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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

New SPS Superintendent Weighs In On Providing An Education In A Pandemic: Part 2

Theresa Bettmann

In Part 1 of KSMU's interview with the new superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, Dr. Grenita Lathan, she ended by talking about the impact of the pandemic on learning.  That's where Part 2 picks up.

I heard the impact of the pandemic on learning was especially harder for under-resourced and under-represented student.  As superintendent, what will you do to make sure kids who are in those groups aren't left behind?

Oh, we'll look at our dollars and see how our dollars have been allocated in the past and our plans for the future based on the approval of our new budget that was approved on last week. But we'll look at that and we'll look at those underserved students and under-resourced students and campuses and ensure that the funding is available to meet those students needs and to catch those students up.

And the pandemic was especially hard for kids with special needs. What will you do as superintendent to ensure those students needs will be met?

Same thing. We need to revisit IEPs, and that's important. You know, when the student has an IEP or special needs, we need to see what the IEP calls for and to ensure that we're following that. One of the things in my previous district that we had to do is, of course, enter into some contracts with speech pathologists because we were short there as it relates to staffing. And so you might have to look at some contracted services to provide additional support or to compensate for loss of time that students experienced.

I talked with Tracy Hines, who's deputy commissioner in the Division of Learning Services for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and also Dr. Nicole Holt, deputy superintendent of academics for Springfield Public Schools. And they both told me they'll be looking at the results of the Missouri Assessment Program or the MAP test, also at internal metrics to determine how students are doing. How important do you think those metrics will be and how should the district act on those findings?

Well, they'll be very important. And that's one of the questions I asked Dr. Holt last week--when do we get our results here in Missouri so that we can start looking at those and then asked about our local assessments? But they will be important. But I also will tell you that teacher created and school level assessments will be just as important also, especially for that teacher that's in the classroom with his or her students. And they have also created their own assessment. So it's a combination of state assessments, local assessments and then school based or teacher based assessments.

What resources should be available to teachers who will be key in helping those who might have fallen behind in the last year?

Definitely tutoring support. And when I say tutoring support it's additional staff members to push in or pull out students that need additional support, additional time beyond the school day or before the school day begins. It depends on what time that school starts for that particular campus. But teachers should have access and parents of students should have access to those additional services, but mainly through tutoring support.

The pandemic was also hard on staff, including teachers who had to go to work in person during what was a pretty scary time. And that's led some to worry about teachers retiring early or younger teachers leaving the profession. But Penny Rector, who's the chief of human resources for SPS, told me she hasn't seen that happening here, in part because of resources and support the district provided, including having substitutes ready to go when they were needed. What sorts of things should the district do going forward to make sure that it stays that way?

Ensure that we have the necessary supports to support staff around mental health supports and social emotional support. But ensuring that we have district incentives available and the morale. You know, a person needs to feel included and supported and to make sure from a district level we are communicating that to staff how important they are to us and how important they are to our students, but ensuring they have an outlet also to be heard.

We're seeing COVID-19 cases increase here as the delta variant moves through the community, in particular southwest Missouri right now. But there are around 61 percent of county residents still not fully vaccinated. As you look toward the next school year, your first one with the district, do you anticipate any requirements being imposed, such as masking and social distancing like we saw here last year?

I see that there might be a need. And I'll be very honest with you. You know, we're going to have to watch and listen. Look at the data, look at the guidelines from CDC, look at the guidelines from our county. But we might have to take some steps to, I guess, revert back to masking or physical distancing, especially until those numbers improve as it relates to vaccination rates.

Some kids have thrived in online learning and will choose to stay that way for the next school year and beyond. As new superintendent, how will you work to ensure that those students continue to have the support they need to succeed?

Well, we have a wonderful program through our Launch program, so they are welcome to take advantage of our Launch program. But we will just do what we can to support students within the guidelines that we have from our state.

Well, welcome to Springfield. Thank you so much for talking to me. Thank you.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.