Pam Dudding Contributing writer
Many schools throughout the districts seem to be coming up against the “unknown challenges” of virtual learning. Craig County is experiencing their own challenges, and more, being a more rural area.
The state has allowed avenues of teaching, yet the Craig County teachers and administration are finding that there is more to just allowing everything to be a “go”.
At the monthly School Board meeting on Tuesday, September 8, discussion centered around the new avenues to seek out the best, safest and most secure ways of virtual teaching.
Superintendent Jeanette Warwick shared that the first week of the “soft opening” of school went really well.
“I appreciate the Board’s support of that because it gave us extra time last week as we were able to work through some kinks as there were some things that we had not thought of. Our in-person students have been very engaged and have done an outstanding job of litigation strategies. I want to say how proud I am of our teachers and all of our staff members,” she said.
She added that there has been some concerns expressed by some teachers and she sent out an anonymous survey to them, asking if there are specific needs they have, how well they feel they are prepared, communication between the different levels, and about health and safety.
Noting, “If they wish to sign their name and would like to talk with me, then I would be happy to do that as well.”
Warwick will send the Board a copy of the survey and later share the culmination of the results with the Board once it is compiled.
There had been many concerns and questions asked about the technology side of the new virtual school learning.
Samuel Foster, the Director of Instruction and Educational Technology started by giving a “big thanks to my team, Alex Ward who runs the meetings and does the streaming as well as keeping the infrastructure going. Also, Melinda Huffman who is the IT/RT person, working on the instruction side. I want to give them kudos for what they have done over the several weeks. They have spent many hours, trying to get to every ticket as quickly as possible to address the issues the teachers are having.”
He then added that some of the issues they have come up against “are bigger than what we could do in a quick turnaround time frame”.
Two weeks prior to the soft opening, over 450 chromebooks were distributed.
“This went very well as we had a good system set up,” Foster said. “It was four long days, but everyone did an excellent job and people got what they needed and the attention they deserved.”
Foster shared that they had everything ready to go for the soft opening. However, some time during the weekend, the wireless network had a malfunction.
He noted, “Three different people from three different companies and areas helping me. A plan was developed to remove one network system and expand another system. It seems to have fixed those problems to the point the students can connect. It is not an issue of having too many chrome devices.”
However, Foster did request additional funds needed to fix the networking.
He added that there were 29 families who requested hot spots which were reserved for those who pre-reserved them.
Currently CCPS has 194 virtual students and 357 traditional students.
Since he noted there have been additional requests for more spots who were not pre-registered, which he explained is a timely procedure, but the units have been ordered.
Also, Foster and Ward have set up five hot spots at each fire department, however when they were going to deliver them on September 4, they were not working. He later found out it was a setting directly related to U.S. Cellular and the fix was done, therefore they delivered them on September 11.
Foster explained the child protection act, SIPPA. It is a federal law which makes sure the students are safe on the internet when providing a device or a hot spot.
“We filter out what is bad, allowing only what is educationally proper as we look at age requirements,” he said.
CCPS has chosen the filter Go Guardian.
“You have to give it rules or parameters,” Foster shared. “The problem comes with U-tube videos which are difficult to block or unblock in mass, so we have to watch and approve each video. We do this because we must maintain a safe environment for our students.”
He noted that recently videos have been blocked, therefore they are being quickly submitted to Huffman and she reviews the entire video for approval and to unblock or remain blocked.
“If we do not do this, we do not do our students justice,” Foster said. “We do not want to allow anything through that should not be.”
One video had been submitted by a teacher, due to the uncertain acceptable content near the end.
“Therefore every video will be watched through its entirety before being approved,” Foster said. “It is very time consuming, as Huffman is having to watch each one.”
Warwick added that another county had an issue, where only the first part of a video was reviewed. Later, “while looking at the entire video, the end of it became majorly inappropriate”.
All teachers know that when something is viewed visually, it is difficult to remove it from a child’s mind.
Foster apologized to the teachers in advance as it is going to take time to review every video. Adding, “I understand the frustrations but ask that the teachers be patient as we work through all of this.”
In the past, teachers used U-tube videos sparingly therefore it was easier to keep up with the requests, however now everyone is using them. It is understood that all teachers needs them for their content and Foster assured them they were working as quickly as they can.
Foster did note that some avenues may be able to be unblocked, such as PBS. He also asked teachers that if they see a whole channel which seems to be wholly appropriate, to send it to Huffman for review.
“I will not allow our children to watch anything that is not appropriate, so for now all is locked down tight,” he said. “I feel this is the best and safest approach for everyone.”
He also noted that laptops have been purchased for each teacher, however there is currently a network problem.
J.D. Carlin with Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare requested permission for the continuation thes surveys to be completed, which has been done starting in 2005 at CCPS and every two years since, except for the second one in 2008, which they sought for funding, which delayed it one year.
Since, it has been every two years, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and the request was for 2021, which the board approved, understanding this year will be a unique situation and will work with administration in implementing it.
Warwick shared the information on the needed transit van for the Paint Bank students.
She noted that CCPS had previously bought a 12-passenger van however the DOE now has guidelines that the seating cannot go over 10 passengers, therefore CCPS sold it.
Warwick added that she does not have to have a person with a CDL license in order to drive a van. Plus, she can use it for other instances, instead of using two cars, she can use the one van. Also, if one more student chooses to do in-person school, two cars will have to be driven to Paint Bank.
Denny Williams recommended the purchase of a new van, as the used ones they were able to find had several thousand miles on them. Also, the new vehicles have excellent warranties.
After further discussion, the Board chose to use capitol funding to purchase a new van, as this has been a need for years.
The next School Board meeting will be held in the High School Auditorium on Tuesday, October 13 at 5:30 p.m. All citizens are encouraged to attend to support the Craig County Public School System.