Facing the challenges of COVID in Lakeside schools

Rhonda Taylor

Newly appointed Lakeside Union School District Superintendent Dr. Rhonda Taylor gave an informal presentation about the State of the District at the Sept. 27 Lakeside Community Collaborative meeting.

Appointed as the LUSD superintendent on June 14, after stepping down from the LUSD Board of Trustees to apply for the superintendent position, Taylor’s involvement with the LUSD spans 28 years in several capacities. Taylor said she wanted to share with the Collaborative the challenges and progress the district is currently making, part of her dedication to create community partnerships for the district.

Taylor said the district is focusing on academic achievement as it noticed due to time off during the pandemic, students have suffered a learning loss.

“We are really working on getting them back up to par and make sure they have what they need to be successful with the state standards at their grade levels,” she said. “Making sure they are achieving at high levels and that we are providing quality instruction at a high level.”

Taylor said a major focus, especially this year is the social-emotional wellbeing of students.

“Our kids, being home, the quarantine, and the pandemic has really pressed the gas pedal on this one,” she said. “We are seeing a strong need for students to cope. Number one, our kindergarteners are coming in and they have been quarantined most of their life. Just trying to have them being in a school setting, in a chair, has been really challenging. We are seeing some behaviors, some difficulties with students collaborating, that we have not seen before. We are really focusing on building relationships between the students on our schools and between staff and students at our schools.”

Taylor said “COVID is still very much with us” and what is currently happening on campuses is creating challenges.

“We are still having many challenges where we are having to quarantine close contact students,” she said. “If one student in a classroom is positive, then we must look at who that student was around, whether they had a mask, how long they were together. Many students are being sent home to be quarantined and it is creating all sorts of challenges for everybody. It is challenging for the parents, the students, and the staff. We are really having a hard time with that.”

Taylor said they have had to quarantine staff as well, and that the availability of substitute teachers is desperate.

“If you know anyone considering substitute teaching, please send them our way. We need them desperately,” she said. “There is not a day that goes by that we do not have to do some magic and mixing around on school sites because we do not have enough substitute teachers to come in and cover a class. If a teacher calls in sick, because people still get sick, we are really scrambling to cover.”

Due to the national bus driver shortage, the district is falling short because the supply is short, said Taylor.

“We are trying to buy vans, and we cannot get vans,” she said. “We got one and we are on a long waiting list to get another one. We cannot hire bus drivers. This is not unique to Lakeside. Santee is also having that problem, as is Alpine and all the districts. There is a national bus driver shortage. It is the same as the truckers. There is a national trucker shortage currently. There are not people to move things around and get things done. So, the busing is another challenge our parents have had to face as we have had to combine routes and eliminate routes that we just could not do with the manpower that we have.”

Taylor said overall, the district has many open positions and asked the Collaborative to spread the news for anyone looking for a job, check the District website, as all job postings are there.

Taylor said these shortages have also affected the supply chain for nutrition. She said that many times, schools are running out of mostly the main entrée, which creates a sudden change in the menus.

“We order our food, we are expecting it to come in, and then they will tell us, ‘We do not have any orange chicken.’ Then we must scramble and see what we can do for lunch,” she said. “However, the students do have several options at lunch time. So, if we run out of something at one site, we still have options, so the students are not going hungry. No child should be going hungry unless they are just refusing what we have to offer. All our school lunches and breakfasts again this year is free to all our students, and they have the option to take one home at the end of the day. We give them everything that we have.”

Taylor said there are some major building projects happening now using the last of the District’s Proposition L monies to revamp and refresh schools. She said several of the schools are over 50 years old, and that “they need a little love” to bring them up to par for students and current programs.

Lindo Park Elementary School is receiving a new multi-purpose building. Taylor said the old building was beyond repair, full of asbestos and other elements no longer in code, so it was torn down completely and expects the concrete for the new building poured soon.

“They were really due for an upgrade, and I think it is going to look great with the revamping of the lake (Lindo Lake County Park) and those two projects are supposed to be completed about the same time and I believe they will complement each other.”

Lakeside Farms Elementary is getting a new entrance area, office area, remodeling of all the restrooms, moving the lunch area and food services up so that the students have more space.

“This will change the front of the school and give it a nice new look,” she said. “It will be painted like a barn, and because it is Lakeside Farms it looks like a barn. I think it will add value and content in that area that is so very rustic.”

Tierra del Sol is getting a new gymnasium and revamping its current multi-purpose room to make it more a performing arts space. Expected completion in February 2022, it includes several basketball courts that will be in the main gymnasium and bleachers that come out from the wall, and a new weight room.

Taylor said the next large project is the replacement of air conditioners throughout the district. With that upgrade, comes HVAC filters that change the air five times an hour, creating a safer environment for students and staff, she said, especially with the ongoing concerns with COVID. Taylor said they will also install many solar panels to make the district more efficient, and in return, funneling money back into students. Taylor said this is still in process, expects work to begin in a few months, and expects it will be August 2022 before all these improvements are completed.

“I live in the Lakeside community,” she said. “I am a long time member of the Lakeside Historical Society, and the Lakeside Women’s Club. I have been invested in the community since I was 19-years-old. This is home to me, so I am making sure that we have strong partnerships with our community.”