Riding the Rollercoaster

Riding the Rollercoaster


Photo by Zachariah Aussi on Unsplash

Originally published on LinkedIn November 14th,2021

We all stopped for a second to breathe a sigh of relief. We had most of our students in person for a part of the day. We knew that it was not ideal and did not meet the needs of our families. Still, it allowed us to return our focus to learning and supporting our kids’ social and emotional needs. Our families needed safety and security as they sorted out the demands of their jobs, damages to their homes and businesses, and the health and wellness of their families. Not only had we experienced a devastating hurricane, but we were also battling the 4th wave of Covid, and it was a BIG one!

We secured a space for our childcare center. Our lower school principal Sarah Ficarra went about beginning the process of licensing it with her team. You might think that we would have been able to transfer our license from the original campus to the new space, but this was impossible. We had to start from scratch. We refiled all of the paperwork, transferred staff criminal background checks to the new address, and began the physical setup of the space. Our maintenance crew worked day and night over weekends to move all of the furniture and items that we had at our Elise campus to the new Camphor campus. They repaired air conditioning units, fixed doors, windows, walls, and cleaned the place from top to bottom.

We reached out to every contact to make arrangements for the fire marshall, health department, and state licensing board. All of these agencies were in turmoil from the hurricane as well. We hoped this process would take weeks, and we were prepared quickly, but we had to wait. Although we were transparent and open with our families, the pressure was mounting. Unlike Covid, parents were not home with their children and expected to return to work. They were left scrambling for childcare and had used most of their PTO and credit with families and friends. We knew that if we did not push to be open, we would lose families that simply could not wait for the process to be completed. It was a helpless and desperate feeling. All we could do was wait and continue to advocate for ourselves and our families.

Our students had settled at our various other sites. Still, we could not serve them during the regular school day and therefore had to revise the focus of our instructional day. Our 5th-7th grade students, although cramped for space, were able to carry on. First through fourth were focused on literacy, numeracy, and our community service unit. Our PreK 3 and 4 students had a shortened program, but it helped take pressure off families. We had an evening drop-in for our Kindergarten students called Fun with Friends, where the focus was entirely social. They were doing online learning during the day, and we had virtual checking with our infants through toddlers. Still, because of licensing, we were unable to offer any in-person programming. Our families with multiple children were juggling schedules, drop-off and pick-ups, driving, childcare, and the rest of their daily lives post-hurricane. We knew we had to do something more, so we set out to find a location to hold all of our Kindergarten through seventh-grade students.

Our senior leadership team and one of our amazing parents and KFSS alumni Rob Diveny began searching for a more permanent location that could accommodate regular school hours. We needed enough space for all of our K-8 students. We called EVERYWHERE! We followed up on every lead from old abandoned schools, office buildings, churches, community centers, entertainment venues, and warehouses. We would get what we thought was a significant lead, rush out to see it, and then be devastated when it did not work.

Some of the places we visited looked like scenes from the Walking Dead with mold, leaking ceilings, roof damage, and even plants growing inside the building. This went on for weeks! The highs were high when we had hope, and the lows were so so low when it was dashed. We felt enormous pressure to get up and running. We heard all kinds of rumblings and rumors that we would be losing families if we were unable to deliver. The pressure was mounting, and we were running out of options.

Our school librarian, in a conversation with a colleague and friend, mentioned our need for space. This colleague worked at the Southern University of New Orleans in Gentilly, LA. SUNO was still primarily online with some hybrid learning and suffering the effects of Covid and had several available buildings. Although about twenty to thirty minutes from our Elise campus, it sounded like a viable option. So we set about making arrangements to see the space. We were getting desperate, and time was running out.

We arrived on campus warmly greeted by the SUNO librarian, who showed us possibilities in her space and then took us over to the College of Education. It was a brand new building that was basically sitting empty because of Covid and funding. We were told that we would be able to use the entire space. It was beautiful and exactly what we needed! It felt too good to be true. It was built with a Head Start Lab school, the perfect space for our Kindergartens and first graders. Three classrooms with their own bathrooms, an ample common area, and a fenced-in yard. The rest of the classrooms would fit our second through seventh graders in one long hallway. All of us could be together! There were offices and spaces that our specialist teachers could also use. We would have to be a bit creative, but we would be able to resume our regular school program.

We left with high hopes and a sense of relief. We then set about working out the leasing agreement and making arrangements for our move. We felt victorious knowing that the window for retaining our families was closing. This hail Mary would be what we needed to maintain our enrollment and retain the loyal families to Kehoe! We were on our way! We hoped the rather tumultuous roller coaster ride was over!

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