This has been an incredibly challenging year for the Hermiston School District, and especially for our students and families. So much of their learning and growing experience is about being together, yet COVID-19 has forced us to stay apart.

Our teachers and students are doing the best they can with Comprehensive Distance Learning, which has meant adjusting to entirely new teaching methods and learning styles as we wait for approval to reopen our classrooms. But even through the challenges and disappointments of 2020, I’ve found many things to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for the parents who have generously given their time to make sure their children are getting the most out of this strange year. Turning so many living rooms into classrooms takes a toll, but parents have stepped up to show that education is a priority.

I’m thankful for the support of this community that, time after time, comes through for our kids. The senior parade this summer, approving the school bond last fall, and countless other acts of kindness toward our students makes Hermiston a special place to live. This community stands behind its students, which is why they are fighting so hard to make sure they get the full education they deserve.

I’m also thankful for the teachers and staff who have bent over backward to learn new skills and reach out to their students in new ways. Starting from scratch in April, the entire school district has worked as a team to stand up a new educational platform for Hermiston students. Without the benefit of in-depth training or a gradual rollout, they onboarded thousands of students, troubleshooting along the way, to ensure access was available to every child. There are still frustrations, but our staff has stood up to every challenge and should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.

And I’m thankful for everyone who has taken the task of health safety to heart and protected themselves and our community against COVID-19. We have taken every precaution to protect those in our school buildings against the spread of coronavirus, but we have little control of what happens elsewhere. We know that the only way we will be allowed to fully reopen is when the spread of the virus is significantly reduced in Umatilla County, and that’s a goal we all share.

The new Oregon Department of Education guidelines require Umatilla County to have fewer than 80 new COVID-19 cases over a two-week period to begin bringing elementary students back into the classroom. We nearly reached that number in September and October before a post-Halloween spike lifted us into the hundreds again.

The only enemy is the virus, and the only way to beat it is to protect our own health. The simple measures of wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance in public, washing your hands regularly, and staying home if you’re sick are the best ways to stop the spread and protect our community. If we’re able to again reduce our number of new cases, we have a shot at opening school in the second half of the school year.

When times are dark, we have to focus on the path right in front of us that lead to a brighter future. Every student in the Hermiston School District deserves a complete education. The only way we can make sure that happens is by getting them safely back in the classroom.

I’m thankful for all of you who are working to make that happen. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Dr. Tricia Mooney is the superintendent of the Hermiston School District.

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