Chris Pfister tried retirement once. It wasn’t a good fit.
The longtime school superintendent kept asking himself why he chose to walk away from something he truly enjoyed.
“I missed working with good educators doing great things for kids,” said Pfister.
So two years after leaving Apollo Career Center in 2009, he accepted the superintendent’s position at Waynesfield-Goshen schools. He now has 43 years in education — the longest tenure among K-12 superintendents in the Lima region. Yet, with all of his experience, even Pfister is wrestling with the best way to reopen schools this fall.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to announce this week the state guidelines for reopening. When that happens, Pfister said, only two things will be certain: Schools will have a lot to do in a short period of time to get ready; and not every teacher, parent or student will be happy with the solutions.
Take social distancing for example.
“The amount of desks allowed in a classroom could be cut in half,” Pfister pointed out. “That could mean students split time in a classroom — some would attend school on Mondays or Wednesdays, others on Tuesdays and Thursdays; or some could attend school in the morning; others in the afternoon. When the students are not in a classroom, they could be engaging in distance learning.”
There also are questions about wearing masks. “Does anyone really expect a kindergartner or first-grader to keep their face covered for an extended period of time,” Pfister asked.
Then there are the food programs. Besides serving lunch, bigger school districts like Lima schools also offer breakfast programs. How’s that going to work?
And what happens if the pandemic flares up again in one area of the state, but not in others? Do all schools in the state get shut down or just those in the hot spots?
“Of course, that’s assuming the kids are going to be able to get to school in the first place,” Pfister said. “Many bus drivers are people who are retired and looking for a little extra income. They’re in the high-risk area age-wise for getting the virus. Are they going to want to be locked in a bus filled with coughing and sneezing kids? And not every Mom and Dad is in a position to take their children to school. Many have jobs.”
DeWine has acknowledged there’s no “one size fits all” model. The governor is emphasizing it will be up to each of the state’s 610 school districts to decide on how to implement the guidelines when reopening — if they decide to reopen their buildings at all.
State Sen. Matt Huffman hoped to take that a step further. He sought to empower local school districts to find solutions “free of any state guidelines.” His Senate Bill 320 left it up to local officials to decide about safety measures and whether to keep buildings open or closed during the pandemic.
“In rural areas such as northwest Ohio, there are K-12 classes all in the same building, while large districts in other parts of the state have as many as 15 elementary schools. Because of the diversity, it really can’t be managed at the statewide level,” Huffman told The Lima News.
He had 17 of 33 state senators supporting the bill, but it lost steam when the Buckeye Association of School Administrators failed to back it. Their reluctance was summed up by one member, who explained, “I’m not an epidemiologist, I’m not a doctor, I just need the state to tell us what to do.”
Pfister said the superintendents he’s talked with in northwest and west central Ohio supported Huffman’s bill. Some even urged him to sponsor it.
“For now, all we can do is wait and see what the governor’s guidelines are,” Pfister said. “Then we go from there.”
At age 70, does he wish he would have stayed retired?
“No, not at all,” said Pfister. “Now more than ever, I feel it is critical to help in any way possible to get all staff and students to the other side of this pandemic.”
ROSES AND THORNS: Seven decades of marriage? That’s worth a spot in the rose garden.
Rose: To Ruth and Leonard Kruse, of Ottawa. They will be celebrating 70 years of marriage on Wednesday. They’ve been blessed with seven children, 25 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.
Rose: To Kevin Haver, who will be retiring after 42 years with the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District. Through his leadership it grew from just two parks in 1978 to 1,500 acres across 16 parks and trail networks.
Rose: A couple hundred young adults, many who do not even know each other, can get together to stage a peaceful march in downtown to raise concerns about racism.
Thorn: City and county officials cannot even sit down together to hold a conversation with each other to talk about racism.
Thorn: For the second time in five years, the Allen County Fair Board and its president Dan Kimmet decided not to renew the contract of a fair board manager without telling the public why.
PARTING SHOT: “We’ll know what we know when we know it.” — Yogi Berra. baseball’s great philosopher.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.