Madison, Middletown, Monroe and Edgewood superintendents: Pandemic changed how we educate

Area education leaders address Chamber of Commerce members who ask questions about the current state of the schools.

Local education changed when individual learning became more of a priority through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, superintendents of four districts told a crowd of business leaders Thursday at a K-12 Public Education Summit hosted by The Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton.

Edgewood City Schools Superintendent Kelly Spivey said supporting students facing mental health issues has become an even bigger part of a teacher’s mission alongside of the education, and that is something some aren’t taught to do. It has been somewhat of a shift for staffs at area schools, she said.

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Middletown City Schools Superintendent Deborah Houser echoed Spivey but added funding has come in to help districts settle into a new supportive mode.

“But it’s not just COVID,” Houser said. “We dealt with COVID and have come back from it ... it’s social media,” she said. “The community and societal occurrences that are going on right now can play out in the classroom,” she said.

What gets said or focused on in the digital social space often spills into the schools, she said. The time students were not in the classroom, or were attempting to learn from their homes, has impacted the need to accelerate some education.

Not only were students out of the classroom, “they came back to teachers who had to wear masks,” she said. It was tougher for students who need to see their lips and facial expressions to properly hear and learn.

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Missing two years of in-person education was probably more detrimental for students in the earliest grades, K-3, because that is where their basic reading skills are formed, Houser said.

Monroe Local Schools Superintendent Robert Buskirk said things are still “getting back to normal” beyond the height of the pandemic.

“I have an 8th-grade and 9th-grade daughter and this year they had an assembly before the first football game for the first time,” Buskirk said. “School is a lot more than academics.”

“The social pieces ... interacting with peers ... they missed out on a lot of that,” he said.

The superintendents also said the pandemic spurred things to get more political when it comes to education. The students and staff have political opinions influencing their decisions regarding education.

Speaking from the audience, Middletown mayor Nicole Condrey said having the entire community support the schools, especially the superintendents and leaders, is essential.

Madison Schools Superintendent Jeff Staggs shared that because they are in a community with fewer businesses, there isn’t as much business support, but there are organizations that have filled that void. He said a local church helped pay off lunch meal deficits and there was extra money so that if there is need again, they can get those paid.

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