As a school board, we would have never guessed that we would have to grapple with a world-wide pandemic during our time on the board.

How would we even begin to describe the adversity that we faced in 2020? It seems that there are two words that resonate the most: pivot and uncertainty.

When I was appointed board chair on Jan. 6, I would have never imagined getting a call at work on March 12 from Superintendent Mike Redmond asking me to come to the district office to discuss the postponement of the high school band trip to Ireland because of COVID-19. This was the day things began to come to a screeching halt. During our meeting about the band trip, the Minnesota State High School League canceled the girls state basketball tournament and the boys basketball section finals game where our Sabers were set to play Eden Prairie. It was only a matter of time before schools across our state would be closed and prepare to pivot to a different learning model.

On Sunday morning, March 15, Superintendent Redmond called once again asking me to come to the district office because the governor would be announcing the closures of schools as the virus began to grip the state.

What seemed like any other school year up until that point, suddenly became paralyzed and filled with much uncertainty. The school board knew that the year ahead would bring in-depth research and discussion about the long-term financial stability needed in our district, but never expected that we would have to tackle the deliverance of education to our students during a world-wide pandemic.

Very quickly, districts had to pivot and figure out how to provide students with the same learning opportunities that they were currently receiving in the classroom — in only a few days. There wasn’t a book for school boards, administrators or teachers as to how this should be done.

A group of teachers and administrators spent a significant portion of their summer learning from their experiences with distance learning in the spring and began to evolve plans for the student experience heading into fall. This group anticipated that a number of different learning models would need to be available including a new fully online option. The amount of effort that our teachers and staff have exhibited to reach all students during this unprecedented time continues to be nothing short of incredible.

Through all of this, the school district still faced financial uncertainty and the school board grappled with determining the best way to balance the district’s budget into the future. Throughout the year, our board put an emphasis on communicating with, and listening to, our community through virtual conversations and informational sessions as well as newspaper articles.

We were disappointed that the operating levy on the Nov. 3 ballot did not pass, the community has spoken and the board continues to listen and have conversations with our community members as we work toward finding ways to maintain current programming, retain and attract quality teachers and build long-term financial stability in our district.

As we close out our 2020 board year, we bid farewell to two long-standing board members of nine years, Matt McKeand and Angela Tucker. Thank you both for your dedication to our students and community. On Jan. 4, we welcome two new board members, Jeff Smith and Ibrahim Mohamed, and one returning member, Tim Brophy (who was appointed to fill a vacancy in early 2020 and elected in November).

While 2020 was filled with many student achievements both in the classroom and within our activities and athletic programs, the school board will continue its diligent work in the year ahead to bring financial stability to our district while offering a great educational experience for our students that will propel them well into the future.

Kristi Peterson is the chair of the Shakopee School Board. Peterson also serves on the finance, community engagement, and citizens’ communications advisory committees. Peterson was elected to the school board in November 2018.

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