Dr. Sonja Santelises joins ExtraOrdinary Districts in Extraordinary Times to discusses the Black Lives Matter protests and the decisions she faces as superintendent of Baltimore in planning for the return of students in the fall — from what equipment she is having to buy to what changes in the curriculum she will have to make.

Surveys to gather information and ideas about the reopening from students, teachers, and community members reveal that many families already know they “want a virtual option.” In addition, she said, a full two-thirds of teachers are wary of returning to buildings, at least without a lot more information about how they can stay safe.

Although it is clear that many children lost valuable learning time in the spring, Santelises said that for some children remote learning worked very well. One teacher who teaches in one of the hottest of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots has consistently had 95 percent of her students logging into lessons and doing standards-based grade-level work. “She has the relationship, she has the content,” Santelises said.

Similarly, Santelises said, the schools that were most successful in engaging students were the ones where relationships and culture had been built before the pandemic. “Schools that already had cohesive cultures did the best.” The question, she added, is “how to leverage that” understanding because “the relationship piece is harder to build virtually.”

It may be that when school buildings reopen in the fall, students may only attend for a few hours a week. “How do we use the in-person time to do what, if we’re being honest, we should have been doing all along?”

Featured Image shows Sonja Santelises and student activists at a Black Lives Matter rally.