COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Dr. Talisa Dixon became superintendent of the state’s largest school district in 2019, she had no idea what was coming her way the very next year.
The coronavirus pandemic turned everything upside down, including how children are educated.
“I think the biggest challenge for me was, how do I communicate the message to everyone,” said Dixon. “A message of hope that we’re going to get through this and we’re going to get through it together.”
With 50,000 students, and 9,000 staff and families across the city of Columbus, that message had to spread far and wide.
Dr. Dixon sat down with 10TV anchor Yolanda Harris on Tuesday for an interview to mark the end of the school year, which falls this Thursday, for Columbus City Schools students and educators.
You can watch her full interview here:
“If there were anything I would do differently, I would have stated up front that I did not have all the answers,” Dixon said.
In March of 2020, Governor Mike DeWine ordered all Ohio schools to shut down because of the pandemic. At home and hybrid learning revealed the ugly truth about disparities within the community.
“This provided an opportunity for us to say, hey let’s get Chromebooks to our students, and we were so excited to be able to do that. Then we learned, 'oh my gosh, everyone didn’t have access to high speed internet,'” she recalled.
The hurdles kept coming and the district kept finding ways to jump over them. Through partnerships with community organizations, they were able to provide students with everything they needed to learn from home. Now the challenge was on Columbus families.
“I think everyone across the country thought this was just temporary and that families would not have to become teachers,” Dixon said.
But they did. Dr. Dixon said she is grateful that families were willing to step up and step in.
“They did their best. I think they were doing exactly what we expected them to do,” she explained.
It was a learning curve for everyone involved. Of course, not every student was able to thrive in the at-home learning environment. So, the district is offering all students a new spin on the summer school program. They’re calling it the Summer Experience.
“We partnered with the PAST foundation and with COSI. Students will be able to go to the libraries, to museums, to zoos. This is their city and we want them to be able to experience it and learn while they do it,” Dixon said.
This is an opportunity for students who may have fallen behind to catch up, but all students are encouraged to sign up. Currently, elementary school and middle school slots are filled. High school students can sign up through June 8. The district has a goal of 10,000 students enrolled in the program.
Looking forward to the fall, CCS is reevaluating safety and security as students return to full in-person learning. The contract with the Columbus Division of Police for School Resource Officers was not renewed last school year. Instead the district relied solely on its own security team, which has been part of the district for more than 25 years. That may change for the 2021-2022 school year.
“We want to make sure that we have a conversation with our police department to say, these are the type of offices we really want to have in our schools, and this is the type of training that we need. So how can we co-design that,” said Dixon.
As CCS closes the chapter on one school year and turns the page to the next, Superintendent Dixon is looking forward to getting students back to some sense of normalcy, whatever that happens to look like this fall.
If you’re interested in signing up a high school student for the Summer Experience, you can visit the CCS web page here.