School district prepares to welcome back some students after a year apart

Although there was no school last week due to the ice storm that knocked out power over much of the area, Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) administrators notified the school board on Tuesday, Feb. 23, that the storm would not deter the effort to return to in-person learning.

However, Superintendent Christy Perry told the board that around 8,000 families are still without power and that the district would have to make calendar adjustments. 

Assistant superintendent Kraig Sproles shared with the board that during the storm, they lost most refrigeration across the district, making SKPS’s daily grab-and-go meal operations significantly more challenging. 

“To retool those kitchens and then stock grab-and-go lunches with new food and getting those ready to go was a Herculean task that our food service staff and our transportation staff all worked together on to get thousands of lunches out on Thursday and Friday of last week,” Sproles said. “The way that our school serves essential services to our community goes far beyond teaching reading and writing, and we know that, this was just another affirmation of that.”

With K-1 students set to return to their schools on a part-time basis next week, elementary instructional staff made their return to their respective schools earlier this week to review safety protocols and procedures and set up learning spaces — the remainder of elementary students are still scheduled to arrive back at school under a hybrid model later in March.

“I’m sure you can appreciate the hundreds of tasks that teachers are accomplishing right now. Remember, they have been teaching largely from their living rooms since last March, so now our teachers are transitioning all of their equipment and their teaching materials back to their classrooms, which look really different,” Sproles said. “They no longer have 28 desks in the room. They might have 11 desks in the room because they are physically spread out. We have much fewer things in the classroom because of the cleaning protocols required between cohorts.”

After providing outreach on elementary reentry to targeted groups earlier this week, SKPS communications director Sylvia McDaniel said that the district is providing family informational sessions at four Black and African-American churches on Sunday, Feb. 28, as well as a Spanish language church. 

As for secondary education, assistant superintendent Iton Udosenata said that middle and high schools are targeting a return to partial in-person school on April 13, but admitted that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“It’s not as easy as saying this school has X amount of square feet, therefore we can fit this many kids in the building. We actually need to go into each building and each room and outfit that space,” Udosenata said. “That will give our master schedulers, out principals and the planning teams at the high school and middle school an opportunity and see what our true capacity is… We really do want high school and middle school families to know that we are committed to seeing students in person.”