End of the 2020-2021 school year and graduation

By San Juan Island School District Superintendent Fred Woods.

It is hard to believe we are nearing the end of the school year, my first as the San Juan Island School District Superintendent. I doubt any of us thought the pandemic that shook this world in March of 2020 would last this long. After a challenging year, we now see signs of life that are more familiar, and for those of us in the public school system, this means a traditional rite of passage – graduation!

On Saturday, June 12 we will celebrate the graduation of 56 young men and women. The Griffin Bay School graduation will be held at noon and Friday Harbor High School’s graduation is set for 5 p.m. the same day. Both celebrations will take place outside on the athletic field at the high school. Though limited to only eight members of each graduate’s family circle, we are so excited to be able to gather once again to celebrate. The fifth-grade and the eighth-grade will also hold promotion ceremonies on the last week of school with everyone looking ahead to what the new year brings.

These students have much to celebrate. In truth, this past year their world was turned upside down and all the joy of an American school experience was lost. For secondary students, there was no homecoming, no prom, no concerts or play productions, and no regular-season sporting events. Elementary and middle school children did not take their usual field trips or engage in group learning activities. Time with peers diminished as everyone focused on how to live safely through this pandemic. However, as the Superintendent and a former principal, I have been impressed with the resiliency and fortitude of students across the district. This year’s students found themselves in a position where they needed to dig deep, and they did.

This year saw a state art award, two elementary school STEM ExploraVision project awards, and college acceptances to Duke, Stanford, Villanova and West Point. Athletes gritted out a shortened sports season and everyone learned how to learn in a whole different way.

At the beginning of the year, I shared my hope that we would learn from this crisis. Faculty and staff met the challenge and amazed us with new and invaluable instructional technology that will be integrated into the curriculum going forward. Griffin Bay School was reimagined and has now become a remote learning facility for any child in the State of Washington. Facility improvements such as touchless fixtures will support the health of our children in years to come. The fact is that these changes, as well as others, are in place now because of what we went through. We learned.

The success of the San Juan Island School District is largely due to this community. Local support during this time of crisis was nothing short of astounding. This island truly cares about education and the safety of our children. My heartfelt thanks go to the San Juan Island Public Schools Foundation, the San Juan Island Community Foundation, Valmark, Inc., Friday Harbor Food Bank, United Way, and other private donors, large and small. As your Superintendent, I am at a loss for the words to express my gratitude for all those who supported our students this year.

What does this mean for next year? At this time, the plan is to return to a school setting that is much more like the one that we are used to. It might not look exactly like pre-COVID, depending on the guidance we receive from the state, but at this time we are planning to return to full-day in-person school.

We understand there has been a huge impact on students academically and emotionally this past year. In response to that, we are offering a variety of services this summer and a strong social and emotional learning program next fall. We will recover. It will just take time. For now, enjoy the summer and let us look forward to returning to the campuses on Thursday, Sept. 2.