By Dauna Ditson

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It is a strange time for students, teachers, parents and Paul Carriere, the retiring superintendent of School District 6.

Following 22 years of service with the school district, Carriere is retiring at the end of July. Over his career, he was the principal for students from Edgewater, Radium and Golden. Now he’s steering the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The main challenge is that so much is unknown. We are inventing a new way of working and learning in a changing environment, but we are unsure of how things will play out in the coming weeks and what it means for us in the system,” he told the Pioneer by email. “We have confidence in the ministry and public health officials, and we are just being student centred, and patient, as the situation unfolds.”

With around seven students in the Columbia Valley still physically going to school (the numbers change depending on their parents’ work schedules), there are basically as many schools in the valley as there are students between their walls.

“Schools are fairly quiet places right now,” he said. “We are providing services for the children, ages five to 12, of some essential services workers who don’t have other options for care. This isn’t ‘childcare’ in the traditional sense, as we are providing supervision for these children to engage in learning at school and play time. At present their teachers are providing the program at a distance – the same way we are providing education services for all students – and support staff members are looking after the needs at the school.”

Principals, secretaries and some support staff are in the schools, with teachers and additional support staff working from the schools as needed.

“Teachers made real efforts to reach out, to make personal connections with students and families, which we know was well received … We are proud of the work that our staff is doing to help students move their learning forward and care for other needs,” he said. “Our sense is that students are making progress – we all know it is not the same as it was, but under the circumstances, learning is moving forward.”

Carriere noted a few benefits arising from the school district’s pandemic response.

“There is a lot of collaboration occurring between staff members, and innovative practices are emerging – specifically around the use of technology in general. One silver lining is that this is helping our staff increase their knowledge of different tools to support learning,” he said.

Asked what it’s like to be winding down his career with the district during this time of social isolation, Carriere said: “It certainly has been different, but I am not feeling isolated from staff, especially since we have made a lot of efforts to stay connected through this in different ways. I would love to see some return to normalcy before my time with the district ends, but all our decisions have been made with a primary focus on everyone’s safety. We will get through this together!”

Karen Shipka, the new district superintendent, will begin her role at the start of August.