LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As Jefferson County Public School students finished up for the 2021-22 school year Thursday, faculty and parents reflected on the challenges they all overcame.
"If nothing else, we've all had to give each other grace no matter the situation," said Susan Smuskiewicz, a teacher at Atherton High School.
The timeline shows a stark difference between where things stood on day one of the school year compared to the last. And there's a sense of gratitude, after pushing through a semester that, for a moment, looked like it could go backward.
“There were days throughout the year that just having school, holding school, was an extreme challenge. And it was a day-to-day proposition," said JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio, after final classes wrapped up at Crosby Middle School. "Definitely been the most interesting and challenging year of my career. I think most educators would say that, but I'm really proud of the way JCPS worked our way through this year."
It was a third-straight year of adjustments. But after battling through COVID-19 surges that strained staff and families, schools finished with months of traditional instruction.
"It was just the fact of having them back in the classroom [that] was the most important thing," Carter Traditional Elementary School teacher Nicole Brown said.
The Delta and Omicron surges were just a few of the hurdles. Bunches of students and faculty at a time missed several school days to quarantine.
The school district started dipping into its bank of 10 NTI days, using nine of them.
And there was a point in 2022 when just staffing each JCPS classroom became a struggle.
"It was like chaos versus normalcy," said parent Nicole Coggins, whose twin boys go to Valley High School. "They were just nervous all the time, and then it just became like, 'Okay, we can deal with this. We know what we need to do."
But the outlook got better, with 'Test-to-Stay' and 'Test-to-Play' initiatives allowing more flexibility. Case counts eventually dipped, the mask mandate was lifted and students had continuity again -- as they knew it before.
"I feel like in this school year, there's been a clear beginning, middle and end," Smuskiewicz said.
And to close the school year, there's also been support for Louisville families and students on edge after seeing the immense loss suffered in Uvalde, Texas. The tragedy and its impact are on the minds of educators everywhere.
"My heart goes out to all the educators. It's sad that we have to think about something like this now, but it's reality," Brown said.
At JCPS, it has renewed discussions over new safety measures to come this fall.
And with COVID-19 protocols on the back burner, the school district has plenty on its plate, including decisions on school assignments on the horizon.
But regardless of the challenges, there's optimism.
"I think in retrospect, even though this year was chopped up, we all learned from it and became resilient because of it," said Smuskiewicz.