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Butler grads create guidebook for school leaders on reopening during a pandemic

After a summer trip to Italy was canceled, Butler grad students used the opportunity to create a guidebook for school leaders on reopening during a pandemic.

INDIANAPOLIS — Graduate students at Butler University had big plans to take a trip to Italy this summer to study abroad and conduct research, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to quickly change their plans. 

Sometimes, fate has a funny way of working out, and their canceled class trip is actually helping schools across Indiana plan their reopening this fall during a pandemic. 

The recently completed “EPPSP Blueprint 2020: A Guidebook for School Leaders Moving Forward” was quite the undertaking, according to Dr. Deb Lecklider, college of education professor at Butler. 

“We didn't realize when we started, it would be 388 pages with 12 project teams and 44 students talking with experts all over the state,” Lecklider said.

Lecklider is the director of the Experiential Program for Preparing School Principals — EPPSP for short — and said a phone call helped change the fate of the summer. 

A school superintendent in southern Indiana asked Butler for help with a resource guide for reopening in the fall. Lecklider said her 44 grad students were excited to help. 

They formed teams, focusing on different educational areas impacted by reopening in a pandemic, such as technology. 

“Connectivity is a big issue. We learned a lot about connectivity and the lack of it with many of our rural schools," Lecklider said. "Many of our children don't have the internet. That's a big issue, and it's an equity issue, and we really need to solve that."

The group dealt with that firsthand as they had to meet mostly virtually via Zoom to conduct research and interviews. 

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Money and how to utilize CARES Act funding was another concern. Plainfield teacher and first-year graduate student Jon Adams said it'll cost schools a significant amount to do the things they think need to be done to keep students safe. 

"People need to open their eyes that not all communities are as privileged as other communities... in regards to the funding that they're getting for the things that they need,” Adams said.

Different schools from all over the state were assessed — from private, public, and parochial — because they wanted to help other educators. It was a collaborative process with superintendents from districts like Greenwood, Batesville, and Wayne Township, which was especially important for Wayne Township pre-K teacher and Butler grad student, Allison Kempers. 

“The people that we sent it to — the administrators and superintendents — were just impressed," Kempers said. "I think it was that level of detail in which our empathy really flowed through the whole document."

The blueprint focused all age groups, from preschool on up. Butler grad students met with education experts, researchers, prominent community members and policy makers. 

“They care so much about what happens in education, so I'm pretty confident our future is pretty bright with these students that are coming out,” Lecklider said. 

The group published the guidebook in less than five weeks, with many recommendations, and because of their timeline and high demand, they only had one draft prior to publishing.

"We were very happy with the end product, and we're hoping that we reached and helped a lot of different school communities with any issues that they had,” Adams said.

The Butler University group sent the blueprint to all superintendents in the state of Indiana and asked them to share it with their schools. Dr. Sherry Grate, the superintendent of Westfield Washington Schools, specifically asked for the guidebook through one of the Butler grad students. 

Click here to look at the findings and suggestions in the Butler blueprint.