As many students stepped foot into Lane Tech for the first time this month, the same cannot be said for new Principal Edwina Thompson who was formerly a student, teacher and assistant principal at Lane. Questions regarding the social-emotional needs of students and safety concerns due to the pandemic lingered in the minds of students, staff and parents. Ms. Thompson gave an insight into her new position; she spoke of student vaccinations and explained how the administration plans will communicate with student leaders this year.
This interview was edited for length and clarity
How was your first week as principal?
It was busy, but it was so great to be able to greet so many students, talk to parents, see so many smiling faces through masks, which might seem hard but you can tell when people’s cheeks rise because of the mask. So, that was awesome.
Was your experience different as a principal than it was as an assistant principal [AP]?
As a principal, my AP’s kind of kicked me out and said, go do what you need to do as a principal and so I got a chance to meet with kids and just kind of experience what was going on in the morning so that I would have a better idea of how we can improve things, which is definitely a different view, because you’re overseeing everything, not just this area that you’re assigned to, and so it’s definitely different.
Was this week successful?
I believe it was successful. So, the idea that we can have 4450 students, well 4471 are on our roster but not everyone came, but 99.9% of them are actually wearing their masks correctly, they are being kind, they’re moving through the halls quickly and following safety protocols. I mean, to me that’s a success, even the idea of people being willing to come back into the building. I think that was the first step because I know that there’s fear out there and angst about being in such a place with such a large population, but our students and our staff have handled it like the champions that we are.
So you mentioned that 99% that have been doing things the right way, what about that small percentage that isn’t, does that worry you?
Usually, it has been something as simple as their mask slips down. I have not had to tell one student, put your mask back on. I haven’t had any staff member report that a student is refusing to follow directions. Matter of fact, I haven’t even had a lot of staff members saying that they’re constantly reminding students, which means that our students are self-aware, and that they are caring, they are willing to do what they need to do to allow our community to be together.
What were your biggest worries for this year?
So, my concerns and my worries were around keeping everyone safe, everyone following those protocols, and caring about the community as much, if not even more than I have to, but also easing those worries because I know that if someone doesn’t feel safe, they can’t learn. If someone is having a social or emotional crisis, they can’t learn. And if we’re a school we should be about learning, but we also have to take care of the social and emotional needs of our students and staff.
So, social and emotional needs, I know that we’ve spent a little bit of money this year on that side of things with more counselors and such, could you speak a little bit about that?
Some new things that we’ve done this year: our counselors have done small group sessions with our freshmen students this year so that they can actually get to know them ahead of time, not just a pop in advisory, but an actual session where there’s a getting-to-know-you. We have groups that are set up that are in place for students who are dealing with grief or anxiety. We have more service providers — that means social workers; we have an additional person who works as a school psychologist now; we’ve hired a college and career coach; we were able to restore our community relations representative position, so that person will be starting soon. We have just been allotted some additional miscellaneous positions that we will be able to use to bring additional staff to help with some of the COVID tasks, students who want to do COVID testing, or just helping with the one to one program that we’ve provided Chromebooks for students — so all of the things that need to get done. And really that’s all thanks to the Moving Forward grant money that we have. For the first time ever, we had an open gym in the summer. So you didn’t have to be on a sports team to participate — anyone could come in for any number of sports, and so it just allowed kids to have a chance to reintegrate in the building for the first time ever. We had Sophomore Connections in the summer. We typically do Freshmen Connection but because these sophomores lost out on it last school year, we enacted that for the first time so we’re just trying to hit all of those social and emotional needs, while still providing because we know we have a rigorous academic program. But we also know that we can do more when it comes to the social and emotional needs of students. So those are the things that we’re putting in place. We have our student voice committees, we have our BIPOC [Black Indigenous People of Color] committee, we have our advisory committee and now there’s a new alliance that’s been formed between leaders from all the different student leadership organizations to actually consider different policies that we’re putting in place to be more of a voice of the students in our building — so that we can ensure that we’re hearing you all, and not just creating policies that we believe are best, but actually hearing what you all feel your needs are too so that we can work together as a staff with our students to perform policies that work for you, for our building and our community.
So those student voice committees, do you personally meet with them or do the AP’s?
So when I was an assistant principal, I personally did meet with [the] BIPOC [student committee], but our Director of Culture and Climate [Ms. Escobar], she was the leader of a lot of that. But this year, even as the principal, next week, I’m meeting with this newly formed alliance that has taken place because I want to hear what they’re saying. So I am not the person who will meet with them every week, there’s a different assistant principal or person on the leadership team, who has been assigned to that and we also found teachers and counselors who are part of those committees too, so students will have additional support. And then we’ll go from there. But I am still a sponsor of a club, but I’m going to be finding help for that because I’m just realizing my time allotment has changed.
So, you’re talking about a lot of the positions that were added. There are also a lot of teachers incoming?
Yes, but not because we had an influx of new teaching positions. We had retirements, we had people who were moving up, a lot of people who moved out of state actually, and so we had to fill those vacancies. We were able to increase our security staff, which is part of this idea that we want to be safe and so we’re trying to make sure that we have as many staff and correct positions so we can actually do that.
So now about vaccinations. How confident is the administration that enough teachers and students are vaccinated that school will run smoothly?
I don’t know how many students have been vaccinated. I don’t. But I do know that even individuals who have not chosen to get the vaccine, I do appreciate that they are following the safety procedures that we have in place. And there are some people who can’t get vaccinations, [because of] various underlying conditions or reactions that they may or may not have. And so I don’t want to make blanket statements about that because I don’t think that that will be fair, you know, to even those individuals, but those who can get vaccinated and choose to get vaccinated, it just helps to mitigate COVID from running rampant through our community.
Can you say how many teachers have signaled that they can’t get the vaccine because of medical or religious reasons?
No, I can’t even tell you which teachers are vaccinated. We do not know the vaccination status of teachers or students. Some students have been dropping off their COVID vaccination information and that gets entered by a nurse, but it was not required to provide us with that information at all. We have not been asked to monitor COVID vaccination status for students. But we do know that if someone is vaccinated, and they are around someone who tested positive for COVID, if they don’t display the symptoms themselves, then they are not required to quarantine. So there are certain safeguards that are there, there are certain things that are afforded to people who have been vaccinated. But all of that is determined by the Office of Student Health and Wellness at the district level; it is not determined by the individual schools.
Is the admin prepared that teachers are going to leave because of the mandate?
We have talked about it, but like I said, I try not to assume anything. I have not had anybody reach out to me, expressing their concerns about that and stating that they may have to leave because of it. But I believe that if that situation presents itself, at that time, we will be prepared to make sure that students will still get what they need, and then we’ll be able to provide whatever support we can for that teacher who might have to make that difficult decision. But the mandate is not for teachers who, if there is a medical condition that prevents you from getting it or something like that — that goes directly through the district — but the mandate is not for people who are in that situation.