GROVE CITY — Schools closed in mid-March to in-person instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it hasn’t been a vacation for educational administrators at Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV.
“If anything, we’ve been working harder than we’ve ever worked before,” said Dr. Wayde Killmeyer, executive director of Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV.
The Grove City-based agency assists school districts with providing services including special education, transportation, technology and therapy. It serves 27 school districts and three vocational-technical schools in Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties.
Each district provides funding to the intermediate unit, with most of the revenues coming from grants and fees for the service it offers.
For Killmeyer, who has worked in education for nearly three decades, the pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges on a large scale.
The only thing he can remember that even remotely challenged schools the way COVID-19 has was the MRSA scare more than 10 years ago. At the time, Killmeyer was superintendent of Avella Area School District in Washington County. In response, schools canceled wrestling tournaments, but not classes.
“That’s when the push came to get hand sanitizer,” said Killmeyer, who has been with the MIU since 2013.
In addition to his time at Avella, Killmeyer also worked as superintendent at Clairton City School District in Allegheny County, principal at Avella Junior Senior High School, Seton-La Salle High School and vice principal at Oakland Catholic High School and Venango Catholic High School.
Once COVID-19 appeared locally, even before Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools closed effective March 16, the intermediate unit’s curriculum department began to help school districts develop continuity-of-education plans.
During the crisis, the intermediate unit has served as an intermediary between state authorities — including the state Department of Education and Department of Health — and local school districts. Killmeyer said the intermediate unit staff has been doing a good job.
With 500 school districts in the state, Killmeyer said the intermediate unit has access to channels of communication that the districts don’t.
The intermediate unit is hosting weekly Zoom video meetings with the 27 school superintendents, and Killmeyer said he has been available whenever necessary, recognizing that each district has its own set of needs and challenges.
“We’ve been on call ... It’s all new to all of us,” he said. The intermediate unit office itself remains closed with employees working from home.
The intermediate unit has created a task force that includes district representatives like curriculum directors, superintendents and principals. The task force holds virtual meetings on a regular basis to exchange information and idea, and it’s been working out well, Killmeyer said.
A second task force, recently assembled, is focused on reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year.
If restrictions remain in place for the new school year, the intermediate unit will work with districts to address issues like social distancing in the classroom and sanitation.
The pandemic’s impact on the intermediate unit’s funding remains to be seen. The flow of grant money looks OK for now, but member districts are concerned about state funding and tax revenues, he said.
The whole experience has affirmed the spirit of teamwork for the good of the students, and it’s been rewarding to see the intermediate unit be able to step up.
“We’re doing this all for the kids. They deserve the very best we can give them,” Killmeyer said.