Every school district in the nation is facing new challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe in our community and its ability to respond and solve the hardest of problems. This may be one of the most complicated issues school systems have faced in generations.
Part of successfully responding to COVID-19 in schools is wearing face coverings as a way to mitigate the spread of the disease and take care of each other, regardless of our politics.
Face coverings have, unfortunately, become a political issue that has created division in nearly every community, including ours. The easy answer as to why we wear face coverings is Apache Junction Unified School District policy, which states, “All persons, including, but not limited to, staff, students, vendors, visitors and volunteers, shall wear a face covering while on any district property, in any district facility, at any district event, whether indoors or outdoors.”
The Apache Junction Unified School District approved that policy at its Aug. 27, 2020 board meeting.
The hard answer is that it’s for the safety of our kids and the safety of the adults on our campuses. That should be the easy answer, as well. If we all have the common goal of safety we can figure out solutions to accommodate everyone and achieve that goal. We don’t want that phone call from the Pinal County Department of Health ordering us to shut down a campus as some of our neighbors have been forced to do. Our kids need to stay in the classroom, in the swimming pool and on the football field. And we certainly don’t want to lose anyone from our AJUSD family due to COVID as nearby districts have recently experienced.
This is also a time when we need to support and appreciate the effectiveness of our teachers and all of our staff members. Full in-person instruction has been in place for almost three weeks. Our teachers are providing education in a different way than they have ever been trained to do. In order to keep students with their same teachers we have charged our teachers to teach in a dual modality — both online and in the classroom at the same time. I cannot imagine how challenging this is for them; it most definitely increases their workload. We need to be appreciative and support what they are doing for the students of our community now more than ever. They are providing quality education in a safe learning environment. Sending a quick note of thanks will put a smile on their faces.
My time on the governing board is coming to an end. It has been a rewarding, frustrating, challenging, time consuming, educational, sometimes just hard, but always an honor to serve AJUSD for the last five years. I am proud of the outcomes the hard work of everyone in the district has garnered. We have implemented more curriculum and professional development in the last three years than we have in the 10 years before that. We have adopted a strategic plan, site-specific plans of improvement and monitored those plans. These are a handful of the many things that the district has accomplished. I look forward to seeing many positive impacts flow from those changes in the years to come.
We don’t always get it right the first time around. In every situation there are always things that could have been done better. There are certainly things I could have done better. I apologize for any of my shortcomings. I believe leaders accept responsibility and don’t spend time blaming or attacking other people but focus on solving problems even when there is disagreement. In these difficult times we need to pull together and unify as a community instead of creating more division. I hope we can keep building on our best strengths and can keep our focus on the health and success of our kids and our community.
Editor’s note: Jodi Ehrlich is president of the Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board.