Navigating a Pandemic
Scott McCoy | Vice-Principal, Forest Lake Education Center
Preparing for a new school year with an enrollment of 674 kids is always a challenge, but when a global pandemic gets thrown into the mix, we are in unchartered territory.
Our journey began on March 16, 2020, when Governor Ron Desantis announced school closures in the State of Florida until March 30. Our first course of action was to lengthen spring break by a couple of days, giving administration and staff time to train and prepare for virtual education. With 674 students in grades PK-8, we had nearly 70 students who did not have access to a computer or Apple device. Access to technology was vital to the continuation of the students’ academic success; therefore, we delivered devices to the students and were ready to open our virtual classrooms.
As remote learning continued, the governor extended school closures through the end of April, and it quickly became apparent that we would be finishing out our school year virtually. With our campus closed to everyone except administration and faculty, our next logistical challenge was to return all our students’ personal belongings. For one week, we allowed teachers on campus in staggered schedules to prepare packets of personal belongings, class pictures, and yearbooks for their students. To prepare the packages, we created an assembly line of distribution in our gymnasium to distribute them safely and efficiently.
Fast-forward to July
The formation of a reopening committee was created with several staff members, board members, and other stakeholders who had a vested interest in the successful reopening of Forest Lake Education Center (FLEC). Upon completing the reopening plan, administration and faculty began working diligently to align FLEC’s reopening policies with the physical school setting. The alignment included many necessary modifications to FLEC’s facilities, such as exterior hand washing stations, air sanitizing filtration systems, removal of communal furniture, and the addition of sneeze guards for each student. The purchase of personal protective equipment was also high on our priority list, as we needed enough masks, face shields, gloves, sanitizer, and wipes to pass out to our students and staff. FLEC also invested in sanitizing empty classrooms with a non-toxic hydrogen-peroxide fog solution, and the school adjusted many of its procedures to allow for physical distancing.
Amid all these changes, there has been an outpouring of love and support from the community around FLEC. Despite the chaos, we continue to see God’s hand working within our school. Isaiah 41:10 reminds us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” This school year has brought many new challenges to our schools and our families, but I believe that God has chosen us to do His work. He will protect us to the ends of the earth.
Prepare for an Emergency
Damon Gilliam | Vice-Principal, North Tampa Christian Academy
The world came to a screeching halt with the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. Overnight, every school in America stopped meeting physically on campus, leaving educational institutions scrambling to adjust. While the hope was for this virus to quickly come and go, it became apparent that this would be a prolonged disruption. A situation like the COVID-19 pandemic does not happen every day. In fact, for many educators, a crisis of this magnitude occurs maybe once in a lifetime! While we certainly pray that such a crisis never happens, by God's infinite grace, our leaders and educators can prepare with these simple steps.
First, communication is vital. Even the most challenging parents do not expect schools to be perfect, but all parents expect the truth and, more importantly, they expect you to be the expert. Communication should utilize many different platforms and portals. Do not assume every student's parents pour over the school newsletter with as much gusto as an administrator. Other communication ideas include Zoom meetings, social media posts, and good old-fashioned phone calls. Every parent wants to feel heard and valued. While this might seem like a daunting task, it is a game-changer for your program! Communication is the difference between handling a situation professionally and with grace and finding yourself and your school in a complete disaster.
Second, create an action plan. Whatever the crisis may be, respond! Do something! Don't just sit like a deer in shock as you stare at the bright headlights of oncoming traffic. Instead, come up with an action plan that works for your students and community. Talk and listen to multiple experts. Glean as much insight and expertise as you can while creating your plan. Ask yourself the hard questions and give yourself time to think. It is far better to take a stand and choose a path instead of ignoring the crisis as though it does not exist.
Third, be flexible and adaptive. While creating an action plan is essential, give yourself the grace of flexibility to change your action plan as more information is discovered and gathered about your crisis. Adapt to changes as quickly as possible. When a change to your plan is needed, make it, and communicate the change to your families while explaining the purpose behind the change. Do not assume that previous crisis plans will be relevant or applicable in an ever-changing world.
Finally, trust in God! This is the most important ingredient to surviving a crisis. Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." Believe it. Cling to God's promises. And remember, He has put you in the position you are in for such as a time as this. He will lead you through the heaviest storms and the most difficult crises.
Take the Panic out of Safety Drills
Murray Cooper | Associate Superintendent for Administration, Florida Conference
I spent my first four years as an elementary student in the local community public school. While I do not remember much of those years' experiences, I do recall being scared out of my mind when it was fire drill time. My guess is that I was not the only seven-year-old to experience fear of fire drills. However, for the focus of this edition of Leading The Journey, Emergency Preparedness, I think it serves as a good springboard.
There are specific points listed in the NAD Handbook for Principals on emergency preparedness. Communication is a significant subtopic. Beyond the communication efforts you make in response to a crisis, I would encourage you to connect with your local conference communications director to help you prepare a press statement if other types of emergencies arise. I think back to a couple of years ago when I received a phone call from one of our principals regarding a chemical spill in their school. The principal had engaged evacuation procedures, and once that was underway, this individual called to let me know what was happening. In our conference, we have a communication director. Over the years, we have created a press statement template that can be used with minor editing to adapt to any situation. In this case, the press statement was modified and given to the person who served as the spokesperson for the school (not the principal who was busy attending to students and staff). The outcome was positive press coverage because of the immediate and accurate school administration response.
Being prepared for an emergency requires conducting regular safety drills. Failure to practice building evacuation maneuvers, sheltering-in-place, and intruder-on-campus will likely ensure that bad things will result if an event occurs. Do not downplay the importance of conducting these emergency drills as required by your local county. If you are unsure of best practices for the various drills, please connect with local law enforcement or first responders to help you create the necessary plans. These professionals appreciate coming into your building and getting to know the layout of the facility. Through regular practice of safety drills, the students become familiar with how to react, making it less traumatic for them.
For new principals, regardless of experience, it is important to become familiar with your school's layout. First, make sure you know your building and campus design and know the circuit breaker locations if you need to shut off power in a hurry. Second, where is your fire alarm panel, fire hydrant(s), and water shut-off valves to your school? Third, how long will it take the fire department to get to your school from the closest station? Ensure a campus map is at the front desk, clearly labeled with these critical items and their locations. In the event of an emergency, the office manager would have this information to give immediately to those coming to help.
As COVID showed, it is impossible to plan for every emergency. However, by making campus safety a top priority by doing drills, meeting with first responders, and having an active safety committee, you will have the essentials to handle any emergency.
MISSION: STRENGTHENING ADVENTIST EDUCATION ONE LEADER AT A TIME
Associate Superintendent for
Administration in the Office of Education
Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists