Amy Alzina, Superintendent and Principal, Cold Spring School
As my fingers tap the keyboard I’m reminded of an observation about coping in the world of the new normal: “Somehow it feels like we’re building the airplane while it’s in the air.” How true that is, not only now but possibly for the foreseeable future. Santa Barbara’s Fiesta parade, as an example, reimagined and carefully adapted to the new normal as it was, had to be scrapped within hours of the event. But Old Spanish Days was just one week. Think of the challenges inherent in designing a selection of alternative programs for an entire school year. This is the task that has absorbed Amy Alzina, Superintendent and Principal of Cold Spring School, and other educators throughout our community and our country.
Even though she was busy preparing for the 2020-21 school year, Alzina was kind enough to spend some time bringing me up to date. “I’m so proud and grateful to our staff at Cold Spring School, especially during this dynamic environment,” she exclaimed. “We’ve been working tirelessly to meet the needs of every student in every situation, regardless of what changes may be in store for us going forward.” She also expressed gratitude to the school’s Governing Board of Directors for their support, and to the Cold Spring families for their continuing involvement and flexibility. Alzina emphasized that the comfort and safety of the entire school community is of paramount importance as well as compliance with the Santa Barbara County Health Department’s directives.
The Remote Distance Learning model mandated by state requirements began the school year. “Each child is issued a computer and will use a combination of tools to receive information and communicate with one another and their teachers, Zoom being the most essential,” Alzina explained. “Google Sites is the hub for class information, and Google Classroom is the tool teachers use to manage coursework, assignments, grade, and send feedback.” The virtual school day is structured like a normal day from 8:45 am to 3 pm with attendance being taken, and morning sessions devoted to the Common Core State Standards of English Language Arts and Math curriculum. After lunch the Learning Specialist schedule begins: music, art, drama, chorus, and special projects under the STEAM umbrella. “The April school closing and the change to online learning was our original model,” she said. “We’ve made additions and adjustments to accommodate every grade level along with the addition of outside resources.” An important component is social and emotional support for all students, parents and staff. The District has partnered with Care Solace to provide telehealth resources to connect families with a therapist online in the comfort of their own home.
Coordinating a cohesive virtual schedule for seven grade levels and all the support services needed for a functioning virtual program is a multi-faceted effort. The educational climate during this uncertain time is rife with conflicting information. In every state, county, or city there are often contradictory values, choices, and considerations, be it on campus classes, virtual or a hybrid learning, COVID-19 comfort, challenges to working parents, social distancing compliance, to mask or not to mask, and the right of the individual versus that of the community as a whole.
Although Cold Spring School is beginning the year with Remote Learning there is a plan in place for an on-campus, in-person future. “Our community’s been faced with a series of natural disasters beginning with the 2018 Thomas Fire, then the January ninth debris flow, and now the 2020 pandemic so we have programs designed in anticipation of any change that might be presented to us,” noted Alzina. “If, at some point, classes are permitted to take place on campus, we’re ready for that. The Remote Learning option however, will still be available for any student who wishes to have it.”
As Cold Spring School’s principal and a mother of two children of her own, Alzina reflected on coping in the “new normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic, “During the last week we’d have been on State Street enjoying the Fiesta in the company of friends and family, but the uncertainly in our world, lack of connection, and fear have taken its toll. What binds us together is the love of our children and the responsibility to provide them with the safest and most favorable educational environment regardless of the circumstances.” She added, wistfully, “In the eyes of my students I see those of my own two children and I’m reminded how important it is to make each child feel loved, valued, and protected.”