Submitted by Fred Woods
San Juan Island School District Superintendent
I have always loved the month of September. Many years ago, when I decided to make education a life-long career I saw an opportunity to broaden my world, allowing me to extend beyond the limits of the little town where I was raised. Choosing education as a career eventually led me to Friday Harbor, making it the best decision I ever made!
I stepped into this new role of Superintendent in the middle of a global crisis. Though the position is new to me, the working conditions are familiar having spent the last the 13 years serving this community as a principal. Martin Yablonovsky, our new secondary campus principal, joined us at the end of June and immediately got right to work. Martin’s experience and thoughtful approach is exactly what we need to help guide us.
For me, each September means I start the annual school cycle again, with new and returning students. I look forward to experiencing the excitement of the possibilities that lie ahead for each child. This year, much like every year, students and teachers returned refreshed and ready. As always, there is an eagerness to getting back to the classroom, seeing friends, and continuing an educational journey. However, the parking lots are empty. There are no athletic contests or Friday night lights. The hustle and bustle of what we have come to view as normal is just not there. Life is different. This pandemic has forced all of us to live in a manner to which we are not accustomed. However, the show must go on. For school, that means we must do our best to provide a quality learning experience within the framework of our current reality. So we returned to school this year in a remote learning model. Online engagement will never replace in-person education, but our programs this fall are greatly improved from last spring’s emergency closure.
Last spring, the District pivoted quickly to an online teleschooling model to continue to serve our students during a crisis. Though the whole state was suddenly forced into remote learning, other districts floundered and we hit the ground running. Friday Harbor schools excelled. The results of the AP exams taken in the spring are hard evidence of this. One hundred percent of our Art and Computer Science Principles students passed the exam. Sixty-two percent of our Calculus students reached the mark, four students scoring a level 5, the highest possible score. Other AP offerings such as AP History, AP English, and AP Science also saw great success. All this was accomplished while we were unable to meet with students directly. That says something about our community, the students, and the dedication of the staff.
I know the question on everyone’s mind is “When will we return to an in-person model?” Simply put, when it is safe to do so. Local superintendents meet with the county health department weekly. Our Board of Directors adopted our reopening plans in August with the understanding that we would review every nine weeks. Committees are currently meeting to discuss and plan re-opening. There is a lot consider, but I want you to know that we are working hard to support the island families.
For now, teachers are using the training they have received to create the most meaningful experience possible for the children of this island. I understand it is difficult for many, but our goal is to engage students the best we can in a virtual world. Along with the improvement to teleschooling, we reimagined and re-launched Griffin Bay School, designed for families who need schedule flexibility.
This September was as different for us as it was for everyone else across the state and throughout the nation. We are resilient, though. We will get through this. And life as we once knew it will return. Buildings will be full of students, Friday night lights will blaze, and schools will create community. When we do return to in-person learning, we will have gained much experience. What will we have learned from adapting to this crisis? What new practices will we carry forward? If we find ourselves in another community crisis, how can we improve our response?
As Winston Churchill once stated, and I paraphrase, we should never let a crisis go to waste. We can come out better than we were before. That is my hope and my goal.