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‘This isn’t easy for anyone’: Spokane superintendent acknowledges challenges of closures in S-R interview

In a livestreamed Spokesman-Review interview on Friday, Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger acknowledged the challenges of ongoing school closures. “This isn’t easy for anyone,” she said. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger has some advice for parents: Giving up isn’t an option.

“My heart goes out to all our families that are tying keep their children engaged and focused on learning,” Redinger said Friday in a livestream interview carried on The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages website.

“We’ve got to finish strong,” said Redinger, who like many parents is staying home with a student whose educational experience these days is less than ideal. “But we’ve got to remember to be patient.”

Few areas of society have endured greater upheaval in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic than public education.

Lesson plans have been altered, families are confined, and the lives of 31,000 students have been uprooted – and teachers and administrators can only do so much.

Even with a quarter-century of teaching and administrative experience, Redinger admits she still has a lot to learn as education and life take a sharp turn toward greater reliance on technology.

Instead of traveling the district and meeting students and teachers face to faces, Redinger must make do with Zoom meetings – “twice a day at 9 and 3,” she said.

After a one-week transition period following statewide school closures on March 17, teachers are doing the same.

Fortunately, the district had invested heavily in technology. The payoff came when it was able to meet the demand for laptops from 4,000 students who lacked them.

“And if you still need tech, let us know,” she said.

Of course, families need much more than that, and the district is trying its best. Meals are being served at 24 sites, and will continue through spring break – a first for the district.

Child care is available for children of first responders and essential medical personnel, and teachers are connecting with students online.

That’s small comfort to the child with special needs, the high school senior who probably won’t get to walk down the aisle at commencement, or the helpless parent who wishes she’d paid more attention during eighth-grade algebra.

“This isn’t easy for anyone,” said Redinger, who added that parents shouldn’t make things any harder on themselves.

As school closures drag on – possibly into the summer – there will be some loss of learning, Redinger said.

“We will need to look at that,” said Redinger, who admits that the coronavirus creates many unknowns for districts.

No one is quite sure when school will resume, what it will look like when it does and how it will be financed. Shortly after Redinger spoke, Gov. Jay Inslee announced $445 million in statewide budget cuts.

The biggest hit was $116 million in new money through 2023 for guidance counselors in high-poverty school districts.