Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Talks Challenges of School Starting

Aug. 5, 2022, 5 a.m. ·

Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover.jpg
Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover. Photo provided by Grand Island Public Schools

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With the school year about to begin, Nebraska Public Media News reporter William Padmore spoke with Grand Island Superintendent Tawana Grover about the challenges facing education. He talks with her about COVID-19 challenges, harassment of trans students and ongoing teacher shortages…

This interview has been edited for clarity and length

William Padmore: This will mark our third school year amid an ongoing pandemic. With vaccinations for children widely available, it's the hope of many that this year represents somewhat return to normal. from your perspective, will it be? And have precautions or protocol to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 changed in the past year?

Dr. Tawana Grover: We continue to collaborate with our local health district, just as we have of the last two years. And we continue to provide information to our families, and knowing that the vaccine is they are available for anyone who chooses to participate. We continue to share out information about being healthy, about being well, and this really is part of our culture. We do have a pandemic team that's been established. We continue to meet on a regular basis and make sure that we're monitoring, we're paying attention to any of the latest developments that may occur. And through all of that, we are well prepared…So say that we're going back to normal. What is normal? How do you define normal? In today's time, we saw the crisis that we were in, as an invitation for innovation. We continue to think about, what did we learn through this process? What are ways that we can continue to do things differently?

William Padmore: And when I talk about protocols, what I'm thinking of is sort of, you know, social distancing guidelines or barriers in the lunchroom cafeteria, things of that nature, I'm going into specifics a little bit. Will those things change? Will they stay the same?

Dr. Tawana Grover: As far as social distancing is concerned, we're not stressing about the six feet, or three feet or anything of that nature. We have created a culture of taking care of ourselves and taking care of others. If you are feeling ill - for any particular reason - we ask that you stay at home so that you can recover and return back and be able to reduce the spread of any type of illness within our buildings. We never did have barriers up within our building so it wasn't like we had to take, any of those down. And so what we've tried to do was to create an environment that allowed our students to feel safe and to thrive in something that could be accommodating for our staff and our students. And I think we've done very well with that.

William Padmore: Okay, now, I don't have to tell you schools were the focus of some pretty intense criticism within the past year, specifically in regards to trans children in Nebraska schools, and elsewhere across the country. How does Grand Island Public Schools protect the rights privacy and safety of those individuals at a time where policies about them are the focus of such intense scrutiny?

Dr. Tawana Grover: You know, within the Grand Island Public Schools, not only do we focus on the fact that every student will be taught to read, write and communicate effectively and solve problems, you know, being prepared for the real world, we also know that that means that all of our students should be treated with fairness and dignity -that all of our students will be honored for their unique qualities and backgrounds and that our students will experience a sense of belonging, contribution and success, and all of our students will show respect for others and develop responsibility for oneself.

William Padmore: Now, all of what we've just discussed (and more) have led to a teacher shortage across the nation, not just Nebraska. Is Grand Island Public Schools also suffering from a teacher shortage right now? And given what we've discussed, what is your message to both those who remain in the teaching field and those who are pondering whether a life in education is for them?

Dr. Tawana Grover: In Grand Island Public Schools we put forth great effort to continue to understand the changing demands and needs of our staff members. As we face these shortages, and a lot of it is because of people not choosing to go into the profession, I've been so pleased with us understanding that we have to take care of the folks that are taking care of our students and putting a focus on our staff members here in Grand Island Public Schools. We started out with about 138 vacancies this spring, and through collaborating with our principals, with our communities -people understanding how special it is to work in Grand Island Public Schools - we now only have about four openings across our district. We've been able to (get) people to change roles, get in different roles, come together, pull together, because we have a goal that every one of our students deserve to have a high quality teacher in their classroom.

When we came together around that mindset, we were able to accomplish something remarkable here in Grand Island Public Schools. So I say kudos to our Board of Education, for making that a priority, as well as our administrators, our staff members, our retired people who say, "I'll come back if I have to, because I care about the kids in Grand Island Public Schools." And I think we're sending a clear message to anyone who might be on the fence about whether or not they should be in education, or should be in Grand Island Public Schools that you can make a difference here.

For full transparency, Dr. Grover is a member of the Nebraska Public Media Foundation Board of Directors.