School Matters: The 2021-2022 plan is in place

Jeff Perry

A few months ago, a staff member came to the central office with her two small children. I let the children draw on the whiteboard in my conference room while she worked. The entire board was covered with our notes, plans, ideas, solutions, and challenges from last year. We started this list in March of last year just before we released school. Throughout the school year, we added information and data to the list. As I reviewed the information, several thoughts came to me.

First, we grossly underestimated many of the challenges we would face as we educated children during a worldwide pandemic. We made the necessary adjustments as new challenges emerged but our initial thoughts were very naïve and simplistic compared to what we actually had to do. Second, many of our concerns did not become reality because our staff and students possessed such a resilient spirit. Staff and students were able to generate their own solutions to so many of our problems and they simply took care of business. Third, some of the ideas actually proved to be extremely effective while others were not even close. Many of the initial thoughts were designed to remediate students when they returned to school after being closed for only a few weeks. It was difficult to imagine at the time that the pandemic would close schools across the entire state for four months.

I reflected on all these things as I erased the whiteboard for the children. It was a good feeling to erase all of that and to have a clean board at the end. There are a number of things I love about public schools and I am proud to have been an educator for the past 35 years. One of the things I enjoy the most is the start of the school year. Each school year is a new beginning and a fresh start for everyone. Regardless of the mistakes we may have made last year – it is a new year now – and we can leave those mistakes behind. The new year provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon what we did last year and to make the necessary adjustments to be more successful this year. The new year creates a unique situation in which we can ballast all the tribulations, challenges, and failures of last year and start afresh. Regardless of what happened last year we can erase that board and start with a clean slate. The start of the school year is a great time for staff and students to make positive resolutions.

The intent of these articles is to keep our community informed about important school events. Take a moment to review the following and contact us if you have any questions. We will answer those concerns in our next article. Email Mrs. Karlene Webb (webbk@hcboe.net) with any concerns or questions.

1. We are beginning to see a slight increase in the number of positive cases being reported in the community. We had nearly 1,000 students involved in summer school and did not have a single case. However, we have seen a small number of staff members and student athletes test positive over the last few days. We are not making any changes to our opening protocols which we published in our last article but we will continue to monitor health conditions.

2. As we have stated multiple times, the board of education has not imposed a mask mandate this year. We encourage staff/students to wear a mask but they will not be required. The board is committed to having a public forum to gather input before we make any changes to the current policies.

3. We are not requiring, nor do we have the authority, to mandate students or staff be vaccinated before attending school. However, we are strongly recommending students and staff be vaccinated. According to national data, approximately 99% of all COVID-related deaths are unvaccinated patients. Over the last four months, more than 99% of patients hospitalized were not fully vaccinated. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated (and who are not symptomatic) will not be required to quarantine if they come in contact with an infected person. Becoming vaccinated will provide a number of positive benefits for individuals. Vaccinations may help keep you safe, keep staff/students in school, allow students to participate in athletics, and possibly prevent quarantining. However, this is a personal decision, and vaccines are not required.

4. All students will be eligible for free lunch next school year. However, we strongly encourage all parents to complete a free/reduced lunch application. We will lose a significant amount of federal money, and certain schools may lose their Title I designation (which will result in the loss of staff members at that school) if all eligible families fail to apply for free/reduce lunch. Ensure you complete the application. It will provide additional resources for your child.

5. The supply list for each school is posted on the individual school’s website and many of our local stores would also have copies. Contact your school if you cannot find the list on the website.

6. Parents can locate information concerning bus routes and bus numbers by visiting the district’s homepage. You can locate this information by clicking on “Departments” and then “Transportation.” Input your address to find your attendance zone and other important bus transportation information.

7. Students should report back to school on Aug. 5 with the exception of preschool and kindergarten. Preschool and kindergarten students will attend school on a staggered schedule for the first two days of school. It is important to note the first day of school (Aug. 5) will be a full day for all students.

8. At this point, all classroom instruction will take place within the classroom. However, the number of positive cases in Hamblen County is rising quickly, and we may be forced to close a school, or schools, in the future if we experience high infection rates in specific locations. We have developed a contingency plan in case we need to attend school virtually to ensure we can continue the educational program without excessive disruption. It is our intent to remain in school and only institute a virtual program if safety becomes an issue.

We are looking forward to a new and highly productive school year. It is our hope we can start the school year with a clean slate but understand we still must be vigilant. We understand the virus will probably be with us for the rest of our lives, and we will need to learn how to coexist. We will need to develop a balance of maintaining safety while keeping everyone safe. This balance is not an easy one to maintain but that is the world in which we live. Regardless of what happened last year, this is a new year with incredible promise. It is my hope this is a productive and safe year for all members of our school family.

We sincerely appreciate your attention to this article and remember, School Matters!

-Dr. Jeff Perry is the superintendent of Hamblen County Schools.