March is a busy month. There’s the first day of spring (March 20), the launch of daylight saving time (remember, spring forward on March 14), St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) and, if you are a Shakespeare fan, the dreaded ides of March (March 15).

Phil Potenziano is the superintendent of Brunswick School Department. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilPotenziano and Instagram at Brunswickmesup.

For sports fans, March signals one of the most exciting events of the year – March Madness – whereby 68 college basketball teams compete in a single-elimination tournament to determine a national champion. The 2 1/2-week melee has become a national frenzy – so popular that even people who don’t follow basketball join in the fun of picking teams and filling out brackets. This national phenomenon started in 1939, and today, about 47 million people participate in “pools.”

Well, at the Brunswick School Department, we are also anticipating an exciting March, our own March Madness, if you will. At the high school, we are moving out of the gymnasium and off the courts and back into the classrooms a little bit more. We are thrilled, but we also have a roster of safety measures, some hoops to jump through and some lofty goals to achieve:

• How to keep our schools open through the end of the school year. Keeping our schools open means not only keeping teachers healthy, but helping ensure our teachers and staff are not exposed to someone with COVID-19. Close contact alone means a mandatory 10-day quarantine. And quarantines mean healthy staff who could be in the classroom must stay home. Even with substitutes in place and sometimes principals in the classroom, we have come dangerously close to having to shut down schools completely because we do not have the staff – or sometimes the bus drivers – to keep operations running safely! As a community, if we remain ever vigilant about mask-wearing and social distancing, it helps us keep our schools open!

• How to further support parents as they struggle to help kids with home schooling. Whether you work outside the home or simply don’t feel like a competent teacher (and why should you?), this has been one of the greatest challenges of the pandemic, and we are working to make it less stressful. Here are some ways our teachers are trying to make it easier on parents at home:

• Teachers are posting regular updates, including assignments and activities for at-home learning on Seesaw for pre-K-2 and on Google classroom for grades 3-12.
• Teachers check email regularly and answer questions and provide helpful hints for families with questions or specific needs.
• School counselors and administrators are available for phone conversations and virtual meetings whenever a family has a question or a need.

• And, finally, how we can make sense of the madness of putting together a realistic budget for next year, one that makes sense for our students, our families and our community as a whole. Believe it or not, the next school budget is due to the town manager and Town Council by April 8. School budgets are sometimes difficult to understand right from the beginning because they are so different from “regular” companies. For example, around 80% of the school department’s budget is earmarked for salaries and benefits, whereas a regular company might allocate 40-50% to salaries and benefits. Schools do not have a product or service that is sold; therefore, revenues are derived from local, state and federal contributions. This year’s proposed budget is largely driven by the effects the pandemic is having on the delivery of education to our neediest students, as well as the social and emotional consequences that isolation is having on all students. My goal in developing a new budget for a new year is based on four key tenets: mental health and wellness (social and emotional support), special education restructuring, technology integration and infrastructure capital projects.

I, for one, intend to replace any sense of March Madness with something a little closer to home for us in Maine: mud season! A time which might get a little messy but always points us toward the beauty of spring and the warmth to come!

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