During this phase of school recovery, our responsibility is to offer students holistic supports. Our schools are taking on the responsibility of addressing learning gaps resulting from interrupted learning, interrupted teaching, and limited access to technology. In addition to the obvious responsibility of instructional/academic support, school staff is also busy focusing on mitigation practices to address safety and model healthy habits and routines. Our students, teachers, and staff are certainly happy to “see each other again”. It is troublesome to recognize that extended periods of time have passed with limited opportunities for peer socialization. Students and staff alike have missed the social networking, friendships, and sense of school community that comes from the daily interactions and predictable routines of what we now refer to as the “typical school day”. Given these social emotional concerns, school staff recognize that supports are necessary to rebuild relationships and address stress, anxiety, and trauma.
This school year has put parents, school staff, administration and school boards in difficult situations which demand decisions. We recognize that every decision maker ponders unique aspects of the situation in order to make what they feel is the “best” decision. With our state and county school system moving forward with recovery, parents are asked once again to make a decision regarding which learning scenario choice best suits their learner for the remainder of the school year. Marion County Schools has moved from a 2 day blended cohort model offering in person learning to a 4 day a week model of in person learning. Marion County Schools has continued to offer students a full distance model if their family is not ready to consider in person learning.
Although these choices are provided to help meet the unique situations of our learners, the decision can be difficult for families. These learner decisions then feed into the day to day operations of the school. There are many moving parts impacted at the school level when students move from in person learning to distant learning. Student movement impacts: schedules, class size, routines, set-up of instructional spaces, congestion in the school common areas, compliance with the mitigation strategies, seating charts, tracking of individuals for contact tracing, transportation, preparation of meals, special education service delivery, coordination with outside agencies and contractors for services, over thirty computer entries in student records, LiveGrades, attendance records, tracking of WV-P-EBT cards, lesson plans, Google Classroom, etc. All of this also impacts time for instruction. Not to belabor the point, but the listing is not exhaustive of all the various “moving parts” impacted each time a student changes from one learning scenario to another. We recognize that time is precious and much school time has already been adversely impacted this school year. With little time left in the school calendar, it becomes imperative once again to make a difficult decision and move forward. The desire for schools, parents and students to get back to more consistency and normalcy drives the understanding and reasoning for making a choice and sticking with it. Marion County Schools will continue to remain flexible when an individual’s reasonable extenuating circumstance creates the need to reconsider a learning scenario choice.
Marion County Schools administrators and teachers are actively engaging in analyzing students' progress through results of Math and ELA diagnostic and benchmark reports. Teachers will utilize this data to drive instruction to help accelerate student progress towards mastering content standards. Schools are working diligently to manage the increased number of students within their schools since the onset of the current four day face-to-face instructional model. With the inclusion of technology and intervention programs, teachers are able to streamline the instructional process while utilizing increased time with face-to-face instructional strategies that provides meaningful learning opportunities.
Mitigation strategies continue to be essential for safe delivery of in-person instruction and help mitigate COVID-19 transmission in schools. School staff and administration must continue to stress the universal and correct wearing of appropriate masks. Masks with air vents and of the “gator” variety are inappropriate to be safe. Masks that are two and three ply cloth masks are considered more safe. It is also important to wear a mask properly to cover the mouth and nose. Our custodial staff continues cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities. We will continue contact tracing in combination with quarantine measures, in collaboration with the health department. Schools may have to rethink commons areas and student groupings now that more students are in the building instead of the 2 day blended model that divided the in-person attending student population in half.
Over 52 % of the school staff who consented to wanting the COVID vaccine has received the vaccine. Many of our staff have continued to seek out the vaccine through the WVDHHR registry process. In addition, community vaccination clinics have included school staff for vaccination opportunities. Collaborative efforts will continue until we have vaccinated all who want to receive it.
All of our school buildings will have air quality improvements with various types of air purification equipment being installed. The equipment being installed will be a little different at each school depending on the type of HVAC system that exists in the building. We are grateful for the CARES Act funding that is providing this upgrade to our HVAC systems for better air quality. This is a tremendous boost to the concern for safety.
We remain positive as we near the last quarter of the academic school year. We have learned a great deal about operating a school system during a pandemic. We have learned the importance of being flexible, relying on science, collaborating with community health agencies, communicating with local communities, and keeping the focus on the overall well-being of our students. We acknowledge that decision making has been difficult. Often times early decisions have had to be revisited with new information arriving. We are grateful for staff, community and parents that recognize that these are unprecedented times. Be well, stay safe.