By Sam Miller, Chief Administrator, Cedar Rivers Area Education Agency

By now, everyone has seen the news headlines about the challenges schools are facing in preparing to return to school next month. How will students and staff be kept safe? Should face masks be worn? How will parents manage the logistics of virtual learning?

As I begin my 30th year in education, I have never participated in such a complex and continually evolving situation. As someone who has been meeting with 40-50 area superintendents weekly since mid-March, I can tell you that most of our meetings have felt much like a scene from the Tom Hanks’ movie, “Apollo 13.” Every possible idea is being considered and school leaders are relentlessly sharing strategies and resources. There simply are no easy answers.

School districts in Iowa were required to submit a “Return to Learn” plan by July 1 to the Iowa Department of Education but the plan really only assures that schools will prepare for three possible approaches to teaching including face-to-face learning in the classroom, virtual or remote learning, or a combination of both, known as hybrid learning. The real work is happening right now as school leaders work tirelessly to put final plans in place for welcoming students back. This work is being done amidst a backdrop of surging numbers of positive Covid-19 cases in many counties, at times conflicting guidance from key sources, and a growing political divide in our country.

Being on the “inside” of the work going on in our local schools, I ask that you offer your local school district some grace during this time. We have to remember that we are all on the same side – we all want what’s best for our children and students. And just like in the movie Apollo 13, we can be successful in this complicated mission if we stick together; we’ll need to because some of our most challenging days may still lie ahead.

Sam Miller is the Chief Administrator of Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA), based out of Cedar Falls, Central Rivers AEA serves 53 public and 19 non-public school districts in an 18-county area of Iowa. Learn more at www.centralriversaea.org.