Now that classrooms are empty, Bainbridge high schools’ seniors have graduated, and teachers and families are taking summer vacations, it’s easy to forget the highly vigilant operations that the district maintained to keep schools open this year.
The constantly changing environment included dealing with the Omicron COVID-19 epidemic, balancing students’ social and emotional needs, and trying to bring back traditions to make school seem as normal as possible.
Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen recently spoke with the Review about the year and what’s coming up next.
BIR: What have you learned over the past couple of years?
PBK: I think we’re still learning. Honestly, we haven’t had much time to reflect in the last few years. We’ve been kind of going from one part of the pandemic to the next, and it has felt like full steam ahead for two-plus years. I feel an incredible sense of pride for what we’ve been able to accomplish as a community and school district. We made it through some really difficult, tough times.
Certainly the hardest times were when we were all in lockdown, and we weren’t doing anything, and then we kind of slowly but surely kind of stair-stepped our way back to some form of normalcy. First with distance learning, and then hybrid learning, and eventually this fall with in-person learning.
At each step, I feel like everyone stepped in. There was just this incredible pulling together to serve kids and serve the community.
I don’t think any of us in Bainbridge Island in modern times have faced this length of time of crisis, but this was a shared trauma, and it kept going and going and going, and the effects are real. I think individually and collectively there’s a tremendous resiliency, and it’s interconnected with the pride that I feel because everyone was stepping up—kids and parents and staff.
When we came back in the fall, we had masks on everyone, but people were happy to be back ,and it was stressful. My teachers, and staff were on the frontlines, and it was really tough. In the fall and into January, when we had the first Omicron surge, those were some really stressful times, too. Every one of us in the district office was out in the dark doing COVID tests, or in the schools covering for substitutes and teachers who were covering for each other and being flexible with students and families and makeup assignments.
It was hard, but we really pulled together. We were able to kind of make it to live another day, and that’s the incredible pride I have for that resilience that we collectively showed. It’s tested my leadership, and it’s tested us as a community.
BIR: Are there any particular moments that stand out for you?
PBK: I always love the first day of school and the last day of school, those are just special. The first day of school when the little kids first get off the bus, and they’re excited to be back. There’s just a sense of celebration on both ends. Those are really proud moments.
I like going into the classrooms and talking with the kids and the teachers, and just seeing them doing things. It’s what I remember normalcy looks like—having small group conversations in elementary school, the kids sitting around the teacher’s chair reading a story.
It took a lot to get there. Initially, we couldn’t have reading time because of social distancing. It took confidence that our protocols were in place, and each of those little moments added to the year. There’s not one moment that stands out, but there’s a series of those little moments that string together that made the year feel pretty special.
BIR: How proud of you of the class of 2022 for persevering through to graduation?
PBK: My goodness, class of 2022. So, they were basically halfway through their sophomore year when things shut down and most of their junior year was disrupted with either distance learning or hybrid learning. We know those are such critical years for kids to get experiences; like being a member of a team, interacting socially, learning things about themselves and kind of developing. It’s kind of those essential years of developing that young adulthood, and they missed out on those critical years.
They were at first stunted and then accelerated into adulthood. Stunted because they were all in isolation. And then all of sudden, it’s like, “Hey, you’re seniors now. We expect you to be like seniors and get back to it. Apply for whatever you’re gonna do, apply for college or the military or your apprenticeship. Behave like seniors and be mature, all these kinds of things.” And they stepped up.
They were leaders, they were advocates, they participated in clubs and athletics at as high of a rate as before the pandemic. They didn’t give up. They didn’t just stay in their rooms in front of their video screens. They came back out and did the big assemblies where the seniors showed the rest of the kids how to do the different dance moves like the hand jive, and they did it. They were resilient and hopeful. I’ve got tremendous hope for this group of kids, because they made it through something that was so difficult, and I think they’re committed and passionate. I’m incredibly optimistic about the senior class.
BIR: What are you looking forward to next year?
PBK: In my dream of dreams, COVID will be just a memory. I think it’s probably still going to be here, and we’ll work through it to the best of our ability.
I do see us building on some of the traditions like the assemblies and bringing back the joy. We’re going to start earlier in the year and bring those things back. We want to really re-engage our parents who are involved in volunteering, and being in schools and Maker Fairs, and all these kinds of things. We want to welcome them back and bring them into some of the same kinds of traditions and celebrations that we haven’t been able to do in the past. That makes for a healthy community when we get to really consider parents to be partners with us as educators and working with kids.
We are in a catch-up mode with adopting curriculum. This year, we adopted and implemented a new math curriculum and a new English-language arts curriculum that’s going to be implemented in the fall. Not only is it based on the best research, in terms of how to teach kids to read, it’s really based on brain research. It has a really diverse offering of perspectives and authors.
We think it’s aligned to our district improvement plan of high-caliber teaching, learning, diversity, equity and inclusion. Another thing we’re looking forward to is continuing to hear from student voices and their perspectives, and finding ways to continue to increase their involvement in everything from clubs, sports and activities, so we could respond to their needs accordingly.
BIR: What will you be doing this summer?
PBK: I’m looking forward to taking a little time off in July. I love to hike, run and paddleboard and just enjoying the Northwest with my son who’s about to go off to college and my other son who’s going to be a senior. Just kind of doing some dad things and taking more time for myself.