School Board navigates uncharted waters

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Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer 

The school board met at its regular place and time on Monday evening, albeit without a live audience. The meeting was streamed online for folks to watch. Board members kept to the rule of social distancing by having all board members seated six feet apart. 

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin addressed the board, giving praise to all employees of the Macon County School System. 

“I am humbled and it is truly awesome how teachers, bus drivers, teacher assistants, administrators, county commissioner, SROs, churches, and everyone involved in meal preparations, have embraced the situation in order to provide education and food for our children.

“There has been no complaining and folks have been volunteering service above and beyond what they have to do,” he said. 

Lowes provided shopping carts and bags to hold student lunches, and they have offered additional support as well.  In the first week of the school closures, Macon County Schools fed more than 20,000 meals to their students. 

Dr. Baldwin explained that this is unprecedented times and there is no road map. He compared this crisis to that of the crisis in 1918, and reminded folks that schools did not close down then, the way we are doing now. As far as learning, teachers are gathering lessons online and in packets that parents can pick up at schools, to provide review and reinforcement.  Dr. Baldwin explained that nothing can replace one on one, face to face, interactions with teachers. 

He offered a timeline to explain how things are progressing. A teacher workday occured on March 13 when teachers calculated grades and finalized planning for the fourth quarter. There was a bit of  discussion about remote learning, so teachers had some idea it could happen. On March 14 the Governor issued an order to close all NC schools for two weeks. Teachers returned to school on March 16, geared up and in one day made a plan and put it into action to provide remote learning and to serve meals to students.  

“I am truly amazed to see what they were able to accomplish in just one day,” said Baldwin.

 He explained that they are going to learn some things better and different. There is a great impact on students dealing with difficulties at home emotionally, who are in need of support. They are not in contact with guidance counselors or teachers. Many teachers have been reaching out by email and he encourages parents to reach out to their schools and guidance counselors. 

At this point, the focus for students remains on reviewing materials so they will not lose what they have already learned. Teachers will be able to look over work and provide feedback to students. These lessons are not designed for promotion or retention decisions. The main goal right now is for these kids to have something to do, since gyms, recreation parks, movie theaters and other places are closed.  High school students all have devices that are equipped for remote learning. If families do not have internet they can go to the high school and download needed materials from their car. The wifi will reach out into the parking lot. The Macon County library has made wifi available in their parking lot as well. Grades 5-8 are not as well positioned in terms of devices and so the goal will be to put devices in these students’ hands.  Many teachers have gotten creative with videos in order to get information to their students. 

The state is reviewing recommendations regarding graduation criteria, possibly to be based on the end of the first semester or the third quarter. State testing is possibly going to be eliminated or waived this year.

What is the end of the school year going to look like? These types of questions still do not have any clear definitions. The state requirement for school is 1,025 hours of instructional time and schools will fall short of that figure.  If school resumes on May 15, it could be over in one week or perhaps not ending until June 11, since teachers are contractually obligated to work until that date.

Looking ahead Dr Baldwin wants to remind everyone that there is no road map to follow. They will make decisions as they receive information from all the agencies involved. He asks that parents remain patient as this is an evolving situation. As far as athletic events are concerned, events are suspended not cancelled, so that leaves room for them to  possibly pick back up on May 18. The government has not cancelled school – just postponed – so students will be able to participate in graduation ceremonies upon returning in May. As far as spring break is concerned, the school board does not know yet whether schools will be in operation or if lunches will be available.  More information regarding that decision will be forthcoming. 

Meals will continue to be provided until they either run out of funding, which Dr. Baldwin feels is unlikely, or if folks start getting sick. Dr. Baldwin wants to thank his staff for their level of commitment and how they have worked together, the level of cooperation has been incredible. He exclaims, “I sincerely appreciate everyone, thanks to our parents, this is not something they asked for, thanks to our supportive staff and thanks to the community. I don’t want to go through this crisis, but if I must, Macon County is where I want to be.”

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