Macon County School Board goes ahead with Plan “B” Schedule

Macon County School Board photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

The Macon County Board of Education met on Tuesday night to update school opening events. 

Based on the compilation of an additional 504 surveys received, it was noted that several staff and families had changed their minds regarding which plan to go with on Aug. 17.  For instance, the Virtual Academy (VA) which previously counted 850 students enrolled, was reduced to 799 students currently enrolled.  Staffing issues for the Virtual Academy were not lining up. The board had to table VA stand alone and are now requiring teachers to teach both VA and live instruction.  Right now it appears that teachers will be creating videos via live stream or recorded. They are trying to incorporate work with concerns regarding the availability of internet access and bandwidth issues, so that students will not have to be live all day.  Offline work will be included in all remote learning.  

Families with multiple children in different grade levels will be viewing live work during staggered times. An elementary school student in grades one or two might have two hours of live stream from 9 to 11 a.m. while those in intermediate or middle school could have their live stream in the afternoon. This will help families accommodate the necessary bandwidth needed  to live stream. 

Based on the survey results it was revealed that close to 600 families do not have internet access. Hot spots will be made available for those families.  Wi-Fi Jet Packs will also be available to any family that has two bars of cell service on their phone. Families can apply for one jet pack, which will be free to parents. Applications can be picked up at schools on Friday Aug. 14. Parents should list all their children on one application. 

Macon School Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin acknowledged that it is a “huge challenge to stream lessons.” Jennifer Love, STEM coordinator added, “We won’t know how this will work until all the students are in the classroom.”

Franklin High School (FHS) has been dealing with scheduling issues. In order to make scheduling manageable, the board has approved Franklin High School’s request for in-person instruction to go from two days per week to  one day per week.  Freshmen students will attend on Mondays, Sophomore students on Tuesdays, Juniors on Wednesday and Seniors on Thursdays. Fridays will remain a remote learning day for all students, however,  Fridays may also be utilized for individual or small group settings, by appointment with their specific teacher.  All social distancing guidelines will remain in effect at all times. 

The premise for this decision was based on the fact that accommodations for 30 students in a specific class, can now allow students to spill over to another class that would normally have been full if two grades were on campus together. This would allow more teachers to accommodate overflow groups and could allow the cafeteria to become operational to students. 

Macon County School Board Chairman Jim Breedlove, made a motion to go with this plan for the first two weeks of school and then re-evaluate the decision during the Sept. 7 complete remote week for all students. The board feels that the three weeks will give FHS the ability to consider all factors in hopes to move to two days per week instruction. 

On a positive note, Josh Lynch, Title 1 and K-12 Curriculum Director, stated that the Summer Jump Start Program was a success.  Many of the students enrolled in the program made some learning gains. The social distancing on the busses worked as did the cleaning logistics, in order to make sure students were safe. 

Another issue discussed by the board was that of child care on the days that students were not in school.  Both parents and staff are in need of child care on those days.  The board is working with churches and other community partners to try to offer some type of child care. Staff will be eligible for childcare if they work full time.

“We can’t have a perfect plan at this time and we are doing the best we can do, we want folks to know that,” said Breedlove. He also stated that the media will do a good job of explaining exactly what we’re up against in this constantly evolving situation.