Q&A with Dr. Blair about success, challenges of online school

Dr.+Cody+Blair+is+looking+forward+to+the+next+school+year.

Sheridan Allen/The Rider Chronicle

Dr. Cody Blair is looking forward to the next school year.

Sheridan Allen, Reporter/Photographer

Rider’s 2019-20 school year comes to a close this week. The Rider Chronicle had a video conference with principal Dr. Cody Blair about how online school went, how it can be improved and how much he missed the students on campus.

Q: Did online school go as planned?

A: That’s a good question. I think it actually went not just as good as we had hoped for but really better. We learned a lot from online school. I can’t say enough about our students and their families being flexible, trying something brand new and the same thing for our staff. Our teachers were phenomenal through the whole process because this was a completely different not just school format, but really it was a different mindset for everyone to shift to. That can be really hard on even my parties, and as the building campus leader to change my mindset of how this works and what’s to be expected. Overall, things went I think even better than we hoped it would. 

Q: What are some things that worked better than you hoped?

A: Some of the things that I think went better were, you know we had hoped there would be kids who would benefit from the check-ins and from those kinds of things. And while we always wanted to have more students check into the office hours, it was really cool to see how many kids were willing to on their own time, for some parts of it that were not required check-in every week or jump into an office hour because they wanted to see their peers and wanted to connect with their teachers so that part was great. It was great to see so many of our teachers who may have been a little slower to come into some of the digital tools and the world of technology having to press the issue a little bit and expand their tool box. That was really good. I think we also were surprised to learn a lot about what does work in digital formats and in online learning and blended learning and then what doesn’t. All those were good things.      

Q: What are some things that you wish would’ve worked out better?

A: That’s a good question. One of the things with it you always want, especially something where there’s a lot of change, you want the communication to be there and to be seamless and proactive and to be really clear and with the way information changed, sometimes on a daily basis at times. To me that made some challenges on communication that I wished wouldn’t have been there. I don’t know if there’s a ton on our part that we could’ve done to avoid that. We really tried to be proactive and out front of that so that’s probably something that I wished could’ve been better, but at the same time it was kind of a product of the environment we’re living in right now where information and updates change every day.   

Q: What was the main goal of [email protected]? Do you believe that we reached that main goal of [email protected]?

A: The main goal of [email protected] was to remain connected with our kids while still offering them a learning environment. That was a challenge to create that new environment in a matter of about three days was essentially how it got rolled out, but I would say big picture we made a lot of progress toward that goal of staying connected with our students while still providing them a learning environment in the best possible way we can. A school of 1,500  students with a diverse population like we have, where every home, every household, every kid has their own unique set of challenges. On a daily basis when they’re coming and spending 6-8 hours in the building, you take that out of the equation and put them in the homes or in their family situations and the number of variables just grows. A lot of our students were facing a lot of tough things going on at home, and we wanted to be there for them so we saw a lot of growth toward that goal. 

Q: How much did you miss having kids in the halls and classrooms these past few weeks? 

A: We missed it every day. It’s not the same, you know this building isn’t supposed to be empty. Except for a month or two in the summer, and even then what’s nice is we have so many great programs during the summer. Kids performing, practicing, working out, coaches, directors, teachers working up here. The building’s hardly empty so we missed our students every single day. In the months of April and May this is a busy place so it’s a lot more fun that way and it’s a lot more fun because we’re all pointing toward that end goal of the year of graduation which is kind of the culmination of everyone’s hard work for four years. We’re still excited that we get to have that in a modified format. I’m already ready for things to get back to normal with our kids and staff and daily interaction.

Q: What were some challenges that were a big concern at first but worked out well in the end?

A: Our biggest concern was, ‘Hey is this going to work? Is this going to work for our kids, for our families? Is this going to work for our staff? Is this too much? Is this not enough?’ You know where’s the balance there? Another challenge was ‘What questions do we even ask? You know, are we asking the right questions? What are we forgetting?’ This is all brand new so, so many other things that you venture into, you spend a lot of time planning or you look to other districts, places that have done it successfully and try to model and steal some of the best ideas and this just wasn’t the case with this kind of thing. Everyone was on the same page out there in the world trying something brand new. Just trying to figure out that. It’s been a good process. 

Q: With how successful [email protected] was, do you feel better if we have to do school that way at any point next year? 

A: One hundred percent. We were all guinea pigs. Students were, their families were, staff was, I was, I mean all of us. If and when this happens again, even if it’s in a modified version, it’s just going to prepare us better. Just because we had to be flexible, we had to be innovative, but we never took our eye off the ball of the main objective which is taking care of the students.