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LOSD superintendent shares observations on distance learning, self-care and uplifting podcasts

PMG FILE PHOTO  - Dr. Lora de la Cruz took over as superintendent in the summer of 2019. , Lake Oswego Review - Education Lake Oswego School District takes steps to be a more inclusive, diverse place in 2019
 Top 10 education stories of 2019As part of a new series called "Checking In," the Review talked with Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Lora de la Cruz about her observations on distance learning, her hope for the future of LOSD and how she's keeping a positive mindset through the pandemic.

Parts of this conversation have been edited for clarity.

We are a month into stay-at-home orders, and it's been even longer since schools were closed. What have you observed from LOSD staff and community through this process?

I would say that we have really heard and seen from staff that they're grateful to be working. People are really stepping in to be helpful in whatever ways they can. And you probably saw that our School Resource Officers and our Director of Safety and Systems, Assistant Superintendent Jenn Schiele and our school secretaries have been helping (with) weekly device distribution, and staff in all kinds of roles have been helping to distribute our grab-and-go meals on Mondays and Wednesdays. Our computer network systems team has opened up their tech support to homes and families who are needing help with their devices. So really, people are just being very cross-functional — kind of crossing in and out all their traditional roles to be a help and support in whatever way they can, and that has been so helpful and incredible. Everyone's collaborating, everyone's stretching and flexing their skillset for the fast pivot that we're experiencing in teaching and learning.

I wholeheartedly believe that it's impossible to replicate the in-person classroom experience, but our teachers are coming up with ways that they can to connect with students and to provide for continued learning. Of course, everyone's at different levels of comfort and skills in the digital world so naturally there are varying learning curves throughout the system, but what we're seeing is that everyone is doing the very best that they can and going above and beyond in ways that they can to support students and families during this time.

And then something that I'm grateful for is that our wellness team of school counselors and social workers (and) in-school psychologists are providing social emotional learning activities every Monday. And we're providing outreach and support to students and families on that social emotional well-being level, and helping families and students to navigate either academic or non-academic aspects of our system. And now, as I said before, district leadership has been really extraordinary in its response. And you've probably heard or seen me say my mantra at this time: This is a time for us all to give each other a lot of patience and grace and flexibility. And I'm going to keep saying that because I know that we're going to come out of this experience with a greater understanding and appreciation for each other and, and this is the time for everyone — in our globe,but certainly in our community — to just be really mindful that this is hard for everyone: families, the teacher, staff and students.

What are some highlights you can share about how distance learning is going?

Some highlights I can share are that I know that we're hearing from families for whom it's just really meaningful for their students to be able to have those connections with teachers and staff, even if just for a few minutes in either digital or virtual meeting or in other ways that teachers and staff are touching base. Also that what we're seeing is teachers are really adapting. Some are providing content for the week. Some are providing content through a platform called Seesaw, which is what we're using at the elementary level, and we're seeing so much creativity and innovation in particular in what's happening in those online platforms. And one teacher was sharing with me today that he had office hours and he was meeting with various groups of students throughout the day. And some of the middle school students who were scheduled to meet with him at one time and did said "can we also join your next meeting?" because they just wanted more connecting time.

I would say another highlight is the social emotional learning content that's being shared and posted on Mondays. We've never had a districtwide social emotional lesson day, if you will, but this new way of teaching and learning is providing this unexpected opportunity to shift quickly to doing school in a different way and people are being really innovative.

And then also, our counselors are reaching out to students and families and helping families to navigate aspects of our system — whether they need help with some basic needs like food or other household necessities, or students need some help with mental health, social emotional concerns, feelings that they're having or if they need help academically.

What do you hope for LOSD as we move back into a sense of normalcy down the road?

We are beginning to think about, you know, what the landscape would look like, presuming that we're all back in school in the fall. And how do we create a system to go back to that supports students … because they're going to have now had varying levels of participation and engagement, depending on circumstances at home and we know that. And we know that we need to have plans in place to be ready to provide whatever differentiated learning that our students will need to sort of calibrate at the beginning of the school year and to help students get caught up.

And then I anticipate that as teachers are becoming more adept in innovative ways of delivering teaching and learning, that's going to be showing up in our classroom next year in teaching and learning. I think that how we deliver content may look different next year because teachers have stretched and learned some new skills in order to participate in 'Distance Learning for All' right now. And that those are going to end up being really interesting and enticing, innovative skillsets that they want to still embed into their way they deliver the educational program next year. So I think there's a real potential for some exciting outcomes.

Q: You were having a busy first year on the job even before all this. How have you been destressing and taking care of yourself?

A: I've always been fairly good at self care, but I really felt a strong need to be incredibly cognizant of that right now, and very intentional on being careful to balance my news intake, so that I'm informed but I don't take in so much that it becomes overwhelming. I'm trying to balance the news with good news, too. I try to go for a walk just about every day — weather permitting. And I thrive in getting whatever energy I can from being in nature. I've been listening to some uplifting, positive podcasts. And we've been having digital family and friends get-togethers like many people have. I'm really intentional about my mindset and focusing on gratitude. I start my day, every day, with a focus on gratitude and I try to take some mental moments throughout the day to focus on the positive things. Most of my days are filled with virtual meetings of some sort. So, I finally got smart enough to figure out a kind of a makeshift standing desk at home; it's really — it's a bookshelf. I've been having meetings in my backyard, which also helps.

Q: You mentioned listening to some uplifting podcasts. Would you mind sharing what those are?

A: For sure. I like to listen to one called the Happiness Lab. I like to listen to one called Finding Mastery. And then in terms of getting my news in a comical way, if I can, I often listen to the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. And then I also discovered that Maria Shriver and her son are doing a little YouTube series called Home Together. I think they actually do the interviews on Instagram and post on YouTube and they are usually interviewing thought leaders or inspiring people or people who are just doing some good in the world.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

A: I think that I'll just share that I also have a great appreciation for the fact that our community is showing a lot of compassion during this time. And I just want to say that we have a lot of compassion for the experiences that everyone in our community, from our teachers to our families, are having.

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