April 11, 2023
Our third year of operation at UP Academy was 2020-2021. If you are an educator you may have just gotten goosebumps thinking about that year. It was a year of Zoom school, a year of challenges, a year of unspoken trauma, and a year of illness and death.
It was also a year of changes, innovation, creativity, and of challenging the status quo in everything from how we order and eat at restaurants, to how we go to school. As a rebel educator, if there’s one thing I love, it’s challenging the status quo.
In the fall of 2020, our school was in person, in school, in our small and safe-ish community. But not because it was my decision. In year three we had a large enough community that we could connect with, so we could ask questions and let them lead.
Year 3: Never Decide Alone
In March 2020 when we closed our doors, we, like everyone else, went online. At first, it was a schedule that was modified from our school schedule, but pretty similar. That was too much time online. We changed it to have breaks between each class. That was too much sign-on and sign-off. Then we shortened it to about an hour in the morning and specials in the afternoon: project, art, Mandarin/Spanish. That worked. We sent home boxes of materials for art and project building. We lead classes online. Students were engaged at home. Except the ones that weren’t. We changed our approach several times with feedback from the community until we got to a place that worked for most.
But there were big decisions to be made. Decisions to questions that felt like life and death, literally. Would we mandate masks? Temperature checks? Testing? Would we go back to school in person? Stay online? How would we keep the air, and our students, safe? Was that even possible and what risks were we willing to take?
These were big public health questions that as a school leader, I was not equipped to answer. So I didn’t. We had community Zoom meetings, we had staff Zoom meetings, we had board Zoom meetings, and we created an anonymous survey because we wanted to be sure we heard the voices of those who were afraid to speak up. Our community made all of the decisions at the time (along with following the city/state/county/CDC guidelines): Masks — yes, Temperature checks — yes, In person schooling — YES! Our community wanted to go back in person. We pushed back the start of school so we could apply for a waiver to be in person. We were the first in our county to get approval for our plan and go back to school.
As a leader the pressure wasn’t all on me; now I was executing the wishes of the community. Since that time I haven’t made any major decisions alone. Starting a business can be lonely; entrepreneurs make all the initial decisions, but as the community grows, so can the responsibility.
Most recently we had the opportunity to expand. A building became available that was down the street from us. It was a school. We could expand our school. But it was expensive. It wasn’t the kind of risk I would take on my own. We weren’t ready to grow; we would need time to grow into it. Do we lease the building and take on the debt and risk? Do we let it sit and hope it’s still available next year? Do we let the opportunity pass us by? We asked the community. We had a series of meetings, each of which brought up questions we tried to answer in the next meeting. Ultimately, our board and our community of families decided to lease the building, take on the risk, and commit to raising funds to support the decision. We are launching a middle school next year because of their bravery, community decision-making, and risk tolerance.
I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of a community that decides and acts together. Much like in year one when I learned that my hiring decisions needed to be part of a team, in year three I learned that all major decisions could be made by the community. In this way leadership becomes execution. The community is already on board; they made the decision.
You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Tanya Sheckley for Intrepid Ed News.