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Nonprofit View: Carroll Lutheran School students thriving in year unlike any other | COMMENTARY

Education in Carroll County has certainly taken a different form this year as compared to the past. Starting with a spring shutdown and stay-at-home order, forcing all education to an at home/virtual model, through an early fall when the numbers were looking good, into a pretty tough winter so far, it’s one for the books! The conversation about quality of education and how that is impacted has been a weekly topic, if not daily, depending on your social circles. We at Carroll Lutheran School learned that the big kids did much better than the little kids in this pandemic-driven educational environment, but that it was a tough road for all, including the parents, teachers, administrators and leaders.

When I became president of the Board of Trustees in the fall of 2019, I had no idea what the next year would have in store for any of us. I am not an educator. I am a businessperson. And what I have learned over the past year about effective leadership to provide exceptional education during a pandemic is more than I could have ever dreamed. And I am not talking about my leadership, but that of Principal Mandy Gilbart and her amazing staff.

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Carroll Lutheran School (CLS) was in the same boat as everyone else in March. I will never forget sitting in my office and watching the news conference that fateful Thursday when the order was given to shut down all schools effective at the end of the next day. It was a moment like no other. I was somewhat heartened because our board and staff had been considering this “remote” possibility for some weeks, so we were a little prepared, but hearing the words and then living the coming weeks and months was something no preparation could have planned for. Amazingly, as we performed daily check-ins with our principal, we saw that by the following Tuesday (just two school days later), our school was not only figuring it out, but we also had students in virtual classrooms learning! For the littles, we had other educational work being done. Of course, the system wasn’t perfect that day, but within a week or so, it smoothed out as families, students and staff got used to not just this new educational reality, but the reality that we were going to be stuck at home for a while. I watched as children continued to learn, every day, albeit in a very different way.

Next comes the summer. Our board made the decision that our objective was to be open, in person, five days a week, if we were allowed to do so by the state and we were able to do so safely. With this decision, board members, administrative leaders, staff and supporters came together and formed a plan. It was revised and tweaked and was even collaborated upon with the Carroll County Health Department. We were fortunate to be able to open our doors right on time, the day after Labor Day, for five day a week, in-person instruction.

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There was, of course, trepidation about what this might look like. I remember thinking “Everyone has to wear a mask all day long? How was that going to work for a new kindergarten student?” What unfolded was like nothing I have ever seen. There were a few days of adjustment, but what happened is what I should have known would happen, given our amazing principal and staff — kids were learning!

And not only were they doing their school work, but they were also eating lunch, being social (distanced of course), having recess, enjoying specials like media and gym, participating in labs, and sharing chapel services. In short, they were just “going to school” the same as any other year. It was remarkable, and I remain grateful each day for the principal and staff that we have. This is a team that rose to an unbelievable challenge and absolutely crushed it. Our delegating nurse even took off from work for the first week of school to teach the children about proper hand washing, healthy distancing strategies, and to generally be available to ensure that everyone was safe and settled into the new protocols. That is commitment.

So, here we are, five months into an unusual school year. I am thrilled to share that CLS has been able to not only effectively educate one of the largest populations of students the school has ever had, in spite of the COVID protocols, but that we have been able to do so with just a single positive test across all staff members and students! That is a testament to just how hard the staff works to make sure that we are maintaining a very safe environment for each of our students and staff. When the board decided to make the effort to open five days a week I wanted everyone to be prepared, knowing that the statistics were likely that we would see many COVID cases and have to shut down a class, a cohort, or maybe even the whole school for a time. We have not had to face that challenge yet and I am hopeful that our strict safety protocols continue to keep all safe and in school!

This time of year is when, amazingly enough, we begin to look to the next school year. Plans are already underway for what the 2021-2022 school year will look like. We opened our new student enrollment process, and re-enrollment process for existing families, as of Jan. 2. We have already received much interest, but we invite you to reach out to the school and learn more about how CLS may benefit your family, or schedule a tour (even if it is virtual). You can reach the school at 410-848-1050 or online at clsedu.org.

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I also want to take a brief moment to rattle my tin cup. CLS is a non-profit organization. Its budget is only partially met by tuition. We are a social mission in the community and work hard to keep tuition affordable so that as many students can attend as possible. Because of this, we ask for the community to support us through financial gifts. We are a 501(c)3 organization, and all donations are tax deductible.

If you would like to learn more about the mission at CLS and are considering a gift, please contact Bonnie Higgins at development@clsedu.org or via phone at 410-848-1050. We are grateful for all of those in the community that support our amazing school and we would welcome new supporters. The difference this school makes in the lives of its students, its families, and its community is remarkable and we would love to have your support as we continue our journey.

Andrew Dean is president of the Carroll Lutheran School Board of Trustees.

Each Monday, the Carroll County Times publishes a column from a local nonprofit, allowing them to share information about their organization and the issues facing it, as our editorial. To be considered, email cctnews@carrollcountytimes.com with the subject line “Nonprofit View.”

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