After a fall of flipping between opening and closing school buildings, Godwin Heights Public Schools in western Michigan responded to a huge spike in community spread of coronavirus by deciding to close before Thanksgiving until at least January 19. Part of the decision rested on the fact that it had become difficult to fully staff schools as bus drivers, janitorial and office staff, as well as students and teachers either got sick or had to quarantine because a family member tested positive. Also, the constant changes were confusing.

“The inconsistency of virtual versus in-person,” said Mary Lang, principal of West Godwin Elementary School, “was one of the big pushes” to close buildings. “We need the structure of one way or the other.”

In this episode of The Education Trust’s podcast, ExtraOrdinary Districts, Karin Chenoweth and Tanji Reed Marshall talk with Lang about schooling in the time of a pandemic, along with the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction Michelle Krynicki and kindergarten teacher Holly Vostad and first-grade teacher Libby Klooster.

By being able to focus solely on teaching students remotely, teachers Vostad and Klooster say they are able to see the growth in student learning. “Are they getting as much as they would at school? No. We just don’t have the time,” Klooster said. “But have I seen so much growth in them too? Oh, my goodness, it’s amazing.”

In a far-reaching conversation about building relationships, delivering instruction, and making instructional schedules, the Godwin Heights educators said that one of the good things that is coming out of this difficult time is that teachers and parents have gotten to know each other much more than ever before.

“There are definitely things from this pandemic we will continue,” Lang said.