Courtyard Conversations: Associate Principal Teressa Dodson

Editor’s note: Courtyard Conversations is a monthly series, which features the school’s staff members, and a topic that is relevant to their lives or work at the school. TRL staff members speak with each month’s subject in the courtyard. For the first edition, TRL editors Lindsey Hughes and Parker Post kicked off the series interviewing principal Chris Mayfield.

On March 12, 2020, students left the school for spring break. At the time, students and administrators expected to return to the school in a week. Students would actually come back 7 months later. Now, over a year after the district first went virtual, the school is completely in person, does not require masks, brought back an 8 period schedule and got rid of one way hallways. Associate Principal Teressa Dodson reflects on the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. 

“We had started looking at all the news and seeing everything, and we had gone to a grocery store to buy things for dinner, because we cooked in our farmhouse and saw the shelves that had been depleted,” Dodson said. “I was going ‘Oh my gosh, this is all happening.’”

After returning home from vacation, Dodson, along with the other administrators were tasked with figuring out how to continue school during a pandemic.

“Mr Mayfield called and said, ‘Well, we’re not going to go back to school,  but we will meet’, he was talking about the inmate administrative team,” Dodson said. “‘We will meet at eight o’clock’ or whatever. We came back, and silly me, I thought we were going to come to the school. I thought that we would meet here whenever he said we’ll meet as an administrative team, I thought he meant, we’ll meet [in person]. Well, that was our first introduction to zoom.”

For the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, the school’s administration kept a lax model for online education: not requiring zoom and limiting assignments. 

“Well we planned out something, just a couple of weeks out,” Dodson said. “I think we just kind of planned out how we would tackle it, because we still thought at that time that that was going to be temporary. We thought that we would be at home for a couple of weeks, and then we’d get to come back to school. Like I said, silly me I really truly, naively kept thinking that we were going to come back to school. Then, the reality set in that we were not going to be able to come back.”

After the end of the 2019-2020, Dodson, alongside other administrators, planned out the next school year. For the 2020-2021 school year, the administration designed a block schedule, initially alternating student attendance based on last name. Eventually, that restriction would go away, and every student who wanted to attend school in person would attend at the same time.

“It’s a crazy design, but we kind of had to trick PowerSchool, so that we could set that up,” Dodson said. “So those were challenges that we had never had before, there’s always challenges in building the master schedule, but those were new ones that we had never even encountered. We’d never had to build that.” 

The administration implemented social distancing requirements and other safety procedures. Included in these were mask mandates, dividers and spaced out desks and one-way hallways. 

“I’m glad we’re no longer doing one way hallways, and I’m glad to see kids interacting in the classroom,” Dodson said. “Keeping kids separated in the classroom just felt so wrong to me, so I’m glad that they’re getting to talk to each other.”

While the school brought back the eight period schedule and eliminated mask requirements, the school still retains some procedures from the last year and a half.

“Well, there’s some silly things,” Dawson said. “We did a lot of our meetings through zoom. If we need to meet with parents during the school day, we can carve out a 30 to 45 minutes of time for them, and then all they have to do is jump online. Before, they could end up needing to be gone from their work for an hour and a half to two hours. Well now, with Zoom, we can say, can you meet for 30 to 45 minutes. And they can do it right there in their office, they can do it in their car. That has been super helpful because we’re getting good productive conversations and not disrupting their work.”

The school eliminated the online learning option this year, requiring all students to return on campus. 

“After covid, everything’s different, and it really is, everything’s different,” Dodson said. “Because now, people need some stability, and we’re trying really hard to provide it.”