community strife, and student absenteeism. It's important to acknowledge these important conditions and concerns. We want our students, families, staff, and community to know we are listening and understand the serious challenges facing our schools and community.

We have learned so much in mitigation strategies over 21 months of COVID-19 impacts and are able to provide academics, as well as athletics and other extracurricular activities, even with the virus still prevalent in our community. We have learned so much and are grateful to have a community of leaders, nonprofit organizations, and businesses partnering with us. They have traveled through the pandemic and continue to show up in so many ways for our students, families, and community.

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The Duluth School Board, working with the leaders in our district, will continue to focus on priorities, such as:

  • Using what we have learned in our mitigation strategies to keep our students and staff safe and in-person. We will continue to provide testing, vaccines, and booster clinics in convenient and prominent places for our families.

  • Using our one-time COVID-19 relief money in creative and important ways. We have used this money to add teachers, interventionists in reading and math, counselors, deans of students, and social workers. We’ve also addressed technology, building safety, and transportation needs. The School Board will continue to work with our finance department to make our money stretch further and do more. These one-time dollars are a valuable key to our recovery.

  • Focusing on the mental health of our students, staff, and families, which continues to be a top priority and concern.

  • And continuing to find creative ways to address our staffing shortages. We recently increased our bus driver and substitute teacher pay and will continue to craft more opportunities to hire critical staff and retain our current staff. It will require continued strategy, persistence, and a continuation of the resolve we have shown throughout these past months.

We are fortunate to have a school board with a collective 28 years of experience to guide our recovery stages. Together we will work to ensure every child receives an equitable, exceptional, and joyful education. Even in the hardships there are great things going on in all of Duluth’s public schools. (Learn more at ISD.709.org .)

Board members take time to stop into our schools to witness firsthand the day-to-day accomplishments, including spelling-bee winners, athlete-of-the-year accolades, holiday parade floats, and so much more. Visit our Facebook page ( facebook.com/duluthpublicschools ) and smile at all the celebrations, activities, and adventures displayed.

We invite our community to follow our travels, attend our meetings, visit our websites, and stay informed. We applaud the courage of Superintendent John Magas and his team. We honor the dedication of our staff as they continue to move forward.

We know it is the kids we serve who motivate us to recover, to continue on the road. Working together, we can do hard things. Together, we will always rise.

Jill Lofald is chairwoman of the Duluth School and is its elected representative of District 4. She wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.

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Jill Lofald

Related Topics: DULUTH SCHOOL BOARDCORONAVIRUS
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