A High School Principal’s Take on the Coronavirus Shutdown

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Ben Crouch, Contributor

Guest post by MCS Junior, Ben Crouch.

How is the coronavirus shutdown impacting our local schools? On March 12, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that all schools would be closed indefinitely to limit the spread of COVID-19. With today’s technology, schools are much better equipped to handle snow days or shutdowns, but what is the actual impact on learning? I had a conversation with Mansfield Christian School’s high school Principal, Craig Klotzbach to try and find out.

Mr. Klotzbach has his Master’s degree in Educational Administration and has been teaching for over 20 years. He has been been awarded at both the state and national levels for his contributions to science. Since 2018, Mr. Klotzbach has served as the high school principal for Mansfield Christian School, so I turned to him for some of the answers many of us were looking for.

First of all, what is the difference in the quality of education that students receive online as opposed to a classroom setting? “Education is a social and experiential endeavor.”, Mr. Klotzbach said. “For ideas to be brought to their fullest, multiple points of view need to come together to discuss a topic. The ancient Greeks and Romans even had a place called the “Marketplace of Ideas” where anyone could come to listen and argue a topic. Without the social aspect of education (the interaction between the student and teacher) education will be missing something. This is why interaction between the student and teacher is an essential part of the educational interaction whether the classes are in person or on-line. The delivery and learning of rudimentary information on-line compared to that of classroom instruction can be equal. However, to process information, perform labs, and get mathematical assistance, in-person instruction is far superior to on-line instruction. Our current system of on-line instruction is as close to in-class instruction as we can get but of course, there are holes that cannot be filled with any on-line format.”

Online education is common at the college level, but Mr. Klotzbach did not agree that a fully online education was the future for elementary and secondary schools. “This is already very common at the college level but is less common at the elementary and high school levels. Programs like K-12 are used in Ohio for younger students but are not as commonly used by the average students/families. Programs like these are used more commonly by students that have difficulties in standard school settings. On-line schooling is already a part of the educational fabric. However, we will always have a blend of the two as people still hold the interaction between the student and the teacher as essential.”

As a junior, I was concerned about the impact the quarantine might have on graduation. Mr. Klotzbach said, “Mansfield Christian already has a contingency plan for this with a June date already set and if it looks like that will not be an option then we will be looking at July. Some schools have simply canceled the graduation process and some have gone to a virtual version of the ceremony. Even universities have had to delay or cancel these ceremonies.”

When the schools were suddenly closed, many of the public schools did not have a strong online system to continue education or the technology for students, which leads to the question, are private schools better equipped to handle distance learning? The principal said that, “This is not a function of whether a school is private/public or charter school. It depends on the infrastructure that the school has in place. If a school is a one-to-one school and has used these devices regularly it would make the transition easier.” Mr. Klotzbach added, “There is at least one factor that would make the private schools better prepared and that is parent involvement along with access to the internet at home. While this doesn’t hold true in all cases there can be a higher concentration of higher socioeconomic status in the private schools allowing for a better chance of parents being able to afford the infrastructure needed for distance learning. But, there are public schools that are able to handle this transition well due to their being one-to-one schools already.”

How is our school impacted by having an empty building? According to Mr. Klotzbach, “The biggest impact is simply not having the students in the building so the vibe is completely different. There is typically an excitement in the hallways with teachers and students and it is very quiet now. This creates a disconnect for students and teachers that were very hard to overcome at the beginning. I believe we are hitting our stride now with only some minor issues still to be worked out.” He also mentioned a secondary issue involving the use of the cleaning and cafeteria staff. “When we don’t have as many students in the building then the need for cleaning hours decreases and when there is no food service, their hours are decreased as well. As many people as possible are being used in different ways to try to keep employment up.”

The final question I wanted to ask was if there was any concern that students would start to become “unsocialized” without daily interaction with teachers and peers. He said, “The technology that is available allows students to stay connected to each other. However, there will certainly be a reduction in how well the students interact with one another since they will not be able to really engage socially as they have in the past. Probably more of a concern would be for students that are new or the ability of students to meet new friends and develop those new friendships. Personal, direct interaction with teachers is an important part of education and it is certainly going to be affected by the separation that is being experienced now. I am confident that when the restrictions are lifted that the social aspect of school will return to normal fairly quickly as everyone will be relieved to see one another again.”

I learned some interesting facts by interviewing Mr. Klotzbach, and I was glad to get his view on some of the concerns that students and parents might have. The biggest take away from this is that the shutdown is not permanent and learning will return to normal next year. We are getting through this and are going to come out stronger than ever.