Butler superintendents: We’re thankful to have students back in class, hoping ‘normal’ returns soon

Three school leaders participated in public schools summit hosted by Chamber of Commerce

Three Butler County school superintendents commented on a wide range of subjects Thursday during a K-12 public education summit and all said they’re glad to have students back in school.

Educating students has been challenging the last two years during the COVID-19 when schools closed and students took classes virtually at home, then when students and teachers wore protective masks in class to reduce the spread of the virus.

That was one topic addressed by Middletown Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr., Monroe Superintendent Robert Buskirk and Madison Superintendent Jeff Staggs at the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton luncheon.

The superintendent from Edgewood didn’t attend.

“The kids are back,” Styles said. “It feels good.”

He praised the teachers, staff, cafeteria workers, really all adults, for working through the pandemic and always doing what was best for the students.

Staggs said the “emotional stress” of the pandemic has taken a toll on Madison teachers and students and it may take a while to feel “normal” again.

Buskirk said Monroe has seen some “exaggerated” behaviors related to COVID-19. He mentioned talking to a second-grade teacher who told him her students have only known education during the pandemic.

“They don’t know how to do normal,” he told the crowd at Forest Hills Country Club.

The three school leaders talked about the need to create students who graduate with skill sets needed to be successful in secondary education, the workforce or the military. The districts need to work closely with local employers who are struggling to fill job openings, they said.

They were asked if money was no object, if there was no need to have a levy campaign, what would they changed about their districts.

Buskirk said Monroe’s campus was built to hold 1,800 students. Enrollment is 2,300 so every time a staff member suggests a new program, the first hurdle is “where do we put them,” he said.

Staggs said he would increase the salaries of all teachers in the district. Madison wants to recruit and keep the “best and brightest people” and sometimes that’s impossible due to the district’s pay scale, he said.

The No. 1 factor in a student’s success is the “people in front of them,” he said.

Styles said his wish list extends outside the school buildings into the city where 25% of the residents live under the poverty line, about double the Butler County average, Every student in the district qualifies for federal free and reduced school meals.

“End poverty,” Styles said. “Period. End of story.”

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