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One Class At A Time: Boise School District Cautiously Begins Another Semester

Melinda Shelton

The Boise Independent School District opted to wait another week after the New Year holiday before beginning another semester. Adding extra caution, the district opted to begin the semester in a remote-only environment. School officials say, with any luck, they'll resume a hybrid schedule on Tuesday, Jan. 19 and take it from there.Boise School Superintendent Coby Dennis visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about their tentative plans, the upcoming vaccination of educators and how counselors and social workers are reaching out to students in the shadow of troubling headlines.

“This has been tough on all of us as we've gone through this. So, hang with us. We'll get through this together. And there's a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News; good morning. I'm George Prentice. Ask a politician what week this is, they'll tell you that the Idaho legislature is back in session; but ask a family with kids in Boise what weak this is and they'll tell you, “School is back in session.” The Boise School District has resumed classes for nearly 25,000 students and 4500 employees. Coby Dennis is here - fourth generation educator, and the man in charge, the superintendent of the Boise School District. Superintendent, good morning.

COBY DENNIS: Good morning, George. Happy New Year to you and thank you for the opportunity to visit with you guys today.

PRENTICE: Bring us up to speed as far as what parents and educators can expect for the next couple of weeks.

DENNIS: So, obviously, we began the semester yesterday on the 11th, Monday… the 11th in a virtual setting. And the reason behind starting this week virtually was to give a full two week difference between the New Year holiday and the beginning of school. And instead of coming back and then seeing another spike, we thought we'd give at least a couple more weeks after the New Year holiday to make sure that our numbers were where we needed them to be. The plan to resume school [in a hybrid schedule] right now is to begin on the 19th. Obviously Monday, the 18th is a holiday. And so, we're going to begin on the 19th back in our hybrid learning program, which brings half the kids in every other day. That will begin on the 19th. That's going to be our recommendation.

PRENTICE: For what grades will that be?

DENNIS: It’ll be K-12… pre-K 12, I should say. We're going to go all the way through in that for at least the time being. One of the things that I think just for your listeners to understand is, with the vaccine coming out, we are looking significantly at a whole bunch of different scenarios on how we can get back to our full five day a week learning that that school really needs to be. So, that's really what we're looking at, moving forward.

PRENTICE: So, let's talk about that vaccine. Educators are the next major group in line to get the COVID vaccine. I think most of us are expecting that to happen in February. What role does the district play in that massive undertaking?

DENNIS: Yeah, and massive undertaking is exactly right. First of all, we are so excited about the fact that the vaccine is now here in Idaho, and our health professionals have had the opportunity to get that. And we are really looking forward to the opportunity for our educators to get that vaccine as well. With that being said, I think our role right now is going to be in a complementary role with Central District Health. And I'm just speaking about Central District Health, because that's our health district, right? We have offered Central District Health whatever resources we can give them in order to expedite the vaccination. And at this stage, we're working through some of those logistical parts. Back when we had the H1N1 virus, our schools became a centerpiece of dealing with some of those vaccines that were coming out of. Our nurses have always had the ability to provide those vaccines. I don't know that at this stage of the game that that's where we're going to end up. But any of our resources that we can offer to help expedite vaccinating staff, we're more than willing to do. And that's true, moving forward as we get into the general public,

PRENTICE: The events of last week, the insurrection on Capitol Hill… it didn't take me too long to start thinking of kids. And I immediately thought of our previous conversations after tragedies such as a school shooting or 9/11. And then I was thinking of when I was a boy, when President Kennedy was shot and when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot; and how important it was for me to go to school and to talk about things or work things out with my friends and my teachers… and we're missing that. Teachers still have that gene to heal and to make us better. How do you do that remotely where?

DENNIS: It's such a good question, George. You know, I go back… unfortunately, I was an administrator in this district when 9/11 happened. And so your point is right on the money. I think one of the things that we have to understand is, is that even though we are not necessarily physically in the same place, that does not mean that the communication between teachers and students has to be less than what it was. One of the things that I am probably the proudest with this district is the idea that we are about relationships. The magic in a classroom is always between the teacher and the student. So, whenever tragedy occurs, like we saw at the Capitol building, one of the first things that you have to do with kids is make sure they understand that they're safe. And so, you have to you have to open dialogue with your kids around safety first; then you have to move into conversations around understanding. So, it's a different conversation to have with a senior than it is with a kindergarten. And our staff understands how to have those conversations appropriately. For that, we're fortunate in this district to have counselors that are available in each one of our schools. So, when we see kids who are significantly struggling with whatever, we have counseling and social workers and nurses and all of those people who can come in and help those students that need additional resources in order to understand, and get some understanding as to when those kinds of things happen.

PRENTICE: Superintendent…are counselors actually reaching out and performing that… even remotely?

DENNIS: Absolutely. One hundred percent. And I think that's a really important piece to this. Our counselors, just because we're remote, does not mean they are not still doing the work that they had been doing when we were [in person]. And is it different? One hundred percent. But the content is still the same, and that the goals are still the same. Being able to be creative, in how you go about giving those resources to kids, is one of the other things that I'm the most proud of. Over the last nine months, we've been able to develop how we can do some of those things; but our counselors are available and working with kids even when we're in a remote setting.

PRENTICE: He has Coby Dennis, superintendent of the Boise Independent School District. Happy New Year to you and thank you.

DENNIS: Thank you, George and we wish the same thing to you and your folks and all the listeners out there. I want to thank our staff and I also want to thank our parents, because this has been tough on all of us as we've gone through this. So, hang with us. We'll get through this together. And there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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