Missoula Schools and Teachers Adjust to Life After COVID
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Imagine that you’ve just come out of a two-year period of not being in school with the structure and the environment of six to eight hours a day of learning.
It’s quite an adjustment, and that’s exactly what’s happening in this new school year of 2022-2023.
KGVO News spoke to Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Russ Lodge on Monday for an update on how students and teachers are adjusting to the new post-COVID school year with standard assessment scores below what Missoula schools and parents are used to.
Getting Scores Back Up
“We've had a drop in our assessment scores in basically the year that's being looked at now, this is the last school year of 2021,” began Lodge. “We're doing fine, but we're not where we were. We are being realistic that it's going to take us a year to get kids back to where they were because they were really out of the pattern of school on a regular basis and things were truly interrupted. So, I think you'd be naive to think your scores are going to be through the roof. Ours are okay, but they weren't where we wanted to be. But I think we're carving out a plan for the next year to see if we can get back on track.”
Lodge said one of the biggest challenges isn’t necessarily academics; it’s simply showing up for class.
Get Back in the Classroom
“One of them was pretty basic and its attendance,” he said. “Last year anyway, people were out of the habit of coming to school on a regular basis because the previous two years really interrupted their daily routines. We had a hard time getting kids, especially the high school levels, to come to first period on a timely basis. Kids kind of rolled in and out this year. I think we've gotten them back to where we want them, but we'll find out as we run our numbers, but I'm what I'm hearing is we're going to be much better off with our attendance and our tardy policies.”
Lodge said any educator knows the first three grades must be strong to create a solid foundation for learning.
“For me, it's always an emphasis on K 1, 2, and 3,” he said. “Nothing's changed much, you always want as many kids proficient in reading and math by the time they're in third grade as possible. So I think that's where we put our money as much as we can, so that down the road when we've got kids in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, they’re not behind one or two years in proficiency.”
Lodge said students, teachers, and families have to get back in the habit of in-person school.
“They’ve been living two and a half years of having not being in a public school,” he said. “Now they've come back to us and we're not unique. Behavior (problems) are up in the lower grades. We've got to teach them again how to self-manage and get along within the school day and you got to get that done before you get to the academics. So we're on our way. I don't want anybody to think we are in a crisis situation. But if you're a third grader, it's been a couple of years and you are now back in school and you come back really not ready to hit it like you were when you left kindergarten.”
Lodge is the interim superintendent after Dr. Rob Watson resigned last summer to take another education position in Helena.
On Tuesday, KGVO spoke to Chief Charlo Elementary School fifth grade teacher Karin Bartels, who provided her perspective about having a classroom with 23 students.
It's Good to have a Normal School Day Schedule
Bartels said it feels good to be back in the classroom with a normal schedule.
“This year feels even more special just because we just started in what feels a little bit more of a normal routine,” began Bartels. “For example, we get to have our ‘buddy classes’ where we're able to work with the lower grades. So we buddy on Fridays. For my fifth graders, we’re going to read with second graders. We did math flashcards and math games last time we were together, and so just that getting to interact outside of just your classroom has been a really special part to this year.”
The Teacher says Teamwork Makes all the Difference
Bartels said despite the national news about student scores, all the Chief Charlo teachers collaborate to help reach all their students.
“I think addressing the academic concerns that's come up that's all over the news, I think that I really would like to attest to the commitment of teachers from that perspective in that we're together we collaborate,” she said. “We work together as a team in the building.”
Bartels said when the need arises, there is help available for Chief Charlo teachers.
“It takes a lot of teamwork,” she said. “One way that they've addressed it is we now have an academic interventionist in the building, which is a new position, and that's been really invaluable having someone who just has a good overall picture of ways to support kiddos. I have this academic interventionist that is supporting me along with materials to support me and ways to use my instructional time appropriately to meet this kiddo that's in a new learning stage that I'm not as familiar with.”
The Lessons Learned during COVID Have Made Everyone Stronger
Bartels told KGVO News that she has taken the lessons learned from COVID due to the new skills she acquired and used them to become a better teacher.
“I feel really optimistic because we went through COVID,” she said. “It was incredibly difficult to be on the fly that way and to learn a whole new set of skills. However, I came out of it now with this whole new set of skills. And I never really had to collaborate as much as I did teaching remotely as a teacher, because I needed the help of my peers; of my own colleagues. And that has come out of it. So I guess I feel really optimistic about our drive. We understand where we're at and where we need to go. I don't think it's going to happen overnight, but I think that our community and our schools are committed to it. It's hard work, but it's meaningful.”