By SARAH NACHIN — SEPT. 4, 2020
Troy LaBarbara is the Principal of Weeki Wachee High School
What specific preparations did you have to make to get ready for the new school year?
My staff and I made preparations in several areas – Operations, Scheduling of Students and Planning for Student Traffic. For example, we needed to change the way that we ran our breakfast to prevent congregating in our courtyard in the morning. We are now having students who do not eat breakfast to immediately report to homeroom in order to decrease the number of students in our courtyard area.
With regard to student scheduling, we had to offer Home Digital Learning as well as Brick and Mortar. By offering another option, other than a traditional format, it has caused a more limited number of electives for students as they needed to be split between programs because the number of students participating in each option were not equal.
Accounting for student traffic and trying to abide by social distancing requirements was a big change. We are having to have three lunches, instead of two, in order to reduce the numbers of students in the lunchroom. Additionally, many of our hallways and pod areas are “One Way” traffic. Students are required to enter a hallway at one entrance only and then they are required to exit through another door in the same direction.
We have also had to change how our custodial staff operate. They are constantly disinfecting areas throughout the day and are having to account for student traffic as well. They have to make sure that they are cleaning high traffic areas and ensuring that doors, handles, etc. are cleaned throughout the day.
What proportion of students are attending school in person versus digitally?
As of today, we have 71% of our students enrolled in Brick and Mortar and 29% in Digital Learning. Our biggest challenge is balancing our resources of staff and time in order to meet the needs of all. Our goal is always to provide the very best academic programs to our students. This year we have an additional method that has required additional support, steps and planning.
What are some major differences, both physically and emotionally between being a school administrator now versus before Covid-19?
The fact that I have had to operate differently by using technology more in order to hold meetings, communicate with others, etc. has impacted me physically as it has made me more sedentary. I feel like I’m not getting as much exercise through the course of the day.
Emotionally, it changes the way you interact and operate with others a little. You are always navigating in a more cautious and mindful manner with your surroundings, which doesn’t promote a more relaxed or carefree attitude. It does cause you to be a little more astute to interactions with others.
As far as not being around the students, it has been eye-opening. It has made me realize why I went into this field in the first place. It is about the students and the development and learning you get to watch over time. I realized that I really missed them.
What have been the biggest challenges and why?
The biggest challenge is changing the behavior of those around you with regard to taking the proper precautions. Now you need to ensure that everyone is mindful that they are wearing face coverings and abiding with social distancing.
Unfortunately, the data and information about Covid-19 has not been real consistent. This has caused many to have different beliefs with regard to whether face coverings are needed, etc.
The fact of the matter is that we all need to err on the side of caution. It is better to be safe than sorry. That just makes sense.
Trying to get others to agree to that is a challenge because in order to be safe, you need to change your personal behavior. For many, making changes is difficult, especially when it comes to how we operate in our daily lives and routines. It is very difficult to drive home that it is our personal responsibility to protect others and ourselves from this pandemic.
It doesn’t matter what the data says. If people are dying from this, that’s enough for me to take the proper precautions.