Every morning, when Tracy Schmidt heads to work at the Escondido Union School District, she pretty much expects one thing – something has changed and necessary adjustments will have to be made.
And with outbreak of COVID-19, Schmidt found herself with a unique new assignment: creating a system for recording the data concerning the virus, coordinating with county and local health officials, and working with district team members to develop the necessary health and safety systems for the district’s teachers, staff and students.
This involved tracking the increases and decreases of infections, keeping tabs on the frequent changes in state and federal regulations; communicating the impact of these regulations on EUSD’s campuses; and providing to board members the information necessary to determine which teaching models to use in these shifting circumstances.
After graduating 10 years ago from San Diego State University with a master’s degree in social work, Schmidt spent five years as a social worker at EUSD’s several elementary schools. And then, five years ago, she was promoted to director, integrated student services.
In recognition of her work in the district over the past several months Schmidt was recently honored by the San Diego County Office of Education as the “Social Worker Administrator of the Year,” announced at that organization’s inaugural awards event.
Commenting on that recognition, EUSD Superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra said “There is no one more deserving of the award. Tracy is leading a great department and she has brought so much calmness and order and structure” during the pandemic.
Schmidt says she was humbled and gratified by the award, especially since it gave her “a brief platform” to highlight the work of her team, the district’s leading role in providing the appropriate in-class instruction, and its provision of both social and educational support to students and their families during the pandemic.
She periodically has provided the data concerning infections, quarantines and other relevant information about the virus to school board members to help guide the decisions they’ve made in pivoting from one teaching model to another.
After the district in November instituted distance learning temporarily for two of its schools because of high level of infections in their surrounding neighborhoods, it then shifted to distance learning at all 23 campuses and then in February of this year — as infections and quarantines decreased – EUSD returned to use of a hybrid model, combining distance learning with in-class instruction.
Schmidt notes the high level of anxiety and uncertainty produced by the virus, so that the district’s goal has been to build “a level of trust” within the school community. “A huge part of that is just listening, and honoring their experiences over the last year, and recognizing the impact of this on our students and families, and keeping that as the forefront of our approach.”
With the district’s eventual return to full in-class instruction, she foresees “a vast array of needs” among students who have gone months in “social isolation” and lacking the normal contacts with family members, friends, neighbors. “Whether that included grief, loss, anxiety or isolation they’re going to need strategies in order to help them to be in a place where they are ready to learn,” Schmidt said.
She added, “Our kids lost their sense of safety, their sense of normalcy, their sense of predictability, and it’s going to take some time for them to trust that the environment isn’t going to shift on them again.”
She says the district is attempting to address the current and future challenges by developing a variety of emotional, social and educational services. And the school’s social worker and health service teams are focused on “connecting families to their schools and their (students’) education.”
Among these efforts she highlights development of the Family Liaison Program, made up of “individuals who are the lead of our comprehensive community and family engagement. They are bilingual staff whose purpose is to connect with families and help them establish a relationship with the school so that they feel like a partner in their child’s school success.”
Schmidt says their work includes “individual support and consultation, family education workshops, and playing an integral role on our pupil reengagement teams.” These teams “focus on reaching out to students and families who have struggled with attendance and engagement during this time.”
Like many other public schools, EUSD has seen students totally disengage from schooling. Schmidt says the district knows who these students are, and the reengagement teams are addressing the problem with what she terms “porch visits,” team members using doorstep interactions with families to better understand the particular barriers they are facing, and what the district “can do differently” to serve them.
About these families and their children, Schmidt says, “We will not let them disappear.”
But whether dealing with current student enrollment or attempting to bring back those disengaged, she says that the district’s goal is clear: to provide students and their families with “what they need, when they need it” and “surround them with support.”