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‘We’ve Got This.’ Boise School Principals Optimistic About In-Person Return For 2021-22 Classes

Boise Independent School District
Rebecca Severson (upper left) is principal at Roosevelt Elementary School and Jeff Roberts (lower left) is principal at North Junior High School.

Boise School District educators share their optimism about the upcoming school year and the ability to teach in-person again.

The 2020-2021 school year had so many ups and downs that even educators lost count of how many “first days” of school there were. A year ago, it was all about remote learning, then it was hybrid and then in-person. And along the way, it was variations on all those themes. That was then.

“We went through so many different things last year that whatever they throw at us this year, we've got this,” said Rebecca Severson, principal at Roosevelt Elementary School in the Boise Independent School District.

With tens of thousands of students, educators and staff prepared begin the 2021-2022 school year by returning to classrooms on Monday, August 16, Severson and Jeff Roberts, principal at North Junior High School, also in Boise, visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about their new-found level of optimism and the importance of being in the presence of one another.

“Now we can really just shift our focus back to what we do best.”
Rebecca Severson

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition Boise State Public Radio News.  Good morning. I'm George Prentice. It’s hard to imagine that we're talking about going back to school, but indeed, Monday, August 16th, is the first day of school in the Boise School District. So, before all of that wonderful madness begins, we're going to spend some time this morning with Jeff Roberts, principal at North Junior High, and Rebecca Severson, principal at Roosevelt Elementary. Good morning to you both.

Rebecca Severson, maybe you can help us out in describing what might be different on the first day of school this year and what won't be different.

REBECCA SEVERSON: Well, George, if you remember back to last year, the first day of school… students were at home. So, I remember walking through the building right after the bell rang, and it was dead silent and every door was closed. And I could see through the windows that the teachers were talking to their students. But as far as being in the building, it was a bit like a ghost town this year. We are so looking forward to having that exciting buzz that comes along with the first day of school. I mean, it's going to be vastly different with having all of the students here rather than all of them on a screen. So, we're thrilled in the Boise School District to be talking about in-person, live, learning with the kiddos, walking in the door.

PRENTICE: Jeff Roberts. All that said, I can't help but think that you must start your days now… in seeing how the world and how the community is doing in regards to COVID-19.

JEFF ROBERTS: You know, George, we do. We had what we call admissions, and that's where we invite all of our students in. They get a copy of their schedule, and they can walk their class schedule and check out their lockers. That was kind of the first chance we had to really sort-of take the temperature of our community. And I'm so happy to say that our community is in great shape. And in general, our families are so excited to be back in the building, and our students are just really excited to be back and learning in the classroom. Obviously, unlike last year, we had a great turnout, which is, I think, a good reflection of the health of how our families are looking at returning to school right now.

PRENTICE: Rebecca, everything I've seen and read is that kids… they get this… and facemasks are not controversial.

Rebecca Severson2.jpg
Boise Independent School District
Rebecca Severson, principal at Roosevelt Elementary School in Boise

SEVERSON: Absolutely. Our kids just want to be here. A fun, fun story that happened last year: I had a second grader who I was sitting with and talking to and he said, “I am so excited to be here, I will never again say I don't like school.”  And he was telling me a funny anecdotal story. And I was laughing and I said, “Oh, gosh, buddy, I wish you could see my face right now. I wish you could see that I was smiling… how much I'm smiling.” And he said, “Oh, Mrs. Severson, I can tell your eyes are smiling.” And that was a real moment for me- to shift from worrying about a mask, and realizing, gosh, he is just thrilled to be here. He knows I'm smiling, and we can all do this. And I didn't have students that were bothered about masks. They just wanted to be in school with their teachers.

PRENTICE: Jeff Roberts, let's talk about the professional side of this. What did you learn from your colleagues - your educators - and your students during the last school year?

Jeffrey Roberts.jpg
Boise Independent School District
Jeff Roberts is principal at North Junior High School in Boise

ROBERTS: Where do we start? You know, we have a specific plan for every school, and what our learning goals are that align with our district vision. We really, last year, kept that in mind, but set it aside because the learning curve for teachers to be able to provide intelligent lessons online, and then switch to hybrid and then in person… that growth curve in every way was just so steep. We had teachers who had to learn how to create engagement when kids were behind a screen, and to get kids and build relationships, which is such a key of education in a way that we've never done it before. And that part alone was just fantastic to see how creative the teachers were in approaching that particular challenge. And, you know, once we did get kids in,,, and then hybrid…we had three first days in that way where we had to build our expectations for school. Our expectations were learning that we just had to kind of pick up a whole new way. And every aspect of education that we did, we had to grow it. It really is a compliment to the creativity and determination of these teachers to do a great job for our students. So, I don't have a short answer for that, my friend. It was every aspect of the personal aspect, the social aspect and absolutely the academic aspect that they have to have huge growth. And just from delivering education in a way that that is not normal business.

PRENTICE: Ok, Rebecca, what did you learn about yourself in the past year?

SEVERSON: Well, I think I need people…we all need people. We spend a lot of time isolated in our rooms. We spend a lot of time trying not to be in contact with others. We spend a lot of time connecting online. But, man, when we could get back together and be with one another, we all started to blossom. And although I think we did a great job through all of the turmoil, I think I learned how much I need my staff… how much they need each other… how much kids need kids. We need people

PRENTICE: Finally. And I'll ask you both: Jeff, I'll ask you first. I'm assuming you've got to balance reality and optimism.

ROBERTS: You know, we do. The cornerstone of that is our pandemic operation plan that we have adjusted guidance on that… we developed specifically for our school. And then we develop one for each classroom. And that's a great plan. And of course, we always have a plan B back in our mind. If we have to make any shifts, I think we can do that gracefully. I think the positive optimism is absolutely there with our staff and I can speak to a large chunk of our families.  We do have that in the back of our mind. That is something that we are absolutely trying to avoid…a change in the way we deliver instruction. But absolutely, we are thinking of what would happen if we had to make shifts either within our schedule, or hybrid o….you know, we're all hoping to stay in-person more than anything else. But you always have to have a Plan B.

SEVERSON: You know, I feel like there's a conversation that's being had around the staff here that no matter what happens this year, we can do it. If we are online, we can do it. If we are in-person, we can do it. We went through so many different things last year that whatever they throw at us this year, we've got this. And now we can really just shift our focus back to what we do best. And that's teaching and learning. And there is an excitement in my staff right now to briefly visit COVID procedures and go back to teaching and learning because we know we can do all of the other things. Now we're going to get back to what we do, what we do best.

PRENTICE: Monday, August 16th. My goodness. She is Rebecca Severson, principal at Roosevelt Elementary. He is Jeff Roberts, principal at North Junior. Best wishes for the fall semester.

ROBERTS: Thank you so much, George. And, you know, we're just fortunate to be in the community we're in.

SEVERSON: And thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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