Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

A School District Is Built on Relationships. Here’s How to Harness Them

A California superintendent explains how she mobilized a 75-member reopening task force
By Zandra Jo Galván — July 09, 2021 3 min read
A crew of individuals assembles for all hands on deck meeting.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Early in the pandemic, my heart broke when I saw some of our students, laptops on their knees, sitting on curbs outside our public libraries and schools so that they could log on to complete their schoolwork. My immediate reaction was that we needed all hands on deck—or, in the language of our community, “Necesitamos todos manos a la obra”—to meet our district mission of “all means all.”

Like countless other districts in the country, we were dispensing food out the cafeteria doors, distributing digital devices from school parking lots, planning remote learning instruction, and trying our best to secure internet access for students.

But it wasn’t enough. Greenfield Union, in the heart of Salinas Valley—the setting of Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden—is farmworker country. It’s likely that the grapes, lettuce, broccoli, artichokes, and strawberries on your table emerged from our rich soil. In Salinas Valley, fieldworkers were contracting COVID-19 rapidly. In April 2020, Greenfield had some of the highest case rates in our county with 2,711 positive cumulative cases in a community of only 17,000 residents.

About This Series

Over the coming weeks we will be rolling out 17 lessons from experienced district leaders who spent the last year leading from home. Learn more and see the full collection of lessons.

Our agricultural families have many problems to deal with. More than 95 percent of Greenfield students are poor, homeless, or living in multiple-family homes. Many families share homes with one family in one bedroom, a second in another, and a third making do in other areas of the home.

When it came to getting our students online, how did we do it? We started by mapping out all residences and pooling our resources. Within two weeks of the start of the 2020-21 school year in August, we had provided a hot spot within 300 feet of every home with a student in our district. Cars, vans, and school buses were parked all over the district so that our students didn’t have to sit out on curbs to access the internet.

I’m big on cultivating relationships. We built relationships on all levels with concentric circles. We started with the board and our administrators, then moved out to the labor partner unions representing teachers and other school employees to plan appropriately, before turning to the parent community. We also connected with the county health department, state officials, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to ensure we received and implemented the latest health and safety guidelines.

To harness these relationships, my assistant superintendent, Laura Cortez, and I convened a 75-member reopening task force representing each of our constituencies: the board, administrators, parents, community members, and labor partners. The task force split into six working groups to quickly gather information on instruction, social-emotional learning, parent and community engagement, safety, health, and nutrition.

By May 2020, the new task force was meeting weekly to manage the launch of the 2020-21 school year. Every week, we came together via Zoom before splitting into the subgroups to explore what we needed to do to provide instruction; to protect the social and emotional health of students and staff; to open schools safely with social distancing, PPE, and physical barriers; to develop vaccination and wellness-center protocols; and to formulate a distribution plan to deliver more than 12,000 meals every week.

This was detailed and exhausting work. Every day, we found ourselves pushing many rocks up many mountains. Yet, it paid great dividends as we moved steadily, quarter by quarter, from full distance learning to fully reopened schools five days a week by April 26, 2021.

Leaders have to take responsibility for their own performance. But we can’t do it alone. Responding to crises requires engagement from across the district. If it’s done right, the payoff is enormous. Your teams become stronger and more cohesive, banding together to do whatever it takes to serve their community. And, in turn, the community appreciates the district’s efforts. And, most importantly, your students and their families know you you love them, will do whatever it takes to support them, and will never lose faith in them, because we are stronger together.

Complete Collection

Superintendents discuss ideas at a roundtable.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images

Coverage of leadership, summer learning, social and emotional learning, arts learning, and afterschool is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 'It Has to Be a Priority': Why Schools Can't Ignore the Climate Crisis
Schools have a part to play in combating climate change, but they don't always know how.
16 min read
Composite image of school building and climate change protestors.
Illustration by F. Sheehan/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty and E+)
School & District Management Some Districts Return to Mask Mandates as COVID Cases Spike
Mask requirements remain the exception nationally and still sensitive in places that have reimposed them.
4 min read
Students are reminded to wear a mask amidst other chalk drawings on the sidewalk as they arrive for the first day of school at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.
Chalk drawings from last August remind students to wear masks as they arrive at school.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP
School & District Management Women Get Overlooked for the Superintendent's Job. How That Can Change
Three female superintendents spell out concrete solutions from their own experience.
4 min read
Susana Cordova, former superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
Susana Cordova is deputy superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District and former superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
Allison V. Smith for Education Week
School & District Management Opinion You Can't Change Schools Without Changing Yourself First
Education leaders have been under too much stress keeping up with day-to-day crises to make the sweeping changes schools really need.
Renee Owen
5 min read
conceptual illustration of a paper boat transforming into an origami bird before falling off a cliff
wildpixel/iStock/Getty