The unsung hero behind St. Dennis School’s successful reopening

MADISON, Wis. — As more Madison schools begin reopening for in-person learning, News 3 Now’s Jamie Perez revisited St. Dennis School to see how its school year has gone ever since it reopened in August.

Principal Matt Beisser said the school reopened during a time when there were many unknowns but being overly cautious and having full cooperation from all parents, students, teachers and staff has made the school year mostly successful. Beisser also credits the ongoing success to facilities associate Phil Burr who disinfects the entire school during his shift every day.

“It’s been a real ride but it’s been very worth it,” Burr said.

For the past five years he’s been employed at St. Dennis, Burr said none of the previous years have looked quite like this year.

“The disinfecting is huge. I would say that’s the biggest change,” Burr said. “Having to do that every morning is a lot of work but it’s worth it. In the end it protects them and if they’re protected, I’m protected.”

Burr disinfects every object students could possibly touch including desks, doorknobs, lockers and floors.

“These kids are like my kids so to keep them safe is kind of like keeping my family safe,” Burr said.

Teachers who were once hesitant to return to school during the pandemic said the school’s diligence in maintaining safety guidelines and Burr’s cleaning efforts have made them feel more comfortable being in school.

“I was very hesitant when we first started back just because everything was so unknown but Mr. Beisser and the custodians did a wonderful job making it feel very safe to come back,” said first-grade teacher Megan Reischel. “Phil has gone above and beyond anybody that you would ever imagine. If you put everyone else at a 10 for what we’re trying to do to keep everything safe, Phil is at a 20 plus.”

Since reopening, Beisser said there was one instance where the school shut down after finding out a teacher tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was more of a precautionary than a need,” Beisser said. “We had a teacher who tested positive and we were coming off a couple day break so I chose to extend that and go virtual for four extra days and by doing that it helped us avoid any major shutdown.”

Beisser said several students have also tested positive during the course of the school year but due to the parents’ communication with the school, they were able to keep school in session without any disruptions to in-person learning.

“By telling us the minute the minute they know there’s a possible exposure so by the time they’ve been tested, we’ve already had them quarantined,” Beisser said.

St. Dennis currently has more than 250 students learning in person with 11 students learning virtually. Beisser said classroom sizes average about 20 students per class. Classrooms are socially distanced with plexi glass installed between desks, hand sanitizer stations placed around the school, thermometer checks at every door and all students are required to wear masks.

Beisser said one key to his school’s overall success is being willing to adapt plans as needed.

“You have a plan but putting that in place is a whole different thing,” he said. “The plan we started with is not the plan it is right now.”

Beisser said Burr’s efforts to keep the school clean has been a huge help to the school’s continued success for students’ in-person learning.

“Gives a guy a sense of importance that you’re really needed and that you have a purpose,” Burr said.