Sept. 17, 2021
Happy Friday and welcome to the end of week 2 of the 2021-22 school year. There is a lot of excitement, some settling into full in-person learning and a tremendous amount of optimism as we start the year! We continue to take the necessary steps to deal with the pandemic and support those who are still in crisis from the Almeda fire, and we are still getting back into a groove of teaching/learning. Despite these challenges, however, there are plenty of things to be excited about in the Phoenix-Talent School District and our principals shared many examples during last night’s school board meeting.
At Phoenix Elementary, principal Shawna Schleif said “it just feels really positive.” At Orchard Hill, principal Curt Shenk said he was nervous about bus pick-ups after traffic backed up last week, but parents stepped up this week and that’s made a huge difference. “They did exactly what I asked and this week has just been absolutely wonderful, stressless, smooth, and so I really want to give a shout-out to those parents and a note of appreciation for them,” he said.
Curt also commended his staff, “for their flexibility, problem-solving skills and teamwork. It just really feels like a dream here. It’s been a wonderful start and people are just doing what they need to do and picking up the pieces and filling in. It feels incredibly positive and healthy and it’s absolutely a joy to work.”
At Talent Elementary, principal Heather Lowe Rogers said that her staff has done an excellent job rolling out the school’s safety protocols. At TMS, principal Kent Vallier was excited to announce that this year every eighth-grader will take a full year of financial literacy classes, during which they will learn about taxes, checking accounts, types of credit, managing credit, insurance and budgeting. TMS will also be offering up to 17 different “Exploratories,” or electives, this year, including computer science and coding, a foods class, a literature class that will be like a book club, history through film, art and pickleball, among others.
Our new online school Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy continues to grow, and principal Aaron Santi said that with an enrollment of 83 students PTRA will be adding a new teacher starting Monday. Also, the district’s food provider, Sodexo, will now be able to provide meals to PTRA students. To make the distribution as easy as possible for families, the weekly food packs, which will include breakfast and lunch for every day of the week, will be handed out at every school in the district once a week.
At Phoenix High, principal Toby Walker said his staff, particularly Carolena Campbell, put together the best first day of school for ninth-grade students that he’s seen in his 15 years at PHS (here’s a video of the Freshmen Walk). The first day with the entire student body was also memorable.
“Honestly, seeing over 600 students in our new commons, hallways and classrooms on Sept. 8 was a sight that literally gave me goosebumps, and I don’t say that lightly,” he said. “This is the first time that we’ve utilized all the square footage in this building and it felt amazing. I’ll be honest, when I saw 600 students leaving for lunch I got a little bit nervous. After that, it was really amazing to see kids kind of claim their space in this new building – where they eat lunch, where they eat breakfast, where they take their breaks. This was the first time for the kids in this building, so I love that they’re putting their mark on where they want to be here.”
Toby gave a tour of the high school to a local news outlet on Tuesday and you can check out the video here.
And speaking of the high school, Jon McCalip, our facilities and projects director, passed along some great news in his bond update Thursday. After dealing with a rash of material shortages that are impacting construction projects nationwide it looks like the final piece of Phoenix High’s remodel, the theater (you’re going to love it!), should be completed in November. And the seismic upgrades at Phoenix Elementary cafeteria will likely be wrapped up by mid-October.
There were plenty of other things to cheer about during our first two weeks of school, including the unveiling of the Manzanita Project and Tuesday’s Phoenix-Talent School Board Community Listening Session, a first for our district. So while the pandemic continues to throw obstacles in front of us I will echo what I heard again and again at the Manzanita ceremony, which is that this community is incredibly resilient.
Finally, I would like to end with sharing about the quarantine at Talent Middle School. In case you have not read the reports, we had a COVID-19 outbreak at Talent Middle School that led to a large number of quarantines – more than 100 initially, though that number has since been reduced, thanks to vaccinations and previous COVID cases.
As somebody who has plenty of experience juggling a full-time job and a family I know that a 10-day quarantine will likely put a tremendous strain on the families impacted. To help ease that strain the staff at TMS is working very hard to make sure this temporary transition back to remote learning will be as smooth and successful as possible. Quarantined students are accessing assignments through Google Classroom, and teachers are checking in with them at least once per day. This system is in place for any student who happens to be required to quarantine and our hope is that the learning will continue while away from school. Also, the Oregon Department of Education also has developed a helpful guide for quarantined families that’s worth a look.
While the number of students quarantined is high, it’s important to understand that the actual COVID positive caseload at TMS is minimal. The quarantine guidance has been a challenge throughout the state and has turned out to be a divisive issue, but for us it’s all about doing what we can to slow the spread of the Delta variant. When my staff worked the phones all day and into the night Monday tracking down every exposed student, they did so to help protect both our student body and the community at large from a possible outbreak.
One thing we can all agree on is that our students are better off when they’re in our classrooms being taught by our highly-skilled staff face-to-face. And until this pandemic is over, the best way to make sure that in-person learning continues unabated is to follow state guidance. For you, that means checking your child for COVID-19 symptoms (cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, muscle pain and fever) each day before they leave for school and encouraging them to be diligent mask-wearers.
With that, have a fantastic weekend and I am hopeful the weekend rain will drive out the smoke so we can enjoy our wonderful fall weather in Southern Oregon! Thank you for being you, Phoenix-Talent families, and stay safe.
Brent Barry, Superintendent
Brent Barry, Superintendent
Hello, my name is Brent Barry and I am very excited to be starting my fifth year as Superintendent of this fantastic school district. This coming school year will mark my 18th year with Phoenix-Talent Schools. There is no question this particular beginning of the school year comes with some anxiety and uncertainty. With the pandemic and many of our students/families navigating through the devastation of the Almeda fire, we understand there are real emotions as we start this year. We are prepared to continue to provide the support necessary for academic success, as well as meeting the emotional health needs of our kids. I know and trust we can overcome the circumstances that we face today by supporting each other, having compassion for all and remaining focused on doing our part to minimize the impact of COVID-19.
We understand that you may be feeling anxious or uncertain about the start of the 2021-22 school year, but please know that our commitment to safely opening up our schools to full-time, in-person learning has not wavered. For this reason, we will consult with our local health authority, with which we meet weekly, and make decisions accordingly. Following the recommendations is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep our schools open.
As COVID-19 continues to change with new variants, mitigation guidance is also likely to change, and we will be reviewing protocols regularly and partnering with our local health officials to keep our schools safely open. Parents and guardians will be notified of any major changes.
Please read through our COVID-19 informational guide for details about what we’re doing to limit the impact of the virus and keep our doors open to in-person learning. It includes information about our face-covering policy, a free testing program, quarantine procedures and other COVID safety practices that we’ll be implementing.
Lastly, following a very successful Summer School program, the Phoenix-Talent team is working hard behind the scenes to get ready for the 2021-22 school year and, though the delta variant presents some challenges, we are very excited about what’s to come. We look forward to a great school year!