Michael Sharrow spent much of his holiday weekend helping at Midland High School’s makeshift evacuation shelter for displaced flood victims.
After that closed Saturday, the superintendent of Midland Public Schools turned his attention back to what comes next for students and teachers whose academic years suffered a second major disruption in two months.
Sharrow sent a message Sunday morning to parents of the 8,000-plus students within the district that administrators will meet Tuesday to discuss what comes next with classes and learning that has been going on remotely throughout the coronavirus pandemic. And the flooding
“We’re debating: Do we shut it down or not?” Sharrow told the Free Press on Monday.
Sharrow – who volunteered along with local school board members at the shelter – said he sent surveys to his schools’ teachers to see how they were affected by last week’s floods that began Tuesday when dam breaches at Wixom and Sanford lakes caused waters from the Tittabawassee River to engulf Midland. Of the 500 teachers in the district, he said about 70 were displaced from their homes, and some of those lost their electronics due to the flooding.
“You know with that many (teachers) – and we haven’t surveyed students yet – you have to assume there’s a large number of students without” computers and access,” Sharrow said. “My gut says we will probably connect with the students and teachers and just do the best we can and to close the year. We’re so close. I don’t think we’re gonna do new learning. We’re gonna close it up, so whatever you were presently doing with the kids, let’s close it up and call it the end of it.”
Sharrow said all of his district’s 11 buildings escaped major damage, with H.H. Dow High’s library and media center that was renovated in the last year suffering the most with some damaged carpet tile that will need to be replaced this summer. Woodcrest Elementary School managed to remain unscathed, despite the neighborhoods surrounding it suffering significant flooding.
“We dodged it pretty good,” he said.
The Meridian Schools four-building complex on M-30 that includes the elementary, junior high, high school and administration facilities also stayed untouched by the waters that destroyed the downtown area in Sanford and all but emptied the lake.
Tara Mager, principal at Meridian High School, said her nearly 1,400-student district has been part of the New Tech Network partnership and has been using its digital platform, Echo, to support its project-based learning. There are no books needed.
“It was a tremendous asset. Because when the kids were shifted to remote learning, this is a format they already use, they use it every day,” Mager said Friday afternoon while taking a break from helping organize community donations and distribution at the Meridian Elementary School. “The delivery was different – and let’s not be wrong, we can’t replace that face-to-face instruction, because we do a lot with collaboration. … But the kids are well-versed in the routines that come with the digital platform. They know where to go, they know what to check, they know how to do it. And so that learning curve that a lot of districts were experiencing are like, yeah, we’re in a much stronger place to then grow in other areas.”
Mager, however, did say she realizes some students and teachers evacuated their homes “literally in the middle of the night” without laptop computers and chargers. “And we’re supporting them as we can,” Mager said, adding that she and the district’s technical support team would visit students at their homes to help with their devices even before the floods.
Meridian Schools were expected to finish June 10, and Mager said the district canceled classes Wednesday and Thursday after the dam was destroyed and flooded town Tuesday.
“Obviously, we’ll have to convene our leadership team. It needs to get together and develop a plan,” she said. “But of our leadership team, two-thirds are members of the community who were also evacuated and impacted, so we need to support the community right now.
“The learning plan, those discussions can wait. Learning can’t happen when people are in crisis. We have to take care of their immediate needs first before we can ever expect any learning. And that’s been a common theme through COVID –we knew that already, and now we’re just having it reinforced when you’re in a traumatic situation like a flood.”
Sharrow said he does not expect the Midland district to “hold it against anybody” if they cannot finish the school year, which was supposed to end with finals between June 8-10. He also said planning has begun to offer virtual summer programs for enrichment and tutoring for those who want and need it.
Friday was supposed to be the final day for the seniors at Midland High and Dow High, but the flooding obviously washed that out. Tentative plans are to hold a graduation ceremony July 24 at Dow Diamond, home of the Great Lakes Loons minor league baseball team.
But for those who still have school remaining, Sharrow said he and others are using the harrowing nature of the flooding and COVID-19 shutdown to keep focus on students’ emotional well-being for the next few weeks.
“I talked to our union president yesterday who has been out in houses and helping everybody as well. We were just talking about that – just where are all of our minds?” Sharrow said. “We’ll maybe touch base with the kids on the social-emotional part of it, but it sounds like we’re not going to do a whole lot of academics.”
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