Ron Malzer: La Crosse Public School District Seeks a Better Future | Chroniclers


How does a community recover from a calamity? Many losses must be mourned, ongoing challenges must be met, and the needs of the future must be considered.

The coronavirus pandemic is now engulfing America. COVID-19 persisted for two years; it is difficult to look to the future. Yet it can be done.

On December 30, I spoke with Dr. Aaron Engel, Superintendent of the La Crosse Public School District, and Dr. Juan Jimenez, who is both Associate Dean at Western Technical College and President of the La Crosse School Board. I asked them to tell us how the pandemic impacted public education and how they see the future of public education in La Crosse.

Dr Jimenez began by saying that “education had to adapt much faster than it had anticipated”, with major changes in the delivery of the K-12 education needed, in some cases literally. overnight. With face-to-face contact not being possible at first, school systems had to figure out how to support families with special needs, he said. Currently, teachers of first year high school students now have to teach ninth grade content and at the same time find ways to improve education to make up for lost time.

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Dr Engel estimated that students lost an average of 10% of their academic skills compared to what is seen historically, with some signs of catching up in place. During the virtual teaching period, he said, “we saw a social / emotional loss in terms of how to interact with others.” Teachers have been pressed, he added, to be informal counselors seeking to address mental health needs.

Education and career paths are diverse, added Dr. Engel. He spoke enthusiastically about the addition by the school district of Britta Rotering, Vocational and Technical Education Supervisor. She serves as the district contact to ensure that our high schools provide students with a springboard for multiple future careers, including highly technical skill-demanding work and learning-based career development.

The district is in active dialogue with the community of La Crosse on the possibility of having a single state-of-the-art building to serve all of La Crosse’s public high school students. One option would be for our current three colleges to transition to the current two high school buildings.

Dr Engel explained to me the economics of long-term funding for schools. With a 20 or 30 year old facility footprint, he said, building maintenance costs are draining resources. “Consolidation… would save us maybe $ 3 million to $ 5 million a year, which would allow us to invest in children, instead of investing in old infrastructure. “

Dr Jimenez, PhD in Educational Administration for Development, wrote a thesis on the development of effective learning center spaces in post-secondary education. He told me there were examples to build on with forward-looking build planning that established high capacity that anticipated long-term needs and was ready for future leaps forward in technology and education.

Chicago rebuilt itself after its Great Fire of 1871, which claimed the lives of nearly 300 people, burned 17,000 buildings and left about 100,000 people homeless. Unfortunately, their first reaction was to blame an Irish immigrant, Mrs O’Leary, without proof. But the city then recovered and revitalized. Visionary architects and town planners have done their part. “The Great Fire transformed lives in Chicago and gave the city [a reputation as] a place of renewal, progress and great possibility, ”said D. Bradford Hunt, chair of the Department of History at Loyola University in Chicago.

We too can build a better future for the community of La Crosse.

Six months after COVID-19 first hit America, Columbia University teacher and researcher Dr Radhika Iyengar published an essay online. Entitled “Education as a Path to a Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19,” his essay recalls this point: “COVID-19 has disrupted the education of millions of children around the world. The educational community re-imagines and redesigns to rebuild better. “

By thinking and acting locally, we must maintain an active dialogue with our educators, co-create educational structures and planning models to meet the challenges of the 21st century. As we digest the impact of the past two years and manage day-to-day survival, we must also take responsibility for building a positive future, for the sake of our children and grandchildren.


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