Director Ann Lebo: Forging ahead
To say that this spring has brought some unexpected challenges is definitely an understatement. Instead of getting to know my colleagues at the Iowa Department of Education in person, I spent my first day on the job at the State Emergency Operations Center. Rather than welcoming students back from spring break, our schools were faced with developing and implementing continuous learning solutions during a global pandemic unlike we have ever experienced.
You often hear people say that you learn what people are made of when facing a crisis. That certainly holds true in Iowa. I have learned that no challenge is too great for our teachers, administrators, staff, families and students. I have seen communities supporting their schools, administrators and teachers working together to implement continuous learning plans in a short turnaround and parents juggling work and helping to engage their children in learning at home.
The essential services that schools offer have never been more on display than they are right now. Even though our school buildings are closed for the remainder of this year, learning opportunities across Iowa are in full swing thanks to the efforts of our school staff and leaders.
Schools are adjusting to the needs of their students and families as they navigate this new learning environment. I am inspired to see schools find new ways to engage with students. They are doing things like setting predictable schedules of when new assignments are provided and when they are due. Many are offering office hours and other homework help solutions so students and families feel supported at home. They are reaching out to students by phone. Some are scheduling one-on-one contacts with the parents and guardians of students on individualized education programs, or IEPs.
All of us at the Iowa Department of Education will continue to be diligent in our efforts to support schools, too. In addition to providing guidance and meeting virtually with school leaders, we have reconvened the Continuous Learning Task Force as we plan for what return to learning will look like. As we find our way forward, robust, engaging options for learning outside of brick-and-mortar will become an integral part of our educational framework, complementing face-to-face learning and preparing students for the increasingly digital world they live in.
These are extraordinary times, but we are forging ahead. COVID-19 has created challenges, but I have witnessed the resiliency and resourcefulness of our schools, families and students. Facing these challenges together has brought out our best and made us all stronger.