Gilbert-area superintendents give insight into education in the time of coronavirus

Shane McCord, Mike Thomason, Camille Casteel
The superintendents for the school districts serving Gilbert—from left, Gilbert Public Schools' Shane McCord, Higley USD's Mike Thomason and Chandler USD's Camille Casteel—offered their insights into education during the time of COVID-19.

The superintendents for the school districts serving Gilbert—from left, Gilbert Public Schools' Shane McCord, Higley USD's Mike Thomason and Chandler USD's Camille Casteel—offered their insights into education during the time of COVID-19.

As the historic 2019-20 school year wraps up in the grip of restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic, Community Impact Newspaper asked the superintendents of the three public school districts that serve the town about the state of education in the town.

What does education look like post-COVID-19?

Shane McCord, Gilbert Public Schools: As a superintendent and as an educator, I am eager for our community to get back into our classrooms and for our teachers and students to be together again in person. At Gilbert Public Schools we care deeply about our students' learning and growth, and we know that that happens best in our classrooms, alongside peers and with the support of our teachers and the entire school staff.

Mike Thomason, Higley USD: The Higley Unified School District is currently working on several different plans to comply with state and federal requirements.

Camille Casteel, Chandler USD: We are navigating unchartered territory. CUSD created a task force to explore all options for the 2020-2021 school year, ranging from return to classroom instruction with advanced safety measures in place, continuation of distance learning, to a hybrid system that includes both. Information changes rapidly, and we will prepare for all possibilities.


What feedback has your district received from families and teachers?

McCord: In general, the feedback we have received has been positive. No one wanted this to happen, but our students, teachers and families have all stepped up to make the most of this situation and to continue learning. Our Technology Services, Prevention Services, and Nutrition Services teams have worked together to ensure our families most in need and at risk are supported. From free internet access to over 6,500 meals served per day, our staff has done a phenomenal job. Our school social workers, counselors and teachers have also worked diligently to connect with every student and to support those in need. Gilbert Public Schools is truly a family, and these times have seen our staff, families, and wider community show up for each other in new ways, it has been an honor to witness.

Thomason: We have had an incredible amount of support from the community in our efforts to communicate daily and provide an online and virtual education for all of our students.

Casteel: The most recurring message we hear is that students miss their teachers and teachers miss their students. This has been very difficult for everyone. Parents report that it is challenging sharing technology among adults working from home and students accessing online instruction.

What contingencies are you planning for through summer and fall?

McCord: As of May 13, we continue to follow the activities and announcements at a state-level very closely. We are also in direct communications with other school districts across Arizona. We plan to survey our community in the coming weeks to connect with how they are feeling about returning to school in August. Ultimately, we will be planning for as many potential scenarios as we can so that whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in on Aug. 5, we are ready to educate our students to the high standards they are accustomed to.

Thomason: At this time we are considering multiple options and will be able to communicate these with our families when the need to implement them arises. We are working closely with state and local officials to ensure all of our plans align with [Arizona Department of Health Services] and [Arizona Department of Education] guidance and recommendations as we enter into each phase of reopening Arizona. Our credit recovery summer school program will be online and free to Higley students this year. In addition, there are several credit acceleration classes available free to our students. The program details are on our website.

Casteel: Our commitment to student health and safety is a priority. Due to our continued focus upon student wellness, the Chandler Unified School District will not be offering brick and mortar Summer School options this summer. However, we are pleased to announce that the Chandler Unified School District will offer tuition-free, virtual academic opportunities for our K-12 students during the summer months. Details are being posted on our website at www.cusd80.com/summerschool

Will virtual learning continue for families who may be anxious about returning to school?

McCord: During this unprecedented time, remote learning has been an excellent opportunity for us all to grow. One of our greatest achievements during this challenging time has been implementing extensive professional development opportunities for our educators so they could confidently and successfully continue to educate our students remotely using new tools. This learning and expertise will not be lost and will undoubtedly contribute to the toolbox our teachers have access to for inspiring and educating our kids going forward.

Thomason: As we move forward in this new world we are living in we will have opportunities to best meet the needs of our community and students through a variety of educational opportunities.

Casteel: As stated above, we are exploring all options moving forward for 2020-2021. Our task force is developing options moving forward and what distance learning would like in Chandler Unified.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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