School Matters

Dr. Jeff Perry

School Matters: Updates and important information

Last summer, my granddaughter spent the night with us. It was a very nice evening, and she decided that we should camp outside in a tent. She was extremely excited about setting up the tent, building the fire, getting the sleeping bags ready, and taking care of all other camping requirements. We had a great evening as we talked about the different constellations in the night sky. We eventually put out the fire and went inside the tent to sleep.

Around midnight, we woke up as a coyote pack began howling on the near ridge. We also heard an owl which became vocal after the coyotes started. I could feel my granddaughter inching closer to me in the tent. After a few minutes, she asked if we needed to be worried about the coyotes. I reassured her that we were safe and that I would never let anything happen to her. That seemed to help and she relaxed a little, but I could tell that she was still worried. I told her again that I would always protect her. Then she said, “But what would happen to me if anything happened to you?” I told her that nothing was going to happen to me and that we were safe. The coyotes stopped, and she quickly went back to sleep.

I often thought about what she said. “But what would happen to me if anything happened to you?” I laid there in the sleeping bag thinking about what her world would be after I was no longer part of her life. I also worried about the decisions she would have to make as a teenager when we were no longer there to guide her. It helped me to better understand that we have an obligation to teach our children to be independent and to make good decisions when we are not there. It helped me to understand that simply protecting our children from everything was probably not the best course of action. Children without the experience of a struggle would not fare well when life became difficult.

I have seen countless parents attempting to be “lawnmower parents” who run ahead of their children and mow down any problems in their child’s path. This may have beneficial outcomes in the short term, but I am concerned it may create long-term problems. As I watched the breeching of the Capitol Building earlier this week, I was disheartened to see the chaos, violence, and destruction. It troubled me to think that we surpassed a record number of COVID-related deaths in the US last week, that we are experiencing unprecedented rates of suicides, seeing record numbers of murders, and that our nation’s mental health is deteriorating. Our children need us to be leaders more than ever, and they need to gain the necessary skills to be resilient.

Being in school helps students better understand they are part of something larger than they are. They begin to understand they must take turns, they cannot be the center of attention every second, and they need to help others to advance their own cause. This is one of the many reasons we are attempting to stay in school. School is much more than simply the academic, and we want to address the holistic nature of each child under our care.

As always, we want our community to be informed. Please review the following information and contact us if you have any questions.

1. The number of active cases are actually lower than we had before the break. As of January 7, we have approximately 69 cases. Of those 69 cases, 27 are staff members and 42 are students. Right before we left for break on December 21, we had approximately 108 cases. However, we saw the Thanksgiving spike nearly 2 weeks after break. We anticipate our numbers will increase sharply over the next two weeks.

2. Our K-2 elementary computers have arrived. Our teachers are working with students this week to help them become familiar with the new technology. Students at the elementary level will not be allowed to take their computers home unless we are forced to attend school virtually.

3. We are having conversations with parents/students who are not performing well academically while participating virtually. We do have certain expectations, and students must meet those expectations in order to stay virtual. Maintaining strong attendance, engaging in the lessons, turning in assignments, and following all of the virtual instruction expectations are essential. Please make sure your child is fully engaged and completing assignments if they are participating virtually.

4. The West High School project is going well, and we should be finished earlier than expected. The cafeteria and dining hall are nearly finished. We are currently using the facility to prepare food and to eat. The front office is within a few weeks of being finished, and we should start the transition to the new administrative offices in February. Most of the HVAC has been installed. We are still attempting to balance some of the air flow and ensure we have appropriate temperatures in each room. The interior restrooms are nearly finished. The vast majority of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work has been completed. The restrooms near the gym are under roof and should be finished within the next two months. The project is ahead of schedule and within budget.

5. It is the intent of the Board of Education to keep schools open if we can do so safely. However, health conditions in the future may force us to attend virtually. We will keep ESP open if we go virtual, and parents can send their children to this program if needed. We will not charge for the program during the school day if we go virtual. However, parents will still be responsible for before and after school payments.

6. We will post a draft copy of the school calendar for next year on our website next week. Parents may review this calendar and send any comments to Mrs. Webb at We understand that many parents enjoyed the late start we had this year. We were able to start after Labor Day this year because the state allowed us to have a more flexible testing window. Our first semester will end January 22, and the state is allowing us to test in January. Normally, we had to test in December. We would have similar problems in the spring with state testing and with AP testing. The state will not give us a waiver for the upcoming school year. We must end the semester before leaving for Christmas break. This would force us to start school approximately 90 days before we leave for break. I believe this is the only part of the proposed calendar which is relatively unmovable, but other issues are negotiable. Again, please re-view and send comments to Mrs. Webb. We will share all comments with the board. Please place “School Calendar” in the subject line.

7. It is that time of year when we may be forced to close school due to inclement weather. The best way to be notified of school changes is to participate in our school messenger program. This program will send an automated text, voice, or email notification to you if we are forced to make a change in the school program. Please make sure your contact information is accurate to receive this service.

Our children depend on us for virtually everything they have. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, their world with us will grow smaller as their own world grows larger. They no longer depend on us for everything as they grow older. They will become that which we have helped to them to become. There was a great line in the movie, Gladiator. The emperor was talking to his daughter and asked her what she would have been if she had been a man. She replied that she would have been exactly what he had created. Our children do learn from us, and they depend heavily on us for valuable lessons. I believe many of our lessons are not verbalized, but they mirror our own behaviors, actions, and deeds. We need to make sure we not only teach them but also model for them with the life we lead. It is our hope these lessons will ensure they have the necessary skills to make good decisions when we are no longer standing there beside them. Perhaps helping a child make a good decision in our absence may be one of the greatest lessons we can share with them. Remember, School Matters!

-Dr. Jeff Perry is superintendent of Hamblen County schools.