New State Superintendent shares hopes, concerns for upcoming school year

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 5:11 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2021 at 5:29 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Schools and teachers around the state have different hopes and expectations about this school year. NBC15′s Leigh Mills sat down with Dr. Jill Underly, State Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, to learn about her expectations heading into the new school year.

Leigh Mills: It’s a new school year, a new role for you, being elected in the spring, what are your hopes and expectations for the upcoming school year?

Dr. Jill Underly: I have lots of hopes and expectations and as a parent myself who just came out of a school district as a superintendent, I really hope for fewer disruptions in learning this school year for kids. Our kids have shown us how resilient they can be, but I really would love for things to be as normal as possible for them and get back to whatever that is for them.

Mills: The COVID-19 recommendations came out from DPI recently and it seems as though you’re committed to keeping kids in school five days a week, that of course is the big questions for many parents, myself included. What would you say to parents about your commitment to do that and are there any scenarios in which you would see us going back to a virtual recommendation?

Dr. Underly: My hope is that when we put this guidance out, that it was rooted in science. It’s rooted in the immunologists and their best practice to make sure we can do whatever it is to keep our kids safe and to keep our schools open. We learned a lot of lessons from last year. We know that a lot of kids do not learn well virtually. A lot of kids struggled with a that. A lot of families struggled with having their kids learning virtually. We also have internet problems throughout the state where we don’t have broadband in a lot of places, and in some places we have it, it’s not affordable. So how do you serve those kids? We have food insecurity in a lot of our communities as well. And for many kids, school lunch and school breakfast may be the best meals that they’re receiving. So there’s a lot of factors that we have to take under consideration when we put this guidance out. We want our kids in school. That’s their future. It’s our future as a state of Wisconsin to make sure that they’re getting the best foundation, and schools that are open to face-to-face learning is the best way to do that.

Mills: So in general, what would you say is your biggest concern heading into this school year?

Dr. Underly: My biggest concern is going to be disruptions. I’m worried about illnesses among our staff and our bus drivers, because we know that we’ve had to close buildings this past year because we maybe didn’t have enough bus drivers to get the kids to school or enough teachers to teach....And so if we can’t staff our schools, we can’t have them open. And so I’m worried about disruptions. I’m worried about the transition if we do have spikes where our kids have to go virtual again. And again with the internet and the broadband connectivity, and some uncertainty in lots of parts of Wisconsin, I worry about that disruption as well. It’s just overall very disruptive. School is supposed to be that constant in our kids lives. It’s supposed to be that place where they are safe. The place where everybody gets what they need to learn, and in a pandemic, those disruptions really take away from that experience for our kids.

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