In the past year, the Hermiston School District has had a singular focus: providing the best possible educational and extracurricular opportunities to our students in the face of unprecedented and challenging circumstances.

Our students don’t have the ability to control the spread of COVID-19, and they don’t get a say in the guidelines and restrictions required by the state government. They rely on their families, the community, and the school district to provide a place where they can safely learn.

We have taken that role seriously, and as situations and regulations have changed, we have made every decision by first asking what’s best for our students.

As we enter the final months of the school year, it’s hard not to think about the opportunities that were lost this fall and winter as COVID-19 case rates climbed and we were restricted from re-opening classrooms. It’s made the last push toward summer that much more important, as we work hard to make up for lost time and prepare students at all levels for the next phase in their education.

That was the driving factor in the district’s decision to opt out of statewide assessments this spring. While the tests are a valuable annual tool to measure growth in reading, math, and science, the trade-off is face-to-face instructional time. That is too precious of a commodity this year to give up, and we’re going to do what’s best for both our students and our teachers by keeping as many instructional and engagement hours on the calendar as possible.

This doesn’t mean we’re skipping the important assessment part of education. Our teachers are highly attuned to each of their students’ progress, both through virtual classes and now in the classroom. They’re relaying these to parents as they work to catch up on lost progress.

Staff are also rebuilding connections with students, and we are exploring summer education options to build a bridge and maintain some momentum between this school year and next.

For athletics and activities, we’ve been doing everything we can to provide a full schedule as an addition to academics. Because of the indoor nature of “winter” sports, they were moved to the end of the school year. Navigating the health guidelines as an Oregon school competing primarily against Washington schools has been a challenge, but we have cleared the significant hurdles and are starting this week.

As we move forward, our focus will remain the same. Even as things begin to feel more normal with students in the classroom and other activities up and running, we know that it will take a long time to truly get back what we’ve lost as a community.

We need to continue creating a healthy community if we want to return to a healthier educational environment. Now that the vaccine is widely available, it’s the fastest route we can take to make sure our kids can stay in the classroom and don’t miss any more opportunities.

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Dr. Tricia Mooney is superintendent of Hermiston School District.

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