A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Randy Poe: Educating through and beyond the pandemic; we will achieve excellence together

We asked Superintendent of Boone County Schools, Dr. Randy Poe, for his thoughts on Educating through and beyond this Pandemic. Here is his response.

It seems like it was just yesterday when we last heard the cacophony of sounds from classrooms, hallways in between bells/periods or a loud cafeteria in any one of our school buildings. Then suddenly, almost without warning, everything went silent, as schools had to be shut down. We were told to close the doors and start Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI).

Inexplicably, our normal way of doing things had changed for the foreseeable future. We took our plan for NTI, which we thought we would never have to use, off the proverbial shelf, and put it into action. As with all things, the first few days were a bit rocky trying to feel our way around our new normal.

By the first full week of NTI we were humming along, teaching students at home online or with paper packets for those without technology. Part of NTI also includes feeding our students breakfast and lunch every school day. Our cafeterias remain open and bus drivers deliver the meals to the neighborhoods while observing social distancing to provide nourishment for our students. These are tasks never before attempted.

Once NTI and daily meal delivery was set up and operating well, we focused on the Social Emotional aspects of our current situation. A complete change in the way life we’ve all known is not easy for everyone. We set up a Mental Wellness/Balance Helpline for those students, parents, teachers and any staff that might need someone to talk to as they navigate unchartered territory.

Endless daily videos from online NTI show us the incredible quality and quantity of instruction our students are getting. Our teachers spend hours online in Professional Learning Communities to advance NTI to help match student needs. We also see the emotional connections between teacher and student. Through this process we’ve learned how vitally important social connection is between students, their schools, their teachers and their peers. Parents must be commended for stepping up to a non-traditional role in helping make non-traditional instruction a success.

Preparing food for pickup.

The quality of instruction by teachers and availability and hard work by food service workers, bus drivers, nurses, psychologists, custodians, support staff and administrators has been nothing but exceptional during this unprecedented time.

Right now my heart turns to the Class of 2020. For those students, graduation may have been stolen by this pandemic. Not to mention other senior ceremonies; the prom, academic and sports banquets, the senior play they had been practicing all year does not get to debut, the cancellation of the senior concert, and senior class trip, etc. These students’ lives are forever changed. And I think about the parents and grandparents who lived for this moment, 18 years in the making, for their child to cross that stage, in a cap and gown, receiving their diploma, (that I might add parents and grandparents worked hard to help their student obtain).

Rest assured students will still get their high school diploma. But what about everything else you and I experienced as a high school student? Most of us look back fondly on our high school memories. The lost opportunity of these very important aspects of teenage life that shape our future will have a profound and lasting impact on the Class of 2020.

I AM concerned about their futures, where they will go from here, what they will do with what they’ve experienced. There is a very good chance this new normal for them will lead to better things in life for all of us. And, yes, at times I ask myself what if it doesn’t? While we know they were cheated out of this right of passage by no fault of their own, I have to know and believe we didn’t cheat them out of preparedness and perseverance.

We miss our students.

We prepared these students for whatever may come, yes, even this, a worldwide pandemic. They came to us with the capability of learning, we encouraged, nurtured and praised them over the years for their accomplishments. We taught them that they could persevere no matter what they faced.

Now we wait. We wait to see what they will do with what has been forced upon them through no fault of their own. I believe the Class of 2020 will surprise us. They are our leaders of the future. They will be the ones to lead us out of this and into a new but better normal.

In the meantime, my thoughts turn to what we will do when we reopen and students return to school. We WILL come together again. But we must be honest, the thought of returning to normal, whatever that is, may be lost. We will need to make important adjustments. Not to worry, there Will BE a normal and it will be NEW. Mental Health must be a priority for our society as a whole. It has always been a priority focus in Boone County Schools. Returning teachers, students and staff will be in various stages of recovery from COVID-19.

Some will actually be recovered from the virus itself, others will be recovering from the social-emotional trauma the whole pandemic caused society. Some may never again feel safe, others will be their healers. We need to concentrate on the mental well-being of everyone, our educators, our students, our staff and our community as a whole.

These times are unprecedented but I have confidence this generation will set a NEW precedent for how to use this community’s skills of kindness, hope, and compassion from what we’ve experienced to continue Achieving Excellence Together. #TeamKY

Seth Smith studying at home.

Social distancing study.

A family of learners takes their homework seriously.

Getting food to the students.

Getting some help with the homework.

Randy Poe has been superintendent of Boone County Schools since 2008, having been a teacher, coach, and school bus driver. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions during his time as superintendent including the 2012 NKU Outstanding Alumnus Award, the prestigious 2013 KASA Superintendent of the Year Award, 2015 F.L. Dupree Award, 2015 Northern Kentucky Education Council (NKYEC) Lifetime Achievement Award, 2018 NKY Chamber of Commerce Community Award and the 2019 NKYEC Spirit of the Region Award. He is retiring at the end of the year and will become executive director of the Northern Kentucky Education Council.

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