K-12 administrator, Jessica Cromer, is helping her schools meet challenges of new normal

Jessica Cromer, M.S. ’09

When K-12 schools opened for classes after winter break in January 2020, it is likely no one foresaw the global pandemic that would close schools for the remainder of the spring, forcing teachers and students to adjust to a confusing and uncertain time.

“It’s difficult to prepare for the unexpected,” Jessica Cromer, M.S. ‘09 said, “but Radford University taught me to be prepared for the unexpected.”

Cromer is the assistant superintendent of Instruction and Innovation at Floyd County Public Schools. She earned a master’s degree at Radford in 2009, and throughout her career in education, she has taught middle school and served as an elementary and high school principal. She knows the school system in and out, from top to bottom.

But, when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam closed schools in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Cromer and everyone with any involvement with schools – children, parents, teachers, administrators and many others – quickly transitioned into the unknown.

“A ‘normal school day’ for an administrator before the virus presented many challenges as it was,” Cromer said in early May, with about a month remaining in the school year. “You never knew what was going to happen.”

It could be a child having an issue on a school bus, she said, a parent visiting a school to express concerns or a teacher who is struggling to reach a student.

“The coronavirus was different, but our approach was similar to how we approach all situations,” Cromer explained. “We were able to adapt and be flexible and really focus and study the issue. I feel that we did a really good job of transitioning from being in schools to taking care of our students, while they were home.”

The pandemic and school closures presented numerous challenges, and Cromer and her Floyd County Public Schools colleagues were forced to work quickly to provide answers for school kids and parents, but at the same time they relied on their experience to mentally “slow things down and take stock in what we had and work toward the real goal, while schools were going to be closed, and make a plan from there.”

There was a focus was on education, of course, but perhaps more importantly, Cromer, her colleagues and teachers, prioritized their students’ social and emotional wellbeing. So, Floyd County Public Schools, which is made up of five schools and about 1,850 students, did not move directly into virtual learning and instead provided more learning resources for teachers.

Moreover, they focused on their students’ health and safety.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about a number of things – like would there be enough food and supplies in stores – so, we didn’t want to add more worries to families” by thrusting students into virtual learning, Cromer said, “and we instructed our teachers to check in regularly with students and their families.”

In her leadership role within the school system, Cromer often relies on the toolkit of knowledge she learned at Radford University. The quality of education she received, while studying for her master’s degree, is one reason she chose to enroll in the University’s inaugural cohort for the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program, which began in January 2020.

The is 100% online and designed to prepare professional educators, such as Cromer, to fill positions as educational leaders at the district level in Virginia.

When she first heard a few years ago that Radford University was planning to add the Ed.D. program, she knew it was something she wanted to pursue once the program became a reality. “I’ve never felt like I was finished learning,” Cromer said. “It has been stuck in the back of my mind as a career goal.”

The cohort of 20 students was just weeks into the program when COVID-19 closed schools and administrators were forced to plan for the immediate impact it had on their students. And, while classes played the intended role of providing the guiding principles for a doctorate in education, the online meetings also became a place for the cohort students to work together and learn how each of them were meeting the challenges of the new reality.

“It has been very helpful to be in this cohort and connect with people who are in leadership and are going through the same things as I am going through in my position. We can bounce ideas off of each other, Cromer said. “We’re learning from our professors, and each other, how to address the challenges of a ‘normal’ school year and the challenges we have all faced through the pandemic. I’m thankful Radford University has provided us with this opportunity for learning and growth.”

#HighlandersRise is an initiative to spotlight how Radford University students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members push through fear and frustration to pursue their hopes and dreams, even in trying times. Our resiliency sustains us, and our responsiveness empowers us. The entire Radford family, both near and far, is demonstrating a tremendous amount of strength during the unprecedented times we are facing locally, regionally and globally.

Jul 10, 2020
Chad Osborne