When schools closed in March, our family, like countless others, began juggling a multitude of tasks in our 1,300-square-foot house. My husband set up shop in the living room and I in the bedroom, while our kids navigated virtual meetings and assignments at the kitchen table or surrounded by stuffed animals on their beds.
My task in quarantine was to continue running the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation remotely, in collaboration with my co-workers and 14 trustees. Together, we mobilized a fundraising effort to support families experiencing food insecurity, homelessness, and other crises. We were glad to throw ourselves into a critical task in a groundless time.
Now it is August, and the need for this crisis relief work has not ended. Nor have all of the questions about the upcoming school year been resolved. Even now, educators are not certain if we will manage to send students back into buildings at all this fall. There is little rest for our school administrators this summer.
I am not a school district employee, but as the foundation’s executive director, I witness many aspects of our schools. I am, for example, privy to various meetings of our district administration. I participate in these conversations as a nonprofit partner seeking to support students and promote excellence in our schools. Mostly, I listen.
Since schools closed I have observed the endless challenges faced by our school leaders. Month after month, district officials have drafted plans by day, only to wad them up and pitch them into the recycling at night when state guidelines change.
Conversations among our school leaders span a dizzying array of issues, from how to transport students with a limited number of students per school bus to how to guarantee 35 square feet per student, deep clean classrooms, and implement contact tracing. What about child care for employees?
Amidst so many unknowns, one piece of information became crystal clear recently: Along with an escalating pandemic, the Corvallis School District now faces budget cuts of $3.75 million for the upcoming school year. Programming and services will inevitably be slashed. There are hard decisions to be made in the coming weeks.
Since schools were shuttered, school administrators have worked tirelessly to re-envision educational delivery under COVID-19. Now they must do so with reduced funds. From my perspective, they are being asked to solve a nearly unsolvable puzzle. It would be easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged, yet our school leaders remain steadfast, professional, and forward-looking. They are sticking with their values, such as keeping students at the center and focusing on inclusivity, equity, and access.
At the close of last week’s meeting, one district leader urged the group to focus on the work ahead. “Start with what you need for kids. Do the best you can with what you have. Think creatively. Try something new. Practice patience and persistence,” she said.
Many of us are juggling fears as we careen toward September. For me, our school leaders are a powerful source of hope and confidence, not just for my own family, but for our community as a whole. I know they — and the teachers and staff they support — will not lose sight of the needs of our most vulnerable kids. They will rise to the challenge of safe, rigorous, and equitable educational delivery during COVID, even in the face of budget shortfalls.
Liv N. Gifford is the executive director of the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation.