PCSD’s Wicks faces down virus fear with power of positive thinking

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PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks has seen the school district remain relatively healthy through November even as the statewide numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked.

Tuesday, Dec. 1 saw 47 positive cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the Perry zip code area, nine cases in the Woodward area, 15 in the Dallas Center area, 55 in the Adel area and 198 in the Waukee area. Source: Dallas County Public Health Department
Tuesday, Dec. 1 saw the 14-day average rate for case positivity in Dallas County at 15.6%, lower than Greene County’s 17.8% and higher than Boone County’s 12.9%. Source: Iowa Department of Public Health

Since classes began Aug. 19, the Perry Community School District (PCSD) has been blessed with relatively few infections from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks takes cautious pleasure in the district’s success thus far.

“Day 70 for onsite teaching and learning,” Wicks said Tuesday. “Outstanding!”

With positive cases of COVID-19 currently limited to one Perry High School student and one Perry Elementary School staff member, the district-wide positivity rate across all three Perry schoolhouses stands at one-tenth of 1% — one person in a thousand — a significantly lower rate than the countywide rate of 15.6% in Dallas County.

Wicks said 23 people are currently in quarantine across the district, a 1.5% rate.

While some school districts are asking permission to transition to virtual instruction, the PCSD is gearing up for a full return to face-to-face classes in January. Some 41 Remote Learning Request applications were filed with the Iowa Department of Education between Nov. 15 and Dec. 1, representing almost 10% of the state’s 446 public and nonpublic schools and 1,300 school buildings.

The PCSD is not among the districts requesting a waiver, but the Waukee and Urbandale school districts are.

“We have not applied for a waiver because our positivity rate in the school is so low,” Wicks said Nov. 24, when he reported two students in the district with positive tests. “I feel kids need to be in school for academic, social and emotional needs. In partnership with parents, we can make a positive difference for kids attending school.”

Wicks said the district is nevertheless “prepared if we would need to go 100% online.” The PCSD started the year with about 270 students taking all-online classes. The number is now down to about 160 and is expected to fall even lower when classes resume in January after the holiday break.

“Overall, it’s great to have been in school from Aug. 19,” Wicks said. “Great accomplishment. Great mitigation.”

The successful mitigation measures in the district’s Return to Learn plan included staggered lunch hours, social distancing, diligent surface sanitation and air purification through needlepoint bipolar ionization. The school board also approved a rule for face masks Oct. 14, fully one month before Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a virtually identical statewide order.

When the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Iowa spiked in mid-November, Wicks sent an encouraging update to all staff members.

“I think our schools’ mitigation measures keep the air and its environment as safe of a place as any,” he said in the Nov. 16 email, assuring the district employees that he “will always look at the big picture and use common sense to continue to ensure a safe learning environment.”

At the same time, with hospitalizations and positive cases in Iowa more than doubling the October totals, Wicks also urged the PCSD workers to be courageous in the face of the fearsome news.

“I realize we all can see and hear how COVID-19 is more active,” he said. “Keep in mind numbers and fear can be distorted, the media loves to frame fear in all of our minds. Keep things in perspective and keep the brain focused on what we do best  . . . teaching and learning at Perry Schools.”

Wicks closed his staff update by quoting an uplifting passage from Elena Aguilar’s book, “Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.”

We are our stories, stories that can be both prison and the crowbar to break open the door of that prison. We make stories to save ourselves or to trap ourselves or others, stories that lift us up or smash us against the stone wall of our own limits and fears. Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.

The Perry school system is fortunate to have leadership that feels the salutary fear born of a prudent respect for the risks of COVID-19. Such rational fear contrasts strongly with the attitude seen in a Nov. 25 letter to the editor of the Adair County Free Press from Jamie Campbell, a member of the Nodaway Valley Community School District Board of Directors and a member of the Fontanelle City Council.

In his letter, Campbell claimed the COVID-19 pandemic is a “giant hoax” that is designed “to instill fear in the people. People in fear are easier to control.” He claimed the “masks everyone wears do not work,” and government restrictions on social activities and the size of gatherings “are nothing more than social engineering, government conditioning preparing the sheeple of the U.S. and the rest of the world for a ‘global reset’ ushering in a totalitarian communist one world government run by technocrats, where are freedoms are gone.”

Campbell asked readers whether they have “felt the freedom we’ve already lost? How about extreme fear that has been instilled onto the populous continually propped up by the fake news mainstream media reportings? Right now the global elite are trying to plant the president needed to push the the global reset thru! God help us all if they succeed!”

Happily, the PCSD is free of all such lurid visions and paranoid delusions thanks to Wicks’ steady hand on the plow.

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