Building the plane as you fly is an expression all of us have heard over the past few months as we navigated through remote learning and food distribution together. With little time to prepare, public school leaders transitioned to remote learning and set up food distribution programs in a matter of days. There was no playbook or instruction manual to guide you through the process. You simply put the pieces together on the fly of what school should look like — minus students or staff in the building. It was an unenviable task, but each of you demonstrated tremendous compassion, leadership, and perseverance through it all.
As we look ahead to the fall, many of you are feeling pressure from your communities, staff, and school board to pull off a similar feat of rethinking and reimagining school. You’re the superintendent, after all, and everyone thinks you should have a plan.
On behalf of the IASA staff and every member of the IASA COVID-19 Swat Team, I want to say it’s OK not to have a plan in place right now. It’s May 27 and there is time on the calendar between now and the start of the 2020-21 school year. This plane doesn’t need to be built today.
I convey that message not to diminish the importance of planning nor to criticize any school leader who already put forth a transition plan. Rather, I just want to encourage you to take some time to recharge your batteries after an exhausting and demanding stretch. Like the flight attendant says on an airplane, put your oxygen mask on first.
Secondly, I share this message as a reminder of how quickly plans and guidance can change. The past few months we have seen this happen multiple times, forcing school leaders to walk back original plans. That is a situation I hope each of you can avoid.
Over the next few weeks, I anticipate the picture of what next school year will look like to become clearer. The Illinois State Board of Education plans to release Part 2 of its transition document, and the IASA COVID-19 Swat Team will release its transition plan to supplement the work of ISBE. Hopefully, these two documents will provide a roadmap of how to proceed.
If it’s possible, I hope you can hit the pause button, at least for a week or two, on focusing your time and energy on the 2020-21 school year and wait for this guidance. There are still too many unknowns and, quite frankly, I don’t know if some of the problems — like enforcing preschoolers to wear a mask and maintain social distancing — have a workable solution.
However, we are learning more each day on how best to proceed that will allow us to make a better decision about the fall. The IASA COVID-19 Swat Team will continue to be at the ready to support your planning when the time comes. I, for one, am also hopeful advancements will be made in the area of treatment of COVID-19 between now and August that could change how we think about returning to school in person.
Hang in there. You have done incredible work up to this point, and it’s OK to catch your breath over the summer break. The plane isn’t leaving the runway yet.
Brent Clark, Ph.D.
Illinois Association of School Administrators