Wake County Schools

Wake County schools chief: Next year will be another 'pandemic response' year

Posted January 25, 2021 6:29 p.m. EST
Updated January 25, 2021 6:42 p.m. EST

Coronavirus and the classroom

— The next school year will be another “pandemic-response” year for the Wake County Public School System, Superintendent Cathy Moore told the county school board’s student achievement committee Monday.

Just what school will look like next year will depend on the COVID-19 pandemic and state and local health directives, district officials said.

But administrators and educators are thinking of ways to make the next school year go more smoothly. That includes collecting feedback from students and families and hearing from teachers about what’s worked and what hasn’t, particularly when it comes to virtual learning. Already, teachers in the state are sharing what they’ve learned through collaborative networks.

The Wake County district is continuing to address issues in virtual learning, which Moore said were partly because of technology and partly because of training. Technology issues could include bandwidth on the district’s end or internet connectivity on the student’s end.

The district remains in remote-only learning this year until at least mid-February, when the full school board will meet again for a regular meeting. The school board voted Jan. 14 to begin the spring semester remote because of community spread of COVID-19 and staffing concerns.

Just more than half of Wake County Public School System students plan to attend school in person when the district reopens its classrooms later this spring.

As of Jan. 7, 84,328 students (52.2%) were registered for in-person learning, compared to 77,322 (47.8%) registered for the district's online-only Virtual Academy. Most elementary and high school students plan to attend in person, while most middle school students plan to attend virtually.

Board member Christine Kushner, who represents District 6, said she hopes the district moves from each school approaching learning differently to a more uniform approach.

The district didn’t have the luxuries of time or experience to better plan for remote learning last summer, Assistant Superintendent for Academics Drew Cook said.

“Our goal is to leverage lessons learned and best practices,” he said, and translate those into more standards and greater consistency across the district.

Anecdotally, he said, feedback so far has been wide-ranging, and the district wants to better understand why.

Board member Jim Martin, who represents District 5, said the district should look at the impact of virtual learning on lower-income students. Board member Heather Scott, chair of the student achievement committee, asked the district to look into how others in the country have purchased laptops or similar devices for every student, which she said could even aid in teaching on inclement weather days.

Several board members asked about how to better manage the district’s “Virtual Academy,” wondering whether it needed to be a school in and of itself and/or permanent.

Some members expressed concern about that idea and its potential to take resources away from other public schools.

Moore said long-term planning for virtual learning could come eventually but told the board she considers the next school year to be focused on responding to needs driven by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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