Kramer Elementary principal says school staff is ‘thinking outside of the box’ as it navigates pandemic-era learning

Kramer Elementary School in Oxford. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Kramer Elementary School in Oxford. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

OXFORD — Kramer Elementary has been constantly adapting to new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic Principal Jason Merz told the board of education at its January meeting.

He began his presentation with a summary noting kids are back in the building, they are provided data-driven lessons, the Breakfast Club is again in place, third Friday meetings are helping communication and sharing among staff and support of educators is strong.

“We are excited to have our students back in the building and working with the staff and their peers,” Merz told the board. “We have a number of great initiatives happening at Kramer. The staff is collaborating, sharing and trusting each other to do their best for the students. The staff is learning from each other and asking questions to expand their knowledge. The staff has built positive relationships with the students and have made a personal connection to enhance learning.”

An innovation this school year was establishing students in “pods” of four – reorganized each month – to provide them with interactions with other students but also limit contact with larger numbers of students to decrease the possibility of a large spread of the coronavirus.

He explained all students, kindergarten through grade 5, are grouped in the pods, sitting together in the classroom as well as in the specials and the lunchroom.

“This has cut down on the number of quarantine students for the school year. This has allowed for students to stay in school and not miss in-person learning,” Merz said.

The staff has been using data points to design lessons and had some early setbacks but determined the need to put foundational skills ahead of advancing to grade-level lessons to assure students were ready.

“Classroom teachers learned early on that there were some areas that needed to be covered before moving on to the grade level standards. We met as a staff and everyone was reassured that foundational skills needed to be taught before moving on to the current grade level standards. Without the foundational skills, students could not move forward,” he said.

Breakfast Club started years ago to provide some additional help for students living in Parkview Arms Apartments. The program has changed some this year, but Merz said it continues with more staff members getting involved in the Wednesday morning program prior to the start of the school day.

Breakfast Club responsibilities are being divided among 15 to 20 staff members including the cafeteria manager to provide a special breakfast as well as special activities.

“A team from Kramer walks over to PVA to gather students and walk them to Kramer. We also have 8-10 students that walk from the surrounding area or they are dropped off to school,” the principal said.

They have themes for each Wednesday’s program and some have included: a read-in, STEM, making Halloween bookmarks and pumpkin, gratitude wreath and fall bingo, thankful cards for staff, hand turkeys, You’re Fired painting, teacher gifts and hot chocolate holiday decorating.

Breakfasts have included: eggs, pancakes and juice; egg and cheese omelet, biscuit and fruit; Thanksgiving theme with a turkey-themed donut; Cinna-mini pull-aparts with icing; bacon, egg and cheese breakfast pizza and a holiday-themed breakfast.

Third Friday is a staff meeting on the third Friday of each month designed to take on a topic of current interest or concern. Merz said the sessions have returned for the 2021-22 school year.

“The topic of Third Friday is not decided until about a week before our meeting,” he said. “This has turned into staff-led professional development. The teachers share what is happening in their classrooms and how the students are applying skills in their classroom. We also look at anything that is happening in the classroom and sharing it with our colleagues. This has turned into a great session to share, problem-solve and learn from each other.”

In line with that theme, Merz explained staff members are trying to come up with ways to help each other and share in various responsibilities to make the school run smoothly as well as helping students.

“The staff at Kramer has tried to think outside the box and make sure that everything is covered,” he said. “Classroom teachers start in the lunchroom to help students get their food and pass out plasticware. The office crew will cover lunch/recess, sick teachers and quarantines. Teachers are problem solving and working together to figure out how to help students. (Head Secretary Denise) Ritcher problem solves and helps get creative with coverage. It is a total team effort.”

The principal said there were some other highlights in his building including installation of a washer and dryer for student families in need. Donors have assisted in funding to get the plumbing installed and later in the agenda the board approved acceptance of gifts including $1,000 from the Hamilton Community Foundation for the effort.

The school staff are also delivering school work and meals to the porches of quarantined families requesting it. That is a coordinated effort by the nurse, teacher, social worker and cafeteria staff.

He also noted the school staff coordinated with community donors to help approximately 140 students receive holiday gifts.

Board member Chris Otto, who is the board representative to Kramer, praised the school’s efforts and noted Merz is respected by the students.

“I have walked through the building with Mr. Merz and he is a rock star. The kids greet him and shake hands,” Otto said, adding to laughter in the room, “He reminds them to wash their hands.”

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