The usual protocol for interviews about school reopening begins with the writer asking the subject — in this case the superintendent of schools — what to expect as the new year begins. There is hope and promise and a sense of renewal.
But the persistence of COVID-19 has scrapped all that, for the Haddonfield School District and thousands of others in New Jersey and the rest of the country. Nonetheless, for new district head Chuck Klaus, the uncertainty of what will happen once doors open on Sept. 8 is balanced by the confidence he has in the work done to make the return of in-person learning a reality.
“The general mindset (among the administration) is that school is essential, and I believe the majority of teachers want to come back and educate our students. The great thing about Haddonfield is the high level of professionalism,” Klaus said in a conversation with the Sun on Aug. 31.
“There are going to be bumps and unexpected things that come along,” he added. “It’s important as we encounter these things, to breathe as we face them. You can’t (act on) the first impulse; it has to be the right impulse. And so we wanted to get the most feedback as we could from as many sources as we could to make the right decision.”
Klaus cited the dedication and persistence shown by school administrators, the board of education, teachers, community members, nurses and doctors to help formulate the reopening plan within a condensed time frame.
“It’s about trust: trust that we’ve done our job to the best we possibly can given the circumstances, and trust that parents know that we have their kids in mind,” he offered.
“When we set out on this path for the first time to figure the plan out, the first thing we had to realize is, there will always be somebody who is not going to be happy,” Klaus added. “People have accepted it, but this is not what anyone wants.
“The most important thing is that everyone is confident we gave a thorough look at everything before acting.”
For Klaus, the resumption of learning is not only a professional, but also a personal achievement. He admitted to conflicting emotions as a career educator and Haddonfield supporter who became superintendent under the most arduous circumstances.
“Of course. It’s a big deal and a lifetime achievement, the cap on a long career,” he noted. “I will be in my office on the computer talking to 400 people at once. I want to be walking through the hallways, which are crowded with students. It is a very melancholy aspect (to the start of school).
“When I look back and think about what it took along this path, in my mind I pictured a very different world,” Klaus added. “As far as what we had to do back in spring, we didn’t know what COVID was going to look like then, and we know what it looks like now, and it’s a sad thing.”
Objections to the district’s hybrid education model in favor of a complete opening were common during previous public board meetings. Despite the criticism and opposing viewpoints, Klaus is counting on the community to pull together for the greater good.
“I have zero doubt and full confidence the families in the community will do everything possible to make this work well,” the superintendent offered. “People may have not agreed with the plan, but nobody is going to sabotage things, because their kids’ education is at stake.
“I believe in action, and believe this community will rise to the occasion. When push comes to shove, when the kids come back into the classrooms, I know parents will give full support in the best way possible.”
Klaus reserved special kudos for district teachers, who answered the call in March — on short notice — for three months of distance learning and have been preparing for the flexibility and adaptability necessary for the upcoming nine months of hybrid education.
“They’re exceptional,” Klaus stated. “Committed to the district and more so to their kids and the parents. They took on a big challenge. Now we’ll have several days of full professional development coming up the next couple days before school starts, because the teachers want to change and grow.
“I think you’re going to see them accomplish things other districts won’t, because of their dedication.”