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Staff, space, funding helped Goddard schools face pandemic

Posted Date: 02/22/2021

Staff, space, funding helped Goddard schools face pandemic

If the COVID-19 pandemic had occurred two years ago, Goddard USD 265 may have been unable to conduct in-person learning this school year, said Goddard Superintendent Justin Henry.

The ability to be physically open “is because of the Gannon decision and the Legislature giving us funding,” said Henry.

In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the Legislature substantially complied with the court’s order in the Gannon lawsuit to increase school funding over several years.

That funding has helped Goddard return to 2011 staffing levels that had been reduced because of Gov. Sam Brownback’s school funding and tax policies.

In addition to the ability to increase staff, the Goddard community’s longtime commitment in approving bond issues for new buildings and other improvements provided the space necessary to have socially-distanced, in-person learning throughout this school year, Henry said.

Goddard is a growing district of about 6,200 students just west of Wichita USD 259.

For students from kindergarten through eighth-grade, Goddard has been onsite every school day. The two traditional high schools have been hybrid every other day. About 15 percent of students have opted for total remote learning, and families in Goddard have had opportunities to switch learning platforms for their students throughout the school year.

As the 2019-20 school year became remote learning in mid-March, Goddard planned for the 2020-21 school year starting in April and continuing all summer.

“The school board did an excellent job focusing on the whole child, academically, socially and emotionally. That is what really drove us. The board gave us the flexibility to best support students,” Henry said.

Concerned about having enough staff to weather quarantines throughout the year, Goddard hired 36 full-time substitute teachers before the school year start. The district also hired Certified Nursing Assistants for every building to assist each school’s already established Registered Nurse with additional COVID-19 procedures and medical related needs.

For the remote students, specific teachers were allocated to teach who were in total remote. “If you try to teach in person and you try to teach remote, it wears you out,” he said.

As challenging as the school year has been, Henry says it has shown educators new ways of teaching that will help in the future.

“For 70 years we have talked about high school reform and all we do is reshuffle the deck chairs now we have the opportunity,” he said.

The hybrid model of instruction in-person and online may be good for college-bound high school students because it teaches them how to manage their time.

But Henry is quick to point out that what worked for Goddard shouldn’t be used as a template for other districts. All schools face different challenges, he said. During the current legislative session, some Kansas legislators have complained about districts that have leaned heavily into remote learning. A bill before the Legislature would require all districts provide an in-person option by March 26.

“Each community needs to do what is best for their student. Everybody has different challenges. I don’t think the Legislature could or should mandate a one-size fits all approach,” he said.

For example, not every district has a 42,000-square-foot covered space with huge doors that can be opened for ventilation. Goddard does — the hangar for the B-29 Doc Superfortress. The aircraft will be on tour soon, allowing Goddard to hold its senior prom there.