FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — As another school year comes to a close, WANE 15 checked in with Fort Wayne Community Schools superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel to get his thoughts on the year and how things went.

Dr. Daniel said that while he thought it may have been the most challenging year ever for teachers and students, he believes it was a successful year.

He said navigating the COVID-19 pandemic was extremely difficult. Dr. Daniel took over as superintendent in the middle of 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

Students at FWCS were still wearing masks during the first semester of the school year, but Dr. Daniel said that everyone in the district adapted and handled it as well as they could.

While there are many local topics to discuss, clear and present is the news of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Dr. Daniel told WANE 15 the district has already been engaged in a major movement to keep kids safe, and will continue to have discussions on how to create a safe environment.

He said it’s “impossible” to create total security, but believes that strengthened relationships between teachers and students can help avoid tragic situations. He believes it’s up to the community as a whole.

“I think you confront this by having strong relationships with your students and kids,” Dr. Daniel said. “And you find outside organizations that have the professional expertise to work individually with those students and parents. And until we do that, we’re gonna have flashes of extreme tragedy and devastation. But we need to confront this as a community. It’s not a school system issue. It’s a community issue.”

Dr. Daniel also touched on several other topics during our discussion with him.

Two are related to staffing shortages all over the country that have impacted FWCS.

The district has dealt with a lack of teachers and bus drivers for several years now.

In both cases, Dr. Daniel thinks that district leaders need to get more creative with their thinking to alleviate the issues.

Starting with teachers, Dr. Daniel says they need to start looking elsewhere to find educators. Simply waiting for people who’ve obtained bachelor’s degrees isn’t going to work anymore.

He said they need to start looking at people with less education who they can train and to the rest of the world for people from other countries looking to become educators.

“Until we can grow our own, which we’ve started that process and will continue that process, we’re not going to see the fruit of that for another 2-3 years. So, we’re going to continue to have teacher shortages. So, what are we going to do to connect with those alternative-type teachers? I’ll call it alternative teachers, but those teachers who are not from the traditional 4-year educational program. Do I think that is the best? Absolutely, but at the same time, I can also say if we can give the proper training to those individuals who are wanting to move from where they are in their current career into the education career? Absolutely embrace it,” Dr. Daniel said.

The bus driver shortages have hindered the district for the past few years. There’ve been delays and miscommunications.

WANE 15 recently reported that 23 FWCS drivers all called off work on a Friday, which caused a lot of issues, including some students having to miss school completely.

In that report, the district’s public information officer Krista Stockman detailed what FWCS is looking at to alleviate the communication with parents.

When it comes to not having enough drivers, Dr. Daniel once again talks about being flexible in their thinking.

He said they have to look at their fleet and best figure out how to utilize their available busses and drivers. They will even look at how they can best use 15-seat busses, which do not require a CDL to drive them.

Dr. Daniel said they have to be “real” and understand the district can’t pay people with a CDL what a big company like Walmart can pay to its drivers.

Looking toward next year, Dr. Daniel said the biggest thing he wants to see at FWCS’s 53 schools is consistency.

He said the biggest thing he hears from teachers and parents is a desire to know expectations. Dr. Daniel said he wants that laid out, and then to see similarities at any school he walks into.

The superintendent offered his congratulations to the graduating seniors.

His message to them is that there is always hope. Dr. Daniel added that with current worker shortages, he believes an FWCS graduate who is seeking employment should have no problem finding it.

Now that school is officially out of session, students are scheduled to return to classrooms on Wednesday, August 10.