Mike Henson definitely has a great deal of perspective when it comes to schools grappling with the issue of whether or not to re-open for in-person learning.
And when it comes to the “new normal,” Henson has been ahead of the curve as he's been working on the kinds of issues schools are now dealing with for some time now.
Henson, who lives in Springville, was Monache High School's football coach from 1986-1989 before becoming the school's vice principal. He went on to become principal at Corcoran, Lindsay and Strathmore High Schools and was instrumental in the development of Harmony Magnet Academy.
He served as Harmony's first principal before retiring in 2010. But Henson hasn't really retired. He worked closely with the National Academy Foundation in developing Harmony and the pathways programs in the Porterville Unified School District. Harmony was one of NAF's first engineering academies.
That type of instruction has been close to Henson's heart, so when NAF asked him to join the organization as a result of them working together on Harmony, Henson jumped at the chance. Henson has served as the Western Regional Director for NAF and is now the organization's director of special projects.
Henson said NAF doesn't take a position on whether schools should re-open for in-person learning. But he said NAF's role is to provide the resources for schools to reopen as soon as possible — but as long as it's safe to do so. He said as far as NAF is concerned, “teacher safety and student safety is No. 1.”
He said he's thought about what if he was still a principal. He said he would “try to provide the best educational opportunities” while looking at how to do that in the safest manner possible.
Henson said he knows what students are losing as a result of schools not being open. He noted his granddaughter is entering her senior year at Porterville High School. “It's disheartening. It's disappointing,” Henson said.
He added though the question “but at what cost?” needs to be asked when it comes to safely re-opening schools. Henson also said the reality is how fast schools are able to re-open depends on how responsible people are. He said schools can re-open “if people are cautious.”
“It's a tremendous challenge,” added Henson about how to re-open schools safely.
NAF helps school districts meet their needs when it comes to them developing academy programs such as the ones at PUSD.
With NAF, Henson has helped develop academy programs in such places as Dallas and Oklahoma City, providing programs “implemented here in Porterville,” he said.
While there have obviously been negative impacts to schools not being able to open, Henson said schools have been creative in how they've adapted. “We have seen some positive innovations,” he said.
About the virtual education that's been used while schools have been closed, Henson said, “it's here to stay.” Henson praised the Porterville schools' effort to provide virtual education to its students.
“We just need to ensure there's equity in the access,” said Henson about all students being able to use virtual education. “That's the greatest challenge.”