This wasn’t the way Dr. Krista M. Antonis imagined her first year as a school superintendent would go.
Dr. Antonis, who had been the middle and high school principal at Annville-Cleona Secondary School since September 2017, succeeded Cheryl A. Potteiger as district superintendent when Potteiger retired at the end of June.
That means Antonis stepped into the leadership role in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — and nothing about her first several weeks in the chair has been simple.
“That was very interesting,” she told LebTown. “Dr. Potteiger was still here, and she was helping to steer things a bit. But going in, we knew there were going to be a lot of questions that no one has an answer to.
“While it’s not the way I would have planned my transition to happen, I know we’ll get through this.”
Antonis said she began meeting regularly with her administration team, as well as holding regular conversations with other superintendents in the area.
“Just us talking about it, together, really helped,” she said. “I’m very thankful to have the Lancaster-Lebanon superintendents Zooming weekly, from March on. It really helped to kickstart our decisions.”
The pandemic response began for Antonis last spring, when the nation first started figuring out a strategy for dealing with COVID-19.
She, as principal of the district’s secondary school, had to work with faculty and staff to orchestrate the sudden closure of all schools in Pennsylvania and the abrupt switch to distance learning — without anything in the way of preparation time.
It helped, the Pittsburgh native said, to have other principals in Lebanon County schools and the larger Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit to rely on.
“We have a consortium of principals,” she said. “It helped, knowing we were all in the same boat together.”
There were “so many unknowns” to deal with, she added. “Not knowing if we could grade assignments, thinking through all the students who didn’t have access to the internet … It was definitely an interesting time for all of us.”
Her faculty had a leg up on teachers in some districts when it came time to adapt to new educational standards, in part because the students already had access to electronic tablets.
“We are very fortunate,” Antonis said. “We are a one-to-one district, and we were using an online platform before the pandemic, so the students were already well versed in using it before all this began.”
Also, she said, “the teachers did a phenomenal job … especially without a lot of time for professional development. They really did a great job without much warning.”
As the date for reopening schools draws nearer — this year, Antonis said, Annville-Cleona resumes classes on Aug. 31 — district officials are still ironing out the kinks in a plan designed to handle whatever COVID-19 throws at them.
The current plan — which still requires approval from the school board on Aug. 3 — calls for all students to return to the classroom. However, she said, “we have some flexibility built in to switch to a hybrid plan.”
The backup plan, she explained, would have half of the students in the classroom on Mondays and Thursdays, the other half on Tuesdays and Fridays. Students on their off days would participate in class through an online platform, and all students would attend virtual classes on Wednesdays.
Students at home would take part in “synchronous learning” with their teacher in real time, Antonis added.
But a final decision on the reopening plan depends on Lebanon County’s status with regards to the pandemic come fall, she said.
“It depends on the designation in the county — if we have any outbreaks in the school district, how many and how prevalent it would be,” she said. “We will be looking to the state Department of Health for guidance.
“We are not going to eradicate COVID in our buildings, but we are going to mitigate it.”
Also, she stressed, “we strongly believe it’s a family’s choice” how to return to school. That means choosing between three options that will be made available to all students.
Those options include a full, five-day-a-week return to the classroom in compliance with current standards, including wearing masks; a synchronous program through which students will work with teachers in real time; and an asynchronous program in which students will complete their work on their own time.
“Our team has been working on the full reopening. We’ve been looking at our hybrid option, and we’ve been looking at going fully online,” Antonis said. “They need to plan for 100 percent online lessons as well. If we need to quickly transition, they’ll already have been preparing for that.”
The district also is eyeing a schedule that will limit students’ time in the halls and will revise the “specials” calendar to reduce the number of students visiting the art, music and physical education rooms in any given week. Also, teachers will give students extra breaks throughout the day “to go outside, take their masks off, stay socially distanced and take some breathing time.”
The school district is using state grant money to buy microphones for teachers to help with distance learning, as well as additional iPads for kindergarten students, she said.
“After board approval on Aug. 3, parents will be asked to make a choice,” Antonis said. “We haven’t picked a deadline yet, but it will be as close to the start of school as possible.”
Whatever the decision, Antonis said she’s happy with the response they’re getting from the parents.
“I could not have asked for better community support,” she said. “This is a divisive situation, but I think they know that it’s not anyone in Annville-Cleona’s fault that we’re dealing with this.”
She added: “It’s stressful right now, but we’ll get through this and we’ll come out better for it.”
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