SunLive – Schools welcome holidays as pressure mounts

Tauranga principals are hoping the next two weeks will serve as a reset before schools enter term three.

Colds, flu, other various viruses, as well as Covid, have taken their toll on many in the community.

Aquinas College Principal Matt Dalton and Otumoetai College Principal Russell Gordon agree that the current school holidays have “came at the right time”.

Principals say it’s not just their schools that are facing challenges, it’s the whole school community.

“I think like all schools, we have been challenged by the wide range of various viruses and illnesses, as well as Covid, within staff and the student community,” says Matt.

“At the start of the quarter we had great attendance, that was at our normal levels. Over time, starting around halfway through, we had spikes in attendance in terms of spikes in non-attendance for illnesses throughout the school.

Matt says it came in waves.

He says things got ugly at the end of the second quarter.

“Staffing has been consistently difficult throughout the tenure with a number of employees on a daily basis. It got worse as the term progressed. The last two weeks have been the most difficult point.

“Holidays come at the right time.”

Matt says staff absences haven’t had much of an impact on classes, except for Friday, July 8, the last day of term.

“We were very lucky, Friday was the first day we had to roster at home. We registered our 12th and 13th graders at home today.

“Our staffing levels were so low on Thursday and were expected to be similar, or possibly worse on Friday, so we had to make that call.”

Matt says there are some absences you can prepare for, but it’s the calls that come in early in the morning that are hard to prepare for.

“You have people who you know are going to be away in advance because they are self-isolating or they have a trip or they have professional development.

“It’s the calls that come in at night or in the morning with illnesses developed over a 12-hour period that you can’t account for.”

Each school has its own network of relief teachers and Aquinas College has its good pool, but Matt says even that was tested throughout the term as some of that relief pool fell ill.

“Our teachers are already faced with the very difficult task of having to support and teach our young people. They have a sold out class number on any given day. Different kids get sick and then come back to school and try to continue their programs.

“On top of that, internally they have to cover other classes within the school.”

When asked if things will improve after the holidays, Matt says he’s past the point of trying to guess.

“With the pandemic, from 2020 to now, you just seem to be getting curveballs thrown at you all the time.

“I hope so, I really do it for the sake of our children and school results. I really hope that the attendance of our staff and students will really improve.

Otumoetai College Principal Russell Gordon also hopes things will improve for the third term.

He says that on Thursday June 29 and Friday June 30, about 25% of their staff were affected by Covid, the flu or other long-standing extracurricular activities they planned with their classes.

“We found we were struggling, but we got by on Thursday. We had to close our school for 12th and 13th graders, so they learned online on Friday.

He says he was short about 24 relievers.

“We are reluctantly sending the children home because we believe face-to-face is the best experience for everyone.

“But given that there were so many people who were going to be absent, we should have had combined classes.”

Russell says their children would likely have been taught by non-specialist teachers.

“We felt, given the shortfall, 35 people absent on Friday and 11 relievers but still 24 teachers short, that the best thing to do was to have our children learn online.”

The pressure facing the school is not new, however.

Russell says students have faced challenges for a long time.

“When Covid came back, the stand down was 10 days if you were in the same class as someone who had Covid. That’s kind of where it all started. We forget that, it had been in practice for about a month.

“Then it was shortened to eight days, then seven, then it was only if it was a home contact, not a school or a bus. So over time there has had a relaxation of the rule that we have to comply with.

“During this period, we have had teachers who have been affected and students who have been affected. If you put all that together, probably for the year we’ve had, our average attendance would be 80%.

“That 20% has been made up of different kids throughout the year.”

Russell says teachers have children in front of them who are in different places due to having had to be home, either as close contacts or to have Covid or to have the flu.

“This party comes at the right time. Hopefully these two weeks will be the circuit breaker to stop all this transmission and give us a sort of refreshed and renewed start, literally in the third quarter, so that we can hopefully manage the face-to-face learning until at term three as possible.

“For our older children, the exams are in week eight. Continuity of learning is essential for them to regain and maintain confidence.

About Marco C. Nichols

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