Story by Bo Gamble, Director of Human Resources, Stillwater Public Schools
Over the past year and a half, we all have been shaken by the realization that much of what we think we control we really don’t, that our workplaces can be disrupted, and our work duties can be wildly rewritten. This was never more evident than on March 13, 2020, when the pandemic hit home by sending Oklahoma’s schools to distance learning for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.
Over the past eighteen months, the employees of Stillwater Public Schools, like our entire community, faced many challenges. With safety a top concern, more than 1,500 students, around a quarter of last year’s enrollment, opted for virtual learning, and safety protocols resulted in all students spending many weeks in distance learning. Faced with these new situations, SPS teachers worked diligently to provide instruction in a variety of formats while elevating their capabilities regarding instructional strategies.
Support and administrative staff adjusted too. Child nutrition workers maintained a rigorous schedule while providing thousands of meals for the children of Stillwater at drive thru locations all over town. Facilities and custodial staff continued to work day in and day out to maintain the facilities in anticipation of the return of students to school sites and to keep them sanitary when students returned. Transportation employees demonstrated great flexibility as instruction switched from in-person to distance and back to in-person while maintaining schedules as needed for daily shuttles. Throughout the district, clerical staff supported teachers and students by adjusting their roles as needed. Principals and directors led their staff in thinking outside of the box to continue to engage and provide both academic and social emotional support for their students.
Many of the tasks that SPS employees took on are not the usual tasks outlined in a job description or contract. Most are not even mentioned in the ‘fine print’. It’s unlikely any SPS employees realized that “other duties as assigned” would mean doing things like donning a mask and gloves while checking out chromebooks to students during a drive-thru technology distribution event.
All of us have learned a lot over the last eighteen months, and SPS’s employees have demonstrated the Pioneer Spirit as the district forges ahead toward a return to “normal.”
In the 2019 SPS employee Engagement Survey:
- 86% of SPS staff said they thought their colleagues worked well together.
- 92% said they could depend on their colleagues for help.
In that same survey in 2021:
- 92% of SPS staff said they thought their colleagues worked well together.
- 94% said they could depend on their colleagues for help.
As we look forward to when the daily use of the terms “COVID,” “quarantine,” and “isolation” has subsided, it’s at least good to know that through the pandemic SPS’s employees have strengthened their bonds as a workforce, learning to work better together and that they can count on each other for support. And, of course, the work that has been accomplished could not have been completed without the continued support of our parents, families, and community members.