Changes are inevitable during this new phase of life America and its school systems have been mandated to adapt to.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A stumbling-block to the pessimist is a stepping-stone to the optimist.”
The Craig County School Board have had their share of stepping stones this last year and have continued to be optimistic about getting over the next ones.
At the monthly School Board meeting on Tuesday, August 11, more changes had to be discussed and decided upon.
Superintendent, Jeanette Warwick shared that last year, “We ended the school year like no other and now we will start the school year like no other”.
Warwick noted that the teachers have started back to school, “hitting the ground running with lots of trainings on new equipment having to be done. I am very proud of all of our staff, administrators and teachers who have just come in with an open mind.”
She added, “Regardless if our teachers are new or have worked for 30 years, “everybody is a new teacher this year as we are all entering new territory, however, we are “CCPS STRONG!””
Samuel Foster, the Director of Instruction and Educational Technology shared that they have integrated with the Canvas Learning Management System where all the of the tests, quizzes, contents will be available for the students.
“It is a free by the Department of Education,” he said. “Though it has taken time for it all to occur the teachers now have it.”
This summer, four teachers were sent to summer training and they will also be training with a representative from Virtual Virginia.
With this training, Foster noted, “The teachers seem to be feeling a little bit better about the system and is an easy system to work with.”
As of August 11, 176 students had signed up 100 percent Virtual Learning. The school honored requests as they came in with the extended registration of July 31. Approximately 400 students will be attending school in person.
Over half the eighth-grade class will be studying virtual and a large portion of the fifth grade, however only three first graders will be virtual thus far.
“Until Tuesday, August 4, we were given no guidance or indications by the Virginia Department of Health for the decisions about reopening schools,” Warwick shared. “They then released a metric that breaks down the transmission of corona by region.”
Craig is in the Roanoke-Alleghany region.
Warwick added, “Dr. Molly O’Dell started weekly meetings with the superintendents to provide them with the transmission rates.”
Warwick displayed a chart which displayed CC in the moderate area which is rising.
“Therefore, according to the document the VDH shared, their recommendation is to open in Phase 2,” Warwick said. “They do not recommend going to all students until there is low or no transmission. The CCPS legal council recommended following the Virginia Department of Health guidelines.”
Vice President, Susan Crenshaw asked about the ventilation. Warwick shared that the mitigation for any concern is to offer the PPE, however Denny Williams is checking on that aspect.
Board member, Gina Smith said, “As a health professional I do see changes from moderate to low but there are other things that go into that data that I would like to see as far as testing. We have jumped up to moderate because we are testing more than we did back in previous months. So, did that affect the current numbers?”
Foster explained in detail, “We are looking at whether testing alone is the reason for more cases. We are looking at the positivity rate verses how many tests there have been. If you double the number of tests and that doubles the number of positivity rate, then the test itself is the reason for the increase, however we are not seeing that. What we are seeing is a ten to twenty-fold increase in the number of tests, but we are not seeing that increase in the positivity rate. Therefore, with the more testing, we are capturing the people who are sick, which is what we should be doing. So, we should see a lot of tests occur, but the positivity rate is not as high. We are only in the five to ten percent range in the state.”
Board member Traci Bellassai stated that the last he heard there were only 18 total cases in Craig, with no pediatric cases. (As of August 15, the number has increased to 21.)
Crenshaw added that her concern is for everything the school needs, to be in place before opening. “If we mitigate really well, we hope to not see any positive cases,” she said.
Warwick shared a proposal that she, Foster and the Director of Finance, Heather Duncan had designed as a good solution and compromise.
“We would like to move to a soft opening on August 31. It gives us time to work out our kinks,” she said. “
Their idea is to bring in a fourth of the students each day, from Monday through Thursday.
“The reason for this, is it gives the teachers extremely small numbers of students who they can spend the entire day with, making sure each understand how to operate the new on-line program, Canvas,” Warwick added. “It will also give the teachers time to teach the elementary about distancing and most importantly for the school nurse to dissect the Covid symptoms from regular sicknesses which mimic the Covid symptoms, like stomach issues, sniffles and sore throat.”
Warwick noted their concerns that there is no rapid test for this yet available for their students. Crenshaw noted that there is a test available however it is $100 per test.
Warwick shared that they are working very closely with the Health Center in getting all the information they can to help them to distinguish between any symptoms, as they do not want to put the children through any testing if it is not needed.
After the soft opening, on September 8, school will be fully functioning.
Warwick added that the extra week also gives the teachers an extra week to prepare and more time to distribute the chrome books.
“Some families will need more time than a ten-minute pickup and go. They need to know how to navigate and log on.” Warwick said. “I have a lot of grandparents who are going to need time to sit with us and learn this system.”
She said that packets are being prepared, but she does not want families to be rushed through in getting their child’s Chromebook.
This would also allow time to make sure the hot spots and Wifi is distributed.
This will delay the start by another week, with only 100 kids a day coming to school and then everyone on the eighth.
Crenshaw’s concern was to be fully prepared so the school wouldn’t have to close down. Smith noted that there could be positive cases in the future, as “This thing isn’t going away”.
Crenshaw also would like to have hepa filters in the classrooms. “This would be an extra layer of protection, and maybe some air purifiers to circulate and clean the air.”
Warwick also noted that she just received the Temporary Emergency Standards, which all employers in the state are mandated to adopt and is working through the mandates. “In older buildings, the mitigation strategy is face coverings,” she said.
After board discussion, they agreed that the soft opening would give them more time to work through “all of the “kinks” and be more prepared for the safety of the students and staff, as well as give more time to train the students, parents and grandparents on the chrome books
Foster also addressed the fact that when the calendar is changed, not only does the administration have to present it to the School Board, but also to the Department of Education. Therefore, he feels they can absorb the delay of five school days in the allotted snow days.
Bellassai asked if there is a bad winter and more days are needed, could they go to Virtual teaching as an option. Foster agreed and that school divisions have already discussed that with the state superintendent, but it has not yet been approved.
The priority decision was made on the change of school opening. Much discussion included realizing parents have to make readjustments with work and sitters.
She added, “Regardless if our teachers are new or have worked for 30 years, “everybody is a new teacher this year as we are all entering new territory”.
August 31 was chosen as the new start date, and students will be coming in on what is called a “soft opening”. Each day, one fourth of the students will attend school, and then on September 8, all students will be at the school together.
The administration has posted the “Return 2 Learn Plan” on their website for more specific information.
Roosevelt stated, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” It seems Warwick is following in her footsteps.
“The teachers are focusing on arranging their furniture and getting their virtual lessons prepared,” she shared as she invited the School Board to visit for a tour of the new chapter of school, preparing to keep “CCPS Strong!”