Schools have come under increasing pressure to reopen their buildings so that students can attend in person again. But those who insist that schools are safe don’t often acknowledge the work that must be done in order to make them safe.

Jennifer Robbins, principal of Ladd Acres Elementary School in Hillsboro, Oregon, talks about the many things that have had to be done in order to start welcoming students back. Mask requirements are just the beginning. She and her team have had to think through how to build a master schedule for the limited time students are in school, how to teach students new recess games that keep them socially distanced, and where to paint circles on the sidewalk outside the school so that students don’t bunch up. One problem that Robbins woke up worrying about one night is that turning off the drinking fountains means students will have to bring their own water to school. But bringing water in the same backpack as their Chromebooks could jeopardize expensive school equipment.

No matter how much they try to anticipate everything that can go wrong, however, Robbins says she and her team know there will be things that come up that they never thought of. The motto Robbins says she tells her team is, “We’re brave, not perfect.”

Robbins approaches opening the school buildings as an engineering problem and welcomes the opportunity for students to develop their ability to solve problems. But she is going beyond that to start thinking about what else schools could and should do differently.

“If we were able to redesign schools to look so totally different in such a short amount of time, that tells me we could be able to make the kinds of changes we want in a no longer panicked state,” Robbins said. “For so long we’ve said, ‘we can’t, we can’t,’ or ‘we’re slow to change.’ I think we’ve proven that wrong.”

The question, she said, is “Where do we want to go from here?”