By Amanda McKnight
Former Jackson Elementary Principal Doug Schleif, who left the district to be a principal in China two years ago, will return to Shakopee this fall as interim principal at Red Oak Elementary.
Not only does Schleif have 16 years of experience at Shakopee Public Schools, but now he has something that can’t be found almost anywhere: experience running a school that reopened amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schleif will fill the role that is being vacated by retiring Principal Mitch Perrine, who has been the principal at Red Oak since the school building opened in 2002.
Schleif got the call from Assistant Superintendent Dave Orlowsky earlier this month while he was still in China and packing to return home.
“He didn’t even give me a name (of who’s retiring), but said, ‘Do you have any plans for when you come back?’ The plan was for me to retire, but not anymore!” Schleif said with a laugh.
When he and Perrine spoke, Perrine pointed out the value of his recent experience in China: “Mitch told me, ‘You’re the only principal in Minnesota that has been through this once already,'” Schleif said.
Schleif and his wife, Pam Schleif, were on their way back to Minnesota in January for a month-long break when they first heard of coronavirus. Schleif worked from home, coordinating remote learning for the students at his international school, until March 10 when he returned to China. Shortly after, in-person learning began again.
“The school we were at is a boarding school and we had a number of precautions put in place,” he explained. “Parents were no longer allowed on campus, when students arrived they were checked at least twice a day as far as their temperatures were concerned, staff were tested probably within a month after we got back. There were systems in place. If a child gets sick during class there were precautions for that, as far as getting the student out of there and quarantining the rest of the class and the teacher.”
To Schleif’s knowledge, his school never had an outbreak. But, he said, the virus was much more under control when they returned to school than it is in the United States right now.
“There were a lot of guidelines put in place for temperature checks and wearing masks. (The Chinese government) has an app that we had to use called the Health Code app, and any place you went, you had to show that app, and that app was either green, orange, or red,” he explained.
Businesses and restaurants would only allow people with green codes to enter their establishments, since an orange or red code meant a person had been exposed to the virus or should be in quarantine.
When it comes to the approaching school year, Schleif doesn’t believe there is one perfect solution.
“From a school standpoint I think it’s being awfully risky to send kids before there’s a vaccine, but more importantly, numbers have got to start going down and going down drastically. There’s still a lot of cases out there,” he said. “I’m not the one that makes that call … but I would say the odds as far as going full classroom aren’t very good.”
Despite the circumstances, Schleif and his wife are happy to be back home in Minnesota, and equally happy they decided to work in China for two years.
“We loved it. We’d do it again. We just really missed family, missed being back in Minnesota,” Schleif said. “Talk to me in a few months and see if it made me a better principal.”