Dawn Lewis

Dawn Lewis

It started out like any other year for a new superintendent — getting to know the school, learning how to work with the Board of Education and setting goals for the year.

It ended with a learning experience no one could have expected — navigating online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was an unprecedented year for a lot of reasons," APS Supt. Dawn Lewis said. "The norovirus shut us down for a day in November. That was easy to conquer."

Lewis noted the importance of communication with the board and public health department. That communication came in handy as things developed with the norovirus and coronavirus closures.

"There's a lot of relationship building the first year," Lewis said. "We had ample opportunity to build our relationship with Three Rivers Public Health Department."

Lewis said some of the highlights are financial and additional goals for student mental health.

"We had a strong budget that we were able to lower the levy and still have all of our operating costs covered well and be able to build some reserves to consider a building project like we are," she said.

Lewis said the are seeking ways to address mental health for the students.

"We are more concerned with that more than ever because we know some students are going through what would look like trauma and some of those same students were impacted by the flood a year ago," she said. "We are anticipating some compounding issues — behavioral and emotional health — when we come back to school in August, so we have our eyes open. It was important for the board to have a goal for that."

Some of Lewis' goals are ongoing.

"It's challenging when you're in a district office setting to get out and one of my goals is always to know as many of the names and faces of kids I can and that's coming," she said. "When they're only passing conversations, and until I get to work with them on a project or they know my kids, it's one of my continuing goals."

Lewis noted things she appreciated about the school.

"I think we have a fantastic group of kids and a great deal of parent support, too" she said. "We have wonderful families in our community. To be surrounded by larger communities and still retain that small community feeling, I think we've nailed it."

Lewis said the students are well-behaved and respectful, and for the most part they want to do their best, try hard and communicate with the adults," she said. "In evidence to that, when we had to close down, the students and teachers stayed committed so we had very few students we had to work with to get work out of. Their sense of respect and responsibility as far as the student population is to be highly commended and a lot of that comes from parents and being brought up a certain way, and we really appreciate that."

Lewis said parental involvement is a great indicator of success for students.

Ending enrollment was 714 this year, according to Lewis.

"It's slow and steady growth and net option positive is going down which means our local population is growing. It keeps it feeling like a family," she said. "We've gone from 90-some to 72 and next year will be down in the 60s. So the amount of options we have is more people are moving into the community and being part of the community and not just trying to send their kids here."

The school closed down March 13 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We feel good about the plan we had in place," Lewis said. "It opened our eyes for what we can do for more outreach."

Lewis and other faculty and staff put together several video messages.

"With the daily video chats, you have to put your insecurities of being on camera aside," Lewis said. "By the end of it I only had a few notes jotted down to speak about."

One of her goals for next year is making sure everything runs smoothly as they are "on the cusp of a building project, doing what's best for the students and being mindful of the taxpayers."

A favorite experience for Lewis, she said, was going to see the girls at the state softball tournament.

"It was fun to celebrate in that way, when you see kids you care about and want to see nothing but success for them and see it happen," she said.

Lewis said she was proud of the efforts of the seniors.

"There wasn't much complaining. They understood what was happening but when it came to recording the graduation video and getting homework done and being understanding about graduation, they stepped up to the plate. It did my heart good."

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