Q&A with Nancy Deal, president of the Williamston community school board

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The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the workings of public schools across Michigan and Nancy Deal, president of the Williamston Community School Board, delved into how the community dealt with the pandemic over the last two years. 

Part of her job as a school board member is to take into account the various policies put into place and map out the best course of action in compliance with the Ingham County health mandates. Every county and school district following its own regulations and policies regarding COVID-19 made this task a difficult one at times.

“It’s been really hard, not just on our students, but on our staff and our community,” said Deal.

Subah Bhatia / Spartan Newsroom

President of Williamston community school board, Nancy Deal discusses the impact of COVID-19 on the staff, students, and parents of Williamston community schools on Jan. 30 during an online interview. Screenshot by Subah Bhatia

Several parents voiced concerns regarding online schooling, masks, and the safety of their children during board meetings. Deal emphasized the importance of clear, two-way communication between administration, staff, parents and students. 

Deal says the process of transitioning to online learning was possible only because of the combined effort from staff and families. She described how they overcame obstacles such as training teachers to use online platforms, helping students adapt to the new format and keeping them engaged over Zoom classes. 

“I think our kids and families did very well being online and supporting each other,” Deal added. “It wasn’t ideal by any means for any kid, but I think in the situation we were in … everybody raised to a level of achievement as best as they could do in the circumstances that we had.”

Spartan Newsroom Reporter Subah Bhatia spoke with Deal about how COVID-19 impacted public schools in Williamston.

Interview Transcript:

Bhatia: How did the pandemic impact public schools? What do you think the biggest impact of the pandemic has been in public schools in Williamston?

Deal: School districts are broken down by not just their local community, but also by county and then statewide. So every county, every school district, everybody has different things going on, which sometimes can make it-makes it difficult, especially when you have a neighboring school district that’s in a different county that has different rules and regulations than what your county does.

I think the overall, I mean, it’s been hard, it’s been really hard, not just on our students, but on our staff and our community, and things are ever-changing. So, you know, this year we’ve been under some mandates from the Ingham county health department.

Some of those mandates have changed. So just when you kind of have things in place, the procedures and processes, then they kind of change and you’ve got to switch up, your staff is going to kind of switch up and do things a little differently, and then get those communications out to parents, make sure parents understand.

And so just kind of maneuver, not even just maneuvering, but kind of understanding, keeping up to date with all of the changes and all of the things that happen quickly has been pretty difficult for our staff.

Bhatia: Understandable, like I can completely get why it would be so difficult to organize and sort of keep up with just how crazy the pandemic has been. So at board meetings, regarding the pandemic in schools, what were some of the main concerns that people would have?

Deal: So last year, I think the biggest concerns heard from a lot of parents during the whole entire year is, you know, “My kids are really struggling online. They need to be back in school,” or kind of on the other side, “I have grandma and grandpa living with me. My child has particular preexisting conditions,” or a parent does, or whatever that might look like. “We don’t want our kids back in school.” So it was really trying to take what everybody wanted and give them the best of both worlds and make sure that our kids are educated at the highest academic level that we could give them.

This year, then all of our kids got back into school in April. Then this year, really, the only thing we heard from parents was about masks. We had schools around us saying “We’re not doing masks,” we had schools saying “they are all doing masks.”

So we did-we put a mask mandate in for our kids that were not eligible for the vaccination. We started school a little earlier than some in the county. So overall, I think we’ve been, you know, our parents been very supportive.

Bhatia: What has been, you know, some of the biggest effects of online schooling? Like a whole year, that students and staff and teachers just had to switch to this completely new format of doing stuff. I was just wondering what that period of transition was like.

Deal: In August, when we had made the decision to start online, to start off online, we had some professors from MSU and some different individuals come out and do training for our staff about how to get set up on the different types of classroom sites, what to expect from kids, what to ask for from kids, kind of some mental health things, too.

I do know we had staff that came out that kind of said, you know, in certain grades, you might want to allow people to keep their camera off, but yet do a check-in with their camera once in a while, because if they’re at home, who knows what those conditions are like? For some of our teachers, you know, some of our older teachers that didn’t grow up with computers like this, you know, it was a learning experience. 

Academically, we had some kids that loved to be online and thought it was the best thing ever and really thrived. We have some other kids that really missed being in that social environment, and it wasn’t just enough being on a screen, like really having some social interaction with kids. Having [seniors] who didn’t get to experience, like their senior year and or kindergartners not spending their first kindergarten year in a traditional way.

So some of that was really hard. For the most part. I think our kids and families did really well, being online and supporting each other and getting some support and academic needs met that they needed. It wasn’t ideal by any means for any kid, but I think in this situation that we were in, everybody kind of raised to that level of — just raised to a level of achievement as best as that they can do in the circumstances that we had. Yeah.

Bhatia: Well, I definitely think that the one thing the pandemic did was sort of just teach us how resilient communities can be and how innovative communities can be as well. Well, I think those were all of my questions, but thank you so much for the time.

Deal: Any time!

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