By Matt Wandrie, Superintendent, Lapeer Community Schools
This column was written for publication in the Lapeer County Press
Over the past several months, I’ve heard a lot of people attempt to characterize what has become our new normal since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic: It’s a ‘brave new world’ they say.
Some, I would guess, don’t know the phrase comes from the title of the book by Aldous Huxley (originally derived from Shakespeare) from 1932. In it, Huxley, a prolific English author and intellectual, describes a futuristic world that is distant, disconnected and devoid of the personal connections that we all desire — a world in which technology reigns supreme.
Our recent experience, albeit less dystopian, is of the non-fiction sort. What we’ve all experienced apart we’ve endured together.
Rather than a bleak vision of the future, it is my firm belief that this entire experience will make public education, and our little corner of it in Lapeer, stronger. It has challenged all of us to think differently about the way we educate our students, and has reinforced our thinking in many areas.
This experience has changed me and, undoubtedly, everyone in this organization; and when people change, so do practices and, ultimately, entire systems.
It was, after all, Huxley who also famously said that he “wanted to change the world … but found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”
From my chair as superintendent of Lapeer Community Schools, I’ve seen an incredible amount of transition in a short period of time. In an industry that is not known for rapid change, this present challenge required nothing less. This challenge demanded wholesale changes to teaching and learning which struck at the heart of what we are as an organization — this, after all, is a relationship business.
What we’ve learned is that, in many areas, there is no substitute for face-to-face instruction. In those areas, technology is an enhancement of the personal, teacher-to-student relationship — not a substitute. In other areas, we’ve found the use of technology — specifically teleconferencing technology — can create new and more convenient opportunities for collaboration for staff and extended learning opportunities for students.
We cannot yet say for certain what the near future holds for public education, and specifically for our families in Lapeer. The leaders in this district have been making plans for traditional face-to-face instruction in the 2020-21 school year with the knowledge that a return to virtual learning (either full or in part) still remains a possibility.
Planning for several potential outcomes will continue within the parameters of the state and federal guidelines that continue to adapt with the ebbs and flows of the pandemic.
Please be assured that every decision leading up to the resumption of teaching and learning in the coming school year will be measured against two factors: the health and well-being of our school community and the educational needs of students.
It’s not that nothing else matters, but certainly nothing else matters as much.
Until everything is settled, let’s be inspired by the positivity and perseverance of our Class of 2020, who showed all of us that we are not captives to our circumstances. Let us be encouraged by the fact that, while things may never be the same, new and better opportunities are often created out of crisis.