Friday, 02 December 2022

Getting better at getting better: No normal to return to

Superintendent Dr. Becky Salato. Courtesy photo.

I’ve heard a lot about “getting back to normal,” but unless you have a time machine, there is no returning to a pre-pandemic world. The best we can do is to strive for a new normal.

As an educator, I have seen the incredible resilience of students. I know that eventually the challenges of the pandemic will recede into memory, but first, students need to readjust — and to heal.

During the pandemic, many students faced hardships of all kinds, from the frightening uncertainty of parents losing their jobs to the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Still others watched their parents or other significant adults in their lives spiral into unhealthy coping mechanisms and become unable to provide the kind of secure, loving environment they needed to thrive.

Even for students who dealt with relatively minor issues, there were still plenty of unwelcome changes. Many were isolated from each other and lost the social skills to interact easily, and some were asked to give up their free time to care for younger siblings.

Prior to the pandemic, students were accustomed to being told when to work, when to take a break, when to eat, and so on. Structure was the norm. But when the pandemic shut everything down, families learned how to be home together in a different way and students enjoyed the freedom of setting their own schedules, and they appreciated not having to ask anyone for permission to use the bathroom.

Given all of this, is it any wonder that students are having trouble reengaging in school?

The idea that students would simply pick up where they left off after the pandemic is a little crazy. Of course, students need to be back in school and parents need to return to work, but if you’ve noticed, many companies have allowed a hybrid work environment or a phased return to the office. Employers realize their people need time to adjust. Yet for students, it’s been a different story.

Based on student behaviors during the last few months, it’s pretty clear that students would have benefited from a more gradual return to school. Since their return, many students have acted in anti-social ways, from violent and disrespectful to apathetic, including a total lack of engagement or interaction. Heck, we can hardly field a whole baseball team and the band is half the size it used to be.

The question is, what can we do?

At Konocti Unified, we know students do best when their schools, families, and communities work together toward a common goal. Right now, we have students with significant academic gaps, social anxiety, a troubling lack of motivation, and many other challenges. I’m talking about suicidal kindergartners and fourth graders who are self-medicating with vape pens in the bathroom. These are serious problems we cannot ignore.

We need to come together as a community to provide students (and others) with the resources and skills they need to re-center and make up for lost time. We also need to create a healthy environment in which to do so. To that end, there are some exciting things happening.

Konocti Unified has applied for a Community Schools Partnership grant funding to create wellness centers at some of our schools, in partnership with Adventist Health and HealthyStart via the Lake County Office of Education. We are also working with the Blue Zones Project, an initiative to make it easier for people to make healthy choices all over Lake County. Imagine if convenience stores had fresh fruit readily available instead of just candy and chips, for example.

Also, one of our school board members, Zabdy Neria, who works for Lake County Behavioral Health Services recently sent an email encouraging people to join a grassroots letter-writing campaign to advocate for the use of Mental Health Services Act funds to create more community resources for children in Clearlake.

More good news is that we are building a wonderfully capable team of administrators here at Konocti Unified.

Tim Gill, a well-respected administrator who has served Lake County students for more than 20 years, just joined us as our director of curriculum and instruction. As such, he’ll be working on the district LCAP (our planning and budgeting process), the AVID program (a systemwide approach to college and career readiness that we plan to implement at all grade levels), standardized testing, and professional learning for our employees.

Right now, he is in the process of developing and leading the LCAP process, which includes engaging the community to help us make sure we’re focusing our energy and resources in the right areas.

We invite Konocti Unified families and supporters to join us in thinking through how we can help our students thrive. Engagement meetings are ongoing: several schools have held staff and school site council meetings and we participated in a Judge’s Breakfast last month. If you’d like to get involved, we welcome your ideas! Please contact your local school or call the district office for dates and locations of upcoming meetings.

We are also about to launch a communication survey so our families can let us know how they want to receive information and share their recommendations.

I am confident that if we all come together, we can improve the situation, but it will take all of us.

Schools have become the de facto provider of so many services, and we are not always well designed or appropriately funded to do so. Our students need parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, advisers, youth pastors, and mentors to engage with them. And we may just find that when we step out of our comfort zone to help others, it is healing for us, too. Let’s all heal together.

Becky Salato is the Konocti Unified School District superintendent.

Upcoming Calendar

2Dec
12.02.2022 5:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Christmas in the Country
3Dec
12.03.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
3Dec
12.03.2022 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
Weekly writing workshop
6Dec
12.06.2022 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Rotary Club of Clear Lake
8Dec
12.08.2022 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
8Dec
12.08.2022 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Adult Literacy Program in-person tutor training
9Dec
12.09.2022 4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Hometown Christmas in Lower Lake
10Dec
12.10.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
10Dec
12.10.2022 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Ladies of the Lake Quilt Guild
10Dec
12.10.2022 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
Weekly writing workshop

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