Excitement in the air for back to school

Excitement in the air for back to schoolBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Excitement is in the air as students, educators, and supporting staff return to classrooms this week. Dr. Dave Ostash, Superintendent of Sierra Sands Unified School District (SSUSD), tells us, “The general attitude is just simply excitement about reengaging in the neighborhood schools, being on campus, learning with their peers and being connected with their teachers and support staff: librarians, nutritional workers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, etc.” He continues, “All of our employees have the opportunity to make a difference every single day. Helping students. Remember that when students go to school, obviously they are learning academics, but at the very same time it is where children learn about who they are and being able to interact with others helps us when we are children learn about who we are. I always consider it a magical process that happens on campus.

School districts, including ours, recognize that students are coming to our campuses for, in some cases, the first time in eighteen months. People have to acclimatize. We realize that in the first several days, maybe even the first several weeks, we really need, as teachers and as schools, to acknowledge and own the fact that we have all been enduring levels of trauma and be willing to ‘go slow to go fast,’ so to speak. Meaning, ‘let’s take care of each other.’ Let’s bring each other back into the fold. Let’s bring each other back into the school routine and give everybody some time to re-acclimatize.”

The school district is well-prepared as Ostash pointed out to district employees at their All Hands Meeting, “We should be proud because over the last ten years, we didn’t know we would be positioning ourselves well to come back from a pandemic, but we did. There were grants that were successfully earned to put counseling in our schools, and when the grant money fell away we were able to permanently integrate the staffing.

We have an elementary counselor at every one of our six elementary schools. We have three at each of our secondary schools, we have full-time teachers on special assignment that are called Secondary Student Support. We didn’t quite know that we would have such a serious need for it and here we are. We are not having to scramble for support because in the past few years we have already scaled up our support. I want to emphasize that we recognize at Sierra Sands that Social Emotional Learning and the social supports are really critical right now to bring kids back into an academic setting. We can’t just jump back to 100% academic. We need to integrate that academic journey with the social-emotional supports. We have them in place.”

And it appears that families are well-prepared. Ostash says, “People have grown accustomed to navigating the pandemic. Masking is required indoors and it is optional outdoors. Our parents are well-informed through parentsquare.com, we send all our parents messages from the district, from me. I haven’t seen any issues with that.” Adding, “We are all looking forward to that coming to an end at some point. We will do our part to get there.”

Teacher shortage is a topic on national news, and SSUSD shares in those concerns. However, the district is constantly dealing with recruitment and retention, averaging about thirty new hires per year. Ostash offers praise, ”Bryan Auld, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and his team and Jan Burke, our longtime credential analyst who really from start to finish on-board our new teachers.” Location offers its own challenges, “We love to hire homegrown people who attended our schools, because that is an optimal way of hiring, but even those folks left to get their education. Because of numbers, we have to hire people who are not homegrown. We have to not only connect employment with teacher candidates in our schools but also connect them with relocating them to this remote community. We are always soliciting interest. We are active on EdJoin.org, the most highly used clearing house for teacher candidates throughout the State of California, it is where all districts post positions. And our website, ssusd.org.”

Ostash is preparing SSUSD for tomorrow and in a future edition we will highlight his goals.

Laura Austin Photo: Dr. Dave Ostash, Superintendent of Sierra Sands Unified School District, greets students and Principal Ledford the first day back to school at Pierce Elementary.

Story First Published: 2021-08-13